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What self-publishing services have the lowest up-front cost? Where can I find self-publishers that provide print-on-demand? What type of commission split do you get with your self-publisher?

These are the FAQs of writers I encounter at every North Carolina writing workshop I teach. I also get asked these questions from others around the country. Sharmini, the force behind You’ll Have to Walk, a blog chronicling the cross-country busking adventures of the East Cackalacky Ascetic Marching Death Band (“The Cack” for short), asked me these same questions last week and I thought, Hey, this would make a fantastic blog post for writers. And here we are.

The Cack will publish a travel guidebook that will educate buskers how they can make a living traveling the world and playing music. In the spring they will take off for Europe and you can donate to their publishing/travel fund at their Kickstarter here.

I asked my Raleigh writing group to give a look inside their individual self-publishing experiences. Here is what I found:

DIY Publishing

Many writers choose self-publishing because they want complete artistic control over the entire process. Giles Anderson, a North Carolina writer, felt so strongly about this and self-publishing that he took the complete DIY route. He bought ISBNs, got an editor, copyrighted his work, and found a printer. Problems he faced? Shipping costs and taxes.

diy publishing“I didn’t think about shipping the novels and all the promotional aspects that I’ve yet to delve into,” Anderson said. He’s having a tough time researching tax codes. It’s been such a difficult research project that he hasn’t yet launched his book for sale online and is maintaining all sales transactions in person.

Faith-Based Self-Publishing

Every publishing service seems to have a menu of printing packages for every writer’s appetite. This is what Pittsboro, NC author Tim Tron used through a publishing service I had not heard of: Westbow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson.  They have multiple packages offering print, editing and publicity to suit varying budgets and needs. This works so well that Westbow Press was constantly busy, which was the worst part about Tron’s experience publishing Brueck to Heaven. Do you think this would stop Tron from using them again? No. He said, “I’ve looked at others, like Zondervon, but the quality of Westbow was what impressed me as well as their professionalism.”

Self-Publishing With CreateSpace

self-publishing createspacePatricia O’Keeffe Condon, another North Carolina writer, published her novel Final Absolution with CreateSpace. CreateSpace is the self-publishing arm of the powerhouse monster known as Amazon. Condon paid upfront for her books, which is what DIY self-publishers need to budget for as well. The worst part of her experience using CreateSpace was editing. “I think I would try another publisher,” Condon said. She’s heard promising things about Lulu and is open to trying them for her future books. Condon has organized the brick-and-mortar presence of her book on the local level, selecting Triangle-area book stores like The Purple Crow, Quail Ridge Books, the Regulator and All Booked Up.

Before I organized Triangle Writers, it was known as Cary Writes, and it was managed by David Lindhardt. Lindhardt used CreateSpace to publish his 370-page mystery novel Avenging Amy“CreateSpace is my print-on-demand publisher of choice,” he said. He had no upfront cost and didn’t need to use any of the site’s additional paid services, so his expenses remained low.

“Cost is $5.70/book regardless of order size plus shipping. Shipment cost for 10 book orders is approximately $0.50/book. Selling price is $9.99/book,” he said. “With CS/Amazon distribution fees, I net about $0.70/book sold. CS sells to me at $5.70 + shipping. CS used to allow direct sales to third parties, but they have eliminated this option and now only sell to third parties via Amazon.” From his experience, and what he’s heard about other author’s self-publishing efforts, they need to spend more money ordering a larger quantity of books in order to get a decent price cut.

Other downsides: Perfectbound books are the only option. For authors who want a variety of material choices when it comes to deciding how their work will be showcased in print, other publishers, like Lulu, offer multiple options. He also had a difficult time learning how to format the book himself in MS Word so that CreateSpace would recognize the file. For authors who use the design services for cover art, he has heard many complaints about the high cost for revisions.

John W. Taylor, a recent transplant to the Raleigh-area, wrote Umbrella of Suspicion: Investigating the Death of Jon Benet Ramsey and also published through CreateSpace. “The very low commission was the worst feature of the service,” Taylor said, “though I didn’t write the book to make money.” Even with the low commission split, Taylor plans to use CreateSpace to self-publish again. “I love that it is on Amazon and it was there about two days after I approved the final version.”

Self-Publishing With Lulu

self-publishing luluI used Lulu to publish my guidebook to a popular music festival. How Do You Roo? A Survivor’s Pocket Guide to Bonnaroo was published as a pocket-sized travel guidebook. Since I do marketing and PR work professionally, I had fun spreading the word about the book and scored an interview via Skype on Nashville Fox 17’s 5 o’clock news, offered copies as giveaways in magazine contests, got it reviewed and reviewed, wrote articles about music festivals, and organized and funded my own book tour where I visited Asheville, Raleigh, Savannah, Charleston, Boston and New York. This was a lot of work and money! In addition to travel and local ad expenses, I hired an assistant for a few months to help find and book locations. Fortunately, it made Lulu’s Top 5 Travel Books.

bonnaroo guidebookI opted for distribution on Amazon, although the commission split is less, the exposure is greater. I quickly learned that the small size I selected for my book prevented it from being made available to brick-and-mortar stores directly through Lulu. This meant more work for me and my assistant. In creative selling efforts, I also sold a handful of signed ‘used’ copies on Amazon and sold one copy on eBay. Not much to speak of.

Cost-wise, since I chose a print-on-demand option, did the layout, cover design and formatting myself, there was no up-front cost for the book. When I bought hard copies to give away, the cost was $6.44 per book, with discounts in larger quantities. At the end of every month I get a nice email with a sales summary, and at the end of each year Lulu provides a tax form outlining my taxable income that I plug into TurboTax.

For fun and open mics, I published three poetry books on Lulu: This is Paris was written during a week I spent in Paris aloneBare Feet on the Dashboard is a collection themed around escape and wanderlust, and Missed Connections of the Triangle was created using found poetry of Craigslist missed connection posts exclusively in the Raleigh-Durham area.

Future of Self-Publishing

Self-publishing isn’t going anywhere. As more printers come to the market, they will need to stay competitive to attract writers. I predict positive options are ahead for writers who are interested in self-publishing! Two things that will always be important whether you self-publish or traditionally publish? Platform and social media!