All that remains is to tell Lightning Source about your book and upload the files. To do this, log in to Lightning Source and choose “Set up a new title” from the “My Library” drop-down menu. Most of the form, and the screens that follow, is self-explanatory. However, here are some things to bear in mind…
Pub. Ref. Number
This is just for big organisations that have their own internal codes to worry about.
Matte or gloss cover
I chose matte, and I think it has a really nice finish. Also, people don’t associate it with self-published books.
Uploading the files
You upload the cover first, then move on to the next screen to upload the text. LS doesn’t tell you this, except in the title at the top of the screen, which is the kind of light-orange colour that I instinctively ignore. As a result, I mistakenly uploaded both files when it asked me for the cover, and then I uploaded the text again on the next screen. In the event, this didn’t cause a problem with my book – I think the system sorted it out automatically. But it did cause a lot of confusion and a fair amount of anxiety, since my LS client-service representative had no idea what I was talking about on any of the many occasions when I tried to ask her whether my mistake would cause a problem.
Setting the discount
The discount sets the price that retailers (such as Amazon – in fact, for most people, exclusively Amazon) will pay you for your book. Their profit comes from whatever they charge on top of this. Amazon generally makes only a very small profit on each book, whereas bookshops usually charge the full cover price. Essentially, the discount determines how much you will make on each book, and how attractive it will be to retailers.
Here’s what happens with my book’s discount:
|Cost per unit||
|Cost per page||
Although the system allows you to set a discount of 20%, my client-service representative was adamant that the minimum UK discount is 25%. She didn’t explain this discrepancy, nor why the system doesn’t tell you about it, nor what happens when your discount is set to 20%.
The industry-standard discount for retailers is 55%, apparently, though some people distributing their own books have negotiated discounts of 35-40%. Lightning Source advised a discount of 35-55%, but wouldn’t say anything specific about why they advised that, or what would happen if I set a lower discount.
Since I don’t expect my book to be stocked in any bookshops – especially as I can’t afford to offer returns – all I wanted to do was set my discount at a rate that wouldn’t cause me any problems with Amazon.
There’s a lot of confusing information about what this rate is. Some people say that Amazon discriminates against LS books that have a discount of only 20% (in the US, where this is possible). Others say that Amazon discriminates against LS books full stop. I spent a fair amount of time Googling this, and by far the most helpful and authoritative explanation I found was at Aaron Shephard’s publishing page.
Aaron says that the problems with LS books ordered from Amazon result from two small changes in Amazon’s stocking strategy. Apparently, they have nothing to do with the discount, only with rapidity of sales – titles that are selling most quickly are shown on Amazon as ‘out of stock’, often with long delays for coming into stock. The real delays are usually much shorter. And this problem only affects LS titles in the US. It seems the best way to avoid them is to use Amazon’s own self-publishing service, CreateSpace, instead in the US.
The bottom line on discounts
I’ll update this if I find out I’m wrong, but – as I understand it – LS is still the only real choice for self-publishing in the UK, and 35% is a reasonable discount for my purposes (and therefore probably yours too). Changes to the discount seem to take a long time for LS to process – this is the fifth working day since I asked to change mine, and it still hasn’t happened.
Ordering the proof
When you’re setting up the book, you can request that a proof be sent when it’s finished. This costs about £40, but I’m very glad that I did it. I found that I had mis-set one of my section dividers inside the book, and that the text on the back cover looked too big and close to the edges – something that hadn’t been obvious before. Changes are expensive, but we are doing this properly, so it’s probably best to budget for a physical proof copy and an extra round of changes to both cover and text.
After you’ve submitted the book to LS, it’s a good idea to log in to your account every day, just to check the status and see if anything has changed. If you have any questions, your representative can help – mine is best on the phone. The online chat service also works well, though it doesn’t seem to be available if your browser is Safari.
Changing the proof
Log in to LS, click on your title on the left of the screen and then – at the bottom of the pop-up window that appears – opt to reject the book. You can then upload your revised files – though, confusingly, they need to have the same filenames as the originals. These files need to be approved by the LS people, which takes a day or two, and then the book will be ready for you to order. LS says that Amazon needs up to 15 working days to get your book on their system.
Finally, don’t forget to send copies to the British Library and the Scottish equivalent, or they will send you curt and vaguely threatening letters.
Once this is done, your book is published. Well done. Now all you have to do is convince people to buy it…