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Self Publishing: Everything You Must Know

Self Publishing: Everything You Must Know

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It's a familiar story. Each year, traditional publishing houses reject tens of thousands of manuscripts. Today, as new technologies make it increasingly possible for writers to bypass traditional book publishers, many books are finding their way into print through self-publishing - printing and marketing them independently. The array of self-publishing options can be confusing. Here are the facts, in print, to clear away the mayhem.


Self-Publishing is the same as Print on Demand

Print on demand, or POD, is exactly what it sounds like: Printing as many or as few books as needed at any given time. Self-publishing companies like iUniverse, Authorhouse, Xlibris and Booksurge are presenting themselves as a viable option to traditional publishing houses The benefits of POD are apparent: it's relatively inexpensive, there is less risk in printing fewer books at a time, books go on the market faster, and the author retains greater creative control than with a traditional publisher. The disadvantages: POD is still largely regarded as vanity press (i.e., if your book isn't good enough for a real publishing company, you pay to publish it yourself!), most book stores won't stock them, and it may be difficult to get a POD book reviewed as many reputable critics refuse to recognize POD services as legitimate publishers.

While there are many similarities, the truly self-published (SP) author is responsible for a much greater range of tasks than a POD-published author. While POD is a form of publication in which the author pays another publisher to produce a book, the "self-publishing" author IS the publisher of the book. The distinctive features of self-publishing are:

There are no rights or ownership differences between SP and POD

With SP, you retain all rights to your book. Many POD publishers, however, demand a variety of rights, often the same ones as commercial publishers. With SP, you own all the books you produce & may do whatever you wish with them. In POD, you do not own them. If you want additional copies to send to reviewers or to give away, you must purchase them, generally at an author's discount of around 40%. You do not receive any royalties on books you purchase for your own use. Most importantly, the ISBN belongs to the publisher, not the author. Note: if you go the POD route to help you "self-publish" your book, read the contract carefully! Some of these publishers have been known to sneak undesirable clauses in them.

SP and POD receive the same revenues

SP: You receive all revenues from the sales of your books. You set your own pricing and discount terms.

POD: You are paid a percentage of revenues on book sales. Your royalty may be affected by where the book is sold and/or discounts offered. (For example, many POD publishers pay lower royalties on books sold through online bookstores or other locations than on books sold directly from their own website.) You may or may not be able to set the price for your book, and may have no control over discounts offered.

Self-publishing will make you rich

Never go into self-publishing because you want to get rich! SP involves many costs besides the actual production cost of the book itself and if you're not investing in ongoing marketing efforts, you won't be selling books or making profits.

Take the easy route: SP

While some believe that self-publishing is the "easy" way to get a book on the market, it isn't! You may get your book published faster than with a traditional publishing house - but your work is only beginning. Remember that when you self-publish, you're taking on ALL the tasks that would normally be handled by the staff of a commercial publishing house. Without investing significant time and effort (as well as money), your efforts will fail.

I don't need an editor!

This arrogant attitude accounts for the proliferation of badly written, poorly edited self-published books on the market. Some writers self-publish because they think they are beyond the need of "tampering" on behalf of a publisher. They claim that the only reason commercial publishers keep rejecting their books is because their books are "too unique," for the mainstream market. Unfortunately, this is rarely true. All writing worth publishing needs professional editing!

All books are great candidates for SP

In fact, nonfiction books tightly targeted for a small audience are the best picks for self-publishing. The most successful self-publishers are those who are experts in their field and are familiar with the target audience for their books. If, for example, an author regularly speaks on a particular topic, he/she can take advantage of that audience by self-publishing a book that can be marketed at talks or seminars.

In addition, if a book is particularly "timely", a writer may choose self-publishing because it provides a means of getting the book on the market immediately. Commercial publishers may take as long as two years (or longer) to bring a book to market after it has been accepted, while a self-publisher can get the same book on the market in a few weeks.

Self-published fiction, children's books and collections of poetry, on the other hand, have low success rates overall. These genres are still largely purchased through real bookstores where one can browse the shelves. In addition, many children's books are illustrated and/or produced with high-quality paper or added features such as pop-ups, which are extremely expensive for the self-publisher.

There are no downsides to SP

Unfortunately, the disadvantages of self-publishing are many!

Print self-publishing is expensive. You will probably need to invest a minimum of $3000 to $5000 to get your book into print, and SP requires an ongoing investment of funds. Marketing campaigns, VITAL to any SP venture success, are costly.

To write a book is an art; to self-publish is a business. For writers, people who tend be writers first & business people at a distant second, this can be a serious consideration. Making the leap from being creative to being an entrepreneur, with all the headaches of administration, financial management, promotion, bookkeeping, sales & order-processing entailed in SP, is a major undertaking & should not be taken lightly.

Self-published books still lack respect in many areas. Many reviewers will not review self-published books; many bookstores and libraries will not deal directly with a small press; and many professional organizations do not consider SP books as "published".

SP publishers must do everything by themselves

Self-publishers do not have to perform every task themselves. A key to running a successful business is knowing what you should delegate to others. Therefore, self-publishing can take on many forms, depending on an individual's abilities and time constraints. Many writers hire an editor, illustrator or cover artist for the final stages of manuscript development. You can hire a service to warehouse and ship your books, and an accountant to handle income tax & bookkeeping tasks. Keep in mind that professional help increases your costs. When you calculate the per-book cost of printing a book, be sure to include any professional costs incurred. On the other hand, while such services add to your costs, they also add to the overall quality of your product, making it much more marketable.


Due to computers, desktop software (such as: Pagemaker, In-Design, Publisher or Quark-X-Press - simple layouts that can be produced with Microsoft Word or WordPerfect) and printers, anyone can publish a book for a fraction of what it once cost. You the writer retain full control over the content, design, marketing, rights & revenues of your book. You may be able to exploit markets because of your special expertise in a particular area, and your book may have a greater chance of success simply because you're more committed to the process of promoting it than a publisher who has hundreds of other titles.


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