In parts one and two of this blog, we looked at the first five steps to self-publishing a book. This included discussing the differences between being a traditionally published author and a self-published author, as well as offering tips for writing, editing, and designing a book. In this blog, we’ll look at steps six, seven, and eight—printing, distribution, and marketing.
6. Printing a Book
Deciding on a printing company depends on what your plans are for your book. Do you need inventory or can you print on demand? Do you even need a print book? Or could you focus on selling an e-book instead? When choosing a printer, some authors are motivated by price, others by location.
Let’s explore the different types of printers available to you.
Print on Demand: A print-on-demand (POD) company offers the option of ordering the exact number of books you want printed, whether it’s one copy or several hundred copies, and the books are printed and delivered exactly when you need them. POD is a popular option because you don’t have to worry about inventory. Often POD is used to fulfill a sales order, and the books are usually printed on a digital printing press.
Short-Run Printing: You would use a short-run printer if you wanted to order a small batch of books for printing (e.g., 200 copies). You may not have orders for the books yet, but short-run printing enables you to have some inventory on hand. There may be a setup charge for your print job, but then after that the printing should be fairly low cost. Short-run printing can be a good option for self-published authors because the printers are usually easy to work with, and some even offer interior layout and book-cover templates.
Four-Colour Offset Printing: You would generally hire an offset printing company if you needed high-quality printing in large volumes. Essentially, offset printing, or offset lithography, uses ink transferred onto rollers and then onto printing plates. This is likely not your first choice as a self-published author, but it’s good to know about it anyways.
Bookmasters is an example of an offset printing company.
Espresso Book Machines: If you want to print a single copy of your book, the Espresso Book Machine might be the answer for you. You’ll find these printing kiosks in select bookstores and cafes, where you can print your book while you wait and sip a cappuccino. You can find locations for these Espresso Book Machines through the website OnDemandBooks.
7. Distributing a Book
Book distribution is the delivery system for placing your books into the hands of bookstores and customers. The Association of Canadian Publishers offers up a list of book distributors on its website, as well as this advice:
Once a book has been published it will need a distributor. If your book has been published by an established publishing house, they will already have distribution contacts. If you self-publish or publish with a very small house that does not have distribution set up, you will need to make this contact on your own. Remember that distributors will generally take 55–65 percent of the cover price (40 percent of which is going to the bookseller). Make sure your pricing formula has taken this into account
Distribution for Print Books
To further break down book distribution, let’s look at the role of a wholesaler versus a distributor.
Wholesaler: This is a company that fulfills bookstore orders. For example, you provide the book to the wholesaler at a 55 percent discount, and then the wholesaler sells it to the retailer at a 40 percent discount. So you (author/publisher) make 45 percent, the wholesaler makes 15 percent, and the bookstore makes 40 percent.
Distributor: This is also a company that fulfills bookstore orders (sometimes through a wholesaler). However, one of the main differences between a distributor and a wholesaler is that the distributor usually has a sales team to promote your book to bookstores and wholesalers.
Remember, just because you have book distribution doesn’t mean that a bookstore will actually place an order for your book. You need to promote your book in order for it to sell. A self-published author may also choose to sell directly to local bookstores (usually on consignment) and niche markets such as gift shops.
Distribution for E-books
Given that an e-book is a digital file, it is sold exclusively online. You need to deliver your files—mobi for Kindle and epub for all other e-readers—to the online stores that sell e-books, such as Kindle.
There are two main approaches to getting your e-book into these online stores:
- You can open a seller (author) account with each of the online e-book stores, such as Kindle, Kobo, Nook, and iBook. You would upload your e-book file to each store, and each store would interact directly with you and pay you directly for your e-book sales.
- You can open one account with an e-book distribution aggregator, which is a company that will act as a distributor between you and the online stores. The aggregator company will take care of ensuring your e-book files are properly formatted for different e-reader devices, will collect your sales proceeds, and will distribute your files to as many as 60 online e-book sellers. The aggregator company will charge you a percentage fee for this services, but in the end they are saving you lots of administration time. Smashwords and Bookbaby are two main e-book aggregators.
8. Marketing a Book
No matter how great your book is, you have to remember the following: people can’t buy your book if they don’t know it exists. You need to promote it. In order to effectively promote your book and achieve book sales, you’ll need to make a basic marketing plan and carry out the activities in that plan. To begin, you’ll need to
- Know your audience. What is your book genre? Who are your target readers? Where do these readers buy books? Where do they shop in general? What would make them buy your book?
- Make a plan. Create a list of marketing activities and then implement them one by one and watch the results. If you start to see sales attributed to one particular action (e.g., a Facebook ad, an email list, a radio interview), then you know you’ve hit upon something that is reaching your target audience, and you can repeat it.
- Try different marketing activities, and then narrow them down. Test several marketing activities, but don’t try to sustain them all; you’ll be spreading yourself too thin. Instead, test out ideas and social media sites, and then focus in on a few and work at them as hard as you can to reach your target audience.
- Set a budget. You’ll want to recover your publishing investment plus make money from selling your book. The only way to do that is to set a budget and stick to it.
Marketing communications is the act of influencing or affecting behavior of an audience. In other words, you want to influence the people in your target market to buy your book. Marketing is a set of activities that creates exchanges between you (the author/publisher) and your customers (the reader). Here are six marketing approaches to selling your self-published book:
- Personal selling: an in-store book launch
- Advertising: a Facebook ad
- Sales promotion: a price discount offered
- Sponsorship marketing: associating your book with another company’s brand
- Publicity: free advertising such as an editorial write-up in the newspaper
- Social media marketing: using Facebook and Twitter to promote yourself
What Are the Top Social Media Sites for Authors?
According to the 2015 Smashwords Survey, best-selling authors are more likely to be on Facebook and Twitter and to have a blog. Similarly, a panel discussion at a past Digital Book World conference revealed that Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and author blogs were most widely used by authors. So, if you’re looking for where to start building your audience online, theses are excellent places to begin.
So there you have it—choosing the right printer and distributor, as well as having well-planned marketing communications, are key steps to successfully self-publishing a book. In the next and final blog in this series, we’ll review the last two steps to self-publishing a book—setting your book price and planning activities for after the book launch.
Stacey D. Atkinson is a freelance writer and editor based in Ottawa. The advice offered in this blog series is taken from excerpts from the 10-lesson online course on How to Publish a Book.