This article, by Mick Rooney, originally appeared on The Self-Publishing Review on 2/12/09. This piece, together with Part Two (link at the end), provides an excellent overview of self-publishing options and many specific comments about specific service providers.
The author who embarks on the journey into self-publishing takes on a great many tasks. If they choose to fulfil all the tasks themselves, they have, in effect, taken on the running of a small business and everything that goes with it.
They may decide to run their small publishing business by registering it a sole proprietor company, with the intention of publishing more than just one book. They not only become authors of their book, but editor, designer and illustrator. They will have to go about preparing their book as a digital file for the printers, using a program like Indesign, Quark, a cheap off-the-shelf book publishing program, or perhaps they will be proficient enough to use MS Word, resulting in a print ready PDF file. Whatever method they use, a book will result, and the arduous task of promoting and marketing the book will follow.
Self-publishers using POD (print on demand) technology, like iUniverse, AuthorHouse, Xlibris, Infinity, Xulon, Mill City Press, Dogear, Raider, Lulu, Createspace, etc offer publishing services to authors unwilling to take on all that goes with self-publishing a book. An author may be motivated by other needs and wishes. They may simply want to see their book in print and available for family and friends, or they may see their books as the first step on the path into publishing. They may have already published through traditional publishing channels or instead given up after countless rejections. The facts remain that more than ever before authors are arriving at the road sign-posted ‘Self-Publishing – This way.’ So what barometers and measurements of standards of self-publishers does an author have to go on?
When we buy our car, we have an expectation that it will be value for money and run well. If we buy a pair of new shoes and the heel falls off in a few days; we take them back because, as a consumer, we have the right and we are protected under consumer laws. We expect the products we buy to do what they say on the tin or packaging. Self publishing, in spite of the contracts signed by authors, doesn’t quite work that way. When an author signs a publishing contract with a Self Publisher; is he buying a service or a book? Perhaps it is both. If a reader takes his James Patterson blockbuster back to Borders, WH Smith or sends it back to Amazon because page 218 is blank, they will replace it or give him his money back. In the traditional world of publishing, an author often has an agent to legally represent them. If things go wrong during or after the publication of a book, the author can use his agent or approach an Author’s Association or Guild. The publishers have their own representative associations.
This does not work the same way with self-publishers (who after all draw up their own contracts) and many self published authors. Often, both parties are isolated, and during a dispute have to legally go it alone without any norm or publishers charter. There are legal and consumer laws and copyright laws, but publishing goes far beyond these. National publishers associations frown on even the most reputable self-publishers. Some national author guilds and societies also treat self published authors as though they had done something wrong or deeply offensive to literature.
The world of self-publishing is easily open to the most unscrupulous scammers and fraudsters. It is an area rife with enthusiastic but naive authors and new ‘publishers’ with not a scintilla of editing, publishing or book marketing experience. Over the past two years, there have been far too many self-publishers set up by failed, disgruntled and disillusioned writers, who, with the best will and intentions in the world, have no idea how to run a bookshop, let alone a publishing business. Over the past two years—I can’t say I have found any more than about twenty who actually hit the mark—and that is looking at the USA, UK and Irish self-publishers.
So what is the mark all good self-publishers should be trying to work to and achieve? And more importantly, how can we help and go about bringing self-publishers up to that mark? Well, first let’s look at the ‘model’ of publishing and services offered by some publishers.