Self-publishing isn’t for everyone—and not every self-publishing option is “one-size fits all.”
I read a great post by Anne Trubek this morning about the path that she took into self-publishing her essay and photography collection, Rust Belt Chic: The Cleveland Anthology, and about the upfront costs involved in the route that she chose. This sparked a interesting Facebook conversation over different options that are available to self-publishers and indie authors today—and I am using these two terms deliberately here.
Often times, “self-published” and “indie” can be used interchangeably. In this instance, I’m making a distinction between a self-publisher and an indie author, in that the first is essentially setting up him- or herself as an independent publisher, complete with negotiating distribution with individual bookstore and chains, buying up ISBN numbers in bulk, ordering finite print-runs on titles, handling book orders and shipping, and the like.
This is the route I took with my first book, Rhythm, which I released in 2001. At the time, this was pretty much how self-publishing was done. There were a few e-readers here and there, but they were bulky and expensive, and they hadn’t even come close to catching on with readers or with the industry at large. It was all print books. True self-publishing meant foregoing vanity presses and diving into the deep end to handle pretty much every detail that a traditional publishing house is responsible for—from book cover design (including the barcode for the ISBN) and typesetting to marketing and distribution.
I can tell you from my own experience that it’s a lot of work. It turns out this isn’t the best fit for me, but others have had crazy success with it. The advantage is having complete control over the production of your book from start to finish and not having any intermediaries between yourself and the booksellers. You can set your book price without having to adhere to any minimum set by a Print on Demand (POD) service, or to any “royalty price range” as set by Amazon. Anne T. has chosen this self-publisher route, and it sounds like she’s got her act together on it and will do quite well.
The second option—or branch of options, really, when you get down to all the different choices to be made—is to go the route of the indie author. The indie author doesn’t have to take on quite as much in the way of book production. POD services like Createspace will provide an ISBN and accompanying barcode for free, and their online publishing process can help with cover design, too, if you haven’t hired someone to help you with this. (Note: I highly recommend having a professional design your cover anyway; trust me, it does make a difference!) And software like Literature & Latte’s Scrivener can help with formatting the ebook for multiple platforms. Selling directly via Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon) and PubIt! (Barnes & Noble) means the indie author doesn’t have to worry so much about ebook distribution; on the print side, today’s POD services normally have these relationships already set up as well.
There are fewer upfront costs with being an indie author vs. being a self-publisher, but you don’t have as much control over the process, and you have to structure your book’s pricing around the limits and tiers dictated by your POD service and e-book channels. Even with these limitations, being an indie author is what is working better for me, for now.
Whichever route you choose, you still have to do all of your own marketing. Or you could hire a PR firm or marketing agency.
We’ll see how the industry continues to evolve. The nature of book production/distribution is changing dramatically—in case you hadn’t noticed!—and I imagine it will be a while yet before there is again a “standard way” to go about it, if that ever happens. In the meantime, I’m glad there remain option to help independent publishers and writers to find the best fit.
Creative Commons photo by rofltosh.