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Be smart and save on shipping

Posted by John Reed on

For longer than I can remember I have been shipping my books in Priority Mail flat-rate envelopes. Originally, the way the book business worked was all books were shipped by USPS book rate.

Media mail

That’s the cheapest. For my new novel, Media Mail as it’s now called, is $3.57. Media mail is so cheap that many recommended using it for your books, instead of the moving van, if you are moving to a new state. It also takes four to six weeks. It used to be everyone knew that and would say “Four to six weeks?” when they ordered by phone.

Box cost

I had to buy the shipping boxes. They are very expensive.

Amazon concierge service

Then along came Amazon. They were so eager to “buy the business” that they shipped by two-day or overnight. “Buy the business” means to sell so cheap and/or provide wildly excessive service for the price point that you have lots of sales, but no profit.

Priority mail flat rate envelopes

That ended four to six weeks. We eventually settled on priority mail flat rate when that came along. If it fits, it ships. Ne weight charge. For most one-book orders we just charge the amount of the postage—around $6 now—for a flat-rate envelope. It’s a thin cardboard envelope, but adequate. Below a certain weight, we use first class which is cheaper and the same speed.

We can sometime put two thin books into a flat-rate envelope. If it’s too thick we have to go to a medium flat rate box which costs us $11.95. But we give a shipping discount for two books and free shipping for three or more—all tested to make sure the discount encourages more two and three book orders.

Free boxes and envelopes

One of the main advantages of priority mail is the envelopes and boxes are free. That is a really big deal.

$28 for UPS?

My new novel is a hard cover—my first. How to ship it? I visited UPS and the post office. UPS ground wanted $18 to $28 depending how far from San Francisco the customer was! And I have to buy the shipping boxes! And it’s slower than the post office! And I have to take it to UPS or schedule a pick up at my house. With USPS, I can just stick outgoing mail in my sidewalk mailbox. Also, the post office is next to my health club when I have a bin full.

USPS said, “Use a padded flat rate envelope.” Never heard of such a thing. They do not stock them at the post office. You have to order them They, too, are free. They are white, air-bubble material and about the same shape and size as the flat rate envelope. The postal clerk recommended using two for each book, one inside the other. The cost? About the same as the flat rate envelope—$6.

I don’t understand how UPS stays in business. I did not check with Fedex, but my impression they offer about the same deal as UPS.


Years ago, I used a postage meter. What a joke! Then came into being, but that did not work with our Macs. Then Endicia did and we’ve been using them ever since. We actually get a little discount on postage because of all the bar codes and numbers and the “Rohrschach inkblot” printed on the labels thereby making the mail more machine readable.


One of the most common resistances I get to self publishing is “Oh, I can’t be bothered with shipping books.” What bother? My son, Mike watched ESPN or a football game while he was doing it. Endicia makes it near effortless, even on foreign shipments. I used to refuse foreign shipments because it was such a pain. No longer.

Another bit of stupidity Amazon injected into the book business was tracking numbers. “What do you need that for?” I asked one customer. “Are you planning a surprise party for the book and you need to tell the caterer the date?”

‘Tracking numbers?’

But now, with Priority Mail, we get tracking numbers. They are still dopey. But they are free. And we are told the time of day the package was delivered. That ended the occasional, “I never got the book.” “Yes, you did, at 10:47 AM on Tuesday.”

Even if you just mail normal household stuff, you can probably benefit from the above information. If you regularly sell stuff like readers of my self-publishing book or maybe just eBay things, you can save a lot.…/how-to-write-publish-and-sell-yo…

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