January 31, 2005 Program Summary
by Adele Sommers

How to Publish, Price, and Market
Your Own Work

Speaker Lori RaiUntil this packed January 31st event, we never knew how many aspiring authors and information publishers we had in our midst! Filling the audience were people already writing (or planning to write) novels, plays, technical manuals, and various other publications designed to impress their clients and customers.

The event was co-sponsored by the Cuesta College Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in San Luis Obispo, where this self-publishing workshop was previously offered.

Speaker Lori Rai (left), a local business and marketing consultant, shared her story of becoming a published author. She then gave us an overview of what aspiring authors and information developers, working with editors, formatters, and illustrators, can do to create their own printed products and get them into distribution.

This session was designed to be the first of a two-part series covering both printed and digital products. This first event focused primarily on creating printed products. Click here to see the summary of Part 2 (held January 30, 2006).

It all started simply enough...

Lori's fascinating publishing stories began with a client she once had who wanted to create his own booklets and audio tapes on legal consulting. It was her first taste of the publishing process, which has since expanded as a result of publishing her own children's book.

Her book, called “Princess Sheron & the Frog,” was originally written as a gift for her five-year-old grandniece, Sheron. It soon took on a life of its own. No ordinary children's tale, this is a coloring book about a self-confident princess with an MBA who meets, and quickly shirks off the advances of, a macho frog. The story's message — about feeling empowered to grow up, get an education, start a career, and wait to find the right person to settle down with — appealed to everyone who read it.

Attending a book signingSlowly, the momentum began to build. At the urging of her associates, she decided to commission some friends to create illustrations and a layout. After calculating the production costs of printing and packaging the booklet with box of crayons, Lori ultimately stepped into the self-publishing arena.

Now the book is being printed locally (although she also considered an online printing and order fulfillment service). Achievement House supplies the package shrink-wrapping, and Lori markets the book to coastal gift shops and bookstores.

An interesting twist...after first thinking the book would appeal mostly to mothers buying gifts for their young girls, she's found after attending a few book signings that the demand is quite varied. Some women want the book for themselves. Adult men and women of all ages are buying them in bulk — 10 or 12 copies at a time — for female teenage and young adult family members. Will there be sequels or companion products to satisfy their inevitable cravings for more? Lori, at this point, is not quite sure.

Steps you can take to launch your own publishing project

Lori outlined the steps involved in the process, which include the key points below. (More complete information and assistance is available by signing up for free consulting with the SBDC.)

1. Define your publishing project:

  • Select your topic.
  • Determine your target audience. Who's it for?
  • Will you need collaborators? Be sure to consider illustrators, formatters, and editors.
  • For assistance on developing contracts to spell out any profit-sharing arrangements with your collaborators (something other than paying them a flat fee), you can get generic advice from SBDC, but be sure to have a lawyer review your final contract.
  • If you want to verify whether your topic will be popular, check featured books on Amazon.com, see what television shows and movies your target audience is watching, and/or ask local bookstores what's selling well.
  • If developing material for a specialized market such as K-12 education or the movie industry, attend trade shows in these industries and talk to buyers or agents there.
  • Another resource: The annual Cuesta College Writers' Conference held in September is a great place to talk directly to authors, agents, and publishers in various industries.
  • For overall self-publishing help: See the Publishers Marketing Association (PMA) at pma-online.org.

2. Get identification codes and copyrights:

  • ISBN numbers are identification codes given to printed books alone or packaged with other items such as CDs or videos. ISBNs come from only one source: Bowker (www.bowkerlink.com).
  • UPC codes are for non-book items, such as stand-alone videos. UPC codes come from www.uc-council.org.
  • One of these codes is required if you want someone else, such as a distributor, to market your product. Otherwise, you can market the product yourself without a code.
  • You can formally copyright your work (highly suggested for ultimate protection). You can do this online at lcweb.loc.gov/copyright.
  • One other identification option is a Library of Congress Catalog Card Number. You can obtain it through lcweb.loc.gov.

3. Choose a printing service (online or local):

  • Talk to local printers to find out which ones will cater to your self-publishing needs.
  • Online printing services that print books and other publications on demand include Bookmasters (bookmasters.com), Hignell Book Publishing (hignell.mb.ca), and Mimeo (mimeo.com). Check pricing, speed, and flexibility; there's a tradeoff among these areas.

4. Determine your distribution method:

  • If you want your book to appear in major bookstores, decide whether to use a book distributor or distribution center. Distribution centers can take, fill, and ship your orders for you. Book distributors are clearing houses that actually place the books in bookstores.
  • Distribution centers: Some online printing services, such as Bookmasters and Mimeo, also act as distribution centers. You can have them print books that you plan to market on your own, and/or have them print books to be handled by book distributors.
  • Book distributors: One of the most well-known book distributors is Ingram (see www.ingrambook.com or baker-taylor.com). Note that if you use a distribution center like Bookmasters, Ingram will automatically become your distributor.
  • If you are having your books printed locally, and plan to market them entirely on your own, you won't need these services.

5. Estimate production costs and price your product:

  • Add up the cost of printing (say, 1,000 copies), illustrations, cover art, marketing, and distribution, and divide by the number of copies to get your actual cost per book.
  • Double the actual cost to get the wholesale price. Double the wholesale price to get an approximate retail price, but assume a 5% margin for error. Then try to determine whether you can produce more cheaply and still sell at the retail price.
  • Not sure what to charge? Ask local bookstores for advice.
  • You'll need a reseller's license if you plan to sell any physical products on your own (since you'll need to account meticulously for the state taxes you will owe).

6. Market your published creation:

  • Local bookstores and gift shops are a great place for local authors to start. There's a strong desire to “buy locally owned and operated or produced” on the Central Coast.
  • If you want to try the big online stores, such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble, be aware that they will squeeze out a large percentage of your profit. You must be using a print-on-demand service such as Bookmasters for them to even consider you. You'll also be charged extra for shelf stocking, un-stocking, and return shipping.
  • You can always sell your books yourself, give them away as promotions, or package them with professional services.

Photograph provided by Lori Rai.

How to Publish, Price, and Market Your Own Work
Date: Monday evening, January 31, 2005

Lori Rai is a business instructor and consultant with the Mission Community Services Corporation (MCSC). As a longtime entrepreneur and business owner, she's gained broad expertise that she now shares with aspiring authors and small business owners in the community, and advises people interested in publishing their own work. You can reach Lori at 805-473-9025.


How to Publish, Price, and Market Your Own Work provided an overview of the steps involved in creating, printing, and selling your own printed material — which could be anything from children's books to technical manuals — all without courting an agent or seeking a traditional publishing house.

The goal was to learn how the world of self-publishing is transforming the information industry, and to spark attendees' imaginations about new ways to put their talents to work. Whether contemplating the next great American novel...or creating an authoritative booklet or manual to enhance one's professional credibility, the possibilities are endless!


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