Demystifying self-publishing: busting the myths

There has never been a more exciting time to create, print, and sell a book! With the ability to build your own digital platform, you can offer your friends, fans, and followers something tangible with content they already love, and find some profit for yourself—whether that becomes your livelihood or just some income on the side to fuel your future creative endeavors.

This is creative self-publishing.

Self-publishing? You might be saying, “I am not a writer. I don’t want to write novels or poetry or essays. I’m a different kind of creative.”

 In that case, self-publishing a book is more than you might think it is. When you hear self-publishing, a common picture emerges of a basement (or garage, here in California) of books that you have to hock at every opportunity. It’s hard to say “self-publishing” and convey all that’s possible with making a book that you can sell.

Self-publishing is simply that: independently selling a book you’ve made yourself.

Myth #1: You have to be a writer to self-publish.

Anyone with something to say or something to show has a book to make and sell. Self-publishing can work for anyone. This means that there are infinite ways and reasons for who, how, and why it’s done.

  • You could be a food blogger—you’ve agonized over perfecting recipes and shooting enticing food photos, and now you’d like a new way to monetize your content.
  • You could be a comic book artist who has a story to tell and an entry into the zine community.
  • You could be a photographer who has a series that found deep resonance on social media.
  • You could be a jewelry maker whose materials and pieces have a story worth telling.
  • You could be a pastor with a built-in following and without the teaching tool you need for your upcoming series.
  • You could be a painter whose fine-art works sell for more than the average person can afford, but you have a following who would happily purchase a book of your work.

Myth #2: You have to buy 5,000 books up front to self-publish.

This is not true for two reasons. First, print-on-demand technology means you can print one copy at a time and sell it. You can print 5 copies or 10 and sell them. The more you buy up front, the greater your profit can be, but it’s true that you can make one book, print one book, and sell one book and still have a profit.

Second, self-publishing is not necessarily about numbers. If you make and sell 20, 50, 100, or 200 books total, it counts as self-publishing. Consider this: The profit range for creators of traditionally published books is between 7-18%. When you self-publish with Blurb, you manage your own costs of production (with your book design), and you set your profit margin. You can sell a book that’s printed offset or with a volume discount that costs $7.99 to produce for $18.99. This gives you more than 50% profit, so to make the same money, you have to sell fewer books.

Myth #3: You have to be a best-seller in bookstores to have a “real” book.

This is like saying you need a gold medal to call yourself a runner. To make and sell a book, to run a 5k or a half-marathon, you do not need to be Usain Bolt.

It’s incredible to see your work out in the world, and this goes for books as much as it goes for any other creative work. But there’s more to having a book of work in the world than a bookstore bestseller. Consider this: 90% of traditionally published books sell fewer than 2,500 copies, and that number is actually reached by only a handful. If you’re a blogger with 2,000 unique site visits a month, and even 10% of your followers buy your book or even join your list to get an ebook excerpt, you’ve made some serious headway.

How does it work?

Self-publishing is as much of a hustle as any side-hustle, and there is a lot that goes into doing it well. But it doesn’t have to be confusing! Here are some basic terms you’ll encounter as you go about setting your book up for wider distribution.

Terms to know:

Profit: This is your take-home earning after the cost of the book and the cost of the distribution have been factored in. You’re trying to maximize this per copy.

Base Cost: This is the cost to print your book. Design your book with a balance between the price and the look and feel to keep this as low as possible and still stay true to your vision.

Wholesale Discount: This term is a bit counter-intuitive. This is the markup of distribution fees for putting your book in certain sales venues. This is the discount for the distributor like Amazon off the retail price or the discount for the local store if you sell your books on consignment. It costs both to print the book and to distribute it, and you cover that in your Wholesale Discount.

Retail Price: This is the highest price the book-buyer sees. The distributor, such as Amazon or a store, may discount off this, but your profit stays the same. The retail price is the official price of the book.

Offset Printing: This is printing a large run of books the traditional way. It takes longer and requires a fairly large up-front cost, but it significantly reduces your cost-per-copy (maximizing profit) and increases personalization options like cover embossing and ribbon markers.

Volume Printing: This is the high-numbers digital print-on-demand. When you print up to 100-500 copies, you get all the benefits of digital print-on-demand at a reduced price.

Warehousing Order Fulfillment: This is how you keep books out of the garage or basement. Keep an eye out for your book printer’s programs to warehouse and fulfill your orders for you. If you don’t do this with your printer, you’ll have to manage your orders yourself. The good news is that you can save some money per copy; you’ll just be doing it yourself if you sell through your own site.

Ingram Catalog: Ingram is the largest wholesaler of print books. The Ingram Catalog is a monthly print catalog distributed to booksellers, libraries, and specialty retailers worldwide. Any book you’re distributing should get a spot in here if you can make it happen. Blurb trade books are distributed here, which is how they find their way to Amazon and other online stores.

Why not go for it?

Creative self-publishing is a relatively new thing, as it came with digital print-on-demand technology. If you have a niche market, unique, hybrid content of words and pictures, or you want to experiment with a printed guide to your work, you’re still in the running to make a book that can bring you profit. Why not give it a shot? The possibilities are endless!


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