The author who embarks on the journey into self-publishing takes on a great many tasks. If they choose to fulfil all the tasks themselves, they have, in effect, taken on the running of a small business and everything that goes with it. They may decide to run their small publishing business by registering it a sole proprietor company, with the intention of publishing more than just one book. They not only become authors of their book, but editor, designer and illustrator. They will have to go about preparing their book as a digital file for the printers, using a program like Indesign, Quark, a cheap off-the-shelf book publishing program, or perhaps they will be proficient enough to use MS Word, resulting in a print ready PDF file. Whatever method they use, a book will result, and the arduous task of promoting and marketing the book will follow.
Self-publishers using POD (print on demand) technology, like iUniverse, AuthorHouse, Xlibris, Infinity, Xulon, Mill City Press, Dogear, Raider, Lulu, Createspace, etc offer publishing services to authors unwilling to take on all that goes with self-publishing a book. An author may be motivated by other needs and wishes. They may simply want to see their book in print and available for family and friends, or they may see their books as the first step on the path into publishing. They may have already published through traditional publishing channels or instead given up after countless rejections. The facts remain that more than ever before authors are arriving at the road sign-posted ‘Self-Publishing – This way.’ So what barometers and measurements of standards of self-publishers does an author have to go on?
When we buy our car, we have an expectation that it will be value for money and run well. If we buy a pair of new shoes and the heel falls off in a few days; we take them back because, as a consumer, we have the right and we are protected under consumer laws. We expect the products we buy to do what they say on the tin or packaging. Self publishing, in spite of the contracts signed by authors, doesn’t quite work that way. When an author signs a publishing contract with a Self Publisher; is he buying a service or a book? Perhaps it is both. If a reader takes his James Patterson blockbuster back to Borders, WH Smith or sends it back to Amazon because page 218 is blank, they will replace it or give him his money back. In the traditional world of publishing, an author often has an agent to legally represent them. If things go wrong during or after the publication of a book, the author can use his agent or approach an Author’s Association or Guild. The publishers have their own representative associations.
This does not work the same way with self-publishers (who after all draw up their own contracts) and many self published authors. Often, both parties are isolated, and during a dispute have to legally go it alone without any norm or publishers charter. There are legal and consumer laws and copyright laws, but publishing goes far beyond these. National publishers associations frown on even the most reputable self-publishers. Some national author guilds and societies also treat self published authors as though they had done something wrong or deeply offensive to literature.
The world of self-publishing is easily open to the most unscrupulous scammers and fraudsters. It is an area rife with enthusiastic but naive authors and new ‘publishers’ with not a scintilla of editing, publishing or book marketing experience. Over the past two years, there have been far too many self-publishers set up by failed, disgruntled and disillusioned writers, who, with the best will and intentions in the world, have no idea how to run a bookshop, let alone a publishing business. Over the past two years—I can’t say I have found any more than about twenty who actually hit the mark—and that is looking at the USA, UK and Irish self-publishers.
So what is the mark all good self-publishers should be trying to work to and achieve? And more importantly, how can we help and go about bringing self-publishers up to that mark? Well, first let’s look at the ‘model’ of publishing and services offered by some publishers.
What’s Offered by Subsidy Publishers
Let’s give fair reflection on companies who offer a publishing outlet to authors, who, without them, would never see their books in print. Lulu, Blurb, Createspace and Cafepress (there are a few others) are a few companies who approach self-publishing with what I would describe as the ‘DIY Printer/Publisher’. They offer the author an opportunity to publish/print textbooks, photographic books, comics, pamphlets, calendars, flyers with a no nonsense approach. They are short on the ‘publishing stardom’ and to the point on the process of printing/publishing your book. Some of them offer other author services from editing, design, marketing materials like bookmarks, postcards and posters, promotion packages which consist of a series of templates for the author to use and action off themselves.
Lulu, in particular, hosts an online forum for wide-ranging discussion, which features punches as well as pats on the back—meaning, no Gestapo/Mafia, keep-it-in-the-family moderators. Bottom line, at basic entry and file load-up of a book, usually using the publishers website widgets—they are cheap and as effective for the self published author as any other self-publisher’s service, and critically, at a fraction of the price. It’s like an author supermarket. You pick the services you want and walk out with what you need—not with want they want you to buy or fool you into thinking you must have. In some ways, for the self-publishing author who wanted to take all tasks onto their own back, these should be the first port of call—outside going directly to Lightning Source (the printer used by many self-publishers) and setting up their own micro-press publisher account.
Why are the above self-publishers a first port of call? It is because they are straight about what they do and their services are not tied into solid packages where you end up going in to buy a TV and DVD player, and come away with a studio mixing desk, five-room sound system speakers, an alcoholic giraffe who likes Southern Comfort, and a elephant with a palette for caviar.
Let’s get the giraffe and elephant to bed, lock away the Southern Comfort, and keep the caviar for the late movie. It’s time for another style of the self-publishing ‘model’, the southpaws, the heavy-hitters, the real big boys in the self-publishing business. Email these companies once, and like insurance salesmen selling policies on your doorstep; you are in it for life. AuthorHouse, iUniverse and Xlibris are all owned by Author Solutions. They are large, slick, well advertised marketing companies. These self-publishing author-solution companies offer a wide range of author service packages from a few hundred to several thousand dollar ‘pro’ packages. They spend a lot of time and money advertising their author services online and through the print media. These companies may suit the needs of some authors, but certainly by no means every author.
Anyone who has viewed self-publishing forums on the internet over the past year cannot be unaware of on-going disputes between authors and publishers. Self-publishing, whether you take on all the tasks entailed in publishing, or you choose to go with a company offering author services and solutions; it is not for the faint hearted and you need to tread carefully. Even now, I am still staggered by the lack of knowledge by writers posting in forums on the subject. Remember; the majority of authors who choose companies offering self-publishing services are publishing their first book. A much smaller percentage utilises them more than once. You should consider what your true and realisable expectations are for your book and you as an author. If you choose to go with one of the companies offering author solution services, then find a company which best matches your needs, not theirs!
(On to Part Two)
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About Mick Rooney
Mick Rooney is an author, editor, researcher and publishing consultant from the Republic of Ireland. He has published nine books since 1990, through his own imprint, using author solutions services, and he has also published through mainstream publishers. Several years ago he began researching the publishing industry, and in particular Independent, POD (print-on-demand) and subsidy/self-publishers. Many of the findings of his research can be found at his site, The Independent Publishing Magazine together with his own experiences in the world of writing and publishing. He is the author of To Self-Publish or Not to Self-Publish? A Seriously Useful Author’s Guide. He is also a contributor to many magazines and online resources including, Writers’ Forum, Publishing Basics Magazine, Publetariat, Carnival of the Indies, selfpublishingreview.com, Irish Publishing News, as well as many writing and publishing forums. In September 2011, he published his latest novel with Book Republic, The Memory of Trees, available in hardback and ebook.