How to Publish a Print Book
Most authors want to publish their books in paperback format. Some also want to publish a hardback edition. I’ll discuss hardback publication separately in a section below.
In this step, I’ll be explaining the methodology for publishing a print book, and I’ll also talk about some of the different places you can publish your book and the pros and cons of each.
See Step 5 for details about how to publish an ebook. I think it’s best to publish both the paperback and ebook editions simultaneously, but sometimes authors have their reasons for publishing just one or the other.
I make every effort to update this book publishing information regularly because the details change over time. Fortunately, the changes usually are minor, and you should not be overly concerned if you see small changes from the information I offer here. If you happen to see changes on sites I mention that differ in significant ways, please alert me about them.
Publishing is defined as preparing a book for public sale.
Preparing for Publication
As you come to the point of publication, we will assume that you have completed your first draft, and perhaps two, three or more revisions.
Once you have used the services of a Substantive Editor and are satisfied that your book is well-reasoned structured, either as fiction or nonfiction, you have settled upon the content and intend to make no other changes.
At this stage, you have had professional Copy Editing done as well. As a result, you know that you have spoken to your readership with clarity, grammar, and spelling as correct as they can reasonably be.
If you have a satisfied mind about all these aspects of your book, then you are ready for publication. The whole point here is that you don’t want to have self-doubt about the state of your manuscript. It is either ready to publish, or it is not ready. It is counterproductive to make structural or editorial changes after the book has been typeset.
Many new authors tend to say, “Even though my book is ready to publish, it’s better to make last-minute changes than just to let them go. A few last-minute changes won’t hurt.”
I have helped hundreds of authors to publish books. I can say from first-hand experience that it always hurts to make last-minute changes. New authors tend to think the changes they want to make are essential. They are not. The reality is they are filled with fear and are just second-guessing themselves. They are seeking a perfection they will never attain.
Every time an author checks a manuscript to make sure it’s “perfect,” they tend to make other changes, and those need to be checked too. I call this “Kamikaze Mode.” It’s a death spiral.
Does that mean you should not make changes? Not at all. The point is, you must make sure all of the changes, large and small, are made before you release the manuscript for the composition process.
Print Book Interior
Back in the old days, books were composed on a Linotype machine. A worker sat at the keyboard of a huge mechanical device, typed in the book manuscript, and the machine turned keystrokes into the hot lead that flowed into finished pages ready for printing.
A compositor could easily make mistakes, so after they had completed the book, they did a first rough printing of a few copies on unbound pages. These pages were called a galley or proof. The sole job of the proofreader was to read the proof and catch the errors the compositor might have made. A proofreader never changed the editorial content of a book.
Typesetting is part of book composition. It’s done digitally today. Composition is now more than just typesetting. It includes the overall design of the book right down to each individual page. This broader scope of bookcraft consists of the choice of fonts, use of white space, placement of titles and page numbers, and other typographical features.
Today, people use software to compose books. Authors do it themselves, or they hire a professional.
You can write your book in Microsoft Word, for example, and import it into a template and have a serviceable ready-to-print book.
I say “serviceable” because word processing software like Word is not capable of doing the micro-measurements, like the letter and line spacing (leading), that separates a professionally composed book from an amateur looking book.
Professional book designers use tools like Adobe InDesign or other tools that enable them to control every aspect of the layout.
Print Book Cover
If you want to understand the purpose and value of book covers, go to a local bookstore and survey the scene.
This overhead shot demonstrates that covers are not as important as many people think. Most buyers don’t see covers—they only see the spine. Bookstores don’t have the space to display covers, so they rack them library style.
You can also watch book-buyer behavior at a bookstore.
- You’ll see they will browse but generally gravitate toward the section that has a variety of books on their topic of interest.
- They will pick up a book, glance at the cover, then almost immediately turn the book over and read the back cover.
- After that, they look at the table of contents and then scan the first chapter.
- At this point, their buying decision has been made. They will either replace the book or go to checkout. Online bookstores like Amazon.com try to mimic that behavior.
Online, you want to:
- Arrest the attention of potential book buyers as they scroll rapidly through a list of books on the same topic as your book.
- You want to get these potential book buyers to stop long enough to read your synopsis and perhaps use the “Look Inside” feature to get a taste of your writing.
- Amazon started showing a thumbnail of the back cover of print books so people can click on it and read what is there. Amazon realized that the back cover strongly influences the book-buying decision.
Just because someone knows how to use Photoshop does not mean they understand the psychology of books sales. As a result, authors get a pretty cover, but one that is not effective in achieving sales.
Key Front Cover Elements
For these psychological book-buying reasons, a front cover should look like a billboard on a busy highway, not a work of art in a museum.
In some Romance genres, readers expect to see a damsel on the cover, a towering hero, and a castle in the background. But what is the point when these covers look so similar?
The fonts authors like to use are generally horrible for book-selling. They are often frilly, and people have a difficult time reading as they scroll through a list of books. Only the Amazon title font saves them.
Are readers going to buy one book over another because on knight or damsel is more glamorous on one cover and not another? No. In genre fiction, potential book buyers are looking at the title and author name, not the artwork.
Romance is not the only genre where authors try to tell the story of the book in pictorial form on the cover. Mysteries and thrillers, among others, are also guilty.
Someday genre fiction authors will use “billboard” style designs instead of predictable scenes from the book, and their sales may skyrocket.
If you look at nonfiction business books, you will see they do not try to tell a story on the cover. They are often abstract shapes. They sell with a strong title and subtitle, and they rely heavily on the name of the author and his or her job title.
The same is true of other nonfiction books. The title and the author are the dominant selling elements.
Key Back Cover Elements
The back cover is a major book sales tool for the reasons I have mentioned. Thus, you don’t want to just fill space. You want to add strategic content. This content should include:
- A blurb at the top. A blurb is a 10-15 word statement about the merits of the book. It should be by a recognized authority on the topic of the book. This short blurb may have been excerpted from a longer review.
- A potential book-buyer will turn your book over, and you want to hit them in the eye with this blurb in a somewhat larger type. This blurb is social proof that your book is worth buying and it can be very powerful.
- Below the blurb, include a short synopsis of the book. Most authors try to say too much. You want to reduce your synopsis to less than 250 words. Keep rewriting this synopsis until it has genuine sales punch.
- Near the bottom, you want a brief author bio. It should be less than 200 words. Should you include your photo? Most book buyers like seeing a picture of the author, and if it is a good clear picture, it is likely to aid sales. Is an author photo mandatory? No. It’s a beneficial touch, however.
Other elements should be on the back cover, including a colophon (or at least a link to your author website) and a space for the ISBN barcode.
The biggest mistake many new authors make is overloading the back cover with content. You want the content to arranged artfully in easy-to-read fonts.
Imagine you have 20 seconds to sell your book to someone. What would you say? That’s what you want to put on your back cover. Make your pitch in as few potent words as possible.
Books must have a spine with title and author name on it. Without a spine with text, a book is merely a booklet.
If you are using the Print-On-Demand (POD) printing method, which is common and desirable, you’ll need a minimum of 130 pages in your book before you can print on the spine. That’s because of the resolution of POD printing. If you use the far more expensive offset printing, the resolution is higher, and that means you can get smaller print on a narrower spine.
What should appear on the spine? The title of the book in full or truncated form (no subtitle) and the author’s name, either in full or just the last name. If you have space, you may wish to add your colophon at the bottom.
It’s helpful if you can you the same title font on the spine, but if there are spacing issues, it’s okay to use any easy-to-read sans serif font.
The title starts at the top and runs to the bottom. This should go without saying to anyone who has been to a bookstore or library. However, I once had a client who insisted on the title starting at the bottom and running up. It looked odd on bookshelves.
Yes, you can do anything you want. You may even be able to find a copy of a book that uses the upside-down convention. Nevertheless, an upside spine title screams “Amateur.”
Hardback Book Covers
Sometimes authors want a hardback edition. The interior can be the same if both paperback and hardback editions are the same dimensions.
The critical question is, “Why do you want a hardback edition?” They bump up the price so much that most book-buyers will not pay the extra cost over the paperback price. They are more expensive to produce and ship. There is little or no profit potential in them.
Mainline publishers only produce them because they are cheaper when printing and binding 5,000-10,000 or copies at a time, but they make no economic sense for short-run publishers.
If you want a few hardbacks for presentation copies, your best bet is to buy a dozen or so copies at wholesale from your POD paperback publisher. Take them to a bindery in your area, along with the artwork they will need, and ask them to put hardcovers on them.
Remember, you will need to pay extra for artwork depending on the type of hardcover you select. Traditional hardcovers have dust jackets, and they are disproportionately expensive to create and print.
What about a company like Lulu? The paperback edition of a book will cost $6, and the price for the same book in hardback is $14. But with Lulu, you have distribution problems you don’t want, plus all the shipping costs, and that explains why hardback editions are no longer popular except in rare cases.
If you just want a few paperbacks converted to hardback copies, check with your local library. They do this all the time, so perhaps your librarian can suggest a bindery to you. Expensive? Yes, but the cheapest way to get a few hardback presentation copies.
Where to Produce and Market Print Books
The two best places to produce and market print books are probably Amazon KDP and IngramSpark. Yes, there are others like Lulu and BookBaby, and some people like them, but they are not better than Amazon KDP or IngramSpark.
Amazon used to have two publishing divisions, Kindle for ebooks and CreateSpace for print books. Some years ago, they came together as one division called Amazon KDP.
Some people hate Amazon, but I’m not sure why. You can publish a quality book for no upfront cost, and sell it on Amazon, which is the world’s largest bookseller.
What’s wrong with that? I don’t know. All you have to do is write a book and promote it, and Amazon handles the printing, shipping, tax collection and payment, and send you money. The margins are good; I balance page count, value, and sales price, and I make a minimum of $5 (often more) on every book I sell through them. That’s about a 40% royalty in my case, and I’m happy with that.
Amazon KDP has free formatting tools for both interiors and covers. I recommend you hire qualified professionals for design, but you can use these free services if you wish.
They even offer free International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN) and a barcode for the edition they publish and sell, and that will immediately save you $150.
Amazon is the best place in the world to distribute books. You must promote your book and drive buyers to your sales page, but if you get enough buyers, you’ll get better placement from Amazon that will turbocharge your sales. They want to sell books that are already selling.
What is lesser known is the fact that you can sign up for Extended Distribution. That means Amazon will make your book available to bookstores, schools, and libraries via Ingram (see below). Your percentage shrinks, but considering the hassles of this kind of Extended Distribution, it is worth it to most people.
Many authors may not be aware of the fact that they can buy the print edition of their own book at wholesale prices. For example, your 240-page book may retail at $16.95. You can buy as many as you want for about $3.66 each plus shipping and tax if you do not have a resale tax document on file with Amazon.
This is ideal if you are a public speaker and want to sell books from a table at the back of the room. You can make $10-$12 per sale, and that’s great.
Also, you could go to the bookstores in your area and offer your books at the standard US 55% discount. That still puts nearly $4 in your pocket, and you’ll have local bookstore visibility, perhaps the opportunity for book signings in the store, and as a connection to spur coverage by your local newspaper, radio station, or other publicity outlets.
Ingram is the largest brick and mortar book distribution company. They are the leaders among distribution to bookstores, schools, and libraries.
With the rise of self-publishing, they branched out into POD publishing, first with LightningSource, then with IngramSpark. Like Amazon KDP, they now print and distribute your book in both wholesale and retail channels.
Authors use IngramSpark because they like the idea of being in bookstores. But it is costly to do business with IngramSpark. To begin, you pay an initial fee plus you need your own ISBN for their edition. That could be $200 just to start. They charge for everything, it adds up, and it’s not cheap.
The reality is, the author needs to promote his or her book. Almost no one is going to buy it off the Ingram computer listing. As the people at IngramSpark say,
“Typically, stores/libraries will not order a book if they don’t already know it exists, which is also why book marketing and promotion needs to be an essential part of your strategy to sell your book.”
IngramSpark has a catalog that goes out to stores/ libraries/ schools, and you can get a brief mention of your book there for a one-time fee of $85. Keep in mind that each catalog is extensive, and the possibility of gaining any kind of individual attention for your book is remote.
In my view, IngramSpark is somewhat misleading about the amount that ends up in your pocket, which is an important factor to professional authors. That’s because IngramSpark allows you to pick the discount to bookstores and others—from 30%-55%. Authors want to select 30%, but that is selling booksellers short, and they don’t like that. Booksellers deserve the standard 55% discount off cover price.
IngramSpark offers another bad choice to authors. Most authors do not realize that bookstores don’t buy books in the US, and haven’t since the Great Depression of the 1930s. They only take books on consignment. They can return unsold books at any time without regard to their condition. IngramSpark allows authors to pick whether or not an unsold book is:
- Pulped (destroyed)
- Indicate that returns are not allowed
If returned, the author pays return shipping cost and loses profit. If pulped, the author loses production cost and profit. If the author does not allow returns, bookstores will probably not stock the book.
Is IngramSpark bad? Not at all. If you have a specialized book and deep pockets, they are an excellent company to deal with, and you will want to explore them as a printing and distribution option. But they offer little to authors of regular fiction and nonfiction books. A well-promoted book can do just as well at Amazon KDP without the author paying all the extra fees that IngramSpark requires.
Amazon is excellent for printing and distributing almost all books. IngramSpark duplicates effort and is costly.
IngramSpark might be better for people building their own Indie brand, but not for most self-publishers.
Amazon is a no-brainer. It’s hard to go wrong. But when it comes to IngramSpark, you have to stop and think strategically. Having access to bricks-and-mortar books is not enough reason to justify IngramSpark extra fees unless you’re already selling a large number of books on Amazon. With IngramSpark, you have to sell many thousands of books to get value-for-money. You don’t want to use IngramSpark without a large promotional budget.
If you sign up for Extended Distribution at Amazon KDP (see above), Ingram does the work behind the scenes for Amazon, but you save money by using Amazon. You don’t want to use them together. If you’re willing to pay extra for IngramSpark, you don’t want to sign up for Amazon Extended Distribution.
Likewise, if you use Amazon KDP, there is no real benefit in using IngramSpark’s Amazon distribution for either print or Kindle editions. The only possible benefit of cross-over is that you can handle all distribution from the IngramSpark control panel, but you pay a hefty price for that service.
Book Production Success
Publishing is defined as preparing a book for public sale. I have discussed several aspects of that, including interiors and covers, and how companies like Amazon KDP and IngramSpark are combing printing and distribution.
I have offered “best practices.” There is always some newly-minted “expert” who will have different ideas. Be careful about the advice you take. Your best bet is to follow the well-trodden path, and then only follow more exotic, dangerous routes once you have gained experience.
You don’t need to gain experience from failure. You can succeed by using proven methods from the beginning.