It takes a certain amount of courage to self-publish a book – also a willingness to commit to a financial investment that can vary from a fairly small amount to something much larger.

The idea occurred to me, however, after I saw a notification on Facebook that Elaine Stern, who is the Gwen Secter Centre’s Program/Volunteer Director, is about to launch her own first novel, titled Geez Louise, on Wednesday, July 13, at McNally Robinson’s, that we’re seeing more and more budding authors take a stab at self-publishing these days.
Just within the past little while we’ve had two books come out that were written by occasional contributors to this paper: Adam Schwartz’s I’ve got Asperberger, so I’m better than you. shh…don’t tell mom!; and Confessions of a Professional Fundraiser, by Harris Gulko, who is a former National Executive Director of JNF Canada.
Since I like to give as much publicity as possible to local writers in our community, I did give both Adam and Harris an advance mention in our paper – as I’m now doing with Elaine as well. It’s always hard to know how a self-published book will do in terms of sales, but I thought it interesting that in both Adam’s and Harris’s cases, their books made it on to the McNally Robinson best seller list the week that their books were launched (and Harris’s has now moved to #1 in the category of paperback non-fiction).
Now, to be honest, the fact that both Adam and Harris held book launches at McNally’s had more than a little to do with their books making it on to that store’s best sellers list. Heck – if only friends and family come out to a launch, the truth is you don’t have to sell too many books in order to have your book become a best seller that week. Harris Gulko tells me that he only printed 30 of his books altogether, so even if he had sold every last copy at his book launch, it still would have hardly rated as a blockbuster.
Still, it’s somewhat gratifying to think that, even if it’s only for a short period, your book’s title will appear on a best seller list. So, with that in mind, I decided to do a little digging to find out more about what exactly is involved in publishing your own book these days – and what McNally Robinson can do for you when it comes to launching your own book. (Chapters doesn’t get involved in launching self-published books, by the way, in case you were wondering, so in this town, it’s pretty much left to McNally’s to cover the field.)
I asked John Toews, who is Events Coordinator at McNally’s, just what is involved in self-publishing a book through his store, then holding a book launch. John referred me to the store’s website (www.mcnallyrobinson.com/selfpublishing) for more information, but he also added some pertinent information about the cost of holding a book launch there.
The website explains that the cost of publishing a book varies, of course, depending upon the number of pages in the book. There is a “set-up fee” that includes uploading the book to a printing machine, phone and email support, and having the book remain on the store’s server for future printings. That cost can be as little as $24.
Then, when it comes to the actual printing of the book, in addition to the set-up fee, the website says “we charge a print cost for each book we print to cover the cost of the paper, ink, and glue.
“Print costs are based on page count. Each book costs $7.00 plus $0.03 per page to print.
“For example, a 100-page book costs $10.00 to print. [$7.00 + ($0.03 x 100) = $10.00]”

In a later email, in response to a question asking how many books McNally’s publishes for self-publishing authors, John Toews answered that they “publish around 200 books a year through our Espresso Book Machine. Some, but not all, of those authors will arrange for the book to be stocked on our shelves and a smaller percentage will arrange to host a book launch here at the store. Many are simply printing books or collections for themselves, their families, and friends.”
Not bad, when you consider it. You could print 30 books, as

Harris Gulko did, for less than $400.
When it comes to launching the book, it gets even better. Here’s what John Toews wrote to me about the cost of holding a book launch at McNally’s: “There’s not a great deal of cost involved in a book launch, so self publishing through us does not affect the cost.
“The only base charge associated with an event is a $50 promotional fee to cover the costs of materials and design (for posters, displays, etc). As we are working with the author as publisher, that cost is co-op’d or split 50/50, leaving the only cost as $25.”
Finally, there is the matter of royalties. According to McNally’s website, when you use what they refer to as their “Espresso Book Machine consignment program, we’ll place your book on our shelves making it available to purchase in our store and here on our website. You set the price. Whenever a copy of your book sells, we split the earnings: a small percentage to us, the majority of the profits to you. Then we print another copy of your book and put it back on the shelf!”
Sounds pretty good, wouldn’t you say? My only qualm with what McNally’s has to offer is it doesn’t include any editing services. While it’s fun to consider writing a book, then launching it, I have to say that, after having read more than my fair share of self-published books in recent years, I wish that some of those books would have been given to an editor to edit beforehand.
Hey, as someone who’s prone to egregious typographical errors – especially when it comes to writing headlines, never mind mistakes in syntax or grammar, I know how much it would help to have one or more individuals apply a critical blue pencil to what one’s written.
Still, if you fancy yourself an author in the making, go ahead and take the plunge. And, for what it’s worth, if you’d like some publicity in this paper, either before or after you launch your book, by all means, please contact me. I consider it part of this paper’s mandate to help promote local artists, be they writers or purveyors of a different form of artistic expression.