The Low Down on Self-Publishing – Few Make Money

Those interested in self-publishing have many options: launching their own small publishing company; contracting with an established small publisher or a large online operation; using single copy, print-on-demand (POD) technology; or simply publishing their work online as an e-book. Despite the choices, though, can self-publishing be satisfying and lucrative, a reasonable alternative for professional writers?

While speakers at a panel discussion on self-publishing agreed that it can be satisfying, there is often little money in the venture. Still, the panelists noted, self-publishing can offer other rewards.

"The prospect that you will make money on your book when you publish it yourself is small," said Donald Wulfinghoff, founder of Energy Institute Press. "Most published books lose money, even books published by large publishers, however in small publishing a vast statistical majority are losers." A successful self-published book is one that doesn't lose money, said Wulfinghoff, who started his company to sell his book, the Energy Efficiency Manual, which he priced at "a nickel short of $200.00."

"There is a tremendous bias against self-published books in gaining publicity and distribution," he added. For example, some book review sections in leading newspapers, such as The Washington Post, don't review self-published books. For that reason, Wulfinghoff recommends aspiring self-publishers keep their identities as author and as publisher separate when seeking publicity and distribution for their books.

There was a palpable sense of gloom after he spoke, but the next speaker, Tim Harper, author of License to Steal and the founding partner of Long Dash Books, a POD publisher, offered a more optimistic vision.

"The stigma of self-publishing is disappearing," he opined. "If you are a self-publisher who sells 800 copies of your own book out of the trunk of your car in one month and then bring that to the attention of a mainstream publisher, you're likely to get an offer for publication." The advantage of POD, he said, is that, "You don't have to spend tens of thousands of dollars printing thousands of book. You can make a profit on each and every book."

Lynn Lamberg explained that the American Society of Journalists and Authors has a deal with IUniverse that allows ASJA members to get their out-of-print books republished with newly designed covers, all for free. IUniverse markets the books online and pays the author royalties. IUniverse offers a similar deal to non-ASJA members for a fee of $499. Lamberg admitted that she "didn't expect to make much money" from the re-publication of her formerly out-of-print book--and that she hasn't. But the convenience of having the books back in print and available online has continuing value to her reputation as an author.

Cynthia Frank, President of Cypress House, advised potential self-publishers to identify their top three markets and to ponder, "How are you going to reach those people? Who is going to sell the book the book for you and who will review, or otherwise refer people to your book?"

The speakers offered to e-mail interested parties various self-publishing resources. For a self-assessment tool about your book and being a self-published author, email Frank at cynthia@cypresshouse.com. For a "Self-Publishing Resource Guide," e-mail Lamberg at LLamberg@nasw.org. For information on POD, contact Long Dash Books at Longdash@gmail.com and for information on establishing your own publishing business or his Energy Efficiency Manual, e-mail Wulfinghoff at DW@energybooks.com. A list of other resources for self-publishing gathered especially for the NASW workshop by Dennis Meredith is also online.

Since 1967, Maury Breecher has produced over a thousand published articles on consumer issues, health, medicine, and journalism for newspapers, magazines, and online media as well as hundreds of news articles and CME materials for physicians. He is the co-author of Dr. Anderson's Antioxidant, Antiaging Health Program, Live Longer Better (with James W. Anderson, M.D.), first author of Healthy Homes in a Toxic World (with Shirley Linde, Ph.D.) and a contributing researcher/ghostwriter on Future Plagues: Biohazard, Disease and Pestilence, Mankind's Battle for Survival by Peter Brookesmith, published by Barnes & Noble. Maury holds a Ph.D. in mass communication as well as a Master's in public health. In addition to his membership in NASW, he is also a member of AMWA, ASJA, and the Authors Guild.

Oct. 29, 2006