April 27, 2010

Self-publishing: Tell your story in print



Lulu, Author Solutions, CreateSpace, Blurb make publishing your book a breeze

Target audience: Nonprofits, NGOs, educators, small businesses, journalists, photographers

By Kim Bale
Socialbrite staff

Updated Sept. 20, 2010, with new stats and services

With more people turning to ebooks or digital readers like the Kindle or iPad rather than turning the pages of a softcover, the publishing industry is evolving quickly. In 2008, for the first time in history, more books were self-published in the United States than were published the traditional way. According to Bowker, the agency responsible for assigning ISBNs, 288,355 traditional book titles were published last year, down a smidge from the year before. By constrast, 764,448 self-published “on demand” titles were produced last year, a dizzying 181 percent increase from the prior year.

Clearly, authors have found alternate ways to get their books on the shelf.

Inexpensive online print-on-demand services now allow anyone from nonprofit organizations to photographers to publish a story book, flip book, photo album or other publication — without the hassle of finding an agent or publisher. Sometimes, you can even make money at it. While in a traditional paperback publishing deal the author keeps just 8 to 9 percent of royalties, under most self-publishing agreements authors keep 70 to 80 percent of their profits.

Compose your work, upload the files, set the price, and you can have your masterpiece printed and mailed to you, or make it available online for sale to the general public. Print On Demand websites like Lulu, Author Solutions, CreateSpace (formerly BookSurge) and others make it easy and relatively affordable to guide your book from conception to printing, with new services available to boost your marketing efforts.

Whether you’re a nonprofit, NGO, educator or small businesses, your organization likely has a good story that can be told, accompanied by photos, between the covers of a hardover or softcover book. If it sells well, it could even bring you a modest revenue stream. But think of this chiefly as a polished way to promote your organization’s brand or your own personal brand.

Self-publishing might seem like a daunting task, though the tools are more accessible than ever. Most companies request you upload your work via Word document or PDF, and they offer a variety of services to help you add images and fine-tune your book for the printing press.

Tips for the first-time self-published author

Here are our tips to help take the worry out of self-publishing:


  • Do your research. You’ve written your book, now who’s going to read it? Whether you’re composing a detailed history of your organization or giving advice on how to grow a start-up, it’s important to understand your audience. If you know exactly who will be reading your copy, you have an advantage. Find out what it is they need to know, and tell it in a compelling, engaging way. If you’re aiming for your book to hit the best-seller list, it’s not a bad idea to read up on your peers and competitors already in the marketplace. Too many books of the same topic in the same space could mean overcrowding – find a unique angle and stay ahead of the pack.
  • Choose a service. Now that you’ve identified your audience, a host of POD (print on demand) companies are waiting to help you publish. Each company has its own set of services to offer, so shop around and choose one that fits your needs:
  1. Lulu offers four publishing packages ranging in price from $369 to $1,369. Lulu walks you through an a la carte process step by step and connects you with designers, editors and marketing professionals — at no charge — if desired. Or you can opt to choose the binding, create your own cover and simply pay for the costs of printing and number of copies, whether you’re printing for an audience of one or 1,000. At Lulu and similar sites, each time a purchase is made, a printer at a printing facility makes an individual copy that is shipped to the buyer, usually in 24 hours or less. No money changes hands until a book is published, authors set the prices for books, and the royalty rate excluding production costs is 80 percent, meaning you get to keep the bulk of the income from sales.
  2. "Escape" by CNN on Blurb

  3. Author Solutions is the parent company for well-known brands like AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Trafford, Wordclay and Xlibris. Each brand offers slightly different services such as extensive professional consultations, competitive publishing packages and marketing materials designed to generate buzz about your title. Author Solutions gives authors access to editorial services, illustrations, book and cover design, publicity, promotion, distribution, online sales and bookstore sales. Over the past 13 years, more than 85,000 authors have self-published almost 120,000 titles through Author Solutions, making them a leader in the industry. In many cases, authors pay an up-front fee of $300 to $1,600, book prices are set by the services, and royalties range from 10 to 25 percent, meaning you get only a small slice of any income generated — for example, $2.04 on the sale of a $15.95 book.
  5. HP BookPrep enables publishers to digitize any existing book and turn it into a virtual asset that can be sold over the Internet and printed on demand. Head to HP BookPrep.
  7. Blurb lets you create professional-looking photo books, text books, cookbooks and “blog books” for a low price, starting at $12.95 per copy (softcover, minimum 10 copies). Head to Blurb.com.
  8. Scribd allows authors to upload documents to their library of e-books for free, lets authors set the price of their e-books and retain 80 percent of royalties from sales. Head to Scribd.com.
  9. Better-Beginnings

  10. PayDotCom is an ebook provider that relies on affiliate marketing. It’s free to sign up and members can sell one product at no charge, with additional listings costing $29 and commissions split 50-50 between vendors and affiliates. Head to PayDotCom.
  11. Amazon’s CreateSpace offers packages starting at $299 and provides you with the benefit of being listed in their highly trafficked marketplace. You can upload your completed PDF file for immediate release or use their professional services to fine-tune your copy and ready it for publication. CreateSpace will assign your book an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and you will become part of a growing community of talented authors looking to swap stories and share tips and advice. To list your book with Amazon, you must go through the Amazon Advantage page to register; it cost $30 per year to join the program.
  13. Smaller publishing houses: You can find a number of other publishing houses online or in your community. For example, Rexi Media, a start-up that helps managers enhance their public presence, self-published the book Better Beginnings (200 pages) through the Ohio-based POD service 48HrBooks and sells it online for $19.95. Café Press (which caters to shorter articles and stories) and ColorCentric and Llumina Press are three more micro-publishers; you can find an extensive list of print-on-demand publishers at Bookmarket.com. This option requires more market research and knowledge of how the design, publishing and distribution industries work, though it can be rewarding knowing you’ve published a book unlike most others in the marketplace.
  • Register your book. You’ll want to register your book for free at the Bowkers mega-directory Books in Print. This is the master list of all books available anywhere, which bookstores and libraries use.
  • Calculate your costs. Your expenses will vary based on which services you’ve rendered and can range from a couple of hundred to thousands of dollars. Once you’ve chosen your publishing company and a package that fits your needs, tally up the costs and make sure you’re getting sufficient bang for your buck. Printing more copies will give you the benefit of bulk rates, and with the right marketing tactics, it could pay off for when you hold an event with lots of foot traffic.
  • Find distribution channels. Now that you have your book, you’ll want to find venues for people to find it. One good choice is IndieReader, a site where readers can find original self-published titles.
  • Don’t forget marketing! Publishing your book is half the battle, so pay attention to distributing and marketing your finished product. If you’re personally handing it out to your colleagues and friends, marketing labor and costs will be low. If you’re trying to reach the masses, however, it’s important to obtain adequate publicity through marketing and advertising. Each self-publisher has professionals that will help you get an ISBN, list your book on various websites and push it to desired bookstores.

The self-publishing movement has just begun to take off, so identify your most valuable content and decide how you can package it in a way that highlights your organization’s accomplishments and appeals to existing and potential supporters.

Have you self-published a book? What was the experience like? Please share what you learned.


Publish a successful ebook: 7 e-publishing services (Socialbrite)

6 business reasons for nonprofits to publish a magazine (Socialbrite)

Self-Publishing at the Commonwealth Club of California (TheBookDesigner.com)

Self-publishing Boot Camp

Self-Publishing, Author Services Open Floodgates for Writers (PBS.org Media Shift)

Blurb for Good: Make a Book, Make a Difference (GOOD blog)