Did you know that some of our most famous authors, including Sam Clemens (Mark Twain), Beatrix Potter (The Tale of Peter Rabbit), Irma Rombauer (The Joy of Cooking), Ben Franklin, and many more published their own books?
Self-publishing, correctly done, has always an honorable, and profitable, way to get their works in front of the public.
Self-Publishing, Not Subsidy Publishing
Subsidy publishing or vanity publishing is another game entirely. Often a scam, the subsidy publisher will, for a sizable fee, publish almost anything, regardless of its quality or value. They print maybe a hundred or so copies of a manuscript into book form, and the writers paying the fee could consider themselves ‘published.’
As a rule, it was the author who not only paid but who also ended up with boxes of unsold books. While there may be a legitimate place for this business model, I’m not sure what it is. Unfortunately subsidy publishing hasn’t disappeared.
Technology Has (Sort Of) Legitimized Self-Publishing
Today, technology means we again have legitimate self-publishing, although it’s getting muddy again.
Legitimate self-publishing has grown out of four market forces:
- The first market force is the purchase of many trade publishers by conglomerates and mega-corporations. As a result, publishers now have to focus more on profits than ever before, and the result is, among other things, fewer new authors published, fewer truly thoughtful books released, and fewer books that don’t fit in to typical categories that marketers understand easily.
- The second force is the personal computer. As computer memory has grown and software improved, it’s become possible for almost anyone to design and ‘typeset’ a book. The same is true of paper back cover design. Almost anyone can create a book that at least looks presentable.
- The third market force comes from changes in printing, including high-speed copiers that come close to looking like the printed page. These presses mean that runs as short as a single book are now economically possible – hence POD or Print on Demand. Even the term, POD, is broadening as more and more trade publishers also make use of the technology.
- The final market force, and arguably the most important, is the Internet. The ‘net gives individuals a way to reach a world-around market. With their own web sites, and by working with online booksellers like Amazon.com, Barnes and Nobel (Bn.com) and others, it’s possible for a writer to publish her own books and actually make a profit.
Scams Haven’t Gone Away
Self-publishing scams, however, haven’t gone away. In fact, they’ve only increased. Because POD technology is cheap and simple, a whole slew of service burears have sprung up, often calling themselves publishers.
Of course, exactly where service ends and scams begin is often in the eye of the user. It has been my observation, however, that some of the most easily recognizable names in self-publishing make their money off fees charged writers rather than off book sales as trade publishers must do.
They promise to evaluate books suitable for publishing, edit books, design books and book covers and the market books, charging fees all along the way. Rarely do their results come even close to their promises. The evaluations tend to set the stage for upselling editorial services rather than an honest appraisal of the book. Editorial services are often more expensive than they need to be.
But the worst problem is the promises made about how the books will be marketed. These companies are awfully good at making you believe that a web page and listing on Amazon and BN is all you need to make a profit. They don’t put it quite that way, but that’s often the bottom line, and it just isn’t true. A web page or site, and listings at online booksellers is a necessary step, but it’s only a tiny bit of what the author needs to do to really make money.
Of course, not every self-publishing services company is a scam. You need to read the contracts they send you carefully and ask questions until you’re sure you know exactly what you’re getting into. You should also talk with others who have used the same company and see how happy they are.
If the company won’t give you their names, be extra careful and see if you can’t find at least some of their authors from their sales pages. Google the book title and/or the author’s name and you’re likely to find a web page put up by the author, complete with contact information. Give them a call and ask. You’ll be glad you did.
Requirements for a Profitable Self Published Book
There are ways to self-publish and make money. It’s a business all of it’s own, and it starts with the book. Everything that applies to a profitable trade book also applies to you, including:
- A book with a truly marketable subject.
- Knowledge of your market an how to reach it.
- A well written, well edited (including copy editing) book.
- A great cover
- A well produced book
- Distribution and Marketing
Probably the very first thing you should do is read Peter Bowerman’s The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living. Peter’s made a decent or better living from self-publishing his own books so you can believe what he tells you. Even if you decide you don’t want to self-publish, the overview he gives of trade publishing is worth the price of the book alone.
Image from http://www.sxc.hu – By the way, that’s an image of an old old press.