As I've written before, a cost-effective way to self-publish your book is to get it printed through a company called Lightning Source, Inc. (http://www.lightningsource.com) or LSI for short. Although many other printers use the same type of short-run printing technology to print books only when they are ordered, no other company has the distribution advantage Lightning Source does. LSI is owned by Ingram, so when you sign up with LSI, you get access to a large distribution network. Getting your book into the Ingram database via LSI makes it available to leading distributors such as Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com and many others. What that means is that bookstores and even libraries can get your book.
LSI serves both large and small publishers, but one key thing to know is that the company prefers to work with businesses, not authors. As a publisher, you make business decisions about your books like setting the retail price, wholesale discounts, and return policies. Most "self publishing" or "POD" author service companies like iUniverse or Lulu act as a middleman between you and LSI, which means you have less control over these issues. Plus, you will pay more per book than if you go directly to LSI as a publisher in your own right.
If you already are an entrepreneur with a business, it is easy to get set up with LSI. To have your book distributed through LSI's wholesale partners, you need to buy ISBNs first because LSI wants to know your ISBN prefix information when you sign up. (You can buy ISBN's at http://www.bowker.com). As I've written before, getting your own ISBNs is a good idea anyway, because then you (not a company like iUniverse) will be the publisher of record.
In addition to the enormous advantage you get from LSI's distribution network, you also can use LSI to drop-ship your books. For example, I include two of my books as a membership benefit when people join the National Association of Pet Rescue Professionals (http://www.naprp.com). When a member signs up, I log into LSI and have my pet books shipped directly to the member. It doesn't take long, and it means I don't have to carry inventory. I do have a small stock of books in my office so I can send out review copies or autographed copies, but it's not like I have 5,000 books gathering dust in my garage.
When you work with LSI, they assume you know what you're doing, so you won't get a whole lot of handholding. They deal with everyone from huge publishers like Simon & Schuster to small publishers like me who only have a few titles in print. Their system is extremely automated; after you're signed up as a publisher, you upload your print-ready PDF files into the Web-based system and pay a set up fee.
The good news is that LSI offers a tremendous amount of documentation. The key is to follow their instructions exactly. Be sure to use their cover template generator or the spine-width calculator and read all the information on how to set up your files correctly. For your first few books you'll want to order a proof too. If you don't have experience with layout software, graphic design, and creating PDFs, get help.
In the end, you'll be rewarded with books that can be ordered from online booksellers like Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, even while you sleep. Talk about passive income!
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