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    Self-Publishing, Author Services Open Floodgates for Writers

    by Carla King
    March 1, 2010

    In 2001, the Wild Writing Women, a San Francisco Bay Area travel writing group of which I was a member, decided to self-publish a book of stories. Why? Because none of us could find a traditional publisher for what we thought was our best writing.

    With niche books like mine, you don't really need the publisher." - Paul Lima

    We had skilled publishing professionals among us, so we never considered using a vanity press. Instead, each of the twelve of us tossed in $500 and formed a small business. One of us went to San Francisco City Hall to process our business name, Wild Writing Women Press. Another bought the ISBN and bar code; others hired a book designer, edited, proofread, created a website, and chose a printer. Promotion was easy because we had 12 professional adventure travel writers talking up the book in the course of marketing our other books and projects.

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    Wild Writing Women: Stories of World Travel was an instant hit. We sold all 1,000 copies in the first week of publication and made back more than double our investment. Eighteen traditional publishers were suddenly interested in purchasing the book. The group decided — by a skinny 7 to 5 vote — to sell it to Globe-Pequot. Self-publishing success? Well, it’s 2010 and we’ve yet to see any royalties.

    The Self-Publishing Boom

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    Mid-level authors already know that the era of large advances, generous royalties, book tours and media spots are over. They have to spend their own time and money to create a website and publicize their books. Publishers just don’t have the resources to offer them full support. Why? The Internet, online bookstores, e-books, and an economy in decline are cited as some root causes of the steady slump in the traditional publishing industry. In 2005 sales were down by 9 percent (and have continued to fall). Yet in 2006 print-on-demand exploded.

    The 2007 Bowker report quotes Kelly Gallagher, general manager of business intelligence for New Providence, N.J.-based Bowker, saying, “The most startling development last year is the reporting of ‘On Demand’ titles…which mostly consists of reprints of public domain titles and other short-run books.”

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    These “other short run books” have not been sub-categorized, so it’s difficult to pinpoint specific growth areas. Arguably, the largest portion is in books created with the help of corporate author services companies (that is, vanity or subsidy presses) like Lulu and iUniverse. But also on the rise are book packagers (who do everything, which may even include writing the book for you) and true self-publishing, which is the creation of a new indie press as a small business by the author or group of authors.

    Bowker’s statistics on U.S. book publishing for 2008 reported a decline of 3.2 percent in traditionally published books, while the number of print-on-demand (POD) books jumped to over 285,000, about 10,000 more books than were published by traditional publishing houses. That’s a 132 percent increase in POD from 2007 and a second year of triple-digit growth. But the fact that large and mid-sized publishers are moving to POD instead of investing in offset print book inventory certainly must contribute to this statistical rise.

    POD technology has been brought to the masses by author services companies like Lulu and CreateSpace, two popular services with no cost to entry. They, and others, depend on printing price markup and add-on services to make their profit, charging from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands to “self-publish your book.” They have refined their browser-based tools so that authors with no book design skills can upload text and point-and-click to create a book cover. Suddenly, authors who have spent years writing query letters and wooing agents are spending their time on the Internet playing with fonts and photos and hitting the BUY button to get copies of their book delivered to them.

    Authors Who Never Expected to be Authors

    Another market contributing to the big spike in POD is the population who never thought of authoring a book until the tools became so accessible. Family memoirs, for example. Cookbooks by church groups. Businesspeople who write books to enhance their career. Professors who author their own textbooks.

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    I met Christine Comaford at the San Francisco Writers Conference in 2005. The high-energy entrepreneur and CEO of Mighty Ventures decided that authorship would give her more credibility, and serve as an excellent marketing tool. Her resulting success story is a 2007 book titled Rules for Renegades, complete with a website offering free resources and high-priced DVDs.

    Established writers have also turned to self-publishing. Paul Lima is a Toronto-based freelance writer and long-time journalist. In recent years, he helped grow his income by teaching seminars and selling self-published how-to books on business writing, among other topics.

    “I’m not technical,” he said, “and with Lulu all I have to do is upload a hi-res JPEG photo for the cover, and make a PDF from Word to upload as the interior.”

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    He said that “Lulu’s distribution seemed pricey and Amazon takes their cut, too,” so Lima decided to look at another option — a partnership with a “micropublisher” called Five Rivers in Ontario. Five Rivers created a book that adhered to Lightning Source print specifications which, because it’s owned by book-giant Ingram, easily distributes through bookstores, retail e-book distributors and Amazon in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. They also got distribution for him through the major Canadian retailer Indigo.

    Lima earns a 10 percent royalty and he says that’s okay with him. “It’s a business arrangement — they’re my publisher-distributor-business partner,” he said. “The results were phenomenal. We’ve sold 1,000 copies in less than a year of How to Write a Nonfiction Book in 60 Days. U.K. sales have also been impressive.”

    Blurring the Lines

    The distinctions between traditional publishing, vanity press and self-publishing is becoming ever more blurred, and that’s causing some anger and confusion. Publishers Weekly’s Lynn Andriani caused a stir by admitting that the subsidy and vanity presses misuse the word “self-publishing,” yet made no move to correct the error. And what would be the motivation, when the new expanded definition of self-publishing is experiencing triple-digit growth for the second year in a row while traditional publishers struggle to stay afloat?

    Today’s definition of self-publishing includes subsidy and vanity presses, print-on-demand companies, and book packagers, which many would like to clarify as being publishing or author services companies.

    “Author Solutions’ brands — AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Trafford, Wordclay, and Xlibris — have published more than 120,000 books by 85,000 authors,” Andriani reported in the same article.

    When I queried Jane Friedman, publisher and editorial director of Writer’s Digest, about the term, she replied, “our definition of self-publishing includes all scenarios where an author pays for publication, whether that author pays an author service, a printer, an e-publisher — anyone. For example, we have an annual competition called the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards; we accept any entry where the author bears the cost of publication.” (Writers Digest charges $125 to enter the contest.)

    Traditional publishers are even creating self-publishing branches of their businesses. Author Solutions helped Harlequin create a self-publishing arm for romance writers called Dellarte Press. It charges $599 to $1,599 for author packages. (Harlequin’s first name for their nascent business was Harlequin Horizons, but the industry shrieked.) Author Solutions also helped Christian book publisher Thomas Nelson with its West Bow services, which offers packages ranging from $999 to $19,999.

    In contrast, Lima started his self-publishing career on his own and without purchasing a package from one of these new companies. For him, having a sense of control and ownership is what makes the process attractive.

    “I really like the fact that I’m controlling the book publishing process and I think that POD has really changed the relationship between author and publisher,” Lima said. “I write a book in 60 days, and 30 days later I have the final draft. With niche books like mine, you don’t really need the publisher. You’ve got your website, blog, Twitter and Facebook, and if you write non-fiction you can sell through seminars and talks and articles you write for other people.”

    Would he go the same route again? Yes. And he has.

    “Lulu is a great way to test your book,” he said. “You don’t need to fully commit. I like it because you can check it out in the minor leagues and then step up to the major leagues with Lightning Source.”

    Carla King is a publishing and social media strategist and co-author of the Self-Publishing Boot Camp Workbook, which grew out of experiences leading workshops for prospective self-publishers. She has self-published non-fiction travel and how-to books since 1994. Her series of dispatches from motorcycle misadventures around the world are available as print books, e-books and on her website.

    Tagged: author services harlequin lulu print-on-demand publishing self-publishing
    • With the stark amount of competition among writers and the advent of the internet, it sure is great to read a story about authors pooling their resources together and coming out with a winning book.

      I hope several writers considering self-publishing take a look at this article.

    • Great info! Thanks, Carla.

    • Carla, this is great info. Thanks for all your efforts. –Brent

    • Great article, Carla! This is one of the few articles I’ve read that really understands the industry and the main players in the emerging publishing areas. I want to throw our company, FastPencil.com into the fold because we hve taken online writing and publishing to the next level for authors. If you ever want to chat let me know, Mash.

    • Carla,
      Thanks for a terrific article. Well done, and this will be helpful to people looking for an overview of what is going on with self-publishing and indie publishing vs. the difficulties the traditional publishers are experiencing. Look forward to more!

    • Carla, you and your readers might like to know that I’m just coming out with a book on playing in the “major leagues” with Lightning Source. It’s called “POD for Profit” and should be out in a couple of weeks — from Lightning Source, of course. (I’ve been self publishing through them for over a decade, and that’s how I now make my living, mainly with sales on Amazon.)

    • Scott J. LeTourneau

      What an encouraging article! Maybe I’ll dust off that novel I wrote in 1977, which broke my heart with all the rejection slips it garnered!

    • I just self-published Estate Planning Smarts: A Practical, User-Friendly, Action-Oriented Guide. The Wall Street Journal featured it in “The Best In…” column on February 20, calling the book “a terrific guide for people who are just beginning to grapple with estate planning, as well as those who have (or think they have) their affairs in order.” Publishers had told me books on this subject don’t sell. Turns out they were wrong!

    • I think that what you are saying makes a lot of sense – but there are a lot of “but”s:

      The first is that of quality. I self-published my novel, Beneath Gray Skies (Lulu, not subsidy or vanity), and I was appalled by the number of minor typos that had crept in, despite several independent readings and several proofing stages by me. That’s the issue of mechanical quality – which isn’t completely solved by going to a traditional publisher, but these firms have processes and procedures in place that a self-publisher does not. I’ve read through a number of independently-published books which are in far worse shape than my first edition (I have since corrected the mistakes I discovered).

      Then we come to the issue of quality of content – maybe more of an issue for fiction than non-fiction. I read through several pitches and extracts on self-published sites, and it was painfully obvious why they were self-published – these were first drafts masquerading as finished novels. Sometimes the subject was painfully boring (disguised mundane autobiography or yet another vampire novel), sometimes the style was grossly illiterate.

      I think before anyone considers self-publishing, they should ask themselves why they are considering this route, and why a traditional publisher is rejecting their work. It’s not always because the market is too narrow for the projected publication, or the publisher won’t take the risk – it may actually be that the proposed book is not worth publishing by anyone. It’s not true in every case – but just because a book can be self-published, it doesn’t mean that it should be.

    • Great article. For more useful info, tips and resources on self-publishing, check out IndieReader (www.indiereader.com). Vive la Indie!

    • Carla King is a publishing and social media strategist and this week she wrote an article on Mediashift about the current self-publishing boom.[…]

    • I self-published my book “Debt Hope: Down and Dirty Survival Strategies” because publishers’ lead times and process seemed too ponderous when so many people are hurting and need help now. The book is hosted on e-junkie.com as a .PDF with “lite” digital rights management (for each buyer every page gets a unique imprint) and I get paid through Paypal.

      Response to the book itself has only been positive, and I have made a Kindle version available on Amazon which is well-reviewed there as well.

      Early in the marketing effort, I contacted and made a comprehensive agreement with YouTube phenom Ann Minch, whose viral anti-Bank of America video nascent debtors’ revolt movement has given sales a boost.

      I also have a free version available on scribd.com (but no downloading or printing) as both a public service and a means of combating piracy (which I have already had to fight on two occasions).

      I would agree that without professional editing errors do creep in, but that’s what going back and rereading is for, and that’s also what is good about the ability to constantly revise an eBook even when it’s already in the market–though I make many more updates for new cases and situations I’ve found than I do for errors.

    • Today’s indie publishing is a not unlike the early days of indie film-making. Today’s traditional publishers look more and more like the tunnel-vision movie studios every day. They’re afraid to get behind an idea that doesn’t fit the blockbuster model. Guess what? Niche markets can be profitable ones. My book, Silent Sorority, reaches a market that until now had been ignored. As Amy Edelman said: Vive la Indie!

    • Carla King

      Hugh, congratulations on publishing your book! I wish you the best of success.

      Re your comment “self-published my novel, Beneath Gray Skies (Lulu, not subsidy or vanity)” — While you can use Lulu simply to print (though you’d be better off with Lightning Source) Lulu is one of the many subsidy/vanity presses that offer “author services.” They will publish anyone’s book, no matter the quality. They make their money from authors, not book sales.

      Re: “I was appalled by the number of minor typos that had crept in, despite several independent readings and several proofing stages by me.” This is a very common step that most self-published authors skip to save money. It is impossible to edit and proof your own book. Serious self-published authors absolutely must spend some money here. $400 – $800 is reasonable, depending on the level of edit necessary (conceptual, copy proof).

      Next time I’d recommend spending the money to edit and proof, with a professional, and print with Lightning Source. I think you’ll see a much higher quality product.

    • Carla King

      Thanks for all the great feedback everyone. It is not easy to publish, self- or not, so congratulations to those of you who are treating it as a serious business, forging ahead to work out the kinks and take advantage of the opportunities created by new machines and technologies. With big business wooing us using the “quickly, easily, cheaply” mantra it’s easy to forget that quality takes time, effort, and investment. You’re right… quality rises to the top in any indie market: films, music and now, books. I look forward to hearing more about your experiences and continuing the conversation.

    • Having used two self-publishing outfits, Lulu and iUniverse I can say this. Not being a US citizen my books at Lulu are self-edited and published but rights belong to Lulu. iUniverse one of many arms at Author solutions, costs more but offers marketing and editing services, and cover design aid. While I have a ton of marketing material now, I have to figure out how to use it. I enter my books in competitions, Stephen Leacock humour award, Toronto Book Award, and IPPY Independant Publisher Award. Because I have a namesake as a highly established Crime novelist, my iUniverse book is under pen name of Nahtan Hoj, and the genre is not straight comedy.
      My webpage in my link was created recently as a means of helping me sell my books and promote my ideals, which as yet has not happened. It costs a bit of money but its unlikely it comes back unless your content is timely and being looked for. I have multiple Twitters for all my projected pen names and other ideas, which have followers but still no sold books.
      Based on a discussion I had with a popular author whose book idea is now a TV show, you have to be a jerk to get published. I’m too nice to be picked up. I’m hoping awards change that.

    • I appreciated the great overview Carla. Too few authors understand even the general landscape of possibilities. Unfortunately, too many people assume self-publishing is a last resort. No one considers that authors are making serious business decision when they decide to self-publish. I was skeptical about going indie with my literarly fiction, but the more I learned the more sense it made.

      Now, I don’t have any doubts. I’m with Amy and Pamela – Vive la Indie!

    • @John Ross Harvey

      No, Lulu does not own the rights to your book. AFAIK, they only own the rights to that edition, if you chose the Published by Lulu option (free ISBN). You are free to take the book and publish it elsewhere in a different form (hardback, different typesetting, ebook, whatever).

      @Carla – yes, Lulu can be seen as “vanity” or at least “subsidy” if you pay for their production services – but I used them as a printer and distribution service. The next edition, and next book, will go through Lightning Source. I see Lulu as a very good training stage, though. As far as proofing is concerned, I agree with you 100% – it’s almost impossible to find your own mistakes. I did have a few paid professional readers look through the book before I took it to press, though. Sigh.

    • Fredric Alan Maxwell

      I read voraciously and my last book had a full page review in The Times and is in print in seven languages. For all of traditional book editors’ faults, they do make professional judgments about which of the hundreds of thousands of manuscripts and proposals they receive every year has merit. The vast majority are, simply, bad. Poorly researched and/or poorly written and /or of little interest to book buyers. And many, if not most, pubs of any stature simply refuse to review them. But if you like self-stimulation, go ahead and self-publish. Then try and figure out why, out of a few hundred thousand books published every year, anyone should be interested enough in yours to plop down some bucks to buy it.

    • Nice article. I self-published a book, Albert Square & Me: The Actors of EastEnders, last fall through iUniverse, and have had some public TV stations offer it as a thank you gift. WETA sold 80 copies at the $150 level. But of course I get $5 profit off each book, compared to the $15 I make when sold directly. iUniverse didn’t deliver the retail distribution in the UK they promised, even after talking me into the $699 return program. Waterstones in the UK, Borders and B&N generally don’t stock POD books. What they’re doing is bordering on fraud, and I’m considering to file a class-action suit. Anyone interested in joining forces, please get in touch.

    • I added the wrong URL

    • The trick with publishing-on-demand is that if you go the ISBN route and get your book out in online retailers, you have a 3 month delay for information. Past just publishing, it’s about marketing and information. I built NovelRank.com as a free service to track sales in real-time based on Amazon sales rank (and I give away independent author books every month too).

      I’m its biggest fan, being I self-published through Lulu.

    • As an Independent Book Publicist, I’m right in the middle of all this straddling the needs of the cost-reduced traditional publishers juxtaposed to the needs of the burgeoning indie publishing sector. It’s a wild ride to be in such a dynamic industry and the rules are yet to be written, so there’s a lot of room for creativity in business models and channels to market.

    • John Vias, Copy Editor & Proofreader

      At the risk of sounding self-serving, Carla is right about authors needing someone else to edit their books.

      Here’s why: As a writer, when you read through your own work, you subconsciously combine what’s on the page with what’s in your mind–the research you did to write the book–filling in any gaps that may exist in the text. But a professional editor reads your work as the reader will–without the benefit of your knowledge of the subject–and can find those gaps.

      Also, we have training in the correct, current use of punctuation (more complicated than you might think), capitalization, word choice, and so on. You have other matters to be concerned about.

      The same applies to book design. Looking at the three book covers in the article, it looks like two were designed by pros, and the third wasn’t. Like it or not, people routinely judge books by their covers. And they’ll judge your credibility by the quality of the text within. Simply put, better covers and better text sell more books.

    • The one thing that most articles on self-publishing ignore is the financial side of the business. From what you (Carla) have said elsewhere,I believe that you’re going to tackle it in your next piece. I’ll be looking forward to it.

      Book publishing is not a good way to make a fortune. It is high-stakes gambling, and those who have been laying lots of bets, for a long time, generally have pretty good odds makers on staff. In fact, we call them acquisitions editors, just so we don’t scare off our investors.

      The small size of the profit margin, even in traditional publishing, is the major reason new publishing operations run into trouble.

      I find that fact so very frustrating (despite the increase in my client base that it causes!) that I’ve taken to posting about it everywhere I can, and have even made some very inexpensive downloadable tools that are intended to help publishers avoid the problems.

      I look forward to seeing your take on the financial aspects of and the trouble spots in this branch of the book business.

    • Macon Jefferys

      Hi!
      I am an author who has published five books with Iuniverse.
      The products produced were excellent.
      One suggestion. I think it is time for the term “self publishing” to be dropped from the vocabulary of publishers and writers.
      This is like a person who raises a race horse, trains him well, gets him ready for the races and then breaks his front leg.
      It is my belief that the company that drops this odious term, inaccurate and misleading as it is, from their ad promos will emerge the leading publisher in the electronic publishing industry.
      Writers should resist companies that continue to burden them with this unecessary handicap.
      It is time that traditional publishser,currently feeling the pinch of modernism, feel even more of the pain they inflict upon aspiring writers.
      Their choke hold on the written word has been bad for the world.
      It is time for it to end
      And it is time for the stigma of “self publishing” to end also.

    • Carla King

      Hi Macon,

      So glad you’ve had a good experience with iUniverse. I also wish that companies, authors, and journalists would be clearer with their terminology.

      It’s obvious that many want to cast as wide a net as possible around the term self-publishing — the growth industry in publishing.

      Thanks for the thought-provoking comment. I am rounding up definitions from various sources for a future article.

    • Thanks Carla for your response. I feel really strongly about this relegating so-called self publishing writers to a second class citizenship.
      Tradidional publisher really do not have the right to assume they are the only ones able to identfy good writing.
      Their track record is really not that good. Mostly they are great at publishing the ghost written articles of the notorious ands the famous. Thanks for letting me vent a bit.
      Thanks again.
      Macon Jefferys.

      Would like comments here, on my blog or to me via e-mail.

      Jeff Jeffgpaw@aol.com

    • Hi there,
      Great article. I’ve self-published two books and couldn’t find an outlet to promote, sell and pitch my books all in one place, so I created it. Please check out my website and I’d love any feedback from all of you other self-publihsed authors.
      Thanks so much and I look forward to exposing self-published authors everywhere to a place to benefit them and their books.
      René

    • Hi!

      I would like to make a suggestion to self publishing companies.

      Enter into an agreement with bookselles to display self published books.

      The books would be on display only. One would have to still order them online.

      Authors who wished their books to be displayed in bookstores would be assessed a fee for that service to pay for the space required.

      This could be included in the initial package or bought later by the author.

      Thanks,

      Jeff

    • Hi Rene!

      Just plugged in to your site for Independent Book Festival.

      Terrific idea and project. I hope I will be able to participate.

      Jeff

    • Great story.

      I always get surprised when I hear intimations of the old stigma against self-publishing popping up, such as in the idea that POD is not “True” self-publishing.

      That technology has made it possible for people with the passion but not the money to stand behind their work to do so doesn’t make it any less “true”.

      In Hawai’ian there’s a word “pono” which, in the Huna religion (as in Big Ka’Huna), means “effectiveness is the measure of truth”. In this context that means if a book sells, and if its readers enjoy it, then it’s a success – however it got to market.

      Let’s have “pono” replace “vanity” in “vanity publishing” and make it “pono publishing”. That the tools and resources for putting one’s work out there are no longer dominated by an elite few, that effectiveness and no longer money is the measure of truth, is a good thing.

      Thanks for bringing to light the new face of self-publishing for a new era.

      P.S. – I used Lightning Source to publish my novel.

    • Hi Sage!

      I am not uite sure if I understood your post. It seems, like me, you are for wider opportunites to get stories of quality published.

      Jeff

    • John M.

      I have self published my three books through DIP Publishing house, at Dippub.com. One of my titles has been placed with Barnes and Noble. They were great about helping me with the placement of my work.

      Very good experience. I would recommend them to anyone.

    • Way to go, ladies.

      The rest of us out here, guys and dolls, who at one time or another wrote a novel that is now gathering cobwebs in in an old antique locker somewhere in a deep corner of the attic, are encouraged to write again.

    • From the readers point of view – The Wall Street Journal: When anyone can be a published author
      How do you find something good to read in a brave new self-published world?

      http://online.wsj.com/article/SB20001424052748704912004575253132121412028.html#articleTabs%3Darticle

    • Macon Jefferys

      In regard to the Wall Street question shown by Carla I have this answer.

      You find something good to read the same way you did when only a selected few writers could get published.

      There still is a place on book shelves for the famous, the notorious the trash and all the rest of the stuff that has been served up by traditional publishers through the ages.

      Sifting a manuscript through the maze to get noticed by a traditional publisher does not guarntee a product of quality.

      Many great books were passed over by traditional publishers.

      The more publishedd writers there are the more choices.

      Macon Jefferys
      FiledBy.com/author

    • Brenda Winters

      I am Brenda Kay winters and I have published over 35 books now. I love to read comments-mostly great ones from the UK on Kindle. I liked this article.

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