This is the ninth entry in a series in which I detail the entire experience of self-publishing my book. The goal is to offer tips and strategies so you can learn from my successes and mistakes. This week: how to ensure you get the best possible printed books, how to use them, and how to plan plenty of time for promotion.
As I detailed in part 7 of this series, “How I Landed An Audiobook Deal,” I have recently been writing books for Audible, which has been great fun. But there’s one problem with doing audiobook-only releases: there is no physical product to hand out to people, sell or give away in contests, send out for reviews, or autograph.
I write children’s books, and parents and grandparents are always asking me for copies of my books to give as presents, and I always see the light dim in their eyes when I say, “Sure thing! Just go online and…” Don’t get me wrong. I love Audible and I love audiobooks, but not having physical books can make sales and promotion a bit of a challenge.
If you are considering only publishing eBooks, you will face all of these same issues. Do yourself a favor: order printed books, too. You’ll thank me.
OK, so hopefully you’ve decided to do just that; what’s the best way to get professionally printed books?
Wholesale books and print on demand distribution
As recently as 10 years ago, it was still a struggle for authors to get their printed books into stores. Sure, you could convince your local store to buy a few copies of your book, but to get your book into the national chains? Fat chance. On top of that, if authors wanted to print books, they needed to order hundreds or thousands of books, which meant enormous up-front costs, which simply put self-publishing out of reach of many authors.
Now, of course, we have print on demand. When you publish with a service like BookBaby, your printed books are listed on all of the world’s biggest bookstores. Customers find your book and order a copy. If the retailer already has the book in stock, they ship it to the customer. If not, they order more copies from BookBaby, BookBaby prints those copies and sends them to the retailer’s warehouse, and the retailer ships it to the customer. You earn royalties off the sale, and voila! Global distribution for every author. Best of all, no large up-front costs.
So, if you want to print up copies of your book, you have three options.
- Order wholesale books. If you use BookBaby, you simply need to order 25 books, which is perfect if you are preparing for an event, like a reunion, and aren’t interested in selling your books globally.
- Choose print on demand if you want to sell your books to the world
- Choose both.
By the way, if you’re curious about how much money you can make selling print-on-demand books, BookBaby has a handy chart. Just scroll down to the “How much can I earn?” section. After you save a quote with BookBaby for Print-On-Demand Distribution, you’ll have access to a royalty calculator that will show you, to the penny, what you’ll earn on each sale.
OK. So you’re ready to take the plunge and make some books. Now what?
Get time on your side
Let me give you the most important piece of advice you will need when publishing your book: Give yourself plenty of time.
If your approach is, “I want my books out on such-and-such a date, so when is the last day I can submit my files to the printer?” you’re just setting yourself up for failure. Things go wrong—files clients provide are often are incorrect, last-minute typos are caught, designs change, hurricanes hit, pandemics happen. There are so many moving parts to printing a book—literally and figuratively—you need to give yourself some breathing room.
How much time is “plenty?” It’s hard to give a definitive answer because it depends on your book and your needs and how you are planning on providing files. But ballpark? At least 12 weeks.
If that seems like a lot of time, keep in mind that, from the moment you approve your proofs—the point at which your books are sent off to be printed—the earliest you can release your book is still eight weeks out.
Why so long?
It takes two weeks for Amazon and other retailers to put your book up for pre-sale. And then retailers need six more weeks in order to evaluate the demand for your products so they know how many they should order.
And remember, that’s eight weeks after you have approved your proofs. Before that point, you still need to create print-ready files, which I’ll go into in the next section.
If you don’t have a must-hit release date, great! You can focus on making sure your product is perfect and give yourself plenty of time for pre-sales and promotion.
If you absolutely do have a date you can’t miss—let’s say you need to print your books for a big event of some kind—then give yourself 12 weeks. Or more.
This has nothing to do with BookBaby’s turn times, by the way. No matter which printer you use, you still are going to need at least 12 weeks.
In order for any printer to print your book, they will need print-ready files. A “print-ready file” is one that has all the specs necessary to produce a high-resolution book without requiring additional alteration or intervention. These files include your cover (front, back, and spine) as well as your interior pages. These files have to have the right resolution, trim size, colors, safety and bleed areas, and more. A printer can’t grab your Word document and use it to print up books. That’s not how it works.
The easiest and most fool-proof way to get print-ready files is to use a turnkey service like BookBaby and order one of their complete publishing packages. BookBaby’s Complete Self-Publishing Package, for example, includes cover design, interior formatting, and print-ready file output (as well as a host of other things, like eBook distribution). You simply send BookBaby your manuscript and they will design your cover and format your text and output proofs in 3-4 weeks. And once you have approved your proofs, your files are ready to go.
If, on the other hand, you want to provide your own files, that’s fine, but unless you hire a professional or you’re using files from another publisher, this is where problems tend to creep into the process.
If you are looking to produce your own print-ready files as a way to save money, let me stop you right there. Your files won’t be right, and at the end of the day, you will have spent way too much time and money fixing them. You will regret not having hired a pro the first time around.
Problem is, many customers who try to produce their own files don’t have the right software or know-how to do so. They try to use Word or Google Docs or some other kind of app that’s not meant for serious design work. InDesign is what the pros use, but it takes a long time to learn. If you don’t know how to use it, it can cause problems.
Having said that, if you do want to create your own files, here are some resources for you.
Templates: Go here to download all the print templates you’ll need for BookBaby.
FAQ: BookBaby offers up a ton of useful info on its Book Printing FAQ page.
Pro tip: If you are providing your own files, the first thing you should do is to order a proof copy of your book. That way your printer can figure out right away if your files have any issues and their pre-press department may even be able to try to fix them. BookBaby offers single book printing for $39.
Approving your proofs
Whether you are supplying your own files or not, BookBaby will send you digital proofs for approval. Log in to your account, download the PDF, and pore over your proofs. If you find any errors, reject your proofs and BookBaby will issue you new ones.
*Note — these proofs are not for making editorial changes. Editing should have been completed before submitting your manuscript. If you decide to make editorial changes, you will incur charges. I wound up delaying my own project by almost a year due to getting a publishing deal with Audible. As such, I decided to change some of the text in my book. It cost me $62, but it was worth it.
If your proofs are perfect, log back in to your account and accept your proofs. If you are also ordering eBooks, you will receive your eBook proofs after you have approved your printed books. Once those are approved, you will be asked to choose your release date.
Setting your release date
Once your proofs are approved, you can set your release date. Just know that once you choose your release date, you can’t change it. (This isn’t a BookBaby thing, this is due to Amazon and the other retailers.) Once this train is rolling, there’s no stopping it.
Remember my advice: give yourself as much time as you can.
As I mentioned earlier, the earliest you can release your book is eight weeks out (two weeks for listing your book, plus six weeks for pre-sale). But if you can extend that pre-sale period, the better off you’ll be. (The longest pre-sale period you can select is 90 days.)
Pre-sale is when retailers forecast their inventory needs and figure out how many copies of your book they should order. That depends on two things:
- How many pre-orders your book gets
- How many people you drive to your book’s page
This is your time to really crank up the promotion. Drive as many people to visit your Amazon page as you can. Hype that thing like crazy.
How to use your books
OK, you’ve approved your proofs and selected your release date. At this point BookBaby sends all your metadata to retailers and starts printing up copies of your book. You will receive them about 7-12 days later. (It takes five business days to print paperback and seven to print hardcover. Then add 2-5 days for shipping.)
While minimum orders for wholesale or POD distribution are 25 copies of your book, chances are, you’re going to want more than that. Think about it this way:
- Make a list of everyone In your life who will be getting a free copy. Your spouse, your parents, anyone who helped you, people who are going to make your Thanksgiving dinner feel awkward if you don’t give them one, etc.
- You’ll need copies to send to reviewers.
- Copies for your book release party (assuming we ever get to have those again)
- Copies to sell at events
- Copies to shop around your local bookstores
- Social media giveaways
- Copies just to have with you in your car because you never know. I sold/gave away probably two dozen copies of my various Mr. Pants books over the years just from randomly chatting with people. “You write children’s books? Where can I find them?” “Well, I just happen to have some in my car…“
Honestly, 100 books are going to disappear before you know it. That’s just my two cents.
My own book, The Dragon Squisher, is out now on Audible and will be available in eBook and printed books on December 1st. Look for it on Amazon!
Follow me on Instagram at authorscottmccormick!
Read the rest of the series:
My Self-Publishing Experience. Part 1: Placing An Order
Book Marketing and Social Media Promotion: My Self-Publishing Experience, Part 2
Book Editing: Part 3 Of My Self-Publishing Experience
Amazon Optimization: My Self-publishing Experience, Part 4
Metadata Optimization For Your Book: My Self-Publishing Experience, Part 5
How To Get Cover Design And Formatting That Fits Your Story: My Self-Publishing Experience, Part 6
How I Landed An Audiobook Deal: My Self-Publishing Experience, Part 7
eBook Distribution: My Self-Publishing Experience, Part 8