Should you bother to self-publish in print as well as in eBook form? After all, it adds time and effort to the process, and many authors find that they sell very few copies in print, anyway. Like everything else when it comes to self-publishing, the answer is (wait for it), “it depends”). Okay, you say, “depends on what?” Fair enough – let’s talk about that.
Let’s start with the ephemeral. If you are of a certain age (and regrettably I am), a book means a certain thing, and that is this: something that you can hold in your hands, keep on a shelf, pack up and carry in a box in move after move (after move, after move…), and generally treasure for life, if it’s a good read or a valued resource. Kept indoors and absent a natural disaster, it can – and does – live on for centuries, always there, patiently waiting to be discovered anew, generation after generation.
It should therefore come as no surprise that the first book I wrote, called The Alexandria Project, is available not only as an eBook, but also in softcover, and even hardcover. This is not to say that this makes a terrific amount of sense, viewed from any rational economic point of view. After all, I haven’t tried to get (even) my local bookstore to carry it, and since it’s genre fiction (in this case, a thriller), it’s in a category where eBook sales are especially common in comparison to print, because people tend to devour lots of them (and therefore don’t want to spend a lot on each one), and since they’re very plot driven, readers have little incentive to re-read then after they’ve learned how things came out.
Moreover, at the prices that most self-published eBooks sell for, they’re an easy impulse purchase, invariably compared to your favorite hot beverage at Starbucks, or perhaps to an iPhone App. A few clicks, and they’re yours. Another click when you’re done, and they’re gone from your device’s memory, or simply forgotten in the virtual libraries we’re now acquiring in the Cloud, wherever the hell that may be.
For a self-publishing author, there’s therefore a lot to be said for bringing out a book, pamphlet, or anything else you wish to publish in electronic form only. Up to the point that you’re ready to upload your file to wherever you plan to upload it (on which more in a future chapter), things are pretty much the same. But after that, the costs begin to diverge and the effort doubles up.
If you’re lucky and your book file is very uncomplicated, you may be able to upload it at a site like CreateSpace and have the format turn out okay. On the other hand, if your file is more complicated (e.g., you’re including pictures with captions, tables, footnotes or other elements) or you’d just like to put out a classier looking final product, then formatting gets a lot trickier (you can find out why here) , and any clumsiness is going to stick out a lot worse in a physical book than when viewed on a smart phone.
For about $300 – $400, you can have someone else tidy up your format and convert it into the type of electronic files required by Amazon, Barnes & Noble and so on. Some will also be happy and able to submit your files to those distributors for you, too. For a couple hundred dollars you can also get someone to design a decent cover for you. And, as we’ll talk about in much greater detail in the future, you can go to any of a very large number of print on demand (POD) publishers that will do all of that for you, and more.
Depending on which route you go, though, if you want to make your book available in tangible as well as eBook form, it will certainly take more time, and may cost more, since you’re almost certainly going to want to make your book available electronically. You can use the same cover artwork for the soft cover version, but you’ll need to pay an extra fee for a hardcover design layout if you want to offer that version as well (figure another $100 more), because you’ll need extra material for the fold-over flaps of the book cover. And then there’s the fact that some of the middlemen you may decide to work with may be slow, and going with print adds extra steps, each with turnaround times for review and corrections.
Unless you decide to do everything at a site like CreateSpace, using only their tools and cover templates, you won’t be likely to get away with spending less than $800 to bring an eBook and soft cover to market, as compared to $500 just for an eBook. For hardcover, add another $200 to that $800. If you decide to pick up the other trappings that many self-publishing authors often plunge for – a Web site (to showcase the book), maybe a direct to printer shopping cart (to earn a higher percentage profit on your book sales), and so on, and you’re likely to spend somewhere between $1,200 – $2400 all told, and that’s assuming that you don’t buy a marketing package of materials, many of which (like a press release) are likely to have no impact whatsoever or which you may not get around to using unless you’re very serious about promoting your book in person as well as on line (e.g., posters, business cards, and so on).
Once you start to add up all of the costs, time, delay and effort, there’s therefore something to be said for making your book available in electronic form only for as little as possible, and as quickly as possible. That approach is doubly persuasive when you take into account the fact that few self-published authors will ever get back their up front investment from sales of print copies of their book, most likely about $1 – $5 a book at a time. Why so little? Because you don’t want your book to cost more than a trade book, and printing costs are high.
But I did say “it depends,” so let’s get back to the “on what?” part of the equation. Here are some good reasons to go dead-tree as well:
1. Type of Book. For starters, if you’re writing non-fiction, a higher percentage of your sales are likely to be in print. If you’re writing a book of academic interest, they’ll be higher yet. So one thing you’ll want to do is a little research into how important print sales are in your particular category. An easy way to do a quick test is simply to go to Amazon and look at the ranks of different versions of some books in your own genre or book category.
2. Reviews. Reviews are an essential part of any book’s success. While in many genres it will be easy to get reviews based on eBook copies, in other cases that will be less so, since many serious reviewers will only accept print copies. Certain other important promotional opportunities – such as doing a give away on GoodReads, can only be done with physical copies.
3. Book Stores and Libraries. Many authors are successful at getting their local bookstores and libraries to take copies, and then support these channels by doing book readings and signings. If you have the time, you can also take your show on the road, and many authors enjoy doing exactly that, meeting new and interesting people along the way.
So what should you do? At the end of the day, what you decide to do is likely to have more to do with why you decided to write that book to begin with. If it’s non-fiction, you may want to give copies to customers, marketing contacts, and so on to help promote your business or area of expertise. For the time being, anyway, giving a tangible copy is probably more effective for that purpose. For fiction or non-fiction, it’s certainly nice to be able to give physical copies to family and friends, with a note handwritten on the flyleaf, even if you don’t plan to plug your book at book stores and libraries, or put a lot of effort into getting reviews.
On the other hand, if you’ve written your book as a lark and don’t want to get bogged down in lots of additional effort that isn’t nearly so much fun, you may want to just upload your file at a site like SmashWords or CreateSpace and be done with it.
Still, if you are, ahem, of a certain age, seeing your book on an E-Ink screen will just never hold a Kindle, so to speak, to taking those first copies of your own work out of the shipping box and holding them in the same hands that labored so hard to bring them into existence.
That’s where I came out, anyway. And that’s where I’ll come out again.