How Self-publishing Works


When you finally reach your publish date, you have one basic job: Get people to buy your book. For individual book-buyers, this is pretty simple. They pay the cover price, you record the transaction and you ship or give them the book. But individual book-buyers are the smallest piece of your customer base. Your major customers are:

  • Independent bookstores
  • Wholesalers, who fill orders from many bookstores. They only buy what they need or expect they will need.
  • Distributors, who buy books to actively resell them to bookstores.
  • Exclusive (master) distributors, who will handle everything involved in the selling of your book, in exchange for the exclusive right to distribute
  • Online booksellers

Two new factors enter the mix with these customers -- discounts and returns. To ensure a profit, booksellers always buy books well below the cover price, and most reserve the option to return books they cannot sell. If the books are undamaged, you must refund the buyer's money.

You'll need a terms and conditions sheet that outlines, in detail, how you'll operate your business -- what kind of discounts you offer, how you handle returns, how you handle billing, etc. Your terms and conditions are up to you, but you'll have to treat particular types of buyers a certain way in order to do business. For example:

  • Individual bookstores generally get 40 percent off the list price.
  • General wholesalers and distributors get 50 - 55 percent off the list price.
  • Exclusive (master) distributors get 62 to 67 percent off the list price.

In the United States, there are a handful of huge fish in the pond, and tons of little fish. The big fish are:

Selling is an ongoing process that can last for years (without taking up a ton of time). When you run through your first shipment, and there's still demand, you go to the printer for your next shipment. If your book really catches on, you may be able to land a good deal with a larger publisher who can push your sales to a higher level. Over the years, many successful authors have used this road to get on a publisher's radar.

The sweet spot of writing is generally at the beginning of the process -- when you're sitting at a keyboard putting your ideas into words. In contrast, the sweet spot to publishing generally comes after all the work is done -- when you've recouped your initial costs, and every book sold is money in your pocket. This is a self-publisher's ultimate reward.

For much more information about self-publishing, check out the links in the next section.

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