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For book/ebook authors, publishers, & self-publishers

What's Your Biggest Challenge with Your Book?

I'd be interested to learn what authors/publishers on this network think their biggest challenges are with their book. I wonder if there's any common, pervasive challenge we all face.

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hi, Bill, just happen to run across your question thru google, My challenge is to learn and understand Just what the challenge is and how the challenge operate so that I can get into my book into distrubution with major businesses , being a self-published author with a book that is p.o.d. (print on demand) is not that easy to promote yourself or to get a book into distrubution with major stores , libraries, schools, etc. with out understanding what your resources are and what it take to get someone to notice you, can you tell me if there a difference between print on demand and self publishing and what are the differences in getting either into major distrubution, is there any difference in cost , or which is the best way to go?
Hi, R.C. You're asking the Million-Dollar question, aren't you? It's all about distribution and marketing when it comes to a book—whether that book is self-published or published with a POD publisher.

The first part of the challenge is understanding the book publishing business. There are many resources available to help you better understand the business. Check out my ListMania! on Amazon for a complete list of the best books available on the subject:

You ask if there is a difference between a POD book and a self-published book. There are several differences. The one major difference that will impact your book's distribution in retail bookstores and libraries is this. POD books are non-returnable by the bookstores, for the most part. (There are POD publishers that do accept returns. Infinity Publishing is one such POD publisher). Bookstores are less willing to order a book from a POD publisher if it is non-returnable. They do not want to order a book, have the customer review the book and decide not to buy it. That leaves the bookstore with a copy of a book that nobody else may want to purchase and they have no other way to recoup their money.

Book returns are the industry's "dirty little secret." The practice dates back to the Great Depression when nobody was selling books. Savvy publishers contacted bookstores to accept their books on consignment and to pay for them when they sold. If they didn't sell, the bookstore could return the books for a complete refund. The Depression ended, but the practice of book returns did not. Bookstores have no incentive to change the policy. It favors them. Publishers find it difficult to reverse this practice because it has been utilized for so long.

How large is the returns issues? Very large. For most books, returns are significant. Non-fiction books average about 30%-35% returns from the bookstores (especially for first time authors). Fiction books have even higher return rates, averaging nearly 45% for first time authors.

There is a cost differential between POD books and self-published books, too. A POD book has a uniform cost. Whether you buy one book or 1,000 books, the unit cost per book is identical. Self-published books enjoy a diminishing unit cost per book the more books you print. It costs less to print 1,000 books than it does to print 500. The only caveat is to be sure you can sell 1,000 books before you place the printing order.

Being knowledgeable about the book business is the best way to be successful in the book business. Armed with knowledge, you can determine what is the best way to go for you and your book.
I've been lucky when it comes to POD. All of the POD publishers I"ve dealt with accept returns, but it is harder to get the bookstores to take them even when the books are returnable. I think POD is associated with low quality books, and in most cases I haven't found that to be true.

Elaine Cantrell
thanks alot Bill for the info, this helps me to see the things I'll have to be dealing with, my book is already in publication, I also have a website,(trying to learn how to draw traffic to it is the problem,) my publisher do have a returnable book policy if I desire to purchase it for a fee, I do have blogs, flyers,business cards, bumper stickers, ink pens, tee shirts,etc. I would like to know have you heard something about "a virtue book tour?" I was told that this could be done thru the pc and that it would help to optimize my book sales, I'm asking you is this possible and would it be worth the expense? tell me Bill, would an agent or publist be necessary to promote my book? do you have any suggestions on how I should go about getting my book into distrubution in book store, libraries, schools, television,etc. and what about these e-books that I'm hearing about? I guess that's enough to ask at a time. again thanks Bill
Hi, R.C. Congratulations on your book and what you're doing to promote it.

Yes, I've heard of virtual book tours and I'm a big proponent of using them. The traditional book tour is dead. The cost to conduct one is prohibitive for the return one gets. Besides, holding an event in a bookstore or library will not address your target audience as well as a good virtual book tour. What genre is your book? Virtual book tours are particularly effective for non-fiction, and they can work for fiction, too. It's just a bit harder, that's all.

You'll want to engage the help of someone experienced in virtual book tours. There are many people advertising virtual book tours. Few have significant experience, though. You may want to contact Penny Sansevieri at or Chris Anderson (editor of Wired Magazine). Both have companies that help with virtual book tours.

An agent is not necessary to promote your book. Perhaps a book publicist would be. Before I'd focus on hiring an outside expert to promote the book, I'd be certain my distribution was established to get the book to bookstores and libraries. Is your book currently available to bookstores? If so, how is it distributed to the bookstores? Does your publisher go through a wholesaler or a distributor?

E-books are a fascinating topic. Each year, e-books are hyped as the next great thing. They are the fastest growing part of the book market, but that's because they're starting from such a small base. Sony has the best e-book reader on the market. They introduced their latest upgrade to the e-book reader this week AND lowered the price. It has it's limitations, though. The Sony e-book reader takes only Sony formatted books and PDFs.

E-books are a great extension to your book product line after you have an audio book and a large print book. E-books are particularly effective for non-fiction.
Right now my biggest challenge is actually figuring out which of the many options I should go with. I started a publishing company last year in order to publish my book and get an ISBN number. However, I don't have access, as it seems most publishers do, to Ingram and the other places I want to place my book for review and sales: i.e. Barnes and Noble,, etc. i have a cover already designed by a cover designer. It is totally edited and ready for printing and binding. Then I get overwhelmed with all the suggestions of going with a POD or a distributor, or a publicist, etc. I am getting antsy to get my book "out there" as I have many people who want to buy a copy and keep 'bugging' me about when it will be ready to buy.

Should I continue and try to get my own ISBN number through my own publishing company? Should I go with a POD, or Lightning Source for distribution? Should I go through a publisher I know nothing about but someone recommended but someone else never heard of and by checking them out I get more confused?

I am NOT looking to make millions with this book. I know that sounds awful. I am looking to get the book into the hands of those people who want it and/or need it. I have bugged Bill to death with this and am still no further in a decision than I was a week ago. I have a book festival coming up that I want to attend in October. I have a printer that will work with me and I can have the book bound and printed by that time if I can make a decision now if I don't go with the other options.

Please, I beg of you!!!!! I know the legal ramifications of advise. I WANT advise!!!! hahaha I won't hold anyone responsible but myself if things don't work out, but I definitely need a direction to go!!!!!!

Sorry Bill for the repeats! I am just frustrated and overwhelmed NOW. Wasn't before I came to the network. *sigh*

Please take pity on me and give advise!

Thank you!!!!!

All I can do is give you information based on my experience. First, POD is not necessarily a type of publishing company, but a printing technology. Last I looked, Random House, Shambhala, HarperCollins, Wiley and Sons, University of Nebraska Press, and hundreds of other "legitimate" publishers use the technology. They also use traditional off-set technology for printing their products. We use both at our company, including LSI, and have had both good and bad experiences with both formats.

Because POD is a printing technology, and not necessarily tied to a publishing company, book returns can be offered using either technology. The key is that if you do accept returns (either using POD or traditional off-set printing) you need a place to store the returned books. Will you be flooded by returns? More than likely no. The "book return" thing is not as big of a deal as some make it out to be. If you are trying to get your books into local stores, then more often than not you just need to bug the book buyer. All the stores in the Boulder/Denver area, including the big ones will take books from local authors that are "non-returnable".

Personally, I would go with LSI in your case. They do a nice job, will have your books listed in Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Baker and Taylor, Ingram, and even in the UK. You will only have to come up with around 100-300 dollars (depending on if it is paper or hardback and whether you want proofs or need to submit revisions), and will not have to worry about storing thousands of books in your garage. Then you can focus on the "harder" part - marketing, optimizing Amazon and other web-based features, setting up book signings, promoting to the proper listserves, social networks, etc.

If you want to talk off list, I can give you a play-by-play (


HI Susie,

Boy wouldn't we ALL like to have the answer to the right move, especially with publishers. First of all, no matter who you go with, YOU will be doing 90% of the promoting and marketing. whether it's self-published, POD or a traditional publisher.

You can drive yourself nuts trying to make a decision. In doing so, you don't move ahead. I went with PA but am going to try another publisher (if I can get one) with my second book. Bookstores seem to frown on POD, BUT, we're not all lucky to get a well known publisher...or agent.

People forget books fast when they're not seen or being promoted. Decide, do you want to invest a lot of money with self-publishing or do you want a traditional or POD to put the money out?

It won't be the end of the world if you feel differently later. No one is going to knock on your door and offer what you are looking for. An unknown author has a battle out there.
Hello, Alberta,

I ended up using Lightning Source with my own publishing company. I have NOT been unhappy at all about my choice! They have been very helpful to me. They have been everything I asked for. I just would like for my next book to not have to do it all myself. And I mean ALL of it myself. *grin* I have learned a lot, and have been able to help other authors or wannabes. That is almost as fulfilling as doing my book myself.

It is difficult sometimes being my own agent, publisher, and the author. I am making it work though. I also use my book to get workshops, talks, seminars, etc. And ... they even want me to talk about the publishing process at book signings and events. Works for me. *smile*

Thank you, Alberta, for your response.
Yes Susie, wearing all of the "hats" can be exhausting but also very rewarding. This is the beauty of using Lightning Source rather then a subsidy or vanity press - you get "total" control. As you note, it may be more work, but often it is more rewarding (and educational) in the long run. Glad your book is working out.

Director and Editor: Bauu Institute and Press
Editor: Indigenous People's Issues Today
Publisher: Great New Books Reviewed
Thank you, Peter, for the kind words and for all the help you have given to me: physically (logo), emotionally (pats on back), and educationally (responses to my questions). You have truly been a big help to me! I am amazed at where my book has gone and the lives it has touched with only the minimal amount of marketing. It is actually selling its self! Just wish I had more time to write on my other books. *grin* Of course we all go through that.

Thanks again, Peter! You are a definite asset to this group!
It seems that you are enjoying the process. No one can say that you are not trying. I wish you luck.



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