I’m old enough and have been working in publishing long enough to remember the slightly sinister pre-cursor to self-publishing: vanity press publishing. Vanity presses used to be the only way to see a book in print if you couldn’t find a major publisher to release it.
The reason I call this method “slightly sinister” is that often (though not always) the vanity presses intended to deceive the author. The basic business model of the vanity press was fine. For a price, the vanity press would put your book into print–and anyone with money and a book to publish could go this route. (With traditional publishing, the publisher will actually pay you–though getting your book selected for publication is fairly difficult.) I think if they had just been up front about the service they provided and then provided it at a fair price, they would have been seen as a legitimate business.
But the problem with vanity presses was how they presented themselves to potential clients. Many took great pains to hide the fact that they were a vanity press, even pretending to review and select your book for publication. This led to many hapless authors believing that they were being published by a real publishing house, one that would edit and design their book, shepherd it through the publication process, and then ensure that it was sold in bookstores nationwide. There was just one small matter–the author would need to pay for these services, just a small fee, you know, because they were such a small house…
The poor hapless author would do so, send in her book, and then call after call about what was next in the publishing process or questions about the marketing plan were met with stony silence. Did anyone really work at this company? Was it a company at all?! Eventually 200 cheaply bound copies of the book would appear at the author’s house–technically fulfilling the contract–and the author would never hear from the vanity press again. Sure, it was bound now, technically in print, but what was the next step? How on earth did you get it into bookstores and into the hands of readers?
Flash forward to 2012 and no one is talking about vanity presses anymore, thank goodness. Self-publishing has taken the act of publishing a book on your own out of the shadows. Most self-publishing companies are extremely clear about what services they do and don’t provide, and authors generally do not go in thinking, I’m going to see this on the front table at my local Books-A-Million! Self-publishers don’t pretend to market your book and they don’t promise to get it reviewed by the New York Times. Pricing models are clearly laid out and cover/editing services are usually available for an extra fee. Some of this is due to ebooks and the ease with which they can be delivered to reading devices. And probably some of it is due to the self-publishing industry coming of age.
One of the questions I get again and again is, How do I self-publish a book? What company should I go with? While I have never tried any of the self-publishing companies personally, David Carnoy of CNET did an excellent round-up of self-publishers, detailing the pros and cons of each. And then he followed up that article with, Self-Publishing a Book: 25 Things You Need to Know, which focuses on getting your book made into an actual print book (instead of an ebook).
However, before you select any company, you should read this blog post by Andrew Hyde about his self-publishing adventures. Even if you don’t go with the company he selected, I think it gets at the complexities involved in self-publishing. You are your own business manager. It’s up to you to check and double check all your profit margins, the quality of your product, and how you’re marketing the book.
It’s still the early days of self-publishing and I’m optimistic about what’s possible. But for now, even though the model has come a long, long way, there are still plenty of bumps in the road. I’d love to hear from someone who has self-published and what his/her experience was!
(By the way, as I find articles like this, I pin them to my pin board The Digital Future of Books. Feel free to follow that board to keep up with ebooks and self-publishing news. I also have a companion board called Digital Marketing Tips for Authors and Bloggers.)