Self publishing used to mean shelling out thousands of dollars for 15 boxes of books that then went mouldy in your garage while you desperately tried to find ways to sell them to unimpressed local bookstores and your (dwindling) circle of friends.
It isn’t like that any more.
Three things have drastically changed the way we self-publish in this decade.
1. Print On Demand (POD) technology
With offset printing (the way most books used to be printed) you had to print at least 4,000 copies to make the per-copy cost bearable. It was an “economies of scale” thing.
Now you can print one book at a time!
A machine a bit like a photocopier on steroids does the whole thing — print, bind, trim. There are various types, and the big companies tend to be very protective of their technology which is why it’s hard to find any videos of them, but you can see a related Espresso Book Machine in action in the video below.
The big publishers are still printing most of their books the old way, because it has advantages for large quantities. But even the big publishers are starting to use POD for some of their backlist… older books that are still selling but in a trickle rather than a flood, and they don’t want to store them.
And POD is fantastic for self-publishers.
Big POD printers include:
- Amazon’s KDP Print (which replaced the previous Createspace)
- Lightning Source
- Ingram Spark (the self-publishing arm of Ingram’s Lightning Source)
- and various others that you can find by googling “print on demand”
The new technology works like this:
- you prepare electronic files containing the cover design and text pages of your book, usually as pdf documents
- you upload these files to a POD printer via the internet
- they get it all set up to run correctly on their machine, and send you a proof copy to check
- you approve the proof and the book is officially “published”
- when a reader buys a copy of your book (usually online) the POD printer prints a copy of it, then mails it to that reader
- the reader holds a normal-looking paperback book in their hands and generally has no idea it wasn’t created the same way all their other books were.
You don’t have to pay for or find places to store “inventory”. Not even one copy if you don’t want to! (Although you probably should at least have a few…)
Ebooks as a popular medium are so new that there isn’t really a “then”!
Depending how much time you spend online reading about publishing, and how tech savvy you are, you may or may not be familiar with ebooks.
An ebook is basically an electronic book. It contains the words and sometimes the pictures of a print book, but all contained in an electronic file.
The earliest ebooks were pdf files that people read on their computer, but now there are different file formats which allow the text to reflow to fit the screen of the device that you’re reading it on. That means the reader can make the text as large or as small as they like.
Readers read ebooks:
- on computers
- on tablets like the iPad
- on mobile phones
- on specialised e-reading devices such as the Kindle (affiliate)
which aim to give a similar feel to the traditional book reading experience but can hold hundreds or even thousands of ebooks without all that weight.
Ebooks are created as a computer file, beginning in a normal word processing program you probably already have such as Microsoft Word or Open Office, or perhaps even a cheap specialised book-writing program such as Scrivener.
From that document, you generate a special ebook file in one of several major formats, either by doing it yourself, or you can pay someone to do it for you and save you having to learn the technology.
The electronic book is then uploaded via the internet to a variety of places that sell such books online, and you are in business.
Ebooks have made self-publishing a novel feasible all of a sudden. Previously, it was a one-in-a-million chance that a self-published novel could take off. Now those odds are much shorter. In the past couple of years, several people have sold millions of novels via self-publishing ebooks, and many more have made more modest but still solid sales. A lot of self-published novelists are now choosing to produce only an ebook, and never a printed version.
With non-fiction books it varies. Some will produce just an ebook, some just a paperback, and some will produce both. It depends on the book and the writer/self-publisher and their readership.
This is the really really really big one. It has changed everything. Not just levelled the playing field but dug it up and built a jet runway on it. 😉
Big publishers have contracts with distributors, who sell their books on to bookstores (both physical and online stores). Distributors were always “closed doors” to self-publishers, so self-publishers were left trying to persuade individual bookstores to stock their books, or sell them from websites, or by advertising in news media and magazines, or by carting books around the country with them. And then if someone did actually buy the book they needed a way to process the payment and provide a receipt. If someone ordered the book, they had to package it, address it, and take it to the post office.
Online bookstores and even some distributors are now open to self-publishers.
So global giants like Amazon.com will sell your self-published book. Really truly.
Big distributors like Ingram will list your self-published book so that it can become available to a variety of online and physical bookstores.
Why? There is no cost to them under the new system because they don’t have to keep your book in stock in order to sell it. They don’t have to order 100 copies and figure out how to get them back to you if they don’t sell.
This is how it works.
- the online bookstore sells the book
- they process the payment
- they deliver the book to the reader via the internet
- they send you a cheque (usually once a month, if you’ve sold enough to make it worth writing a cheque).
With POD paperbacks:
- the online bookstore sells the book
- they process the payment
- they print the book if you’ve used their own POD printer, or they order it from the POD printer you’ve chosen
- they post the book to the purchaser
- they send you a cheque (usually once a month as above).
So, what do you think about the new self-publishing? Have you tried it, or are you thinking about trying it? Let me know your comments and questions!
Article © Belinda Pollard 2012