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 Lulu.com, 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 copyediting 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 and I met last fall pays $2 dollars 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 masterpiece through editing and production, which involves many hours of detail work. Unless you have crack copyediting 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!