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Patricia Anderson, PhD

Self-Publishing—
New Options for Writers

Copyright 2000; 2010; 2012; 2017 by Patricia Anderson

 


According to an article in the New York Times Book Review, by some estimations upwards of ten million people in North America have written books that have yet to be published. Compare this figure to the fifty thousand or so new titles per year that are brought out by traditional trade publishers of all sizes. In other words, the odds are against any new writer who is trying to get his or her first book published.

But this doesn't mean that first-time authors should give up on seeking publication. Promising newcomers will always continue to be discovered and published—how else could the book business preserve its vitality? But the process of getting into print via traditional publication can be long, difficult, and frustrating.

Just how frustrating it turns out to be is a matter of individual temperament and circumstances. Some authors simply endure all the waiting, and the rejections, and eventually achieve their goal. Others reach their limit, and for this reason, many worthy books go unpublished, while good ideas remain unaired and creative voices unheard.

Until recently, the only alternatives to nonpublication were to pay a vanity press to bring out your work or to become a self-publisher and to finance and take charge of every phase of your book's production, distribution, and promotion. These days, thanks principally to the growth of the Internet, authors now have more satisfying as well as less expensive and taxing options.

The principal breakthrough has been print-on-demand book manufacturing. Now authors do not have to pay high fees to produce large numbers of copies of their book, which then might, or might not, sell. With the print-on-demand method, the author pays a comparatively modest fee, receives a few sample copies, and subsequent copies are printed as orders come in. In return for collecting an up-front fee, print-on-demand publishing services typically provide the book's mandatory ISBN (International Standard Book Number), help publicize the book on the Internet through search engines and online outlets like Amazon.com, and allow for payments to authors that may exceed conventional royalties.

There are now a number of Internet-based print-on-demand (POD) publishing services. These can be a good option for authors who want to bypass the conventional lengthy publication process, find more immediate outlets for their work, and retain greater editorial control than traditional publishers might allow. Some services, such as CreateSpace and Lulu, even offer a no-frills, do-it-yourself publishing option. If all of this appeals to you, then you may be a candidate for print-on-demand publishing.

But be aware that some POD firms are not much different than old-fashioned vanity presses. They make elaborate promises to lure you in and then charge staggering fees for services of dubious quality and usefulness. Before you commit yourself to a particular service, remember that ultimately it is up to you, the author/consumer, to comparison-shop and decide which POD publisher and publishing package best suit your needs and budget.

In recent years, the emergence of ebooks has further changed the book publishing landscape. Ebooks are particularly well-suited to self-publishing, as they are budget friendly and comparatively easy to produce. Authors can work in Microsoft Word to format and design their own ebooks and then pay a modest fee for a striking cover design. Ebooks are free to publish and distribute, using Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and Smashwords.com for all non-Kindle devices. Both KDP and Smashwords offer free guidelines for ebook formatting and uploading. The free Smashwords style guide is particularly useful.

For those not inclined to do-it-yourself ebook publishing, micropublishing could be an acceptable option. Micropublishing services may offer a modest POD option, but mainly produce ebooks for Internet marketing. This kind of service has three main advantages for authors:

  1. Micropublishing is lean publishing, offering only the services that any particular author needs.
  2. It is inexpensive, costing hundreds—as opposed to thousands—of dollars.
  3. It is realistic, focusing on ebooks for the Internet—the main venue for bookselling in today's digital world.

Of course, with micropublishing—as with all forms of self-publishing—this cautionary advice applies: Know your own needs and adopt a buyer-beware approach when shopping for publishing services.

For further, more detailed information about all forms of self-publishing—including vanity, POD, and epublishing—follow these highly recommended links:

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