Publishing a book step by step

by Steve Richardson
(Albuquerque, NM, USA)

Billy's Mountain

Billy's Mountain

Here is how I created and published my picture book, step by step. If you follow these publishing steps you won't have any problem creating your own book and taking it from an idea into reality:

Publishing your book - step 1.

Come up with a unique story concept that will interest both kids and adults. Only self publish if you feel very, very strongly that your book can sell and that you have the time to put into promoting it.

For reference here is my web site: Impossible Dreams!

Publishing your book - step 2.

If it's a picture book, you will need an illustrator. Find an illustrator whose style fits the book's content, writing style and energy.

Illustrations can cost from $300 to $600 or more per page. Most cost about $500 per page, however a detailed, tighter style is usually more expensive than an artist with a loose, impressionistic or simple style. Many illustrators will do the entire design of your book cover-to-cover and then submit everything directly to the printer over the net. Others like to only focus on the illustrations and don't want to mess with typesetting. These are questions you should ask your illustrator at the beginning so you can determine if you will need to also hire a graphic designer. I prefer if the illustrator can do everything. My feeling is they will do a better job on the cover, because they will choose a text style and look that blends with and complements their illustrations.

Publishing your book - step 3.

Purchase a bar code / ISBN #. You will probably have to purchase several, and it can be expensive. I think I paid $500 but got five or six bar codes. You will need to send your bar code to your artist or graphic designer, or whoever is doing your cover design. If you want to get into bookstores you must have a barcode. Make sure you get the right kind!

Here is where you get a barcode/ISBN #:

Publishing your book - step 4.

Find a printer. Don't be afraid to deal with printers in China. They cost 1/3rd what U.S. printers cost, even with shipping. Just do a search online for a printer in China then ask for a quote. I would get several quotes and check their reputations. Make sure they communicate with you in perfect English. They will want to know the size of your book, dimensions, number of pages, and quantities. I would get several quotes with different quantities. Here is the printer I used and they were AWESOME!!!! They provided great service and communication.

Your books may be delivered to a port in the L.A. area or transported to someplace in the Midwest for you to pick up. The printer and transport company will guide you through the process of picking the book up and getting it through customs.

I won't deal with On-Demand printers, because most bookstores won't take On-Demand printing. A POD book is basically something you will have a very hard time selling and is impossible to turn into a best seller if your book is a great book. I have heard nothing but bad things about On-Demand. It's mostly a scam or for wealthy people to use to make themselves look like published authors.

Publishing your book - step 5.

Once you have the book in your hands, then it's time for the real work. There are many distributors who would love to take your money and have you pay a storage fee each month, even if they don't sell many copies of your book. I used Bookmasters but am thinking about finding another distributor who doesn't take such a stiff storage fee and is more aggressive with sales. I have to pay $65 a month even if they don't sell one book.

Let me know if you know of a better distributor.

Most distributors will get you on and etc. In fact Billy's Mountain is now being sold by about 30 different online bookstores. Beyond distributors, you must self promote, do a lot of book signings, and perhaps spend some money on advertising. If you think your book could do well nationally and you want to turn it into a best seller, you may need to spend tens of thousands of dollars on advertising.

Publishing your book - step 6.

Get the book reviewed. I suggest Midwest Book Review, as they review every book sent to them for free. You will need to send in a Press Release with the book.

Should you self publish?

If you feel very strongly about your book but can't seem to get anyone to bite on it, you might strongly consider self publishing. Keep in mind that publishers get thousands of query letters a month and many, many great books get lost in the process. Many of the greatest authors were rejected hundreds of times before having that same rejected manuscript accepted by a small, obscure publishing company. Then all those who rejected it got to watch it rise to the top and see the publisher who took a chance make millions. "Chicken Soup for the Soul" is one example of this. Also, Dr. Seuss's books were rejected many, many times, and so were Hans Christian Andersen's masterpieces. When you think of the crappy books and movies that make it big, you see that the general public can have bad taste. So, even if you have a campy, corny book that is disgustingly bad, it could sell millions!

The people in the publishing business are just people, many who have never been published themselves. Some are good and some are not so good at what they do, just as in any business. Many can't see trends, and often a project must be voted on by committee. Several people might feel very strongly about your book but not enough to get it through. Also, big publishers shy away from regional or local books because they want to sell nationally. If you have something local, then you might do really well in a local market, because there usually isn't much competition.

Publishing a book, step by step

Self promotion is sometimes the best thing you can do to get the ball rolling. Before I was a writer, I did scenic photography. I had thousands of images that were publishable and would submit them again and again with no luck. Then one summer, while working at the Grand Canyon, I decided to print up a Grand Canyon calendar with my own photos. I found a distributor and then sold out all 2,000 calendars I printed. I then would send samples from the calendar with my submissions to magazines. Suddenly the same images that had been rejected dozens of times started getting published! My photography has now been published in magazines, calendars, postcards etc., well over 100 times.

I quickly came to realize that those in the publishing business are human, and their prejudices can throw off their perception of reality.

Billy's Mountain was my first attempt at publishing a children's book, and to this date I only have 200 of the 2,500 books I initially printed remaining. Almost all sales came through the company Books Are Fun. They decided it would be a good regional book, especially in Kansas, where the book is set. Books Are Fun sets up book displays in teachers' lounges at over 50,000 schools across the country. I sell a few books on and at local bookstores but don't have time to promote the book, which is probably the most important thing in sales. I have been disappointed by my distributor, Bookmasters, because they have only sold a few hundred copies, while I got rid of 2,000 by myself. It may be that I haven't done enough to promote the book though. I am still learning how to promote and sell and have learned some great tips from others who have posted here. Billy's Mountain is not my best book, though I started with it because it was a simple picture book. I am now in the process of publishing three more children's books.

Publishing is easy and fun. Selling it is where the hard work comes in. Keep in mind that self publishing is costly and very, very risky! It can cost from $10,000 to $20,000 if you need a lot of illustrations. If there are no illustrations, your cost will likely be from $5,000 to $7,000 for printing in China. That is with a small run of around 2,500 books.

Thanks for taking the time to read about how I went about self publishing, step by step. If I was helpful to you, I hope you will consider buying one of my books for the free advice.

Good luck!

Steve Richardson

Some would call Dan Poynter's manual the ultimate self-publishing step by step. Click to check out all 300+ reviews on Amazon.

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Dec 17, 2010
An easy to follow guide
by: A. Mack

Can I simply say, "Thank you"? I have had this book series for little girls for 3 years now, and with all the reading and researching I've done, this posting you were kind enough to share is the best explained and most thoughtful information I've found. I can finally decide how to proceed without feeling lost and confused. Thanks, Steve!

Happy Holidays to you and your family and much success in your writing career!

Dec 15, 2010
Good, solid information
by: Anonymous

Hi Steve,

Thanks for the self publishing info. I used to know a Steve Richardson in Anchorage. Did you ever live there?

Larry Price

Dec 09, 2008
Great how-to
by: Budding Author

Thank you, Steve, for providing such a clear step by step process to publishing and possible pitfalls. This information is most helpful for a budding author like myself.

Jul 10, 2008
Hoping to follow your steps to success!
by: Ant.B.

Thank you so much for creating this website and providing this information. I have been writing since I was 7 years old. It has been a life-long dream to become a successful author. I am stepping out on faith and preparing to publish my first written work. I expect success, and I expect it to be a life changing, encouraging, joyous experience for each reader. I pray that all is well with your career and that God will bless you with great success. Thanks again. Ant.B.

Apr 01, 2008
Answering your question, Steve B.
by: Steve Richardson

Actually, I have a good friend who is a rep for Books Are Fun who has a lot of connections in the company. He distributes in Colorado, Utah, Northern New Mexico and Wyoming. For some reason Billy's Mountain did really well in Wyoming, sometimes selling as many as 10 copies per school. A good book will do 1 book per school. If they feel it will sell at that rate nationally, they might buy 50,000. Since they felt Billy's Mountain was only a regional book, I am trying to do books that might sell on a national level now. I think it was a mistake to locate the book in Kansas when I could have simply set it in the Midwest. It actually outsold many of there books that were distributed nationally, so I am not sure why they won't try it nationally.

My next three books are "Alexander Trout's Amazing Adventure," "Canlandia," and a children's book about New Mexico's history. Since I live in New Mexico I can do lots of local book signings and try out promoting it for sale in schools. I can send out order forms to parents so they can get signed copies. I think that is an awesome idea! (I learned it from another poster on this site.) I was thinking of doing that more as a fundraiser for each school, giving them a percentage of the sales, plus giving a free book to the library.

The other two books are more like Disney adventure stories. If my Books Are Fun contact has good luck with the sales, perhaps he can persuade the buyers in New York to go national with them. The only problem with Books Are Fun is that they don't pay much, so you have to get your quantities way up to get the cost down. If they decide they want 50,000 books, then my cost would probably drop to around a dollar per book and they might buy them for around $4.00.

In that case I would make $150,000.

If I can sell the New Mexico book directly to parents and teachers, giving the schools perhaps $2 per book, I could do very well with it locally. I would rather do the local book directly to the schools rather than with Books Are Fun, because I will make a lot more.

Apr 01, 2008
Thanks for a ton of good thoughts
by: Steve B.

I'm struck most by your telling us that Books Are Fun is responsible for nearly all of your sales. I'm sure that's something you hadn't expected when you started out on Billy's Mountain. You probably hadn't even heard of them!

To me, it's a reminder of two things.

First, that the 80-20 rule applies in bookselling, as in elsewhere. In other words, the bulk of your book sales come from a small percentage of your distribution outlets.

Secondly, because 80-20 is operative, it's incumbent upon the self publisher to put the thought into how his/her book is to be marketed. It's not a matter of listing on Amazon and waiting to sell out. It's a matter of taking a cold, hard look at who your most likely purchasers are and then finding the best way to reach them.

In light of that, I'd be interested in knowing:

After your first experience self publishing, did you find yourself - prior to writing - putting more thought into shaping your work for a particular audience (or distributor) on subsequent efforts?

Apr 01, 2008
Go Billy
by: Lp

Congrats on your success, Steve - and sound recommendations.

The only thing I would question on your scenario is the cost of bar codes. There are many cheaper suppliers out there than what you quoted. Delivery is a simple online download. I printed my book in India and would not neglect other Far East countries besides China. All you have to do is go to your local bookstore's kids section and you'll see books from all over the Far East.

The other thing I've learned recently is that it is important to get your book reviewed BEFORE it is released. You could get advance copies air couriered to you before your main shipment arrives to do this.

The truly scary part of self publishing is how short your window is to make it happen. You can be old news quickly in today's world. I've been playing catch up on a book I self published in 2005, because I didn't do all of the above fast enough.

Nice cover!

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