There are different ways to get your book published (that's a whole other topic!). But once you have made the decision to self-publish your book, there are more decisions to make.
Will you make print copies or e-books? Or both?
Will you use a local designer and printer, or one of the many platforms to create your book yourself?
Which platform should you use?
Will you print many books and hope they sell, or will you print only as they are ordered?
It can be overwhelming.
So, let’s break it down.
But first things first. It’s a given that before you get to the publishing stage, you will need to work with an editor and proofreader to make sure your manuscript is ready. You want to make sure your book will look professional and doesn’t have errors that will annoy readers and take away from your content.
You will also need a designer to create an eye-catching cover. This is a case of 'Don't try this at home' (unless you are a designer). Your cover is what will sell your book. Books are judged by their cover, despite the saying telling us not to. A good idea is to look at books online in your genre and look at the covers of the books that sell best and show them to your designer. (But remember not to copy them!)
Right, now that you have your writing as good as you can get it and you have had a cover designed, let’s look at all the options for self-publishing your book. It’s an exciting process but there’s a lot to think about – the design, publishing and marketing all comes down to you.
Print books vs e-books
There are many discussions online on whether print books or e-books are preferred. Research still has print books outselling e-books, but e-books do have a huge cut of the market.
If you intend to sell locally (some local independent bookshops might take your book – but check first), are going through a local book distributor, or want to have a few copies to give away, need some for marketing at events or book signings, or simply want some to put on your bookshelf to look at and be proud of, you will want to do print copies. However, doing a print copy doesn’t necessarily mean you need to pre-order boxes of books – many people buy their print books online. You can have a manuscript formatted and coded as a print book and listed online, ready to be printed and sent as soon as a customer orders it. This is called print on demand.
The e-book market is huge, with readers now being able to purchase and receive instantly, and reading on any device including cell phones. When creating an e-book, it can be available worldwide. It’s so easy and at little extra cost that it makes sense to have an e-book.
In the end, it depends on your marketing resources and target market on which way you go. For most writers it would be advisable to do both to different extents – this way you can tackle both markets.
There are two main ways of getting your books printed: at a local printer or print on demand.
Printers specialising in self-publishing
There are several printers in New Zealand which specialise in printing for self-publishers. Most will do short or long print runs and a few also provide a print-on-demand service. Using a local (in New Zealand, not necessarily local to your town) printer may give you more options for paper types, binding types (such as spiral bound) and cover options than online print services. Most printers also offer a cover design and text layout service as well as other pre-printing services.
Print on demand
A good way to ensure you don’t end up with boxes of unsold books is to print on demand. This way, a customer can order a book online and it is printed and shipped directly to them – no books left over, which can be a costly and demoralising exercise. There is usually also a facility where you can order your own book at print cost for your marketing purposes.
Another benefit of print on demand is that if you decide to change your cover or you find a typo, you can change the file and the very next book to be ordered and printed will be correct. No having to get rid of incorrect stock.
Some online platforms provide a print-on-demand service alongside their e-book service, as do some of the local printers. Check that you can order the look you want for your book. For example, Amazon Kindle Direct only offers paperback printing (which is fine for many books), but other platforms such as IngramSpark also offer hard cover printing. Your local printer will have more options available.
Which to choose
Make sure you are happy with the choices you have. It’s worth comparing the cost and options available from an online platform's print-on-demand service with the cost of printing locally.
If you choose a print-on-demand platform based outside New Zealand, make sure the shipping costs and timing are reasonable. For example, IngramSpark has printers worldwide which can print your orders and ship them direct to your customer, wherever they are. But their closest printer to New Zealand is in Australia. If your target market is mostly in New Zealand, consider using a New Zealand-based printer or print-on-demand service.
All you need to upload a book is your manuscript (including blurbs and all the front and back matter) in Word format if you are going DIY, or in MOBI and EPUB format if you are going through a specialised editor or designer (see below for more information on the the formatting) and a cover image.
You then need to decide which e-book platforms to use. An e-book platform is an online company that offers e-book creation and distribution. There are none based in New Zealand, but by accessing the different platforms around the world (mostly US), your book will be available to customers in New Zealand too.
There are three types of platforms:
Direct e-book retailers: Amazon Kindle Direct (by far the largest), Apple’s iBooks Author, Barnes & Noble Press and Kobo Writing Life are the main ones. These platforms will market your books to their customers only. It is generally free to list your book on these platforms. They each have their own accounts to learn and manage, so if you are using more than one, you will have to take the time to learn and manage them. But an advantage is that you can customise your marketing per retailer; for example, you could have a sale on your book on Kobo, but not on Amazon. The direct e-book retailers have daily sales tracking, which can be useful to plan your marketing.
Aggregators: These platforms allow you to upload and distribute to a number of large and small e-book retailers as well as to libraries and online e-book stores such as Barnes and Noble. Smashwords, ImgramSpark and Draft2Digital are the biggest, though there are others. There is usually a cost to list your book on top of the commission on the income from sales. There may be delays in payment or making changes, as it has to go through the aggregator and then the retailer, but the upside is that you access many retailers as well as libraries in one go and have only one account to learn and manage.
Smaller platforms: Some platforms, like Gumroad, Leanpub, Kickstarter, and Unbound, are more off-beat methods of publishing and selling your book. They don’t suit everyone, but for some authors, they work out particularly well.
Which to choose
Most authors use a combination of platforms. There is no one-size-fits-all method, but many authors choose to go direct with Amazon Kindle Direct (why wouldn’t you – they have the largest market share) and combine it with an aggregator like IngramSpark or Smashwords to capture the smaller retailers, bookstores and libraries. You will need to check the fine print on which combination you can use, as some of the aggregators don’t let you opt out of certain direct platforms. And if you opt for Amazon’s Kindle Select (an option when listing with Amazon which gives you higher royalties), you are required to use them exclusively.
On all platforms, you are paid in royalties as a percentage of the book’s list price, with the balance being the commission for the platform. Some platforms don’t do print on demand, but by using a combination of platforms, you will be able to make sure this is available for your book.
It’s important to check out FAQs and make sure you are happy with the terms of each platform you use.
Other things to know
Editor vs DIY to convert from Word to e-book format
The e-book platforms, as well as the print-on-demand options, all have a facility to convert a Word document into the EPUB or MOBI files which are required for e-books. The platforms require the Word document to be formatted correctly using Word Styles and adhere to each platform’s specific requirements, otherwise the conversion will not work well. It is difficult to get this right if you don’t have experience in formatting, and can result in an e-book that doesn’t look good – which will ultimately hinder sales. There are also limitations on font options and how it will look.
Doing it yourself requires a good knowledge of Word Styles and formatting, and a willingness to take the time to learn a new platform. Or two or three. It can be a time-consuming and potentially frustrating exercise.
A specialised editor or designer can convert your Word document into EPUB and MOBI files using external software and make your book look exactly how you want, with more flexibility in choosing the right design for your book. You can then upload the file to as many platforms as you like and be assured your book will be consistent and professional across all platforms. Whether a reader buys your book through Amazon, Kobo, or finds it in an online library, it will look professional.
If you need to make changes to your book, your editor or designer can make them once in the original file, and it is then just a matter of re-uploading to the different platforms. This saves going into each of the platforms and making the same change.
Another good reason to have the files that your designer or editor has created is that you then own the files. You can use them anywhere you like, and they are not bound to any particular platform. You may want to send them to agents or use them for marketing, as they can easily be read by e-reader software and will look exactly the same as when they’ve been uploaded to a platform.
When you upload your book to an e-book platform, you will have a choice in which territories (areas in the world) you wish to distribute your book. If you have worldwide rights to distribute your book (which you will have if it has never been published before), then you can select all territories. It will then be available on that platform to customers worldwide.
If you don’t have worldwide rights, you can select individual territories. This will be the case if you have already published your book through a publisher which has right to only publish in a certain territory. You will then not have the rights to self-publish and distribute within that territory.
If you have already published through a traditional publisher and they have worldwide rights, you will not be able to self-publish your book. Check your publisher’s contract for the exact rights you have to your book.
Note: this does not substitute legal advice. If you are unsure, contact your agent or publisher, or a lawyer.
If you are distributing in the US, you will be required to pay US tax on the income received from your sales.
US platforms will automatically withhold 30% of your income from sales for tax (a legal requirement). However, New Zealand residents can apply for reduced tax withholding (down to 5%).
Your platforms will have more information on tax laws related to your income from your book, and it is important to read these carefully.
Note: this does not substitute tax advice. If you are unsure, contact your accountant.
You can apply for an International Standard Numbers (ISBNs) for free from the National Library. Some platforms offer free ISBNs, but this means that the platform is listed as the publisher. If you apply for the ISBN directly with the National Library, you are listed as the publisher. This doesn't usually mean anything, unless you want to publish the same format book in two different places, which you can only do if you are listed as the publisher. Something to consider.
Note: you'll need different ISBNs for different formats of the same book, e.g. paperback and hardback.
If this all seems too overwhelming, or you need help to convert your book into an e-book format, I can help.
I am specialised in helping self-publishing writers get their book published.
I will edit and proofread your book, then format it and convert to the EPUB and MOBI formats required for uploading. Contact me to discuss all the options with you.
Marja Stack is a copy-editor and proofreader based in New Zealand. She is the owner of Clearlingo Editing and Proofreading, which caters to all writers of non-fiction books, business publications and cookbooks. For more information or enquiries for how she can help you make your book shine, please see her website: www.clearlingo.co.nz.
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