I'm a micropublisher: I have published less than 10 books, so far.
I publish my own books, in full color, in Finland, on the edge of Europe. That represents a few challenges.
I've accepted paypal and mailed out books from the first book I've published, but some people don't want to send money to random sites on the web, and others don't like paypal.
Both are understandable, but for a micropublisher it's actually really difficult to get the books out there.
What you need to know about layout:
1) use as few fonts as possible, and as few variations on those fonts as possible. I went with one font in different sizes, with or without italics and bold. Use as few font colors as possible as well. I went with three: red for toxic, black with a dark shade for headers, black for everything else.
2) keep the left line intact. If you have more than one column, keep the left line of each intact. Check out a few nicely laid out books to see what I mean with the left line.
3) if you have nice photos, make them as large as you can.
4) if you have a lot of extra energy, "cut out" the main things in your photos. If you don't have that energy, don't bother. It's pretty, but really not necessary. (For examples of "cut out" photos, check any pretty Dorling Kindersley picture book.)
Desk top publishing (DTP) programs
If you don't have fancy formatting (= photos), go with OpenOffice, Word, or similar. They're good enough.
If you have photos, go for a real DTP program and plan your layout. Print a few test pages to see how they'll look on paper, as well.
I use Scribus. It's open source (and free of charge), and can do almost everything needed to publish a book, except that I think that it can't save PDF/X-3 files to CMYK. (It says it can, but online pdf checkers say nope. However, those online pdf checkers don't recognize PDF/X-3, so perhaps that's the problem? Ho hum.)
Great program, all my books are done with it.
There are others, among them Adobe InDesign, Adobe PageMaker and QuarkQPress. They're not cheap.
http://www.adobe.com/products/indesign.html ... €450 per year in 12 nice monthly installments. You can't buy it to own anymore.
http://www.adobe.com/products/pagemaker/ (this one is SO expensive they don't even list the price on their site ... ho hum.)
http://quark.com/Products/QuarkXPress/ ... €999, as per 14Jun2016.
I stopped looking into US-based distributors after I got a few price lists. I told one of them, "I don't think you're the right choice for me, you seem to cater to bigger publishers. Can you let me know of one?" And they said, "Actually, we specialize in micropublishers". Umm. I'd like to make at least some $$ for each book sold, instead of me paying you for that privilege.
UK-based distributors were better, but fell on the cost of shipping the books from Finland to the UK.
Books in print
There's the "books in print" database, which means that bookstores in the English-speaking world will know of your books. Which doesn't mean that they'll order from you, far from it ... they'll expect a 50-60 % discount off the full price, and shipping isn't all that cheap either. (Also, if they do order from you, you'll be fighting forever to actually get paid. I've sold a grand total of three books in three years (straight to UK bookstores), and so far, I've gotten paid for only one. As I now require payment in advance, they don't order from me anymore. Good riddance.)
But amazon.com will know of your book, and will list it, in its full glory, right next to a "Out of Print--Limited Availability." note. Nevermind that it's now available, in another format, elsewhere on their site ...
(Here you see Practical Herbs as "out of print", with data from the Books in Print database.)
There's amazon.com. Forget selling your books straight through them, if you're in Europe. They require you to be a US entity in order to carry your books, even if you ship the books yourself.
US-based POD works, for amazon.com. Read on, further down this note. (Here you'll find Practical Herbs as a print on demand (POD) work.)
Don't fall for their "have us ship your books for you" spiel. (I did, in the hope that it'd help with the "1 new available" text underneath my book. Amazon.co.uk can't count, and sending them a few cases of my books didn't help there, at all at all.)
If you do send books to one of their distribution centers, know that they'll take some £ per book sold. If your books don't move fast enough to suit them, they'll then tell you that soon, they'll require £260 a year (in two easy half-yearly payments!) on top of that. If you're over their quota you get to pay £130 just like that. (In April 2013, I got a warning that my books have been too long in their storage ... which is why the "Fulfilled by Amazon" book was on sale for a while, until it sold out completely. I'm not sending them any more books.)
But it is possible to jump through the hoops needed for them to carry your book without the "Fulfilled by Amazon" button next to the book.
Note, anybody from outside the UK who happens to order your book from amazon.co.uk gets slapped with a very hefty postage fee. It's not very economical for people from eg., America, Asia or Australia. Or even Ireland.
In 2015, Amazon.co.uk wanted me to send them all SORTS of data on me, which I wasn't willing to send them. Hence, the "Currently Unavailable" thingy on my book over there now.
US: Library of Congress
Forget it, if you're not in the US. You have to be an US entity in order to get in there.
If you're in the US: don't publish your book in any form before you have a Library of Congress thingy, if you also wish to sell to libraries and so on.
Print on demand: Createspace
This is an Amazon company. They're rather expensive for color books. Go for black and white, if at all possible: it's vastly cheaper.
In order for the publisher to get something (peanuts, really), the price for a 150-page full color book needs to be $28.95.
Try it. Keep your eye on the "Expanded Distribution" tab, that'll tell you if you'll owe amazon money, at your set price.
Note that paper size doesn't affect their prices at all, but color does: the same price for a black and white book would be about $7.20.
Createspace does require you to have a bank account in one or the other large EU country (the UK, Germany, ...). Finland isn't included.
Of course, everything costs. You'll have to have a proof copy sent to you (for full-color books). Priority mail, if you're in a hurry to approve that book (= more $ spent). You might need a few copies for your local ISBN provider. It might take quite a while to get that money back, at peanuts per book.
Once you have sent your files to CS and approved the proof copy they sent you, your CS books will be available on amazon.com and in European amazon stores. They're still not available on amazon Canada, Australia, Brazil or Japan (to mention a few).
Print on demand: Lightning Source
Lightning Source is better than CS, but they require CMYK files in order to print your book. I haven't been able to manage that with my layout program, Scribus.
RGB or CMYK?
On a PC, your colors are generally RGB (red-green-blue). A printer needs your colors to be CMYK (cyan-magenta-yellow-black).
You can convert PDF files with the full version of adobe acrobat, which costs real money. I don't know if that program can convert PDF/X-3 though. You can also choose another layout program (which can do CMYK PDF/X-1 or PDF/X-3), but they cost a lot of money as well. Ponder if it's worth it, before you invest.
There are online RBG to CMYK converters for PDF files, but they don't recognize the PDF/X-3 format. Which Lightning Source requires, in order for them to be able to print your files.
My local printer said, oh, your files are RGB, no problem, we'll press a button and they're converted. LS doesn't have that, wonder why not?
People will tell you "Oh, but you must do a Kindle version of your book!"
Don't bother, unless you already have a file that's easily converted to the Kindle format. If your layout is in more than one column, the workload involved won't be offset by any income generated by kindle or epub books.
I think that this will last until epub readers become more common. Most people are happy with a PDF file, which involves next to no extra work for you: it's almost the same as the file you sent to your printer, even if the image resolution is way lower. (PDF files also work on a Kindle.)
You'll need an EIN number from the US tax department. If you don't have that, US companies will withhold 30 % of your income in US tax. You'll still have to pay tax wherever you live, on top of that tax.
If you wish to publish e-books, go for it! Pay a professional to copyedit your work, though.
Do ponder your marketing strategies and your target audience.
Also, don't sign over any kindle books you have sold lots of to a "real" publisher.
One popular e-book author got really burnt that way: once the book was available through a "real" publisher, all her buyers got a note from amazon: "if you wish to continue to receive updates for this kindle book, please return the book and take this new version instead". The author (=self-publisher) was left with all the returns (having to pay amazon back), while she got only the royalties from the "real" publisher. Uh Oh.
It's a really good idea to read the kindle publisher / author forums.
Also, amazon keeps trying to push you into the kindle premium program, where you can give away copies of your book for free. The kindle forums say that it's not worth it. Sure, you're #20 (or #2) for your category for a day, but that soon fades. (I haven't tried it, so can't say anything about it.)
My thoughts on it all
If it takes you a month to make an epub file (= a Kindle file), don't bother.
If it takes you a month to convert your layout to US-speficic paper sizes, AND the price you need to set is almost identical with the price you've set for selling from your own site, really -- don't bother.
I did think that the US version would be very much less expensive for US:ians. It's not, and it seems utterly impossible to get it cheaper, as long as it's full-color.
Which is why you'll only find Practical Herbs 2 for sale on my site, not on amazon, nor anywhere else either. (Update 09Mar2018: A UK publisher has picked up the rights to my books Practical Herbs 1+2, so they'll likely both be on amazon soon.)
The alternative is a lot of work for very very little gain.
If any of you have different experiences, tell me, tell me! I'd love to get the book out for a decent price while paying my writer, my photographer, my layout expert and my publishing assistant (all of those being me). And my copyeditor, of course, who isn't me.
Rosalee de la Forêt: What an incredibly generous share Henriette! Thank you!
Megan Hughes: Thank you for your usual thorough and cogent work. I have been mulling over a couple of books to publish myself (not related to herbs) and have yet to take the plunge. It sounds like lots of work for very little pay.
Henriette: It's a lot of work, sure, but man, is it nice to get reviews on those books. Haven't seen a bad one yet :-)
Megan Hughes: Well, it is a fab book. Just right in all its aspects. Can't wait for Number 2.