Paperbacks: Do they matter? Should indie authors bother? Are they worth it? And Talia, why are you typing out questions to yourself and posting them on the internet?
Read closely, my majestic moppet, and all shall become clear. (Or more complicated, depending on how well you parse my particular brand of self-reflective rambling. Oh, whatever. Just grab a cuppa and hold on tight.)
When I started my career in 2017, I was a harried 21-year-old finishing her degree and dealing with her great-grandmother’s death. I had to write (to make myself happy) and I had to publish (to make money, y’know, for food). But anything beyond those needs was left by the wayside.
Back then, 100% of my energy went towards honing my craft and trying not to fail my coursework, so it’s no surprise that my first few releases were ebook-only. Paperbacks seemed so intimidating and time-consuming. Of course, as time went by, I gained confidence, finished my pesky education, and started to get the hang of this whole self-publishing thing. A good chunk of my books – The Princess Trap, the Ravenswood series – popped up in paperback and even audio.
Of course, that still left several of my self-published books in digital-only limbo. But I told myself it didn’t really matter: the books were doing just fine, my paperbacks weren’t super popular, and taking the time to set everything up probably wasn’t worth it.
Then my September 2019 release, Work for It, burst on to the scene, and I noticed something. It wasn’t a huge, overwhelming something; it was a small, quiet something. Every so often, a reader would email, or tweet, or comment on an Instagram post, asking…
“Talia – when does the paperback come out?!”
Suddenly, there was reason (a tiny reason, but still) to question my established thoughts on paperbacks.
So I started challenging my old assumptions. I’m a big reader myself, so instead of thinking negatively, I paid attention to my own behaviour as a consumer. Did I prefer ebooks? Sure. Mostly because I have physical limitations, and ebooks are easier for me to deal with than bigger, heavier paperbacks.
So what about those whose needs and limitations took them in the opposite direction?
Did I have more ebooks than physical books? Of course I did! Space was limited. But when I thought deeper, I realised that every paperback on my shelf was there for a reason. Specifically: I’d read the ebook first, and loved it so much that I needed a solid copy to worship – I mean, collect.
So what about those readers who felt a similar, gotta-have-it love for my books?
Suddenly, my decision to put paperbacks in the backseat felt less like good sense and more like neglecting my most faithful readers. I’d been thinking like, well, me – the women who wrote these books, and whose imposter syndrome continues to (falsely, but convincingly) suggest no-one can possibly like them that much – as opposed to my readers. You know, those people who repeatedly choose to read my books on purpose because it makes them happy.
With that error corrected, it became clear that paperbacks are worth it as an indie author. Not only are they another avenue to supplement your income (and who among us would not be grateful for any little boost?), they enhance the experience for readers. Plus, they give you a bone-deep sense of satisfaction. You get to hold physical copies of something you wrote in your hands!
Of course, as an author, I have to make sure I’m not spending an unreasonable amount of time on any activity that isn’t my main function: writing books. So, once I decided to publish paperbacks, I had to find shortcuts – way to make the process as quick and easy as possible. My current system was created via some trial and error, and it’s basically a breeze:
- Don’t panic about making your ebook release and paperback release totally simultaneous. You are not a machine and you don’t have a team of 5,000 behind you. Readers aren’t going to bite your head off and spit-roast your corpse if they can’t order the book immediately. So let that stress go, sugar.
- Set yourself a goal or timeline. When will you upload the paperback? One week post-ebook release? Two? A month? Work towards that date, and let your readers know so they can mark their calendars.
- Purchase ISBN numbers. These are pricey, but the more you buy, the better. I initially purchased ten, but I recently bought a block of 100. If you can afford to buy in bulk, do so. (Unless you belong to one of those sensible countries who offer ISBN numbers for free.)
- Make the most of Vellum. It’s an incredible, must-have tool for me, so if you’ve been on the fence, know this: it is absolutely worth the money. I’ve always used Vellum to format my ebooks in a matter of clicks. Now I also use it to format paperbacks within the same file. You can make certain pages in your book (such as the digital contents page) ‘ebook only’, and other pages (such as the paperback copyright page complete with ISBN) ‘paperback only’. Just enable paperback publishing via the ‘Generate’ button, then right-click the sections in question.
- Decide on a uniform print size. All of my print books are either 5.5. x 8.5in (around trade size) or 5.25 x 8in (paperback size). Decide which size you prefer, then save the information. Your cover designer, plus the distribution platforms you choose, will need to know.
- How many pages? The page count of your paperback affects the cover size you’ll need, so finalise the book’s content as soon as you can. If you have Vellum, it’ll calculate the pages for you. Just go to ‘Generate’ > ‘Print Settings’.
- Tell your cover designer. Let them know from the start that your book will be available in paperback. Your designer needs the print size, the page number, and the back cover copy. Let them know when you’ll have this information ready, and see if that fits their schedule.
- Distribute it! I upload my paperbacks to two different channels: KDP, which is Amazon’s print-on-demand service, and IngramSpark, a print-on-demand service that distributes to other sellers like Waterstones and The Ripped Bodice. If you want to do the same, make sure you do not choose ‘expanded distribution’ from KDP. Oh – and be aware that IngramSpark charges for book set-up. If you’re just starting out, or you’re in KU, or you’re not here for the complications, publishing solely via Amazon is absolutely fine.
- Make connections. I’m not talking about people, here – which is lucky, because I’m terrible at those sort of connections. No, I’m talking about making sure that Amazon has linked your ebook and paperback versions together. This makes it easier for readers to find (and get ahold of!) both. If it hasn’t happened within 72 hours, email KDP and ask politely.
- Blow your own trumpet. You have successfully Done a Thing, so make sure you let people know. Add paperback links to your website. Take pictures of your shiny new products and post on social media. Send out an excited newsletter! The people need to know. The people want to know. You may not feel like it, but trust me, they do.
So, that’s my method! Altogether, paperback production and distribution takes me no more than an hour per book. Unfortunately, I have quite a few books, so I’m working my way through the list relatively slowly. But every little helps!
I recently published my first-ever series, the Just for Him books, in paperback. It wasn’t particularly fun, but it was worth it – especially when I saw long-time readers happily posting their copies.
So, hop to it. Harness the power of paperbacks to put a smile on readers’ faces – and your own.
Love and biscuits,