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How To: Publish or Self Publish a Book

Kindle version of the book
Now that I am an official “published author“, I often get asked about publishing and self-publishing options. I am a long way from being any kind of expert on the matter but I did do a little research before I found my publisher and thought that it might be useful to share what I found.

Below are a few different methods of getting your work published (as a book and/or ebook) and available for sale, along with a rough breakdown of how much return (profit) you might expect to get from each. I’ll use an example of a book with an RRP of £10.

Option 1: PDF on your own website

The easiest and simplest way to publish a book is to save your document as a PDF then sell it through your own website. PDF writing software is available for free. Websites can be made entirely for free too (e.g. through WordPress.com and Blogger).

For payment, you can use PayPal or Google Checkout, both of which will create very easy to use codes to display ‘Pay Now’ buttons on your site. They’re free to set up but take a cut of 3.4% plus 20p, a total of 54p if you’re selling for £10.

For delivery of the PDF, you could use an email marketing tool like Mailchimp (free), try an e-commerce type plugin for your website which automates from payment to delivery but probably costs a little money, or just send an email manually.

This is a wonderfully simple method which maximises your profit share. The downsides are that your sales will be limited entirely to people who visit your site and you don’t get the implicit endorsement of having either a publisher or a known legitimate book store to sell your product.

  • Advantages: Quick, easy, no upfront costs, maximum profit share.
  • Disadvantages: Limited sales reach, no endorsement, electronic only and no Digital Rights Management (DRM) which means people can illegally copy and share your book.
  • Profit: £9.46

Option 2: Self-published e-book in online stores

The next step up from just selling your own PDFs is to submit your book to a website that will list it in their online store. Apple’s iBookstore and Amazon are the two main choices. There are a variety of online publishing companies that allow you to list on iTunes, such as Lulu and Book Baby. For Amazon, you need to use Create Space.

For Amazon, you can upload Word Docs or HTML files. For iBookstore, your document needs to be in EPUB format, a conversion which is easily done online. You’ll normally need to submit a cover image too but there’s not a lot more to it.

Amazon’s base royalty is 35%. They also have a 70% royalty option which has various strings attached. The iBookstore will take a 30% cut then, depending on your publishing site, you might take 80% of the remainder. Some sites allow you to pay an upfront fee and then take the full 70% profit remaining after Apple’s cut.

The main advantages of this over selling on your own website is that it looks more professional to be sold through a well known store and you have a much large potential audience than just your own followers. The downside, of course, is you get a much smaller cut.

  • Advantages: Better reach than your own website, looks more professional, no upfront costs.
  • Disadvantages: Smaller cut, ebook only, no publisher endorsement.
  • Profit (typical iBookstore): £5.60
  • Profit (typical Amazon): £3.50-£7.00

Option 3: Self-published Print-On-Demand

If you want to offer hard copies of your book as well as electronic versions then a really nice option is to go for Print-On-Demand (POD). Rather than a publishing company printing off hundreds or thousands of books in a single run that are then sold from a warehouse, they simply print one book every time an order is placed. This avoids large up front costs for you and/or a publisher.

To do this, you follow much the same process as Option 2 for uploading your book to an online store. There are lots of different companies offering POD (here’s a Top 20 list). I’ll use LuLu as an example, because it was the first one I came across, and Amazon because they’re the big ones.

You can pick a wide variety of designs through Lulu and the cost varies based on the number of pages but, as an example, a standard 200-page paperback would cost £6.10 per unit. A similar product from Amazon’s Create Space would be £6.70.

  • Advantages: Hard copies, no upfront costs, looks professional.
  • Disadvantages: Even smaller cut, no publisher endorsement.
  • Profit (typical): £6.10-£6.70

Option 4:  Paying to get your book published

It is possible to pay to get a book published or at least “invest” in a book to help share the costs with a publisher. This, as I understand, usually takes the form of committing to buy a large volume of books yourself.

I was offered this by a publishing company that I approached about my book. The deal was that I would commit to buying 1,000 copies at £4. If I sold all of them at £10 then I would be £6,000 richer.

The advantage of this route is that you get the endorsement of a “proper publisher” (no one will know what deal you struck) and your book stands a good chance of being stocked in normal book shops as well as online at Amazon and the like. You may get some editorial input which can be both good if they help you and bad if they constrain you. The disadvantage is obvious: you have to fork out lots of money and then work really hard to sell your books to make it back.

To sell your books, you could do cash in hand at public signings and to friends and family and take £6 per sale. You could sell online, giving away 54p for the payment process. I pay £1.59 for Second Class post and an A5 Jiffy Bag on my books. You can charge people extra for that but, of course, you have to compete with other websites who can probably undercut you. Copies sold through shops will give you a royalty which might typically be 5% of retail.

  • Advantages: Stocked in book shops, publisher endorsement, editorial help.
  • Disadvantages: Large up front cost, tiny profit share on shop sales, possible editorial constraints.
  • Profit (own copies): £3.87-£6
  • Profit (shop copies): £0.50

Option 5: Finding a publisher

This is what I did with my book. The first issue with this method is that you have to find a suitable publisher in the first place and then convince them that your book is worth publishing which can, of course, be very hard. I was lucky.

You get the same advantages as Option 4 but without the upfront cost. You can still buy books from the publisher to sell yourself to increase profit share though. In my case, I get a 50% discount. My book’s RRP is £12.99 but I’ll stick with £10 to make calculations easier.

If I sell cash in hand, that would mean £5 for me plus 50p royalty. Through my website, if I sold full price and charged postage on top, I would get about £4.91 after the payment process took a cut, including royalty. However, I don’t sell at full price because I think it’s too high compared to other websites so my profit share, scaled for a book with a £10 RRP, is more like £3.66.

  • Advantages: Stocked in book shops, publisher endorsement, editorial help, no up front costs.
  • Disadvantages: Tiny profit share on shop sales, possible editorial constraints.
  • Profit (own copies): £3.66-£5.50
  • Profit (shop copies): £0.50

Hopefully that has given you some idea about the different publishing options available and how much (or little!) you are likely to make from each sale of your book. Happy publishing!

About the Author

Tim Moss has supported over 100 expeditions across all seven continents. He has climbed new mountains, crossed a desert and is currently cycling around the world. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society London and a Guinness World Record. He aims to encourage more people to live adventurously. Read more...

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