Saturday, January 29, 2011

Part 2 continued - What is INDEPENDENT PUBLISHING and how is it different from subsidy publishing?

Unlike subsidy publishing, independent publishing is entirely controlled by the author. Most of the prominent writers who have self-published have done so independently so that they could publish under their own imprint. What this means is that they take control of the entire process which includes selecting a name for their publishing company (I use Parlez-Moi Press) and purchasing their ISBNs under that imprint so their books are published by their own imprint. Sometimes 3 or 4 authors work together to form a small press, one local example is Back Shore Press which was formed by Peter Anastas, Schuyler Hoffman, and Peter Tuttle to publish and promote their books.

This is how an independent publisher publishes:

  1. Editing and Proofing: No matter how skillful you are and no matter how much effort you put into your work it will need proofing. Mistakes occur even in books by major publishers. I am surprised by how often I find typos and inconsistencies in books by major authors. Independent publishers need to be particularly mindful of this. It is best if you can have your manuscript proofed by a professional – they are easy to find on the internet. Prices vary widely. If you are lucky enough to have an English teacher or someone very skillful at proof-reading among your family or friends, you can ask for their help but I recommend that at least two people with strong proofing skills read your manuscript. Neither of them will catch everything.

    Editing is more complicated. A good copy editor is invaluable and can save you from making embarrassing mistakes. I'll discuss copy editing later. For now, realize that a good copy editor will make sure your tenses are consistent, you don't make glaring mistakes (like killing off a character in chapter ten who then appears in chapter thirty-five – unless that's part of the plot), etc. When I wrote Each Angel Burns I couldn't decide on the right name for the “bad guy”. I went through five names before I decided on “Sinclair”. Thank God my copy editor caught all the places I forgot to change his name or readers would have been very confused!

  2. Layout and Design: Most printers will want your finished manuscript sent to them in a finished format, complete with page numbers, headers and footers, front matter (all the stuff that goes in the front of a book like title pages, copyright info, etc.), chapter numbers, etc. Usually they will ask for it to be in PDF format but they may also accept it in Quark or InDesign. In my experience most will NOT take Publisher or Word files. As an independent publisher you will either have to hire someone to do this or, if you have desktop publishing skills, do it yourself. If your book is a novel or straight text, this is relatively uncomplicated. If you require illustrations, photographs, etc. it may be more involved but a good designer/layout artist will know how to do what you need.

  3. Covers: Independent publishers take responsibility for creating or hiring someone to create their own covers. This is very important because, despite the old saw that you can't judge a book by its cover, most experienced readers have an innate sense of what a book's cover tells them about it. Other than bad proofing and bad copy editing, nothing screams “self published!” like a badly designed cover. The most important consideration is that the cover convey the essence of the book – amusing covers for amusing books, artistic covers for literary books, direct no-nonsense covers for factual books, etc. Because I began my professional career as a typographer I am highly sensitive to typefaces. I'll write more about that later but, aside from hiring a good editor, hiring a good cover designer is the best investment you can make.




  4. The ISBN & Bar Code: Anyone can purchase an ISBN number online, usually from Bowker and usually for around $50. The web site is isbn.org and most ISBN providers will include a free bar code. You can register the ISBN under your own name or you can create a name for your publishing business. My advice would be, if you only plan to publish one book then you can use your own name, if you like, but otherwise think of an interesting name for your publishing business. Some local presses use these names: Ten Pound Island Books, Back Shore Press, Silver Perch Press, Dogtown Books, etc.

  5. Printing: Once your book is written, edited, proofed, designed and ready to go to press, you have one of two choices: a.) have your books printed by a printing company and assume all responsibility for distributing and shipping them, or b.) work with a POD printer to have them printed on an as needed basis.
The choice to go either with a conventional printer or with a POD printer is entirely personal. These are the differences:

Conventional Printer
Most printing companies can print a book for you. You supply them with the camera-ready art and they will give you a quote based on the number of copies you wish to order. Usually conventional printers will require you print a minimum of 500 or 1000 books for your first run and will offer substantial price breaks for larger runs. Once the book is printed it will be delivered to you (or you will pick it up) and you will then be completely in charge of your book. You will have to store it, set up accounts with online booksellers and bookstores, ship books that you sell, and handle all aspects of distributing your book. 


The advantages of printing with a conventional printer is that the unit cost will be substantially lower than with a POD printer (thus, you per-unit profit will be greater) and you will have total control over distribution. The disadvantages are that you have to pay a large up-front amount for the number of books you order, you have to warehouse the books yourself, and you have to do all the distribution work.

POD (Print-On-Demand) Printer
POD printers can produce a hundred books or one book at the same per-unit cost which will be higher than the unit cost of a conventionally printed book but which saves you a lot of work. I have worked with both conventional printers and POD printers and, for my own books, I much prefer PODs. The POD printer I have worked with for all five of my printed books charges a $75 setup fee, and an annual fee (I think it is around $12 per title) to keep my books listed in their catalog. Beyond that all I pay is the unit cost + shipping when I order books to sell on my own. For books sold over the internet or ordered by bookstores, the printer does all the fulfillment at the unit-cost rate. When they receive my title I am required to submit a detailed description of the book along with PDF files for the cover and the interior, all of which I upload online. If my files do not meet their specifications they send me an email telling me what revisions to make (this only applies to book specs, not to content) and I correct the files and re-submit them.

Once my books have been approved they send me a proof and once I approve that they list my book with Books-In-Print and, literally within days, my book magically shows up on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powells, Buy.com, etc. From that point on it is up to me to promote my book and, as each book is purchased, the printer prints it (one or 20), ships it out and makes note of it in my “Publisher's Compensation” report. They hold each month's payment in reserve for 90 days then directly deposit one month's profits.

The advantages of working with a POD printer are: the upfront cost is very low and they do 90% of the work for distributing, fulfillment, and book-keeping. The disadvantages are the per-unit cost is a bit higher which means either your profit is lower or your book prices are higher.

Independent Publishers and E-Books
The e-book revolution has made e-book publishing simple – maybe too simple judging by some of the dreadful books being published. All I can say is that at this point in the e-book industry “caveat emptor” – buyer beware. If you have a book that you are considering publishing as an e-book go to Smashwords.com and download their style book – it's free. Format your book according to their guidelines and then upload it to their distiller. They have the absolutely coolest technology imaginable for automatically converting your book (provided you format it correctly) to every device on the market from Kindle to Nook to Sony to plain old HTML. You can begin selling immediately and some writers use this as a no-investment way to test out new books. 


The advantage to using Smashwords is it is free, it lets you test out your book before going to press, and it provides you with everything you need to know about specifications. The disadvantages are if your book is badly edited or badly written you run the risk of racking up some bad reviews which don't go away – ever.

Next time I'll talk about things you should know about preparing books for printing....

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