First, what is our definition of self-publishing? Technically, some consider self-publishing printing a book from scratch. In other words, the writer has to create/manage every detail: editing, cover design, interior layout/typesetting, assembly, printing, and distribution. It can be an overwhelming ton of work if you do it all yourself. But there are a number of companies that help authors publish their books by providing proofreading, custom cover design, interior layout, printing and some level of distribution. Currently, a very popular type of publisher called print-on-demand provides all these services. Then, instead of a garage full of books, either author or retailers can order a small quantity of books at a time. In the remainder of this article, the term self-publish will be synonymous with print-on-demand.
Self-publishing is becoming a popular option for writers, especially since it is so difficult to get your foot in the door with mainstream publishers. Now, more than ever, only a tiny percentage of writers are published commercially, so thousands of writers are being pushed to check out other options.
Self-publishing can be a wise strategy, especially for some non-fiction books and especially if teaching or public speaking provide you a platform to promote your book. Personal memoirs, local histories, poetry, children’s stories, special interest subjects — all are well suited to following this route as they often have relatively easy-to-reach markets, or are intended for personal use only. As has been noted, publishers now allow you to print just one copy of your masterpiece for personal use or, perhaps, 20-30 copies to give to family and friends.
However, writer beware! There are many companies out there that ask huge sums of money for a vast array of unnecessary or ineffective author options. Writers are encouraged to search what is on offer from print-on-demand publishers—their prices, their reputation, their customer service, and the true value of their options.
Don’t think that self-publishing is an easy option. Without forethought and planning, the odds against success for the self-published are high. Self-publishing is a great hobby, but unless you have a passion to write and enthusiastically promote your own book, you will not be able to succeed. Commercial publishing is preferable. However, contrary to what some think, commercial writers still have to promote and market their books tirelessly. So, do expect some very hard work along the way…and if you want your book to be more widely read, do accept that there are advertising factors involved in publishing.
Can authors then persuade bookstores to carry their books? Probably not—stores get many self-published authors pitching books to them that don’t sell and are often non-returnable that they have learned not to stock them and won’t order them except for a paying customer. Your book can be listed with such retailers as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but people must be told that it exists. My advice is that you do not consider self-publishing until you have spent at least a few years working on your writing, making submissions, and learning about the business of publishing. To compare publishers, see this author’s website listed below.