Print This: A Survey of the Difficult Business of Self-Publishing

Print This: A Survey of the Difficult Business of Self-Publishing

Photo: Joshua C. Robinson December 2014 Vail, CO Self-Publishing can be a barren wasteland of disappointment, or maybe it'll pay for your lift ticket at a ski resort

Photo: Joshua C. Robinson
December 2014
Vail, CO
Self-Publishing can be a barren wasteland of disappointment, or maybe it’ll pay for your lift ticket at a ski resort.

Amazon, IngramSpark, Indiebound and any number of other groups provide low or no cost ways to publish yourself and/or advice on doing so. One of the intentions of the growing theatre company that my fiancee and I have started is to create plays through improvisation, and out of curiosity to see how that process could be streamlined, the stage to the page process that is. To test this idea, I self published a book of poems.

I’m not going to post the link to it here, because I’m terrible at self-promotion, and I don’t like doing it. Instead, I’m going to talk about the process and tools that are available to self-publishing authors, the business risks involved, and how I assume you have to promote in order to maximize the revenue and impact of your published work.

Use Your Resources

Each of the publishing houses offer a number of tools to track the progress and success, or lack thereof of your book. They also offer tools for formatting and developing the physical content itself. Amazon, the target of much ire as of late by my very favorite comedian Stephen Colbert and a legion of authors, publishes through, and Kindle Direct Publishing.

The tools available to you through these platforms include a royalty reporting process, a Nielsen Bookscan report, as well as a graph of your author and book rank on amazon updated hourly. IngramSpark, which I have not yet used, includes a report tied to the Ingram database which gives real time stock and sales information.

Ingram, by the by, is one of the world’s largest distributors of print books in the world, so that access can be invaluable. There are also copy editing tools (I probably should have used these), designing services, marketing services and more. If you truly DIY, you can create, publish, and distribute a book for exactly $0, which is a pretty nice price if you ask me.

Publish or Perish, or Perish Anyway

So just getting your book out there is not going to sell copies, that much is obvious, but one of the biggest problems with self-publishing is that all the distribution and marketing contracts and resources are automatic, and mostly the same for everyone who does it. The upshot of this is that you get limited distribution push, marketing is mainly a you and you alone thing, and your reports are going to be delayed, confusing, and hard to utilize.

You might have written the next great novel, but if you self publish you are going to be doing a lot of leg work yourself. On the flip side, it’s a potentially low cost way to get a very professional portfolio piece out there and in your hands. Sometimes books will sell so well that big name publishers pay attention and might pick up your work, or so I’ve read. No matter what, be sure that the publishing process: A. allows you to retain rights, and B. is non-exclusive, allowing you to publish somewhere else if the opportunity arises.

Photo: Joshua C. Robinson December 2014 You gotta elevate your book game man!

Photo: Joshua C. Robinson
December 2014
You gotta elevate your book game man! Maybe add music?

Winning the Book Game

I haven’t done most of the following action items because for the most part I published the book as an exercise, and because I was promised inclusion in an anthology with the now published work, and that never came to fruition.

  1. Write a blog and link your book, constantly.
  2. Get a legitimate review, from your journalist friends, anyone who writes for any magazine or newspaper, and see if it can be published on their blog or preferably in print and online, then link away.
  3. Post like mad about your book, talk about your book, give physical copies of your book away for a fraction of the price to friends and family.
  4. Put together a marketing plan, either a book launch party and onward or a soft launch followed by a big launch and a continued marketing plan.
  5. Like your book and talk it up to everyone you know in the least annoying way possible.
  6. Collect every link that mentions your book on your personal website in some way.

Words of Caution

Self-publishing is fascinating and a definitive way to get a physical product in the hands of friends, family, and hopefully strangers. However, it can result in some tricky conversations if you ever do get a brick and mortar publishing house interested in your work. They might balk at the published work, or worse at you as an author. This is certainly less of a problem than it use to be, but it’s something to consider. Also, and this is important, you won’t get rich self-publishing probably ever; your odds of fame and fortune through self-publishing are roughly the same as winning the lottery, but at least the ticket can be free.

If you have something that you want to publish and it really has no other place, nor will ever have the potential to be picked up by a publishing house, either because of content, genre, length or any other reason, it’s really the only mass distribution option, and it’s not a bad one.

Self-publishing can take many forms, many of them beautiful and ornate, such as bookmaking, fun and timely, like zine making, and some like publishing online can be easy and personally rewarding. Just make sure you know how you want to author your work, because the most important thing to remember, is that it is your work and no one else’s; make sure you keep it that way.