Book Publishing for Everyone

If you noticed that I’ve missed a couple of newsletters this month, it’s because my wife, Dana and I were wrapping up an 82,000-word manuscript for a new book, The Joy Of Geocaching. Everything came together in the last few weeks on this project, and we had to scramble to meet a tight deadline. The good news is that the publisher took delivery of the manuscript last week and I’m turning my attention back to business again.

But I’m thinking about books this week because there are suddenly so many options from which to choose. Take a look at the services being offered on, which is one of the most successful of a flock of new Web-based self-publishing houses. Other companies in this market include iUniverse, Blurb, Outskirts Press, AuthorHouse, BookSurge and CreateSpace.

For just a few dollars, you can select from a wide range of templates, upload your copy and images and publish for yourself, your friends or the entire world. Lulu publishes on demand, which means you don’t have to maintain a garage full of bound copies. It’s a little more expensive than keeping an inventory, but you can’t beat the flexibility. There’s also less chance of hard-coding errors into thousands of copies.

Just Like the Pros

Over the last couple of years, Lulu has added an impressive range of publishing, marketing and distribution services. For example, a custom cover design can be had for as little as $80 and professional copy editing and design services are relatively cheap. The availability of high quality offshore resources has been a big factor there.You set your own price and pocket the difference. Quantity one pricing for some books can be as low as $10 to $15 and significant quantity discounts apply. For a book that sells a few thousand copies, you can make a lot more money publishing yourself than going to a commercial publisher.

There’s also the advantage of time. Boston Globe columnist Scott Kirsner has published two books using CreateSpace, which is run by Amazon. For his latest book, Fans, Friends And Followers, “I wanted the book to be available soon after I finished researching and writing it, not six or twelve or eighteen months later, as is typical with traditional publishers,” he wrote me an e-mail. “As a journalist, I receive review copies of lots of books, and I’d say about half of them have gone stale by the time they get into my hands.”

Scott also cites the superior margins of self-publishing. While commercial publishers typically pay royalties of no more than 10% of the cover price, self-publishing can yield margins of 50% or better. One publisher of children’s books I met last fall pays $2 per copy to have her books printed in Hong Kong and sells them for $19 at fairs and book shows.

Not a Panacea

With economics like that, you might wonder why more authors and businesses don’t self publish. There are some good reasons.

For starters, self-publishing takes a lot of time. In addition to writing a manuscript, authors must shepherd their masterpieces through editing and production, which involves many hours of detail work. Unless you have crack copy editing skills, or pay copy editors and proofreaders to do a thorough job, errors are bound to make their way into the final product. The Web may be a forgiving medium, but print is less so. Grammatical and typographical errors can undermine the value of your prose and make your effort look amateurish.

Marketing and distribution are also major challenges for self publishers. While most services offer their own bookstores and promotional venues, the reality is that it’s nearly impossible to get into Barnes & Noble with a self-published title. Some publishers make it possible to secure a coveted ISBN (International Standard Book Number), which buys you entrée into libraries, catalogs and retailers, most of whom don’t sell books without this standardized code. However, there’s no guarantee of success. Professional book reviewers are also less likely to pay attention to a book that doesn’t carry an ISBN code.

Finally, there is the legitimacy that a name-brand publisher can bestow upon a book. While Simon & Schuster or McGraw-Hill can’t make a bad book into a hit, they have the relationships and sales power to move large quantities through simple bookstore presence.

These factors may matter to you little to you, however. Books have been called “one-pound business cards” because they confer credibility that creates business opportunities. They’re a great promotion to send to customers and prospects and they have leave-behind value that collateral simply doesn’t. Now they’re also simpler than ever to produce.

And in case you’re wondering, I’ve worked with a professional publishing house on all three of my books. Quill Driver Books (a subsidiary of Linden Publishing), has consistently delivered fast turnaround, personal service and a professional job. If they didn’t, I’d probably be publishing myself!

Diversify That Revenue!

I’ve had the good fortune this year to get connected to the Knight Digital Media Center at the University of Southern California for a series of seminars that help publishers connect with the new world of social networking. Last week I delivered a brand new presentation on how to diversify revenue sources and get away from the traditional over-reliance on advertising. It turns out there are a lot of ways to monetize a publishing business. Here’s the presentation on SlideShare.

Tip Of the Week: Photos Free For the Taking

Do you need a perfect photographic image to just nail that slide presentation but don’t want to use mundane clip art or steal somebody else’s intellectual property? Then check out photographs available under the Creative Commons license. A Commons license is similar to public domain status, although there are several variations. For the most part, content licensed under Creative Commons may be used without paying royalties. You should check the specific licensing terms of any material you choose to use, but usually you’re in the clear. Wikimedia Commons is a growing resource of photos, sounds and images are that are available for free download and use. Another one I like is the Creative Commons section of There are others. Use your search engine to find them.

Just for Fun: Wonderful Whiskers

That’s Willi Chevalier of Sigmaringen, Germany , who “practically owns the partial beard freestyle category,” according to the website of the World Beard and Moustache Championships (WBMC). Maybe you didn’t know there was a partial beard freestyle category, but now you know that Willi has won it at “all WBMCs in memory with the exception of the 2003 WBMC when he was on injured reserve following an unfortunate encounter with a power drill.” Willi Chevalier is just one of the gentlemen featured in this celebration of whiskerly excellence, which featured 300 competitors from 15 countries in the bi-annual competition in May. Better start preparing now, because the next WBMC is coming up in less than two years: May 17, 2011 in Trondheim, Norway.

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