Wednesday Mailbag: Answers to 18 Self-Publishing Questions

by | May 22, 2013

Once in a while I like to reach into the Mailbag and answer some of the many self-publishing questions I get every day.

Here’s a representative sampling from the last few months. If this inspires you to ask your own question, go ahead and leave it in the comments where everyone will be able to profit from the exchange.

Q: When typing my manuscript I have it double spaced, but when it’s in print or on Kindle, what’s the spacing? The reason I ask is I’m trying to decided on the size, so as not to make it too bulky. It appears to me that it looks like 1.5?
A: We don’t use line spacing when typesetting books, we use “leading” which is an exact measurement between lines, and it really depends on the design, the font, and the kind of book you’re doing, but you could start with 1.5 and see how it looks.

Q: Joel, can you do a print on demand or offset run of 50 to 100 in hardcover with library stitched (not side-stitched, and definitely not a paperback with hardcover glued on like some of them)?
A: You can do a sewn book–either paperback or hardcover–with an offset printer who has a proper bindery. There may even be digital printers that I offer this service, but keep in mind that to produce 100 copies of a sewn casebound would be quite expensive on a per book basis.

Q: I am publishing by CreateSpace, I have 2 questions: I am selling digital version of a new and unpublished book to one company, for free distribution, the paper version could be for sale by Amazon and CreateSpace. Must I wait or can I have it on Amazon while I sell the digital version? Should I have a different ISBN?
A: You need a different ISBN for each different version (print, ebook, etc). You should not put a version of the book up for free if it’s for sale elsewhere. You can sell on Amazon and other locations, and you can sell print at the same time as digital.

Q: I’ve read many articles about formatting novels, the different options in regards to using a traditional word processing program like Word, hybrid choices, specific programs, etc. What I don’t understand is why a double-spaced page of a novel using Times New Roman 12 point font looks so huge when independently printed from a Word file, compared to a traditional big publisher. Is it in the layout design? Am I missing something?
A: I understand that this can be confusing. From Word you are probably printing an 8.5″ x 11″ page, which is much larger than most trade books. And most books are not typeset in Times, a font that’s not commonly used for books. Your double-spaced page also has a lot of space between the lines compared to a typeset book. And finally, most books in my experience are typeset in 10 or 11 point type, 10-20% smaller than the 12 point you are using.

Q: I have a question in regards to ISBN numbers and was wondering if you could help me. AuthorHouse published my book in print then produced a electronic copy. However I now want to publish it myself. I understand I will need a new ISBN? Can I do this? I own copyright. Can I stop AuthorHouse from providing my book on Amazon and replace it with mine?
A: You will need to have a close look at the contract you signed with AuthorHouse to discover exactly how to get the rights to your book back. You may own the copyright, but your agreement with the publisher most likely grants them exclusive right to print and sell the book, that’s the rights you licensed to them. If you have trouble with the contract language I urge you to consult with an intellectual property attorney. Be assured that you will be better off in the long run if you take control of the book yourself.

Q: My book is an autobiography of my life. I had been to prison many times. And when I got out of prison I checked into a University and from there my life just skyrocketed. The fact is that I am 6 foot nothing, 100 and nothing skinny white kid in a jungle (prison) where I survived. Lions, tigers and bears (gang members, big guys, thugs) were being killed and clipped off. But here was I, this rabbit surviving in this jungle. It also can mean corporate america. Where corporate america is the jungle and the rabbit is the person who cant get a job because he is a felon. So what genre would I go after? I’m thinking people that have struggled. Former prisoners. But those people don’t read.
A: Thanks for your note. I agree that one of the important things you need to do is identify likely audiences for your book, and with memoirs that can be challenging. It sounds like there’s a strong self-help element embodied in the book and, if that’s true and you can offer specific help, tips, step by step actions people can take to emulate your success, you should probably go after the self-help market. A person who overcomes obstacles to find success, then puts them into a form that others can use and offers the result can work well, and it’s a story we are familiar with and we react to.

Q: What do you mean by “link bait”?
A: I’m using the phrase “link bait” for articles specifically designed to attract links from other sites, and resource posts (articles with links to lots of resources) are a good example. “Trackbacks” is a WordPress term that simply means another site has linked to one of your articles, in which case a link will appear under the Comments section on your blog.

Q: I am self-publishing my third book. It is comedy and poetry. My concern is space. After a comedy writing, if there is some space left on the page, does it look unprofessional to leave it empty? Or should I try to fill in the extra space on the page with another smaller writing? Some of my writings are just a 1/4 page long. Would this be okay to leave the rest of the page empty?
A: For books with only one entry (of whatever kind) on a page, it’s perfectly acceptable to leave the rest of the page blank, and I would encourage you to not just “find copy” to fill the space, since it’s likely to dilute the overall effect of the book.

Q: If I had seed money, I could perhaps hire someone like you. I have what I believe to be a great niche market. Wish me luck on getting the word out to them!
A: It doesn’t take much to get started blogging in your niche market, and I would suggest if you haven’t done so you start on that now because you’ll be glad to have the support once you get to the point of publishing your book.

Q: I am wondering how the copyright page inside a book works when you write under a pseudonym. Do I have to put my name, or can I put the pseudonym and not run into any problems?
A: Yes, you can use the pseudonym on the copyright page, and list both names on your copyright registration form.

Q: I have a simple question that is holding me up in my final stages of self-publishing. Regarding barcodes … Do I NEED to purchase them via Bowker (like an ISBN number) or is there some way around their absurd (to me) $25.00 fee? I have seen some “free barcode generator” stuff online but I am not sure if there is some negative aspect to going the “free” route (???). Also, regarding the ISBN number/Bowker registration, is there, perhaps, some advantage to registering under a company name rather than under my own personal name?
A: You don’t need to buy your Bookland ean barcode from Bowker, although I would avoid the “free barcode generator” software since it’s difficult to determine how reliable the barcodes are. If you publish at LightningSource, you’ll find that they have a free cover template generator on their site that will produce a barcode along with the cover template. Alternately, check out who sells barcodes for (last time I checked) $10. And yes, I would suggest using a publisher name instead of your own name when you register with Bowker.

Q: I am assisting my Pastor with reprinting his book. It was originally published with AuthorHouse and when we left and purchased the art cover files and the galley they removed all of the information on the copyright page. This included all the information, copyright, artist, editors, and more. We are adding three pictures to the book and the only text changes that will be done will be small corrections to errors in spelling or removal on a typo not caught with first release. So what are we required to print on the copyright page based on our situation? The ISBN was through AuthorHouse. Do we need to buy another now? Will the additions and corrections make this a second edition? And does AuthorHouse hold the ISBN we previously had?
A: It’s good that you got the rights and materials back. They own the ISBN so you will have to get your own ISBN. If you take your book to CreateSpace for printing and distribution, they will give you one for free or at a very low cost depending on your needs. The usual guideline is that changing 10% of the book will make it a new edition. You can copy the old copyright page, or you’ll find a guide to everything you need to know about the copyright page here.

Q: While one cannot use lyrics of songs in novels without running into some kind of problem, is it permissible to describe lyrics in your own words? How does that work?
A: You can use lyrics, but you have to get permission first. If you don’t use the actual lyrics, you don’t need any permission.

Q: Can you have the identical book published by 3 different publisher outfits, like
All about Cats – published by ABC
All about Cats – published by DEF
All about Cats – published by GHI
all the exact same book, only each book would have a different ISBN?
A: That’s not the best way to proceed. If the books are identical, I would suggest buying your own ISBN and using the same one on all identical printings.

Q: Having a tough time scheduling book signings. Any tips???!! Also, have been trying to get involved with a local bookstore chain in San Antonio. Having problems getting callbacks. Any suggestions?
A: The best bet is to emphasize to bookstores first, the value your book will bring to their customers and, second how you plan to get people to come into their store for your event. Those are the things the bookstores are concerned with. Also, find out who is responsible for bookings or who is the book buyer and address everything only to them.

Q: I am so screwed! Excuse the vulgarity, but there’s no other word. I published in 2012 with Abbott Press. I wanted the best I could get for my book, so bought the best package. At their discount, I still paid them $5,800. I am more than thrilled with the book! It looks good and is exactly what I wanted. I have been promoting myself at book signings and I’m so busy marketing my book, there hasn’t been time to write book #2. I’m just not sure I can ever find the time to do all that actual self-publishing requires. With a regular day job that happens to be at night, I’m burning the candle way too low. What’s a person to do? I’m overwhelmed!
A: Don’t despair. Book marketing is a marathon, not a sprint, and you don’t have to do everything at once, or even this year. You’ll do better building a platform and a base of fans, and that takes time. Try to develop a long-range plan that allows you time to write, and stick to it. You’re probably making more progress than you know, it’s just hard to measure on a week to week basis.

Q: If I had a real life experience that happened to me and the perp was not ever convicted or arrested am I allowed to write a book on my life story of sexual child abuse? I want to write a book about my life story, it happened to me so I thought I am right about writing about what happened to me. My reason is I want to shed light on the subject of Church and abuse. Our church does not let scandals get out. They hide it very well.
A: Of course you don’t have to ask anyone permission to write about your own life. Be aware though that if you name real people and attribute criminal acts to them, it would be best to consult a lawyer before you publish the book.

Q: I did it the wrong way round. At the request of someone else, I wrote a book about her mother’s experiences in France during World War II. Mainstream publishers said war heroes had to be male for a wartime book to sell. I said “fiddlesticks,” but now can’t figure out who my target market is. Who is interested in female heroes, war, France, escape? How do I go about it since the book is already written?
A: Memoirs are often written exactly as you have, so that won’t hold you back. The best advice I can give you is to search out other books with similar content that have been successful, and from that try to find out how they appealed to readers, what the authors do to promote their books, and anything else you can glean from them, because they have already solved the problem that you are facing.

So what’s your question?


tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. erfan

    i have plan to publish a book , but i have some question as well. i would be so thankful if you could help me.
    i am going to publish book consist of 50 short stories which i am going to buy some of them .
    do you know how can i legally buy right of the story online?
    and in order to publish my book , is any percentage of plagiarism accepted or not ?

    • Sharon

      Erfan, you’ve asked some great questions. You’ll need a legal contract to give to the writer of each story. Unless you have a contract you’ve previously used, I suggest hiring an intellectual property attorney to write one for you that you can use for each writer. Regarding plagiarism, no percentage is acceptable. However, you can sometimes quote a few sentences from other sources and provide the full citation information in an endnote. There are numerous issues regarding how much you can legally quote. I recommend starting with reading this article

  2. lin

    Reading the above, and some other links here, I am a little confused about purchasing an ISBN from Bowker in my name. I do not have business, I am publishing my book myself, so can I list the publisher as publisher and my last name and at a later date do a sole proprietorship? This is for my paper back book. And since I am the author and publisher in the copyright can I use my email or a post office box for my contact information? Wow, much to learn other than just writing. Thank you so much for such great info here.

  3. Linda Olin

    Joel, you said: “I would suggest using a publisher name instead of your own name when you register with Bowker.”

    Q 1: Are there reasons to do this besides creating the impression that my self-published book isn’t really self-published?

    Q 2: When I set up my first (thus far only) book on CreateSpace, I took the $10 ISBN option and registered with Bowker under my own name. Can I now pick a publisher name for myself and re-register with Bowker under that name? Would that create more trouble than it’s worth?


    • Joel Friedlander

      Hi Linda.

      1: That’s one reason, and also your publishing company, even if you only publish your own books, will be more professional with a name other than “Linda Olin Books.”

      2: I can’t say I’ve tried to do that, so the answer is “I don’t know.” What I do know is that if you plan to continue publishing, you might be better off taking the long view and setting yourself up as a publisher, with a name and your own list of ISBNs.

      Hope that helps.

      • Linda Olin

        Thanks for the quick response, Joel! You always have good info.

      • Amelia Mello

        Hi Joel, Your blog is so fantastically helpful :) One question, How do I set myself up as a publisher?

  4. Marla Markman

    I love when you do these Q&A posts, Joel. I always learn something helpful. Keep ’em coming!

  5. Marcy Kennedy

    Great idea for a post, and I do have a question.

    Many of us who plan to self-publish will use a POD company like CreateSpace for our print versions, but what’s the best course of action if we also want to do a small print run to use for book reviewers, Goodreads giveaways, and/or speaking events? Is there a less expensive (yet still reputable) company for printing small print runs of 100-500 books?

    • Belinda Kroll

      You could always use a website like I haven’t used them myself, but if you’re looking for a fast turn around and a smaller print run, that might be a good option.

      But if you’re sending to contest winners and event guests, I’d bite the bullet and buy from your printer (CreateSpace etc). I haven’t seen the quality of 48hr books but if it doesn’t match CreateSpace, people could get upset.

      • Alicia Young

        I’ve used 48hr books recently and the quality has been excellent, as is the customer service.
        I’m also awaiting quote from Thomson-Shore for a version of a softcover with french flaps (which 48hr books doesn’t do).
        Hope this helps,

    • Joel Friedlander

      Hi Marcy,

      You could potentially save money by doing a short run by offset printing, where you’ll get a better quality book at a lower cost. However, the point at which offset is less expensive than digital printing is around 300-400 copies, depending on the book and the printer. You might want to contact a printer like Thomson-Shore, who offers both digital and offset printing.

      Most of my clients who do a short run for review copies use digital because at 100-200 copies the prices is about the same, but you can get the digital copies much faster. Try (thanks Belinda!),,, or even where you can get a quantity discount on longer runs of digital books.

  6. Carol Brill

    Hi Joel, can you say more about the response below. Are you saying you shouldn’t offer a free e-book promo if you also have a paperbook for sale? Why is that?
    Q: I am publishing by CreateSpace, I have 2 questions: I am selling digital version of a new and unpublished book to one company, for free distribution, the paper version could be for sale by Amazon and CreateSpace. Must I wait or can I have on Amazon while I sell the digital version? Should I have a different ISBN?
    A: You need a different ISBN for each different version (print, ebook, etc). You should not put a version of the book up for free if it’s for sale elsewhere. You can sell on Amazon and other locations, and you can sell print at the same time as digital

    • Joel Friedlander

      Hi Carol,

      No, I was trying to say that if you are selling a book (ebook, print book) on one site, you shouldn’t offer the same book on another site for free.

      • Kellye

        Thank you, Joel, for all of your wonderful information. I love your blog! A follow up question related to ISBNs: Do you need a different one for EACH digital version of the same book? (ie: Kindle, iBooks, BN, etc?)



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