A while back, my sister asked me for some information on the self-publishing options I’ve been investigating. My response went into more detail than I expected, and seemed beneficial to more people than her, so I finally took some time to edit it for my blog.
I have found three ‘legitimate’ services that handle the print on demand process for you:
Createspace is run by Amazon; a known company. They are by far the cheapest, but the drawback is they only do paperback books, and the smallest book is 8×5, which is larger than your average
pocketbook. I used them for the Arch Linux Handbook. Lulu is the oldest company, they do LOTS of different book styles including hard cover, but they are expensive. I didn’t look at unibook too much, they are quite new to the self-publishing business, but I think they’ve been around
for a long time in the standard printing business. I will probably use them for hardcover books.
All three are ‘free’ in that there are no up-front costs, but Lulu and unibook are ‘expensive’ in that you have to sell the book for much more than a bookstore typically charges to cover their costs. Createspace has a thing where if you pay them $40, it costs about half price per book, which means you can earn that $40 back in a few sales. Apparently Lulu, and probably Unibook, will do a bit of “massaging” to get your book into the proper format; In contrast, Createspace expects it to be copy-ready and it will be printed exactly how you send it.
All three services allow colour pages, but those are more expensive.
Createspace lists your book on amazon.com for free (I don’t think it lists on amazon.ca or similar international sites though) I think Lulu also has an option to list your book on Amazon.com, but you may have to pay extra.
Every book published has an ISBN associated with it. That’s a number to uniquely identify the book. All three of those services will give you an ISBN, but that means they “own” the ISBN. That doesn’t matter too much, but it has one drawback. There is a “catalogue” of books that bookstore owners across North America consult when they want to custom-order a book. If your book isn’t in that catalogue, your book can’t typically be ordered from bookstores. The catch is that only the owner of the book’s ISBN can put a book in the catalogue. Createspace will not do this with ISBNs they own; I’m not sure about the other companies. So if you are writing a book that you want in bookstores (instead of distributing it yourself or selling only online through Amazon) you may want to get your own ISBN.
In the US, it costs $150 to get an ISBN, but I read that it is free in Canada if you go through Library and Archives Canada. I’ve chosen to just use the free CreateSpace ISBN for now. If a book becomes popular enough to warrant marketing it to bookstores, I can always print a second edition of the title.
As far as actually writing the book goes, I recommend using OpenOffice. Its smart about formatting pages and layout, once you learn how to use it. That’s a big “once”, but its worth it. There are some terrific, “how to write a book in OpenOffice,” tutorials on Google. In addition, OpenOffice natively exports to PDF in a way that CreateSpace, and likely the other companies, will find acceptable.
Some things to keep in mind when formatting a book that aren’t immediately obvious:
* left and right pages need to have different margins because the “inside” margin needs to be bigger to accommodate the spine.
* typically, page numbers go on the ‘outside’ of the header or footer — ie: left side on left pages, right side on right pages
* New chapters always start on a right-hand page; sometimes a blank page on the left needs to be inserted.
I’m not sure how Lulu and Unibook do covers, but I would guess its similar to Createspace. You tell Createspace how many pages the book will have and they send you a template for Photoshop (Gimp will open it) that has the entire cover: back, spine, and front in one file, such that it will “wrap around” the book. You put the graphics and words on there in the right place (there are guidelines) and then send it to them. I suggest putting all the texts and images on different layers so they
are easy to move around, hide, and remove.
You also have the option of publishing ebooks. Createspace has a feature that allows you to publish a book to the Amazon Kindle, an ebook reader. There are also free programs that allow you to publish a book in a wide variety of popular ebook formats. I used one for Linux
called Calibre. There’s a lot of leeway in ebooks; there’s nothing wrong with publishing it as a pdf, web page, or word document if you so wish, but most ebook reading software expect them in one of a few specific formats.
At this time, I can’t provide much information on the marketing side of things. Marketing is definitely the hard part, but its all about knowing your audience and targetting them.
Releasing your book under a Creative Commons license will make it more appealing to a wider target audience. You lose some control over how it is distributed, but that means other people may distribute and market it for you.
Finally, some advertising: I offer proofreading, editing, formatting, and cover layout services if you aren’t comfortable doing any part of the formatting or layout. It really depends how well you know writing and image processing programs; I find it quite simple, but its taken me years of fighting with Open Office and its alternatives until I can finally managed to force it to cooperate.