The Self-Publishing Business Model

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In this post, I will discuss the self-publishing business model in general, and the different methods commonly seen in the process of publishing a book.  These steps can be described as being from the very simple and easy all the way up to the very advanced and troublesome, depending on the route that the publisher decides to go throughout the process.

I must also apologize for the infrequency of my posting of late.  Even more than a month out from The Dying Times being released, I have been extremely busy with all of the things I have to do to get it ready for production.  So, I decided to make this post really worth your while.

The Writing of the Book: Decisions Prior to Publication

During the process of initially writing the manuscript for his book, the smart author will begin thinking about marketing (and marketability) of his book.  The marketability of the book is a measure of how well it can be marketed and sold to readers.  If a book has a chance to be profitable, it is marketable.  Therefore, it would behoove the publisher to invest in marketing the book, but that is a story for another time.  For this article, the focus is the self-publishing business model itself, so I shall continue.

Formatting and Word Processing

When the time comes to format the book and make sure everything is correct and proper, you will need to choose a word processor for manuscripting, and either use a word processor or a print layout tool to finish it.

For independents, the word processor and the finishing tool will often be the same software.  For mine, I used OpenOffice, but you can use others, such as WordPerfect or Microsoft Office.  If you want the extremely professional touch and you don’t mind parting with your simoleons, you can obtain a layout tool specifically designed for print typesetting, such as Adobe’s Indesign.  (I do have a copy of Indesign, but I don’t use it to layout my novels.)

I will elaborate somewhat on why I don’t use Indesign for my novel typesetting:  although it allows greater control over the exact placement of everything and added guarantees on the printing accuracy, it is a little more powerful than I need for writing fiction.  For my fiction work, it is like using a shotgun to drill a hole in a piece of wood.  Though it would do an amazing job and accomplish the task, I personally end up with better results from a power drill.

OpenOffice (and others) are quite capable of formatting an entire book inside, but you will need something else to create an appealing cover.  I use Photoshop and stock art (as of this writing), but I hear you can get similar results from free software (the GIMP) and cheaper software (Paint Shop Pro).  Of course, you can certainly use automated tools to generate a cover for your book, or you can hire an artist or designer to make it for you, and we’ll get a little more into that in another article.

Self-Publishing Basics:  Early Decisions

Alright, so you have this manuscript.  Now what?  There are several things that must be done now, and there are a few decisions to make:

  • How will I print and publish my book?
  • How will I distribute my book?
  • How much control can I retain, and what methods can I use?

These are questions that need answering before or during the writing process.  The “How” should be answered before the “When” (it will be released) and possibly even before the “What” (the book is about) is asked and answered.  If you have a manuscript and no plan, you have a manuscript that might not go anywhere.  It is better to take a little time out of writing to develop the plan.

Printing and Publishing

The first and foremost question is to determine what printing option you are going to use.  There are several, and I will post my thoughts on each one that I know.

  • Lightning Source – This is the option that Late Nite Books uses, and it is probably the best for self-publishers who don’t mind getting their hands dirty and being deeply involved in each step of the publishing process.  If you are technically-capable and have the time, Lightning Source is probably the best option for you.  It has a very steep learning curve and is not for the faint of heart.  It also does involve setup costs that others do not normally require, but you end up with the widest distribution stream (Ingram’s distribution network plus Amazon and others) and probably the best quality you can achieve short of binding everything yourself.  For the Lightning Source option, you will require your own ISBN number(s), creating/commissioning your own cover artwork/design, and completely formatting and editing your manuscript into a useable file for the printing machines.
  • CreateSpace – this Amazon company allows you to get good quality results with minimal investment on your part.  There are options for you to use your own ISBN number or to use one generated by the service and owned by CreateSpace.  (This shows CreateSpace as the publisher if you use their ISBN.)  In theory, using CreateSpace’s free option, a free word processor, and either their cover generator or a free graphics program, you could create and publish your book for free.  They do require you to purchase a proof copy of your own book, but it usually runs under $10.00.
  • Lulu – Lulu is almost identical in operation to CreateSpace, but it is designed in a different flavor.  Check out Lulu and CreateSpace and determine for yourself which one you like better if going this route.
  • Local printer – you can go with a local printer in your area.  Since they are just as broad as the topics authors write about, all I can really say is that your mileage may vary.

Distribution

If you are using Lightning Source, Lulu, or CreateSpace, distribution is decided during the setup of the book.  If you are printing the books and distributing them yourself (usually in the form of mass-produced “runs” of 500 or 1000 books or more), then you will have a little more work to do.  Of course, you can make more money from your sales and keep more of the profits by using offset printing, but you run the risk of not being able to sell the books and run into the problem of storing and shipping books to purchasers.

Retaining Control

The following tips will help you keep control of your work:

  1. Copyright protection – the first step in control.  Send your work to your official government copyright office.  In the U.S., you can submit new books electronically, saving you time and money, for as little as $35.00, but fees vary depending on the book.  You can visit the U.S. Copyright Office to learn more.
  2. ISBN ownership – owning your own ISBNs for your book insures that you will be displayed as the publisher of the work, and you have the right to copy, print, and distribute your books.  This cuts out a middle man in some cases, but it can have varying effects on your distribution model.  Consult your printer’s documentation on using your own ISBN (especially if using Amazon’s CreateSpace or Lulu) prior to buying some ISBNs.  If you want to buy some, you can visit R.R. Bowker if you live in the U.S.  If you use Lightning Source, you must provide your own ISBNs: they will not do this for you.
  3. Trademarking – this applies to those who plan on doing everything themselves and just using a printer to get their books.  Registering a trademark can protect your brand, and it gives you the ability to build a brand without worrying about someone coming along and stealing it from you.  You can learn more about trademarks at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Conclusion

If you’ve figured out all of the above, Bravo!  All you need to worry about now is marketing.  It’s a whole different world, and the topic of another article altogether.  Good luck!  If you have questions or comments, feel free to post them here, and I will try to respond as best I can.

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