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    5 Great Services for Self-Publishing Your Book

    by Mike Rosen-Molina
    March 2, 2009

    In past posts, we’ve looked at some of the questions a new writer should keep in mind when considering whether to self-publish her opus. But let’s say that an author has made up her mind that pushing ahead without a traditional publisher is the way to go. With the rise of new print-on-demand (POD) technology, literally dozens of self-publishing companies, or subsidy publishers, have come into being. How should she choose which one is right for her?

    The only way to know for sure, of course, is research. Look through the different POD services available, browse the packages they offer, and examine their contracts. Writers and experts alike warn to be cautious against expecting too much from a POD company. The real profits for most POD companies lie not in printing but in “extras” — so it’s no surprise that many self-published writers complain of being nickel and dimed. Most POD companies are exactly what they purport to me: print shops. They may also provide some other services you’d expect from traditional publishers — editing, advertising, or distribution — but generally only for an additional fee.

    Even things that you might expect to come standard — like an International Standard Book Number (ISBN), without which a book won’t be offered for sale by many professional booksellers — are often only available at extra cost, so authors should always read the fine print to know what they’re getting into. While you’re shopping around, here’s a quick look at five good possibilities for POD publishing:

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    BookLocker

    Although smaller than some of the other subsidy publishers, BookLocker has been getting some positive buzz from writers. It received the highest rating in The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, a manual that compares and rates the contracts offered by various POD companies. Unusual in that it doesn’t accept every book submitted to it — BookLocker does exercise some editorial discretion — it also promises authors more personalized service than some of the larger companies.

    The price tag offered by this publisher tends to be lower than those cited by the larger POD companies. For about $612 (or $399 for returning authors), BookLocker authors can get a black and white book with a color cover. Graphics and photos can be included at no extra cost, and the company prides itself on refusing to “upsell authors on a bunch of products/services they don’t need.” BookLocker’s contract lets authors retain all rights to their work and allows them to cancel at any time, making it easy for writers to switch publishers if they find a better deal elsewhere.

    BookLocker also offers royalty rates at 35% of the cover price on books sold through its online bookstore and 15% of the cover price on books sold through a third-party retailer. The royalty rate is higher for e-books, reaching 70% for royalties on electronic books priced $8.95 or higher.

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    BookLocker also maintains a blog on trends within the print-on-demand industry, with some valuable insights for the fledgling writer.

    Lulu

    Lulu is one of the most well-known self-publishers, with a fast, user-friendly approach that makes it a favorite for first-time writers. The website provides easy walk-throughs for creating different kinds of publications, from cookbooks to yearbooks to brochures. One big advantage of Lulu is that your book is available for purchase the moment you hit the “publish” button. (Despite advances in technology, not all POD publishers have such a quick turn-around time.)

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    Lulu is good for authors interested in the most bare-bones approach. While some other companies will include fees for editing or cover design in their base price, an author publishing with Lulu has the option of foregoing those services completely. (Of course, doing so may limit the sales potential of your book, so you’ll want to consider your publishing goals carefully first.) The company’s system is easy to navigate: Simply upload a picture or Word file and Lulu will convert it to PDF. Also, it’s possible to buy only a single copy of your book from Lulu, while many POD services will require a more substantial print run to make it worth their effort.

    The site includes a calculator that allows writers to input all the variables — including paper quality, binding type, and page count — to determine exactly how much printing costs will entail per copy. Printing is technically free — Lulu charges a 20% commission on sales — but authors wanting more can purchase a package deal starting at $595 that includes setup, original cover design, print proof, ebook creation, up to 25 interior photos/graphics, an ISBN, barcode, a listing on the publisher’s website and distribution by Ingram, one of the biggest booksellers in the U.S.

    Some critics recommend that anyone interested in using Lulu for anything beyond basic printing instead purchase a package from an alternative publisher as Lulu’s piece-meal approach can quickly become expensive. In general, Lulu’s service seems more geared to authors looking to make small sales to friends and family, rather than looking for a shot at distribution in major book stores, but, if you’re looking for something simple, it’s one of the few advertised “free” services that actually might live up to that claim.

    iUniverse

    iUniverse has a strategic alliance with Barnes and Noble, so some authors might think that choosing this self-publisher will help get them a leg up in getting their work into stores. That’s an enticing prospect, though the chances of that with any self-published book remain slim. iUniverse offers publishing packages beginning at $599. Authors hoping to see their books receive more exposure in the iUniverse catalog may opt for one of the company’s premiere packages, which could give a book a shot at the Star Program. Top-selling Star Program books get shopped around to traditional publishers, according to the iUniverse website.

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    iUniverse offers authors a standard royalty package that includes 20% of net sales, but, in exchange for an author agreeing to instead accept 10%, iUniverse will give booksellers an increased discount when ordering your book — something that might encourage stores to take a gamble on an unknown writer.

    Like most POD services, authors should expect to pay more for additional services, like cover design, proofreading, and advertising. iUniverse offers advertising help packages, starting at $200 and running as high as $2,500. That higher package includes ads in major daily newspapers, although many veteran self-published writers are skeptical that such ads generate sales.

    BookSurge

    For many aspiring writers, self-publishing giant BookSurge is the POD of choice. A subsidiary of Amazon, BookSurge appears to have the connections that could get a self-published book on store shelves. (And indeed some BookSurge writers have gone on to great mainstream success) But writers should remember that it’s not the choice of publisher so much as an individual book’s quality — and its author’s luck and savvy — that land it in the big time.

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    Booksurge is unique compared to most other POD services in that it owns its own equipment and distribution channels, but BookSurge’s affiliation with Amazon doesn’t guarantee sales. It offers a number of standard options, but the most popular are the Total Design Freedom packages, starting from $799, which include custom cover design, interior formatting, and ISBN assignment and barcode placement. For additional fees, BookSurge will also write press releases, create advertising, and handle distribution.

    The company also offers some unique sales gimmicks that may or may not assist you in moving books off the shelves. One possibility for unknown writers is Amazon’s “Buy X, Get Y” program, that will pair your book with another, already successful book. It might be good for generating some interest, but reportedly costs $1,000/month to join, putting it off limits for most writers on a budget.

    In addition, some writers complain about BookSurge’s royalty rate: Authors get a 35% royalty rate on books based on retail sold through Amazon.com, Abebooks.com, and Alibris.com, but only 10% for books sold through all other bookstores. Amazon last year notified publishers that it would soon only carry self-published books printed via BookSurge, so this may be your best bet if you hope to sell your book primarily through the Amazon website.

    DogEar Publishing

    Another small self-publisher, DogEar boasts a more transparent and responsive process. DogEar claims to be the only self publisher “offering a financially viable model for self published authors.” While it admits to higher up-front costs, it says that this is balanced out by lower printing costs and higher profit margins.

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    One unusual aspect of its business plan that might prove attractive to authors is that DogEar does not pay royalties; instead, it only charges for printing, allowing authors to keep the profits from their work. However, the company admits that authors will need to sell more books to be profitable through DogEar than with its major competitors. Although its initial price of publication is higher with DogEar, the company says it averages 10 times as many “per book” units sales than its main competitors. This company may thus be better for the writer focusing more on long-term sales rather than quick returns.

    DogEar’s basic package runs $1099, but includes some features that often cost extra with other self-publishers: a custom interior and cover design with up to 30 images, a Library of Congress control number and U.S. Copyright information on the copyright page, and an ISBN number. Books published with DogEar also appear in Google Book Search and are registered with Books In Print database. An expedited quick-turn around package is also available for $500.

    Other POD Services

    Of course, these aren’t your only options. Other POD companies include:

    Xlibris
    Xlibris’ most basic publication services start at $500, although for additional fees the company will give authors a wider choice of cover templates or even input in designing a custom cover. Xlibris does not acquire any rights to your book, and the agreement is non-exclusive, so writers can publish elsewhere simultaneously.

    Authorhouse
    Authorhouse is the largest POD company in the country. Its cheapest package starts at $698; the company charges an additional $20 per year per title for distribution costs. In other regards, Authorhouse is among the more expensive of the subsidy publishers, charging $150 to file a copyright, $1199 for custom cover design, and much more for marketing.

    Ka-Blam
    A POD service catering specifically to comics, Ka-Blam also prints mousepads, T-shirts and other promotional material. Ka-Blam published comics can be offered for sale through its store, Indyplanet.com.

    360 Digital Books
    A small digital printing service that specializes in print runs of under 1,000 books, 360 Digital Books offers a variety of trim sizes and binding styles.

    Lightning Source
    This POD service is owned by Ingram, making it easy to get your book to any bookstore that orders it. Lightning Source has a $100 setup fee and the printing cost per paperback is $1, plus around a cent and a half per page. To keep your book listed, LSI charges $12 per book each year.

    CafePress
    Mainly known for printing mousepads and T-shirts, this online print shop also offers easy book binding and printing.

    What publish-on-demand companies would you recommend? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.

    Mike Rosen-Molina is a Northern California freelance reporter and an associate editor for MediaShift. A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley schools of journalism and law, he has worked as an editor for the Fairfield Daily Republic and as a managing editor for JURIST legal news services.

    Tagged: amazon booklocker books print-on-demand publishing
    • Paula

      Lighting Source will not work with individual authors anymore. Actually the vast majority of the POD publishers listed here, print through Lightning Source anyway. So your printing and distribution are the same with most of them except BookSurge. The big difference is the level of the service and the quality of the design and editing on the final product. Bookstores aren’t going to carry a book with a lame, template-created cover.

      There’s a new self-publishing service firm called Two Peas Publishing you might want to check out. It’s owned by a husband-and-wife team, a designer and an editor. Their prices are comparable to those above, but you get to keep all the rights, and the quality of the final product is top-notch.

    • Mike – great article. You’re right, there are outstanding POD publishing options available for authors, and those profiled here are among the more popular. In my work directly consulting options for self-publishing authors, I’ve become very familiar with these organizations.
      There is an outstanding full-service option available now working very effectively to blend the advantages of traditional publishing into the self-publishing realm – Outskirts Press . Outskirts Press offers authors the best of both worlds. Before, during, and after publication they receive the assistance of a dedicated group of publishing professionals, all the while maintaining all publishing rights. Even having the advantage of setting their own retail price, royalty, and author discount in a manner that brings extraordinarily high royalty percentages. Outskirts Press top 5 earning authors combined for over $60,000 in royalties in the 4th quarter of 2008 alone.

      Working full time in the industry has allowed me the time and experience to really research POD options, and there are a lot of them. I see authors gain the most flexibility and best sales potential with Outskirts Press. Check them out.

      Karl Schroeder
      Director of Author Services, Outskirts Press, Inc

    • Don’t forget Blurb! http://blurb.com is a great book publishing platform, they cater towards photo books, but they did just introduce a black and white novel size book specifically for authors.

      They don’t provide ISBN but they do allow you to sell books through their site at any markup you choose, you keep all the profit.

    • If “Buy American” is not the buzzword, you should try us at CinnamonTeal Print & Publishing (http://www.cinnamonteal.in). We have satisfied customers in 9 countries all over the world and the service is cheap even after you factor in postage from India.

      – Leonard Fernandes

    • Hi Mike,

      Great article, but you missed one more good site.

      A great source for authors to sell their self-published books online at less than $1.00 per month is jexbo, http://www.jexbo.com.

      Authors get a free website and marketing tools, and they can sell directly to readers.

    • Mike Rosen

      Hi, everyone, thanks for the great suggestions! These are some good choices that I missed.

    • Steve

      Actually, iUniverse is owned by Author Solutions – which also owns Xlibris and AuthorHouse. I don’t think Barnes & Noble are even affiliated with iUniverse any longer.

    • MyIdentifiers.com – instant online purchase of ISBNs and bar codes from Bowker – the exclusive US ISBN agency!

    • Mike,
      AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Xlibris and online DIY publisher, Wordclay are owned Author Solutions, Inc. of Bloomington, Ind.
      ASI brands published and brought to market 19,000 new titles in 2008 — roughly one in every 20 U.S. titles put into distribution.

      While iUniverse is not owned by Barnes & Noble, iUniverse authors who achieve Rising Star status have their books featured on a special, exclusive Rising Star collection on bn.com.

    • Mike Rosen

      Hi Steve, Kevin-

      Excellent, I corrected the iUniverse/BN connection in the article. Thanks for catching that!

    • A big thank you for this post Mike.

      Very timely as I’ve just finished my first self-help book and was looking for best publisher. Your list has been very helpful.

      Emmanuel
      Motivatorman

    • A big thank you for this post Mike.

      Very timely as I’ve just finished my first self-help book based on my movie blog and was looking for best publisher. Your list has been very helpful.

      Emmanuel
      Motivatorman

    • Art esolo

      mike-

      i assume you read the fine art of publishing and saw who the top 4 publishers were…you left out infinitypublishing.com which has been around since 1997 and you mentioned several such as authorhouse which were reviewed and were ranked at the bottom of the pile? was this an oversight?

    • Just a note of clarification: the vast majority of options above are subsidy/vanity publishers, not self-publishers (you pay them to publish your book).

      The only way to truly self-publish a book is to publish it yourself (meaning you own the ISBN and copyright). Lulu offers a “published by you” program that is true self-publishing, but has higher printing prices than most of the other options which makes them less attractive than other self-publishing options.

      BelieversPress makes becoming a self-publisher easy by offering solutions to fit every budget. Whether you choose a complete publishing package or customize your publishing experience, you pay only for the solutions you need. You remain at all times in full control — we do not put our brand on your content. All work is a work for hire, there are no royalties, no hooks, and no schemes — only profits.

    • Thanks for the heads up on the publishing front, I have always wanted to publish my own book.

    • You fail to distinguish between true self-publishing and paying someone else to publish one’s work, it’s true, just as BelieversPress stated above. Without explaining which outfits own the ISBNs, tho’ I’m sure you meant well, you’ve given a false picture about what self-publishing even is.

      Never mind that the subsidy, or “vanity,” presses among those you mentioned, when they do provide design and production services, tend to provide template-based, one-size-fits-all kind of design and layout. It would have been helpful if you’d gotten hold of some statistics about how many of such-published books get sold on average.

    • This is a very useful article. Whilst I have dreamt of publishing my own book for many years, I have not yet gained the knowledge of how to go about it. It had always seemed to me that the publishing part was so much more difficult than the writing element. Your article has helped and for that I am very grateful.

    • Ryan

      Microsoft Word/Open office don’t seem to be lacking in formatting controls for more advanced books. I am curious what tools you would recommend for putting together a book that isn’t simply text but a mix of images, electronic artwork, text, etc?
      thanks

    • Alisa Singer

      I think BookSurge has given up the X+Y program when it merged with Create Space. Too bad – does anyone know of another great marketing program offered by any of the companies. And what do we know about the Booksurge/Create Space combined company? Thanks.

    • Thank you for this concise primer on self-publishing and the many – and apparently always multiplying – options. Since Booksurge has become CreateSpace, the situation seems to be continually changing.
      I do think that authors should get their own ISBN numbers – and consider publishing different versions for different niche audiences. I’m going to, for instance, republish an ESL book called Compelling Conversations: Questions and Quotations on Timeless Topics again as “Compelling Conversations: Questions and Quotations for Advanced English Learners” because so many people miscategorized my book as a reference title instead of an ESL/EFL textbook.
      Has anybody tried to publish related titles with two competing publishers to see the results? Just curious.

    • Wow, I only wanted to find out which publisher is the best, and now I’ve learned about more publishers, where can I find an authors opinions on the best low cost publishers help! totally googled out

    • Mark Welser

      Don’t forget to check what levels of PDF the different services will accept. Many people have problems with Lulu in particular (maybe just because they have a big customer base) because they take only a limited level of PDF.

      Sending a Word doc for them to convert is your 100% guarantee of crappy typography. Don’t ever do this unless you don’t care about your readers’ eyes.

    • CJ Johnson

      I recommend using the following company if you have your own electronic files and can produce your own cover files using simple software. This company is easy to work with and FAST!! Quality is great!I now can sell my book at a reasonable competitive price and still make a good profit. http://www.48hrbooks.com

    • Great post, whether you choose a complete publishing package or customize your publishing experience, you pay only for the solutions you need from some book publishers. Also make sure you own the rights to your work,
      George
      http://www.publish-book.com

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