Self-Publishing: Need Your Help

I am about to publish a small book of my poetry, songs, short stories and reminiscences as a family heirloom and maybe a way to help raise money for my local Humane Society.

I would like the book to be attractively bound, maybe 50-75 pages (depending on how much “stuff” I think is worthwhile), but since I have never done anything like this, I was wondering if y’all could recommend a place where I can have this done?

I have a lady who has agreed to edit all the pages of my work and get them ready for printing, so no typesetting would be needed, but I also don’t have a lot of funds and I would like to start with a printing of only 20 books until I see what happens.

Thanks for your advice


iuniverse has a fairly cheap ($299) package that might work for you - if no graphics. They are reputable, at least. I’ve never done anything with them, but when Barnes & Noble owned them (they still might for all I know) our writing critique group who met at B&N were going to do a sampler with them. It fell apart when B&N backed away.


Damn. Voyager beat me to it…

Good luck with your project.

I may have a lot of relevant experience to offer. Self-publishing is how I started my own business in 1998, and it soon meant I was able to give up my day job and support myself. Feel free to pick my brains, learn from my experience and avoid my mistakes!

  1. If you only want to produce 20 copies, you can do the whole thing on a home computer system. Print out 20 copies of each page. Collate the pages. Slip each set into a simple folder that has a plastic spine to grip the pages and a protective see-thru front cover. You can get these from Staples or any similar big stationery warehouse. It’s not especially elegant, but it’s the most cost-effective option for such a small print run.

  2. If you can’t / don’t want to do it all at home, you can start small and modest, and work your way up. The first book I ever self-published was a very simple affair. I took the pages to a high street photocopy shop and asked them to run off x copies, bind them (simple wire binding) and stick a cardboard cover front and back. I sold enough copies of this first edition to raise funds so that the second edition could be printed to a higher standard, and so on. These days I publish books that actually look like books you buy in stores, offset litho press, full-colour glossy covers etc. Ask hte high street copy shop what options they can offer in terms of your book being ‘attractively bound’, but don’t expect too much.

  3. A ‘proper’ printer can offer much better binding options, such as burst binding, perfect binding, chapter stitching, soft or hard covers etc. (the technical terminology may vary on your side of the pond, I’m Britihs). However, it will only be appropriate and cost-effective to use such a printer if you are going to print a minimum of 1000 copies (or thereabouts), and if you do then the total pages should be a multiple of 8 or 16 (the printer will advise you about this). However, if you want to go this route there are a lot of other things to be aware of, and it’s a bigger subject than I can deal with here. Feel free to contact me directly, off Board, if you want any further advice about this.

  4. I don’t know about this ‘iuniverse’ service, but if two Dopers recommend it then it can’t be all bad! Just make sure you are getting what you want at the end of it, and that everything is agreed in writing before you commit. A bargain ‘one size fits all’ instant printing place can be good for a first-timer, but the advantage (low price) is balanced by the fact that they tend to be rather inflexible, and also that they can’t afford to spend much time on a job - they just load it into the machine, press the button and worry about the next one.

  5. I would gently encourage you to be at least a little more ambitious! You know, twenty copies really isn’t that many. I’m sure I could sell 50 copies of just about anything, even if it was awful (and I’m sure your work is wonderful!). Someone who wanted to get into self-publishing came to me a few years ago for advice, and her first project was a booklet about networking, in the social sense and the ‘making business contacts’ sense. To be honest, the booklet had its merits but I didn’t think it was all that good. Yet she sold many, many copies to local businesses, and made quite a tidy sum. I realise funds are low, and I’m not saying you should make the leap to 1000 copies and litho printing. But 100 copies, maybe? Once you’ve got them printed, if you’re determined to sell them, you will. 90% of sales and marketing is sheer, dogged persistence, will and determination.

  6. Invest whatever you can in the front cover and the quality of the basic look and feel of the book. This always has a significant effect on sales and sales potential, because it’s the first thing people see, and frankly many people do still ‘judge a book by its cover’. My first publishing venture didn’t have very nice covers because I could only afford simple cardboard ones. But as soon as I could, I moved up to glossy, full-colour covers with pretty graphics on. Makes a big difference. Oh, and make sure you start off with some of your best content. When people browse, they start at the front. If they like what they see on the first few pages, they’ll probably buy. So those first few pages had beeter be good. I spend more time on the introduction to a book than on any other part of it, because that’s what people read first.

  7. Here’s a tip that’s worth its weight in gold. Somewhere in the book, about two thirds of the way through, insert a page that sweetly and politely requests the reader to tell other people about the book and to help you ‘spread the word’ about your work. And include all the relevant information about how someone can get hold of their own copy if they want one. This single page will get other people selling your book for you, at no cost to you whatsoever. Putting a page such as this in my own books has proved to be one of the best ideas I ever had.

  8. Sell your book online. If you don’t know how to build a simple website, get a five dollar book on basic HTML and learn. It will take a weekend. You can build a one page ‘buy my book’ website in less time than it took me to write this reply, and you can do it with a simple word processor.

Get in touch if I can help you with anything else.

Most towns have at least one commercial printer, and it wouldn’t cost anything to make a few discreet inquiries. I work for a newspaper printer, but over the years have spent a little bit of time at sheet-fed shops that print books and manuals. See what kind of packages they offer. They might have blank covers left over from some other job; they could convert your Word files into Pagemaker, print them out on both sides of the paper, trim them down and “perfect bind” (glue) them into preformatted covers. The books won’t hold up for repeated readings over the years, but for your needs, this might be an attractive option. So might spiral binding (like most school-type notebooks); lots of songbooks, cookbooks and limited-run poetry books opt for this.

Try It doesn’t cost anything for the setup, unless you pay for additional features, and you can even set the price and decide whether it’s visible to the public. It’s what the sci-fi writers use for the PublishAmerican sting book, Atlanta Nights. You have to do all the layout and art, though.

ianzin and everyone:

Thanks very much for that detailed information! It is very much appreciated and will be used, I assure you!

This being my first literary effort (even though I am publishing it at my own expense), I am having more than a little trouble coming to terms with why I am doing it, and maybe y’all can help me out a bit further.

I am not by nature an arrogant person (although a recent thread may prove me wrong! :smiley: ), and so I am wondering how this book of poems, lyrics and short stories will be received. Did any of you have the same sort of misgivings?

So I am thinking of calling this book Here’s Some Stuff I Wrote. Please Buy It And Help Save An Animal’s Life.

See what I mean?

I don’t mean to make you think I am not proud of what I have written, it’s just the fact that I am scared to suddenly have this stuff out in the open.

Or should I just say “Hell with it, like it or don’t. It didn’t cost you anything to print and it will probably just wind up in your trash anyway!”

I value your advice.



Anyone who tries to publish for public consumption is by definition a little arrogant. And I say that as someone with six books and well over a hundred rejection letters from agents under my belt. There’s nothing wrong with wanting people to read what you wrote. (An agent requested a partial of my novel today; you can imagine how happy that makes me.)

Buy This Or We’ll Shoot The Dog has been done already.


Thank you, and I wish you luck on your novel. Please keep me in mind for an autographed version!



I personally think has the best deal going for something like this.

Look around at the POD guys and see what you think before going for it.

You can’t tell how people react until you try it. I don’t much hold with self-publishing, but you’re doing it for the right reason - a family heirloom and a local charity are excellent reasons to publish. You’re being as humble as possible.

Remember, it all starts off as words on paper (or a screen.) I have a column where I sometimes have to churn out 500 words in two days time. Some of them fall flat, but some of them work out really well. Sometimes I can tell they’re good, and sometimes I can’t. If you’re happy with it, go for it.

Check this out:

Thanks, y’all.

I did register with and found myself a local typist/editor to help me lay out my pages. She’s very good, but I feel like she needs to be tougher on me:

“Beat me, chastise me! Make me not give in to the iambic pentameter every time!”


I had forgotten about that National Lampoon cover, and I sure do miss that magazine :slight_smile: , but I have several working titles.

If I may, I’d like to check in and out with y’all to see if you can help me with the 'mechanics" of publishing?