Putting Readers First: Self-Publishing in Digital and Print

self publishing digital and print

Are you self publishing in digital and print?

It is ridiculously easy to self-publish an ebook, especially if you are using Scrivener. You can go from a final draft to a fully published book with just a few clicks. And if it turns out to be a hassle, there are plenty of professionals offering formatting services at affordable rates.

But ebooks require either an electronic reader or an app on a tablet or smart phone. Some readers haven’t made the switch to e-readers and many more find it uncomfortable to read on their phones. And let’s face it–a lot of people are holding out on making the switch to digital because they love the smell and feel of a real book in their hands or because they prefer a physical product over a digital one.

Yet many self-published authors are opting out of print publishing altogether. It is an extra step in the publishing process and it’s not an easy step if you’re not a wiz with formatting. Since most self-published authors make most (or all) of their sales in the online space, where e-books are the preferred format, it might be worth it to lose a few sales in order to focus resources elsewhere (writing the next book, marketing, etc.).

But is that really the wisest decision?

The Benefits of Publishing in Print

There are countless benefits to publishing in print, the least of which is expanding your sales opportunities. Here are a few reasons self-published authors shouldn’t skip out on print:

  • You can hand paperbacks and hardcovers to loved ones, acquaintances, and random strangers. You can bring them to bookstores, libraries, and networking events. When it comes to in-person marketing, nothing beats a physical product that you can hand out.
  • Get your book into circulation: people will share, show, and lend physical books. It’s sitting around their house or they’re holding it on the bus, making it visible to others. That’s free marketing!
  • Sure, you could scan your signature and paste it into your ebook, but that’s not a real autograph, is it? You’ll need a print version if you want to autograph copies of your book, which are great for giveaways and a good way to build a loyal fan base.
  • Lots of people have e-readers but not everyone has one. Many people still prefer print for a variety of reasons. By refusing to make your book available in print, you are aliening readers and potential fans of your work. Even if they are a small percentage of your readers, they still matter.
  • When readers visit a site like Amazon and your book is only available as an ebook, it doesn’t look very professional.
  • Also, a lower priced ebook looks like a good deal next to a higher priced print book.
  • Print books make far better gifts than ebooks.
  • Kids are still more likely to read a print book than an ebook.

The most important reason to publish in print is for your readers. Even if you’re only making one or two print sales per month, it’s important to remember that those print books might get passed along to friends and even used bookstores, exposing your work to new readers. As you write more books, you’ll make more sales. And you never know–one of those print readers might have a large audience of their own and through word of mouth, one print sale could easily translate into a hundred digital sales.

If you ask me, the benefits of producing a print book far outweigh the hassle or cost that it might incur.

Why Your Print Sales Might Be So Low

Many self-published authors say they don’t publish in print because when they’ve tried it, the sales didn’t justify the hassle of creating a print version of their book.

My own print sales are about 25% of my total sales, which is a considerable percentage. I know that my books have been used in classrooms and writing retreats, and it’s likely that my print sales are so high because my books are learning resources. However, I suspect that the reason my print books sell so well has more to do with marketing.

You see, if you don’t advertise the fact that your books are available in print, then your print sales will lag. I’ve seen several authors who refuse to publish in print (some of whom also limit themselves to Amazon, but that’s another topic for another day) because historically, their print sales have been low–sometimes only one or two copies over several months. But in every case, I also noticed that those authors were not letting their readers know that their books were available in print. I think those authors might have been selling themselves and their books short. If you only point people to your ebooks, that’s all they’re going to find.

Losing Sales

Oddly, a few writers self-publish in print only. Just a few weeks ago, I found a book that I wanted to read. It was available in ebook but not for my e-reader (Kindle) and there was a paperback version on Amazon. At first I thought it was a new book–maybe the author hadn’t gotten the Kindle version out yet. But then I found that the book had been out for many months. It looked to me like the Kindle version was not forthcoming at all.

That author lost a sale, because although I wanted to read the book, I wasn’t so eager to read it that I was willing to inconvenience myself.

In self-publishing, we need to take advantage of every opportunity and do our best to meet our readers’ demands. That means producing great books, pricing them competitively, and making them as widely available as possible.

What are your thoughts? Have you ever self-published a book? Did you publish an e-book, print book, or both? Jump into the conversation by leaving a comment, and keep writing!

About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.


10 Responses to “Putting Readers First: Self-Publishing in Digital and Print”

  1. Excellent points, I think we have a tendency to have tunnel vision, if we use an iPad we assume everyone does. But then I run into a friend who swears by print and won’t read anything else. So while I have a non-fiction book coming out with a traditional publisher as both hardcover and ebook plus a novel coming out from the same publisher that’s related to the non-fiction book as an ebook, I am going to distribute the novel myself as a physical book. It would be strange having the non-fiction book sitting in a bookstore with the novel related to it only available online. They should be side-by-side in the bookstore and online.

    • I agree–people get so comfortable with their own preferences, they forget that other people’s preferences may differ.

      I’m not sure if your non-fiction book and novel will be side-by-side since they’ll probably go into different sections of the bookstore, but that might be a good thing because it allows you to reach a wider audience, although in any online bookstore, it’s likely that your books will be grouped together on your author page. One reason I love shopping for books online is that digital stores allow us to sort our options in so many ways: by author, genre, etc.

  2. My writing partner and I will be publishing a novel around Christmas and we’ll be doing epub, and print. You’re right that writers need to have every option available to our readers.

    • Some writers say it’s too much of a hassle to create all the different formats, but I have found it to be worthwhile to take the time and expend the resources necessary to make it happen.

  3. Fantastic article — thanks for all the great info.

    I have no idea what I’ll do with my novel when I finally publish it, but for my current nonfiction book, I’m planning to put it out as an e-book for this first version, then both print and digital for the second, updated version (after I see how it does, what people tell me they wish I would have included, and so on). I don’t want to miss out on the print market, but since a print book will be around forever and this is my first book, I want to make sure I have all the kinks worked out first before things become permanent!

    • I started with the print book because they have to ship you a proof to review before it gets published (and then that proof might need some changes) whereas the ebook goes live pretty quickly (within hours). I was trying to get all the different formats online at about the same time, which is almost impossible to do. Oh, how I wish more of the bookstores allowed us to schedule publication and do pre-orders.

  4. I do agree with most of what you said here. My sister is one of those that refuses to have anything to do with technology. I’m surprised that she even has a cell phone and she admits that she doesn’t like it. When my novel is published, I will have to have a few in print, because that is the only way she will read it. She won’t touch an e-reader or a computer. That leads me to the reason for the comment. You did mention that there is an app for a tablet or phone. You can also add the app to your computer and read in on the Amazon cloud. All books are stored there, and you can read them directly from your computer too. I just wanted to mention that you do not need a special phone or tablet to read Amazon books. I thought that I would be one of those that wouldn’t read from an e-reader. I changed my mind when I fell in love with the Kindle at a Best Buy electronic store. I love the feel and smell of a print book too, but the biggest selling point of a Kindle is being able to change the font. I have trouble reading print books anymore unless they are in a bigger print. With the Kindle, I can adjust it. Thanks for the article. It is great to know the benefits of publishing in both e-book and print.

    • Thanks for mentioning the app that allows people to read ebooks on their computers. I’d forgotten all about that! I have a few family members who aren’t comfortable with technology (or don’t like it) but they tend to be in the older generation, which is understandable.

  5. Robert C. Rose says:

    Many people find it more convenient to read on their iPad or tablet during the night in their beds. It’s easier than having the light on (and saves money too). But nothing beats the feeling of having that nice hardcover, curled up on your comfortable, warm couch with the fireplace on. I prefer print over digital any day, though I would use the iPad or tablet in emergencies. It’s nice to know some of the facts and options of publishing. It helps with the decision of what to do. I think that I would publish my first book in both ways. Thanks for the blog. Love them!

    • Hi Robert, thanks for chiming in. I have grown to strongly prefer reading on my Kindle (even over the iPad). I love hardcovers on my bookshelf, but they are uncomfortably cumbersome for reading, especially the big ones. What’s great about the time we live in is that there’s something for everybody. I’m glad to live in an era where you can get hardcovers and I can download ebooks :)