As I read the comments to my blog last week, I realized the topic of self-publishing is bigger than I thought for our readers. I decided to spend another week on the topic, with this post being somewhat more instructional. Please know that I am by no means an expert. I am at the beginning of my journey toward self-publishing. I’m still finding my own way. I have been reading about it, considering it and discussing it for years. I have definite opinions, but very little experience. As I said before, I feel like a childless couple dispensing childcare advice. Even so, in the spirit of this blog, I offer what I know for those coming along behind me. And I encourage those further along the road to add their comments. (Please! 🙂 )
I think the best way to get started is to define the terms used. There is a difference between POD (print on demand) and self-publishing and vanity publishing. Sometimes those differences are not immediately obvious. Often the lines get blurred, either by the publisher or the author. Other times the similarities or lack of them are obvious to insiders, while escaping the understanding of outsiders. Perhaps my perspective, and that of the few sites I’ve visited, will bring some clarity to the issue.
Vanity publishing is the ‘black sheep’ of publishing, the option that engenders, rightly or wrongly, the upturned nose and sneer by those of “the establishment”. It’s been around as long as books have been published. With this option, the author takes all the risks, bears all the cost. Before the advent of POD (print on demand) publishing, this meant having to order hundreds or thousands of copies for each printing in order to get a decent price. That isn’t always the case now, but the author still must do all the work and bear all the cost. While this may be the best option for an author, this is an area of the publishing world that is rife with “sharks” and it takes a business-savvy person to negotiate these waters. (Although, as self-publishing becomes more and more viable, those predators have to work harder to find unsuspecting prey.)
Self-publishing is often seen by those outside the field as the same as vanity publishing. In fact, to the casual observer, there is little difference. The author owns the copyright, handles, or pays others to handle, all the tasks necessary to see the book to print and takes on all the risks and benefits of publishing a book. (U-Publish, a self-publishing company (which I have NOT vetted, so visit at your own risk) has a good explanation of the difference between vanity and self-publishing.) The difference is often in the mind and business activity of the author. Another site, The Straight Dope says it best, “Understandably some writers think, ‘if I’m going to do all the work, I’m going to keep all the cash.’”
Print on Demand (POD) publishing technology changed the face of publishing, made self-publishing a viable option for many entrepreneurial authors. Now it is possible to inexpensively print a small (as low as 1copy) run of paperback books of the same high quality as the traditional publishing run of thousands. Now any author or publisher, no matter how little known or under-capitalized, can make a book available to the public for a reasonable cost. (According to Booklocker, most of the major POD publishers use the same printer.) The downside to POD is that most bookstores do not stock these books, usually because they cannot get a refund if they don’t sell. (With persistence, though, an author can change this. Janet Elaine Smith has self-published multiple books, has convinced many bookstores across the country to carry them, shares her ideas and experiences with other authors and even publishes a marketing ebook.)
Online publishing is often equated with self-publishing, but can be very different. Some ebooks are self-published, many are not. Traditional publishers are increasingly offering books in eformat in addition to or instead of the regular printing run. Producing a book in an electronic format sometimes makes the most sense, especially with the rise of eReaders. When an author is considering self-publishing, depending on the audience, offering an ebook option to the public might be a viable option, particularly for many niche markets.
These are very basic explanations and, as I said, I might not have all the facts, not having a lot of experience in this yet. Obviously, each author must assess their book, their desires for that book and their intended audience in order to make the wisest choice. As I progress further along this road, I’ll share my experiences. And I’d love to hear your more of our reader’s thoughts on the subject.