What is the best way to format a paperback? This is among the questions answered on our #AskALLi Members Q&A hosted by Michael La Ronn, author of science fiction and fantasy novels as well as author self-help books; and ALLi Director, author, and poet Orna Ross.
Other questions include:
- Where can I find the show notes for the podcast?
- Does ALLi connect authors with agents?
- How can I minimize my tax liability as an author?
- Does ALLi recommend writing coaches?
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And, if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at http://allianceindependentauthors.org.
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About the Hosts
Michael La Ronn is the author of over 30 books of science fiction & fantasy and authors self-help books. His books include the Galaxy Mavericks series and Modern Necromancy series. You can now find his new writing course on Teachable.
Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and is greatly excited by the democratising, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website: http://www.ornaross.com
Read the Transcripts: Format a Paperback and More
Orna Ross: Hello everyone. I’m here today, Orna Ross speaking, for our Member Q&A, where members of the Alliance of Independent Authors send us their most pressing self-publishing questions, and as ever, we are here to answer them. We, being me and Michael La Ronn. Hi, Michael.
Michael La Ronn: Hello, Orna! I was going to say good morning, good afternoon, but I don’t know when people are listening, but happy 2022!
Orna Ross: Indeed. Morning where you are, just barely afternoon where I am, and heaven knows what time it is where people are, but it doesn’t matter because our questions are timeless in the main, the same issues arise for all self-publishers at different stages of the process.
So, you are the man with questions, do you want to kick off with the first one today?
What is the best way to format a 6×9 book?
Michael La Ronn: Yes indeed. So, our first question comes from member Robert, and he asks, I have a book formatted for 6×9 trim size, but I see that I have many different options. Is there a best in practice or best way to format a 6×9 book so I don’t mess up?
Orna Ross: So, I’m not sure if the question is, should he avail of one of these other choices, or whether 6×9 is a preferred format for certain kinds of books? So, I’ll address both of those, the second one first. 6×9 is a very popular choice for non-fiction, and the advent of self-publishing has given us an awful lot more flexibility in terms of sizes. So, book print sizes have always been dictated by economics. So, the sizes that they kind of settled in on are slightly different in different countries, because there are different economic conditions in different countries, but they were roughly decided by the maximum profit to the publishers, based on the size of the book. And that’s why most novels traditionally used to come in at around 70,000 words, because that maxed out on a consignment print of 3-5,000, which was the average sort of print run for a novel.
So, now with print on demand, as the questioner rightly says, we’ve got lots and lots of different options, but authors have generally stuck with the standard sizes, and there are good reasons for doing this, particularly if you want to work with bookstores and libraries, because they tend to like you to keep to the standard, and unless you’ve got a reason for deviating, obviously illustrated books, children’s books, stuff like that, size is very much more widely than with a straightforward book. Typically, fiction now for POD, and this is not in any way a rule, so the first thing to say is it is up to you. The second thing to say is that if you go for a smaller format, you may well greatly improve your pricing on IngramSpark, and it is worth experimenting a little bit with that, because if you can get three copies of the book on a sheet, on one of their big sheets, the price comes in a little bit lower.
So, that is worth taking a look at, but generally speaking, authors are going for 6×9 for non-fiction, and something a little bit smaller, 8×5 or 8.5 by 5.5 for fiction.
Do you have anything to add on sizing, Michael?
Michael La Ronn: No, that’s great. That’s something I had never thought of that, I mean, I always knew about the economics of book printing, but that you would actually have a better price, better take-home pay, for lack of a better phrase, for having a smaller trim size.
Orna Ross: Yes. It came home to me when I went to, we organize visits for ALLi members to IngramSpark in Nashville and here in the UK in Milton Keynes, and it was when I was first on one of those tours and saw the big machines and saw them coming through and saw that sometimes they were getting three across on a sheet, and upon discussion discovered that yes, that could make a difference. So, it means your cost is lower and therefore you can apply a higher profit margin on the same price point for the customer. Yeah.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, that’s really insightful because I think for many of the people listening 6×9 is the default. It’s certainly the default at Amazon KDP. I think that’s what people kind of have burned into their brain, that, that’s what I should use, and you know, you just heard, maybe you should go lower.
Orna Ross: Yeah, it is interesting, and I think the two things to take into account here is your wish as a publisher to maximize your profit, which is a hundred percent what a publisher should do, and then there’s reader preference. But I don’t think readers think much about these things half as much as we think about them. They tend to accept the book that arrives, and unless it is something that reads strangely, or the font is too big for the trim size, these are things that you have to take into account, so the trim size needs to be balanced with other factors about the book, but it’s not rocket science and I think it’s well worth experimenting with.
What is the best practice way of formatting a paperback book?
Michael La Ronn: I agree, and I think that the next natural follow up question to the question is, well, is there a best practice way of formatting a paperback? And I think the answer is, not really. There’s a few different ways. So, once you determine on what format you want, you’ve got a few different options. You can hire a formatter if you want to do that. Certainly, you can go to our service ratings directory. We’ve got a lot of different formatters that we would recommend at ALLi, to make sure that you’re in good hands. That’s the first option.
The second option, which is probably more popular, is to use a formatting app, like Vellum is popular for Mac, Atticus, which was just released by Dave Chesson, that’s a popular solution now that’s available on Mac, Windows, any kind of machine that has an internet connection because it’s an internet-based formatting app. I’ve seen some results and tested Atticus, and I’ve been very pleased with the results. I really like where the app is going.
Or, if you really want a lot of firepower and you’ve got some money to spend, then you could use Adobe InDesign, which would help you with formatting a book. But there’s no best practice on how to create one, it’s just a matter of doing it.
And there’s also Microsoft Word templates. I mean, you can try it in Microsoft Word, but that’s not for the faint of heart.
Orna Ross: It’s so fiddly, I could never make Word work. Atticus, you’re so right, is really taking the community by storm, I think, and while it’s still in very early stages and a little bit buggy in places, it’s very good value for what it does. The great thing about using an app is that you can go back. If you hire a formatter, while that is also great because it’s off your desk and somebody else is putting in the time, and it’s a very valid choice, particularly if you’re not interested in formatting, or if it confuses you or upsets you. You need to be quite a stickler for detail to format well. These apps do make that so much easier. I mean, I was somebody who always hired a formatter because I don’t have that kind of attention to detail, but I think the apps really, they are fool proof almost, you know, they really do help you to create a good product, even if you’re not that way inclined, shall we say.
The reason that I do it and don’t outsource it anymore is because, if I need to make a change, it’s so much easier. If you’ve paid somebody to format your book and then you need to make changes, and really as publishers, if not as writers, we find that we do need to go back and change our back mater, you know, improve something, things are constantly changing in the indie space. So, it’s great to be able to go in and make those changes if you need to. Sometimes we find typos, or our readers or our reviewers find problems with the book, and we decide we’d like to go back in and make a minor change, and to do that is very easy with one of these apps, and not so easy if you’ve hired somebody to do it. Though formatters, I think, are getting used to the fact that indie authors publish in a different way to the standard publisher, and so they are facilitating changes more than was traditionally the case.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah. That’s exactly correct.
So, I had a book, I mean, I’m the same as you, Orna, I used to do my own formatting and I would just want to pull my hair out. I hated it. It was awful, especially with Microsoft Word. And I eventually hired a few people to help me with it, and I stopped doing that because then, like you said, the changes were kind of a pain and sometimes you would have to pay extra to get something changed.
But then what I started doing was I started using Vellum, and it was great, but one of the issues with formatting apps right now is that if you want to create a hard cover edition, once you get over a certain page count, things don’t always work properly, even if you have a formatting app. So, I actually hired a formatter last month, and the first thing they said was, hey, you can send us your Vellum file if you want, and we’ll use that as the basis for what we’re doing. So, they’re definitely evolving because they wouldn’t have asked me that five-years ago.
Orna Ross: Absolutely not, yeah. Things are evolving. Even two years ago, exactly. So, that’s great, and they’re probably using it themselves in terms of improving their business too.
So yeah, as usual indie authors leading the way, and services and publishers catching up. So yeah, lots to think about there if you’re at the formatting and production stage of a book, but hopefully there’s some guidelines there that will help.
Where can I find the podcast show notes?
Michael La Ronn: All right. Our next question is from Dara, and the question is, I cannot find show notes for your podcasts, where are they located?
Orna Ross: Oh, it’s on the blog. So, the podcast comes out every Friday and on the blog post, which is, selfpublishingadvice.org/podcast, and you should find the most recent episodes there. And every Friday on the blog, essentially the show notes are located there. So, if you want to check the blog, it’s a selfpublishingadvice.org/blog, and then just go to the Friday episode. We usually have a blog post each day, but a little bit of scrolling will take you there.
Michael La Ronn: Yes, and it is podcast singular. So, selfpublishingadvice.org/podcast. And you can definitely use the search feature too if you ever are looking for an old episode or, hey, did Michael and Orna answer this question on book formatting, I’ll just type in book formatting, and you’ll be able to find the theme of the episode.
Orna Ross: Exactly. So, all the most recent posts on book formatting will pop up in date order to get the most recent one first. So, the search function on the blog is underused, I think, in terms of when people are looking for answers to their questions. So people tend to, you know, our members drop us an email and that’s absolutely fine, we’re always happy to answer email, but do bear in mind, or they hop on the forum, the Facebook forum and ask a question, and obviously that has the advantage of getting lots of answers from lots of other members, but the search function on the blog is always worth a look because we’re constantly revisiting these important topics as things change.
So yeah, you get your responses in date order with the most recent ones first, so that’s a good way to do it, and it includes both the podcast advice, and the blog advice will come up for you.
How do I get author copies of my book through PublishDrive?
Michael La Ronn: Our next question is from Robert, and he says, I have submitted my manuscript through PublishDrive, but I want to know how to obtain author’s copies. Any help would be most appreciated.
So, it sounds like Robert is publishing his paperback through PublishDrive and wants to know how to get those author’s copies.
Orna Ross: Yes, I think that’s a question for PublishDrive directly, so you need to talk to them. PublishDrive is an aggregator that works with a variety of different outlets for eBooks, and they also have the print book option now. So yeah, very helpful, and if you just drop them a note, they will tell you how best to do that. It may be a matter of going directly to Kindle or IngramSpark. I’m not actually sure how that works, and I would like to find out it’s actually. So, it’s something we’ll follow up on and perhaps the questioner can let us know how they go as well.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah. I would say that’s complicated. I know that people who have gone through aggregators in the past that it’s been a bit of a sticking point because they have to pay a little bit more for author’s fees than what they typically like. So, that is an option, or something to think about, a consideration, is that if you do publish your paperback through an aggregator, nothing wrong with it, but just be prepared that you may have to pay more for things that someone who publishes on Ingram or KDP doesn’t necessarily have to pay.
Orna Ross: Yeah. So, you’re paying essentially for the convenience of them managing certain tasks for you, and obviously they have to pay themselves.
So yeah, we’re always, as authors, balancing this, do I go direct or do I get help, and there’s no right answer for it for everybody, but print, most indie authors go direct for print to Amazon KDP and IngramSpark, and use that combination of the two. And again, this is back to what we were talking about when we discussed formatting. It’s that control thing. You can go in and you can order your author copies yourself. You can go in and you can make your changes yourself.
So, we generally tend to recommend that people go directly to Amazon, and also, if they can, and this is eBooks, first of all, if possible, directly also to the big outlets, like Kobo Writing Life and Apple Books, and Google Books, and one or two others. And obviously you’re balancing your time versus convenience and all these other matters, but certainly going directly to Amazon makes a lot of sense, and then you can always use PublishDrive and Draft2Digital, and other good aggregators, in addition.
So, very often authors think it’s either/or, but most things in indie author land, it’s both. It’s and/and/and rather than either/or. So, do investigate and weigh up the convenience of working with a service versus the control that you get by going direct
Michael La Ronn: Agree.
Where can I find the IngramSpark discount code?
And here’s another question that we get. It’s kind of an old faithful, Orna. Dreeton asks, where do I find the IngramSpark discount code?
Orna Ross: Okay. So, you need to log into the Member Zone, and if you navigate then to Discounts and Deals, you will find it there among lots of other great codes, and coupons, and discounts, and percentages off, which are provided by ALLi partner members. So, that is a page that’s well worth visiting at least once a month. It really does save our members the cost of their membership over and over and over again to avail of those codes. So, we encourage you to log in more often, see what’s going on in the Member Zone, and always take a look at the Discounts and Deals while you’re there.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, I’m going to be availing myself of the IngramSpark discount code. I finally bought ISBNs over the holidays.
Orna Ross: Ooh, milestone moment, people!
Michael La Ronn: Yes, and my wallet is crying because Americans have to pay a lot of money for ISBNs. But, yeah, so I’m looking forward to connecting with IngramSpark. So, I maybe needed that question for myself.
Orna Ross: Great. Well, it is one of those discounts is definitely well worthwhile, especially if you’ve got a lot of books and you have. So, it is limited to five titles per month now, so you’ll need to work your way through them, but yeah, it’s good, and I don’t think you’ll regret going over to the ISBN side, though I do appreciate that they’re not cheap, especially in US land. Here in Europe, there are a number of countries where they’re completely free, but still, it’s good to own the ISBN, and feel you are the publisher of record for your print books.
Michael La Ronn: I agree.
Can ALLi connect authors with rights or translations agents?
All right, next question is, I cannot pronounce this member’s name, so I apologize, but the question is, I am looking to connect with a rights or translations agent. Does ALLi help connect with these individuals?
Orna Ross: What we tend to do is the other way round. When we have members who get offers from rights buyers or agents, then we help them to make sure that it is a genuine offer, that the contract is what it should be, and we work with the Ethan Ellenberg agency in New York for this. And Ethan has built up, obviously, over the time of working with ALLi and working with his own clients, built up expertise in this rights arena. So, we don’t connect authors on rights agents directly, and there are a number of reasons for this. Most agents have strict criteria about what they’re looking for, they’re not open to all authors. So, if we were to arrive, even with our best performing, and say, we were even to just limit it to our authorpreneur members who are all successful working, high-earning indie authors, still an agent wouldn’t want to see us coming with all our members because they wouldn’t be able to help them all. Most agents specialize in particular genre or particular, when it comes to translation, particular territories, languages, and so on.
So, it’s really a matter of doing your research into the people who are successfully trading in rights in your particular genre and your particular country of interest, that’s kind of what you need to do. And if you begin with a Google search, that’s a good place to begin, and then the book fairs are a very useful source of information for this. So, the London Book Fair is one of the biggest rights fairs, and Frankfurt Book Fair, and if you use the website search, you can find agencies and publishers as well, small publishers who are interested in buying your kind of books.
So, it is a research job. It takes some time, but the same names keep popping up again and again, and what’s important here is that you will see good outlets, who are good rights purchases, who are actually investing in rights, because there are lots of so-called “agents” at the moment who are, well, they’re not necessarily reliable. It’s something you need to know about and getting used to those names that pop up again and again is something that’s worth becoming familiar with if you want to make this a core part of your strategy.
How do indie authors navigate self-employment tax?
Michael La Ronn: Yes. All right. So, our next question is from Lindsey, and Lindsey asks, I’m a US citizen who lives in France. I’m employed full time by a French company, and I independently publish my books in my free time. I recently discovered that any money I make as an independently published author, I must pay a self-employment tax of 15% to the United States government. Have you covered this topic before? And if not, can you talk about how to navigate self-employment tax?
Orna Ross: Yeah, big question mark. We are definitely not tax experts and consultants in every territory around the world, definitely not. What we can say is that we have lots of members operating in different countries, and a lot of countries have tax agreements. So, really this is a question, either for your tax person in the US, who may know whether-
So, for example, here in the UK and the US, have an agreement, and so you don’t pay double taxation. That’s really what you’re trying to avoid. You’re trying to avoid paying tax both in your country of origin and in your country of location, and there are ways to do that, and most European countries have agreements with the US. I can’t say off the top of my head, what the situation is with France.
I do know though that we have a number of US citizens living in France, who are members. So, this is one that might be worth putting in the member forum, and we could flag it to some of those members who would be able to talk to about their own personal experience.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, definitely. I agree on the double taxation piece, and there’s the international piece that you need to sort out with an account, but then there’s also the, how do you avoid taxes issue. Well, I shouldn’t say avoid taxes, we don’t want to avoid taxes. I’ve got to be careful with the words here, I don’t want to say that. I don’t recommend the Al Capone strategy of tax evasion, but there is a more general question of what some things are you can do to minimize your tax liability, and certainly in the United States, and I’m sure this is true in other countries as well, the business entity that you set up has a lot to do with your tax structure. So, if you’re a sole proprietor, you’re probably going to pay higher taxes when you start making a lot of money than maybe a corporation.
And so, these are questions you want to ask your accountant, and think about deductions that you can make in relation to your publishing business so that you can reduce your taxable income at the end of the year, because it is a surprise to people when they start making a decent amount of money, how much money they owe to the tax man, especially when you don’t have it. That’s like the worst position to be in.
Orna Ross: Absolutely, and there is a management, as a publisher, issue here, that you need to recognize, especially if you have a day job, and a lot of us do, especially at the beginning, you need to probably be putting away half of what you’re earning as an indie author in order to have enough to pay that tax bill at the end of the day.
So, yeah, taxes, it’s one of those inevitabilities that has to be dealt with. So, it’s worth putting a little bit of thought into it.
Michael La Ronn: Agree. Okay.
Can ALLi recommend self-publishing services for poets?
The final question that I had slotted for today, Orna, is from member Joe, and Joe asks, is there a way, or does ALLi recommend a list of companies who specialize in poetry? So, I’m assuming poetry publishers, or people that are related that offer poetry services.
Orna Ross: Yeah. So, the thing you need, the only difference really, as a publisher of poetry for you, the two things that come up all the time, is the editorial. So, an editor who has experience of working with poets and who has a poetic sensibility, is one thing. And our list of editors, we have within that listing some people who specialize in poetry. And then the other thing is, depending on the kind of poems that you write, and what your layout and structure and form of your poems are, you may need particular help with formatting, the question that we were talking about at the beginning. So, the layout of the words on the page is important, very important for some poets, and unusual shape layouts and so on are commonplace among contemporary poets. So, if that is you, then you will also need to give attention to your formatter, and the formatting, and their ability to do that.
And the challenges are different for different forms, sorry, different formats. So, your poems in print is one thing, but your poems in eBook is another, and reflowable text challenges in your eBook, and so on. I would recommend, we have a blog post about how to format an eBook, and it’s worth just looking at that to understand the issues around poetry and reflowable text and eBooks, and we’ll include the link to that in the show notes.
But, yeah, in terms of people who deal exclusively in poetry, there is almost nobody who deals exclusively with poetry, unless you’re looking at a small publisher that will license your rights, as opposed to a service that you pay for help, and there are very, very few, or we’re not aware of any that are simply focusing on poetry, because it is still, in the self-publishing world, a minority sport. Poets are now beginning to self-publish more and more, but it is relatively, in book format, it is still relatively new. There’s still a tendency among poets to look for a publisher to work with, or a hybrid arrangement, rather than taking hold of the reigns and doing it themselves.
So, I think the message I’d most like to give about self-publishing poetry is that it’s not all that different. There’s really no reason at all why a poet can’t do exactly what the novelists and nonfiction self-publishers are doing, and take control of the process themselves, and work through the seven stages of the publishing, the editorial, the design, the distribution, the production, the marketing, and promotion. They’re all really, really similar, there is no great difference. And there is sort of an illusion that there is, that poetry and literary fiction are in some way kind of separate from all the rest, but they’re not, they’re just another genre. So, it’s really a matter of the books that we have that talk about how to, our guidebooks to self-publishing, our blog advice, and so on, it applies to you as much as it applies to anybody else, apart from those two exceptions that I was talking about.
Michael La Ronn: Yeah, there’s virtually no difference. I mean, the formatting is, like you said, it’s a bit of a bear. And I did remember, I was looking up as you were talking about that, Draft2Digital, back in August, came out with poetry templates. So, that might be something for our poets listening to take a look at, “we’re thrilled to announce our new poetry templates for Draft2Digital print and Draft2Digital eBooks.”
And these are tools that exist on their website, once you log into your account and you’re uploading your book, that allow you to create poetry books. That might help some people. I just threw that out there, you know, Draft2Digital’s always pretty innovative and thinking about new stuff. But, yeah, other than that, there really is no difference, and if you look at a lot of the indie poets that are doing a really great job on Amazon and other places right now, it’s because they’re doing exactly what fiction writers are doing. It’s really that simple.
Orna Ross: Exactly. And I think that sense of poetry as a minority genre is very much linked to traditional publishing, whereby you published in print, from a small press, into your own local territory. That’s really where poets were, you had a small minority journal that focused on one particular kind of aspect of poetry, and you tended to link up with them in some way and get a few poems published in some of those journals, and then eventually find a small press who would publish a collection for you and go from there. And because it was publishing into your own territory there was a limit to the number of people you could reach, because there is a limit, poetry is not the most popular of the genre. But the coming of self-publishing really has changed that, and once you’ve got a global audience, now there are enough poetry readers to actually sustain you, and we are seeing some poets do extraordinary things.
On IngramSpark, poetry as a format is absolutely thriving in print form. So, there is really nothing to stop you just getting stuck in. You need to understand the poetry is a macro genre, like fiction and non-fiction, and you need to understand where you fit, where your books are positioned within all the different genre that fall into poetry. So, it’s important that you, like in every other aspect of publishing, same for the novelists, same for the non-fiction writers, you need to really know your genre, know the competing authors in your genre, know what people are doing, and see where you fit in and position your book properly in terms of marketing and promotion. And then away you go.
There is a shortfall of poetry promotion vehicles. The Book Bub’s, and the Written Word Media and so on, poetry has not really come up there in terms of their attention as yet, but I predict that, that will change, because where there are readers, soon there are promotional services.
So, the main thing is to get going at becoming a poetry publisher yourself.
Michael La Ronn: Agree. All right. Well, those were all the questions.
Orna Ross: Okay. That’s it for this month. So, please do keep your questions coming. Every question that you ask and need an answer to, helps somebody else. So, we love to receive your questions, and the other way in which you can, in between shows-
So, what happens here is our members submit their questions, anybody can listen, anybody who’s interested in self-publishing can listen to this podcast and get an answer to the question, but only members can actually submit. Other ways in which members can get their questions answered is by emailing us directly or by asking on the ALLi Facebook forum, where you will get an answer, not just from us, the team members, but also from other authors. Because often there isn’t one answer to a question, there may be different insights and examples from different perspectives, and in the forum, you get the wisdom of the hive mind. So yes, looking forward to your questions for next time, we will be back in February. Until then, happy writing and happy publishing.