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Unless You Write Romance, Publish in Print (Before You Self Publish 3)

We’re continuing our series of 5 Things Self Publishers Need to Know with a super-simplified look at production and distribution (and a reminder that you have choices).

Once you learn to think like a CEO and recommit to writing a GREAT book, it’s time to get practical about how to get your work out there.

Which leads me to this:

The benefits of having both print and electronic versions of a book almost always outweigh the additional costs.

When I teach classes about the publishing process, I’ve noticed that many attendees start out assuming that if they self publish their work, they can only make it available as an ebook.

They think this even if they, personally, are not ebook readers, have never bought an ebook, and don’t have a strategy for how to sell ebooks.


Partly, it’s because the new Self-Publishing Era (SPE?) really took off because of ebooks. Electronic files cost nothing to make, store, or send, cutting the production costs (printing and storing hundreds or thousands of books at once) that were often a barrier to independent authors.

The media started to tout self-publishing as a success tale about new technology.

Yes, ebooks are critical to a self-publishing author’s success. Anecdotally, I don’t think I know a single selfpub author whose ebooks sell fewer copies than their print.

However, “more than half” is not the same as “total potential.”

The ebook market didn’t actually take over the world the way we thought it would, plateauing at about 30% of the total sales market (and then either growing or shrinking, depending on who you ask; in a polarized world, even statistics about book sales come with different interpretations).

Whatever set of numbers you want to use, we all agree that ebook sales are heavily skewed depending on genre. According to one report I read this year, up to 89% of all romance book sales are digital. Which makes sense – romance readers are voracious and want easy access and low prices.

(Although again, there are contradictory numbers: a 2014 RWA study says that their study respondents preferred print two to one.)

So if you’re writing romance, then releasing your title only as an ebook exclusive might make financial sense. (As long as your marketing strategy is also exclusively online.)

And if you have a short story or a short nonfiction piece that’s closer to a pamphlet than a traditional book length, a print format might not look good.

But for everyone else, limiting yourself to e-publishing means you’re probably leaving money on the table.

(Photo: Jeremy Bushnell)

There are real-world connections that can only be made if you have a physical book. You can sell print books at events and conferences, and with the right track record and platform, even some brick-and-mortar bookstores. You can hold the book and use it for promotion, and you can support those readers who still prefer print.

The changes in publishing technology did not stop evolving with the Kindle. Options for paper books expanded, too. There are now POD – print on demand – businesses that will print your book and distribute it to buyers, and they’ll do it for free, or just a few dollars a year.

That last part is important. You don’t need to pay a company thousands of dollars for them to turn your manuscript into a printed book, and it doesn’t take special skill or knowledge to get a book cataloged for bookstores.

You also don’t need to sign a contract or agree to buy hundreds of copies yourself if you don’t need them. Go back to the first article here about being a wise CEO who does their homework, and be sure to vet the vendors you choose. (Here’s a list of questions to ask that will help you get started.)


How POD Publishing Works

Self publishing a print book via POD is similar to self-publishing an ebook. Here’s a quick run-down of the process:

1. You choose your printer (the two most popular, respected names are IngramSpark and CreateSpace) and set up an account with them.

2. You add your book. Fill in an online form with information about the title (including ISBN) and upload two files – one with the book cover (including spine and back cover) and one with the finished print layout.

(Check out my Resources page for recommendation of professionals who can help with this, or programs and services that can help you do it yourself.)

3. Once the files are accepted, the POD printer adds the book to a distributor’s database of available titles, which is then made available to all retailers. Online sellers (from Amazon to Powells) list all of the books available from distributors, so your book will automatically be listed on those sites. (It will also be available for any brick and mortar bookstore to stock copies, if they choose…but they’ll only choose if you, the publisher, give them a good reason to.)

4. When someone orders a copy of your book, the order goes straight to the printer. They print a single copy and ship it to the customer – you, the author/publisher, don’t do anything but collect a royalty check at the end of the month!

So if you’re considering a future in self-publishing, don’t write off print.


Want to know more about the steps to creating and distributing a self-published book? Publishing guru Jane Friedman posted this fantastic article unpacking the book distribution process: the best ways to get your book (print and ebook) as far as possible, while avoiding the pitfalls and scams.


And don’t forget to buy a Sharpie to autograph the title pages.





  1. Speaking of money, I feel I should pay for every post I read in this series. What a treasure of information. SO many thanks.

    I now have some general sense, financially, of what it appears may be necessary to publish my traditional AND e-book, and I wonder if I’m in the average ballpark. With consideration to expenses for editing, cover design, interior design and other costs, is it unreasonable that I’m looking at total expenses upwards of $4,000 to $5,000? … and this is before post-published marketing ever begins.

    • Thanks! And I can answer that question about cost with a resounding…it depends. 🙂

      There’s a triangle I use a lot in my classes, with Good, Easy, and Cheap on the corners. The thing is, you can only pick two. You can outsource all of the steps of self publishing to outside experts, which will make your book Good and Easy, but it won’t be cheap. Or you can commit to learning some of the steps yourself, thus saving money but making it harder. Etc…

      It’s impossible to ballpark editing costs, because every book is different (style, length, level of completion). But once that’s behind you, I usually say that a moderately-tech-savvy author can get a great paperback and ebook out for about $2,000.

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