Monthly archives for April, 2011

Think Like A Publisher #9.5… The Secret of Indie Publishing

Taking a break from the sales part of things, I want to back up for a fairly short chapter on how publishers think about income.

Call this Chapter 9.5.  Why Having More Product Is Better Than Having Less Product.

I have heard over and over and over from indie publishers how their sales are not what they expected, or how they hope to promote their way to a big seller on their one book. Up to now I have mostly just bit my lip and kept my mouth shut.

It just doesn’t work with one or two or even five stories up. Or at least it doesn’t work that way unless you are fantastically lucky and wrote a great book on the exact right topic at the exact right time. I hate planning on being lucky to make it. I want to plan on hard work and quality writing.

But at the same time, do I expect every indie publisher to even think about doing what I suggested in #9 and sell books to indie bookstores? Of course not. That’s far more work and business knowledge for most indie publishers to handle.

So how can an indie publisher plan on making a living, paying the bills, without “luck” coming into play and without sending out thousands of flyers as I suggested last chapter?

Simple, actually. You have to write more.

And if you write more, you can count on the churn, the coin drop, the arm pull, the grind, whatever you want to call it.

An indie publisher needs a lot of products across a lot of sales locations all selling small amounts.

I have talked about this in various ways in other chapters and in other places. But here I want to try to be clear and put it together quickly one more time because this kind of thinking is critical to indie publishers.

Produce Model vs Long Term Sales Model

Remember this?

Publishing for the last sixty-plus years has worked on the produce model, meaning that traditional publishers treat every book as if it is a piece of fruit that will spoil if not sold quickly. They made every book into an “event” to help sell the books quickly. And if the books didn’t sell quickly, they were pulled from the shelves like bad fruit and trashed.

The reason for this is actually fairly simple. Physical shelf space is limited and the number of books being produced far, far exceeded the shelf space available. So if a book didn’t sell quickly, it was replaced with one that might.

Now, with electronic publishing and POD publishing, the shelf space is unlimited. And there is no hurry. A book can just sell along at a pace and as readers hear about it and find it, the sales can grow slowly.

That unlimited shelf space is the largest change in publishing the electronic device has brought about. And we have just begun to see the ramifications of that one aspect of bookselling alone.

Now, all publishers can do the work to list a product for customers and just leave it to sell.

Indie publishers need to lead the way into long-term thinking.

Books do not spoil.

And a reader who finds your book four years after you publish it is just as good as a reader who finds it the day after you publish it.

Places to Sell Books

Just this last week Kindle opened up its store in Germany and made selling through it automatic for all of us. Nice!

Kobo is opening stores in numbers of countries this next month.

iBooks already sells in many countries.

And the expansion continues of electronic book sales around the world every day and more and more people buy readers and smart phones.

Here in the States, the percentage of electronic book sales compared to traditional book sales continues to expand. And that’s not even counting that indie publishers, with some work and minor investment, can sell into the bookstores with POD books as I have been talking about.

But for the sake of the math, let me just say that there are twenty major outlets for book sales right now that any indie publisher can get to with almost no work and almost no money. We counted them #7: Sales Plan. With Germany Kindle store opening now, there are actually twenty-two.

There are a lot more, but for simple math here in early 2011, let me just use twenty. (Excluding all sales to indie bookstores.)

Some math!

$4.99 electronic cover price on a novel or long collection.

$4.99 x 70%(publisher share) = $3.50 profit per book.

100 sales per month total (over twenty locations, including POD). (1,200 sales per year.)

(By the way, if you sell about 30-35 novels a month on Kindle US and have spread your book out to all twenty plus locations, you will be selling about 100 copies per month total across all sites. In general. You just won’t know that total until about four or five months later. And then only if you are good at accounting.)

100 x $3.50 = $350 per month or $4,200.00 per year.

Nice, but not a living.  But if you have ten books up, the total is $42,000 in a year. And twenty books up the total is $84,000 per year.

(Write four pages per day to finish four novels per year and get to twenty books in five years. As I said before, indie publishers must write more.)

Over $80,000 per year with no home run, no nothing. Just sort of puttering along.

Will every book sell exactly the same? Of course not. One will sell two or three hundred a month across all the sites, another will sell twenty.

But you average them together. And that is the key.

And that is how traditional publishers think, and how indie publishers need to start thinking.

A small traditional publishing imprint will publish four or five products a month, sixty per year. They only hope to make around 4% profit margin and not every book will do that, and some will do better.

Traditional publishers look at the average and look for profit over a quarter and a year and trends from year to year.

That’s called basic business.

Indie publishers need to start looking at the averages.  And make writing new product the most important thing you do every day.

Indie Publishing Average

The problem with indie publishing at first is that the writers watch their numbers and get discouraged. I have told the story many times how last May Kris walked into my office and made an off-handed comment about how the three short stories I had put up quickly in December of 2009 were making $12.00 a month on Kindle. They were the only three we had up at that point.

Three old short stories. $12.00 per month one site. Was I discouraged at that? Heck no. (But many writers would be.)

Honestly, I had forgotten they were even up. And $12.00??? Holy crap! I wouldn’t even let myself believe it for a while. I just kept doing the math over and over and over.

Across my office are sixteen metal file drawers full of short stories. Kris has double that. And that is not counting the massive number of large file cabinets downstairs with novels in them. All stories and novels basically dead to the old way of produce-thinking. I swear those file cabinets turned from an ugly puke-brown color to pure gold as I stared at them.

I have far more than a hundred short stories, Kris has two or three hundred, and yet three old stories were making us $144.00 per year. Holy crap! (You do the math. And don’t forget to add in collections at $2.99 and $4.99.)

Was I discouraged at seeing only $12.00 of sales? Nope. I got excited.

With some help Kris and I formed WMG Publishing. We have been off and running since last July.

WMG Publishing now has over 160 stories, collections, and novels up and the list is growing steadily every month.

Again, just do the math. Trust me, 160 stories, collections, and novels sounds like a lot, but you can get to it as well given time and a lot of writing, even if you don’t have a backlist like I do.

An Example

A friend of mine is writing one short story per week and has made it to 26 weeks now since last fall. If she hits one year, she will have 52 short stories.

Let’s say she put all 52 up like I am doing on my challenge. And she also got ten 5-story collections up and five 10-story collections up from the stories.

She would have 67 items up and selling. If she keeps on for a second year, she would be at 134 stories and collections up. A third year and she would be over 200 stories and collections up. And many of those collections could also be put into POD and sold like I talked about last week.

In contrast, in traditional publishing, you start writing one novel now, finish it, send it to New York, say it sells at light speed in six months. It will still be three years from the time you start to the time you see the book in print. My friend will be making great money in three years. The traditionally published writer will have a book advance.

Indie publishers need to write like an old pulp writer. Fast and hard and get it into print.

Sales Numbers

So what can an indie publisher count on for sales? Is there a floor?

With one story? Not a clue. You might not sell a single copy across all twenty sites in a month.

With ten short stories, you should be able to start seeing average sales.

I use five sales per story average for short stories and collections across all sites and to be honest, many, many people tell me that after twenty or so short stories, that average is low (when you count all sites and not just Kindle). It is low, very low for me and Kris, but I like to be very conservative.

Novels sell better, so I use a floor of twenty-five sales for novels total per month across all twenty sites.

But again, you must have a decent number published and selling so the amount can average. (I am not talking about Joe Konrath numbers here, just us normal mortals.)

The Math Again

Using my friend’s example of writing drive, let me see what she might make.

—- Short story sells for 99 cents. You get 35 cents minimum. Up to 60 cents on some sites, but use 35 cents for now.

5 x .35 = $1.75 per story per month.  Or $21.00 per year per story.


—- Five story collections sell for $2.99. You get 70% or $2.10.

5 x 2.10 = $10.50 per collection per month. Or $126.00 per year.


—- Ten story collections sell for $4.99. You get 70% or $3.50.

5 x $3.50 = $17.50 per collection per month. Or $210.00 per year.


Writing five short stories can make you in one full year of really minimal sales $21.00 + $126.00 + $210.00 = $357.00 per year.

Writing 50 stories in a year as my friend is working at doing can make $3,570.00 per year at minimal sales.

Writing 50 stories a year for three years will give you a base income of over $10,000.oo. Assuming the average stays on the bottom at five sales for each story or collection across all twenty sites. Which it will not with that many stories available.

Now, say you stopped and the sales just continued on.  In 9 years you would have made over $30,000.00 if everything stayed the same and the sales stayed on the bottom. And you didn’t write another word.


No matter what you do as an indie publisher, you must be writing first. You must be creating product.

In the first golden age of fiction, the pulp writers got very, very rich at 1 cent per word in the middle of the Depression.

We are in a new golden age of publishing.

We can write a few books, treat them like events and spoiling fruit, or we can write all the time, have fun, write what we want, put them up, and then just keep writing.

We now have the choice to go either to traditional publishing or do it ourself with indie publishing.

But just as it has been for hundreds of years, the writers who will make it on either side, traditional or indie, are the writers who just keep writing.

And that really is the secret.

Think Like A Publisher #9…. Selling to Independent Bookstores

There is no way that some of this chapter will make sense unless you have read the previous chapters, and most importantly the chapters about sales.  Chapter #7… A Sales Plan and Chapter #8…Price, Discounts, and Sales.

Finished refreshing your memory? Good.

Now one quick warning: What I am about to talk about applies to indie publishers who have a large number of books. If you only have one or two or three books, read this, but you won’t be able to try it except on a small level.


Number one: You won’t have enough feedback loops between books to get readers finding your other books even if you did sell a few copies to bookstores.

Number Two: You won’t look like a regular publisher, but only an author, and thus will be ignored by most of the indie bookstore owners.

How many products is enough? Ten or so, with more on the horizon. And again, these are Print on Demand (POD) books, not electronic. If you have less than ten, file this away and practice some of this on your local stores. You won’t have enough books to make it worth the costs or give dealers a reason to buy your work. Traditional publishers work on volume, and I will talk about that in an upcoming chapter.

Here we go with the first part of selling to independent bookstores.

This part will be selling POD books. I will, as I have said before, talk about some ideas on selling electronic books to independent bookstores, and maybe even into other stores. But that will be another chapter down the road. First we must deal with 80 some percent of all books sold, which are paper books.

Building an Ad

Independent bookstores are buried in garbage sent to them by writers. Bookmarks, letters, book covers, and so much more it stuns you when you see the piles they recycle without looking at. And among that are some professional catalogs from publishers. Those they look at.

And they also look at professional-looking sales flyers from publishers.

They also look at books sent to them with flyers. (Hint: Independent booksellers will never throw a book away. They will give it away or sell it, but never toss it out.)

So your job, if you want to sell to an independent bookstore is to create and send the bookstore one of the following:

… A professional-looking flyer.

… A professional-looking catalog depending on how many books you have available.

… Samples with professional flyers.

… Samples through a normal channel they are used to getting samples through such as the ABA White Box program.

… Electronic catalogs directly or through other ABA programs.

Will this cost some money? Yeah, a little. A few hundred bucks for some ways, maybe a little more. But honestly, not that much considering the benefits if you do it correctly.

The key is doing it correctly.

So in this chapter and the next chapter I will outline how to sell to independent bookstores correctly, working from the simple ways to the more complex and expensive.

Tri-Fold Flyer

A simple single sheet of paper is the best flyer to start with. To be clear, a tri-fold flyer is an 8 1/2 by 11 piece of paper folded so that it would fit into a #10 envelope. Only you do not need to put the flyers into envelopes. A single piece of paper will mail easily just folded with a sticker sealing it.

So take a blank piece of 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper right now and fold it like you were planning to put it into a standard envelope.

Notice after folding you have two sides showing now on your paper. Turn the side toward you that has no flap. That is your mailing side. You will print your publishing company name and return address in the upper left and leave room in the middle right for a mailing sticker and upper right for a stamp. In the center bottom you will seal it with a small round sticker when ready to mail.

Write all that in pen on that side.  Then flip it over so the flap is downward.

This 1/3 page side is critical. It will be printed bright and glossy and with a book cover or two and more than likely something about your publishing house. (It can be printed either vertically or horizontally.)

In other words, that 1/3 side of paper needs to be a great ad for your press and your books. Mark that page “small ad.”

Open the flyer half way and you have another  1/3 of a page that is tucked inside. On that page you will print your dealer terms clearly, your address, your web site, and phone and any other contact information the bookstore or customer who picks it up will need. Mark that page “ordering information.”

Then when the flyer is completely open you have a full page ad. (One side of the full paper will be a full ad, the other side will be the other three smaller pages.)


Suggestion #1. Don’t try to advertise too much on the full page ad. Get the dealer going to your web site to find your other books. For this flyer, stay focused on one series or one book.

Suggestion #2. Make the ad bright and glossy.

So how do you learn to do a professional flyer? Actually, very easily.

You study professional ads from the traditional publishers like the one on the right here. Pick up book magazines such as Publisher’s Weekly or Locus or RT Book Reviews and look and study the full page ads.

There are lots of ways of designing full-page ads, so look at a lot of them until you see something that fits your publishing house. Then build it with your covers and blurbs and book information. (Back to using InDesign or PhotoShop programs.)

So now you have a full flyer. For printing, just Google printers for printers with mailing services combined and look for the right price. You can have your printer also do the folding for you for very little extra money as well.

For example, I found with a quick look some printers who could print 1,000 two-sided full-color flyers glossy from a file. Those printers would then fold flyers and ship them for around $200.  $300 for two thousand. Mailing services to send the flyers directly from a mailing list to bookstores would cost more.

You can take the flyers with you to conventions or you can mail them to bookstores.

What Should Be In The Flyer?

#1…Featured book cover, short blurb and tag lines, ISBN, price.

#2…Second and third books (pictures) in the same series or similar. (Also, if you have room, a list of a few other books available.) Same information as the first book with each secondary book.

#3… Author promotion information such as “Bestseller” and “Reviews” and such.

#4…Publisher contact information, ordering information, and discount schedule. (On one 1/3 page flap.)

#5…Your web site URL in numbers of places on the flyer with the publisher name or logo and the phrase “For more information…”

#6…Your return address and room for the store address on one side as I described above. (Basically the mailing side.)

#7…High gloss finish with bright colors and professional design.

A hint: Make sure you don’t date the flyer in any way. You are going to want to use it for years ahead.

Mailing to Bookstores

Okay, now you have a professional flyer done and ready to mail to bookstores. Why would you want to do that?

#1… To make some direct sales of the books advertised.

#2… To help the bookstore get used to seeing your publishing house name.

#3… To get the bookstore to go to your publishing house web site to see what else you have for sale to get better discounts. (More they buy, the better the discount you give them, remember?)

#4… To get bookstores to go to one of the distributors such as Ingrams and order your book through those channels.

#5… If the flyer is sitting where customers can find it such as dealer’s table at a convention or in the bookstore, your hope is to have the customer order from you directly or go to your web site or order the book online. In other words, the flyer is promotion for your book through all outlets.

Rememeber, the idea isn’t to just sell some copies of the book on the flyer, but to start to build a relationship with the bookstore and with customers. All you need is about 70 stores to be regular with your press. Or one-thousand true fans. And you build those stores and customers one-at-a-time.

This is not an overnight thing. Plan on a few years of slow work to build an indie store network.

How Do You Find the Addresses of Bookstores and What They Buy??????

This is so simple, it is scary, actually.

You go to the main source. The American Bookseller’s Association.  (ABA)

Now, to become an associate member of the ABA, which I will talk about in a few moments, it costs $350.00 per year. And the things you get as a publisher for that membership are just amazing.

But say you only have ten books or less and you want to start slow and not spend the $350.00 per year, what can you do to find bookstores?

Go to the American Booksellers Association Member Directory and simply plug in any search you want.

It’s Free!

For example, I plugged in “Oregon” under state and hit search. It brought up six pages of listings, over sixty bookstores with mailing information, descriptions of the store, and sometimes what they buy.

That way you can pick which stores you want to send flyers or catalogs to. You can start building a data base. And you can do it cheaply and at your own pace.

You can start doing that even if you only have one or two books on your list at the moment.

Larger Publishers’ Use of the ABA

Just a point first. Paying the $350 will be worthwhile for a publisher who is producing a new book two or three times per year. Or more. And after your company has a nice backlist already in place.

For example, publisher members can buy the full 1200 bookstore mailing list very reasonably. It comes in such a way as to be sent directly to a printer to do the mailing. Expensive? On the scheme of things, no. But don’t think about it early on. It is not worth the money for only a few books.

However, for smaller indie publishers there are other programs that might make an associate ABA membership worth the $350.00 per year. For example, the liability insurance.

I copied this information below from their site. Go look around for yourself.

ABA Membership benefits for a publisher:

Associate: Publishers, distributors, wholesalers, and other vendors (annual dues $350)

  • Access to the Book Buyer’s Handbook
  • LIBRIS Publisher’s Liability Insurance
  • Eligibility for ABA Publisher Partnership
  • Business Management Products (shipping, credit card processing, computers, bags, labels, store supplies)
  • Discounted ABA mailing-list rentals
  • Bookselling This Week

ABA information:

ABA Member stores (around 1,200) To just search for stores

Red Box and White Box Program

The Red Box contains Indie Next List fliers plus publisher-supplied items such as shelf-talkers, bookmarks, posters, catalogs, and time-sensitive marketing materials. The Red Box will land in each store by the 15th of the month.

The White Box contains galleys, ARCs, and finished books supplied by ABA publisher partners. Each participating store will receive the White Box by the end of the month…


There is another program that you learn about once you become a member that is an electronic mailing with new releases on it. Stores each week get the electronic list of available new books from publishers and check-off the books they are interested in. The publisher mails them either a proof or a copy or often an electronic copy. (So costs on this could be very low.)

In other words, the ABA makes it simple to find and contact bookstores.

And the bookstores, if they are signed up for any of the programs, want to look at the material the publishers are sending. So you have a professional flyer and include it into the Red Box program, a thousand bookstores who want to look at the information will get it without you having to do any mailing. Nifty, huh?

Free bookstore addresses that can be searched by area or programs that go to all stores around the country and Canada.

It doesn’t get any easier to find bookstores.


Get a flyer done. You are going to need at least one or more professional flyers.

Get your publisher’s website updated and solid before you start any of this.

Get either an ABA membership or use their free address service to find bookstore addresses.

Send your flyers to the stores you pick.

In the next chapter I will talk about possible returns and what you can expect. And also when to do catalogs and when to go to conventions to get your books out to dealers in the dealer’s rooms. And also a little about when you press will be big enough to do a table at a major book fair.

Stay tuned, there is a lot more to cover on just this one topic.


Copyright ©  2011 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover photo copyright © Vladimir Melnikov/Dreamstime


This series is part of the income streams for me. And, to be honest, donations keeps me going on these chapters. And anyone who donates a little to the Magic Bakery tip jar, I will send a free electronic book of all these chapters combined when I am finished.

And  speaking of the Magic Bakery, this chapter is now part of my inventory in my bakery. (Confused on that, read the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing post about making money with writing.) I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling any of the pie.

If you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.

If you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it.

And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated over this last year. The donations and the comments both after the posts and privately are really keeping me going on this. Thanks!

Thanks, Dean

Think Like A Publisher #8… Price, Discounts, and Sales

As some of you said in the comments, I sort of left this on a cliffhanger talking about how to get the other 79 book outlets to make at least 100 book outlets for sales. Please go read Think Like a Publisher #7 if you have not, or some of this will make no sense. This sales series is meant to work as one large unit.

Alas, before I can go into how to get the other 79 plus sales outlets, I need to once again talk about pricing.  I have done a number of major posts about this topic, so not going into it again here. Go argue price somewhere else if you have a problem.

Those of you who think you should price your novel for 99 cents on Kindle and that’s it, just stop reading now. You are a discount publisher and I am talking to regular indie publishers.

—Discount publishers, both traditional and indie, are a different entity and make money on vast numbers of sales with very tiny margins to a small number of outlets. Discount publishers have no regular distribution or bookstore sales.

—Regular publishers, both traditional and indie, make their money in regular sales at regular prices to a vast network of stores and outlets. Regular indie publishers are who this chapter is for.

Here is the price structure I suggest for indie publishers and that works in all the math you will be doing.


Electronic Fiction:

…$2.99 for 5 story collections or short novels

…$4.99 for ten story collections

… $4.99 for novels.

(Nonfiction and other projects, including enhanced books are different.)

POD Fiction:

…$7.99-$9.99 for 125-200 page short novels or collections in trade paperback. (5.25 x 8 inch or 5.5 x 8.5 inch trim sizes)

(Note: Price would vary by page count costs. Check the calculators on CreateSpace.)

…$10.99- $14.99 for 200-300 page short novels or collections in trade paper. (5.5 x 8.5 inch or 6 x 9 inch trim sizes)

(Note: Price would vary by page count costs. Check the calculators on CreateSpace.)

…$15.99- $16.99 for 300-450 pages trade paper novels. (6 x 9 inch trim)

(Note: Price would vary by page count costs. Check the calculators on CreateSpace. If you can’t get your book under 450 pages with leading and font and margin issues, you might think of writing shorter books. I have no suggestion for you except to take the price to $17.99 or higher and hope. Large fantasy novels can go to that length and handle the doorstop-book price. And nonfiction can go that large and handle higher prices.)

Okay, we set on pricing? Good, because the above pricing structure works for everything I am about to talk about. Again, check the price calculators on CreateSpace with your trim size and page count to set your exact price. Always look to the Pro Plan number and try to keep the price at least in the 8% and up profit range.

Note: I am using CreateSpace for all POD. For hardbacks, you must go to LightningSource or elsewhere, but for the moment in the early days for trade paper, stick with CreateSpace unless you are out of the States, then go LightningSource and be careful. These calculations are CreateSpace. Make sure you check your own costs of each book.


Besides setting normal pricing, now comes the most important element of opening up more outlets for your books: Discount schedules.

As a former publisher of Pulphouse Publishing, I knew the discount schedules that would allow independent bookstores to buy Pulphouse books. And over the last six months I’ve been talking with every independent store owner I could find to make sure these numbers are still valid. They are, and actually make many of the store owners happy. And WMG Publishing has already gotten orders, even though WMG has not started any catalogs, flyers, and only has three varied books in POD.

So schedule your discount as such:

1-5 books: 40% discount (of cover price) plus freight costs.

6-10 books: 45% discount (of cover price) plus freight costs.

11 books and up: 45% discount (of cover price) and free freight.

CRITICAL!! The bookstore must be able to mix and match titles.

(Put no restrictions on numbers of titles. Just overall order numbers.)

Critical!! Dealer Must Pay Ahead for Order at these rates.

Paying ahead and being able to mix titles in an order need to be your company policy. Trust me, you do not want to run an accounts receivable from bookstores, especially in these tough times. I shut Pulphouse down with a solid five-figure accounts receivable and never saw a penny of that money.


Say you have five books in a series. A book dealer or indie store (to make the best discount) can order two of each of the first four books and three of the newest one. That makes a total of eleven books in the order.

All books in the series are $15.99 cover price. Dealer would pay (11 books x $15.99 =$175.89 x .55 =) $96.74.

Assume your books are 6 x 9 inch trim, cream paper, all around 420 pages.  Your cost to order the book would be about $5.90 per copy. (Will vary on page count up and down by a few cents.)  So your costs for 11 copies are ($5.90 x 11=) $64.90. Shipping media would be around $10.00 making your total costs $74.90.

$96.74 – $74.90 = $21.84 profit. Or about $2.00 profit per book.

Or to put another way, a 12.5% profit margin.

That is the lowest you would make per book. On the highest discount you give. Period.

Example #2.

Say the dealer ordered five copies, one each in your series. That would qualify the dealer for a 40% discount and the dealer pays frieght. The dealer would pay (5 x $15.99 x .60 = ) $47.97 and pay the $6.00 shipping for a total of around $54.00.

You would have to pay CreateSpace $5.90 per book plus shipping or a total of (5.90 x 5 = $29.50 plus $6.00 shipping =) $35.50.

Your profit is ($54.00 – 35.50 = ) $18.50.

Or about $3.70 per book. Or a 23% profit margin. Wow!

If you sold the same book electronically at $4.99 and 70%, you would make about $3.50 per sale.

The correct discount schedule is critical to selling to bookstores.

Setting a correct price and knowing your costs allows you to set these discounts. Think like a publisher.

What Work Does The Publisher Have to Do to Make this Money from Bookstores?

I had one writer say to me one day, “But I don’t want to have to pack all those boxes.”

After I stopped laughing, I realized the writer, many writers, are still thinking in what is called the “Warehouse Model” of publishing.

Up until a few years ago, and with most publisher’s today, the warehouse model is still used. Vanity publishers make their living getting self-published writers to fall for the warehouse model.

Simply put, the Warehouse Model is when a publisher pays ahead for massive printing costs of a certain set number of books and then the publisher stores the entire print run in a warehouse waiting for sales. (Vanity self-publishers used to store the books in piles in their garages until they rotted and were tossed out.)

POD (Print on Demand) publishing is when the is book ordered and paid for AND THEN is printed and shipped from the printer.

There is no warehousing at all. None.

The book is only paid for by you and printed after you have an order and a check from a bookstore.

So when you get the order from a bookstore and a check, you deposit the check and then go to CreateSpace or LightningSource and order the copies.

You get the copies at your publisher discount.

And then you just change the shipping address of where the books are going.

That’s it!

Let me repeat: Once you get the order, you deposit the check, order the books online from CreateSpace, and change a shipping address.

That’s it! You need to do no more work for the order. You never touch the books or even see them. They go direct from the printer to the bookstore.

Of course, the real work comes first in getting the books available on CreateSpace or LightningSource. And then the work comes in letting the bookstores know about the books. And that’s the part I will talk about in the next chapter.

So I am afraid I have to do another cliffhanger and not yet talk about how to get the other 79 outlets. But you wouldn’t have gotten them if you didn’t first understand discount schedules and pricing structures. Stay tuned.


Copyright ©  2011 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover photo copyright © Vladimir Melnikov/Dreamstime


This series is part of the income streams for me. And, to be honest, donations keeps me going on these chapters. And anyone who donates a little to the Magic Bakery tip jar, I will send a free electronic book of all these chapters combined when I am finished.

And  speaking of the Magic Bakery, this chapter is now part of my inventory in my bakery. (Confused on that, read the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing post about making money with writing.) I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling any of the pie.

If you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.

If you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it.

And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated over this last year. The donations and the comments both after the posts and privately are really keeping me going on this. Thanks!

Thanks, Dean

Think Like a Publisher #7… A Sales Plan

At times I tend to forget that I sat in the publisher’s chair for seven years, growing a publishing house from nothing to the 5th largest producer of science fiction and fantasy and horror in the nation.

And now, sixteen years after Kristine Kathryn Rusch and I shut that company down for good, we are helping in starting up another publishing company. And I’m trying to help indie publishers as well with these chapters.

And so is Kris on her site, explaining some of these same things in different ways. So follow her as well.

But, honestly, I sometimes forget that most writers just don’t know what I learned the hard way at Pulphouse Publishing. So now that I am going into an area I know and understand completely, I have been warned by a few friends to keep this pretty basic and simple and not talk over the heads of writers who would have no idea what I am talking about. I will try to do just that, explain every term, and be as clear as I can.

But don’t be afraid to ask if there is something you don’t understand and I haven’t explained it clearly enough. I honestly don’t mind.

Sales Plan: Some Basics

This last winter Kris had a book dealer complain to her. The dealer said that in the old days it used to be “Push, push, push, now it is pull, pull, pull.”

Not a clue what that means, right? But Kris instantly understood it and when she told me the dealer’s comment, so did I.

Back in the old days, in Pulphouse Publishing, we paid for the two-story office complex and nineteen employees and all the expensive leather book production by getting indie bookstores and specialty stories to buy our books.

Did we just sit there in that two story building and wait for bookstores to find us?  Of course not. We pushed our books to them. There often wasn’t a month that went by that the bookstores didn’t get a mailing from us. We did major catalogs every three months and we put ads in every product we did for our other products.

We pushed the books to the stores. And to readers.

And we did it in a way that would help the dealers buy the books.

I’m not saying you need to do all that. But for some reason now, indie and specialty publishers think that just because they produced a POD book, bookstores and readers will flock to them. Or find their book in the tiny print in an Ingrams’ Catalog. The poor bookstores are reduced to pulling the books they want for their customers from the indie publishers, when they finally realize the book exists.

Push, push, push vs pull, pull, pull.

So, without the stupidity of going to fifteen different cities and trying to do signings and sending useless bookmarks to five hundred stores or doing blog tours that take weeks of time and get you no readers, I’m going to try to describe some ways to promote and push your indie-published books to readers and bookstores in a sane manner.

And cheaply. In ways that work. Just as publishers do.

A Change For Me?

Since the romance writers started the stupidity of authors needing to self-promote their own books, I have openly laughed at any author who does any self-promotion beyond a web site, Twitter account, and Facebook. Let me say this clearly again: If you are selling your books to traditional publishing, don’t waste your time with anything I am talking about here. This is for publishers. For writers selling all your work directly to traditional publishing, most of what I am about to talk about really is a waste of time.

So I haven’t changed at all in that opinion. Self-promotion for traditionally-published authors beyond a basic web site and social networking is a complete waste of time. I have always said that and that hasn’t changed. If you are selling traditionally (meaning to New York publishers), stay home, write the next book. Hit your deadlines and let your publisher alone.

But now, as an indie publisher, you have changed hats from being a writer to a publisher. And you need to learn to think like a publisher. So you need to know what kind of promotion works for publishers and what doesn’t.

Basics of Publishing

Most indie writers just take a few old short stories, maybe a novel or two, toss them up on Kindle and sit back and watch the numbers every day. And then, for the most part, are disappointed.  Let me simply say: Duh!

The major part of a publisher’s job, either traditional or indie, is to sell books to readers and into the distribution system that will get those books to readers. And that takes some thought and planning. And an understanding of the distribution system to begin with.

A Basic Course in the Publishing Business Structure

Since forever in the publishing business, the exact same structure has been in place. Nothing has changed or will change in these four elements. (Imagine from top to bottom arrows leading downward following the track of the story through the system.)

1…Writers create stories

2… Publishers take the stories and produce them and get them into the distribution system.

3… Distributors (including bookstores) transport the book to the reader.

4…Readers, who are the point of the entire business.


This entire indie publishing and electronic reading boom is just going on inside of the two middle areas (publishers and distribution). When a writer puts up a book on Kindle, the writer takes over the publisher duties, which is why the writer can make more money. Duh! The writer becomes the publisher.

Kindle is a bookstore inside the distribution area of the system. Readers buy the book from Kindle. Nothing different in the fundamental structure of publishing.

So now, if writers are going to take over the publishing duties and make the big bucks, they are going to need to understand how to get the books into the distribution system in a more efficient manner beyond just listing them in three places and hoping.

The Basics Required in a Sales Plan

1…You need good, professional-looking covers with a “publisher look.” See the covers post on that.

2… You need numbers of products. (And ideally, a number of author names, but not critical.)

3… You MUST go after every outlet you can find. Both electronically and POD books.

4… You must set your price structure so that you can give discounts to stores. Both electronically and POD.

5… You must know what discounts work for stores and what do not.

6… You must know how to produce quality sales sheets, book flyers, and sales material that grabs a book dealer. (Bookmarks, flowers, and buttons do not work…sorry. But knowing how to write a top pitch, a great active-voice blurb, and a grabbing tag line will sell more books than you can imagine.)

7… You must have a web site for your publishing house that works as a catalog for your products. And that can eventually sell product directly to readers through a shopping cart.

Those seven items cover a lot of data and over the next few chapters I’m going to be expanding these seven points and adding in a few other minor ones as well. So hold on, I will get to each area as quickly as I can. But there are a few more basics to cover in this chapter first.

A sales plan is basically a PLAN that details how you will sell your books.

Planning takes some thought. In fact, most of this series has been about planning.

The first six chapters I helped you set up a publishing business and then do some production to get a product up. So now, thinking like a publisher, how do you plan to sell your product that you have produced for the business? Over the next three or four chapters I hope to help you form that plan.

And decide what is right for your business and your time.

Some elements might be long-term plans, some you might be able to start the very next day.

But for the moment, start the basic plan. (Write out your plan. Helps.)

Common and Usual Ways an Indie Publisher sells books. (Make sure to include these in your plan.)

Electronic: Kindle, Pubit(B&N), Smashwords (which includes Apple, Sony, Kobo, and Diesel.)

POD: CreateSpace or LightningSouce or both.

Promotion: Tweet, Blog, and post on Facebook when a new book is posted. Tell mother and friends.

That’s it. That’s what most indie publishers do in these early days of this movement and nothing wrong with that at all. It made Amanda Hocking very rich and is working great for others.

But there are two things wrong with the above sales plan if that is all you do.

1… It completely misses about 90% of all readers.

2… To make it work at any large numbers level, it depends on luck and market timing, meaning that you have the right book, right topic, right time, or right author name. Most of us don’t. I’m just not that lucky, so I have to work harder to make my luck and my book sales.

Now you have the basics of the plan down. To start adding more to the plan, you first need to change some thinking.

Instead of hoping to sell a thousand copies of a book every month at one place, sell 10 copies a month at 100 places.

Sure, no publisher is going to turn down selling a lot of copies over Kindle. Or to one chain. But the foundation, the structure of publishing, is to sell a lot of different books two or three or five or ten copies at a time at hundreds and hundreds of different outlets. That’s the structure that paid for those huge buildings in New York.

We all want what I call “a home run” when suddenly a book springs to selling a thousand copies in a month on Kindle. We all do. But you can’t plan on that happening. Sorry.

But you can, without hitting a home run, plan on selling a thousand copies a month total of your books. And more. If you act and think like a publisher.

Here is what can you plan on…

—Selling ten copies per title in a month across all stores and sites and have 100 different book titles available. That will get you a sales number of 1,000 copies in a month.

—Selling one hundred copies per title of 10 titles across all outlets. That will get you 1,000 copies in a month sold and you only have to sell one copy of each title in 100 different stores and outlets. (1 sale x 100 outlets x 10 titles = 1,000 total monthly sales)

So keep hoping for the “home run.”  But start working toward putting together as many outlets as you can that will sell your publishing company’s books.

But there aren’t that many outlets!!!

Excuse me while I stop choking from laughter. Yeah, I know, that sounds like a lot. But it is not, actually. Not at all.

There are thousands and thousands of book outlets to get books to readers. Just in this country. And to really expand that number even more, you must expand your thinking to 100% of all readers worldwide. You want your book to have a chance to be in everyone’s hands, don’t you?

Notice I said worldwide? Start thinking that way as well.

(Side Note: For those of you who sold North American rights to a book to traditional publishing and you don’t have those rights back yet, why not do an indie book and sell it electronically outside the States? It’s very easy these days.  Just a thought.)

So how many sites do you sell to now if you are an indie publisher and put your work on Kindle, Pubit, Smashwords, and CreateSpace???

If you answered “four” you really need to open your eyes and look at where your books are going.

Just look at Kindle. By clicking the “Worldwide Rights” button on the second page of the submissions sheet, you are giving permission to Kindle to sell your book around the world in English. That means you have the US store, and the UK store. (That’s 2.) But have you noticed that your 70% book sometimes is sold at 35%? That means it was sold on a Kindle store outside of the US, Canada, and UK. There are a lot. But let’s just consider everything outside the US, Canada, and UK on Kindle as one outlet. (Kindle is very slow going worldwide compared to other companies like Kobo, Sony, and Apple.)

So that’s 3 outlets just by listing your book on Kindle. Pubit is just one store, even though it also has some worldwide reach. So that makes 4 in the count.

Smashwords is a distributor with a small store as well, so count Smashwords store as #5. They distribute to DieselBooks, which is another small store, so that’s #6.

Kobo gets interesting, because they are a worldwide general store and you get into the worldwide store by going through Smashwords, but Kobo is strong in Europe and for the moment in Australia. And they just announced today they were opening country-specific e-stores in six new countries, with more planned soon. So just for the sake of argument, let’s call Kobo 3 outlets. One for the States, one for Europe, one for the rest of the planet.

That brings us to a count of 9 outlets.

Sony is the same, so add 3 more for Sony. That brings the outlets to 12.

iBooks sells also around the world and is very strong in Europe and Australia. My last statement had sales in four different currencies besides the US, so call iBooks 5 outlets.

So just by putting your books up on Kindle, Smashwords, and Pubit, you have hit basically 17 major worldwide outlets. And some minor ones as well.

Now add in CreateSpace and you get your book listed in Amazon and in the fine print in Baker and Taylor distributing catalog and Ingrams catalog. That’s 3 more. And if you used a CreateSpace ISBN, or did a separate library edition, you can go into their library distribution channel as well by doing almost nothing. That’s 4 POD outlets total.

So just by doing the standard, an indie publisher basically gets to 21 major outlets for electronic books.

So you would only be 79 outlets short to find 100 outlets. And how to find and build those other 79 outlets, or more, is what the next chapters in building a sales plan are all about.

When I shut down Pulphouse Publishing, I had a network of 237 outlets for Pulphouse books. I built almost all of that in less than two years.

Stay tuned to the coming chapters and I’ll show you how to build a network of outlets for your company with very little work.

And a ton of sales and money in return without hitting any home runs.


Copyright ©  2011 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover photo copyright © Vladimir Melnikov/Dreamstime


This series is part of the income streams for me. And, to be honest, donations keeps me going on these chapters. And anyone who donates a little to the Magic Bakery tip jar, I will send a free electronic book of all these chapters combined when I am finished.

And  speaking of the Magic Bakery, this chapter is now part of my inventory in my bakery. (Confused on that, read the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing post about making money with writing.) I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling any of the pie.

If you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.

If you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it.

And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated over this last year. The donations and the comments both after the posts and privately are really keeping me going on this. Thanks!

Thanks, Dean

Think Like A Publisher #6… Covers and Publisher Looks

Okay, I have escaped unhurt from doing the “Basics of Production” chapter and I had a lot of requests to talk about covers, mostly the production of them. And covers and how to do them is where things get really spread out in author and indie publisher tastes.

So, just as the last chapter, when it comes to the “how-to,” I’m just going to list my way of doing it and my beliefs about why I do what I do. And each of you can take it from there.

But first, there is something more important to talk about that has to do with covers: Publisher Look.

Early Publisher Decisions About A Business Look

What I mean by that is pretty simple. All publishers, or more accurately, all imprints, have a certain look about their books. And honestly, for the most part, this is done on purpose because it helps readers identify a book from an imprint or press they trust and like.

There have been lots and lots of studies over the last forty years about readers buying from a certain traditional publisher, and the moment the publisher gets to be too large, the value of a publisher “look” vanishes. Customers, for the most part, just don’t buy books because they were done by a certain large traditional publisher.

However, as you go down in imprint size, or to mid-sized presses, and now indie publishers, buying from an imprint becomes a selling point for readers. And an imprint name is often a sign of a certain quality.

The buyer might not consciously know the name of your press, but they know they like stories or books that “look like that.”

Before 1950s or so, readers used to go direct to publishers to buy books. Now that practice is coming around again since traditional publishers have lost their hold on distribution and indie publishers can go direct to readers.

A couple of examples of publishing looks:

Back when paperbacks were first getting started in the 1940s and publishing was changing a great deal, sort of like now, all the new paperback publishers had very different looks for their books to attract the new readers. They all had distinctive logos, all had very clear designs, and all bought certain authors to establish a content consistency for their line.

Dell Books, for example, had a very distinctive logo at the top with the price, they numbered each book, and for every book (for about the first decade or 800 books) they put a map on the back illustrating the setting of the story.

This was so distinctive that Dell Map Backs are still collected today. I have about 500 of the first 800 Dell Books and I love them, mostly for their packaging.

For a time in the 1960s-1980s, Daw Books put yellow spines on all their books. And that became a buying point for readers. For the longest time, because of those bright-yellow spines, Daw Books could be seen across a bookstore. And many people both collected and looked for the yellow spines for top reading.

When Kris and I started Pulphouse Publishing, three or four of the finest specialty presses in the history of science fiction and fantasy publishing were in full production. Arkham House, Dark Harvest, Zeising Books to name a few. All of them had fantastic book design and beautiful covers. And to be honest, I just didn’t know how to go into that world and compete with those fantastic and very beautiful books.

So right up front Kris and I made the decision to drop back to a very simple design to contrast with those other books. (And it was something I could do.) Did I want to do beautiful books like those others? Hell, yes. But Pulphouse became quickly known for the simple look with high-quality fiction inside.

We did foil stamping on leather, the simple sketch covers, and simple limitation pages. And we also became known because I picked a top bindery and paid a ton extra for quality oversewn binding. And many book buyers in those days appreciated that.

But all those decisions were made before our first book came out. Over seven years we stuck with it for the most part. On one book about five years in I did a beautiful-covered book for a special project and one dealer picked it up and said, “This doesn’t look like a Pulphouse book.”  And he put it back.

So early on, the decision of a certain look will be critical to your long term survival.

If you don’t understand this completely, just think of a book series. If all the books look similar, with different art and titles, but you can clearly tell they are the same series, then readers that like the series can easily find the next book. That’s what your publishing business needs to do as well. Different, but similar, with a certain pattern to the look.

In this wonderful new world we live in, no look or design is permanent. Even though I understood this “look” issue completely, it took those of us at WMG Publishing almost thirty books before we started settling on some design features. And we are still fine-tuning the look for electronic books.

And now we are working on the POD look and unlike Pulphouse, WMG Publishing paper books are going to be far from simple. I finally get my wish to help design some really pretty books.

What Features Help Create A Look?

Here are some basic elements that can help create a certain look on book covers.

Electronic Covers

— Types of Fonts

— Use of Fonts (stressed, bold, thin and so on)


— Author name size and title size and layout

— Consistency of choice of artwork for certain types of projects

— Borders and shapes on the covers.

—Choice of stylish or realistic.

—Choice of photo or created art.

—Placement of the different elements on the cover.

Now, understand, one book does not make a look.

Scan down the side of this article through my challenge books and the other WMG books in the next column over. And then go on down under the challenge book covers to look at the covers of traditional publishers I have been in lately. You might not tell exactly why you can see a “look” in WMG books and you might not like it, but there is a pattern in all the books there that are WMG Publishing. It is sometimes subtle or by author (Dee W. Schofield books look different). But the look is clear.

Give yourself time to develop a look that fits your eye with covers. You can always go back and change a cover later, which I am slowly starting to do with some of the early covers of both mine and Kris’s books through WMG Publishing.

How to Build a Cover

I’m going to run through how I build a cover step-by-step and why I make certain decisions working with the WMG Publishing look.

There is no right way to do this. I believe in the Keep It Simple Stupid (K.I.S.S) way of thinking about electronic books. But your milage may vary. Life is far, far too short for me to spend far too many hours or days on a cover. I would rather be writing.

Step One:

You have a finished story or novel. Step back and ask yourself first “What would sell this book?”

Or even more importantly: “Who Do I Want To Sell This Book To?”

Step Two:

With your readers clearly in mind, find the art or photo.

Yeah, yeah, I know, so easily said, so hard to do.

So in this search for art, the first thing is decide how important the project is.

—If it is a novel you have spent a year on, then you might want to commission an artist to do a cover for your book and pay them a great deal for the right to use the art on your cover.

—But if this is your weekly story, you will want good art, but one that doesn’t need to fit as much.

Expensive Art

Commissioned art is often expensive because the artist is doing it for you and your book. So to find the artists to do that, you need to do some footwork and research.

First you need to find artists whose style fits your vision of your book. Look on any art site, or go to conventions and browse through art rooms. One place online to find artists is DeviantART.Com. If you like an artist’s style, contact them and ask them if they would be interested in doing a cover for your book and their rates.

Also on any of the royalty free art sites you can always contact an artist directly.

DO NOT PAY FOR THIS BY GIVING A PERCENTAGE OF SALES. No artist in their right mind would go for that and the accounting over the next seventy years will kill you and your kids and your grandkids. And at some point you will end up in court. Not worth it. Pay up front or by payment plan or find another way.

Cheaper Art

By cheaper, I do not mean less quality. Far from it, actually. The art world and the photo world is changing right along with publishing.

Right now a great income and exposure can be made by artists putting work up on a royalty-free web site and letting people download the work under a certain license for certain uses for small amounts of money depending on the size of the file.

Key Factors to Consider When Licensing Artwork or Photos for your cover:

—Only use a reputable site. There are many.

—Only use royalty free sites. (Back to my point above and what Joe Konrath and I have argued about with the paying percentages.)

—Carefully read their limitations to make sure that book covers and promotion for your book is allowed in the use.

—Give the artist credit on your copyright page.

Key in Pricing When Buying Art

Artists charge for the size of the file you download.

For my challenge short story covers, since they will only be online and I don’t mess with them much, I download a small file, so often it only costs from three to five dollars.

And remember, all the online publishing sites such as Amazon or Smashwords will not allow you to download a huge cover file. They just block it. So most of the time a smaller picture file is enough. Experiment and decide for yourself.

If you are going to use the art for a POD, then pay for and download the larger files and reduce the art size for the electronic edition. You will need larger files to keep your covers from having issues through the POD cover process.

Key Point: Consider Size and Shape of Art

Book covers are basically 3 to 2 ratio. Three units high, two units wide. So when looking at a piece of art, imagine the book cover.

If the art is wide and thin, it won’t work without you doing some graphic tricks. If the art is busy and bright, it’s going to be hard to put names and title over it. And so on. Imagine the art in the shape and you save yourself a lot of time later.

And I often only use just part of a piece of art. If that is the case, make sure the license with the artists allows you to crop and change their artwork to suit your needs. And download a big enough file that when you crop a piece out of it for the cover it is still large enough.

Step Three:

Study, study, study.

You must, and I repeat must study other covers. Stand in front of book racks and really look at bestsellers and see if you like the cover design, the font, the use of colors and art. Go through your own bookshelves.

And for heaven’s sake, look at tag lines on the covers and blurbs and quotes. And the size of them. All that goes into a professional look in a cover. And you will need to learn how to write blurbs and back cover copy for your POD books.

Then just browse online through Smashwords and Amazon and so many others, studying the covers that catch your attention. And figure out why.

Step Four:

You have studied, you have a piece of art or photo picked out and purchased that fits your story. Now what?

It’s time for the dreaded (by me) conversation on programs.

I use two different programs to do covers. For most online covers I use PowerPoint because it is simple and quick and decently powerful. For POD covers I use InDesign.

Yes, I do have PhotoShop CS5 and could use that, but that program is just too powerful for me. And that power would allow me to do things I just don’t need to do and play too long. I see no reason to do that. I did build a few covers in PhotoShop and then thought it was silly and went back to my K.I.S.S. thinking with PowerPoint.

Use whatever program works for you. I honestly don’t care as long as you can produce a jpg file and a professional-looking cover.

Step Five:

Set up templates right at the start.

If you have a template, you are not constantly inventing the wheel with every cover, and also a template will help you hold to a style for your publishing house.

Don’t be afraid to change the look of the book, because you want each book to be different from other books you publish, even though they have a similar “look.”

Step Six:

The elements of a modern bestselling professional cover are these:

—Large Title

—Large Author Name

—Great cover art or photo that does not distract.

—Blurb and tag lines.

—Bright colors.

Some tricks with electronic books:

—Outline the outside edge of the book in a heavy three point line so that any light color or white background does not vanish into the listing page. Also the line makes the book look finished to the eye.

—Watch your contrast. Switch your cover to black-and-white to see how it will look on Kindle and other devices. If everything becomes mud, change the colors and shades.

—Caution with drop shadows. Some use is fine to help words stand out from art or photos, but use sparingly. You are better served to outline the letters.

—Caution with stressing fonts as well, meaning doing things that you think look cool to the font. Twisting it, punching patterns in it, fading part of it out, and so on. I think WMG has stressed three book titles in over 160 so far. Usually it makes covers look like a beginner did them unless you know exactly what you are doing and have a reason for the stressed font.

Down the road I will talk more about POD covers and what is needed for them, but this should get you started.

Go Play!

Early on in this process there will be learning curves. Learning a new program or finding and bookmarking a bunch of art sites or trying different fonts. But as the process goes on, it does get easier.

And you can always change the cover.

So get out of the worry that if you design a bad cover you have screwed up. No, you haven’t. You’ve just learned something and you can just change the cover.

I have a folder already of art I have bought for a cover, did the cover, came back the next day and took one look and said, “Wow! That Sucks.” Or Kris shook her head while looking at it which is her way of saying, “Wow! That Sucks.” So I start over, save the art for something different, and go at it again.

Honestly, doing covers is great fun. It just seems scary from the outside.

So go play. And trust me, when the parts come together and suddenly there appears on your screen a great cover for your story, it will feel so good, it will erase the stress you were feeling learning how to do covers.

And you will never worry about doing a cover again.

Think Like A Publisher #5… Some Basics on Production

I have  a hunch I’m going to regret this post fairly quickly, but when looking at what needed to be written about, this basic chapter just kept coming up over and over. I just need to run through this before I can move forward.

Note: This is my way of doing things. If you have a better way, fine. But for this post, this is my way, my suggestions, nothing more.

Choice of Project

As I have suggested numbers of times, start with a few short stories for practice. Trust me, it will save you more swearing and problems than you can imagine.

I started with short stories and wow, do some of those early covers suck. And the formatting on those early books also sucks. And I haven’t gone back and fixed them yet and more than likely won’t for a while because I’m just too busy getting new stuff up and helping WMG Publishing get off the ground. But at some point I sure will.

My point is start simple. Novels are difficult for varied reasons. Get the basics from a few short stories and it will also make you feel better. You won’t sell many, but what does that matter?  It’s practice. (Yeah, I know, writers hate thinking they have to practice anything, but get over that for this stuff.)

This post is sort of what I have learned in over 150 books and stories up with a ton of help from some great people. Production basics. Organization basics. And I will even explain why I organize files the way I do it. I know, I know, you all have your way of doing it, but for the moment just give my organization some thought. I tend to think long-term and I have had a publishing company before, remember?

Organization Basics

Every story or novel comes from some sort of word processing file. I use Word doc files (docx files are not accepted anywhere, so don’t try).  Since I have written in professional manuscript format since 1975, I don’t change anything when I write. And at WMG Publishing we get files from other writers in word doc. files in manuscript format as well. But for this post I’m not going to talk about any other writer’s work, just mine and what I do when helping out WMG Publishing.

Luckily for me I learned to never use the tab key. And in Pulphouse Publishing I threatened to cut off any finger that touched a tab key because of the problems it caused in layout. Just take that key off your keyboard for electronic publishing as well. You can’t use it. And having tabs in documents costs work and time to take them out.

In a folder I call “Dean’s Books” I open a subfolder with the title of the story. Let’s call the story “Nifty Aliens Love Fish.” And then I put a copy from my writing computer of the finished story in that file.

I put the cover file in the main folder as well, and get the cover ready to go up. I will have the cover art, PowerPoint file, and a jpg final file of the cover in the folder. (When I start into POD formatting if this was a novel, I would have a sub-folder labeled POD as well.)

Then I do a save-as on the story file to create  “Nifty Aliens Main” document. I still have my story in manuscript format to send to publishers. In the “main” file I do all the formatting of the story for electronic publishing.

Here is my formatting method:

— I change everything to Times New Roman.

—I change everything to 12 Point.

—I make everything one and a half spacing.

—I take off my name and address and all headers and footers off the manuscript and make sure my indents are only three spaces instead of five.

—I make sure all titles and break markers are 14 point bold and centered without indent.

—I insert hard page breaks where needed. (Seldom on a short story. On a novel I also do table of contents and hyperlinks to chapters.)

— I add in copyright information and publisher name.

— At the end of the story I add in an author bio and a “If you liked this story, you might like….” blurb.

—When finished I save it all.

— Then I do another save-as “Nifty Aliens Main Cover.”  And I insert and lock down the cover in place inside the word file.

So now I have three document files in the folder with the cover files. Manuscript. Main File, and Main File Cover.

—I take the “Nifty Aliens Main Cover” and do a save-as “Nifty Aliens Kindle.” I change the font size of the title and author name to 16 point and save it, then do a save-as “Nifty Aliens Pubit.”

—Then I go back to “Nifty Aliens Main Cover” file and do a save-as “Nifty Aliens Smash.” Inside the Smashwords file I make sure the track changes are turned off, add in the special copyright information Smashwords wants, then save that.

So now, in the “Nifty Aliens” folder, besides the art, I have six story doc files. Manuscript, Main, Main Cover, Kindle, Pubit, and Smash. (When I format the story for a collection, I will add in a seventh file in there that is ready to flow into a collection and call it “Nifty Aliens Collection.”)

— Then I open a word file and call it “Nifty Aliens Promotion” and write the short Smashwords Blurb, a longer blurb, copy in an author bio and other things like that, and maybe even list a few tags.

All parts are now assembled and ready to go.

From that point it takes me fifteen minutes to launch the story on all three distribution sites.

Very easy, everything ready, and everything saved and backed up in one place so that changes can be easily made in the future to any part of the work for any site.

Production Basics

Sure, I have a lot of files in my folder and I organize them easily using icons. My reasons are pretty simple for each step. I want files I can customize to each site without messing up my main master, plus my master with a cover inserted, and my manuscript copy.

And I want my main master to be there so I can easily convert to new formats as they come along.

Please, please don’t tell me about all your nifty programs. Or how I am stupid for using PowerPoint or Microsoft Word. We’ve been down that road before, so don’t need it here. Thanks. Just take any idea I toss out if you like it and ignore the ones you don’t. Thanks.

Now, before I get into the next steps, understand that this series is “Think Like A Publisher.” As a publisher, I sure don’t want to ignore where 90% of my market is. Granted, it might only be 50% of my market in a few years, but I don’t want to ignore that either.

So the work I did in the first part of this to launch my book is for 10% of the market now in March, 2011. So, thinking like a publisher, we have to now turn our attention to POD publishing and doing paper books.

And this is where things get hard.

Short stories don’t need the POD edition, but collections, short novels, and novels do need the paper book.

Book Design

In electronic publishing, the idea is to keep it simple. K.I.S.S.

Why? Because the story or book might be read on any of a hundred different formats and devices, from bunches of different phones, different pads like the iPad and all the new ones coming out, to Kindle, Color Nook, or Sony Readers and so on. Formatting is tough to get to hold across all those devices, especially when readers can just adjust font size at a click.

Simple and clean is best.

But now you are going to commit a format to a print book, something that won’t change. Something a reader can look closely at. So book design and hundreds of years of book traditions now come into play.

And that’s hard to get right the first time. Again, practice will be important.

We have already talked about hiring someone to do some of this. Fine, if you want to, hire someone for a flat fee to help. But in the long run, you are going to be a lot better served to actually learn all this.

And honestly, some of it is hard, but most is not. And once you have learned it, you’ve got it for all your books, and that beats constantly paying out money to other people for years to come.


Before you even think of trying to format a book for POD, study many types of New York published books. You will see normal patterns.

—Note where quotes and reviews go, where the title page is at, if there is a second title page, where the copyright information goes, where dedications and acknowledgements go.

—Note font size and how big or small the ones you like are.

—Note margins and realize that the gutter margins are wider so people don’t have to break open the book just to read a word buried down in the gutter. (Gutter is the area between pages when you open the book.)

— Note size of trade paperbacks. 6 x 9 inch is a good, large-size trim. 5 1/2 by 8 1/2 is another standard. Figure out what size you like.

— Go to bookstores and look at size and such and then prices. What is the range of prices in the area you are thinking of publishing in?

Study everything, including going to one of the page and price calculators on the print sites and plug in page counts, pricing, trim size, and see your costs and how much you can make per book at certain sizes and page counts.

And that’s just the general stuff. Start looking at interior designs.

—Are there drop caps?

—How do the publishers do chapter headings?

—How are the running headers look and how are they done?

—Page numbers?

—First lines of paragraphs?

—Scene breaks?

And so on and so on.  All are decisions you need to make before you start. Right down to what font you want to use. And the spacing between lines.

Okay, you have done your homework. You have the sample books you want yours to look like sitting beside your computer.

Now what?

Back to the computer program issue we have talked about before.

I decided that since I was going to be doing this for years and hundreds of books, I wouldn’t cut corners. Almost every magazine and book designer in the world uses an Adobe program called “InDesign.” So I got it and I used to learn how to use it. (Again, I couldn’t care about the program you use. I use the best one and this is just how I do it for the example in this blog.)

So when I do a new book, I have an InDesign template at the book size I want already set up. In that template I have set all the margins and so on, plus on master pages I have the running headers and page numbers.

I copy and flow in my front matter and get it all formatted the way I want it to look. Or I can just have everything already in a front matter template and just change it.

Then I go back to my main file in my book folder, the one I used to set up all the electronic stuff, the one called “Main,” and I do a save-as yet again. This file I call “Nifty Aliens POD“.

I clean out all the extra stuff I don’t want that is already in the front matter of the InDesign file.  Then I import the entire book file into InDesign, hit one key and the entire book builds. For example, Kris’s Retrieval Artist novel, The Disappeared is over four hundred pages long. That built into a book file in one click in InDesign.

Then, carefully, I work from front to back through the book doing the following….

— Follow the book design I have picked as to drop caps, space breaks, first lines, chapter headings and such.

— Fix all widows and orphans.

You must go from front to back because if you go back and change anything, it changes everything behind it because the entire file is hooked together.

Once done, export as a pdf file.

POD Book Cover

I also use InDesign, also use templates for size and bleeds, and then just slowly start building the cover. I try to make the front cover look like my electronic cover, same art. And I use the same blurbs and such on the back cover that I prepared for the electronic book, sometimes with minor changes.

I have researched my price, so I put that on the back.

And I put on the WMG Publishing logo, since I am working with them. And when all done, I export that as a pdf file.

Make sure you click “spreads” and “use file bleed setting” when exporting your cover.

Loading up on CreateSpace is simple and for first projects, I highly suggest you go with CreateSpace. It will save you a ton of money because there will be mistakes and LightningSource charges for every time you have to reload your file or cover file.

CreateSpace will run you through the steps, tell you what you did wrong, then finally approve your book and you have to pay for a proof shipped to you.

The uploading part is fighteningly simple.

When you see the book, you can fix problems, upload new files, and again pay for a proof.  Cost is $39.00 overall for the best distribution and book pricing, plus costs of proofs and shipping.

I can tell you this: When that book does come in the mail and it looks great, you will feel fantastic.

It’s one thing to put up a book electronically and see a couple of quick sales. But that wonderful feeling does not match the feeling of holding that paper book in your hands.


This is meant to be just a very, very quick run-through of some basics on putting a book up electronically and then in POD print form.

My way may not be right for you or anyone else, but it is simple and works for me. My way is just a suggestion. If you find a better and simpler way, great. Whatever works for you.

In the future, I’m going to be talking a great deal about how to market your books, both electronic and POD books to bookstores. Also I’ll talk about promotion that works for electronic books, book averaging for income, and growing a publishing business. You know, things publishers do.

Stay tuned.


Copyright ©  2011 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover photo copyright © Vladimir Melnikov/


This series is part of the income streams for me. And, to be honest, donations keeps me going on these chapters. And anyone who donates a little to the Magic Bakery tip jar, I will send a free electronic book of all these chapters combined when I am finished.

And  speaking of the Magic Bakery, this chapter is now part of my inventory in my bakery. (Confused on that, read the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing post about making money with writing.) I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling any of the pie.

If you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.

If you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it.

And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated over this last year. The donations and the comments both after the posts and privately are really keeping me going on this. Thanks!

Thanks, Dean

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