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Self-published books have transformed both the reading and writing landscape, with hundreds of thousands of authors now eschewing traditional publishing routes.
Once reserved for distribution to a writer’s close family and friends, these books are now respected as an affordable option with every bit as much potential for becoming best-sellers as those produced by the New York houses.
"Countless books published this way have gone on to become best-sellers, from 'Fifty Shades of Grey' to 'Still Alice' to 'Rich Dad Poor Dad'," says independent publisher Sheryn Hara, founder of the 30-year-old Book Publishers Network (www.bookpublishersnetwork.com) and author of the new how-to, "Self-Publish Successfully."
"But it’s important to note that these don’t look like they were just spit out of the inkjet printer in your bedroom," she says. "You have to have a good product if you want even a shot at success. That means good content that’s well edited; a good cover; good layout; and a good print job. Additionally, you can expect to spend a lot of time and/or money marketing, promoting and getting publicity for your book."
So, where to begin? First, of course, is getting the book written. Once you’re ready to publish, you can easily be overwhelmed with options: Do a Google search for "independent publishers" and you’ll get nearly eight million results! To help sort through the options, Hara offers these tips:
• Decide how you want your book printed. Consider your budget, time frame and individual preferences when evaluating options. They include Print-on-Demand (POD), which involves lower up-front costs and is beneficial if you need only a minimum number of books. However, there are quality issues with POD, and you must pay close attention to your contract, which may assign the copyright to the publisher. Most POD publishers do not provide editing services. Digital printing is another option for small print runs, and comes without many of the pitfalls of POD. Finally, there’s standard printing, which utilizes web-fed or sheet-fed presses.
• How to choose a printer. Get quotes from at least three printers, and ask for samples of books and papers. Use only a printer whose main job is printing; most of these are located in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. The most economical size books to print are 5.5 by 8.5 inches; 6 by 9 inches; or 8.5 by 11 inches.
• Covers. People do judge books by their covers, so make sure yours is fantastic. It’s worth the investment to have it designed professionally. Now you must decide whether you want soft cover, hard cover or both. You may have a choice of gloss lamination or matte. If you go with matte, check to see whether the printer has a scuff-free version; otherwise, books returned from bookstores may look beat up.
• Paper. For most books, you’re probably safe going with the "house paper" recommended by the printer. If your book has a lot of pictures, you may want to use gloss paper.
• Bindings. "Perfect bound" is the norm for soft cover books; a layer of adhesive holds the pages and cover together. Most bookstores don’t like "saddle stitch" – staples used in the center of the book, or comb or wire binding, because you can’t print information on the spines."Layflat binding" is used for computer, music and cookbooks, which often need to lie flat for functionality when in use.
If you plan to work with an independent publisher -- a company you’ll pay to shepherd you through all the details, Hara suggests talking to former customers about their experience. Did the company follow through on everything promised in the contract? Did it meet deadlines? Were representatives accessible, especially if there was a problem? Was the customer satisfied with the final product?
"Decide on your budget, and then look at the quality of books produced by publishers you’re considering. Frankly, the better the quality, the more the book will cost," Hara says. "Your pocketbook and your goals should help make the decision easier."