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I have just finished my end of financial year reporting and tax, and had to share this lesson with you. If I had known this, I would have saved myself thousands of dollars last year. So, what is the lesson?
Use Print-on-demand publishing instead of doing small print runs as a self-published author.
Print-on-demand (POD) publishing is when you load your completed book files to a provider like Lulu, CreateSpace, Booksurge etc. A customer buys your book from an online bookstore e.g. Amazon.com. The order goes to this provider, they print one book and it is shipped to the customer. You have not paid anything for that book. You get revenue from the book e.g. I get US$2.50 for every book I sell on Amazon via POD.
This is the model I have used for my 2 latest books, “From Idea to Book” and “From Book to Market”. It has cost me under $100 to get them published (not including a professional editor). I have “stock” of 10 books at my house which I use for marketing. All sales are online via Amazon, Lulu or ebooks. I can sell as many as I can sell without worrying about upfront printing costs, shipping, handling, returns or anything else. I just get royalties paid to me monthly by PayPal.
Compare this to a self-publishing print-run.
It is cheaper per book if you do a bigger run and many people, especially first time authors, have high hopes of how many books they will sell. So maybe you print 500 books thinking that isn't so many, but you haven't organised a distribution deal and you are relying on your own marketing skills, or perhaps are paying another company for this, costing you even more money. This print run will probably cost you $3000-$5000 plus freight and then you have a stack of books in your house you need to ship to customers. Perhaps you did get a distribution deal, printed 2000 books and now find you have to pay shipping and deal with returns.
I used an initial print run for my first book “How To Enjoy Your Job” and did make sales of those books here in Australia, but I still have a number in boxes round the house. I also switched to POD sales as soon as I found out about it so I could more easily sell in the US.
It is absolutely fine to do a print run but only do it if you are sure of distribution and sales through that method.
If you are unsure, if it's your first book, if you are just starting out, if you want to save money – use print-on-demand.