The ins & outs of self-publishing

The reality of trade publishing is that they can’t publish every manuscript they receive, says self-published author

To avoid dealing with total strangers when it comes to publishing your work, just do it yourself.
To avoid dealing with total strangers when it comes to publishing your work, just do it yourself.
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In a world full of do-it-yourself projects, it’s no wonder self-publishing is becoming more popular with amateur and professional writers the world over. For every book published by a traditional publisher, there are hundreds more lost in the slush pile. So what do enterprising writers do to pull themselves out of the mess?

Self-publishing advocate, author and webmaster of SelfPublishing.ca Suzanne Anderson said most authors choose to self-publish because they can’t find a trade publisher to take their manuscript.

“While self-publishing is not the last resort of an often rejected writer, the reality is that the trade publishing industry simply cannot publish every manuscript they receive,” she said. “I could easily have found a publisher for my book but I chose to self-publish in order to have control over the end product and marketing plan.” Anderson said since trade publishers need to publish based on what will sell best, books are more often chosen by marketing departments than by editorial ones. But even if your manuscript is picked up by a publisher, she said a beginner writer may find the venture less profitable than they imagine.

“They market your book but not heavily if you are unknown,” she said. “It is often up to the author to find opportunities for publicity. It can take as long as two years from mass purchase to a printed book and then another year before a single royalty cheque is seen.”

Having control over the entire process, from manuscript to printed book, is what Anderson thinks is the greatest benefit of self-publishing.

“You design the cover, choose the price … you create your own small business and maintain all rights to your book,” she said. “You wrote the book and know the best way to market it. … The book is your creation and you don’t have to sit back and have a total stranger tell you how to design, print and sell your book.”

Having a thick skin and good business sense are important qualities in an aspiring self-publisher, Anderson said. Many self-publishers start their own small publishing businesses.

“You have to put up all the money and if your books don’t sell, you have hundreds or thousands of books in your garage or basement,” she said. “You have to be prepared to talk up your book at any opportunity.”

Anderson said she has taken time from weekends and holidays to sell her books, that self-publishing isn’t the best environment for the shy.

“We [Anderson and her husband] shared a booth at Book Expo Canada in Toronto in 2004 and I walked around that exulted trade publisher’s event with a large button that said, ‘Ask me about self-publishing’,” she said. “You have to have that kind of chutzpah.”

Modern technologies are playing a role in making self-publishing a more viable option for the first-time author. Anderson said this has helped to remove the stigma that has been associated with self-publishing in the past.

“We have computers, easy to use software, digital publishing, e-publishing, and I see more of those types of resources for writers to use to get their message out. Just as texting and Twittering is changing the way we communicate, modern technology is changing the way we publish.”

Many websites operate as what Anderson calls a subsidy press.

“The subsidy, or often called vanity, publisher charges the author to publish their book,” she said. “They provide the legals and printing as part of the cost, but editing and cover design are add-ons. They will list the book on their online bookstore but marketing and distribution are up to the author.”

Websites such as Lulu.com offer a variety of publishing and editing services. To print 300 copies of a 100-page six-by-nine paperback would cost around $1,200 U.S. for a per-book cost of $4 U.S. The same book in hardcover would cost $4,590 U.S. They also offer a plethora of editing, formatting, design and marketing services to help you through the process.

Anderson advises doing your research before working with any subsidy publisher.

“Most subsidy publishers produce an inferior product and that impacts sales,” she said. “Some writers really eschew subsidies but they have a place for the right project.”

Despite the obstacles facing a first-time self-publisher, Anderson offers encouragement.

“Self-publishing is not for the faint of heart,” she said. “Many doors close when they hear you did it yourself. You have to be prepared to knock them down.”

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