Self-Publishing In The Age of Information Overload #2


This is the second in my series on self-publishing. To begin with I wanted to have a quick look at what sorts of self-publishing options exist, both electronic and not electronic. You can read the first post in this series here.

I’m going to divide publishing options into four broad categories, outlined below:

  • Electronic: Written
  • Electronic: Spoken
  • Print-on-Demand
  • Vanity Press

Of these, the oldest path to self-publsihing (aside from setting up your own publishing company, engaging a printer etc) is the Vanity Press. These are so-called because they have always been viewed more as being about a person’s vanity (look! I got published) than any actual, real attempt to put together a marketable piece of work. Vanity Presses tend to be predatory and they charge a lot of money to produce books that are often not edited or poorly edited, and sometimes poorly produced. If you are talking to a published and the publisher asks you to pay them, they are a vanity press and you should run a mile. Especially today, when self-publishing is as easy as pdf’ing a file, there is no good reason to pay someone to produce your book. The main street publishers pay you, never the other way around, and there are plenty of self-publishing options that at the very least won’t cost you anything. If you’re unclear about vanity presses or want more information, go check out Predators and Editors.

Next, I want to talk briefly about Print-on-Demand services, often called POD for short. These are services where either for a nominal fee or a cut of the profits your work is made available via fast turnaround one-off printings produced on an order-by-order basis. Longstanding and reputable companies exist. Lulu, Lightning Source and BookPOD are all worth investigating (to the best of my knowledge), and Amazon has got in on the POD action too lately. Each of these employs a slightly different approach. Where Lulu focuses on printing books in a central site and mailing them to customers some local outfits sporting Espresso Book Machines (to pick an example) are attempting to set-up walk-in stores where a customer orders a book over the counter and it is printed, bound and delivered while said customer enjoys a hot beverage

Some things to consider with print on demand:

  • Do you have a way to get the books to the people who want to buy them?
  • Does the model an upfront fee or a cut of sales price?
  • Does the POD vendor offer storefronts for you to use?
  • Does the POD vendor have easy options for issuing ISBNs and barcodes?
  • Most bricks and mortar stores won’t want to deal with POD books.
  • Ditto for self-published books generally. The quality is just too variable.

Finally, if you are producing a book yourself in this way, you’ll need to think about editing, layout and cover-art. Freelance editors will edit your work for a fee, though it is best to try and find someone who has experience not just in fiction or non-fiction but in the specific area you are working in (i.e. if you’ve written a romance, find a freelance romance editor). In terms of artwork, if you approach an artist professionally, remember that the artist needs to eat too and you need to offer to pay them professionally. Freelance artists get tired of being asked to do work in exchange for ‘exposure’ on a book that may or may not ever have any real exposure.

Unfortunately the excellent POD review site by Girl on Demand stopped posting a while ago, but if you were interested in reading reviews of POD books and seeing why they work or don’t, definitely check-out the back-posts.

This leaves Electronic: Written and Electronic: Spoken. I’m going to start with Electronic: Spoken first because it will likely be quicker and easier. A podiobook or podcastbook or whatever other name you want to give it is where you read out the book (by yourself probably, but maybe you have a friend with a good voice who is willing to be bought off with wine and chocolates) and release the book chapter-by-chapter to the web, usually as an MP3. This involves quite a lot of work – you’ll need a microphone and some free sound editing software and a website for starters – but it provides a service for readers (here, listeners) and it can be a good way to get a readership you wouldn’t otherwise get. Podiobooks is pretty much the place to go for hosting of free-to-download / donationware podcast books, although because of the relatively straightforward set-up a lot of people just set up a site of their own and go with that. You can list the podcast through standard places like iTunes as well, and that would certainly be worth considering.

Finally, I wanted to look at Electronic: Written. This is the ebook category that is catching a lot of attention at the moment. We hear phrases like ‘kindle millionaire’ but I don’t see a lot of evidence that this is a workable way to earn an income for most writers just yet. If you are already published and have a following, or if you are writing (good quality) erotica, or if you have 40+ decently written books to put online you might be able to turn this into an ongoing income. There are three ‘platforms’ and several formats that I want to mention.

  • Kindle (in the Kindle KF8 format)
  • Smashwords (in multiple formats, no DRM)
  • Apple iBooks (in iBooks, ePub and PDF formats)

In terms of formats, you are looking at a whole set of possibilities, but, basically, ePub, Kindle and PDF are the dominant ones. If you want to consider posts to a blog as a form of eBook (this was how Old Man’s War by John Scalzi was first published, just chapter-by-chapter blog posts), then we could include HTML as another category of ‘format’.

I want to look at the written formats in a lot more detail, teasing out how they work, how you get your book into shape for each of them and maybe even using one of my own unsold novellas as a test-case for putting up a freebee file for readers to download.

I’ll leave that for the next post in this series.

About Christopher Johnstone

Christopher Johnstone lives in Melbourne
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  1. When you get the chance, I’d love to hear your take on book design

  2. Pingback: Self-Publishing In The Age of Information Overload #3 | Melbourne Review of Books

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