Guest blogger: Lashanda Henry on Blogtalk Radio SYNERGY ENERGY SHOW from Dec. 2, 2009. Here's her post:
As a Black Entrepreneur, finding the finances to fund your project is often easier said than done. It is for that reason that self-publishing my first book sounded like a great idea to me and possibly the same holds true for you. Having self-published several books, I've learned a few things along the way that I thought might be of interest to any writer interested in entering the world of self-publishing.
This is the first of several of my featured posts entitled 'Black and Self Published.' In these posts I'd like to share with you everything I've learned as a young author/ Black Entrepreneur. I'm going to show you how I published my first book, what resources I used, why I both love and hate self-publishing, and the valuable lessons that I have learned along the way.
First and foremost I want to point out that self-publishing is not for everyone. I chose to self-publish for a number of reasons. I had very little startup capital. I didn't want to spend months or even years sending my story to publishers. I had the word processing/graphics skills to design my own book and I was really eager to see my work in print. In hindsight, I now realize that rather than seriously planning a business strategy for publishing and marketing my book, I was more focused on printing the book at a price I could afford. At that time, it seemed like the best thing to do, but honestly you can never go wrong when you sit down and seriously device a plan that is both realistic and will benefit you in the long run. I'll go into more detail about this a little later, but I wanted to start off by making it clear that self-publishing isn't an easy alternative to creating your book. Like mosts things it has both benefits and drawbacks.
As I mentioned above, dealing with publishers was the last thing I wanted to do so that first thing I did was goolge 'publishing your own book', which quickly opened my eyes to the world of self-publishing. Of the many websites I stumbled upon the two that stood out were iUniverse and lulu.com. I was impressed by iUniverse when I learned that several well known authors started off from the site, but I ultimately chose to go with lulu.com because I wasn't interested in paying for an editor/cover designer/etc. I planned on doing that stuff for myself and I honestly didn't have a couple of hundred of dollers to invest in their services. Though their program wasn't right for me, it might be right for you if you need that extra guidance and support.
Once I signed up for lulu.com, I was ready to transform my ideas from pen to print. Lulu.com is a premier self-publishing website. It is free to join and they provide print-on-demand services. The great thing about print on demand is that you only need to pay for the books that you order to be printed, which is a great way to cut your initial startup costs. However, what I learned later is that the less you pay initially for the printing of your book, the less you gross back in profit. Print on demand books tend to cost more to publishing because generally speaking, the orders are smaller.
In other words, the more you order in bulk the cheaper the cost per book. This is why many self-published authors tend to invest several hundred dollars into initially printing a bulk of books. In doing so they can charge less for their books without needing to markup the price to make up the profit. This is why print-on-demand books tend to cost more money, especially illustrated books printed in color. It is almost impossible to publish children's books through print-on-demand because the cost per book is just too high. But again, apart of cutting printing costs is being able to shell out the cash required to print larger quantities of your book.
As for my book, I was more than satisfied with lulu's services. Being able to pay for copies on an as needed basis and selling my books on lulu for a small fee, was perfect. My biggest expense was purchasing the book's isbn number through lulu. An isbn number is basically a unique tracking number used by retailers to identify your book. Beyond selling your book online or at select events, you can not sell your book in bookstores or to large online retailers like amazon.com without an isbn number.
Once I purchased my isbn number I was ready to take my work offline, which was truly an eye opening experience. Contrary to my initial dreams of having my book sell big numbers on amazon or generate huge sales in the store of my choice, promoting one's book as a self-published author is very different from what I expected. Most bookstores generally get their inventory through book distribution companies, which specialize in selling published books to stores. I quickly learned that in order to get my book on the shelf, for some stores, my book first had to be on the list of one of their distributors.
As luck would have it, though I was able to avoid the process of dealing with publishers, I was going to have to begin an almost identical process by mailing distributors, requesting that they distribute my work to their stores. In some cases, I did find a few stores that work with self-published authors, but they generally do so through consignment. This means they initially take a few copies of your book (say 5 for example) to see if they sell, and if they do sell, then the store will take more. When books are sold the store gets 60% and you get 40% of the sale. Ultimately this means that there is no initial big lump sum of money sent your way, you have to first pay for the printing, supply the stores with copies, and then wait for payment of profit when books are sold. If no books are sold, stores generally give the books back, which is why the chances of you finding a store that will pay for your books upfront is pretty slim.
A similar concept holds true as far as getting your book on sites like amazon.com. Getting listed is only half the story. Initially amazon.com will take only one or two copies of your book, and if you don't put in the effort to get that copy sold, they won't request more copies of your book. Again, the process starts with printing costs, and book sales, before the possibilities of profit. When I understood this very important piece of information, I came to realize the other, less talked about side of self publishing. It might seem like initially you aren't putting in much money, but you might find you ultimately have to spend more than anticipated to get your book in the right places to be sold.
This is why it is very important to set aside a budget, however small for your publishing project factoring your printing costs, book price, and estimated return after all expenses are paid for. Last but not least you have to factor in the cost of marketing as well as how you plan on developing a marketing strategy. Of course this question is completely determined by your motivations for creating a book. Is it enough for you to see your book printed, sell a few copies, or do you have dreams of writing the next best seller?
If you do want to gain noticeable exposure for your book, understand that there are tons of ways to go about book promotion.
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It's up to you to do your research and find out what works best for you. Some authors enjoy the extra income and additional exposure than comes with doing speaking engagements or book signings. Some sellers opt to invest in vendor tables at book fairs, expos, and trade shows. I've met a number of self-published hustlers who hit the streets, get their vendor permits and sell their books on corners, with promotional t-shirts, postcards, or bookmarks in hand. While others promote strictly online by setting up blogs, sending out press releases, writing articles related to their work, advertising on sites that cater to their target audience,freely distributing short excerpts of their work, or developing a fan base on social network communities like myspace.
Whatever marketing strategy you use choose, remember that sales made by self-published authors are 50% up to them and 50% up to readers actually being interested in their work. As for my own work, I've probably tried each of the above mentioned strategies at least once. Trying to get a sense of the pros and cons of each, and which strategies work best for me not just as an author, but as a sales person and business woman. It goes without saying that as a self-published author, you will wear many hats and play many roles. In hindsight, I would have spent more time better understanding each of these roles before I started the publication of my book, but again it is because of my wrong choices that I learned so many right lessons along the way.
Of all my lessons the most important is this, whether you choose to self-publish by investing the capital to print in bulk,to self-publish through print on demand, or to use the more traditional route and submit to publishing companies, at some point you can not avoid having to pay. You are either paying for initial print costs and marketing fees or your paying as far as the time you put in to get your work noticed by publishers or readers using whatever marketing strategy available to you. On the flip side, choosing to find a publisher requires you to roll up your sleeves, develop a thick skin and be prepared to deal with waiting for responses, possible rejection letters, and learning to navigate through the world of publishing. And in the event that you do receive that acceptance letter that every aspiring writer dreams of, you can enjoy the benefits of book signings and signing bonuses without worrying about production costs or setting up promotion.
If you can put in all those three things and then some with 200% of your best effort then perhaps self-publishing is the best solution for you. But if you are more interested in increasing your chances of getting those three things out of your experience, then you might want to focus more on getting into a publishing company that can help you promote your work on a bigger scale and give you access to professionals that can help you better perfect your craft.
As for me, I love being black and self-published. It's a lot of work, and sometimes I honestly do put in more money than I get out, but the thrill of turning the pages of my own books and making a sale at an event, well that is priceless. But just the same, I have presently decided to invest my time into more lucrative projects until I can either put more time/money into self-publishing, or research publishing companies that I would like to work with. But that is a another chapter, in my book, for another time. As far as your own work, there is no better time like the present to learn more about self publishing. Whether you sit on the floor in Barnes and Nobles, go to the library, signup for a seminar, or search the internet, it's important that you educate yourself about this process before investing your time and effort into getting your book published. Of course there is no process without having an actual book, so at least start working on an outline or your first draft as a means of personally committing to the task of seeing your work published.
LaShanda Henry talks about how she self-published her books for FREE using Lulu.com and creates eBooks for Web Entrepreneurs, which is one way she makes money online. Get her Ultimate Online Kit
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