How to Self-Publish

By Ramon Gil
February 24, 2023
Essays

Back in the mid ‘90s, I remember attending a house party in Williamsburg with a bunch of A4 staff. There was a young woman I was talking to who dismissed our in-print newsletter simply by saying, “print is dead.” Needless to say, this irked me! And happily, 30 years later, here I am again with A4, giving advice on how to self-publish your own publication.

There are many reasons why someone would want to self-publish. For many, it’s because they have a story to tell or a message they are passionate about. For others, it could be because they want to showcase their work. It can also be a marketing tool, evidencing one’s knowledge or authority. It can even be a potential source of income.

I’ve been professionally published on several occasions (articles, comics, and a children’s storybook) but prefer self-publishing for the creative control, quicker turnaround times, and potential to keep more of the profit.

While it isn’t the easiest thing in the world, self-publishing also isn’t rocket science. Here are some helpful tips and steps you need to know:

1.
DESIGN AND LAYOUT

Assuming you already have your content and that it’s been proofed and edited, you’ll want to have a good page layout designed. Avoid cramming every page with text from margin to margin. Be sure to have some negative space and break up the copy with subheads, pull quotes, and images. If the physical size of your book is larger than a pocketbook, I would also avoid having one column of text running across the whole page; this makes for seemingly longer reads. Two column formats are great and give you more layout options to play with.

As for software, Adobe InDesign would be preferable but you can also use Canva, which is free, or even Microsoft Word. Hiring a professional designer, if you can, is also highly recommended.

2.
PRINTING

The traditional way of printing would be on an offset printing press. This involves chemically etched plates that press ink against sheets of paper. This is the best and cheapest option if you’re dealing with large quantities (1,000 or more). Also note that printing in black-and-white is cheaper than printing with two, three, or in full color (four colors). Paper quality, page count, book size, binding, and cover (soft vs hard) also affect price. Printing abroad can be significantly cheaper, however shipping will cost a lot more and may take weeks.

Digital printing, meanwhile, just uses toner ink which gets lasered onto the paper electronically. This is what you would get if you sent your files to print at consumer copy centers like Staples or UPS. Here, the cost per unit is usually higher, often double or more of what offset printing costs per piece. The benefit, however, is that you can order smaller quantities. There is also no cost difference between printing in two colors versus four; your only options are black-and-white or full color.

Risograph printing is also a viable option but you’re usually limited in your color choices and not able to print full color. Many artists like its more artisan feel but printers who do Risograph are harder to find.

3.
PRINT-ON-DEMAND
This is digital printing combined with distribution. Here, you send your PDF to a service like IngramSpark or Amazon KDP and they will digitally print copies as they are ordered. They will ship the publication as well. This has the advantage of not requiring any out-of-pocket costs or storage on your part. The service collects the money that pays for the print from whoever is purchasing the book and then sends you your cut. The downside is that the per unit cost is typically higher so you will likely need to charge more for your publication. If you go this route and find lots of people are buying, then you can do an offset print run later, and adjust pricing.
4.
PUBLISHING ONLINE
This method is practically free. You can sell your book on Amazon Kindle or post it online for free on ISSUU or other similar platforms. The downside is that you won’t have a tangible book to hold in your hand and people in general don’t want to pay for digital content. But it’s free to publish!
5.
CROWDFUNDING

If you are going to print your book, you need money to pay for it. Crowdfunding is a great way to make this happen, especially if the topic of your book may be of interest to a lot of people. Platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are also great for promotion, selling, and distribution.

Try to build up your social media following or, even better, an email list beforehand so you’ll have an audience to announce and sell your crowdfunding campaign to when you do launch. Only ask for the amount you need. Getting people to pledge money can be like pulling teeth and you don’t want to do that any more than you have to. Plus, with platforms like Kickstarter, you don’t get anything if you don’t meet your goal so it’s in your interest to make your target reachable.

Lastly, your rewards should be easy and affordable to ship along with your book. Shipping things like mugs, t-shirts, and anything not flat will eat into your pocket. Rewards like stickers, or signed editions can be a good option. Even better are intangible rewards like getting coffee with the author, digital content, or a credit in the book.

6.
PROMOTING

As I mentioned before, social media and email lists are great, free ways to promote your publication. Figure out which platforms your target audience is mostly using and hit that over and over again. Choose a frequency and be consistent. Whether it’s email, social media posts, or any other form of promotion, make sure the content has value or is entertaining.

Public appearances like panel discussions, bookstore readings, workshops, meetups, comic-cons, online presentations, and webinars are also great ways to not only plug your book but to personally connect with your audience.

7.
GAUGING SUCCESS
Having a book with your name on it is a great feeling; it creates a legacy for all of your hard work. But very rarely does it become a bestseller right out of the gate. So make sure you articulate exactly why you’re publishing this book and what your production goals are and measure your success based on that.

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