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Self-Publishing Comparisons

Nancy Lininger

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I asked: I am about ready to self-publish my first book. There are true self-publishers that print what you submit (e.g., Lulu.com), and there are others with value-added services. (e.g., cover design, interior design, copy edit, distribution, and more). I don't want to do it all myself and am willing to pay for services. What are your experiences with Advantage Media (a break-away from Advantage Books), AuthorHouse, Infinity, and others? There is a big price differential — do you get what you pay for?

— Fern Reiss

First of all, “true” self-publishing is when you set up the publishing house and general-contract all the pieces yourself; Lulu is one of the dozens of companies that has sprung up that’s in the category of subsidy/print-on-demand companies (AuthorHouse, Infinity, XLibris, iUniverse), which offers printing (and as you point out, sometimes other services such as design, marketing, distribution).

Do you need just a few copies of your book to hand out at presentations and sell from your Web site? Then any of these POD/subsidy companies might be fine (though the price points per book will be substantially higher than if you printed it yourself at a book printer.) If you want your book to end up in bookstores and libraries, however, you can *not* use a subsidy/pod publisher: The trade press (Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, etc.) won’t review subsidy books generally, and the bookstores will not purchase them. (They will review and purchase true self-published books.) There are several articles on this on my Web site (www.PublishingGame.com) if you want to read more.

If you really want to self-publish and have your book available in bookstores, without doing a lot of the work, I’d go with a consultant (who can walk you through the steps which you can then assign to a virtual assistant to implement) or a book shepherd, who will actually implement the steps for you. Going with a print on demand/subsidy company is almost never a good idea, if you want the books to end up in bookstores.

— Rita Smircich

I have to tell you about the wonderful experience I had. I recently published my first book on LuLu. I wanted my book to be published with the cover, layout and words that I wanted.

I had heard about Advantage Media but when I wanted someone to look at my book I didn’t trust it to just anyone. I feared that someone doing a summer intern job was going to get my book and I’d be at the hands of 1) someone with little experience, 2) someone with very little knowledge about what I wrote about and 3) someone who would slant my book to their thinking. So I went to an expert.

I am president of a woman’s organization. We have a member, Deirdre Silberstein, who has worked in the publishing world for many years. She headed up global communication divisions for a top company plus worked for publishing companies. I can’t say enough wonderful things about Deirdre! She took me by the hand and helped me through the whole process of publishing my book. She researched my industry, gave me solid, well thought out suggestions, researched the whole self-publishing world, and edited my book. It was worth every cent I paid her.

Her contact information is: Deirdre Silberstein of Silberstein and Associates, 203/329-7564, desilbe@attglobal.net. I’m sure she can help you.

— Justin Driscoll

I used Authorhouse and enjoyed the process. I spent nearly $1,000 when it was all said and done. That however does not include my first order of books.

I did not use their full services like cover design. I had a friend who does book covers on the side do it for me.

I do like their Web site/order processing. When someone orders a book from your Authorhouse Web site or Amazon, BN, etc... Authorhouse processes everything for you. I never have to do anything. The only down side is you don’t make much when they order through an Internet retailer. I think I made $1.50 per book from Amazon and $5 a book from Authorhouse. My book is only $12.

I am not sure which route I am going to take on my next book but I have defiantly learned a lot after this first experience.

— Cathy Newton

I employed Advantage Media Group to publish my new book and was delighted with the entire process. Every staff person I worked with — sales, editing, cover design, publicity — was professional, friendly, knowledgeable and wonderfully creative. They worked WITH me and FOR me in crafting a book that I am very proud of. They kept me informed and in the loop on every step of the process — from title selection to final printing.

I am very pleased with my book, the process, the relationship — and have even retained them for PR too. I highly recommend that you contact Ben Toy at Advantage Media btoy@advantageww.com and check out the options they offer.

— Paul Thornton

I have had a good experience with WingSpan Press. I have published 3 books with them.

— Wayne Perkins

I have used both Author House (which used to be called 1stbooks) and Trafford Publishing which are both Print-on-demand publishers. I investigated many others before choosing those two.

With POD I would recommend that you only pop for the print services. With Author House you have to price your book according to their specs which is based on page count and NOT on the value you are offering. This means you may make about $2 on a paperback book.

I like Trafford better because they allow you to charge whatever you want for a book. You can charge $300.00 for a 100-page manual or book if you desire, which would return about $290 in profit for you. This is not possible with many PODs.

Trafford is expensive but they do a good job and they get an ISBN number for you. And you can get 500 or 1000 books printed for a special sale in about 48 hours and drop shipped to your venue.

By the way, if you pre-sell your books at seminars or back of the room at events it may be a good strategy NOT to have an ISBN number and say “My book is available at your local bookstore.”

Bookstores are the very worst places to sell books. Just ask Dan Poynter or John Kremer, both experts on self-publishing. As a speaker do you want a Barnes and Noble calling you from Raleigh, NC to ask how they can order one book from you? You don’t even find out who your customer is? Plus it is not profitable. They won’t order multiples, just one book at a time.

Ingram and Baker & Taylor are the two book wholesalers that monopolize the market. They make sure that after you ship books to distributors or bookstores, you end up getting paid 90-120 days after the sale. (If you get paid at all)

If you sell from your Web site you get paid up front and ship out when you feel comfortable...not so in the traditional book distributing world. If you put a link from your Web site to Amazon.com, your clients hit your Web site, go and buy from Amazon.com or a second hand store Amazon.com recommends and you either get paid down the road from Amazon.com or NOT get paid if your client buys from the second hand store. Also you don’t find the identity of your client.

You give up finding the customer’s info, make a couple of bucks from Amazon.com and give up 60% of the selling price of your book.

The original client who landed on your Web site could have been someone who could use your consulting services or someone who could book you as a speaker.

For my next book, I am going to use LuLu, and use Trafford later after I make several revisions. I like making revisions from the feedback from my paying customers. (This is not possible when you secure an ISBN because any changes require you to assign another ISBN.) Changes like covers, pages, graphics, format, etc.

For a professional speaker/consultant a book is two things. It is a brochure and it can be a profit center. Most of the time it is a money pit and not a profit center.

A book in a bookstore may not reach the decision movers and shakers you wish to build your business on. However your speaking and consulting definately can reach who you want to reach.

— Susan Roane

Dr. Judith Briles. She has self-published books, headed the Colorado Independent Publishers and works with clients such as yourself. She consulted with Connie Glaser whose book looks better than most on the bookstore shelves. www.coloradobookshepherd.com

— Carol Pierce

When determining the best route to go with your self-published book, you must ask yourself:

  • Why do I want to publish this book,
  • How credible do I wish to become, and
  • Who do I wish to make the most money — me or the publisher?

There is no one right way to get a book published, but true self-publishing is your hiring the proper resources to do those parts of the job you don’t have the skills or the time or even care to do yourself.

But the best part of the entire situation is that each author is the one who gets the profits from book sales, not the very minimal return on the dollar received from going with a “publisher,” whether it is one of the vanity presses or the print-on-demand “publishers” listed in your comments.

  • If you don’t mind having someone else tell you how your book is going to look and be instead of how you truly envision it;
  • If you don’t mind having your book printed exactly as you send it to that “publisher” without the truly professional input it deserves and in which you are more than willing to invest; and
  • If you don’t mind doing all the work necessary to put your manuscript together in the way you conceive in your mind you want your book to look, doing all the marketing yourself, and having the “publisher” make the majority of the money,

... then one of those routes mentioned may be the best one for you.

Once that book comes off the printing presses, it is your legacy forever ... and people will judge you from that moment on by how professional your book looks ... that’s just human nature.

— Dorinda Nicholson

Leathers Publishing (www.leatherspublishing.com) in Overland Park, KS has a great reputation and will do it all for you.

Two of my friends have used iUniverse (www.iuniverse.com) out of Lincoln, NE who took their manuscript as-is.

My husband and I have self-published two books on our own. Didn’t mean to, but the publisher of the first book wasn’t publishing anymore, so we decided to take it on ourselves to keep the books in print. (we only do our own products and sell online).

— Gayle Martin

I’ve recently been working with Wheatmark publishing out of Tucson, Arizona. So far I’ve been happy with the results. Their Web site is www.wheatmark.com.

— Sandra Shelton

Judi Lake (www.judilake.com) is a pro working with authors in self-publishing if she connects with your content. She is a masterful designer and will connect you to the print on demand publisher who is the only one we know of who gets you on major distribution lists, not just their in-house list. Give her a call and see if it’s a match. In my opinion, you’ll be grateful you did. I use her services exclusively now.

— Judi Lake

I would advise you to stay away from Author House and houses like that as you will lose your rights as a self-published author. You need to do your homework and know what you are doing before you venture into this.

— Jeff Dobkin

There is a HUGE difference in not only what you pay, but also in what you get. As important as what you get is what they leave out — and chances are you’ll have to pay for those things later.

Like marriage, or the acquisition of a tractor, you need to make some tough decisions that you’ll have to live with for a long time. Here are my thoughts and what I recommend.

Get the interior and the cover quoted separately. The cover is art, the interior is type.

If you wrote the book, rough out the important images and wording on the cover and make a few sketches. Now you can get the cover laid-out at any ad agency.

Separate editing from layout, printing, publishing — as all four are very different animals.


Call around to English departments at local schools and colleges and ask the instructor if he or she knows any editors. Tell them if you want a heavy edit, light edit or just the deft touch of a grammarian to go over your work. You can also find folks like this on the Internet if you look.

Send everyone the first ten pages and see what the different editing styles are.


You can layout everything in Word and there are thousands of samples of what your book should look like — just go to any bookstore and find one you’d like to emulate. Bring a ruler and measure overall book trim size, interior gutter and outside page margins, header and footer margins — and duplicate. I guarantee no one will look at your book and say, “Hmmm ... this layout looks exactly like _____!” Ain’t happening. Just be consistent on every page, every chapter.

While you’re there, get the front matter from a book you like and copy it — it’s OK, really.


Now that its edited and laid out you need to get it printed. You can get tons of quotes online from POD printers. Print On Demand presses mean you no longer need press runs in the thousands to buy books cheaply. In small quantities POD printers rule the market. The cutoff is about a thousand books — under that go POD, with quantities longer than that traditional printing is cheaper. Here’s what I sent around to get my last book quoted for printing:

Please quote on initial test runs of our new title,
Direct Marketing Strategies
Trade Paperback
Quantities: 100, 300, 500, 2,500
Format: 6 x 9, Pages: 224
Interior Text: Black ink only, no halftones
Stock: 60lb. Natural. Acid Free. Higher bulk if you have it so the PPI is larger and we have a larger spine
Cover 12pt C1s, + Film Laminated, 2 color
File format: PDF or InDesign (you choose).

Terms you may not know: PPI is pages per inch — how many sheets of paper will it take to make one inch? I like bulkier paper as it creates a larger spine — which is all that is seen in a bookstore shelf.

12pt C1s means 12-point stock (thicker cover stock), C1s is coated one side — this is a sheet with a high gloss coating on one side.

All the printers I sent to responded, the cost per book varied between — get this — $19 a copy to $3 a copy. I am now getting samples from winning bids, and will check a few references.


Depending on how much they like your pitch or query letter, publishers will do from nothing and very little, to getting your book in print and onto a few shelves in stores, to giving you a big advance and a substantial royalty and getting your book on a display near the cash register in every bookstores.

A lot of it is political and hype. Lousy books abound and top sellers are created by huge media dollars instead of merit. If you have a choice, go for the big advance — the publisher will then invest more money in marketing to try to earn back his advance with better sales.


The vanity publishers charge you for everything and usually make their money on services. You can pay them to do everything, with each turn of the wheel costing you and arm and a leg, and never any assurances of success. Beware of hype in this theater. You need to market your own book, and they may charge you 70% of list when you buy them. Yuck.

— Shel Horowitz

There’s a huge difference between true self-publishing and going with a subsidy company like AuthorHouse or Infinity. The key is who owns the ISBN.

If you are not the publisher of record and one of the subsidies (including Lulu) is, then there are significant consequences in your marketing and distribution plan. OTOH, if you’re only planning to sell at your speeches, this won’t matter.

— Jim Donovan

I don’t want to be the fly in the ointment but ... I don’t like most of these companies. Of the bunch, if I had to pick, I’d go with Infinity because I’ve met the executives and because they were in printing before all this happened.

Hire designers separately (about $1,000 for cover and maybe another for interior — or less). The design you get from POD people is awful.

You can hire copy editors as well (for less than the POD charge).

You then go directly to someone to print. I like short run to get started and have used Lightning Source, only because they can handle all the bookstore fulfillment since they’re owned by Ingram. I’ve also printed with Fidlar-Doubleday (no connection to Doubleday books). You can print as few as 25 copies.

Order 100. Give away 50 to “seed” the market and sell the other 50 because it feels good to put cash in your pocket from the book.

My main objection to the POD people is you pay WAY too much for your book.

You’ll pay $9 for a book that retails for $18, which I can get done for $3.50. At the $9 price you can’t wholesale or make any deals and, if you’re selling at your own seminars, you give that up too.

BTW — That same book in larger quantities would be $1 but I discourage printing thousands until you know where and how you’re going to sell them, otherwise you have a garage filled with books.

— Marv Marshall

I use two services that both exhibited at the NSA convention: Pam Terry and Sheridan Books. Pam Terry (opus1design.com) does all my interior work, Robert Howard (www.bookgraphics.com) does my cover — recommended by Dan Poynter — and Sheridan Books does my printing.

— Cheryl Pickett

I've spent a couple of years researching different publishing venues. Here are my two cents:

The term self-publishing has come to mean two different things. Many experts note that POD companies like you mention do not truly allow self-publishing. One big reason is that the ISBN is not assigned to you (unless they allow you to use your own), therefore, you are not the publisher of record when you go through one of them (takes the "self" aspect out somewhat). Also, you have little control over other aspects like printing, shipping etc. You get what they offer.

If on the other hand, you set yourself up as the publisher, you control every single aspect and are self-published in the truer sense. See www.parapublishing.com or www.booksjustbooks.com for tons of info about that.

As far as the companies you did mention, Lulu is definitely DIY. Most of the others offer similar services and you need to compare apples to apples, as the biggest difference is cost.

I would recommend you check out www.Booklocker.com and all of the info there. They are very straightforward.

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