Deciding to become a self-publisher

Given the considerable frustrations of working with commercial publishers, you may well consider self-publishing your book.

Publishers accept only a small fraction of books, give you little or no control over title, cover layout, etc., provide little editorial or marketing support and once you are published, they too-quickly relegate your book to the backlist.

Self-publishing, however, gives you complete control over your book, and you keep all the profits. However, self-publishing means taking responsibility for all aspects of your book — including editing, proofreading, cover design, layout, printing, distribution, fulfillment and marketing. It also means investing your own money, perhaps thousands of dollars. Here's a series of blog posts I wrote on self-publishing that includes an account of how I came to decide self-publishing was a viable option for me.

Two cautions: First, you should undertake to self-publish your book only if you are fully prepared to do all the work of starting and running your own publishing company as a business. For detailed information on what this involves, see the comprehensive self-publishing FAQs offered by Creative Minds Press and RJ Communications, both book packaging and consulting companies. Publishing consultant Marion Gropen offers this very hard-nosed essay on whether you should self-publish, as well as this essay on getting commercially published.

Secondly, like Gropen, most experts recommend considering self-publishing only if you have not received sufficient interest from commercial publishers, and if you are really convinced that a significant market exists that you know how to reach. (See the article Marketing your book for information on defining that market.) Once a book is self-published, say the experts, the chances are not good that you can interest an agent or commercial publisher in buying the rights for subsequent editions. They more often see previous self-publishing as a hindrance, not a help, to their publishing plans. One exception might be if you have published through print-on-demand or a subsidy publisher, and the sales have been modest enough that a commercial publisher is sure they can reach a large untapped market.

Also, make sure you protect yourself by understanding copyright law. Here's an excellent guide to copyright from the publishing services company reedsy.

Importantly, self-publishing does not mean using one of the subsidy publishers, such as iUniverse, Booklocker or Lulu. You would only publish your book with one of those organizations if you do not plan to sell many books or do not care whether your book is taken seriously in the commercial publishing world. Subsidy publishers are covered in the article Using a subsidy publisher. Hiring a book packager or consultant is a better option if you do not wish to manage publication of your book. See the article Working with book packagers and consultants for further information. Also, the publishing service FastPencil appears to be worth exploring. FastPencil claims to offer a collaborative service for writing and publishing books in both print and ebook formats. Here's a review of the service by the New York Times.

While self-publishing is a lot of work, you now have all the tools you need at your disposal because of the existence of the Internet, new publishing technologies and an extensive range of consultants and other book services. As a self-publisher, you will have access to the equivalent resources that a commercial publisher has. What's more self-published books can be just as successful in the marketplace as commercially published books. Readers pay little attention to the publisher's name when deciding to buy a book. They judge the quality of the book itself, both content and design. So, if you produce a high-quality book, you are just as capable of marketing it successfully as any commercial company.

You have access to many well-written books on the subject and helpful Web resources such as

Among the best books on self-publishing are

Oct. 17, 2008

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