Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Pains of Self Publishing: Print Copies

Ebooks have revolutionized the self publishing industry. They have made it far easier to get your novel into the hands of the public than anything that has come before. You no longer have to rely on the fickle tastes of the publishing industry to take notice of your book, or spend years awaiting its release. That being said, I think all indie authors have that burning desire to hold a physical, printed copy of their work in their hands. I know I did.

Sure, ebooks are awesome, but you don't feel like a "real" author until you can flip the pages you've written. The problem with doing so, however, is that it's expensive. Publishing an ebook can be done for absolutely nothing. A printed copy requires a whole lot more, and can be an overwhelming task.

For my novel, The Check Out, I knew I wanted printed copies. I have connections to a local bookstore in town, so I knew that I would sell a few more than the average Joe. Also, I wanted to give the people that helped me with the project something to set on their shelves. I was under no delusion, though, that I would sell hundreds of copies and make millions. I just wanted to make a few bucks, and sign some physical copies.

I looked into the most popular "Print on Demand" publishers like Lulu and Createspace. I liked their business model, and the money that I could save, however, I didn't feel that the final product was quite as professional as I wanted. The covers were glossy, and I was worried my book would look cheap. I decided to investigate other options.

I ended up going with a company called 360 Digital Books. Their model was a little different than Createspace, but still tailored to small run prints. Each author is put in touch with a regional sales rep who is available every day. Any time I had a question, I could email and have a response within a day or so. They guided me through every step of the way, and made the entire process very easy.

Their minimum order is 25, which is what I requested. The price was very reasonable, and I was really happy with the final result. The binding was sturdy, and the colors accurate to the PDF. It was an amazing feeling to hold the first copy in my hand.

My plan this entire time was to sell the ebook in Kindle format, and use Amazon Fulfillment to sell my paperback. When I first researched the program, it seemed a bit costly, but easy to use. As I jumped into the process of getting the book set up, I learned that it was a completely different story.

First of all, I was on a new Beta version of the program, so none of the instructions on their website matched my interface. It was a huge hassle setting up the book, and then enrolling in the Fulfillment part. Once I finally got it listed, I found out that Amazon requires you to relabel each copy of the book that you send in. You either have to physically print a label and attach it to each copy of your book, or pay them to do it. I found this part especially frustrating because I have my own UPC (tied to the ISBN) on the back cover. I called Amazon, and they said that this didn't matter.

I decided to pay them the 20 cents per copy to attach the label to save time. Trying to actually set that up, unfortunately, was another pain in the ass. I had to make another phone call because the site's instructions pointed me towards a menu that I didn't have. I spoke to a representative who didn't really know how to help me. She put me on hold, and accidentally disconnected the call. I tried again on my own, and eventually figured it out.

With Amazon Fulfillment, as I initially understood it, they would tell me how many copies to send them, and then email me when they needed to order more. These orders would be based on sales. I was happy because I would finally have a page I could point people to preorder the book. (Kindle doesn't allow you to set the publication date in the future.) As I waded through the shipment process, I realized that it wouldn't be easy, either.

After I told Amazon to attach their own labels, I was asked how many copies did I want to send. I decided to act conservatively and send them 10. I needed some for the book store, and a few as giveaways. I assumed that I would be sending all 10 to the same address. Nope. Amazon had me split those into 3 separate shipments to 3 different warehouses. I tried to change this option, but learned that doing so would cost me an additional 30 cents per copy.

I printed the packing slip for each box, and then tried to print the actual shipping labels. Luckily, they give you UPS labels, so you don't have to pay for shipping. The bad part is that you have to provide the dimensions of the shipping box, along with the weight, before you can ship anything. Again, Amazon was making it difficult to do business.

At this point, I stopped everything and broke out the calculator. I was hoping to make $3 off each printed copy. After Amazon's 40% cut, and all the additional fees, I would have to set my list price at $12.99 (which was a bit higher than I wanted), and end up making less than $2 per book. That's not including the gas money, boxing materials, and the time it would take to send them copies each time they needed more.

This figure left me extremely disappointed. I had spent all this time, effort, and money on designing a quality paperback book, and because of Amazon's policies, it wouldn't be a viable product. What did I do? I decided to go with Createspace for the Amazon paperbacks.

So, my novel is now available in three different formats. There is the Kindle ebook, which will be exclusive to Amazon for 90 days. There is the Createspace paperback that you get when ordering from Finally, there is the preferred, higher quality, paperback available at my local bookstore. I suppose I don't mind helping out the indie bookstore. I still love physical books, and I'm glad that I can do a little something to persuade people to buy local.

 I am not very happy that this will not be the version that an out of town reader will get. I have not received my proof from Createspace yet, so I can't directly compare the two publishers. Either way, I am glad that my work will exist in printed form. I know that the bulk of my sales will come in digital format, and I'm fine with that. I just wish there was a wider avenue for printed releases out there.


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