Wednesday, September 10, 2014

It's Not Like Making a Peanut-Butter-and-Jelly Sandwich But It's Not Rocket Science, Either, or: How I Did My POD (And You Can, Too)

Just in the past month I've had so many of my writer friends and historians ask me how I made my print-on-demand (POD) paperback books,

and the superb Spanish translation by Mexican poet and novelist Agustín Cadena, USA edition,

Francisco I. Madero y su libro secreto, Manual espírita
-- the latter goes live in just a couple of days--

and knowing that many of you, dear readers, are writers, many with the same concerns about publishing, I post my answer herewith.

Now, I don't pretend to be the expert. That said, it's important to keep in mind that major innovations in digital publishing and also in book distribution and fulfillment are so recent, and a-morphing by the moment, that even the experts-- those who've set up web pages and offer to consult or even undertake to do it for you-- may not know that much more than what you can figure out for yourself. Or they may. Caveat emptor. And just try to keep your seatbelt on and your eyes uncrossed.

(I won't get into the pros and cons of self-publishing vs. traditional publishing, whether with a commercial, small or university press; that's another blog post for another time-- and on that subject, see some of the links for further reading below. I am what is now termed a "hybrid author," one with books published by traditional presses-- in my case, University of Georgia Press, University of Utah Press, Milkweed Editions, Planeta and Random House-Mondadori, among others-- and one or more books self-published.)

Screenshot alert! Yes, you can buy my
book from Politics & Prose in Washington DC
--and about a zillion other bookstores'
websites. Yay!
Certainly, you could self-publish your book the old-fashioned way, that is, with offset printing, in which case you would call and email around to printers and get a few estimates… which is a little bamboozling, but Dan Poynter's excellent book explains all about that. If you go this route, probably, if your printer is a good one, the book will turn out looking nicer than a POD and you'll also be allowed a far wider selection of papers, sizing and bindings. 

But with offset printing, the problem is, well, then what will you do with all the books? 

Because with offset printing, the per unit cost of a book is a function of the print run-- and any size print run has to cover the cost of just getting the machines up and running and fed with your specially ordered sheets of paper-- so, to make it worthwhile, you'll probably want to do a print run of at least 1,000-2,000 books. 

Shipping all those books will cost you more than a chunk of change, and all those boxes of books, like an elephant in a coma, will swallow up a heap of space in your basement (unless you want to help your chiropractor buy his weekend house, don't even try to lift them up to the attic). 

And then, how did you plan to distribute the books and fulfill orders? Assuming you have all the time in your life and the iron-clad personality to play salesman. Uyy.

If you go POD, while the per unit cost of printing the book is probably going to be substantially higher, the quality not as good (but pretty good; most readers won't notice the difference), it will be far less expensive for you upfront because you can print only, say, one copy. Or twenty-five. Or 57. Or whatever number you want at the moment, and shipped to wherever you please. Nor will you have to worry about storing them, nor worry about distribution and fulfillment-- if, that is, you use a POD printer that also offers distribution and fullfilment such as's CreateSpace

Plus, since POD is digital, you can easily make corrections. As anyone who has published a book knows, no matter how many times and how many people proofread it, there will be typos. And sometimes, toe-curlingly embarrassing ones. (I'll admit to having updated my PDF several times already, and my book hasn't even been out a year…)

There are many other POD printers, but as of this writing-- September 2014-- hands down, amazon's CreateSpace is your best option. There are several factors to consider, such as cost, customer service, quality, color options, and you can compare and contrast with other POD printers and sellers on a spread sheet… (as did Neal Guillen in his excellent presentation for last years' "Publish Now!" seminar at the Writer's Center), but I am confident you'll come to the same conclusion I did that, all in all, as of 2014, CreateSpace wins.

AS OF 2014

I repeat, "as of 2014." Everything is changing so fast; I have no idea what this landscape will look like it 2015, never mind 2020. (Maybe there will be some kind of quantum nanobot printing, so we can dream our book and wake up to find it waiting for us there by our plate of eggs and bacon. Or, maybe Jeff Bezos will have been beamed up to one of the moons of Jupiter, and we'll all be trying to figure out how to oil a letterpress.)


Key thing to know: CreateSpace is owned by Once you've uploaded your book, at the click of a button, you can list it for sale on both the store and right alongside, say, J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter, or whatever might be best-seller du jour. If someone buys it, whether in the Create Space store or on, amazon will print it and amazon will collect the money from the customer, ship it to the buyer, and then deposit your share of the proceeds (which, by the way, is a far better percentage than the typical royalties you would get from a publisher) directly into your bank account. Oh, and you can buy copies of your own book at a discount better than most traditional publishers offer their authors.

Is that easy, or what? So why waste your time? 




Yes, you do need an ISBN, your book's identifier. You have two choices: get it from CreateSpace, in which case your book will appear with the CreateSpace imprint, or get it yourself from Bowker, in which case it will show your own imprint (mine is Dancing Chiva). If you go the latter route, you will also need to buy a bar code (pictured left), also from Bowker. Just keep your credit card handy and follow the instructions on their website.


Once you've visited that how-page on CreateSpace, you will see that you have the option of delivering a formatted PDF of a file made in Adobe InDesign or paying them a few hundred dollars (very reasonable for this work, by the way) to do that for you.

I went and did something a little bit complicated: I rented the Adobe In-Design software, confident that I could format my book myself, since I had been able to format my magazine and chapbooks in ye olde now defunct Adobe PageMaker. I was much too optimistic, alas; Adobe In-Design is a bit like riding a unicycle for a couple of miles. It can be done! But it's not like making a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich! 

Screenshot of the opening of my book's first chapter in Adobe InDesign.
If you zoom in closer on that dashboard, you might get really scared.
It does look a little Apollo 13-y.

So I hired a graphic designer, a very good one named Rose Q., whom I found on (Is that a typical experience on or was I lucky? I suspect the latter but I do not have enough experience to say.) I already knew precisely how I wanted the book to look (more about book design here), so she basically followed my instructions, formatted it in Adobe InDesign, and sent me the Adobe InDesign file and a PDF, and then I went to CreateSpace and uploaded the PDF. All in all, I was very happy with this path. I can say what CreateSpace charges for book formatting is more than fair (I suspect they outsource to India), though how the quality of the formatting is I do not know. (But I still wanted to learn how to use Adobe InDesign myself, so for another two books, not discussed here, I hired a tutor from with whom I work via Skype. Am I from Palo Alto, or what.)

I logged into CreateSpace, and when they prompted me to select a file to open, I clicked "browse," and a little window opened up wherein I could scroll down to find, in my own computer, the .PDF file. I clicked on that. Then I clicked on the button that said "upload." Peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich. 


You can use a template provided by CreateSpace, though in my opinion those look a little well, Createspace-esque. You could also hire a professional graphic designer, which will cost you a chunk of change. I designed mine myself, incorporating a painting by Kelley Vandiver (with his kind permission), my own photo taken with my iPhone of Casa Piedra Road (that's actually in Texas, don't tell anybody), some fonts I purchased from the Walden Font Co., and then I had my designer do it for me in Adobe InDesign and make the PDF. And I uploaded that. Ta da.

>You can see what my book looks like on the CreateSpace store and on Why not order a copy and then you can really see what it looks like!


This is a two-step process. One is easy, the other is a head-banger. Quantities of Kleenex, your choice.

STEP #1 

Make your book available via a major distributor such as Ingram. 
The reason is that there are so many books and so many different publishers out there that it would be a total migraine for librarians and booksellers to have to place so many different orders with different sellers. Instead, it's, wham, Ingram, done.

If you go the route of CreateSpace, getting your book onto Ingram is just a question of clicking, "yes" on the sign up page for "Expanded Distribution." (No worries, you will see that when you get there.)

I do not know if my choice was a good one or not (time will tell), but since I wanted to use my own imprint (my own ISBN), not CreateSpace's, CreateSpace did not offer both options. So while CreateSpace does my POD for CreateSpace and amazon, to get onto Ingram I went to Ingram Spark. So Ingram distributes it (which just means they make it available to their customers) and when a bookstore or library orders it, Ingram will print it and ship it to them.

Right, my book, same ISBN, is available on amazon / Createspace and Ingram. No problem. And because it is on Ingram it automatically gets listed on major on-line bookstores such as Barnes & Noble and Powell's and a whole bunch of others.

You probably won't find this on the shelf
in any B & N, but you can order it 

on-line from them, yay!

I found Ingram Spark a little frustrating to work with because their customer service, though consistently helpful and kind, was not always available by phone, and by email, they often took as long as 24 hours to answer. CreateSpace, on the other hand, had a telephone number I could call at any time and an actual live human being answered quickly, and then actually answered my questions. (Yea, verily, miracles still happen on Planet Earth.) Also, unlike amazon, Ingram Spark charges a small fee for "market access." But in all, the advantage for me of using Ingram is that now I can market my book to libraries under my own imprint, Dancing Chiva. 

As for brick-and-mortar bookstores, I don't see them being very important for a self-published book on a niche subject such as a mine. 
(Yours, of course, may be a different case, and you might be willing, as I am not, to visit bookstores and try to sell to them directly.) I am assuming that the majority of my sales will be of Kindles and POD paperbacks via amazon. Yep, it is sad (I play a wee violin): most brick-and-mortar bookstores have already gone the way of the brontosaurus. 

Furthermore, my understanding is that most bookstores insist on being able to order whatever quantity they want and then return any unsold books-- at the publishers' or author's expense. When you set up your account on Ingram Spark, you can click that option, allow returns, if you so desire. But know that bookstores are notorious for ordering boxes of books and then returning them-- sometimes without even having brought them out of the back room. Oh well, you could click the option "destroy" the unsold books, however many those might be, if you don't want to pay the cost, whatever that might be, of their return freight. As for me, sorry, if you order my books, they're yours.

Screenshot alert!
My book, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution
is also carried by the famous Powell's on-line bookstore, double yay!

STEP #2. 
I'd never even heard of this store,
but yay, they're offering my POD!
(If you order it, they source it from Ingram.)
You have to market your book. (Grrr. Advil. $$$. Guilt Management 101)
Just because it's for sale on doesn't mean any one will notice it, never mind review it, and just because it's distributed by Ingram, huge step as that may be, doesn't mean, abracadabra, it will sell. 

Marketing a book is a whole different blog post and anyway, I am not the expert, and I am mainly focussed on writing my next book because… that's what I do! 

My own rather lazy-daisy, low-key strategy with Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution has been to give autographed copies to selected individuals (if you teach Mexican history, don't be shy, ask me for a review copy here), blog, guest-blog, do a bit of social media, attend and speak at relevant conferences and wherever they'll have me (thank you, American Literary Translators Association, Rice University, and the UCSD US-Mexico Center, and the major book fair about to make an announcement today Texas Book Festival), give interviews (as for example, here and here and here), and do a postcard campaign to U.S. libraries. 

For postcard campaigns, I can recommend and renting the mailing lists of libraries available on For the latter, hat tip to my fellow Women Writing the West member and very successful self-published author, Susan Wittig Albert, who so generously shares her tips for getting a self-published book into libraries.

For reviews, I might also try later this fall-- though I haven't really gotten my mind around that yet. My understanding is that it's a good way to reach bloggers, teachers, and librarians. (Yes, it costs a few hundred dollars, but it's cheaper than sending that many paperbacks through the mail.)

> Join the Independent Book Publisher's Association for advice, webinars, more resources and discounts-- the discounts alone just about cover the cost of membership. (That's where I got the story straight about CreateSpace and Ingram and first heard about Netgalley.)


As they say, aim for the stars and you won't blast off your toes. I did aim for the stars with my book, I put my heart into it, and I believe it is a paradigm-changing work on the Mexican Revolution, on Francisco I. Madero, and the history of Spiritism. That said, I take my own advice: As a self-published author, in a world where the big publishers still have the money and muscle, it's best for your Kleenex supply to keep your expectations modest.  

(That said: Dear Oprah Winfrey, If you invite me on your show, I promise to be nice. And you might be interested to know that in my book, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual-- fair use-- I quote from your interview with Wayne Dwyer about his "psychic surgery.")

P.S. New York Times best-selling author and also, on occasion, self-published author, marketing guru Seth Godin, offers his perennial words of wisdom for authors > here. < After having published nearly a dozen works over the past 20+ years with publishers both big and small, Yours Truly vouches for Mr. Godin's profound wisdom on this subject and, by the by, sends him a cyber shower of jpeg lotus petals. 

In conclusion, yes, it takes a little work, a little money, and a trudge up the learning curve to make it happen, but the advantage of doing a POD on CreateSpace / amazon / Ingram is that, rain or shine, night or day, and around the world, 


Anyone with a credit card can easily order your book and receive it as quickly as any other book, and if and when they do, you will be paid a very generous royalty by direct deposit in a timely manner. That simple fact is a TOTAL LET'S-DRINK-TANG-ON-THE-MOON GAME-CHANGER. 


UPDATE 2015. Publishing guru Jane Friedman has a free and very helpful graphic, Book Publishing Path. Highly recommended.

> APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur
Highly recommended how-to book. One excellent tip offered by the authors, Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch: stick with 6" x 9" for the size.  

=====>>> Your COMMENTS always welcome. And I also welcome you to sign up for my newsletter.

+ + + + + + + + 


+Traditional + Indie = Hybrid Publishing: Three Authors Dish at Jane Friedman's Blog
(Highly recommended)

+Self-Publishing for All the Right Reasons (Reporting on the Writer's Center's "Publish Now!" Seminar)

+How I Published My Kindles

+Seven Reasons Why E-books Will Be Big in Mexico


+Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution
Excerpts, podcasts, resources for researchers and more, and you betcha, it is available on Kindle, too.

+The Manuscript is Ready-- (Or Is It?)-- What Now? 
(From the "Publish Now!" Seminar at the Writer's Center)

New Events: My Literary Travel Writing Workshop 
one day only, Saturday, October 11, 2014 at the Writer's Center.

***UPDATE: >>Listen in<< anytime to the podcast of my talk about this book for the University of California San Diego's Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies.