By Lee Foster
Here is Chapter 4 (of 10) of my new book on self-publishing. This chapter is titled “Your Print-on-Demand Book.” The most important concept is that, to survive and flourish, you will need to print your book simultaneously with two entities, Amazon CreateSpace and Ingram Spark. I am releasing part of the book, Chapters 1-5, in weekly increments, as a partial website book. After five sample chapters, a consumer can determine if the book looks useful.
Lee Foster Publishes Book on Self-Publishing
Lee Foster has published a new book about the independent publishing movement. After completing 16 books with traditional publishers, why did Lee switch to producing four books “independently” published or “indie”? Why does he now recommend this path for most authors? The book describes Lee’s advice on the publishing of printed books (print-on-demand), ebooks, books-as-websites, apps, and audiobooks.
The book is titled An Author’s Perspective on Independent Publishing: Why Self-Publishing May Be Your Best Option. The book can be seen on Amazon and on Lee’s Amazon Author Page. A more detailed announcement about the new book can be seen on Lee’s website.
The book is both an Author’s journey in this gradual transition from traditional to indie publishing and a practical how-to guide for Authors who may wish to follow a parallel path.
Self-publishing is now an ascending practice and will continuing to thrive, in Lee Foster’s assessment of the current market. More and more Authors are pursuing the independent publishing dream. Technology developments make “indie” publishing more plausible with each passing year. Increasing market access for indie Authors continues to erode the domain that traditional publishers once ruled exclusively.
The book covers the logical subjects that developed in Lee Foster’s practices, as the table of contents suggests:
1. How Traditional Publishing Worked (and Sometimes Still Works)
2. Why Independent Publishing, Also Known As Self-Publishing, Arose
3. Why Independent Publishing Today and Tomorrow May Be Your Most Viable Option
4. Your Print-on-Demand Book
5. Your Ebook Distribution
6. Your Book Content as a Website/Blog, Funded Partly by Advertising
7. Your Social Media Outreach
8. Your Book Marketing Strategy
9. Your Need for Quality Design in Independent Publishing
10. Your Book’s Possible Specialized Adaptations, such as an Audiobook, Chinese Translation, and App
Many modern Authors are restless with their traditional publishing options. They may find some comfort in the self-publishing trajectory described in this book. Lee Foster had a very positive experience with his traditional publishing partnerships in the past. It’s just that with all the new opportunities, indie seems much more appealing to him.
An Author’s Perspective on Independent Publishing: Why Self-Publishing May Be Your Best Option
ISBN for printed book 978-0-9760843-4-1, retail price $14.95
ISBN for ebook 978-0-9760843-6-5, retail price $3.99
Your Print-on-Demand Book
As an indie Author, soon to become an Author/Publisher, chances are you will want to see your book existing as a printed book (as well as an ebook). A few Authors will actually have a strong position to the contrary. A few Authors might say, “My book will and should only be available as an ebook. Printed books are an old-fashioned technology. In fact, printed books are an environmental disaster. I only want my book to exist as an ebook for readers who share this vision.” It is also true that some readers will “only” buy ebooks. It appears that this preference is on the rise. Many people find the convenience of ebooks, especially on Kindle readers, easier to read than an iPad in bright sunlight, to be compelling. But there are also a lot of readers who may want your book as a printed book, to hold in their hands, for a number of reasons. My general recommendation is: If you want your book to be purchased by the greatest number of readers, publish your book as a printed book and as an ebook. (Of course, for further discussion, later in this book, I will raise additional questions: Should your “book” also exist as a website? Should your “book” also appear as an audiobook? But let’s not get ahead of ourselves at this point.)
When the indie Author decides to do a “print” book, the next question is: How do I print a book today? The times are changing. Formerly, the only reasonable way to do a print book was to “offset” print it, maybe 3,000 units or more, to get the unit price reasonably economical. For a black-and-white book, meaning black texts on white paper, and maybe black-and-white photos added, that usually meant printing the book on presses in one of the northern states, such as Michigan or Minnesota, which are close to those great northern pine forests, where trees are grown, pulped, made into paper, and the paper sent economically to printers. For books with color interiors, the business shifted to China and Malaysia, where labor was cheaper and where technology investments were being made in color printing. For example, I printed 3,000 units of my indie book Travels in an American Imagination in China in 2005. (In 2013 I published this book as an ebook also and in 2015 I transferred the book to a print-on-demand strategy. See the next paragraph for the color vs black-and-white photo issue, applicable to this book.)
Gradually a new technology emerged, known as print-on-demand, or POD for short. With this technology a book, once ordered, could literally be produced one at a time. This was a major technological revolution and has had a profound positive effect on indie publishing alternatives. With POD, an Author doesn’t need the huge capital investment in printing thousands of books, or the warehouse to store the books, or much of the infrastructure for shipping and its attendant costs. (For example, Amazon can POD my book Northern California Travel: The Best Options in England, where there are buyers, when someone there buys it online.) POD as a technology has now matured to the extent that POD books look good and professional, and the typical consumer is pleased, although there are limitations. POD color is still too expensive to be commercially viable in many situations (when a formula is applied such as: produce a book at a cost no more than 25% of its retail price). If POD evolves with sufficient quality and low enough price for color, the revolution will be complete.
So, for a typical aspiring indie Author, POD will be the likely option to pursue. However, once this concept is accepted, a reality emerges that is well known to publishing insiders but would be totally unknown to the indie Author neophyte. That reality is: To be successful, you must POD your book with two entities, Amazon CreateSpace and Ingram Spark (or their legacy Ingram Lightning Source, of which I am a part.) Why two entities?
This is where the aspiring indie Author begins to understand modern American commerce, with all its opportunities and its struggle-to-the-death competition. Amazon is the structure though which you will sell your book to the “public.” Ingram is the structure through which you will make your book available to bookstores and libraries.
An Author’s relationship with Amazon will likely be the most important publishing relationship of all, in terms of producing actual income. This holds true whether the Author is publishing indie or traditional. Amazon sells books, so the Author must manage Amazon details wisely and with attention to beneficial detail. With indie, the association becomes more direct and intense. There are a dozen aspects of the Amazon relationship and there are controversies surrounding it that will unfold as this book proceeds.
An Author will want to publish a book POD with the branch of Amazon known as Amazon CreateSpace. This is a welcoming branch of Amazon. They love Authors. They nurture Authors. Amazon is all about Customer Satisfaction. Call and you will get a live human being, quickly. Amazon returns to me (and will return to you) 45% of the retail price you have declared for your book, minus your “manufacturing” cost for them to do your book POD. I declare my books at $14.95 retail and they pay me about $4 per book, after the manufacturing cost. From my perspective, this is a good deal. They print POD in Central Europe, England, and in the U.S. Consequently, I have a Euro and a Pounds account with them also, and each month the appropriate money shows up in my Bank of America checking account. Amazon is a responsible fiduciary partner. All payments agreed upon appear like clockwork in your account. My recommendation is that an Author check off Amazon distribution in the Amazon-only ecosystem, but not for libraries and bookstores. Why do I recommend this?
Bookstores and libraries like to buy from an entirely alternative system, which is known as Ingram. Ingram seems to have a lock on this market. Ingram offers books to bookstores that can be returned, if not sold, and Amazon does not do this. The independent bookstores and the chains, such as Barnes & Noble, are ordering every day from Ingram. An order for your book can easily be added to a larger order. Ingram has developed its own POD structure, known as Ingram Lightning Source and now Ingram Spark. Their systems encourage an Author to act like a veteran Publisher and show greater professionalism than Amazon CreateSpace requires.
Your first Ingram upload will cost you about $75, plus a yearly maintenance fee called a “Market Access Fee” for perhaps $12. However, if you make a change in your interior file or your cover file for your book, Ingram will require you to pay another $40 to process the uploaded file again. Amazon CreateSpace will welcome you to upload the new and improved files for free. The wise conclusion: Work out all the glitches on your POD book on Amazon before you upload it to Ingram. The two companies come to book publishing from different perspectives. If you want to sell your book to bookstores and libraries, you will want to POD your book with Ingram.
Note that if you ever walk into a bookstore as an indie Author with a few consignment books to place in their system, be sure that you bring your books as ordered from Ingram and not from CreateSpace Amazon. On the final page of each book there will be some printer documentation, which might say Charleston for Amazon or ICG Testing from Ingram. Become informed of these final-page nuances. Don’t get your sets of books from these two providers mixed up. Bookstores, meaning chains but especially independent bookstores, will not want to know that you are dealing with the Devil (Amazon). They know that the Devil is out there, but it is not up to you to remind them. Operate with discretion.
POD printing does come with a major potential frustration. All the books are printed individually, one at a time, and on different days, with different machine operators. There may be a dozen further variables, such as the type of paper and whether the machine has recently been tuned up or not. The result is that the individual books may vary considerably. The inking of the covers may differ substantially. The accuracy of the lineup for the cover on the spine may fluctuate. The trim of the book can vary. The interior pages proximity to the edge of the page may change. Some of these variations may be considerable and may not be pleasing. This is unlike “offset” printing, where all the thousands of the units of the book are usually alike.
I remember going to the Port of Oakland to receive the 3,000 copies of my offset book Travel in an American Imagination, which were printed in China and floated across the Pacific. I opened the first box and looked at a sample. The book looked beautiful in all respects. I opened another box and checked out a sample. It too looked beautiful. They were all clones. They had been printed on the same day on the same press with the same paper and by the same operator. All subsequent boxes, when opened, revealed the same results. By contrast, when I order a few books from Ingram Lightning Source or Amazon CreateSpace, I always open the box with some trepidation. What will I see today? Sometimes the results are pretty awful. I shake my head and wonder how the consumer will feel. Maybe the consumer doesn’t even see the defects, and silently declares the book OK. I always hope so.
The details of how you submit your book files to Amazon CreateSpace and Ingram Lightning Source/Spark will be covered in the discussion “Your Need for Quality Design in Independent Publishing.”
There is one new factor at work in the marketplace that will have a negative effect on your opportunity to sell new copies of your printed book, whether you do the book POD or offset. That is Amazon’s practice of allowing entities to “resell” their books on Amazon. Whenever there is buying/selling activity of any kind on Amazon, Amazon benefits. You will notice with each book on Amazon that there are so-called “Used” and “New” books besides Amazon’s direct sale of your “actually new” book. These sellers are individuals or institutions (think Goodwill and Salvation Army and second-hand bookstores) that have bought your book or been given your book. You book, once sold, does not stay sold. It will live forever, and will be resold again and again and again. This will have a negative long-term effect on your opportunity to sell “actually new” books.