Self-publishing: The Why

The decision to self-publish Human X was simple. Perhaps it was born of a little impatience. The normal procedure for publishing a book with a traditional publisher is long and the obstacles are plentiful. Not the least of which is the simple fact that publishers frown on authors who submit their work to more than one house at the same time. You can spend months and years just getting an editor to take a serious look at your work, and still not see it in print.

Now it’s true that traditional publishers have this thing called a marketing department that helps to actually make other people aware that your book exists. The catch is that they won’t do that unless their employer has actually agreed to publish your novel. So while the traditional publisher has marketing muscle behind it to place your book into all the major bookstore chains and conduct advertising campaigns on your behalf, until you’re actually published, no one is doing anything to publicize your work, unless you take it on yourself.

And even if a big publisher takes you on, what are the odds that they are going to mount major ad campaign on your behalf? Not good. How many TV commercials have you seen for a book lately? Unless your name is Dan Brown, James Patterson, or J.K. Rowling, it’s probably not going to happen. The economics of the book industry don’t allow it. And even if you were so lucky, there’s still a lot of publicity work that falls upon your shoulders anyway. Your publisher and your agent can’t turn up at a bookstore and sign books for you, or do any of the drudgework that goes along with being an author. They can kick some doors open, but you actually have to walk through them.

So, to sum it all up, if you go down the route of traditional publishing:

  • You will spend a lot of time waiting to hear you book “doesn’t meet our needs at this time.” Even if you’re brilliant, even when you have an agent the odds of being published do not generally run in your favor.
  • While you’re waiting, neither you nor your book are being marketed to anyone, except one publisher at time.
  • You’re book is not earning you any money at all while you wait. None. Not one red cent. Bupkis.

On the other hand, the self-published author:

  • Is solely responsible for marketing himself or herself, instead of mostly responsible, like the traditionally published author. The difference between solely responsible and mostly responsible is not negligible, but it’s hardly insurmountable.
  • Is not waiting for anyone but himself or publish to publish a book, which also means that the self-published author:
  • Can be earning money from his or her book, even if it’s miniscule amounts at first, right from day one.

The image of the self-published writer used to be (or at least used to seem) that of the desperate artist who, rejected by every major and minor publishing house in the English-speaking world (or whatever world he or she inhabits), makes one last futile, Quixotic lunge for the brass ring. The reality is far different. Plenty of authors over the years have known right from the start that their work is not in the mass-market wheelhouse of the major publishers. They might also want more control over the finished product than is possible via the traditional route. It’s also possible that the self-published author simply has no patience for the bullshit of dealing with a major media conglomerate.

In the old days, a self-publishing author had little choice but to handle a lot of the dirty work all by his or her lonesome. They had to find an editor, printer, and a binder, and then order up as many copies of the book as he or she could afford or find room for.

Those days are over. Welcome to the world of “print-on-demand” (POD). These services keep nothing in inventory but a digital copy of your book. Then, when someone buys a copy, the service takes their cut to cover the printing costs, and send you the rest.

I’m not sure how many of these services exist (there are a least a couple of dozen) major ones, according to one website, but there are only two that have really made a major blip on my radar: Lulu and CreateSpace. There used to be a third, but as far as I can tell, Cafe Press has gotten out of the POD business. I considered these two mostly because many of the others charge a fee up front to publish your work, making them little better than POD variations of the old-fashioned vanity press. To the uninitiated, one author said that a vanity press is to publishing what a loan shark is to banking. This might be unduly harsh in this content, but a POD house that demands any money up front should raise at least a little red flag.

To publish the print edition of Human X, I’m going with CreateSpace, which is a division of Amazon. The economics, compared to Lulu, makes this a no-brainer. My retail price for this book can be about four bucks cheaper at CreateSpace than at Lulu and still make the same amount of money per copy if sell through someone like Barnes & Noble.

For electronic publishing on the Kindle and selling via Amazon, you’re pretty much stuck with Kindle Direct via Amazon themselves. This kind of bites because the process for getting your book uploaded and Kindle-ready isn’t what I would call “hands-off,” but it’s manageable.

To publish on the other two major e-book platforms, NOOK and iBook, I’m still thinking. The choice is between Lulu and SmashWords. SmashWords is more independently oriented, but has a lot to offer in terms of publishing on more formats. They do demand more from the author/publisher when it comes to getting the material ready for publication.

Next time: The economics of independent Kindle publishing versus the traditional route.

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