Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Matter of Choices: In Defense of Self-Publishing, Part II

The term “self-publishing” means different things to different people. Because it’s a negative word in some circles, many try to redefine the term to make it sound more positive. For example, my own POD publisher, Infinity, prefers “Author-initiated Publishing.” Here are a few definitions from Wikipedia (http:/ You’ll note that some of these definitions overlap; it’s a matter of semantics.

True Self-publishing

“True self-publishing means authors undertake the entire cost of publication themselves and handle all marketing, distribution, storage, etc. All rights remain with the author, the completed books are the writer’s property, and the writer gets all the proceeds of sales. Self-publishing can be more cost-effective than vanity or subsidy publishing and can result in a much higher-quality product because authors can put every aspect of the process out to bid rather than accepting a preset package of services.”

Comment: I suppose this is the way to go for true entrepreneurs, but it’s not for me. It essentially involves forming your own “publishing company” (does that fool many into thinking your book is traditionally published?) and understanding all the procedures involved, including seeking bids. It also generally involves ordering huge numbers of copies to get a good per-unit price, and if the book does not sell, it seems to me that the losses could be huge. And where would one store all those unsold books? I’m sure this works for some, but frankly, I’m too old and comfortable to “go for broke” this way. Besides, I lack business sense.

Vanity Publishers

This is a pejorative term rarely used these days. It used to be the only alternative to traditional publishing, with appeals to the writer’s vanity and desire to become a published author. Vanity publishers make most of their money from fees rather than sales. The author pays all the costs and bears all the risk. This is a method best known for producing basements full of poor-quality unsold books. There may be a touch of vanity in all self-published authors, but this is a term to avoid.

Subsidy Publishers

These publishers claim to be more selective, but they take payment from the author to print and bind a book. They may contribute a portion of the cost, as well as services such as editing, distribution, warehousing, and some limited degree of marketing—or they may not. They generally retain all or most rights to the book, and authors have little control of production aspects such as cover design. If the book sells, the author receives royalties, but if it doesn’t, it soon disappears from the market. It no longer belongs to the author, so he/she can’t try to sell it elsewhere. Vantage Press claims in its recent ads to be the “largest subsidy publisher in the field.”

POD (Print-on-Demand) Publishers

The computer age has created small-batch printing at reasonable cost. No longer does an author need to order and store vast quantities of books, although a few still do. Once “in the system,” one or more copies can be printed and delivered to the buyer very quickly. A majority of such publishers use Lightning Source for printing and Ingram for distribution, but a few, like Infinity, do it all in-house. Infinity generally keeps a stock of about ten copies, and prints and ships more as needed. Such books often used to be low-quality and easily identifiable, but that’s no longer true. Infinity books look beautiful. POD publishing has come a long way.

POD publishers differ in their offerings. Most allow authors to retain the rights to their work; a few don’t. Most offer various packages of services such as cover design, proofreading, content and/or copy-editing, and indexing, but like most traditional publishers these days, they do little marketing or publicity unless you’re a known author. Most offer ISBN numbers and availability at their own web sites and others such as and Barnes and POD books are unlikely to be stocked by book stores, but most can be ordered there. POD publishing costs vary widely according to company and the number of services you order. Books are usually published within a few weeks, not the years required by some traditional publishers.

A subdivision of POD publishing is on-line publishing. Some standard POD publishers allow uploading of books via computer, but companies like and accept uploads and can deliver printed proof copies in a few days. For the ultimate do-it-yourselfer who is really impatient, this may be the way to go. I used Lulu for both my family tribute to my late mother, Remembering Violet (for family only) and for Elder Expectations, which has an ISBN number and is listed with my other books on and elsewhere. For Remembering Violet, I designed the cover myself; for Elder Expectations, I used one of the Lulu stock designs, with a few color changes of my own. Both look beautiful. I was happy with Lulu; there is a good help line that brings live on-line answers if you need them, and everything is spelled out. This seems the least expensive way to go for very small quantities of books needed quickly and not intended for sale, or books with especially low sales potential. In fact, for the computer-literate beginning author on a tight budget, I highly recommend Lulu.

With any of these publishing methods, marketing is up to you. There are many books available on the subject, including John Kremer’s vast 1001 Ways to Market Your Books. Good marketing takes time and effort; I admit I’ve not done much of it, but it can be done.

Don’t let this vast number of publishing choices deter you. If you have something to say, either to the world or just to your family, go for it. For me, at least, most of the satisfaction is in the writing. Strive for success on your own terms, whatever they are.

Here are some of the more popular POD publishers, most found in ads in the latest issue of Writer’s Digest: Most offer free publishing guides.

Trafford (
Author House (
Bookstand Publishing (
Outskirts Press (
iUniverse (
Infinity (

Here is my basic advice: ask yourself the following questions, and then check out the various publishing companies.

1. Who is your intended audience? Family and friends? The general public? A certain group?
2. What services will you need? Copy editing? Content editing? Cover design? Formatting aid? Word processing assistance? Others?
3. How many copies do you want or need?
4. Do you want an ISBN number for online searchability and listing on and other web sites?
5. Are you in a hurry for your book?
6. How much time and money are you willing and able to spend?

Ask other self-published authors about their experiences. Check ads and web sites. And most important of all, always read the fine print!

Please feel free to share your own self-publishing experiences, good or bad. Email me (my email address appears in my complete profile here) to be a guest blogger.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photo: Remembering Violet with self-designed cover, published by Not for general public sale, but contact me if interested.

1 comment:

Pat's Place said...

More great information on self-publishing. Thanks.