Thursday, May 14, 2009

Self Publishing

I'm interested in how artists make a living, so this past weekend I took Lisa Alpine's workshop called At The Crossroads: Turn Toward Self Publishing at The Writing Salon. I'll write about some other courses I've taken at The Writing Salon in another post. It's a great resource for writers who live the San Francisco bay area.

Lisa's workshop covered the basics of self-publishing:

  • Print-on-demand services versus offset printing
  • Fulfillment and distribution
  • ISBN and bar code basics
  • Book design and the important elements of a cover
  • Website and social media marketing
  • Product launch

The marketing concepts and web services Lisa discussed were familiar. The value of the workshop was the recipe to combine all these elements together with a large portion of practical information for first-time self-publishers. For instance, in volumes less than a thousand copies, print-on-demand (think Lulu or Book Surge) is a better option economically. In higher volumes, a self-publisher should consider offset printing, even though it requires someone (the self-publisher or a logistics company like Lightening Source) to manage the inventory. If you're writing a full-color book, you probably won't be satisfied with print-on-demand quality. Yet.

Like most media industries, the publishing industry is in transition as margins disappear and distribution goes online - the Kindle likely will do to books what the iPod did to CDs. As publishers and self-publishers grapple with business models for online distribution of books and stories, the stigma of self-publishing has diminished in the publishing world. Why?

First of all, in the unlikely event you as the aspiring author find a publisher, these days you will have to provide about as much marketing support for the new book as if it were self-published. Even if you have a publisher, you need to provide a website and other online and real world marketing to promote sales. Publishers don't do that any more unless they expect your book to sell tens of thousands of copies. In a world of self-publishing, publishers can select authors not only by the quality of their writing as they do now, but also by their ability to find the communities (think social networks) interested in their books.

Second, publishers add more value with higher volume sales. They are good at national marketing campaigns, inventory management, and physical distribution. Their infrastructure costs are better amortized over higher volume products. Until a book achieves high volume, it is lost in this infrastructure.

All artists face the problem of making a living. If there were ever days that the writer didn't have to think about business, those days are fleeting. The good news in a world of self-publishing is that costs are much, much lower. The bad news - well, the good news, really - is you still have to be a good writer and have an audience.

1 comment:

  1. Hello, Steve I am your classmate Julie's husband.)
    I have self-published two novels via Lightning Source. The primary criteria for going the Lightning Source route vs, say Lulu, is the economics imposed by the requirement to discount your books. That rate is typically 50% or higher in most brick-and-mortar retail stores, a little lower--35%-- on Amazon. By the time you factor in your discount on top of Lulu's production fees, you're out of business. Of course going Lightning Source entails doing all your own layout for the interior and cover. Not difficult but timeconsuming. I have detailed all the numbers in a 98-slide ppt that I will happily share with you. Just need your email. Mine is efulsang at

    Ejner Fulsang
    Belmont, CA