Self-Publishing Part 2 – Setting Your Price & Book Categories

By on July 4th, 2013

Print-on-demand has made self-publishing affordable, but many authors find the process overwhelming. Lynn Serafinn explains how to get your book set up properly. Part 2 of a 4-part series ‘Self-Publishing – a 10-Point Must-Do Checklist for Authors’.

Last week in Part 1 of this 4-part series, we looked at the first five items on our 10-point self-publishing checklist. We talked about the importance of choosing the right title and subtitle, finding a professional editor and proofreader and finding a highly recommended book cover designer. We also talked about creating a publishing company and how to get your ISBNs for your book.

If you haven’t had a chance to read that article yet, you can do so by clicking HERE.

As I wanted to go into detail, I’ve decided to break the next five points into three separate articles (a total of four altogether). So today, in Part 2, we’re going to be looking at the nitty-gritty of getting your book ready for publication, as we go through the next item on our checklist, which is:

Setting up your title, prices and categories with your print-on-demand company

So, if you’re ready, let’s get started.

Must-Do #6: Setting Up Your Title, Prices and Categories with a POD Company


Back in the old days, if you wanted to publish your own book, you had to get a large quantity printed in advance. This was because the price to set up the printing plates was expensive, and unless you bought around 2000 copies of the book, the price per unit would never absorb the set-up charges. Of course, this is perfectly fine if you have the distribution channels or enough live speaking engagements to ensure you can sell 2000 copies of your book before they get dusty, faded, old-looking or out-of-date. But if you’re like most new authors, you don’t have the capability of shifting 2000 units quickly, and you are likely to end up with boxes of unmovable stock. Thus, what looked like a good deal at the time ends up being a big financial loss. It’s also not exactly environmentally friendly to print thousands of books that will only end up being recycled into pulp in a few years’ time.

But now, with the dawn of digital printing, the cost of set-up is radically reduced, and we also have the ability to order our books on a ‘print on demand’ basis (POD). POD means exactly what it says: your printer can now print ONE book at a time for you, meaning there is no surplus to deal with (unless you happen to over order) and no need to run yourself into debt by having to order massive quantities.

The company I use and recommend to my clients is Lightning Source (http://lightningsource.com), which I’ll abbreviate as LSI. LSI is a print-on-demand company that has global distribution. When you set up an account with them, your book goes into all the major distribution channels, including all the Amazon sites, Barnes & Noble, Ingram and Baker & Taylor. What this means is, all you need to do is publish your book through LSI’s distribution channel and they take care of telling retailers and distributors about your book, and fulfilling any orders that come through. You, as the publisher, are able to place your own orders if you want, paying only for printing and shipping costs. Unlike subsidiary presses (see Part 1 of this article series), LSI do not take ANY publisher compensation (i.e., royalties) from you. Apart from very nominal set-up charges in the beginning (I think it’s around $40 per title) they will only charge you for printing and shipping.

Some people shy away from LSI for two reasons: 1) they can’t navigate through their (admittedly) confusing website and 2) they’ve heard horror stories about their books being labelled as ‘out of stock’ on Amazon when they go through LSI. Please trust me when I tell you that both of these fears are down to people not understanding how the system works:

  • Yes, LSI’s website IS confusing when you first see it, but if you have a good Client Services Rep, he or she should be able to help you through it. They also have a live chat help desk open during business hours. Also, once your account is set up and you get used to the idiosyncrasies of their website, it’s really simple to use. Besides, my rep tells me they are well aware of the unwieldiness of their website, and they have plans to revamp it and make it more user friendly.
  • The whole issue with ‘being listed as out of stock’ on Amazon is a NON-issue. If your book is ‘print on demand,’ it WON’T be ‘in stock’ until Amazon orders some books. The way to get around this is to order one or two yourself. Within two weeks this listing will go away, as Amazon will have made an order for your book. After that, if they run out, it will say ‘temporarily out of stock; more on the way’ just the same as they would for any other book. See my earlier article ‘How to Kick-Start Your Book Sales – Part 2’ for more information about this.


LSI is a business-to-business company. They assume you are a publisher, not an author. Therefore, LSI assume you already have ISBN numbers associated with your publishing company, and they will ask you for a sample of one of your ISBNs when you register. So, make sure you have already received your ISBNs (see Part 1 of this article series) before you try to set up your LSI account.

When setting up, be sure you select ‘POD Direct Distribution’ rather than the ‘print to publisher’ option. This gives LSI permission to distribute your titles to anyone in their distribution chain. You will need to sign several documents that give them permission for this. There will be a different contract for each country in which you give them permission to distribute: US, UK, Australia and Europe. LSI can also do eBook distribution for you, but bear in mind that this does NOT include Kindle, as this is a proprietary format that you can only arrange directly with Amazon (we’ll look at this in Part 3 of this article series).


Once your account has been set up, you can set up your first title. You CAN (and should) do this before your book is ready to be published because you’ll probably want to go back in and change things before you finally submit it to LSI’s system. Set up the title of your first book, along with its ISBN, and set a date in the future as its publication date (LSI will ask you whether you’re sure this ‘future’ date is what you intended; just say it’s ok and continue).

After setting up your title, you’ll need to define several details:

  • Retail price of your book
  • The wholesale discount
  • Your book’s categories
  • Your book’s description, also called the ‘Meta’

The ‘meta’ is something we’ll look at in Part 4. Right now, let’s just look at price, discount and categories.


(this section discusses pricing for your PRINT book; pricing for eBooks and Kindle will be addressed in Part 4).

Setting your price is partially down to the length of your book, as well as whether it is fiction or non-fiction. The general opinion amongst publishers is that non-fiction books can be priced slightly higher than fiction. My area of expertise is in non-fiction books, so what I will share here is based mainly upon the assumption you are a non-fiction author.

Let’s say your book is 80,000 words in length. At roughly 300 words per page, and allowing for front and back pages (which we’ll talk about in the next article), that would end up being about 275 pages long in a typical 5’ X 8’ or 6’ X 9’ book. Your printing charge from LSI would be $4.47 USD per unit ($0.013 per page plus $1 for cover/assembly). Typically I recommend setting a retail price of approximately four times the cost of your printing, which in this case would be $17.95. You could set the price slightly higher, of course, but you have to think of the average price point for the customer. Setting a price of $19.95 might make you more money per unit, but if it ‘feels’ too high to customers, they might opt for a different book. Of course, if your book is a book about business (where people how to profit from it), paying a few dollars more is not always the deal breaker if the content is unique and highly recommended by other readers.

UK readers: LSI’s printing costs in GBP are 1p per page plus 70p for cover/assembly. Thus the above book would cost you £3.45 per unit to print. Using the same logic, your suggested retail price would be about £14.95.


You will need to set up your prices for EVERY country in which you have signed a contract to sell through LSI. To do this, use an online currency converter to calculate the current exchange rate, and then round it UP to the nearest unit to allow for market fluctuation. One converter I use frequently is located at http://www.xe.com/currencyconverter/. After you do your conversion, be sure to make the price something like £14.95 rather than £15.


Sticking with our suggested retail price of $17.95, we now have to set up our ‘wholesale discount’. Our wholesale discount is a percentage OFF the retail price we agree to give to wholesalers and distributors. A wholesaler who buys the book at this discount would then sell the book to retail shops for a small mark-up, and then the retailers will sell the book at or near the retail price you have set.

I typically suggest self-publishers set their discount to either 45% or 50% (some big publishers will even offer a 55% discount). This means that if your book retails at $17.95, a wholesaler will buy it for $8.98 (if you set a 50% discount) or $9.87 (if you set a 45% discount). You will receive this amount MINUS the cost of printing. The final figure is the ‘publisher compensation’ (or ‘royalties’) you will receive.

If we do the math, this means that you, the publisher, will make the following royalty/compensation per each book sold:

USD: 275 page book at $17.95 retail sold at 45% discount = $5.40 royalty per unit sold

USD: 275 page book at $17.95 retail sold at 50% discount = $4.51 royalty per unit sold

GBP: 275 page book at £14.95 retail sold at 45% discount = £4.77 royalty per unit sold

GBP: 275 page book at £14.95 retail sold at 50% discount = £4.02 royalty per unit sold


Amazon, although technically a retailer, purchases your books at your wholesale rate. This gives them a tremendous competitive advantage in that they can discount the price of your book significantly, to make it look more attractive to customers. Be assured that if Amazon or any other company that sells your book for LESS than the retail price, it does NOT impact your royalties in any way. They could choose to sell it for 1 cent more than what they bought it for, and you would STILL get the publisher compensation as above.


Some book marketers will tell you to set your wholesale compensation to 20% discount, giving you maximum publisher compensation per unit. But I believe this is foolhardy advice. You have to consider the motivation of the retailer. I was a retailer for over 20 years, and I can assure you if an item did not have a good mark-up I simply wouldn’t buy it. A mark-up of 20% is not enough of an incentive for me to stock an item because a) it forces me to sell it at full retail price, which puts off my customers and b) it means I can’t mark it down to sell it quickly if it’s unpopular.

Try to understand the whole distribution chain and offer your retailers and wholesalers a mark-up that is attractive both to them and to their customers. Never set your wholesale discount to less than a 45%.


The last thing you’ll need to do at this point is decide in which three categories your book should be placed. LSI uses ‘BIC’ categories (‘Book Industry Communication’). These are standard throughout the industry. Your BIC category placement is vital. Don’t go for broad, general, top level categories. For example, ‘Business & Economics’ is a top level category. There are thousands of business books on the market, and placing your book in this category doesn’t tell the retailer or the customer enough about your book. It will also put you in competition with blockbuster titles, which gives you no advantage at all.

You can choose three BIC classifications for your book. Choose subcategories that best define your book to both retailers and customers. You even might think of having two of your subcategories under one top level category, and one subcategory under a different top level.

One word of warning: For some mad reason, although BIC is supposed to be standard, most retailers have their OWN categories that are not the same as BIC categories. Let’s take a brief look at how this impacts your listing on Amazon.


Amazon sets your categories based upon the BIC categories you set in LSI. However, sometimes they get it ‘wrong’ and interpret your categories weirdly. If you feel you’ve got the BIC categories ‘right’ but Amazon gets your category placement very ‘wrong’, you can always contact Author Central on Amazon and ask them to fix it. However, as Amazon will not allow you to set up an Author Central account until you actually have a book PUBLISHED with them, it means you might need to go through a month or so of ironing out the ‘kinks’ if this is your first book. This is another good reason to ‘Kick-Start Your Book Sales’ (click the link to read my previous article on this).

Also bear in mind also that EVERY Amazon site (US, UK, Canada, etc.) has different categories and subcategories. This can be terribly frustrating for an author/publisher. I’m really not sure why they don’t standardise it, but that’s the way it is. So be mindful that while you might be appearing on the perfect categories on one site, you might not on another. If that’s the case, contact them through Author Central.

Lastly (and to make things even more confusing), your categories for the Kindle edition of your book will be DIFFERENT yet again, and will need to be set via Kindle Direct Publishing, which is something we’ll discuss in Part 4 of this series.

Ok, that’s it for Part 2. Next time, in Part 3, we’ll be looking at:

Then finally, in Part 4, we’ll be looking at:

  • Must-Do #9: Creating effective back cover, back pages and META copy for your book
  • Must-Do #10: Final stages: formatting, uploading and ordering your proof

Closing Thoughts

I hope this information has been useful to you. I know navigating through the quagmire of self-publishing ‘must-do’s’ can be extremely daunting when you’re a first-time self-publisher, but please believe me when I say it gets easier. I could have made this article shorter and less detailed, but I get asked these same questions SO many times, I thought I’d put it all in writing for you.

Please do let me know what you think by leaving a comment below. And don’t leave without subscribing to this blog if you’re keen to receive the rest of this series, plus all our Spirit Authors articles.

AND, of course, if you’re looking for personal help in your self-publishing and book marketing journey, have a look at our Hire Us page to read about our services. Then, if you’re interested in speaking about working together, drop me a line via the contact form on this site and we can set up a 30-minute consultation to discuss your needs.

Lynn Serafinn
4 July 2013

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LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She was recently named one of the Top 100 marketing authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was selected as a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. Her eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Through her company Spirit Authors, her marketing campaigns have  produced a long list of bestselling self-help and mind-body-spirit authors. Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project, a budding social enterprise whose aim is to help grow a new generation of passionate entrepreneurs who want to serve both people and planet through innovative, ethical, independent enterprise.

@LynnSerafinn @SpiritAuthors @7GracesMarketng @GardenOfTheSoul


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  1. Doreen Pendgracs says:

    What a fabulous article! Thank you so much, Lynn.

  2. Gwen Allman says:

    Thanks for your attention to the smallest detail, Lynn. The article is packed with useful information that a new author/publisher needs. I certainly needed this!

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