Eventually, after all the writing and editing and looking for agents and all that, eventually, in my case at least, it was time to give up on the agents (for now) and self-publish the book.
Not very long ago, self-publishing meant the author would have to dig into his or her own pockets to find the money to pay for a print run of books. That's not just printing, that's typesetting, page makeup, proofing, page and cover design, printing, binding, shipping...you get the idea. What it was, was expensive.
Back in a prior life, when I owned and ran printing companies, we used to say it was the first copy that was the expensive one. Once all the equipment was set up and running, making more copies was incredibly cheap. But it was getting the equipment (and the typesetting and the page makeup, etc) set up that cost all the money.
So, back in the day, you had to buy larger quantities to bring the unit cost down to something manageable. Self-publishing authors would typically buy a thousand or two of their books and then work their butts off for who knows how many years trying to unload them. And, all the time--or at least most of the time--they were out of pocket the full production cost.
It was a hard way to make any money.
But today, that's all changed.
What we have today are two things that have completely changed the landscape of publishing and, in particular, self-publishing. They are eReaders (think Kindle and Nook) and print-on-demand. Let's talk about this last, first.
Print on demand, or POD, is exactly what it sounds like. My book is available from Amazon, but they keep none, zero, in inventory. If you order a book, they print a book. Usually, the same day. And, while that used to be an impossibly difficult and expensive proposition, with today's technology it's a snap. Think: fancy copiers.
The POD technology is basically a digitally-driven copier. I'm sure Amazon would like to characterize it differently but at the end of the day that's, if not accurate, then at least about as close and you and I are going to understand it. But the thing is, the quality is very good. Very good.
What does it take to get your book into print?
I published my print version through Amazon's CreateSpace. You need two things: (1) a file they can import containing the contents of the book, and (2) a file they can use which has the cover art.
If you can't, or don't want to, make either of these, they have extra-cost services to do them for you. In my case, I did them myself. Although they accept several formats, my contents were done in Microsoft Word. If you go the the CreateSpace web site, you'll find detailed instructions on how to prepare your copy for publishing. It's a little tedious, but it's not particularly hard to do.
Then you have to make up a cover. I did mine in Adobe Photoshop. If you're less graphically inclined, you may want to pay someone to do this for you but designing book covers is well within my wheelhouse so I did it myself. The eventual output was a PDF file of the entire cover.
Then you upload them.
Uploading is, well, uploading. It's easy and pretty quick. Then, at Amazon at least, an automated process takes over. After it processes your upload for a few minutes, you will be sent to a viewer that will show you exactly how your book looks--in two-page spreads--including page size, margins, and so on. It will highlight any issues you may need to look at. In my case, it took some fiddling to get the margins inside their printable area. Also, I spent a lot of time trying to get chapters and sections to break how and where I wanted.
But, I'm kind of anal about things like that.
When all of that was done to both their and my satisfaction, it was time to look at a proof. And, what do they provide as a proof? A full printed and bound copy, of course. With the word PROOF printed in huge letters on the last inside page.
Because I did my own guts and cover, it wasn't until I ordered the proof that I first had to open my wallet. It cost five bucks and change.
I spent more for lunch yesterday than it cost to get a printed 400 page book.
Once I had the first proof, I found more things to fiddle with, of course. So, I adjusted my files and re-uploaded them, re-reviewed them, and so on until I was happy. I could have ordered additional proofs if I'd wanted but the first one told me what I needed to know about how what I sent would end up, which is to say, just like what I'd sent.
You need a separate file for an eBook. While the printed book requires you add things like page numbers (assuming you want them, which you do), eBooks don't have page numbers. Or, more accurately, the eBook readers add the page numbers themselves based on your screen size, font selection, etc.
I used Kindle Direct, another Amazon company, for my Kindle version and LULU.com for the other formats like Nook, iBook, etc. Both used pretty much the same file and, again, just like with the book, there are detailed instructions about how to prepare the file available at both sites.
In all cases, I got to determine my prices. With the printed book, naturally, there's more overhead and therefore more cost, than with eBooks. For the eBooks, authors get to keep about 70% of the cost if the price is over $1.99 (or so). With the paperback, on a list price of $16.99, my cut is about six bucks. But both of these, remember, is profit with nothing upfront out of pocket.
The downside of self-publishing is that while it's easy to get into print--whether real or virtual--it's up to you to provide the marketing, to drive folks to your books. And, I can tell you, that's harder than you'd expect it to be. But, on the other hand, it's surprisingly satisfying to see your book listed there on Amazon and to watch as people start posting great reviews, and as sales begin to build.
If you have a book in you--or already in your computer--give it a try. What the heck? It's easy, and it's cheap and--who knows?--maybe you are the next Tom Clancy.