Adventures in Self-Publishing: Turning Your Manuscript Into A Book

The arrival of ebooks has made it much easier for self-publishers to get their work into the hands of readers, but I always knew I wanted to see Dr Huxley’s Bequest as an actual paper book that I could pick up (and be able to read, because I don’t own any kind of ereader). But how does a self-publisher on a limited budget, expecting to sell only a few books, go about turning their work into printed books?

At first I assumed I’d have to do it the way that traditional publishers print books, just on a much smaller scale – that is, pay a printer to produce a limited number of copies using a traditional press. But this means working out how many books you want and paying for all of them up front. I did consider using a crowdsourcing platform (such as Kickstarter) to fund a small print run, but the more I researched, the less attractive this option appeared. These companies take a significant percentage of the money raised and have all sorts of unappealing conditions attached. Anyway, I doubted I’d attract enough contributors to make it worthwhile. And even if I myself paid for a print run, where would I store all the books? How would I sell and distribute them to readers?

Then I did some research and discovered the amazing world of digital Print on Demand (POD) publishing. This means that you print only the copies that have been ordered, when they’re ordered. You can order just one book for yourself or hundreds of books. The POD publisher will print them in a couple of days and send them to you – or, even better, send them to the bookstore or library service that ordered them, charge them the price you’ve chosen for your book, deduct the printing and distribution costs, and pay you the remainder.

This is how it works. You, the author/self-publisher, send the POD publisher two pdf files – one pdf of the inside of the book, laid out the same way any printed book is, and one pdf of the cover art, with front, back and spine art fitted into a template that the POD publisher supplies. They store these files in their computer and whenever a book is ordered (either by you or by booksellers), this happens:

Isn’t that cool? You can choose from a wide range of book sizes. You can print paperback or hardcover copies with a range of binding types and jackets and types of paper. I can confirm that the printed paperbacks look just like the trade paperbacks you can buy in a bookstore. The only issue I noticed with the particular POD publisher I used (Lightning Source/IngramSpark) was that some of the colours on the cover were lighter than I expected, which I’ve heard isn’t uncommon with digital printing-on-demand. And you can’t do really fancy things with cover design, such as cut-outs and embossed lettering. It’s also more expensive to print per book than if you printed a thousand copies at the same time using traditional off-set printing. However, for a self-publisher, print-on-demand is an affordable and practical way to produce print books. You don’t have to pay warehouse costs and you don’t waste any paper if your books don’t sell.

The other good thing about IngramSpark, for Australian self-publishers, is that they have printing facilities around the world, including in Australia, and they can deposit your book sale earnings directly into your Australian bank account. That’s one of the reasons I ended up going with IngramSpark rather than Amazon Createspace, the other big name in the self-publishing world. I also thought IngramSpark would work well for me because they’re connected to dozens of online bookstores and library suppliers around the world. If you choose to distribute through IngramSpark, you give them information about your book (cover image, book summary, author information and so on) and they send it to all their affiliated booksellers, who then sell the book through their websites and catalogues. If you choose Amazon Createspace, the book is only sold through Amazon sites – which do reach a lot of bookbuyers, but not everyone wants to buy their books from Amazon.

For ebooks, a similar process occurs. The file is uploaded to IngramSpark in a different format (epub rather than pdf) and it doesn’t have to get printed, but it’s still listed and sold through a range of international booksellers, including Kobo, Apple iBooks and Barnes & Noble. However, if you want your ebook to be available for Kindle readers, you need to format it as a mobi file, set up an account with Amazon, and sell it through them. I had no idea which ebook format was likely to be more popular with Dr Huxley’s Bequest readers, so I’ve made it available in both formats. I’ll be interested to see the sales numbers and how much I earn from each.

I have skimmed over a very important step, though. You can’t upload a Word document, no matter how pretty it looks, to a POD publisher. So how do you turn your edited manuscript into formats that will look good when they’re read in either print or ebook form? You either do it yourself, which requires a fair amount of technological and design skill, or you pay a professional to do it for you. Now, remember back when I started this series and I said it could end up being a What Not To Do? Yep, this is the bit where I made All The Mistakes. That’s coming up in the next post.

More in Adventures in Self-Publishing:

Why Self-Publish?
What’s This Book About, Anyway?
To Tweet Or Not To Tweet
Designing a Book Cover
All the Mistakes I’ve Made (so Far)

5 thoughts on “Adventures in Self-Publishing: Turning Your Manuscript Into A Book”

  1. This is so interesting, Michelle. I’m anticipating that I may follow in your footsteps at some stage (perhaps sooner rather than later!) so I am frantically taking notes.

    1. It is a very steep learning curve! And things in self-publishing are constantly changing, so a lot of what I’ve learnt while publishing this book will be out-of-date by the time I finish my next book. It’s really interesting to see all these aspects of the publishing industry up-close, though.

  2. Hi Michelle,
    I just ordered the book from Angus and Robertson. I got a message that it has been delayed due to unforeseen stock issues. Is this just “we have to print it” or something else?

    1. Hi Pip,

      The book is printed to order, so as soon as you place an order, Angus and Robertson contact the printer to ask for a copy to be sent to you with their postage stickers. This usually takes about a week to print and send to you from the Melbourne printer, but I think things are a bit slower than usual at the printers due to the rush before Christmas. Angus and Robertson might just use ‘unforeseen stock issues’ as a standard message for all print-on-demand books or it might be their Christmas-delay message. I’m sorry about you having to wait. I want people to get their books promptly!
      EDITED TO ADD: Angus and Robertson are currently showing book orders will take 2-3 weeks, which would mean delivery around Christmas, when Australia Post is closed. That might be part of the cause of the delay.

      This probably doesn’t help if you’ve already ordered and want the book soon, but I am releasing a new improved paperback at the end of January. It’s exactly the same content, just slightly larger print and a few design tweaks, which I think will make it more reader-friendly for younger readers.

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