There are three stages a manuscript passes through in order to become a book: internal layout (typesetting), cover design and printing. Decisions about which services you use to complete these stages (particularly printing) will be closely connected with how you plan to sell your book. For this reason, I think it’s important to consider distribution at the same time as production.
You can approach production in three basic ways: project manage the process yourself, use a DIY service like CreateSpace or Lulu or go all out and buy an all-in-one package where the work’s done for you. The route you choose will depend on how much work you’re willing put in, the money you have available and your plans for distribution.
Route One: Project manage the process yourself
Taking this path, you maintain full control. You either do your own internal layout and cover design or contract the work out to a professional. You then select a printer and tell them how many copies you want produced. These can be sold via your website, at corporate or social events or through online/bricks and mortar bookshops. If you require an ISBN, you’ll buy one either from your national ISBN agency or your printer, if they happen to provide that service.
The advantage of this method is that, as long as you hire decent designers and printers, you’ll get a professional-looking book for less than the cost of an all-in-one package. The disadvantages are that you’ll still spend a significant amount of money and have to liaise with and manage designers and printers yourself. If you choose a large print run, you could also, potentially, end up with hundreds of unsold books filling your living room for the next ten years.
Route Two: Publish using CreateSpace (or Lulu)
Just as with the previous method, you can either complete typesetting and cover design yourself or hire a professional. CreateSpace also offer a third option by providing their own cover creation software and templates for internal layout.
The main difference with CreateSpace, though, is in printing and distribution. Books are sold largely through Amazon using a system called print on demand. Basically, when someone buys your book, CreateSpace makes up a copy then and there and posts it out to them. You don’t have to do anything. You simply earn a royalty for each book sold.
They also have an expanded distribution option. This uses the same (print on demand) production process to supply wholesalers such as Bowker and any bookshops willing to order through them.
CreateSpace can be used either as a standalone solution or as one of many distribution channels. It’s a non exclusive deal so you can follow route one to book production (project managing the process yourself), sell your book through bookshops, your website or anywhere else you choose, and upload to CreateSpace as just another outlet.
This option involves little to no initial financial outlay. CreateSpace even provides a free ISBN if you don’t already have one. It’s one of the few economically viable ways for a small-scale self-publisher to access the all important Amazon market. The only real disadvantages are that CreateSpace produce books of slightly lower quality and their cover creation tool isn’t the most sophisticated from a design point of view. However, the difference in quality is only marginal and you can circumvent the design problems by avoiding the system tools and hiring a professional to create your book cover.
Lulu provides an almost identical service. However, I’m less impressed with their offering. As I’ll discuss in more detail later, the royalty you receive, at least for selling a standard-sized novel on Amazon, isn’t as good as with CreateSpace. It’s well worth investigating both options, though and comparing production costs and royalties for your particular book specifications before you decide who to publish with.
Route Three: Buy an all-in-one package
There are hundreds of companies out there (sometimes referred to as author solutions services) that offer packages to take your work from manuscript to printed book. These usually encompass typesetting, cover design and printing. Most provide you with an ISBN and barcode and some even throw in a bit of basic proofreading. Several also have facilities to sell your finished book and offer distribution and marketing packages at additional cost.
In the past, a few poor companies have given this sector a bad name. Overcharging and obscure and unflattering contract terms, along with poor design and production values, have tarnished the reputation of the whole industry.
However, there are established, reputable providers out there (such as Matador and Silverwood Books) who offer an honest, professional service and take pride in the quality of their products. They have many years experience and can offer valuable help and advice as well as producing high quality books. Furthermore, their distribution networks are often more extensive than the average self-publisher could hope to access on his/her own.
Providing you pick a reputable company, the only real disadvantage to this option is money. Because someone else is doing the work for you, this method usually involves the greatest financial outlay. For this reason, it’s important to think carefully and be realistic about your book’s potential before you make any decisions. However, there really is no beating the service offered by the top package providers for convenience, book quality and advice given.
I’ll be discussing all of these options in more detail in later posts.
Next time: Typesetting