26th Apr 2011
Let’s Get Critical: The Pros & Cons of Self-Publishing
Cinnamon McCann, author of Self-Publishing in Stilettos: A Woman’s Guide to Publishing with Confidence, gives us some advice on being wary and wise when it comes to self-publishing…
So you’re taking the plunge and you’re going to self-publish your book. The good news is that modern technology has created a ton of self-publishing options for you, but that is also the bad news.
You need to be wise about your options and be wary of those that can take advantage of you and your cheque book. In order to be wise, you will need to understand the benefits and pitfalls of the different types of publishing options.
Vanity Publishing – Be Wary, Very Wary
These companies pose as traditional publishers claiming to be able to get an author’s book in stores. Instead of making money selling books to bookstores, they sell your book to you, charging exorbitant fees to design and print.
Don’t go to the vanity publishers for a long-term relationship. They are definitely commitment-phobes. Once your cheque clears and your books are delivered to your door, the relationship is over. Or at least until you need more books, because the vanity press owns your book’s design files.
In the end, authors find themselves with a stockpile of books and no one to help them with marketing. To add insult to injury, vanity publishers retain the same publishing rights as traditional publishers. That means the author is prohibited from publishing the book with any other type of publishing company, unless she wants to buy out her contract.
Although vanity scams thrived during the 1980s and 1990s, the advent of print-on-demand technology and the proliferation of print-on-demand publishers have almost put an end to the traditional version of vanity publishing.Still, some of the unsavoury tactics have had a rebirth in the print-on-demand publishers.
Print on Demand Publishing
Print on Demand (POD) is in fact a printing technology. It is used to describe the digital printing process, wherein you can print books in quantities one at a time or “on demand.”
However, a new type of publishing company has sprung up around this technology. POD publishers, like the old vanity publishers, are resellers of printing and other production services.
Unlike vanity publishing, you aren’t going to end up with an inventory of books. This is the biggest advantage of POD publishing. Books aren’t printed until someone places an order and pays for the book.
POD publishers may be well suited for online sales, but they are not as practical for bookstore sales. This is where it gets tricky for new authors. Many times online sales don’t work as well for new authors as they do for established writers.
Readers who shop online tend to know what book, topic or author they are looking for. It’s harder for people to browse through virtual bookstores online looking for a book to catch their eye. There’s less impulse buying with online bookstores than with traditional bookstores.
From a business standpoint, POD publishing has another big advantage over traditional publishing. It lets authors retain the right to go to another publisher or sell the book themselves.
It is wise for the buyer to be wary when starting a relationship with a POD publisher. You will still have to agree to the terms and conditions of the POD publisher. This will vary for each company.
So be sure to read and understand before committing. While many advertise free services, look out for fees that are added on as you register to have your book published.
POD publishers offer a whole schedule of production services, including design, distribution, fulfillment and other services that come at a premium price. It is important to keep in mind that POD publishing companies are typically in the business of selling their services, not books.
The services they sell may or may not translate into more book sales for the author. So it’s important to determine if you truly need their add-on services or if you could provide better results with your personal effort.
The unit cost of the POD printed book is significantly higher than in offset printing. Most POD publishers purchase printing from another company. When the POD publishers offer you printing services it includes an add-on fee over and above the actual cost of printing. This allows the POD publisher to still make money even if you are the only one buying your book.
Many of the POD publishers have their own online store in which they will sell your book. They can possibly get your book listed on Amazon or other online outlets.
You will earn a royalty on every book sold. The royalty calculations vary between POD publishers so shop around. It is important to know that your royalty will be less when your book is sold by a third party (i.e. Amazon, Barnes & Noble etc), rather than the POD publisher’s website.
Offset is the traditional way to print books. The cost of this type of printing is very sensitive to volume. The more books you print, the less you pay per book.
The price per book will be significantly less expensive than most of your other forms of printing. However you are required to make a significantly larger upfront capital investment in the beginning.
Offset printing may give you a higher quality book. Just think about a photo that has been printed at the photo shop as compared to one that you run off from a copier.
The printed photo is crisper. The same is true when you compare offset to digital printing. With digital printing, you may not be able to print in colour. Even if you find a digital printer that offers color printing, the price can be astronomical.
If you decide to print your book this way, you will need to get two things ready: a storage facility and your chequebook. To make it worthwhile, you will probably print at least 1,000 books.
That means you have to store 1,000 books somewhere. (Don’t plan on using your garage, unless you want piles of soggy books sitting around. Books are like sponges. They absorb even the slightest bit of humidity…and odour.)
Printing usually takes four to six weeks and you will need to know how to talk to a printer. Before you talk to an offset printer, study up a little bit on the language you need to use when requesting a quote.
There is a closely held secret that POD publishers don’t want you to know. You don’t have to go through them to have your book printed digitally. There are several good digital printers in the country. Just Google it for your city.
In fact, Lightning Source (LSI), the company from which most POD publishers buy printing, will sell printing directly to publishing companies. If becoming a publishing company is not something you are interested in then LSI probably isn’t a good fit for you, but keep looking.
Nearly every major city has at least one good digital book press.
Like offset printing, digital printers are there only to print and ship your book–except that with digital printing you will have your book within days rather than weeks.
Books are printed as orders come in, just as with the full-service POD Publishing companies. Some digital printers like LSI can ship your book orders for you, but all of them provide these services.
Because digital printing is toner, not ink-based, it does not give the same quality as offset. This is particularly true if your book has photos. Although you can print in colour from a digital press, the cost can be sky-high. Overall, the process is best suited for books that are all text.
These days you can bypass printing altogether and have your book formatted and distributed in electronic format. The process is really very simple. You format your book in one or more of the popular formats.
Then upload your book to your website or, better still, set up an account in an online eBook store. Readers who buy your book download it to their computer, eReader or smart phones.
The upside of publishing in eBook format is the cost. You can often have your manuscript converted to digital format for free, or for as little as a few hundred dollars.
eBooks can be used as your primary method of distributing your book, or as a means to an end. You can market your book first in electronic format, then as it gains in popularity move into one of the other forms of self-publishing. You can also make the electronic format accompany the distribution of your physical book.
The downside of electronic publishing is a total lack of standardization. There are multiple eReaders (like the Kindle, iPad, Nook, etc.) and multiple formats. It is up to you to match formats with appropriate readers. Adding to the confusion, like everything dealing with technology, there are changes announced in the market seemingly every week.
While self-publishing is not a guaranteed road to success, it offers many advantages. But first you have to ask yourself if you are willing and able to front the money, effort and time it will take to produce and market your book.
Those who decide to self-publish quickly realise that writing the book was just the first step toward being an author. Using the same passion you put into writing your book, self-publishing can be the rewarding conclusion to the process that began when you penned your first chapter.
For more from Cinnamon McCann, check out her website.