Self-publishing is the publication of any book or other media by the author of the work, without the involvement of an established third-party publisher. The author is responsible and in control of entire process including design (cover/interior), formats, price, distribution, marketing & PR. The authors can do it all themselves or outsource all or part of the process to companies that offer these services.
The key distinguishing characteristic of self-publishing is that the author has decided to publish their work independent of a publishing house. In the past, self-published authors had to spend considerable amounts of money preparing a book for publication, and to purchase bulk copies of their title and find a place to store them. Print-On-Demand technology means the author, via numerous, accessible global distribution channels like Amazon.com, can have a book printed only when an order has been placed and it is available for purchase world-wide.
In 2008, for the first time in history, more books were self-published than those published traditionally. In 2009, 76% of all books released were self-published, while publishing houses reduced the number of books they produced. According to Robert Kroese, "the average return of the self-published book is £500".
Technological advances have enabled this growth:
- Print-On-Demand (POD) technology which can produce a quality product equal to those produced by traditional publishers – in the past, you could easily identify a self-published title because of its quality.
- Online retailing where dominant players like Amazon.com have enticed readers away from bookstores into an online environment.
- Technological advances with e-book readers and tablet computers that enhance readability and allow readers to 'carry' numerous books in a concise, portable product.
Types of self-publishing
|This section requires expansion. (December 2012)|
Main article: Vanity press
The term 'vanity publishing' is mostly obsolete today as a company contracting with an author to assist with the production of a book is typically considered 'self-publishing', not vanity publishing. The author may engage a company that offers services—usually designed as publishing packages including editing, marketing, design, etc.—and outsource all or part of the process to these companies.
There remains, however, a small number of companies that refer to themselves as a 'publisher' but only offer to publish an author for a fee. These are 'vanity publishers' and should be distinguished from the above companies that offer services to the independent author and do not pretend to be a publisher. These companies make the majority of their income from the fees paid by the author and not from sales as would be the case with traditional publishers. These companies are also known as joint venture or subsidy presses.
Marketing and promotion
In today's publishing environment, all authors, whether published traditionally or independently, must undertake the marketing and promotion of their book. This includes social networking, blogging, having a website, etc. It may also include virtual book tours or blog tours, book signings, book award programs. There are numerous companies today offering a range of promotional services for every budget with varying programs for different genres, etc.
While bookstores remain the primary domain of traditional publishers, online retailers such as Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble cater to the self-published author making it easy to upload books, to have them printed on demand, and distributed globally.
Given the ongoing demise of bricks-and-mortar bookstores with the closure of major chains like Borders, Angus & Robertson, Hughes & Hughes and others, it is predicted that within three years, 75% of books will be sold online (50% as ebooks and 25% as printed books). Only 25% of books will be sold in physical bookstores (down from 75% today).
Advantages of self-publishing
- Time to market: author's book can be ready for the market in a matter of weeks compared to years with the traditional publishing process. Before an author can approach a publishing house they will need an agent, and this process alone can take months or years. Publishers will then take a further 6-12 months before the title is available.
- Opportunities not missed: if an author has written something that is currently popular, it will still be popular in a matter of weeks (the time it takes to self-publish) but may not be so in a couple of years (when it would reach the bookshelves). This may partially explain why 70-80% of traditionally published authors fail to earn out their advance.
- Control: the author makes all the decisions regarding the content and design of their book. When an author signs with a publisher, the publisher is in control and is free to make any changes. This may result in elements of the story being changed in a way that is not desirable to the author, and in extreme circumstances, a publisher might make decisions that cause controversy and distress for an author, in particular decisions on the cover.
- Rights: the author retains all rights including foreign-language rights, e-book rights, movie rights, television rights etc.
- Income: authors earn higher royalties per book – 30-70% of the retail price compared to 5-25% for traditionally published authors who will also have to pay an agent 10-20% commission on all sales.
- Payment: publishers tally royalties once or twice a year, whereas authors will receive a monthly check for sales made from Amazon.com, The Kindle Store, B&N, Smashwords etc. The author will also receive weekly sales reports from Amazon.com.
- No backlist: a publisher can backlist an author's title if sales are inadequate, which means the author's book is no longer available for purchase. The average life span of a book printed by a traditional publisher is approximately 18 months which is not sufficient time, for a debut author particularly, to build a platform and garner a fan base. The life span of a self-published book is indefinite.
- ISBN: authors can obtain an ISBN, which is an industry standard number that identifies each book and its various formats, easily and for minimum cost. An ISBN is not essential for an e-book, but it is desirable.
- Outsourcing: there are numerous companies today offering a range of services for self-published authors with packages to suit any budget. These packages can include editing, marketing, promotional materials, press releases, video book trailers etc.
- POD: self-published authors no longer have to order large quantities of their book and find a place to store them. Print-on-demand technology means a book will be produced whenever someone buys it, and the quality of the end product is equal to that of a publishing house.
- Control over production costs: self-published authors can keep their books at competitive prices by having the power to decide what formatters, designers, etc. to choose. This allows them to keep their books competitive in a market with an influx of new authors.
Disadvantages of self-publishing
- Cost of creation: authors are responsible for the cost of creating their books. This can be expensive when outsourcing aspects of it including editing and design, or when purchasing a publishing package. The cost of creating an eBook however is minimal at best, and zero if authors create their own covers.
- Cost of printing: authors list their titles with online retailers, the retailer prints books at the time of purchase. This is called POD (print-on-demand) publishing. This often means printing one book at a time, which is more costly than printing thousands of copies at once as a publishing house would do. For example, a 250-page novel might cost approximately US $3.85 per book to print on demand. This is deducted from the retail price along with other production costs to calculate the author's net profit per book. The advantage of POD publishing is that the author controls the price and the profit margin. Care must be taken not to over price a book compared to other titles in the market.
- Physical bookstores: contracting with a distribution company gives independent authors the best opportunity for bookstore sales. Bookstores generally require industry standard terms and conditions, for example, the ability to return unsold books at the author's expense, a 40% discount on the RRP (Recommended Retail Price) and 90-day payment terms. A distributor will require 10-15% of the RRP. Unadvertised books are significantly more difficult to sell in bookstores than in the online market.
- Marketing and promotion: self-published authors have an even greater responsibility for marketing and promoting their books than traditionally published authors. Both are expected to promote themselves and their books with blogging and social networking. Very few traditionally published authors receive marketing support from their publishers.
- Author advance: a cash advance on future sales used to be a major advantage for traditional publishing. It is much less so now with advances to debut authors likely to be only $1,000 to $5,000.
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (May 2008) |
- Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy (1759-67) was self-published.
- Between the Acts is the final novel by Virginia Woolf which was self-published by her Hogarth Press.
- Ezra Pound's A Lume Spento was sold by him for six pence each. John Ruskin at the age of 11 sold a book of poetry he self-published with his father.
- Other authors who self-published include Marcel Proust, Martin Luther, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Jane Austen, and Derek Walcott.
- Others include William Blake, William Morris, James Joyce, Benjamin Franklin, Anthony Hope (The Prisoner of Zenda and its sequel Rupert of Hentzau), Rudyard Kipling, D. H. Lawrence, Thomas Paine, Edgar Allan Poe, Carl Sandburg, George Bernard Shaw, Upton Sinclair, Gertrude Stein, Henry David Thoreau, Stephen Crane, E. E. Cummings, Zane Grey, Mark Twain, and Ernest Vincent Wright (Gadsby).
Contemporary authors have also self-published.
|What Color is Your Parachute?||Bolles, Richard Nelson||Later published by Ten Speed Press|
|Chicken Soup for the Soul||Canfield, Jack||With Hansen, Mark Victor, co-author|
|Golden Handcuffs||Courtney, Polly|||
|The Christmas Box||Evans, Richard Paul|
|Spartacus||Fast, Howard||During the McCarthy era when Fast was rejected by previous large scale publishers|
|Invisible Life||Harris, E. Lynn|
|Eragon||Paolini, Christopher|| Later published by Knopf|
|In Search of Excellence||Peters, Tom|
|Elfquest||Pini, Wendy and Richard|||
|The Celestine Prophecy||Redfield, James|
|The Joy of Cooking||Rombauer, Irma S.|
|No Time for Work||Ryan, George|||
|A Choice, Not An Echo||Schlafly, Phyllis|||
|Shadowmancer||Taylor, G. P.||Later published by Faber & Faber|
|The Visual Display of Quantitative Information||Tufte, Edward|
|Poems in Prose||Wilde, Oscar|
|The Wonderful Wizard of Oz||Baum, L. Frank||Later published By Reilly & Lee|
|The Shack||Young, William P.||First million copies published by Windblown Media; subsequently on New York Times best seller list.|
Self-publishing in music and in other media
Musical performers often self-publish, or "self-release" their recordings without having access to record label resources. While some acts who enjoy local or small scale popularity have started their own labels in order to release their music through stores, others simply sell the music directly to customers, for example, making it available to those at their live concerts.
In the years since the Internet became prominent as a medium for publicizing and distributing music, many musical acts have sold their recordings directly over the Internet without a label, either through their own websites or from third party websites. In some cases the sale takes the form of a physical CD or LP that is shipped to customers, while more sales today are beginning to take the form of downloads. Several musicians who first found prominence recording for record labels have recently attracted wide attention for self-releasing records online, among them Radiohead, Frank Ocean, Nine Inch Nails and Brian Eno.
- ^ Publishers Weekly (04 April 2010). "Self-Published Titles Topped 764,000 in 2009 as Traditional Output Dipped". http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publishing-and-marketing/article/42826-self-published-titles-topped-764-000-in-2009-as-traditional-output-dipped.html. Retrieved 31 October 2011.
- ^ Robert Kroese. Self-Publish Your Novel: Lessons from an Indie Publishing Success Story. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/how-the-great-writers-published-themselves-8053570.html.
- ^ Neuburger, Jeffrey D. (10 September 2008). "Court Rules Print-on-Demand Service Not Liable for Defamation". http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2008/09/court-rules-print-on-demand-service-not-liable-for-defamation254.html. Retrieved 31 October 2011.
- ^ Shatzkin, Mike (11 July 2010). "Where will bookstores be five years from now?". http://www.idealog.com/blog/where-will-bookstores-be-five-years-from-now. Retrieved 31 October 2011.
- ^ a b c d e Christina Patterson (18 August 2012). "How the great writers published themselves". The Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/how-the-great-writers-published-themselves-8053570.html. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
- ^ The Guardian (27 March 2012). "Pottermore conjures Harry Potter ebooks". http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/mar/27/pottermore-harry-potter-ebooks. Retrieved 9 August 2012.
- ^ Brown, Helen (2010-01-08). "Unleash your inner novelist". The Daily Telegraph (London). http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/6946979/Unleash-your-inner-novelist.html. Retrieved September 16, 2011. "Polly Courtney [...] made money self-publishing her novel, Golden Handcuffs, in 2006. [...] Courtney now has a three-book deal with HarperCollins [...]"
- ^ Saichek, Wiley (September 2003). "Christopher Paolini interview". Teenreads.com. http://www.teenreads.com/authors/au-paolini-christopher.asp. Retrieved 2009-01-31.
- ^ Elfquest.com
- ^ Kernan, Lorna. The Irish Times. http://www.irishtimes.com/150/articles/old-favourites.html.
- ^ Lane, Frederick S. (2006). The Decency Wars: The Campaign to Cleanse American Culture. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. pp. 99. ISBN 1-59102-427-7. http://www.fredericklane.com/DecencyWars.php.
- ^ Rich, Motoko (2008-06-24). "Christian Novel Is Surprise Best Seller". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/24/books/24shack.html?em&ex=1214452800&en=40f16df7490a912f&ei=5070. Retrieved 2008-06-24.