WHAT ARE THEY? When you publish a print book you’re required to send a copy (or a number of copies) to your national library within a specified time period (anything from twenty days to three months after publication). A national library isn’t the same as a local library in that books aren’t lent out. It’s simply a repository to store them. The idea is to safeguard all published material as part of the country’s heritage. The precise rules for legal deposits (referred to as mandatory deposits in the US) vary between countries. Check your national library’s website and/or contact them to confirm your obligations. Wikipedia gives a helpful list of legal deposits by country at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_deposit.
I also provide links to the legal deposit libraries of Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the US and the UK under ‘Resources’ at the back of this book. It’s a common misconception that you only need to fulfil legal deposit requirements if you purchased an ISBN. Not true: the purpose of an ISBN is to make your book discoverable to the retail industry. It has nothing to do with legal deposits.
Neither does it make any difference if you’re publishing through a print-on-demand company like Lulu or KDP. Printing your book and making it available to the public is enough to activate the legal requirement.
You’re legally obliged to send a free copy of your print book to The British Library within one month of publication. The address is: Legal Deposit Office The British Library Boston Spa Wetherby LS23 7BY In addition, there are a number of other legal deposit libraries including Oxford’s Bodleian Library, Cambridge’s University Library and one library each for Scotland, Ireland and Wales. You’re not legally required to send a copy of your book to any of these unless requested to do so, which is unlikely. To find out more about legal deposits in the UK, visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_deposit.
The rules regarding the deposit of ebooks vary from country to country. For example, the Libraries and Archives of Canada and the National Library of New Zealand require both print and ebook to be deposited, whereas the US, UK and Australian national libraries don’t require an ebook if a print copy has already been sent.
Any company offering self-publishing services which uses the phrase ‘Set your own price to decide your royalty’ should be shut down for disservice to authors.
Printing costs, high retailer commissions and postage charges make it hard for self-publishers to break even, but the idea that you can simply increase the retail price in order to make your book profitable is ludicrous: it goes against every law of commerce. Yet this is still a concept peddled to unsuspecting self-publishers far and wide. The bottom line is, readers aren’t going to pay over the odds for a self-published book when they can buy a new release from their favourite author at half the price.
The only logical approach is to focus on what the reader will actually pay and look for a distribution method which still allows you to make a profit.
Never select the distribution method first and then just up the price until it’s financially viable. As an unknown author, you’ll have an uphill struggle persuading readers to give your book a go.
Don’t shoot yourself in the foot – before you even start – by setting an unreasonable price. Investigate the cost of traditionally published books in your genre by visiting Amazon and other online stores which serve the country you’re pricing for. Pay particular attention to bestsellers: there’s no point basing your price on a single overpriced volume that’s only sold three copies.
Equally, try not to panic too much over any big promotions you see, such as the ‘Three books for £10’ offer at Amazon.co.uk. You can’t compete with this sort of mass-production, but you can match the original recommended retail price. For a paperback novel and many other textbased genres, this is around £6.99 or £7.99 (in the UK) or $9.99–$14.99 (in the US). As with everything, from cover design to interior font, always go for the middle ground so your book doesn’t stick out as self-published.
If your book is less than 150 pages, you’ve written a novella, not a novel, and it should be priced down to a few pounds or dollars.
There’s some debate over whether the opposite is true: can you increase the price for a longer book? Many readers love long works of fiction because they feel they’re getting value for money, but I remain unconvinced that they’ll pay over the odds for it. When a potential reader lands on your Amazon listing page, the first thing they’ll see is your cover and price. If either of these put them off, they’re unlikely to scroll down to investigate how many pages they’re paying for. Attention spans in the online world are too short.
On a bookshop shelf, size will be immediately apparent, but, as I’ll discuss shortly, the chances of getting your book onto the shelves of all but small, local bookshops are pretty slim. If you’re interested in big sales, you need to consider, first and foremost, how your book will look online. For this reason, I wouldn’t add more than a pound or so (two to three dollars) for a long work of fiction, at least until you’ve built up a strong readership.
This leaves self-publishers with very long novels in a difficult position. Bestselling authors don’t need to worry if they’ve written 800 pages because their books are produced on such a large scale that printing costs per page become negligible. Page count definitely does matter when you’re using print-on-demand or shorter digital print runs.
With these, costs spiral upwards and it becomes very hard to make a profit on a reasonably priced novel over about 600 pages. If your book is very long, it might be worth considering whether it can be more sensibly presented as a series rather than a single volume.
This not only makes your book more economically viable but also has distinct marketing advantages. If you go down this route, you may need to do some significant re-writing to add a natural conclusion and a strong, compelling opening to each book.
Don’t split your work into tiny, nonsensical segments which leave the reader feeling they’ve paid full price for a few chapters. Serialisation isn’t an easy job or one to be undertaken lightly, but if you do it well, it can be highly effective. If this isn’t possible, you may be best skipping the print edition altogether and concentrating on ebooks. You stand a much higher chance of making money through these, anyway. In fact, some self-publishers decide to forgo a print edition altogether (regardless of the length of their book).
You can always come back to the world of print, at a later date, when you’ve got a loyal following who are willing to pay a little more.