If you want to realise a dream by publishing your own book, there are lots of companies willing to extract Publish your book with CreateSpace: get high royalties, low book prices, and expanded distribution. upwards of $500 from you for the privilege. At the other end of the spectrum is Amazon’s digital text platform, which allows you to upload your pre-prepared files to its Kindle reader and then set your own price.
The catch? Amazon takes 65% of the income from sales. Ouch. Fortunately, there are lots of other options – of which more later – for budding authors. What you get out of them is subject only to the limits of your imagination.
It doesn’t have to be an embryonic bestseller because self-publishing is best suited to limited editions. Anything over 1,000 copies and you would be better off going to a traditional printer to take advantage of economies of scale. I know a lot people who are self-publishing a record of their own lives together with memories of their parents and grandparents as a bit of family history. That’s not vanity publishing, just a great way to preserve memories for future generations and add to the archive of local history. Self-publishing is ideal for that.
Others publish their blogs or photo albums. Every year I try to put the best photos of the past 12 months from a photo site (Flickr.com in my case) so we have the equivalent of the traditional photo album which will last longer than my Flickr subscription and my hard disk. You could equally download an out-of-copyright book from the not-for-profit Gutenberg archive or from the millions of books Google has scanned (maybe for your book club) or extracts from the Wikipedia – and it’s all legal.
For years I have written poems as a relaxing pastime – rather like other people collect stamps. I couldn’t face the prospect of collecting rejection notes from agents and publishers so decided to self publish. The first book I did by paying for 1,000 copies to be printed in the traditional way (because it was only a little bit more expensive than printing 500). Expensive mistake.
By the time a second book was ready new technology came to the rescue. I used Lulu.com, which enables you to upload files and cover designs for nothing, and launched it in the virtual world Second Life (at no extra cost to a member). For marketing, I experimented with “product placement” by attaching poems to photos or paintings on Flickr and other sites thereby generating discussions that you wouldn’t get with traditional publishing where the author is remote from the reader.
Through a chance meeting on Facebook and other social media networking sites. My new book I hope to publish on Lulu and an iPhone app, if I can find a decent one. The point about all this is that new technology offers new and cheap ways both to publish and promote your books and we are only at the start of the learning curve.
Which self-publishing site to choose? There has been a lot of change recently. This is partly because of Amazon entering the market (and now Apple as well) but also because the process is becoming simpler and the operation more vertically integrated. Amazon has bought Createspace and Lulu has purchased We Read, a social book club with a presence on Facebook and other social sites with a claimed 3 million readers. This could help it towards reaching the nirvana of self-publishing: to become the iTunes of books.
I’ve had mixed feelings about Lulu in recent years. In principle, it is a breath of fresh air being an open source site that claims to put the interests of authors above all else (unlike the increasingly proprietary Amazon). In practice, there have been problems – not least ludicrously high postage costs (sometimes more than the cost of the book) delays of weeks before delivery and issues about payments which readers have told me about.
They seem to be through these problems, however, and now print in the UK so delivery takes days rather than weeks and postage is down to more reasonable levels. The proof of my latest book arrived while writing this column, five days after pressing the final button.
If you use their template, publishing is remarkably easy – you upload your manuscript in PDF form, drag photos across for the front and back covers. It could all be over in 20 minutes (if you don’t make silly mistakes as I tend to). It doesn’t cost you anything until the first purchase and Lulu lets you keep 80% of the proceeds (after deduction of the printing cost of each book). Lulu expanded by 20% last year and publishes over 400,000 titles a year which it claims is “almost twice as many as by America’s entire traditional publishing industry”.
Lulu is my favourite for text-driven books, but if you are more interested in picture-driven publications then Blurb.com is the one to choose. It is easy to use – if you stick to the easy templates – and you can easily import photos directly from Flickr other photo sites. The standard of reproduction is impressive (as long as the original resolution is good) and they helpfully flag up photos that they don’t think make the grade in terms of quality. Lulu and Blurb aren’t the only fruit and, if you have time, it is worth trawling through some of the dozens if not hundreds of minnows that keep popping up – while being on guard lest they are trying to take a quick buck from you. There are various lists of top 10s on the web, or just try your luck with something like Fastpencil which looks easy to use though I haven’t followed it through to publication orCompletelyNovel which is based in the UK.
The digital revolution has turned the music industry upside down but it is moving at a more leisurely pace in books where self-publishing hasn’t yet taken off in a really big way.
The question this week is whether, once again, Apple will change the game by providing an easy way to publish and generate a conversation. There is still a vast market out there for the taking.
Self publishing is not for the faint-hearted, for while it appears relatively easy to use these online resources such as Lulu to get something into print, the reality is slightly more involved. For not only do you have to create something you believe is worthwhile to share with whoever decides to buy it, you have to be your own editor, proof-reader, compositor and layout artist and having mastered that you have to become versed in the art of self-promotion and marketing so that your cherished tome does not languish unread on the hard-drive of the publishing house. These skills are not naturally inherent in a budding author, and for all the guidance that is provided in helping you along the way, your first publication will be littered with errors and mistakes that you will review and revise, it will also lack a degree of Quality Control that levitates it beyond being a home-made vanity project into something worth selling.
Of course that is not to say there isn’t a degree of charm, achievement and self-pride of what you produce in this manner. I purchased a single copy for proof reading and revision. The next step is to actually make those revisions and correct those annoying little errors in spelling, grammar, textual flow, formatting, fonts, page layout and the minor hiccoughs in plot, narrative, characterisation and basic story-line.
By Shashikant Nishant Sharma