With two books in print and a third soon to be published in the next week or so, I think it's high time I covered the giant topic of Self Publishing.
I did cover this a bit in the article about selling quilt patterns as opposed to selling actual quilts, but self publishing a book is a bit different from a pattern.
For one thing, a pattern is short, sweet, and simple. You can probably cram instructions for even a complexly pieced quilt into 10 pages of text and diagrams.
A book is not so simple, or short, or sweet. More pages and more content means more time formatting this information so it looks half-way decent on the page and then editing to make sure most grammatical errors and typos are cleaned up before printing.
However when it comes to a book, there's more than just formatting and editing content. When most people when considering self publishing a pattern, they don't think much about it. 5 pages? Pfff...I'll print and package that myself...
The product is small, so the cost is small, so printing 200 copies of a 5 page pattern can probably be worked into a weekend along without a massive work-a-ton.
A book is a totally different ball game. The cost of toner and paper alone makes printing a 100 page book yourself almost impossible. Can you imagine printing 200 copies of a 100 page book on a Sunday afternoon? That's 20000 pages that need to spit out of your printer and be organized, hole punched, bound, etc!
So for self publishing, you're going to need to expand your world to include some other companies or businesses that help you in the process of taking your book from a word file to a printed, bound book. Yes, you could do it all by yourself, but these days there's really no reason to struggle. As you'll find by the end of this article, self publishing is now super easy, cheap, and awesome.
First, it might be good for me to explain the whole idea behind self publishing. What does this mean exactly?
To self publish is to write a book and publish it yourself.
This seems simple, but publishing includes formatting, editing, inserting photos, designing an interior cover, and exterior cover, as well as any drawings or graphics for the book, getting an ISBN and LCCN, and figuring out the best ways to get your book into the standard distribution chain so it will show up in quilt shops across the country.
That's the full gambit of everything a "real" publisher will do for you. And yes, this list is intimidating. Horribly intimidating.
Allow me to share a personal story of the hardest way you can learn how to self publish:
I wrote From Daisy to Paisley back in 2010 as a companion to the DVD Beginner Free Motion Quilting Fillers. When I wrote this book, I really had no idea what I was doing self-publishing wise.
I randomly picked the format size of 5.5" x 8.5" because I thought it was "cute." Really, I was so clueless! Thankfully this print size is industry standard, so I was lucky in that regard because most printers support this file size.
Note: it's worth researching print sizes AHEAD of time, before you start writing your book so you're sure it's a standard size and won't automatically opt you out of certain benefits - like being carried by major bookstore chains for example.
Once the book was written, I needed to create some small graphics for the front cover and certain pages within the book. To learn this, I forced myself to learn the basics of graphic design with Serif Draw Plus.
Note: it's far easier to hire a graphic designer, so long as you can sketch the design you need on paper, scan it, and send it to your designer, this will save you loads of time, difficulty, and cussing at your computer screen.
After fiddling with the graphics for several weeks, I was finally ready to upload the book to my printer. But wait! What about the cover?! Back to the drawing board for another day or two to create that file...
And in the middle of creating the cover, I thought about a bar code. How do you even GET a bar code?!
Well, if you bother to get an ISBN number, you can get a bar code there to paste on the back of the book.
Unfortunately while I was on the ISBN site, I also learned about LCCN (Library of Congress Control Number) which will make it possible for your book to show up in libraries and academic institutions. Why not?! Apply for that number as well...
Note: if you don't want your book to show up in bookstores, or if it's just a very unlikely thing to happen, don't bother with either number. The world will really not end if you don't have a bar code, an ISBN, or LCCN.
Finally, I finished up with the covers, uploaded the files, and waited patiently for the proof of the book to arrive. This is agonizing. Will it look good? Will it look like crap? What happens if it looks like crap?
The book arrived and it looked good...except for page 3, and page 7, and page....well, you get the idea.
A bit of editing and formatting later, a new book file was uploaded. By the way, this back and forth takes WEEKS. It is STRESSFUL. It is NOT FUN.
In the end, you finally have to let go of the book and let it be printed, let it be born even with a flaw or two you didn't catch: a typo left unfixed, an image with a blurry corner.
The key here is to understand that just as no quilt is perfect, no book will be perfect either. Do your absolute best, certainly strive for perfection, but when it's time to let go, let it go with the knowledge that you're likely to be the only person to see those imperfections.
Now comes the hard part (like the part before hasn't been hard enough ;-) : getting your book in real stores.
I have to admit utterly failing at this, so I'm probably not the best person to listen to for this section. All I can really say is what didn't work!
One thing you can do is wholesale books yourself. This assumes of course, that you have priced your book correctly where if your manufacturing cost is $5, your wholesale cost is $10, and your retail price is $20. I didn't do this math, so really couldn't make wholesaling work without taking a loss, which isn't sustainable.
If you've really done your maths, you will also add another step for a distributor to carry the book. In this case if your manufacturing cost is $5, your distributor cost is $7, your wholesale cost is $14, and your retail price is $24. Again, it really pays to THINK about this before you set the price of your book!
Of course, all this assumes that a distributor will even talk to you. I tried very hard to get a distributors attention for several months and finally gave up. More than likely they had done the math and realized my books weren't a good option because the prices weren't high enough for their profit margin.
You have to play a bit of the who-you-know game and know someone on the inside who will get you a word in with the right person. Or you can go to Quilt Market and if you attract their attention, you might be able to set up a deal in person.
Most especially understand the true cost of printing your book. Full color, double sided pages cost serious money, and represents a huge investment which, depending on how many books you purchase at a time, could add up to thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars.
Fortunately for all of us, there is an easier way.
No, you no longer have to worry about ISBNs, LCCNs, designing the cover of your book yourself, or figuring out ways of getting it into retail shops and book stores. You don't even have to worry about being able to buy 1000 copies so the cost of your book will be reasonable.
A little company called Amazon.com has made the act of self publishing not just easy, but totally AWESOME.
Amazon.com has created a small off-shoot company called CreateSpace.com which is a Print-On-Demand publisher. Basically you can upload your book and have it printed and bound by Create Space for about the same cost as using a traditional printer.
It's the same cost, so how is this a better thing?
The plus side comes in with how Amazon gets involved. Not only is your book automatically listed on Amazon.com - the biggest retailer in the world, big bookstores and wholesalers (basically anyone with a resale tax ID number) can wholesale from Create Space Direct and sell your book in their shop.
The real benefit comes into the cost of manufacturing. Amazon covers the cost because they only print a small number of books at a time - like 50 or so. From a normal printer, this would be outrageously expensive. If I only printed 50 copies from my printer Book1one.com, I would pay more than $50 a book just to have such a small amount printed!
But Amazon isn't just printing my book, they're printing books for thousands, if not millions of people from all over the globe, so they have the cheapest price on paper and toner and you no longer have to shell out thousands to get your books in print for a reasonable price.
Amazon even helps you understand the cost of manufacture by setting a minimum to the price of your book. If you've written a 1000 page tome on quilting with full color photos, they will force you to set a price for that book that at least covers their cost of printing it.
Create Space goes a step further to making self publishing AWESOME by providing free ISBN numbers and if you go with their number, they will also take care of the LCCN too. That hassle alone was a huge weight off my back because I found that process so confusing and time consuming.
Of course, there are downsides to this service.
The biggest limitation is your choice of binding style. In short: there is no choice.
Your book will be perfect bound - stitched together like a normal book, which is a bit annoying for quilters. I have always enjoyed books more if they are spiral bound because they lay flat and can be folded over.
Unfortunately Create Space just doesn't support this yet. Give it 5 years and maybe they will expand to add spiral binding options. I have my fingers crossed!
The other downside is the quality. Yes, it's still a good book, but if you want thick glossy pages, too bad. That isn't an option either.
The reason behind the lack of options is clear and clever: offer only a select amount of options so the cost of printing and binding stays very low.
Spiral binding is expensive because the holes have to be punched and spirals wound a certain way. Some printers do this by hand, others have machines, but regardless, it will always take more time and effort than simply stitching the book together like normal.
So here's a short list of pros and cons for the many ideas I've covered so far:
Self Publishing with Create Space and Amazon.com:
- Easier printing process
- Don't have to buy 1000 copies to get a low price
- Helpful cover generation program (very easy to use)
- Free ISBN and LCCN
- Hooks you up with distribution
- Only perfect bound
- Only matte pages
- Not the absolute highest quality
Self Publishing and printing yourself:
- Any binding style
- Pick any paper you like
- Super high quality
- Super, super expensive
- Complicated, intimidating process
- No distribution established
- Must do ISBN and LCCN yourself
- Gotta buy 1000 books or more to create a reasonable cost per book.
Looking at these lists, you might be wondering why you're bothering to self publish at all. Why not go after a big publisher like C&T or AQS?
If you're absolutely, positively, overwhelmingly intimidated by everything I've thrown at you today, yes, this might be a good idea.
If you have no desire to learn graphic design, to format your book, to design even a simple cover in a cover generation program, or to click through the easy interface of CreateSpace.com, then a big publisher might make this whole process easier for you.
But this assumes one thing: that they will want your book.
This sounds cold-hearted, but just as I was ignored by a distributor, I've also been ignored by big publishers. No, it certainly wasn't anytime recently, but at the beginning of the project I sent out proposals for a possible book from this project. Dead silence was the universal response to those queries.
You might have the best idea for the coolest, most awesome quilting book in history, but unless you can sell someone else on that idea, you're not going to be published by these big guys.
I call these people in your way "gate keepers." They have locked the gate from just any Jane Doe on the street from publishing a quilt book. They have to "approve" Jane's book idea first and many people have to be in agreement that the book is not only cool, but it also fits in with the "ideas of the company" or whatever nonsense they come up with this year.
On the surface this might seem to be a good thing. Gate keepers stop bad quilters from publishing bad books filled with inaccurate measurements and bad directions.
But that in itself just sounds wrong. Why would anyone want to write a book if they didn't KNOW what they were writing about?! So far, I've never met someone with no talent, no ability, or no creativity chomping at the bit to write a book about quilting.
Personally I feel that all forms of gate keeping is a limitation to content, information, and creativity.
If you want to write a book, why do you need someone's permission or approval that it's a good idea? Why do you need that big publisher to sign off on your idea? Why do you need to play a game or schmooze anyone to do what you want?
Yes, there are some people that may need this kind of positive assurance or affirmation. You may be looking for someone to say "Yes! This is a good idea for a book." Stop for a minute and see if you're waiting for that and decide right now to stop waiting - no one can give you that assurance except YOU.
Because these days, with programs like CreateSpace.com, you definitely don't need that publisher to say yes or no. YOU can decide what you want to do, and no one can turn you away at the gate because you don't "fit" with the company program.
Best of all, by publishing yourself, the content remains YOURS. Had I published a book of 365 designs with a big publisher, more than likely that publisher would have asked that I stopped sharing the designs publicly when the book launched. Save it for the book! Save it so people will buy the book!
They're scared of free information and free content because they can't really understand the idea that something given for free, with no strings attached, could actually create value.
Yes, there are benefits from going with a big publisher, IF they approve your book, but these days the only real benefit they have is their extensive distribution chain. They are juiced in with the major distributors so you don't have to play that game of getting your book into quilt shops.
But here's another catch: how many people know about you and want your book?
This is getting back to the core principle of traffic and content. A big publisher can publish your book and can send it to the major distributors, but unless quilt shops know about you and like the look of your book, they're not going to stock it.
In other words: there are no guarantees that a big publisher will pay off.
YOU still need to be doing your part to provide content and drive traffic to yourself, to build an audience that cares about your work and information that will be interested in a potential book, should you come out with one.
Paradoxically, this is the very thing big publishers seek to limit when they set rules on what you can and can't blog about after signing a publishing contract. How many blogs these days have "secret" projects they can't reveal until the book is out. Not a lot of fun to read about is it?
So let's close with the reasons my next book 365 Free Motion Quilting Designs will be self published in the next week or so:
1. No gate keepers - I didn't have to consult anyone about my "right" to publish this book. I don't need approval or permission to compile this content. I don't need to be declared "worthy" or the "right fit." I know this book will be awesome because I felt awesome writing it!
2. It's easy - For this book, I've opted to only print and publish through CreateSpace.com. After editing the book this evening, it will be uploaded and a sample copy will be ordered in about 1 hour. Super simple, super easy.
3. Reasonable Cost - Because I'm working with CreateSpace.com, I can afford a print version of this book. At 252 full color 8.5" x 11" pages, this book is expensive to print, even from Amazon.com, but at least this way the cost will be far minimized thanks to the scale of that massive company. Oh, and hopefully free shipping ;-)
4. Self publishing rocks! - Self publishing rocks because more of the profit from the book actually goes to the person that wrote it. It's no secret that I support my family with my quilting business. I'm extremely proud of this fact because without my work, we wouldn't be able to eat. I'm not selfish or money grubby, but I do need to make a profit because otherwise, I wouldn't be able to quilt, or write, or make videos to share with you all.
5. Long term potential - In 10 years, this new book may not be selling many copies, but it will still be available because it's mine. Even having it printed through Createspace.com doesn't mean I give up any rights to the book itself.
If this book was published by someone else, they would set a minimum for the number of books that needed to sell in a year. If the books didn't sell enough volume for too many years in a row, my book would go out of print. I would have to buy the rights to my own book BACK from the publisher at huge expense to get the book back in print.
Why allow gate keepers to tell me how my book should look, or how long it should be available? Why let someone else dictate the "worthiness" of this subject matter? If you want something done, do it yourself!
I really hope you've enjoyed this article as much as I've enjoyed writing it. I truly love writing, sharing, posting videos, and quilting, and I feel so very fortunate to be able to share this knowledge and experience with you.
I hope this helps save you time, effort, and energy in your path to self publishing. The world is changing and you definitely don't need a big publisher to get your awesome information out to the world, and to support you family with the fruit of your knowledge.
Here's the complete list of all 10 Quilting Business Posts:
Let's go quilt (or publish a book!)