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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Clemmer

Alternative Book Formats: Paperback & Audiobooks

Updated: Sep 22, 2020

There’s no question that ebooks dominate the self-publishing market. Ebooks are easier to lay out, easier to create, publish, distribute, market, and sell. In some genres of fiction, over 50% of all books sold are ebooks (reference). Ebook is king in this industry, period. But that doesn’t make ebook publishing the only (or even the best) option.

There are a good number of readers and writers who prefer other, more traditional methods of publishing: specifically print and audiobooks. As much as I love my Kindle e-reader, it doesn’t have the same feel as a physical book with a gorgeous cover and thin pages. And when we’re on the road, my family prefers audiobooks to anything over the radio.

As a writer, it’s important to understand the different formats available and consider expanding into them as desired. Here’s the low-down:


Audiobook technology has come a long way in recent decades. Even if you don’t have a setup (or a good radio voice), it’s now easier than ever to break into the audiobook industry as a self-published writer and reach many readers who want entertainment during the commute, are visually impaired, or are too bogged down with physical activities to sit and read.

What you need to get started: The first few pages of your book (for auditions, unless you choose to record it yourself), a modified cover for your audiobook (make it a square!), an idea of who you want to read it (accent, age, etc.), and (optional) a few hundred dollars to spend on a voice actor. Note: You can also choose to split your royalties with the voice actor, but generally it is recommended that you pay upfront.

It is very easy to create an audiobook from scratch, and services like Findaway Voices and ACX will fill in most of the technical gaps, like finding a narrator and editor to ensure that your finished product is a work of quality. You’ll hire a voice actor and send over your manuscript, and when the audio is recorded, you’ll have a chance to listen to it and approve it before it goes live.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Audiobook companies like ACX do have term contracts. When I wanted to take back an old novella, I discovered that my seven-year contract wasn’t up yet and that I could not un-publish the book for another few years.

  • Don’t be shy. In my experience, voice actors often know more about the process of creating an audiobook than writers, so don’t be afraid to admit if you’re unsure of the process or if you want something done differently.

  • There is income here--but it’s limited. You probably won’t earn as much in royalties as you do on standard ebooks. That’s because production costs for audiobooks are much higher and because you might be splitting your earnings with your voice actor.

Paperback Books

Even in the age of e-books, print publishing is alive and well. Many readers prefer to have a physical book in their hands, and as a writer, holding a bound copy of your book is a unique and unparalleled experience. Through print-on-demand technology, paperback printing is surprisingly easy and approachable, even for new writers, and surprisingly, it doesn't need to cost you a cent.

What you need to get started: A finished copy of your book, a wrap-around book cover (including front, spine, and back), and either moderate layout knowledge or the budget to hire an editor who can assist you with the layout process.

There are several services available for writers looking to publish ebooks, including Amazon’s KDP for print (an extension of the familiar KDP interface) and independent printing services like Lulu. When you finish your layout, you will be prompted to buy a proof copy at a reduced price for your own review.

Note: When it comes to print publishing, there are a lot of scams out there! A legitimate POD service will never charge you for basic printing and never force you to give or sell them your rights. Always check to make sure at your print company is fully legitimate before ordering books, and never sign anything that raises suspicions or sounds too good to be true.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Physical books are a fun alternative, particularly if you already have an established audience. That being said, they are incredibly hard to sell. Don't publish a paperback book unless your ebook is already available.

  • Proofreading is important. Proofreading is always important, but mistakes show up much more readily on print than on a digital screen. Take your editing seriously if you want your paperbacks to look professional!

  • Again, scams are rampant. Remember that POD publishing is still independent publishing: you were not selected from a pool of manuscripts, and you are responsible for your own editing, layout, and distribution work.

In the end. . .

Ebooks are where it’s at, and where you’ll make it in the self-publishing world. But that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t expand, and other formats are increasingly approachable for new authors looking to branch out.

What’s your preferred format to publish in? Please share in the comments below!



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