By Pack, Thomas
Information Today , Vol. 27, No. 8
Is self-publishing a viable option for today's writers? Some famous authors--including Virginia Woolf, Walt Whitman, and James Joyce--published some of their own work. More recently, a few self-published books have become best-sellers, such as Vickie M. Stringer's novel Let That Be the Reason.
But self-publishing has been more often associated with failed writers, crackpots, and the vanity presses. Even good writers who have published their own works have often ended up with many unopened boxes of books in their garages. "[T]he average self-published book sells about 100-150 copies--or 2/3 to 3/4 of your friends and family combined (and don't count on all your Facebook acquaintances buying)," according to CNET executive editor David Carnoy.
But Carnoy also notes that publishers offering print-on-demand (POD) services have been changing the game: "The key to these companies--and why POD is hot--is that books are printed only when someone orders a copy; neither author nor publisher is forced into buying a bunch of books and having to hawk them." (Carnoy reports on his own self-publishing efforts and offers tips at http://reviews.cnet .com/self-publishing.)
Virginia Heffernan, writing for The New York Times (www.nytimes .com/2010/05/02/magazine/02FOB -medium-t.html?ref=books), notes that "[l]ast year, according to the Bowker bibliographic company, 764,448 titles were produced by self-publishers and so-called micro-niche publishers.... This is up an astonishing 181 percent from the previous year. Compare this enormous figure with the number of so-called traditional titles--books with the imprimatur of places like Random House--published that same year: a mere 288,355 (down from 289,729 the year before). Book publishing is simply becoming self-publishing."
Heffernan also writes that "self-published books are not just winning in terms of numbers but also making up ground in cachet. As has happened with other media in this heyday of user-generated content, last century's logic has been turned on its head: small and crafty can beat big and branded. As IndieReader, an online source for self-published books, puts it, 'Think of these books like handmade goods, produced in small numbers, instead of the mass-marketed stuff you'd find at a superstore.'"
If you want to try your hand at crafting a book, here are some websites that can help.
A POD company based in Raleigh, N.C. (with offices in London, Toronto, and Bangalore, India), Lulu.com helps publish novels and nonfiction books as well as photo books, calendars, cookbooks, poetry, CDs, DVDs, and ebooks (including iPad books).
If you want to see your words in actual ink, you can publish a book in hardcover and paperback. There are various binding options (e.g., saddle stitch, coil bound, and dust jacket) as well as size and paper options. Templates and a Cover Wizard help you create professional-looking tomes.
The site accepts various document formats but prefers PDF files. If you can handle the prepublishing requirements, you can get started with Lulu for free. If you need help, you may want to sign up for one of Lulu's many support packages. The cheapest, the Primer Publishing Package ($369 at press time), includes basic formatting, basic cover design, an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), distribution through such retail outlets as Amazon.com, help from a project coordinator, a PDF download of your book, and one galley copy.
At the other end of the support-services spectrum, the 7 Star Publishing Package ($4,499) provides extensive formatting for an unlimited number of pages and images, premium cover design, editorial analysis, editing (up to 100,000 words), an ISBN, retail availability, a project coordinator, a PDF download, 100 paperback and 25 hardcover copies (6" x 9", black and white), galley copies, and phone support (six phone appointments to use during the process). …