You’ve decided to self-publish your book. Congratulations! You’re about to begin an exciting journey. 

Now there are nine more decisions to make before you’re published! Some of these decisions will affect the rest of your career, and you don’t want to make the wrong decision.

 But never fear! This article will help you make good choices. 

If you are trying to decide whether indie publishing is right for you, this is an episode that may be helpful. If you’re already planning to publish independently, you can’t afford to skip this post.

To give you two perspectives on these decisions, I interviewed Chautona Havig, an indie author who has written over 80 books and hosts the Because Fiction Podcast. She knows the indie publishing process inside and out, and she will help you avoid the pitfalls.

Decision #1: Book Size

Thomas Umstattd, Jr.: The first decision you need to make is what size of book you want to publish. 

The most common formats are 6 x 9 inches and 5.5 x 8.5 inches. The ideal length for a paperback book is 200-250 pages. If your book is too short, consider the 5.5 x 8.5 size. If it’s too long, consider going with the larger 6 x 9-inch size. 

A 200-page book is the sweet spot where you tend to make the most money and have the happiest readers. For every additional page beyond the 200-page mark, the cost of your book increases. When you’re printing your book on-demand, which indie authors do, the cost of printing goes up faster than the cost of the book. 

People expect to pay more for longer books, but they don’t expect to pay much more. The cost of printing a 450-page book is almost twice that of a 200-page book, but you can’t sell it for twice the price.

Warning!

If you are writing a series, you are committing to this format size for the rest of the series. If you want your books to look good on the shelf, consider keeping the same format for all your books. 

Chautona Havig: You may want to consider which size is more important to your reader. Some readers don’t like my 6 x 9 books, even though that’s the size I started with. Some hate it. Consider whether you want to make more money per book or sell more units. 

Thomas Umstattd’s Recommendation:

Pick whichever size gets you closer to 200 pages. If your books tend to run long, consider the larger format. If your books tend to run short, consider the smaller format. 

Decision #2: Print-on-Demand or Offset Printing?

Indie authors can choose offset printing, which is the same technology that traditional publishers use. You can print 5,000 copies of your book for $1-2 per book, depending on your printer. 

Print-on-Demand (POD) costs $3-4 per copy, which makes offset printing sound like a good decision. 

However, there are many hidden costs with offset printing, like warehousing, distribution, fulfillment, and shipping. The upfront cost of offset printing for 5,000 books at $3 per book will cost you $15,000 upfront. If you can’t sell 5,000 books, you may never recover your costs.

The upfront cost of print-on-demand is almost nothing.

Chautona: A friend of mine printed 3,000 copies of her book with offset printing. She’s a speaker, and she knew her book would be easy to sell, so she chose offset printing. But 3,000 books require a lot of boxes. You need a place to store those books. You need a big garage or a warehouse to store them.

Thomas: I know an author who did a Kickstarter campaign and raised $25,000 and presold a bunch of copies. She was able to offset print with the Kickstarter money. If you want to offset print, do a Kickstarter campaign first to see if there’s a demand for your book. If you sell all the books in your garage, that’s a win. But most of the time, the author cannot sell all the books because they overestimated the demand. They end up with hundreds or thousands of unsold books. It also ties up a lot of capital. 

Thomas Umstattd’s Recommendation:

For your first book, I recommend choosing print-on-demand. Offset printing is too risky and complicated for your first book. 

You can always offset later if your book is a hit, but print-on-demand is dramatically simpler. The print-on-demand machines are in the fulfillment centers. You don’t have to worry about warehousing, fulfillment, or shipping. All those complexities are taken care of by the print-on-demand companies. 

But if you already have several books on Amazon and are curious to learn more about offset printing, listen to episode 215 Print on Demand vs. Offset Printing for Indie Books

If you choose print-on-demand, you have two companies to choose from. 

Decision #3: KDP Print or IngramSpark?

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Print and IngramSpark both provide print-on-demand publishing. Other companies resell books from these two companies, but you don’t need to pay a middleman more money just to sell you one of these two options. 

Ninety percent of indie authors choose to publish through KDP Print (formerly known as CreateSpace) and IngramSpark. 

Chautona: I have used both, but I tend to be exclusive to KDP. I recommend people start with KDP because it’s easier.

IngramSpark is more expensive. If you upload your perfect book to KDP and a reader finds a missing quotation mark in your book. It’s easy to fix. You fix the typo on your computer, upload your new file to KDP, and within hours the error is fixed.

 With IngramSpark, it will cost you $25-$50 to do the exact same thing, and it may take several days for the change to go into effect. There’s a charge for changing the cover and a separate charge for changing the interior. 

Start easy with KDP Print because you need to know what you’re doing before you deal with IngramSpark and all their fees.

Thomas: If you’re a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors, some of those fees are waived.  

Pros of KDP Print:

  • KDP is easier. All your print books and ebooks will appear in a single dashboard connected to your Amazon account. 
  • KDP Print makes it easier to advertise your book on Amazon. If your paperback isn’t through KDP Print, Amazon won’t let you use their paperback marketing tools. 

Pros of IngramSpark

  • IngramSpark gets you into more indie bookstores because many indie bookstores hate Amazon and won’t stock books from Amazon under any circumstances. 
  • IngramSpark has more options for book shape, size, and paper type, which are good for children’s books and specialty books. Standard fiction books don’t necessarily need those features.

Some authors publish books with both companies because they can use KDP Print for Amazon orders and IngramSpark for non-Amazon orders. 

Thomas Umstattd’s Recommendation: 

For your first book, go with KDP Print only. Make it easier on yourself. You can change later, but for your first book, don’t use IngramSpark.

Chautona: I recommend you get three books under your belt before you use IngramSpark. Until you’ve hit most of the snags, Ingram can be overwhelming. 

Decision #4: KDP Select or Wide? 

This is the biggest decision. 

When you publish with Amazon’s KDP, you have two choices. You can sell your books exclusively through Amazon through their KDP Select program, or you can publish wide, which means your books will be for sale on Amazon and many other online retailers. 

Amazon, being the 800-pound gorilla that it is, wants you to publish your ebook exclusively with them in their KDP Select program. As an incentive, they give you twice the royalty if you are exclusive to Amazon. 

They also give you more book marketing and promotion tools within Amazon. You can offer your book for free from time to time. They allow you to do free countdown deals, and most popular for novelist, they allow you to be in Kindle Unlimited (KU), Amazon’s Netflix of books. 

Kindle Unlimited has a lending library. Readers pay a monthly $10 subscription fee to check out books from the KU library. Readers can then check out any book in KU for “free.” 

When they read your book, you get a piece of their $10 monthly subscription fee. 

You must decide if you want to sell exclusively through Amazon to get access to these marketing tools and be included in KU, or if you want to go wide and sell through iBooks, Kobo, and various other online retailers.

Chautona: I recommend an author agree to be in KDP Select for one quarter. When you agree to the program, you agree to exclusivity for 90 days. 

 In those 90 days, you can see what KDP Select does. KDP Select is easy, and it’s a great way to get discovered in the KU Library. Many of my readers have found me through KU. They search for “Christian Fiction,” and they see all my books. It doesn’t cost them anything extra to try out a new author, so it’s a great way for readers to discover new authors.

Many readers think that authors don’t get paid for books in KU, which keeps some readers from joining KU. But authors do get paid for every page a reader reads. 

Thomas: KU pays authors per page-read. If someone checks out your book and then returns it without reading, you get no money. If they read the whole book, you get paid for every page. 

On the other hand, if they buy your book in the Amazon store and don’t read it, you still get paid.

KDP Select rewards authors who write books people finish. 

In general, indie authors exclusive to Amazon through KDP Select make more money and sell more books. 

I have an episode with Joanna Penn, who is an advocate for publishing wide. She makes a good case for why you may want to publish wide and not sell exclusively through Amazon. If that’s appealing to you, listen to How to Develop Multiple Streams of Money from Your Writing Career with Joanna Penn

On the other hand, Lacy Williams makes a good case for why you should sell exclusively on Amazon through KDP Select in episode 230, What Indie Authors Need to Know About Kindle Unlimited with Lacy Williams.

Thomas Umstattd’s Recommendation: 

For your first book, choose KDP Select and sell your ebooks exclusively through Amazon. You’ll get access to their exclusive marketing tools. You can change your mind later, but the process is much simpler and more profitable if you stay inside the Amazon sandbox for your first book. Signing up to sell in other bookstores is unlikely to generate enough sales to justify the hassle.

Chautona: I was wide for a long time. We noticed the wide sales start to dwindle, and I started losing money. I surveyed my readers and learned 93% of them used Kindle in some form. At that point, it was crazy for me not to be in KU. You must know your audience, and you can only know them once you have them, and you have to start somewhere. I agree that starting in KDP Select with the marketing advantages and the KU Library is a great choice for your first books.

Decision #5: Publish an Audiobook or Not?

If you listen to Novel Marketing, you know I am a big fan of audiobooks, and they are growing in popularity. In 2021, nearly every traditionally published book has an audio version. If you don’t publish an audiobook, your book may look self-published to someone who otherwise wouldn’t know. 

Pros:

  • You reach more people. 
  • You reach audio exclusive readers like me!
  • You reach more influential people. CEOs and Influencers listen to a lot of audiobooks.
  • You reach more men.
  • Publishing an audiobook is an indication you are financially committed to your book. 

Cons:

  • If you publish your audiobook for free, which you can do, you’ll split the royalty with the narrator, and you may make less on each audiobook sale than on your paperback sale. 
  • Requires you to pick a narrator, which is difficult and stressful. 
  • If you don’t split with the narrator, narrating an audiobook yourself will be expensive and time-consuming.

Chautona: I have become an audiobook fan. I listened to 120 books last year. 

In 2013, I hired two narrators, and it was expensive to pay them upfront. Those audiobooks have just barely earned out what I paid. 

Sometimes you have to view it as a long game where you can’t expect an instant ROI. For audiobooks, I don’t expect to make a lot of money right away. Audiobook listeners are binge readers who need the next one right away. 

Choosing a narrator is scary, especially if you want them to record a series. They become the voice of your characters. Last year, I hired an amazing narrator for a new series. I created my own royalty share, where I pay for half up front, and then we split the royalties. That way, we both have skin in the game. We’re getting the books out faster, and we’re getting sales faster. 

ACX narrators are getting more expensive. The good ones are less willing to do the royalty share. I started with ACX, and it was a good experience, but I now prefer working with Find A Way Voices. Your book gets out there so much faster. Find A Way Voices allows your book to be on Scribd, Audible, and Chirp.

Thomas Umstattd’s Recommendation:

  • Go with ACX.com and do a royalty share with the narrator for the first book. 
  • Don’t spend a lot of money on your audiobook until you know you have an audience.
  • Find A Way Voices is great, but ACX is simpler for your first books. 
  • As you get more advanced, you can hire a narrator and pay them upfront. 

Decision #6: Publish a Hardback or Not?

Amazon is rolling out a new program that allows indie authors to self-publish a hardback via their print-on-demand services. If you’re reading this in the future, you may have this option when you sign up, but as of this writing, publishing a print-on-demand hardcover is by invitation only.

I don’t see any downsides to offering a hardback option. Having a $25 hardback makes your other versions look cheaper, and some readers will want that $25 hardback no matter what. It’s like the $100 bottle of wine at the end of the aisle. It’s there to make the $30 bottle look cheaper.

The other option is to have hardback books printed offset in a big expensive bunch. I generally don’t recommend this unless you are doing a crowdfunding campaign to presell those hardback copies. Printing a limited-edition hardback can get readers excited if you’re an established author. Signed and numbered copies of a limited-edition will allow you to demand a higher price.

Chautona: Your biggest fans will want a hardback.

Thomas Umstattd’s Recommendation:

Publish a hardback if you can do it via print-on-demand. Otherwise, hold off unless you are doing a Kickstarter campaign for your book. 

Decision #7: Do Your Own Typesetting or Hire it Out?

You can’t just publish a Microsoft Word document. You have to convert your Word document into a typeset PDF for printing on paper and a typeset ePUB file for ebooks. 

Option #1: Do it yourself with Vellum.

If you plan to write a lot of books, I recommend using the Mac software Vellum. With a few clicks, it turns a well-formatted Word document into a PDF and ePUB. If your Word document is not well-formatted, Vellum makes that easy to fix. 

Vellum costs $249 one time.

Sometimes writers even switch from PC to Mac just to use Vellum. That’s a great move because Mac computers are now faster and cheaper than PCs because they no longer use the slow, expensive Intel chips that PCs use. 

Another option is to rent a virtual Mac for $1.00 per hour at MacinCloud

Chautona: You open your book file in MacinCloud, and you can format a book in less than an hour in Vellum. For $1.00 per hour, it’s like having two laptops, one Mac and one PC. It’s like someone has a screen share on their computer, and you take over. 

I still recommend that you learn to format your book in Word, and I’ve recorded a whole episode on Tips, Tricks and Traps of Ebook Publishing. Get the Smashwords guide on using Microsoft Word. Make sure you know how to use Word because once you learn headings and styles, Microsoft word becomes wonderful.

Dave Chesson is building a new program called Atticus, which promises to do what Scrivener and Vellum do for the Mac. It should be available soon.

Option #2 Hire someone else.

Many of your fellow authors already use Vellum and may be willing to typeset your book for you. If you plan to publish only one book, it will be cheaper and easier for you to hire someone else to typeset your book, and you will have one less thing to worry about. Typesetting used to cost $500 if you paid someone to do it with InDesign. If you’ve formatted your Word doc well, you may get a freelancer to do it on Vellum for $50-$100.

Warning: Make sure you get the Vellum file from the freelancer in addition to the PDF and EPUB file.

I heard of an author who had a bad typo in his book. It turned a word into a bad word that changed the meaning of the sentence into a dirty joke. This would not have been a huge issue in some books, but this was a Christian book. It was hard for the author to fix the problem himself because he didn’t do the typesetting. To fix the typo, he had to get the book re-typeset by the freelancer he hired. 

Thomas Umstattd’s Recommendation:

Buy Vellum. If need be, buy a Mac. You can get a Mac Mini for $699, which is faster than PCs twice its price. A modern Mac Mini should last you 10 years, which brings the cost down to just $70 a year or $0.20 a day. 

Mac in Cloud is willing to sell you an hour of Mac usage for $1.00 because it costs them as little as $0.008 to loan you that Mac during that hour. That’s a hefty profit margin for Mac.

Decision #8: Should You Offer a Pre-order?

Many factors affect whether a pre-order period will be a good strategy for your book. We explore the pros and cons of the pre-order strategy in Episode 149, How to Setup Pre-Orders for Your Indie Book.

The more pre-orders you get, the more Amazon’s algorithm will like your book, and the more books they will keep “in stock.” Since it’s print-on-demand, they’re not actually “in stock,” but a high number of pre-orders will affect how quickly Amazon fulfills those orders. 

Amazon doesn’t count your pre-order book sales toward its bestseller list on the day your book comes out. It counts pre-orders sales on the day the sale is made. 

If 365 people buy your book each day throughout the year, your book will show as having one sale per day. 

If you can get all those people to buy your book on release day, you’ll be higher on the bestseller list, and it will show as having sold 365 copies in one day. Some people go with the algorithm strategy. Others want that bestseller strategy.

Chautona: I use both strategies. For most books, I don’t do a pre-order because I do want the launch-day buzz.

When people have to wait longer for a book, I will do a pre-order because it stirs excitement, and readers spread the word. I run the pre-order for six weeks.

When I run a pre-order, I drop the price at least one dollar through launch day. When people follow you on Amazon, they’ll get a notification when it releases, and they immediately buy the book. 

Sometimes I put a book on pre-order just to make sure I hit my own deadline. If you don’t meet the pre-order deadline, you go to Amazon jail for a year. 

Thomas Umstattd’s Recommendation:

For your first book, start your pre-order four weeks before your book’s launch date to make sure you have plenty of time to get your Amazon page exactly right. Don’t put your book up for pre-order until your book is completely ready. Don’t risk going to Amazon jail for a pre-order.

If this is your second book, listen to our pre-order episode to better understand the strategy and the algorithm. 

Decision #9: What kind of company will I form? 

I am not a lawyer or a CPA, and neither is Chautona. The following advice is general education, not legal or tax advice. Talk to an actual lawyer or CPA for specific legal guidance on your situation. 

I did study business law in college, and I have formed a few companies myself.

Every indie author starts a business. Some do it on purpose, and some do it without realizing it. You don’t become an employee of Amazon when they pay you royalties. Amazon pays you like you are a publishing company and not an employee. You don’t get a W2, benefits, or paid time off from Amazon because you are not an employee. You are a business.

Option 1: Sole Proprietorship

You have several options for forming a company. If you do nothing and just enter your Social Security Number, you effectively form a sole proprietor. A sole proprietorship is easy and cheap, at least upfront. In the US, if you say you’re a business, you are. 

But sole proprietorships have no liability protection. If you get into a car accident, someone could sue you and take ownership of your book. 

Or if you write about another person in a negative light, someone could sue you for libel and try to take away your car. 

If you’re writing fiction, you don’t have a high risk for liability, but that doesn’t mean there is no liability at all. The liability risk can be higher for nonfiction. 

Option 2: Limited Liability Company (LLC)

Many authors form a Limited Liability Company (LLC) for liability protection. An LLC can make you look more professional since your LLC can have a company name, and some authors like to have their books indie-published under their company name. Your LLC owns your books and keeps them separate from the rest of your activities. 

An LLC can also help with managing your intellectual property after you die. Once you die, the copyright lasts for 75 more years. This means you may have descendants who are not born yet who may be managing your copyright. If you are not careful, your book could be lost to history before it gets a chance to enter the public domain. 

Forming an LLC offers potential tax advantages for authors. You get to choose which chapter of the tax code you want to apply to your business. To learn more about LLCs, how they are taxed, and how it affects authors, check out our course, The Tax and Business Guide for Authors, taught by my dad, Tom Umstattd, CPA, who has worked with authors for nearly 40 years.

Forming an LLC is more complicated than a sole proprietorship. It will take some money and a bit of work to set it up.

Option 3: General Partnership

My business law professor told us horror stories about general partnerships. They have the liability downsides of a sole proprietorship and include “joint and several” liability with your partner. That means, if you coauthor a book with someone else and don’t legally define your relationship, you could be considered a general partnership without having done any paperwork. In that case, if your partner/coauthor had a car accident, you could potentially lose your house as a result of their accident, even if you were not in the car. 

My business law professor made us swear never to form a general partnership on purpose and to be careful not to get into one by mistake. I want to pass that advice along to you. If you are working with someone else on your book, form an LLC and define the relationship with a contract. Everyone loses when general partnerships go to court. 

Thomas Umstattd’s Recommendation:

If you’re planning to write more than one book, I recommend forming an LLC before publishing your first book. You can do it fairly easily through LegalZoom.com, which charges as little as $79 to help you set up your LLC.

Chautona: I agree. If I could change three things about my author career, I would start an LLC first, have a separate Amazon account for my author business, and seek out professionals who know the indie author business, which is easier to do now than it was in 2009. 

Decision #10: Should You Register Your Copyright?

By law, if you create it, you own the copyright. You are not required to file that copyright in order to own it. If you jot down a poem on a napkin, you own the copyright for that poem.

In terms of US law, registering a copyright doesn’t seem that important. 

However, you can register your copyright with the United States copyright office for $40-$100, depending on what kind of copyright you buy. In exchange, you get a government document that states you own the copyright. That’s it—a piece of government paper. 

For a long time, I did not recommend that authors register their copyright. I didn’t feel it gave them any protection they didn’t already have. I thought it was a waste of time and money because if you are in court, you have already lost financially, even if you win. 

However, I have changed my mind about registering the copyright. 

US law is not the only law you have to worry about as an indie author. There is a higher law that applies even if you are outside of the United States. 

Amazon law. 

Big tech companies are now so powerful that governments pay them taxes rather than the other way around. When Amazon wants to set up a new headquarters somewhere, it demands that the local government pay taxes or “incentives” to Amazon. Amazon wanted New York to give it over a billion dollars in “incentives” to build a headquarters in the state. 

These companies can cancel a sitting US president, and nothing can stop them.

Indie authors end up in Amazon court all the time, but there is no courtroom where you can face your accuser. There’s just a murky haze of customer success representatives from around the world who may or may not have the authority to resolve your issue. 

If someone else claims that they are the author of your book and claims to own the copyright, and they register that complaint with Amazon, Amazon may pull your book from their store, thinking you are the plagiarizer! If that happens, the faux author will receive money from the sales of your book. 

What is the best way to prove you own your book? Register your copyright, take a picture of that piece of paper, and send it to Amazon. Amazon puts a lot of stock into registered copyrights.

Many authors don’t register the copyright because they want to save money and avoid the hassle.

Chautona: I 100% agree. I have that piece of paper for my traditional books. But if you get into a multi-author book set and it disbands, it will be difficult to show Amazon you own the copyright because it was originally under someone else’s name.

Thomas Umstattd’s Recommendation:

Spend the money and register the copyright. 

Sponsor

2021 Book Launch Blueprint 

Chautona: I spent $1,100 on a different book launch program. It was money well spent, but I was still floundering. When Thomas came out with the Book Launch Blueprint, I told my husband I was going to spend more money because I knew Thomas and Jim would do a good job. Interestingly, it was mostly the same information, but the way Thomas and Jim laid it out was so doable. 

The people launching books in the group are doing amazing work. Thomas, Jim, and Mary really nailed how to make it accessible. It doesn’t feel daunting like that other program. The Book Launch Blueprint is fun. 

Thomas: If you’re interested in joining us, registration for the 2021 Book Launch Blueprint ends on April 9, 2021. 

Novel Marketing patrons save $100 off the price of the course. There’s a link on Patreon to activate that discount. 

Featured Patron

Amanda Wen author of Roots of Wood and Stone  (Affiliate Link)

Garrett Anderson just wanted to clean out his grandmother’s historic farmhouse before selling it, but his carefully ordered plan runs up against two formidable obstacles: Sloane, who’s fallen in love with the house, and his own heart, which is irresistibly drawn to Sloane.                                                                                                    

You can become a Novel Marketing Patron here.

Liked it? Take a second to support Thomas Umstattd Jr. on Patreon!

Want more?

Get a weekly email with tips on building a platform, selling more books, and changing the world with writing worth talking about. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This