Self Publishing 101

What is self publishing? Is it the right option for you?.

In the most simplistic terms, self publishing is the publishing of a book or other content by the author of the content himself. So what's the big deal about that, you might ask. How does it differ from the traditional way of publishing a book? What is the role of the author here? And his responsibilities? Is it cost-effective to self-publish? What is this thing called print on demand ? Is self publishing a good alternative for traditional publishing all the time? And most importantly, will it work for me? While only you can answer the last question, this article tries to give you some basic information about the art and science of self publishing.

Self publishing, as we said, is the publishing of a book by the author herself. In traditional publishing, a publishing house or a publisher, often not related to the author, takes on the responsibility of publishing and all the tasks involved in it. A typical publication process involves:

  1. Selection of manuscripts from the vast number of submissions based on good writing, market demand, author saleability among other things.
  2. Pre-publication work e.g. deciding on the design of the book, proof-reading and editing the content etc.
  3. Production of the book including printing and binding
  4. Marketing, promotion and distribution

Since a publisher has to look through a mountain of manuscripts every day, there are chances of rejection based on various reasons-– and bad writing is not the only reason, as is the general perception. Many books have gone on to win critical and mass acclaim after having been rejected several times by multiple publishers. Bias, content not conforming to the publisher’s beliefs, market-size being small, or simply the inability to go through the content in sufficient details owing to lack of time are some of the many other reasons. Self publishing provides an alternative avenue in such cases.

This however is not the only reason to self publish. After the manuscript has been taken up by a publisher, he takes most of the decisions about the book, its style, its look and in some cases, even the content. In all these processes the author is usually free to give suggestions. However the final decision is made by the publisher. The upside is that author does not have too much responsibility either. Further, a particular publisher comes with his own brand value that draws a certain audience to the book. This is beneficial for the author.

Self publishing offers the other option where the author has complete control over every detail of the book. While in this case the author has the responsibility of creating, financing and marketing the book all by herself, she also has the freedom to publish her content without any opposition! In this age of freelancers, it is not very hard to find professionals to work on various aspects of book design for affordable prices. So, ideally, if the author can create an attractive book, and has a decent audience, then self-publishing is ideal.

But, self publishing has its demerits-– a major one being the financial burden of production. While the widely used off-set printing is very cost-effective for a large audience of around 1000+, it’s not affordable for a small number of, say, 50-75. Or even for a large audience, a self-publisher may not want to invest upfront in printing all the copies in one go. Apart from the upfront printing cost, there are issues related to managing the inventory of so many books and their distribution. Fortunately, modern technology now has a solution for this, known as Print on Demand (POD).

As the name suggests, Print on Demand is a system in which the manuscript is stored digitally and copies are printed and dispatched only when there is an order. In this case, the cost of production per copy is usually higher as compared to off-set printing, but it is feasible to print even a single copy with this. And by eliminating some of the overheads of traditional distribution system for books, the book can reach in the reader’s hands at a reasonable price. While POD providers have been around in the West for few years, now similar technology is available for authors in India also.

As an author, before deciding on whether to go for self publishing, it is important to realize that self publishing is not just a convenient replacement of the traditional publishing. The question to ask is that given their individual advantages and disadvantages, which one works better for you. If you have content appealing to mass market, the time and motivation to find an agent/publisher, are comfortable working in the traditional publishing environment, then traditional publishing is the way to go for you. If you have a niche audience, or write as a hobby and can’t afford the demand on your time traditional publishing places, or simply like to have full control, and are willing to shoulder the responsibility of marketing and promotion, self-publishing works better for you. The good news is that with Print on Demand and online sales channels, your risk in self-publishing has practically become zero.