Susan C. Anthony

General Information on Self-Publishing and Marketing Your Book

I still remember the first time I heard the words "Desktop Publishing." It was 1988. Dennis and I were on safari at the bottom of Nygorongoro Crater in Tanzania with an Australian couple. I was talking about the difficulties I was having in getting Facts Plus published, despite the interest of some large publishers. 

Barry knew a lot about more about computers than I did. He said that by using (then) new computer software, there was no reason I couldn't publish the book myself. As soon as we returned to the U.S., I set about figuring out how to do that. All my books are self-published. On the whole, I think it's a much better way to go than working with a publishing house, though there are downsides. 

Others have since asked for help and advice in publishing their own books. I wrote this to share what I know. There's a lot I don't know, but this will hopefully help you evaluate whether self-publishing would be appropriate for your book project. I've helped some friends self-publish their memoirs (great gift for kids and grandkids). These days it's possible to sell what you've written on the Internet with few up-front costs. Some people sell downloadable books. Others print and ship books on demand. 

Keep in mind that the publisher is the investor, the person or company who puts up the money and takes the financial risk. A printer prints and binds the book. Printers are paid, often in advance, by the publisher. Their responsibility ends with the printing and delivery of books to the publisher.

How to Get into Print

  • Big Publisher
    • Advantages:
      • Editorial support.
      • You write the book; they, theoretically, do the rest (editing, printing, marketing, accounting).
      • Ideally, royalty checks roll in and you have time to write more books.
    • Disadvantages:
      • It's extremely difficult to get a major publisher to look at an unsolicited manuscript. You might be more likely to win the lottery.
      • Even if a publisher accepts your manuscript, you lose control. The publisher's vision is more important than yours because the financial risk is theirs.
      • Publishers may not put much energy into marketing. You might end up doing the marketing anyway, for a lot less financial return than if you self-published.
      • If your book doesn't sell through quickly, it will likely be returned by wholesalers and bookstores to make room for more profitable titles. Your book could end up a "remainder", perhaps sitting forlornly on a bargain table being sold for less than it cost to print.
      • Few books sell well in bookstores anymore.  People rarely curl up with a good book.  For information, people use the Internet. There is tremendous competition for people's time and attention.
  • Small publisher. Small publishers have the same advantages and disadvantages of large publishers, but may have a more specialized market and a more personal "feel."
  • Subsidy or vanity publisher. These publishers run ads in magazines. You pay for the printing and they promise to do everything else. They have a bad reputation for taking your money and doing nothing else.
    • Advantages: None.
    • Disadvantages: Everything. Don't even consider this option.
  • Self publishing.
    • Advantages:
      • You have total control over your vision and the marketing.
      • You don't have to survive repeated rejections before getting your work into print.
      • You make a good deal more money for each book that sells.
      • You don't get tangled in bureaucracy. You can get things into print faster.
      • You can write off a lot of expenses, even if your books don't sell as well as you hope.
    • Disadvantages:
      • You have to put up the money and take the financial risk.
      • You have to do the marketing and promotion.
      • You have to take care of the business side of things and wear lots of different hats.
      • You may well become frustrated by the amount of time you must spend on the business rather than on writing.

To self-publish, you need:

  1. An idea. See a need and fill it.
  2. A market. Who would want or need your book? Do some market research and consider what would be necessary to sell the book to the people who would benefit from it. To be successful in self-publishing, you must sell the books. Robert Kiyosaki, best-selling author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad said it well. He told an aspiring author once that he acknowledged her as a superior writer. He's a best-selling author, not necessarily a best-writing author.

Business Considerations

You will need to start your own publishing company. Some things to consider:

  1. Organizational structure. A sole proprietorship is recommended.
  2. Financing. Savings, family loans, etc. I emphatically discourage you from using borrowed money. If you're committed to this project, save up and pay cash. If the book sells, wonderful. If not, you won't face financial ruin.
  3. Taxes. Find out what you need to know about income tax and sales tax.
  4. Employee identification number (EIN). Even if you don't have employees, you will need this number to identify your business and file your tax returns. Call the IRS or check their website for information.
  5. Bank account. Keep business and personal finances separate. I have an envelope in my purse for all business receipts.
  6. Bookkeeping system. I used Quicken 2003 for ten years and it was perfectly adequate. I was forced to upgrade when I bought a new computer and am less happy with the later version of Quicken.
    • Income categories: consulting, gross sales, interest.
    • Expense categories: books, commissions, conferences, copies, cost of goods, credit card fees, draw, equipment, gifts, insurance, legal and professional fees, memberships, miscellaneous, office, postage, promotion, repairs, returns, salary, supplies, taxes and licenses, telephone, travel. These roughly follow Schedule C of the income tax return.
  7. Business license.
  8. Register company name with the state as required.
  9. Business address and phone number. 
  10. Logo, letterhead, envelopes, business cards, return envelopes, mailing labels.
  11. Business plan. Contact the Small Business Development Center for classes and publications on this subject. Get your vision for the business and your future into words. A business plan should include:
    1. concise description of the business
    2. market analysis
    3. marketing plan
    4. information about specific market segments
    5. management and personnel
    6. operations plan
    7. financial data
  12. Set up an office, preferably in your home to keep overhead costs down. You can legally deduct a portion of your household expenses from whatever income you receive.
  13. My office includes:
    1. Computer
    2. Router
    3. Hard drives
    4. Printer
    5. Scanner
    6. Copy machine
    7. Answer/FAX machine
    8. Filing cabinets
    9. Shelves

Book Design Considerations

  1. Size of book. 8.5 x 11 or 5.5 x 8.5 are the most economical sizes to print.
  2. Number of pages (including front matter). A signature is generally 16 pages, so it is most economical to print in multiples of 16: 16, 32, 48, 64, 80, 96, 112, 128, 144, 160, 176, 192, 208, 224, 240, 256, 272, 288, 304, etc.
  3. Paper. 50 lb. book paper is recommended (same as 20 lb. bond).
  4. Typestyle. Serif type is supposedly easier to read in print. Popular fonts are Times and New Century Schoolbook. Stick with one font and vary it by sizing, bold italic, etc.
  5. Page design. Consider design elements such as running heads.
  6. Binding. Most books are perfect bound. It's generally the least expensive. Other options include wire binding, comb binding, staples, casebinding and Smythe sewn.
  7. Cover. The cover should photograph well in black and white. Four color covers are almost necessary for a professional-looking book. 12 lb. cover stock film laminated or UV coated. Consider Lexotone or other printable cloth for a more durable cover. Overruns of the cover are inexpensive sales aids.
    1. Front cover: Title, subtitle, author, etc.
    2. Back cover: Should have list price (approximately 8 times the cost of printing), bar code containing ISBN, publisher's name and address, web site address, price. May have any or all of the following: contents, comments by notables, author photo and biographical information, quotes from reviews.
  8. Inside the book:
    1. Title page: title, subtitle, author, company name and address, web site address.
    2. Copyright page: Company name, address and phone number, copyright notice and date, LCCN, ISBN, CIP, "Printed in the USA", mention acid-free paper if used.
    3. Front matter: introduction, acknowledgments, dedication, contents.
    4. Text: illustrations can be line, halftone, or color. Get permission for any copied material.
    5. Back matter: appendix, footnotes, index, coupon for ordering the book.

Printing Considerations

  1. Typesetting. You can do the "typesetting" on a computer. Printing is much less expensive when submitted in portable document format (PDF) or "camera ready."
  2. Number of books to print. If you decide to use a regular printer, print no more than you think you can sell in a year. You might want to test sales of your book with photocopies.
  3. Request for quote to printers. Ask for shipping quotes as well. Ask for a sample of their work. The prices I was quoted differed tremendously from printer to printer.

Marketing Considerations

  1. Reviewers. I was very fortunate that in 1991 and 1992, Facts Plus was reviewed by Booklist and School Library Journal. I have since learned later that many major reviewers no longer consider self-published books. The best chance to get your book reviewed might be to find blogs, periodicals, or web sites addressed to your target audience.
  2. Listings. Inform Books in Print using an ABI (Advanced Book Information) form. Look for other places to get the book listed.
  3. Wholesalers. Research wholesalers who might want to carry your book. Baker and Taylor and Ingram are the largest wholesalers. They require a very large discount.
  4. Distributors. I found this to be a losing proposition. I'd rather give the books away.
  5. Libraries.
  6. Bookstores.
  7. Direct sales.
  8. Direct mail. I found this to be a money pit. E-mail to a target audience might be possible.
  9. Catalogs. My books are listed in several home school catalogs.
  10. Discount policy. The policy I use for resellers is: No discount on orders for single books. 2-4 books get a 20% discount. 5 or more books (any mix of titles) get a 40% discount.
  11. Promotion campaign. How will you get the news out that your book is available? It is no small task to get any news to anyone in this media-rich culture.
  12. Advertising. I didn't find this to be profitable or worthwhile. It is incredibly expensive and you need to advertise time after time to get results.
  13. Publicity is the greatest. That is when someone else writes about you or your project.
  14. Storage of books. Where will you keep all those boxes?
  15. Shipping: boxes, labels, invoices, packing slips, packing material.
  16. Collections. I have been fortunate that this has never been a problem.

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