Continuing our series of posts on the steps of the independent publishing process.
Your book is edited and ready to publish. Now it’s decision time. Will you publish your work as an eBook, a printed book, or both? And, related to that decision, will you publish with one retailer or distributor, or several? The good news is that you can almost always change your mind later. Here are some things to consider about choosing the format for publication.
Publishing an eBook only title is the quickest, easiest, and least expensive way to publish. Software to convert a document into an eBook format is readily available from many sources. It’s included with tools such as Scrivener and Vellum, and available free online from services such as Reedsy. If your manuscript is an MS Word document, it’s easier to prepare the file if you have used heading styles for chapter headings or titles. For the cover, all you need is a good quality image in a 1:1.6 pixel ratio (for example, 1000 pixels wide by 1600 pixels high).
If you spot a typo after publication (and you will), the file can be updated in seconds (either by rebuilding it, or editing it using a program such as Calibre). Readers can download these updates.
eBook and Print book
While many book purchasers prefer eBooks, some buyers want print copies — and they are prepared to pay for them. Physical books can be sold at readings or launches. They can also be sold, directly or on consignment, to independent bookstores and possibly other stores. For example, stores that sell souvenir or craft items may carry books with a strong local connection. This is a source of income and a way to promote your book — a book on a store shelf is advertising itself. And there’s a satisfaction from holding your book and seeing it in stores that cannot be duplicated by awareness of a file somewhere in cyberspace.
Preparing a physical book for sale is more work and expense than preparing an eBook. The first step is selecting the size of the book. The options depend on your printer, and the size determines how many pages the book has (which affects the cost).
An interior file must be prepared, with typeface and layout choices — everything from the position and size of the page numbers to the style of the dinkus (the marker used to indicate a scene break). An eBook can use spacing to mark scene breaks, but in a print book the spacing could appear at the top of pages and look odd.
Normally, the interior file is prepared for the size of the book, but you can make a shorter book appear longer by preparing an interior file for a slightly smaller sized book. This increases the page margins, but if the book is at least 6″ wide, the larger margin will not be obvious.
Cover images are required for the front, spine, and back, and may require professional design to meet print colour and resolution requirements. Printing generally requires images of at least 300 dpi (dots per inch), three times sharper than onscreen images. (Dots per inch is not directly related to pixels. An image that is 1000 pixels wide might have a dpi of 96, making it unsuitable for printing. This will be discussed more in a future blog on cover design.)
A physical book also requires more time to prepare and sell. The cover image, and any other images, should be seen before the book is sold, to ensure the colour and overall appearance is satisfactory. Before selling the book, you need to allow enough time for a least one round of printing the book, shipping if necessary, and making changes. If you plan to sell books at a launch, you need to allow enough time to print and ship the copies. This can easily take a month.
Thanks to print-on-demand technology, printing a book no longer requires setting up plates and printing hundreds of books, then storing and shipping them as they are (hopefully) purchased. Print-on-demand is more costly per book than bulk printing, but a good option for independent authors and small publishers. Typically, the print-on-demand service prints and ships books as they are ordered by customers or retailers.
One Retailer or Several
If you are considering eBook or eBook and print publication, you have several options for wide distribution of your book. One is to publish exclusively with a company such as Amazon or Kobo. These large eBook retailer/distributors make it easy to publish, and provide free tools to format your book for eBook and print distribution. Some, including Amazon, also let you prepare the book for print distribution.
However, if you are using multiple distributors, it’s less work to format your book once and send completed files to each distributor, rather than format the book for each distributor. You’ll still have the work of making price and file updates for each company.
With Amazon, you can choose to be exclusive to Amazon (KDP Select), getting higher royalties and other benefits, or choose Expanded Distribution, making the book available to other distributors for bookstores and libraries to purchase.
A risk of using a single distributor is that if you run into any problems with your account, your books may be pulled from the market, and not available anywhere. Exclusive distribution may also prevent you from giving away free copies, or impose other restrictions. A company that may be dominant in one country may have a smaller market in others. Some writers are not comfortable allowing one company exclusive control of their book — this is all the disadvantages of traditional publishing with few of the advantages.
If you plan to make the book available through multiple distributors, there are benefits to using a company such as IngramSpark, or a publisher that uses them (such as Somewhat Grumpy Press). IngramSpark charges a modest fee to distribute eBooks and print books, but allows you to manage the files and pricing in one place (interior and cover formatting is usually available at no extra charge).
This is similar to using Amazon’s Expanded Distribution, but with greater reach and more control. For example, a new file uploaded to IngramSpark is usually available within a few days (immediately for eBooks), and prices can be updated once a week. Changes through Amazon Expanded Distribution can take up to eight weeks.
IngramSpark does not require exclusive distribution rights, so you can work directly with some distributors, and use the distribution company (or publisher that uses them) for the rest. For example, if you publish with Somewhat Grumpy Press, you might decide to use Somewhat Grumpy Press for all distributors except Amazon (Somewhat Grumpy Press does not require exclusive rights). We would make the book available and manage pricing for Kobo, Apple, Barnes and Noble, and so on, while you would work directly with Amazon for the book’s availability there.
This allows you to run KDP author advertising, and take advantage of Amazon promotional tools, and keyword and category tools (such as Publisher Rocket). Although Somewhat Grumpy Press can supply keyword and category information for books sold on Amazon, advertising is much easier and cheaper for KDP authors than for small publishers. You can use Amazon and a wide distribution service so long as your work is not exclusive to Amazon and you are not using their Expanded Distribution.
Even if you use a wide distributor like Amazon Expanded Distribution or IngramSpark, they may not reach all potential retailers. For example, IngramSpark does not supply eBooks to Google Play Books. If you are publishing with Somewhat Grumpy, we can add the book there for you, or you can manage this yourself.
Distributing an eBook requires computer and internet resources that are not feasible for most individuals. However, you may choose to publish a book as print only, and sell the copies yourself. This is entirely feasible.
Many general printing companies, such as Halcraft in Halifax, can print and bind books, and are willing to work with you to prepare the appropriate PDF files for printing. If you can afford to pay for several hundred copies to be printed at once, the cost per book can be very reasonable (as low as around $5 per book), and a local printer may mean no shipping costs or delays.
Once the books are printed, you can deliver them to local bookstores, and sell them individually at craft fairs, farmers markets, and so on. You can even sell them online, using an online shopping service like Square, or posting them as seller on Amazon.
For example, the Halifax poetry cooperative Open Heart Forgery fund-raised by advance sales to cover the cost of printing their Tenth Anniversary Anthology. The book is now available from four independent bookstores in Halifax. No eBook version is available, in part because publishing poetry in an eBook format requires extra work to preserve layout features such as line lengths and indents.
The Best Approach
One hates to be wishy-washy, but there is no single best approach. Your best approach depends on your book content, budget, expected market, and available time. In general, you don’t want to miss potential customers, so wide distribution in print and eBook formats allows the maximum reach, but for some authors the potential additional sales do not justify the extra work or cost.
The initial decision is not permanent. For example, you can launch your book as an eBook exclusive to one company, then decide later to also offer a print version and work with multiple distributors. Just be sure any agreements you accept allow this, and that any conditions are respected. For example, KDP Select has a 90 day enrollment period, with possible penalties for leaving early. You don’t want to switch frequently how you distribute, especially if you have multiple books, as changing your distribution (and thus availability) can make it harder to build an audience.
Somewhat Grumpy Press offers publishing assistance no matter which distribution path you choose. Our agreements are always non-exclusive, and we’ll work with you to determine the best approach for your book.
If you have other pros or cons of the various approaches to distribution, or you have questions about any of the options, please share in the comments.