Monday Mailbox, Questions and Answers on Self-Publishing

by | Aug 26, 2013

In the fast-moving world of indie publishing, we all have an opportunity to learn from each other. Once in a while I like to dip into the mailbag and share some of the questions that have come in recently, along with the responses. Here’s another installment.

Q: I’ve got a first book, up on Amazon. A second to go this month. And a third this Fall. 300 some page novels. Here’s my question: a spate of new “experts” argue that an author platform, social media, etcetera is not nearly as important as figuring out Amazon’s algorithms. Your thoughts?

A: Thanks for your note. I find that opinion curious. No one is going to “figure out” Amazon’s algorithms and, even if they do, they are going to change quite soon. It’s a fool’s errand. Building a platform of interested and engaged readers who give you permission to market to them on your subject is the path to building a sustainable business from writing and publishing. There’s really no comparison, and I would run away from any “expert” who advised otherwise.

Q: Quick question about reprinting a previous edition or hardcover. If a book is “out of print,” if the publisher (or any publisher) wanted to reprint it on demand do they have to get the author’s permission to do that? If they can get that permission, would they then be able to reprint? What about reprinting it as a hardcover, or “cloth?”

A: Whether the book is out of print or not may have no effect on its copyright status, the two things have nothing to do with each other. You can reprint the book if it is in the public domain and, if it isn’t in the public domain you’ll need to get permission from the copyright holder, who should be listed on the copyright page.

Q: A friend of mine and I are having a discussion about dialog formatting in ebooks. He says, you don’t have to separate speakers anymore and can put them together in paragraphs. I say it is better to separate them even in an ebook, so the reader can tell who’s speaking. I’ve searched several ways trying to find any mention of this, either way, and am not finding any concrete answers. Is there an industry preference?

A: That’s an interesting question. In theory, you could run it all together, although I don’t think I’ve seen that done in books, either print or ebooks. I would advise against it, since all it will do is introduce confusion in the reader’s mind and, if it’s fiction you’re writing, that’s the last thing you want to do because it “pulls people out of the story” trying to figure out what’s going on. Publishing industry standards clearly show different speakers on different lines (just look at any book on your bookshelf) so unless there’s some compelling artistic reason you want to try this, I don’t see any advantage to your readers.

Q: If a publisher decides to print a book “on demand,” is the quality always going to look like it came from Lightning Source? Is there a way it can be reprinted/printed on demand that closely mimics the way it looked when it was originally published/in print? (I.e. same type of page, color, etc.)

A: It depends on what the original looked like, but the digital printing process used by print on demand vendors will produce a book that’s quite good, but they will not be able to provide the size, paper stock, binding, and finishing that an offset printer can provide.

Q: If my business plan has me getting my manuscript printed partly by an offset press and also partly by Create Space, do I benefit anything by using the DIY tools at Create Space first and then submitting the file to the offset printer afterwords. Put another way, you recommend hiring an interior book designer for books that will be printed on offset presses. Do you think I can get around that if I go to Create Space first?

A: Whether you print at CreateSpace first isn’t really the point. What you need to decide is whether the results you get creating the book yourself will produce a book that’s right for your market. Tools are secondary, although some tools just can’t create the same quality of typesetting as the pro-level tools used by designers.

Q: I would like to publish the ebook on CreateSpace and what to make sure the illustrations for the book will show up well in the printed book. The book is a children’s chapter book and will have 14 pencil/grey scale illustrations at this point. The artist was concerned about the illustrations not showing up dark enough in the book and said perhaps they would need to be done in pen and ink. I was wondering if I sent a copy of a sample illustration you might look at it and let me know if you thought it, and other illustrations drawn in like manner, would show up well if printed by CreateSpace.

A: The person who suggested you proof the book at CreateSpace had the right idea, no amount of reassurance from me or anyone else can substitute for that. Rather than get all the illustrations done, have the artist do 1 or 2 each in pencil and in pen, set up a “dummy” title at CreateSpace of 40 pages or so, and have them proof the samples. Even if many of the pages are blank, this is the best test and will cost you very little in time and money. Once you see the proof, I’m betting you’ll know exactly how you want the illustrations done. (To do this quickly, you might want to get one of our preformatted book design templates) to create a quick PDF for CreateSpace.

What about you, got any questions? Leave them in the comments and we’ll try to help out.


tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Marla Markman

    Great information, Joel. I always learn something in your Q&A’s. Keep ’em coming!

  2. Mary DeEditor

    Joel, thanks once again for the gift of knowledge for indie self-publishers!

    I have a question: Last I looked, it wasn’t possible to do sidebars in e-books. I’m working now with an author on a book that’s just crying out for sidebars. What’s the latest? Any chance of you coming out with a book template that allows sidebars and designed boxes?

    • Joel Friedlander


      Oh, I wish! It’s not the templates or other software we use to create ebooks, its more a limitation built into the ereaders that display the books. You can do sidebars in fixed-layout ebooks, and Liz Castro has lots of information on doing things like photo runarounds and sidebars, but that’s specific to iBooks. So for now, I wouldn’t advise it unless you can take on the coding and are willing to accept that not all ereaders will be able to properly display the book.

  3. Will Gibson

    Karen, I used CreateSpace as my printer for initial publication of advanced readers’ copies and for subsequent editing proofs. For final publication, I am now switching to Lightning Source for two reasons. With LSI, I gain Ingram book distribution services and obtain a higher quality end product. LS books have better quality covers, better interior paper and ink, and smaller pod tolerances.

    First of all, most CS authors choose not to use EDC (their Expanded Distribution Channel) which you may have chosen. This was implemented a few years ago in response to complaints about not being available to bookstores. CreateSpace prints cheaply and directly (and quickly) links to Amazon but their other distribution services are limited and not lucrative. Ironically, LSI handles EDC.

    As far as getting responses from Lightning Source, especially with ‘newbie’ questions, you won’t. LS unlike CS is for publishers, not self-publishing authors, and they won’t provide any ‘handholding’ with your publishing questions. They require professionals who know what they are doing. I have an account with LS and a ‘dedicated client services rep’ and still wait days for a reply.

    You can use both CreateSpace and Lightning Source as printers for Amazon distribution but most authors choose to use only one. LS is owned by Ingram, the world’s largest content distributor, and distributes to Amazon, Baker and Taylor, Barnes and Noble, and independent bookstores. I set up no returns with LSI and a 40% discount. This can work if you are able to create demand for your book.

    As far as Bowker’s ‘discount policies with one’s distributors’, I have never heard of this. I don’t see many advantages to using aggregators or distribution services (except for simplified bookkeeping) for electronic publishing. I am publishing directly and with no cost through KDP, PubIt, iTunes Connect, and Kobo Writing Life. Kindle, Nook, the iBookstore, and Kobo sell 95% of all e-books.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks for answering this, Will.

      The Bowker fields Karen is referring to can be ignored, they are not required and meaningless to most self-publishers.

  4. Karen Myers

    A couple of questions related to print distribution. I’m currently printing at Createspace. My primary issue is that they are keeping the distribution details deliberately opaque (I’ve asked them this, they’ve told me). I don’t like that I’m in Ingram (apparently via CS) at only a 25% discount, something I’m not allowed to set. I also don’t like that the metadata in Ingram and downstream is not updated when I change info at Createspace. And I especially don’t like that they insist on their own CS ISBN for the Library channel. They explicitly won’t talk to me about these issues, which is not inspiring confidence.

    This is enough to make me look seriously at LightningSource. I have sent them a list of newbie questions and gotten no reply (after several days). Can you help out with some of these fundamentals? (I hope.) Just from common (industry) knowledge.

    1) I have no problem keeping CS for proofreading, the Amazon relationship and the basic related channels, just killing the extended & library channels where I have no say in the terms. Is there a problem with keeping both CS and LS as active vendors? What about confusion for the Amazon channel?

    2) Theoretically CS gets me into Baker & Taylor (but I have no way to see the records). Do you know if LS can do the same, on terms I can set?

    3) Is it completely pointless to set LS up with a no-returns policy? I don’t expect to be stocked in stores, just available for orders on industry-comparable discount terms.

    4) Bowker’s ISBN form asks for pre-agreed discount policies with one’s distributors. I can’t find any way to do that for CS. (No contract, no discount policy). Will I be able to refer to such a policy for LS? Also, if I have a discount policy with Ingram via LS, and Bowker doesn’t match, who wins? Who has the override? (Bowker hasn’t answered this question yet, either.)

    5) Should I use Ingram also for ebook distribution? In place of the easy-to-handle retailers like Amazon, B&N, Kobo? (And if so, do I need to stop loading there directly?) Of only use for other vendors?

    I’ll stop there, but I have other questions like these. I’m thinking of putting a small book together to talk about serious distribution from the more ambitious self-publisher point of view and would love to speak with you about it.

  5. chris

    A question that’s been bugging me….can a soft-cover book created by an on-demand service (CS, LS, etc) hold up to the wear-and-tear that a reference book incurs? I am working on a soft-cover version of my well-selling ebook and it’s along the lines of a reference guide. I don’t want to get a load of complains the books are falling apart.

    • Brandon Butler

      I can only speak for CreateSpace and my own experience, but the proof copy I received from them is quite well bound. The pages are thick and seem durable, the spine is tightly glued, and the cover feels solid. I can’t tell any meaningful difference between that and a traditionally-published softcover; in fact, the CreateSpace book gives me a tougher feel than several traditionally published manuals I use frequently. I’d certainly be comfortable using them to publish a reference.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Hi Chris,

      Although Brandon is correct in saying the CS books are well-made and bound, I would not count on them being especially suited to the wear and tear of reference books. One of the things Brandon mentions, in fact—the tight spines of POD books—is also one of their downfalls. The spines on these books are not that flexible, and that can cause cracking in the spine and loosening of pages. Also, books with very tight spines need larger gutter margins and are more difficult to lay flat, one of the things we want a reference book to do. If you can sell at least 500 of your book in the next six months, you might want to look instead for a short-run book printer who can manufacture a book much more suitable to this use.

  6. Rosie McGee

    Great advice at the end, regarding using CreateSpace to see physical proofs of how a POD (digital printing) book will look. There’s no substitute, and it doesn’t mean you have to print via CreateSpace – although they do offer a great solution for POD and distribution for many indie authors.

    I’m on the verge of releasing my POD version of an e-book I released a year ago, containing over 200 photos. Once I converted my photos from color to B/W and inserted them back into my Word file, I sent in a PDF of 50 pages to CreateSpace to print. When I got the proof back, I tweaked the photos to the realities and limitations of digital printing – then sent it back in for another proof. The last two proofs were full-size books, (338 pages 6×9); and without going through that, I wouldn’t have gone for POD, thinking my photos wouldn’t look good enough. It’s not offset, but after the tweaking, I find the quality quite acceptable. In my case, it was POD vs. not-at-all, so I was thrilled to find it would work for me.

    Also, I used one of Joel’s Word templates to format my book, and it was the missing piece without which I wouldn’t be ready to release my book.

    P.S. My costs, with the template purchase and the 5 proofs at CreateSpace, were a total of about $100. Some of that was shipping.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Fantastic result, Rosie, from a based-in-reality strategy. I’d love to see some sample pages from your book, and good luck with it!

  7. Katie Cross

    I love Q&A’s, and I learned a ton that I’d never even heard of before. Mission accomplished. Thanks!

  8. Catana

    About separating speakers in a paragraph: The reason your questioner can’t find any references to it is because the separation is so logical and so taken for granted by anyone who reads regularly, or writes at anything above a strictly personal, amateur level. One of the surest marks of an amateur writer is lumping dialogue from two or more people into one paragraph. It’s maddening to try to read it, and one of the best ways to turn readers off entirely.

    • Greg Strandberg

      I agree. And imagine if the dialogue didn’t even reference who was talking? How would you keep up?

      I was recently going back over a novel I wrote a few years ago and ran into a few paragraphs like this. How they got there I don’t know, and how I missed them while editing I’m even less sure of. I can tell you now, however, that these transgressors have been dealt with!

    • Joel Friedlander

      I refer to those long-standing, logical, and self-evident details as “industry standards” or conventions. Although sometimes they arise as historical accidents, most of the time there’s a pretty good reason for them. Thanks for weighing in.


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