The Self-publishing Revolution

Image: letterpress typeThe last two decades have seen huge changes in the publishing industries – the consolidation of publishers and agents, the advent of cost-effective digital printing for small runs, and the rise of the Internet as a discovery and distribution platform. It’s an industry my father would barely recognise from his time in publishing during the 1970’s.

And yet there is one constant – the desire of authors to get their work into print by any means – those who go it alone without agent or third-party publisher, self-funding, self publishing and self-distributing. This used to be referred to, pejoratively, as vanity publishing. A whole sub-industry sprang up as long ago as the eighteenth century preying on the need of authors to get into print, often operated by shady characters looking to exploit, scam, or even defraud desperate authors with golden promises and fool’s gold contracts.

Vanity publishing still exists for the naive and unwary. But there is now a massive and thriving self publishing sector. Digital print-on-demand (PoD) services and e-book platforms, combined with the reach of the Internet means that savvy authors can now achieve the dream of self-published status; and while it may not guarantee International fame and instant riches, get it right and cost-neutral self-publishing can make that dream a reality. In short, anyone can launch their own imprint.

Vanity, thy name is Author
In the past, self-publishing was the preserve of a small number of wealthy, unsigned writers who spent their own money on “vanity publishing.” It was the last resort of authors with a completed book who couldn’t get an agent or a publisher’s contract. There was no bar to meet on quality, no audience to find, so long as you could afford a short print run.

Now that anyone can become their own publisher. With little or no initial outlay through e-books and PoD services, people can and do become their own imprint. Note this doesn’t overcome the quality issue; you can still publish utter dross, badly written, un-proofed, with poor layout and a car-crash of a cover, with no expectation of finding a readership. Layout, proofing, cover design and pricing demand additional skills over and above writing the thing in the first place. Self-publishing also requires that you do your own promotion and distribution, no small task in itself, and not something that every author has the time or skills to do themselves. The one-person publishing empire may be feasible, but no one says that it is easy.

Platform dependant
There are many services that support self-publishing, among the largest and market-dominating are:

  • Amazon Kindle
  • Smashwords
  • Lulu
  • CafePress
  • WattPad
  • Nook

with a legion of others bubbling under. Each of these services offer electronic publishing to mass markets such as Amazon Kindle, iBookstores and Nook, print-on-demand services, or both. They will support just about any type of publication from genre fiction, instructionals, educationals, graphic novels, childrens’ and biography. Done right, you can turn a profit on just about anything you can self publish – even if it’s only one penny on your one and only copy.

Terms and conditions of each platform or service may be more or less advantageous and there’s no guarantee of literary fame and fortune, so don’t give up the day job until you’re sure you’ve hit publishing gold with one or more best-sellers.

What self-publishing enables is your own imprint that can farm out many of the complicated tasks such as proofing and printing. Whether self-publishing is the ‘right’ answer for you and your publication is a different question. Yes there are talented and driven authors who have used self-publishing to establish themselves and get picked up by mainstream publishing, but most remain in their respective niche.

It may be a way to overcome rejection by the mainstream publishers, or simply to start selling direct through the Internet. The main objective, however, should be to create the best book that you can that people want to buy and read.