my first time: self-publishing via print-on-demand

Now that I’ve kicked off promotions for Asian American Youth Ministry and mailed out & given out about 50 comp copies to date, I want to take a breather and debrief my first experience with self-publishing. (for background on how this book came into being, read the book’s introduction [PDF].

I realized that the book we were seeking to publish would serve a small niche market; it probably would not meet the minimum sales number that a traditional publisher would require for a book proposal. So I didn’t spend the time to look into that. (This memoir will only talk about the publishing experience; the editing experience is a whole ‘nother deal.)

Instead, I looked into 2 web-based print-on-demand self-publishing companies: and CafePress looked very cool, and had print-on-demand books plus a whole range of other products and lovely tchotchkes. looked more active for print-on-demand books, had an active discussion forum, tech support help, blogs, online bookstore, more book-centric. I even ordered a Lulu-printed book to get the buyer’s experience. (I did take a quick look at iUniverse, Xlibris, and XulonPress, but initial costs scared me off. There are at least 48 self-publishing companies out there; also see somewhat-biased blog and podcast about self-publishing)

When I did the math, won out on price and features. Big pluses: no setup fees, no initial run, no minimum, online store and fulfillment, I retain the copyright, I could go to another printer or even a traditional publisher later (tho’ I’m told that a traditional publisher might not look favorably on a previously published book), I could create my own cover design or use their template, open + transparent pricing & publishing processes, bulk purchase discount, ISBN number available (for $34.95). And when I pulled the trigger, the book would have been listed in Marketplace, but Amazon and Lulu haven’t getting along, and today I discovered that Amazon has their own little print-on-demand company called — which has initial up-front costs to self-publish.

Getting the book’s content laid out just right and the cover design took herculean effort for a non-detail person like me. I used Microsoft Word for the book layout, using a separate DOC file for each chapter, and then stitched it together using Adobe Acrobat. I invested in the commercial Acrobat Creator software so I could track comments and feedback from a handful of manuscript readers. To publish via, just upload the book’s content and cover design in PDF format into your own project area. But, I discovered, not all PDFs are created alike. I had a hecka time trying to get my fonts embedded; I couldn’t figure out the 100s of configuration options in Acrobat, so I just encoded the manuscript in Postscript, and then reconverted into raw PDF.

Self-publishing exceeded my expectations by far! After 6 months of compiling, proofreading, and editing, holding the first copy of the book in my hands was ecstatic! It came packed in cushioned styrofoam (not plastic air bubble pack), no bent corners, beautiful colors on the cover (custom designed by my lovely wife) with a striking resemblence to what I saw in Photoshop. And the book felt like a real paperback book! It was a real book! (I think looking very closely, I could see some uneven printing on certain pages, and not quite as crisp as offset printing, but then again, I could be imagining this, since I knew this was print-on-demand and not normal publishing. Not to mention the bummer deal of catching 2 typos in the pre-release copy, so I had to fix it and upload a revision.)

Self-publishing gets me past the gatekeepers, and I can directly connect with my audience and/or niche market. You can too! First-time authors (and small-time authors) have to promote their own books anyways, I learned at a writer’s conference a few years ago. Plus, royalty for a paperback is like 25 cents per copy sold, according to one published author I heard. You can easily make $5 per sale via print-on-demand! (this book I’ve published as part of my L2 Foundation work is being sold at near cost, so we are not making big royalties here, we just want to get the book out and used by many.)

Rudy of took the fast on ramp and compiled a handful of articles he’s previously written (and had edited by other publications) and published it as Urban and Multiethnic Outreach Vol. 1 via – brilliant! With a title like that, he’s already teed up volume 2 to come. We’re scheming on this print-on-demand revolution for other emerging voices…

There’s a place for traditional publishers and gatekeepers and marketers to push books for the masses. Now, there’s also a place for anyone to publish a book that looks like a book, for as small an audience as need be!

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8 Responses

  1. rudy says:


    heh heh

    thanks for pulling back the curtain

  2. Daniel says:

    Congrats! You can rightfully say you’ve been published.

    Reading your post reminds me of the book I just finished up, “The Long Tail” by Chris Anderson. The democratization of production/distribution, connecting supply with demand (and vice versa), and the boom of niche culture.

  3. Noel says:

    Thanks. This is super helpful. I am working on a book right now that I suspect will be a niche book, as well.

  4. Jeremy says:

    Thanks for once again blazing a trail that the rest of us technophobes can follow.

  5. Justin says:

    Wow. That was a lot of work. Thanks for recording it here!

  6. Lon says:

    DJ, thanks for filling us in on the process these days. Look forward to going through it myself some time. Congrats!

  7. Kingsley says:

    Thanks so much Dj for this valuable information. it will come in very handy for me as I too am in the processing of publishing for the first time. Thanks so much.