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Adventures in Self Publishing

by rdf Fri May 16th, 2008 at 07:23:11 PM EST

As some of you may know I have a web site where I post many of my essays. This way I can refer back to them when I want to quote myself and also give others an opportunity to read them regardless of how long ago they were created.

Recently I decided it would be nice if I gathered up the collection and made a hard copy of them. I explored several ideas. First I thought of printing out the web pages using a browser's print page capability. This seemed somewhat slow and would consume a great deal of expensive ink and paper.

Next I considered reformatting them into a single document using a word processor so that at least I would have control over the formatting. Printing still presented the same drawbacks. Then I thought of taking the file to a local office services store (in the US Kinko or Staples). This would be simple, but the binding would be some type of spiral plastic or metal device.

Finally I explored several of the demand publishing sites which have popped up over the past few years. I had been given a (paperback) book produced on one such site and was impressed with how professional it looked, so I decided to use the same service.

I copied all my essays into a single word processor document and allowed the software to do the conversion from HTML. I needed to adjust margins and page breaks, but that was essentially all the work I did. I did have a few fights (which I mostly lost at least several times) with the software, especially over things like page numbers and generating a table of contents. I used Open Office, but prior experience with MS Word has shown that user hostile software is the norm. Anyway after several passes at layout I got everything the way I wanted. I exported the file as a PDF as required by the vendor and uploaded it. I also uploaded an image for the cover and then used their "wizard" to create the book.

I decided on a letter size page and a hard cover book. The cost for a 275 page book was about $22. Paperback would be about half. This site allows the creator to market the book as well and you can add whatever markup to the manufacturing price you wish and they will send you the difference as your profit. Since I offer my essays online to anyone, charging a markup seems to make no sense, so my book is priced at cost.

My motivation was to print out a few copies to give away, and I don't really expect others to buy the book. This is exactly what makes this business model so interesting, there is no startup or minimum cost. If you print one book you pay for one book.

Exploring the site I've seen the wide variety of materials that people have created - everything from technical manuals to personal memoirs. The creativity of people is really amazing when they are given a way to express it. Another popular use for such a service is to create photo albums for special events like weddings. People in various graphic arts fields are also using this technique to make sample books to send to prospective clients. A hard cover book of designs from an architect or graphic artist is more likely to be put a shelf for later reference than something less substantive.

I used the lulu.com service, but there seem to be many others. If you have a need to create something like this either for personal or professional use you might want to consider self publishing.

If you want to see (approximately) how my book turned out here's a link:


This is not an attempt to get anyone to buy the book, as I said I don't make any money from a sale and everything is already available free online. I should warn people that other sites use different business models. Some require you to grant the copyright of your materials to the firm so that they can resell uploaded content for their own benefit. A site like lulu seems to be run strictly as a publishing service, so be careful to read the fine print if you use another vendor.

Did you know there is a book of ET Diaries on lulu?


(cough cough!)

The paperback price is cost (all money to lulu); it has a a free downloadable .pdf of the same material.  I liked the site, simple enough, and when I managed to break my document halfway through the process, there was a person to contact--via a type of instant messaging system--who in a short time contacted me and sorted out my problems (twice!.)

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 06:01:15 AM EST
It's called (perhaps unfairly) a

vanity press.

Another iteration is called an "Author mill".
It can work.
That said, results vary, but generally the best hope you have, if you seek a wider audience, is that you will be able to market yourself well enough to build a cult or small but noisy following, and that a regular publisher will pick up the manuscript.
On the down side, you don't get the very real aid of either content editing or copy editing--if there are glaring errors stylistically or errors of fact, no one will tell you.
Of course, a lot of people don't want to be told.

Umberto Eco wrote a book in which an "Author Mill" was the frame for the story--
The name is lost--was not the equal of "Foucault's Pendulum" at all, as I remember.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 08:27:04 AM EST
Of course its a vanity press, but what makes this business model different is that there are no minimum orders and book production is on-demand.

Those authors who are trying to sell their wares while avoiding the gatekeeper function of the conventional publishers are, perhaps, not the best customers for this service, the per copy production costs are too high, but for others with specialized needs it may just be a perfect fit.

If you haven't looked at the site you should browse the "buy" tab and see the variety of materials people have created.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 11:06:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Publishing isn't about getting into print, it's about finding readers. So the problem with something like Lulu is that it won't find you a readership. And given that it's much more convenient to put together a PDF yourself and link to it from a website, it's not clear what the service is adding if you don't already have a market for your book.

Getting into hardcopy certainly won't find you a market. Nor will it legitimise your ideas or give them authority or impact.

I think authors secretly suspect that's what hardcopy gives them, even if they're not necessarily aware of it consciously. And the vanity publishers - and Lulu isn't one, in the usual sense - deliberately capitalise on this with huge puddles of oily flattery.

In fact what mainstream publishing gives you is limited access to that legitimisation, and - more importantly - much wider access to potential readers through established marketing and distribution machines.

Some self-publishers do manage to create their own marketing and PR machines, but it's a ton of work, not cheap, and only sporadically effective.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 11:40:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think "vanity press" is unfair in this case.  A book is a nicer thing to hold and to read from than a computer screen.  If you want to share what you've done with friends and family, then it's the same sort of principle as giving them a real photograph rather than a URL.

Vanity publishing, however, is alive and well locally.  A small press runs competitions, then sells high-priced, cheaply produced anthologies to the lucky winners.  I was caught out by them a couple of years ago when they invited my daughter's school to take part in a competition, because you can't possibly say "No, you haven't really won a competition and it doesn't really prove your work's any good" to an excited ten year old who thinks she's getting published for real.  

No, you buy a book for her, a book for yourself and a book for Grandma... :)

But a surprising number of adults fall for it. They turn up at local poetry events, announce themselves in loud voices to be competition winners and to have had a book published, then see what the real poets are doing and never come back.

by Sassafras on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 05:05:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I also used Lulu to publish a book version of my webcomic strip
The God Interviews
I found Lulu useful in terms of the ease of uploading my PDF and of having the book in a 'shop-window' on their site. However, because my book is full colour throughout, Lulu's printing costs were too high for me to print the stock of copies I need to sell personally, send out for review etc. So I found another print-on-demand company, a UK one (printondemandworldwide.com) who print all the copies I need more cheaply, quickly and of excellent quality. I definitely prefer them to Lulu who, I think, overcharge for posting to customers. In terms of sales, I sold very few copies via Lulu and much more through my own website and at book fairs etc.

Self-publishing requires big effort, yes, and demands lots of time, promotion and planning. But print-on-demand doesn't have the old Vanity Press stigma now. Many mainstream publishers are using  this technology as being cost-effective and since the smaller independent publishers have been swallowed up by the big boys and since bookshops now charge publishers huge sums to display their books, the potential blockbuster is almost the only 'product' publishers are willing to consider. So it makes perfect sense for authors to use print on demand as an alternative, and the internet as a way to promote their work (as musicians and film makers are doing with YouTube and MySpace etc.).

By the way, I gave a talk on my experience of publishing via print on demand at the Apple Mac centre last year and again this year for the Hampstead Authors' Society. If anyone's interested, I've put the presentation on a video here


by Augustinatalie (endapressNOTblueyonderNOTcoNOTuk) on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 07:48:17 AM EST

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