Mazal tov! You want to publish a book! Or maybe not. Maybe the mazal tov is still a ways off, but you are polishing up your manuscript and want to publish ten copies to give friends for them to critique. If possible, you want to avoid paying a publisher and you have some basic computer skills. Is there a way to self-publish?
Certainly. There are many companies that do this, called Print On Demand, or POD for short, and here are two well-known ones: Createspace, owned by Amazon, and Lulu. Their websites are createspace.com and lulu.com. Createspace is slightly better quality, but only does softcover books, while Lulu will do hardcover too.
The process is simple and straightforward. Upload your Word document and a cover. They can help you create a cover, either by using their free predesigned cover templates or by hiring one of their designers. Then just follow the printing process until the book is ready and then you can order author copies for yourself instead of putting the sefer on the general market. Hebrew books read right-to-left, and present a slight variation from publishing in English.
Let’s go through publishing Hebrew books with these companies. Create your book in whatever word processor you use. You want it to look like a sefer? Don’t use any cheesy font. I’d advise using a standard-issue seforim font such as Narkisim, Frank-Ruehl or Vilna.
Proof it, using eyes other than your own. You will never recognize your own mistakes. Recently I edited a book that wrote of “the yolk of Heaven.” No joke.
Next, print it to a PDF in reverse order. In Microsoft Word, in File → Options → Advanced, under the Print options, there is a checkbox for printing in reverse order, and OpenOffice/LibreOffice does too. In a pinch, you can do it the long way around by specifying the pages printed in the print box as – let’s say – 25,24,23,22, 21 etc., so the document prints according to that order.
Now we have a PDF that essentially opens right to left, where the first page is the last one. Upload that as your interior PDF. You may get a note from a technician working at Createspace or Lulu that makes note of your document being backwards, and you should reply saying that it is designed that way, so that it prints correctly from right to left, and they will then approve it.
Onward. Get thee a cover. Both Createspace and Lulu offer templates that adapt to your book size and spine since the template takes into account the number of pages. You are looking for the “one-piece cover” option, because it’s going to be backwards – the left-hand panel is the front and the right side is the back.
If it’s a sefer, you can do a simple Shaar-blatt type cover yourself in Word and export it as a PDF according to the specs on the template. If it’s something more advanced requiring design skills, consider hiring a graphic artist. Expect to pay something like $100 for a simple cover, unless the designer is an exceptional smooth-talker, in which case you will pay – ah, much more.
Upload to Createspace/Lulu. Probably, it will not be good. Sometimes the first time is a charm, but often enough it will take a few iterations until you get the sizes exactly right. It’s not worth redoing the whole shebang for a small resizing; instead, just use a graphics program to resize the cover image. I use Paint.net pretty often. It’s free, and simple to use and figure out. (Getpaint.org will get you Paint.net.)
To ISBN or not to ISBN. If it’s a sefer that will not be marketed, there is no reason to put an ISBN to it. An ISBN is the number – and barcode that is generated off that number, containing the number, and sometimes the price too. Each sefer, and each version of a sefer, such as hardcover and softcover, has its own ISBN, because an ISBN is a product identifier, similar to the product number on grocery items. Where to obtain an ISBN? Bowker.com is the official seller. (Buy in bulk, if appropriate, the more you buy, the cheaper it is.) Alternatively, you can generate barcodes free online – there are a number of free sites. Google ‘free barcode generator’ for a selection. The site will produce an image to stick onto your cover. Createspace provides a free ISBN, and Lulu provides one if you wish – you don’t need to use one just to publish through them. However if it’s a sefer for sale, you do need an ISBN. Preferably, it ought to be yours; the one Createspace provides cannot be used afterwards for other sites – it’s theirs.
At this point, you have a book set up on Createspace or Lulu. It’s a simple matter to order copies for yourself, or to market from there, and these companies will put it up for sale on Amazon and so on, for free. They take a percentage of the sales.
Now you have the secrets of Print On Demand, do it yourself. If you need professional editing, proofing and typesetting, give me a call out at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will see if there is anything we can do for you…