Although many readers today have grown accustomed to reading digital copies of their favorite novels, the urge to hold paper in their hands and smell the pages is something readers from around the world will always cherish. Whether it’s to reminisce about reading as a child or to escape from the world of electronics, there will always be a market for printed books.
Unfortunately, many indie authors are intimidated about the process of setting up paperbacks for sale to their reader base. I run into authors all the time who say they’re going to start selling paperbacks…soon. When I ask why they haven’t done it yet, the answer is almost always the same.
I’ve heard horror stories about the process for getting paperbacks made.
I’m not sure how these rumors started, but I’d like to dispel a few myths about setting up paperbacks as an indie author. Hopefully, you’ll be encouraged to give paper a try and make one more media format available to your readers.
Myth #1: Printed books are expensive to order
There was a time when getting a book printed required a contract with a publisher and a huge outlay of cash for the inventory that comes from a “print run.” Fortunately, those days are over. By using sites like KDP, any author can print books without any costs beyond whatever they spent for their ebook. No inventory is needed because books are printed on demand when an order is placed, which means there isn’t any risk of the author getting stuck with cases of books in their garage for years to come. When an order is placed, Amazon will keep the “cost” of printing the book and the author will be paid the balance of the price as their royalty. And unlike with ebooks, there isn’t a price cap on paperbacks. The author gets to choose their print price, so if they don’t want to markup the cost at all, they can set the price to be the same as the book cost. And on the flip side, if an author wants to sell their book for $100 and the actual print cost is only $4.00, the royalty for each printed book sold would be $96. Of course, for most fictional novels, the price is likely to be in the $8-15 range, depending on the number of pages and the genre. But it’s one of the few areas in which authors truly do have pricing control–don’t be afraid to use it.
Myth #2: ISBNs are expensive to order
Okay, this isn’t actually a myth. What is a myth is that buying an ISBN is necessary for publishing a paperback. Just like with most of the ebook retailers, you do not have to ‘bring your own’ ISBN to many of the print-on-demand publishers. If you decide to use a service like KDP, you can take advantage of their free ISBN. They’ll take care of registering the number and setting up your barcode for you, and more importantly, it’ll save you hundreds of dollars. I’ve published over 100 paperbacks in four languages, and I’ve never purchased a single ISBN. I just accept the free number from the retailer I’m with and save my money for marketing. But if you want to have your own ISBN, I’m told Bowker is the place to go. They often offer promo codes, so ask your author friends about discounts before you make a purchase. And if they offer to sell you some of theirs at a discount, don’t be surprised. Just ask yourself why you need one. When I ask authors why they buy ISBNs, they always say it’s so they can maintain control. But what are they controlling that they can’t control with a free ISBN? As far as I can tell, the answer is NOTHING. So before you shell out a few hundred bucks for a personalized ISBN, just know you can literally be a six or seven-figure indie author without ever spending a penny on ISBNs.
Myth #3: I don’t know how to format TOCs and page numbers and all that techy stuff
Again, this might be true for you, but you don’t need to have any fancy formatting skills to set up a paperback. Of course, you can make your book’s interior as fancy as you want it, but if you’re just trying to get a nice and readable book on the shelf, it can be a painless process. In fact, any word processing program should be able to add a Table of Contents with a few clicks, and that’s probably the most complicated part of the setup. If you’ve never done it before, there are videos online that will show you step-by-step tutorials that are easy to follow. If you work on a Mac, software like Vellum will do all the heavy lifting for you. You can import a very basic manuscript into the tool, and it will convert your book into ebook and printed formats that make it simple to quickly upload beautiful files to your book distributor. Personally, I use Vellum, and when I’m ready to make paperbacks, it literally takes less than ten minutes for me to set up the details, upload the files, and approve the digital draft for publishing. In most cases, my paperbacks are orderable on Amazon six to ten hours after upload.
Myth #4: No one buys paperbacks anyway…
This is definitely a myth. In many genres, paperbacks are still very popular among readers. Not only are they beautiful on the bookshelf, but they’re one of the best ways for readers to share their favorite novels with friends. Most of us grew up passing books back and forth between friends, and although it’s often possible to loan ebooks, it’s not the same. There can also be a time limit set on ebooks. For people that have trouble reading on screens or just don’t want to be tied to their charger on a regular basis, paper is still king. If you don’t offer your book in a printed format, you’re missing out on an important group of readers.
Myth #5: KDP only works for Amazon
Although KDP is an Amazon company, you can distribute paperbacks to most of the major book sellers online. By selecting Expanded Distribution when you’re pricing your book, your paperbacks will be sold on sites like BarnesandNoble.com, BooksaMillion, and even libraries. Of course, there isn’t a guarantee that libraries will choose to order your books, but it puts you one step closer to getting your books on shelves in U.S. and International markets. And if your books are in KDP Select (Kindle Unlimited), you can still sell your paperbacks on other sites, so it’s a great way to go wide while keeping your ebook in the KU program.
This list might not cover every question you have about selling paperbacks, but I hope it gives you some assurance that adding a tangible book can be fast, easy, and lucrative to even the least technical indie author. And if you’re still uncomfortable with the idea of doing it yourself, companies like mine, The Paperback Lady, will do all work for you for a flat rate. Regardless of how it gets done, there’s no reason you can’t fill your bookshelves with your own beautifully printed library.