Making it Happen: Self-Publishing, Part II

In Part I, I shared the process by which I created the manuscripts for The Farmer’s Kitchen and The Farmer’s Office.  For as difficult as this may have seemed, it really was the easy part.  I wrote about my passion, what lights me up. The production phase was far outside my comfort zone, and more difficult.  You can hire designers and marketers, or you can do it yourself.

Part II: Publish Your Book

Step 1: Layout and Design

In the editing phase, I encouraged you to think about the structure of the book, and how you want it to be formatted.  How many levels of headers do you have? What do you want each one to look like? Now you want to take you formatting ideas and apply it to the layout of the book.

The layout can be done in Microsoft Word, but Adobe InDesign is a more robust tool that will make things easier. As an example, each chapter of The Farmer’s Kitchen had a different layout.  The headers changed with the chapters, and the recipe pages looked different than the storage tips. Microsoft couldn’t easily handle the different styles of the different chapters. With InDesign, I created a different style sheet (a template for how each page looks) for each chapter. If I wanted to experiment with a different layout, I could simply edit the style sheet, and the style would automatically apply to each page. If I did this in Microsoft Word, I would have manually adjusted each page.

With the right tools and a well-thought out structure, create style sheets and the layout of your book. Upload your manuscript into InDesign and apply the formatting to the text.

After you complete the layout, save the manuscript as a PDF. Scroll through the document to look for visual inconsistencies or other wonkiness.  For me, it was easier to see the design in a PDF file. Also, if you have pictures in the document, be sure to look at them zoomed in to 200%. If pictures appear pixelated at 200%, they will appear pixelated when printed. This is especially important for the cover.  Trust me. Do this.

As you review the PDF, keep in mind that the even pages will print on the left side of the book and odd pages on the right. This is the opposite of how the PDF will look.

Step 2: Create all the fluff pages

Beyond the basic text of the book, you want a copyright page, a dedication, acknowledgements, and/or testimonials.  For The Farmer’s Kitchen, I referenced trusted cookbooks (from well-known publishers) to see what pages they had, and in what order.  I mimicked their formatting for my own book.

Step 3: Create an Index

Unless you’re writing a novel, you will probably need an index: a reference guide for readers to find specific topics in your book. Go through the manuscript and tag words and phrases that you want referenced in the index.  [[As a side note, this is one area where InDesign hiccups. Everything works fine, unless you move pages around.  InDesign doesn’t adjust page numbers well.  As such, save the index for the very last thing before sending your book to the printer.]]

Step 4: Create a Cover

I’m not a designer, nor do I play one on TV.  I am, however, a pretty good copycat.  To come up with a cover design, I looked at all the cookbooks on my shelves. What did I like? What features did I want for my cover? What did I think I could create?  I did a basic design that mimicked some of my favorite books.  Alternatively, the print-on-demand companies (see below) usually have dozens of cover templates you can use to create your own.

Step 5: Select a Printing Company

There are many print-on-demand (POD) companies; the two I use are CreateSpace and 48 Hour Books. Depending on how you sell and distribute your book, you may prefer one over the other.

If you print hundreds of copies at one time, 48 Hour Books is usually less expensive per book than CreateSpace. If you will print a few at a time, CreateSpace is less expensive. If you will sell your books through, Amazon, then print through CreateSpace.  They will print and distribute for you, and then automatically deposit a check into your bank account every month.  You can certainly print the book through both companies and take advantage of which printer gives you the best price for each circumstance.

For more detailed thoughts, on selecting a printer, you can reference this article.

Step 6: Printing

The POD companies will want three separate files: the interior of the book, the front cover and the back cover.  The interior should be saved as a PDF, the covers can be a .jpg or PDF.  The reason you want to have separate files for the front and back covers is that you want to let the printer set up the spine for you.  The size of the spine will depend on how many pages in your book. If your design is off by a few millimeters, the front cover may spill onto the spine, and the spine may spill onto the back cover. While this isn’t a disaster, the book looks less professional.

With all the files ready, you can upload them into the printer’s system.

Step 7: Distribution and Fulfillment

How do you get the printed copies of your books to your readers? Will they order them on your website? Will you ship them directly? Will they order on Amazon?  If you plan to sell more than a few dozen books, I highly recommend that you use Amazon to sell for you, and you can set this up through CreateSpace. They will automatically print and ship the books when an order comes in. Sure, they take a significant portion of the profits, but it’s well worth the cost.  You will still make about 35% of the original book price. For example, if your book retails for $10, you will earn $3.50 per copy.

Selling through independent bookstores

For me, as the author of a book promoting local, I struggled with the disconnect between selling on Amazon (mega-corporation) and promoting small, local booksellers.  While I didn’t have the resources mass distribution into bookstores, I did manage to get into a few by reaching out directly.

Independent booksellers typically sell books on consignment. That is, the bookstore will put your books on the shelves for you, but will not buy them outright from you. If your book does not sell, then you are responsible for the cost of those books. When your books do sell, they will send you payment, 60% of the sales price.  Further, some independent bookstores also have POD services.  They will more happily carry your book if they can also benefit from printing. Some bookstores will carry your book at no cost beyond a commission on each sale.

In order to get into bookstores, I created a sell sheet to send booksellers. This provided them with a quick overview, and could decide if it made sense for them to commit their limited shelf space.

Step 8: Marketing and Promotion

As a book agent once told me, “Books don’t sell books. Authors sell books.” And in order to sell your book, you need to promote, promote, promote.

Here are a few things you can do:

  • Call local bookstores and arrange to do a reading. For The Farmer’s Kitchen I prepared a talk, “25 Tips for Going Local without Going Crazy.”
  • Send review copies of your book to bloggers and freelance writers; invite them to review your book. Send along a press release with your book.
  • Create social media accounts to promote your book and actively post.
  • Host book give-aways to create buzz around your book.
  • Encourage your fans to post reviews on Amazon and Good Reads.

This isn’t an easy process, but it’s doable. You’ll learn new skills you can apply to all sorts of ventures. And it’s a great sense of accomplishment when it’s complete. Good luck!

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