My self-publishing journey
I decided to write this blog post about how I self-published my book on natural dyeing. It's been a real adventure of discovery and I thought it might be helpful to share some of the things I've learnt along the way.
It all started as an eBook...
My paperback book began its life in the form of an eBook and initially I had no intention of printing it on paper. But due to demand, I was encouraged to publish it in paperback. My plan was to simply have a few printed to meet this demand, and send them directly to people. It was a very simple beginning, but the journey has taken lots of twists and turns and I've discovered lots of things.
Looking back, I wish I had planned the eBook file so it was print-ready, as I had to totally reformat the document by changing the margins, adding bleed to images, adding footers for page numbers and lots more fiddly details. I also had to condense some sections slightly to make them fit within the constraints of the page and margins. I did waste a lot of time, as I could have done all of this at the beginning when I released the eBook, but know for next time!
Designing the cover
The book needed a new cover since the eBook cover was landscape (for viewing on iPads and other devices) and the book was portrait. I tried a few different layouts and settled on the final design (below).
Then I chose the font for the cover. I used the two same fonts that I used inside the book - a serif and a sans serif. I think there's enough contrast between the two and they are classic and easy to read. I'm not a graphic designer, so I went with my instinct and kept things very simple. I'm very happy with the final result as I feel like it draws the reader into the book and gives a real taster of what is inside.
The paperback required an ISBN and barcode, so I ordered a batch of 10 ISBNs from Nielsen - the UK ISBN agency, I registered one of the ISBNs to my book, then ordered a bar code.
Printing the paperback
I printed a test copy of the book on my printer at home to get a feel for the layout of the page. I kept going through the book and making minor changes.
After lots of tinkering and spell checking, I chose a printers and ordered a proof copy from a printers. I chose the print-on-demand company 'Book Printing UK' as they simply have such impressive reviews, their prices are reasonable and their customer service is amazing. I spoke to them on the phone a few times and the design team helped me with a couple of queries I had about the PDF file. It's a small company but they have top quality machines and brilliant results.
The proof arrived, and aside from a small typo, it was perfect! The print quality and colour balance is incredible, even better than I hoped for. I chose beautiful silk paper and a thick glossy cover. I corrected the typo, uploaded the new file and ordered the first batch of 100 books. It was very exciting! But quite a gamble as I was paying a few hundred pounds up front and didn't know if or when I would recoup the money! Despite feeling nervous, I knew I had to take this big step.
Selling the books
At this point I listed the book for sale in my Etsy shop as a preorder. I had a fixed date that the books would be arriving, and adjusted the shipping date on Etsy to give me enough time to pack and ship them. I had no idea how many I would sell, and thought that I could give some way as Christmas gifts to family if I had loads spare.
Well, the 100 books sold within the first week, so I ordered another batch of 100 immediately!
Packing & shipping books
Up until this point I'd only been working on the computer to order books, write descriptions and email lovely customers. Once the delivery of books arrived, the hard work was about to start! I honestly had no idea how exhausting and time consuming packing up books would be.
I always take pride in the way I package up scarves and necklaces, so of course I gave the same amount of care and thought to packing the books. I chose biodegradable plastarch bags to wrap each book in, which were secured by a sticker. Then I hand painted and stamped business cards and wrote a thank you note to each customer. Some people had also requested signed books. I tried to make the whole package as lovely as possible.
I printed postage labels via PayPal, which turned out to take ages as the website kept crashing. I'll be honest - this part wasn't fun! Neither were the customs labels, or the trips to the post office. Then I needed to send a message to each customer with a tracking reference for their parcel.
When distributing the books yourself, all these things take time and it all adds up quite quickly. It's something I hadn't even thought of before. My home had turned into a mini bookshop, and had barely any time left for anything else! I was panicking more than just a little bit!
The next batch of books
The second batch of books didn't sell out nearly as quickly, so I had more time to package them up and didn't panic quite as much. I also had a chat to the lady at my local post office and she said that if I let them process the parcels and print the postage labels then they actually get a commission for it. Whereas if I prepay online they get nothing! I felt terrible hearing this... So of course I changed over to writing the addresses by hand and allowing the post office to process the parcels for me. This meant spending much longer in the post office, but it was actually quicker for me overall.
Can I continue like this?
As the second batch of books began to sell I started to realise that I couldn't actually sustain the intensity of it all. When I set out on this self-publishing journey and I decided to distribute the books myself, I had no idea that all my time would be spent packaging books and queuing in the post office. It left no time for making or dyeing, or actually talking about the book online, so sales started to slow down. I had no time or energy to do any of the things that I felt passionate about and had no time for putting together inspiring Instagram posts which I truly love doing. I knew I couldn't carry on like this.
A new plan...
In my mind I had three options for the future:
1. Stop selling the book.
2. Use a print-on-demand company that sends directly to the customer.
3. Print books myself and send to Amazon, who will then distribute to customers.
I didn't really want to stop selling the book (option 1) as it seemed to be popular and I'd worked so hard on it. So it seemed that the obvious choice was to arrange to have the books shipped by a company. I could either continue down the print-on-demand route but change to a new system where the same company prints and sends to the customer (option 2), or continue printing batches of books and pay Amazon to hold stock and ship out books (option 3).
The option that immediately jumped out at me was number 2. The books would be printed locally and shipped to the customer, significantly reducing postage costs. So it was a win for me, and a win for the customer! I chose Amazon, who offers a service via their sister company, Createspace. I would be making half as much this way in comparison to selling the books on Etsy and distributing them myself, but considering the vast amount of time I was spending on the packaging and shipping, this seemed perfectly acceptable to me.
I decided against option 3. Even though I was sad not to be working with my trusted printer, I knew that I didn't want to spend all my time worrying about how many books to stock Amazon with. Also, there was the big issue of international sales, and it just seems crazy to send large boxes of printed paper across the world. It makes much more sense to print the books locally. It's kinder to the environment (less air miles) and much cheaper for the customer. I had made my mind up.
Setting up my book on Amazon Createspace
Well, of course this meant more reformatting on the computer!! The book needed to be in inches this time, and also needed to contain more pages if I wanted the title on the spine (which I did). So I spent some time moving some things around and creating section intro pages which increased the page count.
Since I'd made significant changes to the book, it needed to be released as a new edition, which meant a new ISBN and barcode. So I registered a new ISBN, ordered a new barcode and finally ordered a proof of my book from Amazon Createspace.
After ordering two proofs I was finally happy. I am quite a perfectionist and wanted to get every detail just right. The paper is matt and this did originally worry me as I loved the silk paper I'd used previously, but the book is quite beautiful in its own right.
The next stage was to decide on the prices (I needed to set prices in £, $ and €). My husband devised a spreadsheet to help me make an informed decision about prices, which was very helpful. The printing costs are different in different locations, so I had to make sure I carefully calculated my royalty amount otherwise it wouldn't be worth my while selling the books.
Did I make the right decisions?
Ultimately, if I'd known that my book was going to be popular, I would have opted for Amazon Createspace at the beginning, where they take care of the printing and distributing. I honestly thought that my first batch of 100 books would be hanging around for a while so I would just send a few a week. But I have been blessed with amazingly supportive people who wanted to buy my book, and things got a bit out of hand! But I learnt a lot along the way and it was all valuable experience.
For future eBooks (I have so many plans for the future!) I will format the file so it is print-ready from the outset, so if I decide to print it at some point, there won't be much extra work. And I will go straight for the Amazon Createspace option. It just seems like the most environmentally friendly option (printing locally, means paper isn't continually shipped across the world) and is also best value for the customer.
Phew, so it's been quite an adventure! If you're thinking of self-publishing a book, I hope you found something helpful here!
(You can find my book on Amazon; just search for 'Rebecca Desnos' and it will show up.)