Monday Mailbag, Self-Publishing Questions and Answers

by | Jan 6, 2014

I know that it’s challenging to navigate the waters of the book publishing business when it’s all new to you. There is so much to learn just to get an idea of how all the pieces fit together.

And like in most fields, the same questions seem to repeat themselves. That’s why every once in a while I like to reach into my mailbag for some of the questions that have been asked lately.

Odds are that you might be wondering about some of these same issues. Here’s the latest roundup.

Q: I was planning to self-publish a 200-page cookbook with color lettering and a few color photos. Is there any way to have it published without paying more to have it printed and shipped than a reasonable retail price for the book? Please Help!

A: Color book production is a trade-off between the low unit costs you can get by offset printing and the price of a substantial up-front investment; or it’s the tradeoff between the low-risk of books printed through print on demand, but which carry a high unit cost, lower quality, and lack of flexibility. You can achieve your stated aim to “have it printed and shipped (at) a reasonable retail price” if you’re willing to invest $5,000 – $10,000 (or more) in the project for printing alone.

Q: I think I need permission to reprint soccer pictures in order to avoid copyright infringement. How can I do it?

A: You’ll need to identify, locate, and deal with whoever owns the rights to the pictures. The photographer who took them is the best place to start.

Q: I am in the process of building a website that will become a single stop source for all things in my niche. I want to include selling books by authors who write on my topic. How do I make deals with these authors? If they are published, do I have to make deals with their publishing houses? Do I just put up links to Amazon and if I do, am I cutting out a potential piece of commission income? I have never done anything like this so my experience base is starting out from zero.

A: You might want to become an Amazon Associate (an affiliate relationship). This would be the simplest and quickest way to add a “bookstore” to your site. Once you’ve got that up and running, you can start contacting the publishers of the top selling books in your field to see if you can cut a direct sales deal, buying a quantity of books at a deep discount for resale, because this will yield much higher profits than the typical percentage paid by Amazon.

Q: I have gone over your section on ISBNs a number of times, and I am getting ready to purchase mine. If I don’t want booksellers to know that this is my first book, is it advisable to purchase 100 ISBNs and assign a number to my book from the middle of the pack? Or is the 10 ISBN pack adequate? It is a stretch for me to do the 100 pack, but if it is the best idea in the long run for bookseller marketability, I will do that. And will I need to purchase barcodes as well, one for each category of printed book?

A: I think purchasing 100 ISBNs just to try to impress booksellers isn’t a good idea if you could put the money to better use. Your other marketing efforts will yield much more for the same investment. On the other hand, I have ISBNs I purchased in the 1980s, and I’m still using them, they don’t “wear out.” You probably don’t need to purchase any barcodes, especially if you’re hiring a cover designer, since they are likely to supply them. I’m not sure what you mean by “each category of printed book.” But the barcode is simply a scannable form of the ISBN, so if the ISBN doesn’t change, the barcode won’t, and each separate ISBN will need its own unique barcode.

Q: I’ve just finished my first ebook. It’s 45 pages and I’m thinking of self-publishing as I have set up a blog. You mention that if I want to publish a PDF and ePub that I would have to apply for 2 versions of the ISBN. Right now I have the PDF, what would be the purpose of a ePub format?

A: ISBNs are required for almost all books sold at retail. Since you need a unique identifier for each separate edition or format, you would assign 1 ISBN to each one you have for sale. For instance, a book published as a hardcover, a paperback, and an ebook, would need 3 ISBNs. ePub files are used by all ebook readers except Amazon’s Kindle.

Q: How I can remain competitive and afloat in an ever-changing and competitive market?

A: My general advice for all solo entrepreneurs and service providers is to start sharing your expertise by blogging, and finding readers/viewers for your blog content. It’s the fastest and most economical way to ramp up your business, get to know your customers, and establish authority, trust, and a connection with your universe of possible clients.

Q: My book cover designer used a serif font on my cover. I love the cover and think he did an amazing job (I found him through your monthly cover awards). My book formatter tells me that the serif font he used is not appropriate for use at a small size, and that she cannot set the interior of the novel in a serif font as a result because it would look like a mistake. She wants to use Calibre. I am not a big fan of sans serif in the interior of a book. Is it a big mistake to chose a different but similar looking serif font for the interior? Must it match the exterior exactly? Or is it a bigger mistake to set a book in sans serif, which readers are not used to seeing? Can you help settle this disagreement?

A: Easily. I agree with you, not with your designer. Serif fonts are often used on covers, and the covers do not necessarily have to coordinate their fonts with the interior. In practice, most traditionally published books treat the cover and interior as completely separate entities, usually produced by different people at different times. Regardless of the cover design, I suggest setting the interior in a normal serif book face.

Well, that’s it for this roundup. If these questions bring up things you’ve been wondering about, leave a note in the comments and I’ll try to help out.


tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Geraldine Evans

    Hi Joel,

    I’m using Crimson Template 5.5 x 8.5 for my POD. I’m using Word 7. I’ve just about got the book set up correctly (I think!). Well, apart from the headers. I gave up trying to have my author name on one side and the book title on the other as they kept switching sides. So I’ve put the book title on both sides and left it at that.

    But I’m having terrible problems with the page numbering. It just won’t go right. I have no idea what I’m doing wrong. I’ve selected Insert and Page Numbering from the appropriate page on the book and followed the rest of the instructions. But some pages get no numbers at all or only one digit of a two-digit number and I have to alter it. As fast as I correct the number it reverts to what it was before. And so it goes on! Can you please advise where I might be going wrong? Tearing my hair out here. :-(

  2. BBS

    Dear Joel, Thank you so much for being a fount of wisdom as well as of knowledge. I have been following you for a year now – the same time that i contracted with a formatter., who has yet to finish a quarter of my book. Is there such a thing as a Guild which oversees the formatter’s standards? If there is not, this explains the different standards offered to wouldbe authors.

    Hence, having become expert at checking mistakes and refusing to accept these, I am tempted to try my own formatting – i can’t make it worse – with the help of your templates. Which of your template would you advise I use for poems – bearing in mind that I am a complete novice in anything technological. I should like to be treated as a complete ignoramus needing everything to be explained .’very,very simply’.

    Joel, Thank you for your New Year wishes to your readers, and this reader wishes you a healthy, happy, and full of fruitful activity year.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks much BBS, helping authors is why I do it. Alas, despite several people’s efforts over the years, no Guild of Formatters has arisen to license or certify book formatters and their services. Most people still rely on word of mouth or advice from trusted sources. Most books get done in a matter of weeks, not months, so I’m sorry to hear about your experience.

      As far as the templates are concerned, I would encourage you to try it. The templates come with a formatting guide that walks you through the process, and if you get stuck you can get help—from a tip on better formatting to hiring us to do your book for you—from our Services page.

      And BBS, they are all guaranteed, so if doesn’t work out, you can return the template within 30 days and get your money back, so there’s no risk. Hope that helps.

      • Jamie

        Hello Joel,

        Are you planning to make InDesign templates as well?

        • Joel Friedlander

          Yes, we’ve been working on them for several months and should have them available early this year.

          • Jamie

            Yes! I’ve never liked Word for what its intended purpose, and as a DIYer for my home I appreciate using the right tool for a job. I’m on your mailing list, so I’ll look out for your announcement.

  3. Alex

    Hello, Joel,
    Could you please answer my question about Library of Congress #. When I applied for copyright of my book under my pen name I was considering getting a Library of Congress number. But after I’ve red that they give this number on a condition that I need to disclose my contacts so they’d be able to contact me I postponed that because of very private matters I’m discussing in my book I don’t want to disclose my contact information. So, what exactly I’d lose moneywise, if I would at all, if my book wouldn’t have a Library of congress number?
    Thank you,

    • Joel Friedlander

      Alex, you will also confront this problem when you copyright your book. I’ve personally looked at a lot of original copyright certificates when they still held paper copies, I’m not sure what the privacy policies are now at the Library of Congress. Usually people with pen names list both their pseudonym and real name on copyright registration. The Library of Congress number is not going to make or break your book, so if you’re uncomfortable with the process just skip it.

  4. Timothy Parsel

    Good morning, Joel:
    I recently published my memoir, “Broken Rib Ranch”. Locally, it is doing well, and now sits among bestsellers in several bookstores (this was achieved only after my book passed stringent evaluations by the store’s owners.)
    Here is my dilemma: My Website has received little traffic. Occasionally, I see an order or two, and then a week later, a couple more orders trickle in. I know it takes time to grow an online presence, however, after working 60 hours a week, I don’t have the energy to give my blog the attention it deserves. (My blog is separate from my Website.) I know the experts agree, blogging comes before writing your book.
    Every time I blog, however, I feel like I have wasted precious time. Book signings (two so far), interviews (1) and getting my book into more stores seems like a more valiant endeavor to me. Seeing the fruits of my labor when a bookstore sells out and then reorders, paying me upfront, because as they put it, “This book will sell.”
    Hearing people say, “I laughed till I cried.” Or, “You have a way of pulling readers in,” is much more rewarding to me than blogging. It gives me the encouragement I need to knock on another bookstore door where a barcode is scanned every time another copy of “Broken Rib Ranch” is sold.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Timothy, thanks for your comment.

      You’ve discovered the truth that blogs are not very good for selling books, and that’s not the best way to use one.

      However, blogs can be incredibly effective in building your author platform, engaging with readers who are already fans, and generating opportunities for media exposure.

      Also, although many authors create interesting and attractive blogs, they have never realized how important it is to market your blog and to use the tools of internet marketing like collecting email addresses, to really supercharge your blogging efforts.

  5. Laurie Boris

    Hello, Joel,

    I’ve been wondering about ISBNs. If CreateSpace and KDP offer them for free, what are the advantages of buying them, other than making money for people who sell ISBNs?

    Thank you.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Hi Laurie,

      Bowker is the one who sells ISBNs in the U.S. and they sell the ones you’re getting for free from CreateSpace, too. They just cost a lot less when you buy 5,000 at a time. For the indie author, I think it comes down to whether you see your publishing as an enterprise you intend to pursue for some time in the hopes of building a profitable business, in which case the money you invest in ISBNs will help to establish you as a legitimate publisher. On the other hand, if it’s a hobby or an experiment and you’re not sure how far you want to take it, and if you have a limited budget, go ahead and use the “free” ISBN for now. (KDP doesn’t require ISBNs, by the way.)

  6. Michael N. Marcus

    Would-be booksellers who want to become Amazon Associates should be aware that the program isn’t available in all states.

    I’m in CT and lost my Associate status because of a battle between Amazon and our Commissioner of Revenue over sales tax. The problem exists in other states also, but will likely be fixed in a year or ten.

    Michael N. Marcus

    • Joel Friedlander

      Good point, Michael. Out here in California we were thrown out of the program for several months before an agreement was reached with the taxing authorities, then everyone’s account was reinstated.


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