This article, by Kim Ode, originally appeared on the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune site on 1/29/11.
Not so long ago, the way to get a book published was clear: Submit your work, twiddle your thumbs, get back the manuscript, send it out again. Eventually, if you were very good, or very lucky, a publisher would bite and, eventually, you’d be holding a book, no longer a mere writer, but an author.
Today, the digital world has ignited self-publishing, changing everything. Why wait for New York when you can plunk down your money and get a finished book in just a few months?
Make no mistake: It will be your responsibility to market it. Many reviewers and bookstores won’t take you seriously. And you may never earn back your investment, which could be as high as $20,000. Is it worth it? Apparently, it’s at least worth the risk. In 2007, about 134,000 books were self-published in the United States. In 2008, that rose to more than 285,000 and in 2009 soared to more than 764,000.
In contrast, traditional publishers produced about 288,000 books in 2009, almost stagnant from 289,000 the year before, according to the firm R.R. Bowker, which tracks the book industry.
In the Twin Cities, a growing number of "contract publishers" offer a variety of services for a fee, from professional editing to layout and cover design to help with marketing and distribution.
Brio, a contract publisher in Minneapolis, published 200 books last year. It could have published more, founder William Reynolds said, but he is willing to turn away some authors, telling them if their manuscripts are, well, awful. Just as some authors resist self-publishing to avoid the taint of a "vanity press," more self-publishers want to avoid the reputation of publishing anything for a price.
"It’s not fun to be a dream crusher," Reynolds said. Yet he regards dream-crushing as one of his more valuable services. Authors should expect to spend as much as $20,000 "to do it right," he said. "So if I’m going to be a dream-crusher, it’s medicine that’s got to be taken, because there are thousands of dollars on the line."
Editor’s note: Publetariat founder April L. Hamilton disagrees with the "as much as $20,000" figure quoted as required to "do it right". She says, "With POD and ebooks, it’s readily possible to produce a quality book for a few thousand dollars or less, and most of your monetary investment should be made in professional editing, cover design, and/or ebook formatting and conversion."