Publishing: When an Author gets down to Business

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Any aspiring author will one day come face-to-face with a formidable opponent: that opponent is called logistics.

All right, you’ve written your book. You’ve revised the heck out of it. Maybe you’ve even found an illustrator. And now…?

If the honeymoon phase with your book didn’t wear off during the revision process, it sure will now. Because now is the time when you have to become more than an author—you have to become a businessman.

“That’s not what I signed up for!” I exclaimed out loud when I realized just how many decisions I had to make for my children’s book The Misadventures of Melvin the Missing Sock. Decisions about size, formatting, printing, pricing, marketing and distribution. I had to do math, people!

By now, however, it’s becoming clear that this is the new standard for the modern-day author.

The modern-day author must not only write the book, but must also market the book—and sometimes, do even more.

As publishing houses continue to pass the buck of promoting to writers, many authors must shoulder far more responsibility than they thought they were signing up for. And if you plan to self-publish, you’re really in for it. I remember hours upon hours of staring at the computer screen, staring at a blank sheet of paper, and staring at my checkbook, wondering how on earth all of this would come together.

But it did come together, and that’s what I want to share with you.

Let me begin with a simple writer-to-writer admonition: have patience.

Most creative writers I know don’t get jazzed over logistics (I certainly don’t), and so this process is almost bound to be frustrating and, at times, disheartening. Don’t lose hope. If you put all that effort into writing and preparing your book for publication, you owe it to yourself to finish. And finish you will.

With that, here is a basic outline of the steps I found necessary to bring my illustrated children’s book to print:

1) Determine size and orientation of the physical book.

Once you’ve found your illustrator, you will need to decide how large the pages will be and which direction they will lie. It’s important to settle this before the illustrator begins the final drafts of the illustrations, since larger pages mean larger pictures, larger pictures mean more time, and more time means higher compensation.

2) Find a printing company.

I would encourage you to choose someone local. A local company may have a higher price tag, but the benefit is that you will receive much more attentive customer service than you will with a mass-production printer on the other side of the country. And shipping will be much lower (I actually went to pick my books up in person), so the final price might actually end up lower than a cheaper, mass-production printer that has to send the books across five states. Once you have decided upon a printer and received a quote, do two things:

a) Figure out your production costs per book

b) Get the printing specifications that the final file must have.

3) Hire an interior formatter and cover designer.

I recommend hiring one person to handle both the format and cover. The formatter is the person or company who will fit the final illustrations onto the page with the text. Some printing/self-publishing services offer interior formatting as part of the production package, but some authors prefer to find their own formatter. I hired mine through 99 Designs—a reputable, international platform that connects designers with writers, and manages the contracting process. My interior formatter was able to design the cover as well, using the cover images provided by my illustrator. I also found the cover designer for The Exile using 99 Designs, and could not have been more thrilled with the process and results.

If you do hire a formatter outside of the printing company, you will need to share the printing specifications from the printer with him/her. This will enable him/her to prepare the final file with all of the technical details in line, so that once the file is ready, it can be printed right away.

4) Create a distribution plan.

If you are using an online platform, such as Amazon, make sure you calculate the monthly/annual rates into your cost. I have not a third-party distributor, simply because of the heavy overhead cost, but plenty of people rely on such platforms. If you plan to ship the books yourself, find out the anticipated weight of your book (the printer can provide you this information) and then calculate the highest possible shipping cost using the furthest possible zip code.

5) Set your price.

Obviously the price must be high enough to cover both the production cost per book and the highest possible shipping cost, while still earning you a few bucks. To set a consumer-friendly price, check out the prices of other books in same genre and size category. And don’t be surprised if the price you set means you have to sell hundreds of books to break even. If you’ve written a quality book and if you go about promotion the right way, you will break even and begin to actually make some money. But again, have patience.

The price will be included on the barcode, so be sure to calculate your price prior to finalizing your book’s digital file. You will need to tell your cover designer the price in advance so that he/she can embed that onto the back cover along with the ISBN. Which leads to my next point…

6) Purchase an ISBN.

The international standard book number is basically your book’s SSN. It is the numerical identity used to track the sale and purchase of your book, and preserve it as its own entity. You will need to provide your cover designer with the ISBN as well, which he/she can use to generate the barcode. Once the book’s interior has been put together and the ISBN, barcode, and price have all been embedded on your back cover, your book’s final file is ready to send to the printer!

And that, my friends, is how an author gets down to business.

Although most of the articles on The Inquisitive Inkpot are not as “businessy,” I wanted to throw out a straightforward help line to any author considering self-publishing or publishing in general. If you found this helpful, feel free to hit “like” and share it to anyone you think would benefit from it. And if you have specific questions, I’m more than happy to expand on this!

So here are my questions for you…

If you are an author, have you ever published or considered publishing?

If not, what would it take to convince you to pursue publication?

What is your read (pun intended) on the publication industry right now? Do you feel there is too much clutter being published, or do you believe not enough voices are heard?

Got kids? Grandkids? Nieces and nephews?

Or are you just plain curious to find out where all the missing socks go? Find out one ambitious sock’s journey by ordering your copy of The Misadventures of Melvin the Missing Sock!

Order now and have it within 2 weeks, with FREE SHIPPING!

7 Comments on “Publishing: When an Author gets down to Business

  1. This is a super helpful guide! It’s really true that if you want to be an author today, you usually have to know the ins and outs of the entire business. I wish we could go back to the days where you could drop a handwritten manuscript in the overnight box and pick up your leatherbound printed copy a month later.

    I have written several children’s books and short stories for education companies, but I still haven’t gotten my own book out yet. Your guide certainly gives me a confidence boost to go out and get it done. Thank you!

    • That’s incredible!! Which companies have you written for and what are the books called? Were they written as a work for hire?

      I’m glad this was helpful. Honestly, bloggers were my life-line when it came to figuring out logistics. So many paid resources just want to sell you something, but bloggers who have been down the publication road are often wonderful resources without ulterior motives.

      • I’m a freelancer, so most of my work has been by contract and usually doesn’t list an author. I’ve done several books for Baby Professor, stories for Hamaguchi Apps and the Slumber app, some articles for a virtual field trip site, game content and promotion, and I’ve contributed to the National Audubon Society.

        I agree, the best help comes from people who have been in the same boat. I also find The Great Courses Plus to be an amazing resource, as well as Writer’s Digest.

      • That is quite a list of accomplishments! I do hope you write one that will have your name on it. But I suppose the experience of writing for other organizations without receiving public credit is a poignant reminder that our work and its impact on other people should be the ultimate source of satisfaction– not seeing our name in print. Best wishes in your continued writing!!

      • Thank you! That’s true. I’m at the point in my life where I’m past wanting to see my name in lights. Whether my name is on it or not doesn’t change the fact that I wrote it and can be satisfied with my work, and maybe I taught someone something. I don’t know the names of any police officers, nurses, or firefighters, and yet, they are infinitely more important. Besides, if it pays the bills, it’s still better than any other job.

  2. Thank you for reaching out! I just went ahead and added another contact form to the about page (there was one on the the homepage, but the more the merrier, right?). Thanks for saying something!

  3. Thanks for outlining what to take into consideration when coming up with the price for the book.
    I might try my hand at formatting myself. Who knows…
    Great guide, Shiloh! Thanks for sharing.

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