Jane R. Wood Headshot

The Challenges of Self-Publishing

By Jane R. Wood

I am the author of six books – a series of five juvenile fiction books and one nonfiction book for authors who want to market their books to schools. I had a publisher for my first book, but started my own company in 2007, and have self-published ever since.

There are two reasons why I decided to self-publish — control and money!


Financial Considerations

One of the first things a writer must understand about self-publishing is that you will be running a small business. You can make more money if you self-publish, but you will also have to underwrite many of the expenses involved in publishing a book. It’s critical that you prepare a realistic budget that you can live with.

You will need to create a name for your company, register it with the state, open a separate bank account for your book business, and register to report your state sales tax. Maintaining good record-keeping for sales, expenses, and your various contacts is important. Many of your expenses can be deducted on your income tax, but it is essential that you maintain good records with receipts. I record all my expenses on an Excel sheet and track my car mileage for any book-related errands or trips.


Control of Your Book

As the CEO of your own company, you get to make all the final decisions. That’s a good news—bad news situation. You get to decide the title; cover design; retail price; release date, and the printing options for your book (trim size, binding, paper weight, paper color, etc.) That sounds very intimidating. If you don’t know how to decide those things, you should outsource and hire someone to help you. I use many free-lance professionals who have expertise in areas where I don’t have those skills. Again, that’s why preparing a budget is important. They need to be paid.


Skills Needed to Publish a Book

Determining what things you can do yourself and what you can’t do is important. You want your book to look like it is professionally produced. An absolute must is to use a professional editor — not a friend who is an English teacher, but a professional book editor. They can provide valuable feedback to you.

Also, a book formatter or book designer knows what the industry standards are – margins, fonts, chapter heads, copyright page data, etc. This is especially important for print versions of your book. E-book formatting is easier, but you still want to adhere to publishing industry standards. The same goes for your cover design. Bookstores and libraries will quickly spot a book cover created by an amateur.

Other professionals you may want to use: an illustrator, photographer, graphic designer for your marketing materials (both in print and online,) a marketing or social media specialist, and a website designer. Every author must have a website, even a basic one.


Other Decisions You’ll Need to Make

Once your book has been designed and formatted, your printing costs will be your largest expense. Print-on-Demand allows you to order as many print copies of your books that you can comfortably afford. However, the cost per book can be less expensive if you go with an offset printer. Offset printing usually requires a minimum order of 1,000 copies for it to be cost effective. There are many printing companies to choose from so price around to find the best option for you.

Before printing your book, give considerable thought to your retail price. If you list your book with Amazon, other online retailers, a distributor, or a wholesaler, they will expect up to 55% discount off the retail price. Many bookstores will require at least a 40% discount. Some authors discover that by the time they add the discount and the shipping costs, they barely break even. At the same time, you don’t want to overprice your book. Check the prices of other books in your genre to determine a realistic retail price.

Distribution and fulfillment are other key decisions you will have to make. You can do it yourself, but distributors and wholesales give your books national exposure, making it possible for bookstores, libraries, and other retailers to find your books.


Final Thoughts

The book publishing industry is constantly changing. Today there are many resources available online to help aspiring authors and there are numerous organizations that can help you navigate this ever-changing business. Do your homework, ask questions, and network with others who are dealing with the same challenges that you are.


Jane R. Wood

Jane R. Wood Headshot

Schools: A Niche Market for Authors. Wood is a former teacher, newspaper reporter, and television producer, who often presents at book festivals, conferences for writers and publishers, and education conferences. She earned a BA from the University of Florida and an M.Ed. from the University of North Florida and is the past-president of the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.