PUBLISHING THROUGH LULU.COM
Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with Lulu Press. I don't work for them, I don't get paid by them, I don't receive royalties from them if you use them, and don't care if you use somebody else. Personally I've used them twice and had great results both times.
So you've written a book and designed a cover and now you're ready to become a published author. "Look at me, look at me!" you cry, waving your arms in the air... but it seems no one is listening. You mail out a dozen (or a hundred) samples of your writing -- half of the publishers send you rejection letters, and the other half never even email you back. Now what?
Self-publishing was once looked down upon by traditionally published authors, and it still is by most of them. There are advantages and disadvantages to both markets. Self-publishing is ideal for books intended for a narrow target audience. It's also a good place for first time writers to get their name out into the public. Just because you haven't caught the attention of an editor or publisher doesn't mean you don't deserve to have your work read. Depending on the type of book you're writing (short stories, novellas), you may have a hard time selling your work to a traditional publishing house. There are lots of reasons other than "nobody was interested in my book" to self-publish, which is, unfortunately, often the attitude that published authors have of those who choose to self-publish.
Lulu is a "print-on-demand" publishing company. This is different from a vanity press, which has a negative connotation. A vanity press is a publisher that will print your book or include your work (a poem or a short story) in a compilation for a free. Print-on-Demand, however, is a company (in this case: Lulu) who prints books as they are ordered. Lulu charges customers a per-book printing price, but you pay no money up front. There are discounts for large orders, but you can order as few as a single copy of your book! Obviously the printing cost for a single book will be higher than what you could get from going through a conventional print shop, but many print shops require customers to buy hundreds or thousands of copies of their book and pay for them up front. If you go this route you had better hope your book sells well -- otherwise you're going to end up with a garage full of books and a lot of stocking stuffers for all of your friends and family!
If you plan on self-publishing your book through Lulu, the first thing you will want to do is decide what size of book you plan to print. Both of my books were 6"x9", but there are other sizes available. After you decide on a size you'll want to download the corresponding templates. You can either write your book directly in the template, or do like I did and simply cut/paste your work into Lulu's template after you're done writing. Lulu also has templates for their book covers.
Once you have placed everything in the proper template, it's time to upload your book to Lulu. If you plan on selling your book anywhere other than through Lulu's store, you'll need to purchase an ISBN number. This is a unique number that identifies your book. Lulu will give you an ISBN for free, but they become your publisher and I don't fully understand all the ramifications of that. If you would like to purchase your own, ISBNs cost $99 and can be purchased online. To sell your book online through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or any of those places, you will need an ISBN.
Just because you print your book through Lulu doesn't mean that's the only place you're allowed to sell it. With an ISBN number, Lulu will automatically list your book on dozens of other websites. I was surprised to hear that people were buying my book through Amazon when I hadn't even put it up for sale there! Another thing you can do (and what I do) is buy physical copies of my own book through Lulu (authors get a steep discount) and then sell them through your own website. That is how I sell both Commodork and Invading Spaces, as it allows me to sign books for readers and save a few extra dollars in Lulu fees. For each book of yours a customer buys through Lulu, Lulu keeps 20%. The advantage is, the transaction is completely hands-off as far as you (the author) is concerned. The downside is... 20%. So by selling copies of my own books I save that 20% in fees, although truth be told, I probably spend it on gas money driving to and from the post office.
Regardless of which method you pursue, I'm sure you'll be ordering at least one of your books for yourself, and let me tell you, there's nothing more gratifying that opening that package and touching a physical copy of your book for the first time. You did it! You wrote a real book!
All you need to publish your book on Amazon as an eBook is a free Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) account. Simply upload your book in Word, HTML, Mobi or ePub format, and Amazon will take care of the rest. It's literally that simple. Note that PayPal is a competitor of Amazon, so you'll have to supply a bank account number and get paid that way instead. You will also receive a W2 from Amazon at the end of the year from your sales and will need to include this income on your taxes. Welcome to the big time!
Here are the three downsides I've found with publishing eBooks on Amazon. The first is the royaly amount that Amazon keeps from each purchase. If your book is priced between $2.99 and $2.99, you will keep 70% of the sales price and Amazon will keep 30%. If your book costs less than $2.99 or more than $9.99, you will keep 35% of the sales price and Amazon will keep a whopping 65% of the sales price. Amazon is virtually forcing authors to price their books between $2.99 and $9.99. True story -- when I first uploaded Commodork as an Amazon book, I priced it at 99 cents and, due to fees, actually lost money on each purchase.
The second downside to ePublishing on Amazon is that with each country that Amazon sells your book in, you will get a different bank statement. Last month I got three of them: one from Amazon US, one from Amazon UK, and one from Amazon FR. It's a needless thing they do that makes bookkeeping (and W2 forms) a pain in the butt.
Finally, and this may not be an issue for all authors, but my readers (readers of technical books) don't like DRM, or Digital Rights Management. Kindle eBooks are locked into the Kindle Format and cannot easily be moved from one device to another. That's good if you're an author, but it makes some readers so mad that they simply won't purchase your book in that format.
In the end, I started selling my books in a non-DRM format. I charge $2.99 per book. After paying through PayPal, readers are instantly emailed a copy of my book both in PDF and ePub format. Yes, this means that in theory people can more easily pirate my books, but I've had several honest readers download illegal copies of my books and pay me after reading and enjoying them. I couldn't as for anything more.