As you many know, Ben and I are currently attempting to write a book about the Expert in a Year challenge. It’s going well, we’ve written roughly half and are solidly on track for our 9-month deadline. Our plan had originally been to go the self-publishing route, but off the back of our video going viral quite a few people have been urging us to use a traditional publisher – and they’re making some very good arguments. This book is taking a huge amount of time and the choice of how we publish it could be the difference between success and failure, it’s a massive decision.
I love to tell people how easy it is to publish a book nowadays. I believe that self-publishing is a modern day gold rush, one that you should be getting in on. There has never been a better time in history to be an aspiring author. The gatekeepers are gone, the floodgates are open and the royalties are huge.
Some of the most popular books out at the moment were originally self-published (ever heard of 50 Shades of Grey or The Martian?). But ‘originally’ is the key word. Even the most ardent supporters of the DIY route seem to jump ship as soon as they’re offered a publishing deal. A lot of people see self-publishing as the last resort after the hundreds of rejection letter – would we be mad to turn down a publisher and publish ourselves?
Despite my pro-self-publishing evangelism, I have never published anything before. Is the platform mature enough? Will the final quality be good enough? The only way to find out was to get some first-hand experience, so a few weeks ago I set myself a challenge:
I would write and publish a book, spending only three days of my time on it.
This isn’t as stupid an idea as you might think. I know that I can’t write a good quality book in such a short period of time, but I was more interested in seeing how the current self-publishing tools works. I planned to publish under a fake name and not tell anyone about it, that way I wouldn’t use up any goodwill by asking my friends and family to buy the book. Three days isn’t a lot of time to sacrifice and would be well worth it for the education – it would be a great test run before the real deal.
I had no idea how long the publishing part would take, but I know how quickly I can write. I wanted it to be a proper book that you could hold in your hand which ruled out short stories and I didn’t have time to write a full-length novel. That meant a novella, which is kind of a middle ground. There have been some real big hitting novellas in history, think “A Christmas Carol”, “Of Mice and Men” and “Animal Farm”. All Novellas and by anyone’s definition, real books.
According to Google, a novella is anything above 15,000 words. So that was my target. On Thursday 5 March 2014 I started writing, I took Friday off and by the end of Saturday I had managed to mind vomit 16,000 words into a first draft. Before the day was over it was whizzing off to a proofreader.
When you talk about self-publishing, most people assume you’re referring to e-books or kindle books. That’s no longer necessarily true. Here we’re talking about real physical books you can hold in your hand.
Print-on-demand is a beautiful invention and the reason I initially got so excited about self-publishing. The concept is simple, you submit your book in a specific electronic format. It gets stored at the self-publishing company and then whenever someone orders your book it is printed fresh and delivered to them.
There are no upfront fees. No print runs. You simply pay a set price per book (depending on its length and trim size) each time someone orders it. As long as you’re selling the book for more than the printing costs, its all profit.
Createspace is Amazon’s print-on-demand company. There are a few competitors out there, but its direct integration with Amazon is why I wanted to try out. It is connected directly to the different Amazon marketplaces so if you publish a book on there, with just a few clicks it will be on sale with the option of next day delivery anywhere in Europe or the USA.
I signed up and started filling out the online form. It is ridiculously simple with guides explaining for each step. You are automatically assigned ISBN numbers and there are just a few decisions to be made:
- Full colour or black and white for the inside pages. I want for black and white as my book is just text so there’s no need for colour.
- White or cream pages. I went for cream as it makes it look more like a traditional novel.
- Matt or glossy cover. I went for matt as I think it looks better.
- Book trim size. I went for 5 x 8 inches which is the smallest industry standard sizing and would get me the most number of pages. As I had written a short book I wanted as many pages as possible.
Now I just needed to submit a formatted manuscript and cover.
Editing & Cover Design
I sent my plain text first draft to a proofreader. This wasn’t to do any of the formatting but simply to correct my grammar and spelling. I toyed with the idea of hiring a book editor to tear my story apart, but I decided I didn’t have time for it. I had already spent 2/3rds of my time writing the book. With my deadline, I couldn’t afford to rewrite any of it.
Given the size of the project, I didn’t want to spend too much money on editing and design work but I still didn’t want it to look ‘cheap’ or be full of spelling mistakes. Createspace has a cover generator if you want to do it yourself, but I decided it was worth commissioning a professional.
I gave the cover designer an overview of what the book was about along with the specifications (5×8 inches, 80 pages long, on cream paper) and asked him to use his imagination to design the cover.
Total cost $36.5 for the cover and $21 for the proofreading. Great value for what I got.
After receiving the final proof, I spent about four hours going back through the book, making changes and transferring it into the correct format. Formatting it for printing was the part I was most worried about but it turned out to be really easy. Createspace has template documents for each trim size, I just downloaded the correct one and pasted in the text as I went.
Publishing the Physical Book
That was pretty much it. I submitted both files and checked the book over in their ‘digital proofer’ (basically a virtual book). It looked fine.
You can order a physical proof sent to you but they are printed in America and cost a lot to transport. It is actually cheaper to publish your book and buy a copy off Amazon. Plus my time limit was up so I didn’t want to wait for it to arrive. All that was left was to set the pricing:
For my 80 page book, the cost per book is £2.5. Everything above that would earns me a 60% royalty. I put the book up for sale at £3.5 as I didn’t feel like I could charge much more than that for something that isn’t very good. £3.5 is a dirt cheap amount but hopefully still enough to earn back the investment on the cover design and proof reading.
I clicked next a few times and without any warning my book had been published. It needed to be checked manually and then it would be available on Amazon within 3-5 days.
It actually took much less time than that for it to start appearing. Within a day it was available for sale, but it took quite a bit longer for the listing to fill out with description and images. Just four days from hitting publish I was holding the book.
I am very pleased with it. The quality feels good, the formatting is nice. I had seen a few print-on-demand books before that didn’t look quite right, the spacing was all wrong and the font looked bad, but there were no problems with my book. I reckon those other ones I had seen were just produced badly.
Despite the coolness of a physical book, I knew I was much more likely sell some if I had it in e-book format. I needed to release a kindle version. On the Createspace dashboard there was a link to convert the book and launch it on kindle. Clicking the link took me the Amazon’s KDP website where everything was filled out and just needed the file to be uploaded. I originally tried using the same file as I had for the physical book but it came out looking very odd. So I started again, using one of the KDP templates.
For pricing I chose the minimum allowed, which was £0.99 in the UK and $0.99 in the US.
The whole publishing process for the e-book and paperback took about six hours of work.
I launched the book and asked everyone I told about it to not buy it. I wanted to see if anyone would buy a new book with no reviews just because it was on Amazon. I was pretty sure that noone would – and I was correct. Hardly anyone bought it. I had two paying sales and another 25 downloads when I offered it for free for two days.
But despite that it took me just four books to début in a top 100 Amazon best-seller list.
Well for the Amazon best-seller list of my category… I peaked #21 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Suspense > Psychological
Does that mean I can now call myself a ‘best-selling author’?
Be sure to check out the book and let me know what you think.
I don’t have any stats yet for how it did financially. I will follow this post up once I get some reviews, have tried out a few marketing techniques and work out how much it will make. Be sure to subscribe to hear about it when I do.
The Roundup – Self-Publishing or Traditional Publisher?
Did I manage it in three days? Well I did all the work in three days, but the publishing and outsourcing parts took a bit longer. There was a five-day delay while I waited for the cover design and edits to be made plus another delay at the end for Createspace to manually verify the book and create the listing on Amazon. In total, from coming up with the idea to holding the book in my hand, it was took about two weeks.
First up, this is only really a decision if you have the option of going with a traditional publisher. As far as I can tell a general rule of thumb is that a publisher will work with you if they are sure they will sell at least 5,000 books. If you happen to have a platform or audience in place that ensures those sales it should be quite straightforward to get a publisher. But on the other hand, if you don’t have any sort of audience then your only option is self-publishing. You will really struggle to attract a publishing house- no matter how good a writer you are.
If you are lucky enough to be in a position where you expect to sell 5,000 plus books, then here are the key pros and cons as I see them:
- Very quick to market: A traditional publisher can take months to go from the finished manuscript to having it up for sale on Amazon and in book shops. Even just the shipping of your print run to different parts of the world will take a couple of months.
- Higher royalties: Seeing as you need a big audience anyway for this even to be a decision, you will be giving away a portion of the revenue from them to a publisher by way of lower royalties.
- Kudos: It’s pretty cool to be able to say you’ve been published. It already gives your book a level of credence. “If xxx published it, it must be good!”. I imagine this will be especially important once people start to clock on to how easy self-publishing is.
- Someone to tell you where your writing or content is crap
- Multi-media relationships already in place: If your books takes off they have the expertise and connections to push it further by organising a book tour, media interviews and even a film deal.
- Cheaper: Despite self-publishing having no necessary up-front costs, to produce a good quality successful book it’s worth investing in editorial help and professional design. Both of which would be provided by the publishing house.
- Lower variance: If you get an advance then you will have at least made some money. Even if the book flops you get to keep the advance.
Which way shall we jump? I’m not sure yet… if you can think of any other major pros or cons then please let me know!