Sunday, December 20, 2009

Taking the overseas print run plunge

So you'll probably remember the original problem from an earlier post: I needed $6,000 to print the book I'd started the press to do.

I wasn't any richer.

But I did have one somewhat successful book. Even though I wasn't making enough money to fund the second, I felt a lot better about this whole venture.

So I decided just to do it. Even though the bank had turned down a loan, they had given me a low-interest credit card. I wanted to be brave. I wanted to make this happen. And so I did it.

I was halfway through production on In the Company of Angels, using photographs I'd already taken and models for whom I already had releases, trying not to spend any money until I knew what I was doing. I sent out a notice that I'd love to have additional children pose as angels for the book, as long as the families had a pregnancy loss in their history. I had an idea that to make the book really special, I wanted the parents who filled out the book to feel a connection with the images in this precious album. I had to get it right.

So shooting resumed, and I contacted the broker for the good overseas bid to start production.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Barnes and Noble backs the book

Our first book, Kids Show Kids How to Make Balloon Animals, was off and running, and not doing too badly. Hilariously, Klutz made a balloon book that came out almost simultaneously with ours. I watched the Amazon ranking of both with a bit of stalker glee, and was a little surprised at how well they both did.

We bought the Klutz book and loved the colorful images and fun designs. The book was much harder than ours, though, and soon the reviews reflected that.

Our Magic Camp connection came through during a week of promotion at one of the big Barnes and Noble stores in town. One day was dedicated to balloon twisting, so the authors were invited to assist in a demonstration on how to make basic balloon shapes.

Barnes and Noble decided to stock the book in their store, with 10% of the profits going to help raise money for kids to get scholarships to Magic Camp. I checked the Ingram account a few days later and saw -- gulp -- they'd ordered 50 copies. Visions of returns began dancing in my head. But we'd do the best we could to sell them.

We fixed a few mistakes we'd made at the festival. The girls dressed in their outfits from the book so they'd be instantly recognizable. We brought easier pens to sign the books with (Sharpies only, people!)

What a great event. Dozens of kids showed up. The girls worked the crowd and helped the kids as the Magic Camp instructor explained the steps to twisting. Elizabeth got on stage and showed everyone how to make a balloon bee.

We sold a good chunk of the books. They probably had 15-20 left.

(Update: Barnes and Noble kept these books in stock and never returned them. In fact, after we altered the cover many months later, I went back and bought a few of the originals--I'd sold out of stock suddenly and had no first editions--and the sales lady went on and on about how the girls had come out to the store last fall and how adorable they were--and this was definitely the best of the balloon books--perfect for birthday gifts. I could not have stepped any more lightly as I left.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Promoting our first book

Kids Show Kids How to Make Balloon Animals was really a practice book. I wasn't really going to make money on it. With a price tag of $9.99, the most I felt the market would bear for a short book, and 55% going to the bookstores, every bit of the rest went to printing and paying the authors. But I expected we'd sell a few copies here and there, have some fun with it, and it would hang out online as an example of our work.

The problem was the book is full color, which is expensive. But I didn't want to do a big print run overseas. So we planned a few events to sell them locally, thus getting the full price ourselves and at least covering the production costs.

With my connection through the Writers' League of Texas, we got a 2-hour spot at the Texas Book Festival, one of the biggest and best book festivals in the country. That was about all I felt the young authors could handle.

We made balloons of bats and ghosts in hornor of Halloween. We sold a few books, nothing crazy. Our time slot was early, and cold, but we were happy with how it went.

The next event was the one that would propel the book into the Amazon charts.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I was in love with book trailers and wanted to do something that would stand on its own, rather that just prmote the book.

Elizabeth was willing to give it a go, and we recorded her (with a point and shoot camera, no less) making a balloon animal bee. I bought a royalty-free song to put with it, and we had our first video for the press.

Friday, November 13, 2009

When Amazon makes a mistake on your book listing

I'm writing these blog posts well after the fact, and since my first experience with Amazon, I've had many others. And not all good. Amazon is such a machine, and they don't need me, the small publisher, and it's been pretty clear I'm more of a pesky mosquito than any sort of asset. But the behemoth is necessary to move books, and so I've persisted.

If Amazon messes up your book listing from the get go, as they did with our balloon book, calling it hard bound rather than paperback, realize that this mistake is going to get perpetuated all over the internet. And while Amazon will respond to your correction, the others will not.

First, make sure you know how to set up a Google Alert. This will save you so much time in clicking around. Google will email you every day letting you know any new instances of your search term that has occurred. This alert is better than searching, because the web site that is carrying your search term may actually be very buried in a regular Google search. Let the new listings come to you; don't go searching for the new listings.

The Google Alert showed me that on the day Amazon got the information from Ingram via Lightning Source, it incorrectly listed the book. Thankfully, on the same day, the online store for Barnes and Noble also listed it, correctly. So I knew the problem was Amazon's, not all the way back at the source. Unfortunately, quite a few alternate booksellers automatically monitor Amazon's new listings and crib the information from their database. So at least six more instances of the incorrect listing showed up simultaneously, matching or beating Amazon's price.

I instantly got on Amazon and clicked on the link "Update product info." It asked me to log in.

I already had an Amazon account as a regular human, but decided right then to create one as my publishing company. I already had a credit card for the company, thankfully, as I knew that Amazon will not allow a credit card be used for more than one account, apparently to prevent spam or flaming customer reviews. (Also why they never get rid of an old credit card in your acount.)

Once I had an account, I could send in a form to correct the listing. I waited all day for it to be corrected, but it wasn't. Nor the next day. I asked several friends to also send in the correction. Still not listed. It was clear the book, with such a low sales ranking, was not a priority.

I decided to take matters in my own hands and write a customer review that alerted anyone who clicked through that the book was softcover. I had visions of multiple returns dancing in my head if anyone bought it and was unhappy to find it was not the hardcover they had expected.

I clicked on "customer reviews" but was denied access. Apparently you have to make at least one purchase on Amazon with a new account before you can really do anything

So I did what anyone would do--bought my own book.

This actually was a two-fold benefit. Not only was I now able to post a review (as an "Amazon verified purchase" no less) but the purchase also boosted my sales rank, and got the change moved through. Of course, by then, I had already posted the review, but worded it carefully so that readers would know that this had been an initial mistake.

As I write this five months later, all the major online stores carry the book:, Powells, Indiebound, etc. and all have it listed correctly. Only minor secondary sites have it listed incorrectly, but those options don't really show up anywhere when you search for the book now that it is well established on the Internet, so I can live with it.



Links from this post:

Set up Google Alerts

How to correct content on Amazon

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Using Lightning Source

I was very fortunate to have a friend with a master's degree in publishing who helped me get my first book done. The book was pretty design intensive, as you can see from the sample page, and I knew I was making a thousand amateur errors as I tried to set the text myself.

When Audrey Coulthurst took over the project, she instantly changed the font, as my Comic Sans was way too common and unprofessional, and fixed all the margins. She also adhered to many small rules about placement, eyelines, balance, and line length that I could not even fathom.

But most importantly, she shepherded my book through the submission to Lightning Source. Without her, I would certainly have given up.

Audrey made the books with InDesign, which is the standard program for graphic designers. And generated the PDFs for the book using the template Lightning Source had sent. The interior pages went through on the first try.

The cover was a different story. First they insisted we use their template even though we had set the InDesign files to match the specs exactly. They rejected it. Then we forgot to use the precise Adobe setting for PDF they has asked for, so they kicked it back again.

We were very stressed out at this point, as if we didn't have books in time for the Texas Book Festival, I would have bought a spot there without any way to recoup the cost. We also feared the blacks were too rich, and if we got rejected again, as slow as the process had become, we wouldn't make it.

Once we knew we had the template correct we brought the cover into Photoshop and followed their instructions to the letter for setting the density of the blacks. We uploaded it a third time and crossed our fingers on the blacks. We knew it wasn't going to look perfect, as altering the density had created a ghosting effect between the flat black of the background and the black of the photograph. But we had to get it done.

And the cover was accepted.

Things moved very quickly from that point. I had a proof within a few days and felt the ghosting was minimal -- close enough. I instantly ordered 100 books to cover the book signings we had planned. Very quickly, the book was listed in Ingram, and a few days later, the book hit Amazon.

We had done it.


Links from this post:

Lightning Source
Lightning Source File Creation Guide

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Find a hole in the market, and run with it

So it was summer, I had a book idea I could sell, I had a company, but I didn't have $6K in start up funds. I worked on the book slowly, but did not involve any contractors other than to take bids, because I wasn't sure I'd ever even get the project rolling.

My daughters had been in a magic camp and took up balloon twisting in earnest. I decided to buy them another book on how to make balloon animals so we could play with their new talent.

But Amazon surprised me. Yes, there were balloon twisting books, but the reading levels were too high. I finally settled on one even though it was going to be too hard, figuring I could help them. But I started to have a glimmer of an idea of a book we could do together.

Sure enough, the book arrived, and the words were big, the descriptions long, and the drawings sometimes hard to follow. The girls had more tears than fun, and I decided, that's it, we're doing our own book.

The girls set to deciding on what twists were easy enough for kids.

I read Aaron Shepard's book Aiming at Amazon religiously. The twists and turns of the industry seemed impossible.

Following his advice, I applied for an account with Lightning Source to do the book print on demand. I decided against Shepard's recommendation of a 20% short discount, which would make it ineligible for bookstores. I instead stayed with the standard 55% trade discount for the wholesaler/bookstore combo, just to see if I couldn't get some local bookstores to stock it.

The project took about two weeks to photograph, all in full color, and I sent it to a book designer with a master's degree who wanted some practical experience. I'll go into my Lightning Source experience in another post, but in the end, I was able to get this book from concept to proof for less than $100 in about eight weeks.

I also seized a couple great opportunities. One was the Texas Book Festival, only a few weeks away. Our local writers' organization would let members buy a two-hour time slot at their booth. We could get the legitimacy of being at the book festival with a small enough window that my young authors could handle the appearance. That same week, Lightning Source ran a special on short runs, and I was able to get 100 copies of the book to sell at the fair for about $2 a copy. I set a list price of $9.99.

Then the magic camp itself was willing to back us. And they were having a week of demonstrations at a local Barnes & Noble, including a day of balloon twisting. As soon as our book hit Ingram through Lightning Source, I let the B&N know it was available, and they ordered 50 copies for their store. Amazon picked it up (and listed it incorrectly, another post), then got it online, and both ordered initial stock copies.

My company's first book was off and running.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The problem of start up funding

So, I had a good printing bid. I knew this company was legitimate. I had an idea for a book that didn't really exist and for which I had a market to sell. My LLC was set up and functional.

What I didn't have: $6,000 to get the business going and to print two thousand copies.

This was the tricky time in the summer of 2009 when credit card companies were tanking. The public was upset at the federal bailouts of banks. And places like Citibank were increasing their card rates and lowering card holders' maximums. One of the cards I held increased my rate from 8% to 18% on a whim. I truly did not want to go that direction.

I set up my account at my regular bank and talked to them about a loan. My bank rep was friendly and wonderful but not terribly optimistic about my chances of getting one. He suggested I put together a business plan and bring it in, along with my Operating Agreement (the one the state hadn't wanted when I filed.)

I spent about a week on the business plan, trying to predict how much money I would need, how much I would make. I Googled every business plan I could find, taking out sections.

Here was the table of contents of my final business plan:
  • Company Summary
  • Start Up Summary
  • Table: Start Up
  • Products
  • Market Analysis Summary
  • Table: Market 1 Analysis
  • Table: Market 2 Analysis
  • Strategy and Implementation Summary
  • Table: Sales Forecast
  • Milestones
  • Table: Milestones
  • Management Summary
  • Financial Plan
  • Table: Start Up Funding
  • Table: Profit and Loss
I brought all this to the bank and got my verdict about a week later: no. The bank rep revised the request and another week later got another answer: no.

Now I wasn't sure what I would do. I couldn't float this on terribly bloated credit card rates: it would eat my profit and wreck my credit standing by filling up my cards.

Maybe, just maybe I could put out a very inexpensive Print on Demand book, get it out there, and use the money from it to finance this more expensive book that required printing up front. I had another idea for a book, one I could do myself, and I knew a book designer who owed me a favor. I also was aware of a pretty big audience I might could tap locally, if I handled it just right.

I went immediately to look at a book I knew would help: Aaron Shepard's Aiming at Amazon. I felt very poor, very worried about my prospects with this company, and wasn't sure I could even buy the book right then. I tooled around Aaron's site a bit for advice and found the most amazing thing. I literally wanted to cry when I saw it. Aaron had posted his entire book in electronic format for free.

His generosity in doing this changed just about everything.
Links related to this post:
Aaron Shepard's website
The Small Business Administration's guide to writing a business plan
More advice on business plans
And more advice on business plans

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Month Two: Getting legitimate

76So I had a project I knew I could sell via a web site I owned, and now I had a bid for the project that allowed me to price the book the way I wanted.

But I didn't even have a business name.

I looked around at other publishing company names. Some were clear about what they published by using the subject matter in the title. Others were clever phrases or literary references. But when I thought about what made sense, what wouldn't cause me to get pigeonholed, and also would make sure my name was easy to find in search engines, I knew I wanted to use a proper noun. You know: Knopf; Little, Brown; Harper Collins; Whitman.

I also knew that many publishers opted to use their own name. I didn't find this wise. Sure, you didn't need a DBA filing or a separate bank account, but it was the mark of a self-publisher, and not a positive mark. When I would walk through the stalls at a book festival, even as a young person who knew nothing of publishing, I always noticed a company called "Lucy DoesIt Press" and all the books were by Lucy DoesIt. And generally Lucy herself was sitting there. I didn't want to be Lucy.

Because all my initial books would be on the same topic, I chose a title that went along with it, that wouldn't be obvious in and of itself, but would work well for anyone who wanted to know where the name came from. I also Googled it to see what sort of competing listings might be out there. There's no use choosing a name that is shared by a famous sports player or actor. Your site will be buried in the listings when people try to find you.

And so I chose Casey Shay Press. I could see a baseball player with the name, but overall, it worked. And the story behind it was perfect. Currently, even if you only type in "Casey Shay," four of the first 10 listings are mine. Good enough.

So here were the next steps:

I chose my business structure. I already owned a Sole Proprietorship, but I wanted for this one a separation between my name and my business. Unless you know me first, and I tell you this company is mine, it's very hard to figure out who owns Casey Shay Press just by web surfing. That's what I wanted.

I looked at the Corporation, and the S-Corp. I might have done one of those but the Limited Liability Corporation seemed the right fit as the best balance between paperwork and ease of filing a tax return.

In Texas, I had to go down to the secretary of state's office and file the forms and pay a $300 fee. I knew that in some states I had to create an Operating Agreement, and this was a step that was highly advised, so I looked around for samples to personalize. After doing this for a couple of days, copying and pasting and not understanding half of what the text was about, I went ahead and bought one from MedLawPlus. It was very easy to personalize that one and didn't cost much at all.

Of course, when I showed up at the Secretary of State office with it, the clerk immediately passed it back to me. "We don't need this," she said. Great. Already running an inefficient operation.

And then...I got rejected. I had referred to the Operating Agreement on the forms, and since they weren't there, they kicked it back.

By this time I was actively accepting the bid and signing paperwork, and felt a little frantic about getting the backend paperwork done. I was, let's say, a little angry. But I mailed in the corrected version and about a week later, had my shiny new company legally formed in the State of Texas.

Next steps:

  1. Filed for a Federal Tax ID number (also known as an EIN, or Employer Identification Number). This was given to me instantly online by filing here. You need it for bank accounts, credit apps, distributors, everything. Get one even if you don't have employees.
  2. Filed for a Texas state sales tax permit. This took a couple weeks to come in, but it wasn't critical to have right away, as I wasn't selling anything yet.
  3. Opened a bank account. I chose the same bank as my other accounts, for simplicity. They just needed my letter from the state and my Federal ID number.

I owned a publishing company. And I had my first vendor who would contract my book to a printer in Hong Kong.

It was time to finish the project and format it correctly. And to figure out how to pay for it.


Links from this post:

MedLawPlus was the most affordable and easy way to get the legal forms for starting my LLC (they have legal forms for EVERYTHING). While I didn't end up needing an Operating Agreement to file in Texas, many states do require it, and investors, including banks, also want to see it. It shows you actually know what you're doing as you start your business, and what will happen if you go bankrupt, or die, and who owns the company, its assets, and its liabilities.

Google. Seems obvious, eh? But do not neglect this step when you're naming your business. If you are going to get buried in web results, find a different name.

Forming your LLC in Texas like I did? Here are the Secretary of State Forms. They do not cash your check if they reject you. And don't forget to apply for a Texas sales tax permit.

Get your company's Federal ID Number. You need it for everything, even if you don't have employees.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Week Two: Searching for a well-priced book

By the time I realized that the bids I was getting for a color book were way too expensive, I had already discovered a couple helpful things. One was the Aeonix list of printers. Another was a Yahoo group for self publishers with a crazy number of posts – often numbering in the hundreds per day.

I read and lurked and read and lurked, eventually buying the most highly recommended book on the subject, Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual. I also loved the super short A Simple Guide to Self Publishing, but Poynter’s book is a classic for a reason – it’s thorough. You know what you’re getting yourself into. (It’s most helpful for people doing offset runs, but we’ll get into Lightning Source and Aiming at Amazon later.)

I must also say here that a few books on this topic were terrible. I won’t denigrate anyone, but really, the pie-in-the-sky books talking about getting rich and preventing big houses from destroying your great work of art really seemed misleading. Part of what makes self-publishing the eyesore of the industry, with often well-deserved derision, is this equating big houses with the Evil Empire that Does Not Love My Great Work. Most of the people in publishing from Random House down to the individual at Lulu, are doing this because they love books.

But my problem: should I take the risk on an overseas printer broker? Everyone said I would have to.

I sent bids off to three. All came back with extraordinary numbers. $3 a book. $2.20. One even low balled at $1.81.

I was aghast. And suspicious. For one, these brokers were sending bids within a few hours even though they were printing in China. Obviously they were estimating based on their experience, as China was sleeping.

Sure, they probably knew their stuff. I should trust this, right? But still, alarms were a’ringing.

So I started Googling these outfits. I couldn’t find much information at all. It seemed the brokers were just individuals who might have a web site, but no cross referencing anywhere, no certainty that they were reputable. I drafted an email asking for references but really, who can’t get a good reference? I couldn’t necessarily verify that either. I didn’t send them.

Then I started reading horror stories. Brokers who took your money then disappeared. Books that were off color or fell apart. A common scenario was a shipping charge that increased dramatically at the last minute, and if you didn’t pay, you didn’t get your shipment. I looked at my bids. Sure enough, all three said, “Shipping charges subject to change.” ACK!!!!

I’ll tell you straight out that I wasn’t playing with fun money. I would be taking on debt to print my first run of books, and I wasn’t really completely sure how I would pay for them. If something happened, I would be in serious financial trouble.

I was discouraged enough that I dropped the whole idea for almost a month.


Helpful links from this post:

The best starter books are Poynter's tome The Self-Publishing Manual and the shockingly brief A Simple Guide. Books specifically about Print on Demand will come later.

Start looking for a printer for your book at Aeonix's list of printers.

Get lost in a sea of information by joining the Yahoo group for self publishers.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Back in the saddle: A printer to trust

I knew I could publish the book for the price I wanted, but now I wasn't sure who to trust. All the overseas bids I had were low, but provisions in the bids, and most certainly the contracts, scared me to death. This was no small investment, but many thousands of dollars I would be borrowing to cover.

So I posted my first message to the Self-Publishing Yahoo Group. I was barely able to keep up with the posts there, getting only Daily Digests, and even then just reading a few of those (there are often several digests per day.) I knew these people to be helpful and not vicious to newbies. So I let them know I was frightened and asked if anyone had a recommendation.

I got a couple referrals to outfits that I had gotten high bids for in the States. Then, amazingly, three of them all said the same person for overseas work in Hong Kong. I sent off a bid request and hoped this person would get me something I could work with. I no longer cared about the lowball. If the bid came out under $3 a book including freight, I could do it. I'd much rather work with someone who could be trusted for a little more than risk the whole job being botched.

I got the bid back a few days later.

Under $3.

Show time.

A new publishing company, week one

We're going to go back in time a bit, to the summer, and when I first got this crazy idea to start my own small press.

I had a book idea that I knew I could sell. I already own a very large web site, a popular one, that gets around 30,000 visits a day. The topic is very specific, and on it I sell books, noticing two things.

1. Very few books on this topic existed at all, and my bestseller was a title from 1996.
2. What few books were out there were getting dated, and new ones were not coming out.

I also wanted a very specific title, one that didn't exist in the market, and I knew it should. I wanted it for myself. Later I would learn that three titles DID exist exactly like mine, but that's another story. Books that are not on Amazon have very little visibility.

The first step, before I formed the company, decided on a name, filed any paperwork -- before I did ANYTHING, was to assess the viability of profitability on my book.

This title, if done ideally, would not be eligible for Print on Demand. It needed to lie flat, like a cookbook, and therefore would require an offset run. I had no idea how many I could sell, realistically. I had sales numbers for books on my web site, of course, but I wasn't really trying. My site was mainly about information. I had zero ads and the books were relegated to a "resources" page.

So the first thing I did was to start pushing existing books a little harder, to see if this would help or harm my site. Then I began Googling printing companies to get bids. This wasn't as hard as you might think, as the specific wire-o binding I was looking for wasn't terribly common. I chose about ten companies and filled out their Requests for Quote forms. I had no idea what I was doing, saying things like "6x9 landscape," which is an oxymoron (it's 9x6, period, always list the width first.) Most of the companies just sent me their numbers, but a few helpful souls corrected my mistakes, and I learned. Thankfully I had used a Yahoo address, so nobody really knew who I was. :)

The project was entirely in color, so I knew it would be pricey. The bids were terrible. The cheapest for a 1,000 print run was $6 per book. The most expensive was a whopping $9.50. I had already read on the Small Publisher's Association of North America web site that the standard trade wholesale discount off the list price was 55%. So to figure out what my book would have to cost to cover the discount, the printing cost, shipping to me, and add some room for profit, I would have to charge a lot more than I had planned for such a small book. SPAN and other organizations had suggested seven to eight times the print cost. The book would have to be $42? No way. It wasn't worth it. I couldn't do it.

At this point, I had two options.

1. Increase the print run to get the per book cost down.
2. Forget about it.

But here's the thing. I had submitted this book idea to publishers, several of whom complimented the project and found it a wonderful idea, but too niche a market for them. It was true, I couldn't see where this book would fit in bookstores. The topic was quite sad, and it was an online market, I knew. I had been involved with this particular subject matter for 10 years.

But these publishers made exactly the book I wanted, a 40-page 9x6 full color wire-0, and sold the books for $13! They had to be getting inexpensive copies made somewhere. I knew I couldn't afford the up front cost to print 10,000, and maybe they were, but I just didn't think so. Their titles were niche too, books on adoption or little planners for brides.

My mission: to figure out where they were printing them so cheaply.


A great link for new publishers at this stage:

Aeonix Sample RFQ and explanation of printing terms

Sunday, November 1, 2009

An overview of publishing choices

There are many ways to go about getting a book published, and I try to never be judgmental about any of them. They all have good points as well as pitfalls.

Going for the Big House

The traditional route to publishing a book is difficult, often takes years, and 90% of the time, results in a failure to get an agent or a publisher. However, writers should always try it first, just in case they DO have a blockbuster, they DID write a book the market is ready for, and/or they CAN find an agent or editor who believes in it. Sometimes it really does happen very fast, with fewer than 10 queries, and only a few weeks between when you start searching and when you get a contract. Even if you are in a hurry, anxious to get your book out into the world, you should not skip this step.

To get started, go to QueryTracker or AgentQuery and begin searching for agents who are excellent fits for your book. They should already represent books like yours, and you should mention this in your query letter, as well as a brief (one paragraph) summary of your book, and your writing credits or platform. Send your letter to ten of them. If you get nothing but form replies, throw out your old query and start a new one from scratch, then try ten more. If you are not yet sending material, the problem is your letter, not necessarily your book.

Steel yourself for the rejection, but realize that a failure to catch their attention is not personal. They just didn't find your book a fit for their list or saw a need for revisions they didn't have the time to pursue. Query widely, but if you get to 100 queries and they are all dead ends, it is time to pause and decide what to do next.

One choice is to write another book (which will undoubtedly be better.) Or, if you got requests for material but then got rejected, revise your book, probably with the help of writing classes, hiring a paid editor, or at a minimum, joining an excellent critique group. And then submit anew. Authors who want most of all the validation of a publishing house will do this. Authors who want to go for the brass ring of a bestseller will also do this. Many will spend two to five years on this approach.

But sometimes you have to give in. The timing is wrong. The book is too niche. Or it's not up to big-house standards.

So next, if you really truly believe in your book, is to take the publishing of it into your own hands.

Things to consider before self-publishing:

Do you know this is the best book it can be? Take a good hard look at your manuscript and see if it needs work before you put it out into the world. If at all possible, get people who are good writers, and who will provide an honest opinion, to read it.

If it is nonfiction, do you have an expertise in this area and a place to sell it? Is it worth all your time and effort? What do you stand to gain by putting out a book on your own? Are you opening yourself up to legal or ethical issues by doing this without the backing of a publishing company, especially if you are entering the tricky territory of permissions of quoted material, true-life stories, or medical/health/legal advice?

Are you looking to actually make money off this book, or are you primarily doing it to just get a published book in your hands, for your own benefit and to give to family and friends? Do you care that people will know you self-published it?

With all that in mind, there are a few routes you can take:

Easiest and only moderately expensive (but fraught with peril):

Find an author services company (CreateSpace, Booklocker, Xlibris) that will take your manuscript and design the interior with proper fonts and margins, as well as create a cover for you. They will then allow you to order copies at a discount as well as sell it on their site and in online retailers like Amazon.

The setup will cost $800 to $2000 and may include a few copies for yourself. Your book will use their identifying ISBN numbers, so it will be branded as self-published, but it will be out there. The average book like this will sell less than 200 copies and will generally not make your money back. There are always exceptions, but without anyone out there marketing your book, without expertise in publicity and fighting for reviews and giving it widespread exposure, it will most likely go unnoticed by anyone outside your friends and friends-of-friends.

Big, big pitfall here: watch out for contracts that give the rights to your book to the publisher. Even if you do end up with a breakout book, you might be stuck with the company. Please check Preditors and Editors and Writer Beware. Don't sign anything with anybody, even a simple "online agreement" with a checkbox, without going into it knowing who retains rights.

Second big pitfall: watch out for the hardcore vanity presses that require you to buy a lot of copies up front. Print on demand is a better option, because you do not need a garage full of books that were overpriced and will cause you to lose additional money on shipping.

If you go this route, you should have a decent-looking book, which is what you paid your money for. Don't expect a bookstore to carry it, no matter what the web site said. These books are expensive to produce and do not provide the 40-55% discount and return policy required by wholesalers and bookstores. And don't fall into the belief that anyone will buy your book just because you get "exposure to millions of readers." When a site says this, it means that millions of other people like you come to their site to self-publish, so they get a lot of web traffic. It is, however, the wrong sort of traffic for selling your book.

Less easy, but very cheap:

Use a place like Lulu where you design the book yourself and upload the files. You can often do this totally for free, although if you want to be sold on Amazon, you will have to pay for an ISBN and listing fees. ($300 or so). Here there is little monetary risk, you can sell a few copies and still make money, and if you get your own ISBN instead of buying theirs (CreateSpace lets you do this too), you can avoid an obvious mark of the self publisher.

However, the risk is high, unless you have excellent skills or hire your own designer, that your book will look terrible, be substandard, and even regular readers will recognize this as a self-published title. Some writers are tone-deaf to standards of good-looking clean covers, and proper font and spacing and margins for a book that is easy on the eye. But if you are willing to research, to read and read and read about how to format your book, and can keep your cover very simple, this can work. Lulu has a very author-friendly contract and you can always pull your book and sell it later, as the rights are yours. Again, bookstores are not going to carry this no matter what the publishing company says. They can make it "available," but unless you personally go into an individual bookstore and champion it, it will not get ordered.

Hybrid publishers

Popping up these days are book packagers that also work as though they are traditional publishers. Greenleaf Book Group is an example of this. They have distribution, publish offset runs with enough profit room to provide trade discounts and get into bookstores, take out ads and buy bookstore space, but you the author puts up the initial funds to get the book edited, designed, and the first copies made. It's a very expensive option (if $10,000 scares you, back away slowly), does not always avoid the mark of self-publishing, but stands you a pretty good chance of making money. Most hybrids won't take just any book, but will weed out the ones least likely to succeed.

Hard, but can begin your new career

Start your own small press. If you have several books you want to publish, if you really want to do a good job, especially if you have a tie in with the book and your profession, then file the company paperwork, buy a block of ISBNs, and get an account with Lightning Source or find a printer to publish a couple thousand copies of the book. This is not to be taken lightly. You are literally taking on another life pursuit, but it gives you total control of your publishing fate and if done properly, avoids the self-published label. (Don't call the company your own name and, when possible, find titles other than yours to add to your line up.)

I plan to expand on all these topics, the last one being the overall subject of this blog, but this is a good start, an overview of the options. I hope it helps.

About this Blog

Casey Shay Press is a start up independent publishing company based in Austin, Texas.

On my way to starting my own press, I made many mistakes. I was fooled into entering a contest and got a free package to "publish" my book, which will forever live on Amazon with a branded self-published name.

I submitted to publishers and agents books that weren't ready, weren't marketable, and took it very personally when they were rejected, even though there was nothing personal about it.

I did have the great fortune of signing with a wonderful agent years ago, who was exactly the sort of champion for my book that I had hoped for, only to find we couldn't sell that book. (He has since retired.)

Once in business for myself, I made other errors, including paying for things like bar codes, mismanaging shipping options, picking the wrong Pantone color for endsheets, and designing a pretty horrid web site (it's better now.)

The blog is mainly to keep myself organized, to hold all the fleeting thoughts that are hard to get down as you're making a mad dash from acquisition to release day, and hopefully, be some sort of haphazard resource for anyone else crazy enough to enter the world of the small press.