The Open Publishing Guide: An Open-Source Website for Self-Publishers

Picture 1The Open Publishing Guide (OPG) is an open-source website created and maintained by the Open Publishing Lab (OPL) a research lab based in the School of Print Media at the Rochester Institute of Technology. The OPL is dedicated to researching new models of content creation and developing innovative, open-source and cross-media publishing projects. The lab currently has about twenty students, two full-time staff members (recent graduates, of which I am one) and four co-directors who oversee and lead the lab’s multiple projects.

The Open Publishing Guide website is run by one co-director, one full-time staff member and project lead (that’s me!), two undergraduate students, and one graduate student. All students and staff are highly dedicated and passionate about building open-source projects to help more individuals achieve their publishing goals.

The Value of Free Information

The Open Publishing Guide was developed to assist individuals seeking information on the self-publishing and print-on-demand process. While there are massive amounts of information on self-publishing on the Internet, not all of that information is presented in a positive or non-biased manner. We wanted to give individuals who were thinking of starting the self-publishing process a centralized resource for gathering motivating and non-sales driven information.

Project Goals

The overall goal of the Open Publishing Guide is to provide users with little to no “self-publishing confidence” with simple and easy to use information on self-publishing to motivate them to begin, and complete, their book projects. As a team we have come across countless individuals who say they are going to start a book project, or have an idea, but continually fail to execute their ideas to paper – or screen. We wanted to increase the percentage of individuals actually publishing, and raise their “publishing self-esteem.”  As a team, we realize the power of self-publishing and how it can inspire people think seriously about publishing. We know that the option of self-publishing is having a profound impact on the publishing industry. Our hope is to empower more and more interested individuals to publish. We know the process can seem overwhelming, but we hope that by breaking the process up into steps, users can see that self-publishing is manageable and (dare we say it) fun!

Site Structure

We realized the existing information was often disorganized and presented in a very technical manner, making it overwhelming for those outside of the printing and publishing field.  We thought it would be easier to present the information if it was broken into smaller accessibly-written and task-orientated chunks, categorized in four most basic steps of self-publishing. These include:

  1. Planning – brainstorming and gathering your ideas for your publication
  2. Creating – writing and compiling your content (words and images) that you wish to include in your book
  3. Layout and Design – formatting your manuscript into a nicely designed file
  4. Publishing – exporting, uploading, ordering, and other post-production aspects of the process including marketing and distribution of your book

Visitors of the Open Publishing Guide can find several different forms of content including video tutorials, written content, and downloadable templates to assist them with their self-publishing process. In addition to our original content, the OPG also aggregates content from reputable sources, including Self-Publishing Review, Publetariat, The Book Designer, among other online sources. We strive for all content, original or cross-posted, to be easy to read and non-biased.

Useful Resources

A large portion of the site is dedicated to outside resources such as software, photo repositories and reference materials that can assist them in publishing. We provide users with summaries of each of these resources so they can search our site, without needing to see the thousands of results through Google.  Some areas of interest include marketing, copyright, public domain resources, free software tools, a glossary of popular terms, and author communities. The OPG also has a user forum where users of the site are able to form a community around self-publishing topics.

Self-Publishing Companies Dissected

One of the most exciting and useful features of the site is the self-publishing advisor and the print-on-demand profiles. The self-publishing advisor (SPA) is an interactive application that helps users find a print-on-demand company to publish their book. The SPA prompts users to answer eight simple questions about their desired end product of their publication. While the user answers, the software narrows down the list of print-on-demand companies that can handle the job. When finished, the user can navigate to each company’s profile, which lists their capabilities and gives a summary about them. The self-publishing advisor is one of the most frequently visited features of the site. Other print-on-demand companies who wish to be added often contact us asking to be included. We strive to add content in a timely and accurate manner, making sure the information posted is not opinion based, but fact based.

The Takeaway

Having a place for non-biased, informative, and free content relating to self-publishing is invaluable to individuals who wish to begin the self-publishing process, and allows them to make their own choices based on personal goals for their publication. Since the OPL does not profit from any of our projects, we strive to spread the power of open-source products to empower individuals to use what we offer for the betterment of themselves, their communities, and all other individuals involved with our releases.

The Open Publishing Guide can be viewed at http://opg.cias.rit.edu.

DISCLAIMER: The OPG is still in it’s first version, and therefore, we recommend viewing our site on a MAC, or on a PC using Internet Explorer 7 or higher.

To learn more about the Open Publishing Lab and it’s other open-source projects, please visit http://opl.rit.edu

DISCLAIMER: This site is soon going to be re-designed, so please check back next month for a newly designed site featuring information on our new, up and coming projects for 2010.

  • Rachael,

    Thanks for the thorough introduction. I only discovered this site in the last couple of weeks. It’s a terrific idea. The biggest need of new authors coming into the self-publishing world is for education and lots of it. Having places where people can get “non-biased, informative, and free content relating to self-publishing” is incredibly valuable. Look forward to seeing the redesign, and best of luck!

  • There’s so much scaminess surrounding the self-publishing industry (as we talked about yesterday) thought it was really interesting that this service is associated with a non-profit .edu.

  • […]Rachael Gootnick is a recent graduate of the School of Print Media at the Rochester Institute of Technology. She has written an introductory piece for selfpublishingreview on the work and research being carried out by students and directors Open Publishing Lab which provides a free resource for self-publishing and independent authors called The Open Publishing Guide.[…]