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Self-Publishing Your Book – Interview with Jeff Colburn

Jeff Colburn has been a published writer and photographer for over 40 years. His photographs and writing have been used by over 100 publications, businesses, organizations and websites. One of his photographs, showing a rainbow in the Red Rocks of Sedona, was part of a special exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum. Currently, Jeff maintains a Fine Art and Stock Photography website (www.JeffColburn.com) a website for his many ebooks (www.CreativeCauldron.com) and a blog for those who use and create photographs (www.TheCreativesCorner.com). You can see his Fine Art prints in person at the New State Motor Building Gallery, Jerome, Arizona. With this interview, hopefully you will be inspired to give self-publishing your best effort. Jeff has written seven e-books:

  • How To Find Models, Anywhere
  • 25 Places To Sell Your Photographs And Photography Skills
  • The Vanishing Old West – Jerome
  • How To Assemble And Show Your Portfolio
  • The Writer’s Resource Book Of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror And Mythology
  • The Writer’s Answer Book
  • The Youngest Ninja

Maria Piscopo: What have been the biggest problems or obstacles you have run into when shopping for your eBook or print book production services?

Jeff Colburn:  The problem is the number of options, and deciding which one is best for you, your book and your potential customers. You have two options when it comes to printing your book; go through a book printer or use a Print on Demand Company.

Printing a book is cheap, until you add color photographs, so it’s imperative to find a printer that has great quality and prices.  Finding a reasonable priced printer requires a lot of e-mailing and calling to get prices. This is especially difficult since some of the best printers are overseas.

In my search for a printer I contacted 33 companies around the world. Most didn’t respond, others were too expensive or their print quality was poor. A few had good prices, but the shipping fees offset the savings. I only found three printers that came somewhat close to my needs and prices, but never really found one that could do everything I wanted for a decent price.

Traditional publishers keep prices down by ordering at least 5,000 copies of a book, or they have their own printing company.  But when a photographer has five or ten, or even one hundred copies printed, the cost is very high. This upfront cost can prevent many photographers from printing their books, and the high price of each copy makes them difficult to sell. I read about a photographer that had a coffee table book printed, and it cost him $75 per book, which he sells it for over $100. He’s only sold a few copies.

Print on Demand (POD) companies may be an option, but they will try to upsell you until you find the initial price has doubled or tripled. Their base prices range from about $700 to $2,400, and they will usually print your first 3-5 books for free. And you have to read their contract very carefully, and understand what you’re reading. If you are using ABC Company for POD, and decide to switch over to XYZ Company, you may have to pay ABC well over $1,000 to leave them.

For eBooks you have two options: sell the book yourself through your own website or a place like Kindle, or use an eBook publisher. EBook publishers will assemble your eBook and send it out to places like Kindle, but like POD and book printers, they will try to upsell you to services that you may not need.  I can’t stress enough that as a consumer, you must educate yourself. If you don’t, you’ll waste time, energy and money. When I’m deciding what services to pay for, and what to do myself, I always ask one question, “Do I have more time or money?” If I have more time than money, then I do it myself. If the opposite is true, then I send that part of the project out. As a beginning self-publisher, you will undoubtedly have more time than money. And since most eBooks won’t sell a lot of copies, having more money than time probably won’t be an issue.

Another problem with ebooks is that they are easy for people to give away to friends, or to offer on a Torrent site. Torrent sites often illegally post ebooks for people to download. One of my ebooks wound up on several of these sites, and based on the download counter on the pages, there were over $1,000,000 of illegal downloads. That really hurt.

While my books are PDFs, there are companies that publish your eBook in a special format that can’t be put on Torrent sites, but then you’re back to paying setup and annual fees.

Expect to do everything yourself, from writing the book, to design and layout and getting the book ready to print or upload. You will also be responsible for all marketing and promotion. It’s not easy, so you really have to love your book.

Maria Piscopo: What is (or are) the biggest changes you have seen in the photography book market in the last few years?

Jeff Colburn:  Self-publishing has allowed photographers to publish books that they couldn’t have done just a few years ago. Small runs, even as low as one book, can now be done with no problem.

And by self-publishing, photographers get to keep all the profits, if there are any. This flood of self-published books allows niche topics to make it into print or e-versions that never would make it past a traditional publisher because there isn’t a large enough audience. This gives the buying public a much broader choice of topics to meet their interests.

There’s also more standardization in eBook formats. Kindle and other similar companies now make it pretty easy to get a book ready for their system. The key is to read their specifications before putting your book together so that it meets their requirements. It’s a real pain to put an eBook together, then find out you have to completely change the layout so it can be uploaded to a distributor.

Maria Piscopo: What recommendations can you add to help our readers be successful in this particular market?

Jeff Colburn:  Don’t write a book just because you’re interested in it. The key to success, and sales, is to find a need and fill it. Do research to see if there is interest in your book, or better yet, research to see what books people are looking for, and write those books.

Educate yourself about all aspects of eBook publishing and self-publishing before you even begin working on your book. A lot of businesses have grown up around the eBook and self-publishing industry, and they all want your money. If you go into this endeavor blind, these businesses will make a lot of money off of you, and you will wind up broke.

You have to be willing to do all the needed promotion for your book, and be happy with only a few hundred sales. If you have more sales, that’s great, but don’t expect it or you may be setting yourself up for a big disappointment.

Look at self-publishing as only one of your revenue streams. And be prepared to write several books, not just one. If it suits your book, every so often release a revised edition.