Welcome to my latest blog. (Warning: it’s long!) I asked people to post their self-publishing questions on Facebook, and here are the answers! (Several questions were similar so I’ve combined a few into a single question and answer.) Thank you to everybody who submitted a query!

When in my entrepreneurial or business journey should I publish my book?

There’s no right answer to this question. I’ve seen it all: authors launching a new business and they want a book to go with it; authors who have been in their industry for 50 years and the book is their legacy; mid-career authors and small business owners who now think they are experienced enough to make a meaningful contribution to their industry.

The real issue is making sure you write and publish the right book for where you are. The key to success is to carefully plan, and where you are in your career or entrepreneurial journey is just another part of this equation.

The riskiest and toughest time can be when you’re in start-up phase. If you’re very early in your journey, what are you doing to make up for your lack of experience? And are you very clear on where your business is going? Sometimes such authors write their book too early, and as the business evolves in its first few years the book is no longer relevant. This is a trap to be wary of. I’ve seen many authors use a book to launch a new business with great success, but it can create challenges as well.

Most authors I work with have about 5 to 12 years of experience in their field. They write the book as a culmination of their work to date, to establish themselves as an authority in their field and to launch the next stage of their career.

Publishing towards the end of your business or entrepreneurial journey comes with less risk, but there’s also less potential benefit. Most authors I work with at this stage see the book more as their legacy and contribution to their industry rather than a tool to actively help them develop their business. This is a very admirable and satisfying reason for publishing, but this is not why most of our authors publish their books.

How do I get my book into bookshops?

Getting into bookshops can be tough as a self-published author. You can attempt to do this in two ways: DIY or using a distributor.

DIY bookshop distribution

Understandably, bookshops are often reluctant to deal with individual self-publishers who have only published one book and are managing the distribution themselves. They have to find out what the terms of trade are, set up an account, and order separately, all for a book that might only sell a few copies, if that. It’s often just not worth the effort. But, if you are determined and have the time and energy, you can try to manage your own bookshop distribution.

The two main advantages are that you don’t have to pay the cost of a distributor, and you don’t have to worry about your book being accepted by a distributor. (As you would expect, you have to submit your book to a distributor for consideration.)

The cost of using a distributor is usually around 60 to 70 per cent of the RRP of your book, but most of this actually goes to the bookshop. So, if you do it yourself, you’re looking at saving around 15 to 20 per cent of the RRP of your book on each sale, with 45 to 55 per cent still going to the bookshop.

If you go the DIY route, the first thing you have to do is let bookstores know that you and your book actually exist. You can do this in a number of ways:

  • You can send out sample copies of your book to bookstores, along with your details and information about how they can order.
  • You can visit stores and introduce yourself and your book. (Let me warn you in advance though: many bookshops will simply give you a sympathetic smile and say, ‘Sorry, we don’t deal with self-publishers’.)
  • You can use various industry publications to announce your book, with the most prominent being the Weekly Book Newsletter and the monthly magazine Books & Publishing (both of which are excellent publications read by most in the industry).

But perhaps the best way to get your book into stores is to generate some good publicity. If you can do this, they’ll be contacting you to find out how they can order.

Another thing to keep in mind is that, if your book does well, it can be very time-consuming doing the distribution yourself.

Bookshop distribution companies

A number of excellent book distributors operate in Australia, both small and large, who will get your books into bookstores. The distributor will take the whole thing off your hands: dealing with bookshops, invoicing and sending out books.

If you want to run a professional self-publishing operation, using a distributor is a great way to go. Sure it will cost you, but trying to do it yourself and making a mess of it will cost you more. And you may only get one shot at it. Bookshops are most interested in a book when it’s new. If you try to do it yourself initially and it doesn’t go well, you’ve missed your best opportunity and stores may lose interest in your book.

Some self-publishing providers offer bookshop distribution, some don’t. If you use one that doesn’t, this is something you can arrange yourself.

What are some creative ways I can get my book publishing and promotion funded?

Here are some alternative funding ideas:

  • You could sell advertising space at the back of the book or on a bookmark, for partner but not competing businesses. This could be anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Two, three or four ads at several hundred dollars each would certainly help.
  • You could offer to do a quantity for your partners with their branding (for example, their logo on the cover), and pre-sell these copies to them. This becomes viable at, say, 50 or 100 copies.
  • You could take pre-orders, selling at a discount price.
  • You could try crowdfunding. (But, I’m not always a fan of this – I just mention it to cover all the bases. It’s far from guaranteed to get up, and if it does it’s a whole other thing you have to manage. I’ve seen many authors say, ‘Oh, I’m going to crowdfund my book,’ as though it’s that simple. They are not so excited about it when their campaign raises $337 on a $10,000 target, and $200 of that was from their mum.)
  • See if the providers you are talking to will put you on a payment plan; for example, equal payments over six months. This would spread the cost out for you.
  • You could shoot big and see what larger partners you could find. We’ve had a couple of authors in the last 12 months who’ve found distribution partners who pre-ordered thousands of copies of their books. One of them was putting the book in goodie bags at a conference.

When should I look at getting my books translated into different languages?

The best time to have your book translated into another language is when you have good reason to believe there is a strong market for your book in that language. Having your book translated first and then trying to develop a market for it is probably not a good idea. Here are some questions to answer before you have a translation done:

  • Why do I think my book will sell well or help me build my business in this language?
  • How will I promote my book in this language?
  • Who will help me promote and distribute my book in other countries?
  • Who will do the translation for me?
  • How do I ensure the translation is of high quality?

Having a book translated is often more expensive than authors think, and the book also has to be reformatted and another cover needs to be done, so it’s a very expensive undertaking. So, make sure you have good reason to believe your book is in demand in this language and a clear plan for what you will get out of it before taking this step.

And keep in mind that some countries aren’t as concerned about royalties, copyright and other formalities as we are in Australia. In some countries it can be easy to get taken for a ride with a local publisher offering to translate your book. So, be careful.

Should I do a separate version for the US, UK, and/or Australian markets?

Some books very obviously won’t be relevant in markets other than Australia. For example, I’m currently involved in a property investment book that would be almost irrelevant in the US or UK. The tax laws are different in other countries, as are the financing regulations, and even the types of properties. So, clearly if this author wanted to release his book in another country he’d have to adapt it. He might be able to keep, say, 50% of the content on his strategies but adapt them for the different market. In doing so it would also be a good idea to change the use of language to reflect the different market (if required).

But, what if you’ve written a book about online marketing that would work in any country? This is where the decision is harder. If your main focus is on using your book and developing your business in Australia, it’s a good idea to focus exclusively on the Australian market: use Australian language and examples, and give the cover design an Australian look. That will give you maximum leverage here. Then, if you decide to expand into other markets later, it can be a good idea to adapt the book. If going from Australia or the UK to the US, this would mean changing the spelling and use of language to US useage, perhaps adding US examples, and you may also want to do a new cover that you think will be more relevant to a US market. You would also need to update any country-specific content, such as information about laws or regulations. (And keep in mind this would require a new ISBN.)

If, however, you plan from day one to make a big push into the US, it’s a good idea to use US language in your book and design a cover that you think will work here and over there. (Discuss this with your designer – they’ll know what to do. And if they don’t, find a new designer.) People in Australia are very familiar with US market books so you won’t have any problems here, and then you can push into the US without having to adapt your book, or with only minimal changes. (Again, keep in mind any country-specific content, such as information about laws or regulations.)

Should I leave some larrikin style and colloquialisms in my book?

Yeah man, you definitely should. Like, if you reckon more casual is right for your readers, then she’s apples. Go for it.

Okay, more seriously, this depends on your target readers. If your target readers are tradies you can get away with more casual language than if you’re targeting accountants. If your target readers are younger rather than older, again more casual language might be okay. Like everything you do with your book, answer a simple question: how will I best connect with my target readers? Do I need to be formal, casual, funny, serious, analytical, irreverent? If you need help with this, you can discuss it with your editor or some people in your target market. If you don’t have an editor yet, you now have a perfect reason to find one!

How many books should I print?

Working out print quantities isn’t an exact science. If publishers could work out down to the last copy how many books we needed to print, we’d all be millionaires. But it is possible to make an informed decision based on how you’re going to use the book in your business.

To do so, answer the following questions:

  • If you’re selling your book, how many do you think you can sell?
  • How many will you use for publicity?
  • How many do you need for a launch (if you’re having one)?
  • How many will you give away to potential or existing clients?
  • How else might you use them?
  • How long do you want your stock to last?
  • Are you taking orders before you print?
  • Are you planning on bookshop distribution?

It can be a good idea to err on the side of caution. You should be able to reprint in just two or three weeks, which is a preferable option to printing too many and having boxes of books in the corner of your office for the next 10 years.

It’s also important to think of this from a cash flow point of view. If you think you need 1000 copies over 12 months, printing 500 copies initially and the next 500 copies six months later will be a lot better for your cash flow. Your unit cost will be slightly higher than printing 1000 at once but your cash flow will be better.

Just for some guidance, the average print run for our authors is 200 copies. We have some authors who print 500 or more, and a few times a year we do a print run into the thousands. Whenever an author tells me they want a really large print run, I ask them to explain to me why, so I can help them make a good decision. If I think they might be printing too many, I’ll let them know and we’ll discuss their print run further.

If I’m working to a tight budget and want to set up only print on demand to start with, what are the differences and where should I look for help?

For many projects, setting up with print on demand only to begin with is not actually a particularly good option. If you’re paying to have your book professionally produced by an experienced team, you’ll usually need a budget of at least $8000 to $10,000, and often more. Printing is usually only going to be about $1200 to $1500 of this. Saving this initial print investment is a small saving that eliminates the biggest advantage of writing and publishing your book, which is … having books in your hands!

I’ve never once worked on a project that we only set up as print on demand. Every time I have this conversation with an author, they realise it’s a bit crazy to publish a book and then not actually do a print run (even a small one). I can say with 100% certainty that our authors have the most success sending out printed copies of their books as soon as they come in. That’s when you can generate the biggest buzz about your book.

Managing the whole process through print on demand or referring people to Amazon (or elsewhere) to purchase via print on demand is vastly complicating the process for only a small financial saving. There are services and people who promote this as a cheaper way to publish your book, but I’m not an advocate of this approach. I see print on demand as an essential complement to larger print runs (our average first print run is 200 copies) but not a replacement.

But, if you are choosing this method to publish a book, you can set your book up on a service such as Ingram Spark, Lulu, CreateSpace or BookBaby. There is no doubt this will save you a few dollars in your initial investment. Find an editor, self-publishing company or designer who can help you with this process, and make sure everybody knows this is what you are doing, as print on demand services have their own print specifications that your team will need to be aware of. And be sure to consider your overall strategy carefully to make sure the amount saved is worth it.