Monday, January 26, 2009

4 Ways to “Self-Publish” Your Nonfiction Book

Time magazine had an article in its most recent edition about self-publishing, and I think every one of my clients has read it. While the article dealt mostly with fiction, there is no question that self-publishing is also a viable option for nonfiction authors. So, in response to all the questions arriving in my e-mail, here are some things you should know about self-publishing.

You do everything a publisher does, and you pay for all of it. On the other hand, if there is a profit after expenses, you keep it. you are in control, creatively and financially. The book is yours; you make all the decisions. Depending on the approach you take, you can make a lot of mistakes and spend a lot of unnecessary money if you don’t know what you’re doing. Finally, no matter how you plan to publish, to attract buyers, your book must have a catchy title, eye-catching cover, solid content, and excellent writing. Here are four approaches:

Self-publishing: the "right" way
There are many steps involved in this approach. As a self-publisher, you are responsible for printing, warehousing, marketing, and distributing your books. For help, check out Independent Publishers Association (PMA) or its local chapter in your city. The guru of self-publishing is Dan Poynter, whose book, The Self-Publishing Manual: How to Write, Print and Sell Your Book, has become the bible for self-publishers. He describes this process in great detail.

Technical steps
  • Begin by forming your own publishing company. Create a fictitious name to lend it some credibility.
  • Download or send for copyright forms; file them with U.S. Copyright Office .
  • Check into the need for local business licenses; apply for them if necessary.
  • Secure an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) and an EAN bar code from R.R. Bowker.
  • Get competitive prices from printers.
  • Decide how you want to handle storage and distribution.

Creative steps
  • Start with a great title and subtitle. You might want to hire an expert to guide you. One of the best is Sam Horn.
  • Have your book cover designed by a graphic designer who specializes in books.
  • Have your manuscript edited and copy edited (two different processes).
  • Send bound galleys to peer reviewers.
  • Request testimonials for various promotional uses.

Marketing steps
  • Write a marketing plan. It is never too early, and you can always add to it as you go along.
  • Create a promotional piece or brochure. Have your book designer do it.
  • Put together a mailing list.
  • Do a promotional mailing.
  • Develop a website for your book.
  • Create a blog about your subject matter.
  • Write articles, and submit them to print publications ans online article sites, such as,, or

Print on demand (POD/Subsidy Publishers/Author Services)
POD is a digital technology that prints anywhere from one to 1,000 books at a time. The rest of the time, your book is stored as a digital file on a large server. This eliminates the need for large press runs and storage space. The appeal of POD companies — such as BookSurge (owned by Amazon), AuthorHouse, iUniverse (owned by Barnes & Noble), InfinityPublishing, LuLu, Xlibrus, and PublishAmerica — is that they offer a variety of packages to authors. The set-up fees and cost per book or per page vary from publisher to publisher, so it’s a good idea to shop around. Obviously, the quality of the books produced this way runs the gamut. It is up to you to ensure that your book meets the same high standards demanded by conventional publishers.

Here are few other things to keep in mind:
  • POD companies charge an up-front fee, which can be as high as $1,500.
  • Most POD companies have strict guidelines for format, size, and pricing.
  • There is an additional charge for editing and marketing; and, in some cases, purchase of the marketing package is mandatory.
  • If the company designs the covers, it owns the cover design.
  • Wholesalers and retailers may not buy POD books because they are non-returnable, higher in price, and often lower in quality.
  • The ISBN number is often in the company’s name, not the author’s, making the company the publisher of record.
  • After an initial number of complimentary books, you must purchase copies of your own books at about 40 percent of retail.

Start with a printer
This is something you would do as a self-publisher, of course, but it’s a less complicated process. Some printers provide the ISBNs and bar codes at a slight additional cost. One is NoWaste Publishing in Fenton, Missouri, which printed the last two editions of How to Write a Nonfiction Book: From Concept to Completion in 6 Months. You can do as much or as little of the self-publishing process as you like with this option. I uploaded my book to, featured it on my website, made it the centerpiece of my blog, wrote articles based on its content, and printed only what I could afford and store.

Use LightningSource
LightningSource is a digital printer that prints books for publishers, as opposed to individual authors. You would have to create a publishing company to take advantage of their services. Ironically, the big POD houses farm out their printing to LightningSource, so they may be printing your book whether you realize it or not. LightningSource:
  • is owned by Ingram, the largest book wholesaler in the US
  • will automatically get your book into Borders, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon
  • charges a single, upfront set up fee of $500, and then you only pay for what you print
  • sells internationally
  • prints in black and white and color, hardback or softback
  • will print anywhere from one book to 10,000


gma12 said...

This is fantastic. You make everything so clear and easy to follow. Your talents never cease to amaze me.

Phyllis Zimbler Miller said...

I highly applaud your list of creative steps! Every step is very important.

I'd like to comment on your list of marketing steps. I strongly believe it's important for book authors to get a presence on social media sites in order to promote their books. And the earlier the better for gradually building a following.

I also feel strongly that a book author creating a website for his/her book without considering the best practices of internet marketing is an error. Web designers are usually interested in design, but book authors are interested in sales of their books. And thus internet marketing strategies should be the driving force of all book author websites.

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Very clear and precise.
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