So, you spend all this time and effort and money to create a book. And you've done it! You can feel proud, tell everyone you know, take your bestie out for a drink....
And then: you have to make a lot of decisions about dealing with the physical book. With any luck you thought about this before you ordered 5000 or 10000 copies! I talked about how I chose the size, cover type, and binding in my blog post Self-publishing: Books as Objects. But even at that point the book remained an idea, and the day eventually comes when you have to deal with the realities of ordering, storing, and selling the object itself.
How many copies will you print?
Most of us are working in the dark when we come up with a figure. We don't have the historical publication figures that larger publishers have. We can see that there is a significant reduction in cost-per-volume the more you have printed, not to mention the possibility of amortizing the creation costs (designer, editor, photographer, printer proofs, etc) over more books. On the other hand, ordering too many leaves the possibility of being left with hundreds or thousands of unsold volumes.
So how do you come up with a figure? Most self-publishers offer a preorder deal (on their website, through a KickStarter, etc) to gauge interest and to help fund the up-front publication costs. I did this, and used the resulting information to set my publication quantity: I took my early preorders and multiplied that by 10. Only time will tell if I was right!
Where will you store them when they arrive at your doorstep?
Significant quantities of books weigh a lot and take up a lot of space. There's no getting around these facts! So you'll need to have a place to store the books where they won't be damaged by damp or insects--and renting a storage area costs a fair amount of money that you'll have to add to your calculations. Major shippers aren't used to dealing with the small fry, either--I've hired an hourly worker to help me deal with 120+ cases of books being dropped off at the curb!
You might choose to let someone else handle the storage and processing side of things. Book distributors cost a lot (60% discount, on average) and are hard to find these days--the major craft book distributor went out of business last year, leaving us self-publishers in the lurch. The book industry as a whole is under a lot of pressure these days, and the old models are no longer a given. Still, if you don't want to have to deal with the hassles of handling each order, a distributor or fulfillment house is worth finding.
How will you sell them?
Are you ready to set up a website to sell your book? It takes a some money and a lot of time (or a lot of money to pay someone else) to set up a site with web-commerce, and you'll also need to set up an encrypted credit card processing account as well as PayPal to accept money.
If you plan to sell a book of patterns, Ravelry offers some solutions--it's worth talking with them.
If you plan to sell your book at bookstores or through Amazon you will need an ISBN number and a bar code. Another cost to think about, although not difficult to obtain.
Selling digital copies has its own set of difficulties: How will you handle distribution? How will you control the number of downloads? What if your book's files can't be reduced enough to be emailed? Do you need to set up an online sharing system through Google or DropBox? (And, of course, how will you set up your download? PDF? Kindle? other eBook format?) Many websites allow you to set up your own download system, but there are download distributors as well.
How will you market your book?
Without the support of a traditional publisher the entire load of marketing falls on your own shoulders. Many of us in this field are introverts, making it even harder to get the word out.
My blog readers have been a major source of support for my book--for years I've been tossing words out into the wind, expressing my opinions about Fair Isle knitting, sharing techniques I've developed, and talking about anything that captures my attention. My readers have been my biggest cheerleaders, and they have helped spread the word about The Joy of Color.
Instagram is another excellent way to communicate your process and product to lots of people--I find that I'm able to post more frequently there because of its visual focus. Pinterest can be a good marketing tool as well.
Most authors build a mailing list and send out newsletters will updates on book development, etc. Mail Chimp, Constant Contact, and others make creating and sending newsletters quite easy--your biggest hurdle is building the mailing list (and you have to be scrupulous about not adding anyone who hasn't asked to be added).
You can ask people who are well known in the field if they would be interested in reviewing your book on their blog, hosting a giveaway, interviewing you for their podcast--I find this enormously difficult to do, but I'm lucky enough to have many prominent knitters offer their help. A few magazines still review books and it's worth approaching them.
Don't forget to carry informational postcards with you at all times.
Repetition and respect are the key words in all your marketing efforts!
How will you handle the tax side of things?
You will need to create a legal entity for your publishing efforts to account for the expenses, the profits (or losses--yikes!), and tax collecting. The requirements vary depending on where you are located: I had to go to the county office and apply for a business license, including a special license for an fictitious business name (strangely, this also requires that I advertise this name in a newspaper several weeks in a row). I also needed to get zoning permission from my city and apply for a city license. I collect California sales taxes on all in-state sales and have to report these taxes once a year. Your state and city will have different requirements--you can usually find out what they are on your state, county, and city websites. The city of Berkeley required me create a different business entity for publishing The Joy of Color, even though I have already set up Feral Knitter (my online yarn store). I used the name Willa Jane Press because 25 years ago I'd had a very vivid dream that I had another daughter named Willa Jane! But it's a reporting headache, and I've finally given in and will be paying a professional to prepare my taxes from now on.
What packaging will you use?
As I say (perhaps way too often): You spend all your time getting the book, and then you spend all your time trying to get rid of your book! If you are smart you will think about this at the same time that you plan your book's size. Check out the USPS website to find the envelope and box sizes that qualify for flat rate shipping and regional rate shipping. Media mail costs a lot less, but is less reliable and careful according to people who've used this service.
The Joy of Color weighs ~1.5 pounds (!) and costs nearly $12 to mail USPS First Class--not including the cost of the envelope, label printing, or the money-processing fees. The book fits into the flat-rate envelope, however, so it costs me $6.10 to mail it in the US--still more than I charge for shipping & handling. Media mail would cost approximately $3.30. What are you willing to do for your customers? The flat-rate envelope is plastic--but it will protect the book and the post office gives it for free; with media mail I could have used a recycled package solution for $0.75 - $1. But customers want their orders now.
And the cost of mailing overseas, even in flat-rate envelopes, is shocking. These are the things you have to think about!
You really can't do this alone. Luckily there are lots of people out there who can support you through this seemingly endless morass of details! I've found that my membership in the Craft Industry Alliance has been very helpful. Meighan O'Toole, Andreea Ayers, and Tara Swiger are three respected independent business advisers you should check out--they all offer an amazing amount of free content in addition to useful paid courses.
However, nothing beats having a small group of trusted compatriots who are also putting creative work out into the world. Do what you can to build just such a group.
There. Thank you all for hanging in there through this huge number of words!!! I've been trying to get this written for weeks now! The summer has sped by with lots of teaching, lots of vacationing, and lots of work preparing to sell the book. Right now the word is that my cases of The Joy of Color are in a container that was randomly chosen for a physical review by US Customs, and it is now waiting its turn in the Port of Los Angeles. Luckily it was not caught in the Hanjin shipping company bankruptcy!!!