Thursday, 9 April 2009

Navigating the self publishing maze

Self Publishing is rapidly becoming a viable option for many writers. However, this route to print is far from simple and with the potential for writers to make very expensive mistakes this blog post aims to try and offer some kind of guidance through the maze of options.

Despite the plethora of companies and websites offering self publishing services, these can be split into two main groups. The first is what I call one-click publishing. This option is website based and offers the writer a very simple route to print. The best example of one-click publishing is Lulu. The second option is what I call assisted publishing. This is were a specialist company offers writers advice and a range of print services.

One click publishing
In essence this kind of approach is designed to be a simple as possible. I am generalising, but a writer will upload their manuscript, design their own cover and make their book available for purchase on the hosting website. Then, when an order is placed the book is printed via Print on Demand (POD) service and sent to the reader. The writer gets the profit from the sale once the costs have been removed.

  • Simple
  • Good for books that will sell a very small volume (10’s rather than 100’s)
  • No initial outlay
  • No pre-production (i.e. the editing and quality of text is left to the writer’s discretion)
  • Print quality of final book can be poor
  • The price per book can be high
Assisted publishing
This approach is designed to give the writer assistance in producing the best possible book. A good company (and they are not all good!) will at first contact offer the writer advice on the best way forward. The better companies will even go some way to dissuading writers from spending too much money on a product that may not ultimately sell enough to recoup their investment. Generalising once again, the process is started by the writer submitting the manuscript. This then undergoes some kind of pre-production. This can range from a simple type set to a complex copy edit and proofread. The cover will be designed and the book sent to the printer (most of the time this is short run print (200 - 3000) which is cheaper per book than POD). Many companies will also work with a writer to produce a business plan and offer pragmatic book marketing advice. This is just the tip of the ice berg and writers can often purchase a range of ‘additional services’. The model for writers recovering money differs, but one common model is for the writer to get a percentage of the final book cost once the company has remove printing costs and their handling fee.

  • A writer has a realistic chance of actually making some money
  • Good pre-production and printing will produce a quality product
  • Marketing and distribution can come as part of the package
  • It can all be done to a budget
  • There are some unscrupulous companies out there
  • It can be expensive
  • It’s not quick


  1. A third option is to set up your own publishing company: contracting with a printer(PoD or otherwise), arranging distribution, doing your own marketing and promotion, etc. Not for the faint of hart, and way too expensive for most authors.
    But the danger (as for all self-publishing) is that you will end up spending all you time and energy running your business and not on writing your books.

  2. I'm actually using Smashwords to self publish a few of my romance novellas.

    They're great and they don't cost anything. Though only publishing in EBook format, their choices are great.

    You can offer your book to download in a slew of different formats, and Smashwords takes care of the conversion for you.

    They also have something set up called Sampling where you can choose excerpt lengths from your work.

    Fabulous site. :)

  3. Great job distinguishing these two options. You're right, there is a big difference between simply printing and full service on demand publishing, with the latter an increasingly viable option for authors looking to enter the professional sphere.

    There are some unscrupulous publishers out there. Take the time to investigate yours. Learn the book pricing game - competitive marketplace positioning is important - and make sure you have one on one contact.

    - Karl Schroeder

  4. Declan
    I did consider adding this approach. I was going to call it the DIY. However, I think that in reality it is just far too complicated for the average person. The process is far more than finding a printer and getting the books printed. Marketing and distribution can become real issues. This said the DIY approach would be (potentially) the most lucrative option.

  5. Karl,
    Thanks for the feedback. I am working on another article were I will be able to recommend a couple of assisted self publishing companies. These will be based in the UK but will give a good idea of what is available.