Publish Your Book Your Way is the independent publisher’s hands-on-the-keyboard guide to navigating the entire publishing system from choosing the right printer to making your book available to bookstores to purchasing ISBNs to registering your copyright.
Now you don’t have to go into the publishing jungle alone.
Now There’s More Than One Way to Publish a Book
We’re surrounded by books, thousands of books. They’re for sale on the web, in airports, grocery stores, gift shops, and drug stores. They line the shelves of those most beloved of all institutions—libraries. There are shops devoted exlusively to the selling of new books and shops devoted to selling used books.
Until the beginning of the 21st century, the publishing industry that produced these volumes was regarded as something of a monolith, an unchanging business where authors were paid for their work by companies who turned it into books sold for profit. When we view traditional publishing this way, the concept of author-centered publishing seems new, exciting, maybe even a bit scary.
But in fact, what we now call “traditional publishing” is the new kid on the block. Author-centered publishing has always been with us in one form or another. What’s new is the creative control that individual authors can now exert over the quality of their books. Nowadays, authors can print high-quality copies of their books one at a time, and sell them around the world without the permission of gatekeepers.
As writers, what’s at stake in this fluctuating terrain is our definition of “real book.” Before Gutenberg, authors controlled all aspects of the bookmaking process. After Gutenberg, the costs of mass reproduction pushed that part of the book-making process out of the reach of most writers. Over time, this meant that the definition of “real book” came to mean those works taken up by publishers willing to invest money into changing an author’s work into inked pages stuck together in bindings to be sold en masse to readers.
During the century of traditional publishing’s grip on the industry, roughly 1890–1990, a lot of writers were left standing on the wrong side of the gatekeepers’ desks, refused admittance into the realm of “real authors.” In other words, there was a lot of pent-up demand for a way to publish books outside the professional publishing industry. In the late 1940s, vanity presses were created to fill this need.
Nowadays, the term vanity press is often used in a pejorative sense to mean badly written, unedited books with little, if any, attention paid to print quality. Bookstores refused to give this type of book space on their shelves so there was no place to sell them. And because vanity presses required their authors to buy anywhere from 500–2,000 copies of their book, most of these volumes grew moldy and forgotten in basements, attics and garages.
This is where the dividing line between “real” and “not real” books stood in the mid-1990s when two events coincided to make this line start to move again. In 1994, Jeff Bezos incorporated a company we know as Amazon.com and the first product he sold online was books. In 1999, a company called iUniverse took the business model pioneered by vanity books, and used digital print technology to entice authors left outside the gates of publishing to “self-publish.”
Like vanity presses, self-publishing companies did not require authors to have their books edited nor did they care about the quality of the writing. Like books from vanity presses, self-published books were rejected by bookstores. But you could sell them on Amazon, and for authors that was the key to unlocking the world of publishing.
It didn’t take long for some writers to realize that they didn’t need to use self-publishing companies to get their books into readers’ hands. They could use the same tools as self-publishing companies to create their own books but adhere to the same quality standards as traditional publishers. That was the advent of independent publishing.
Now the line between “real” and “not real” books is moving again. On one side are professional authors and companies who create quality books. On the other side are folks who ignore the ideas of editing and good book design. If you spend any time reading member reviews on online bookselling sites, you’ll know that readers understand the difference. In fact, reader complaints about badly written books have become so loud, the Kindle store now has a policy of pulling works from its digital shelves if they garner too many one-star reviews.
Attention to quality—that’s the difference between independent publishing and self-publishing.
Independent publishing is not necessarily the best choice for every book project so it’s good to know there are alternatives. The following pages will give you a quick overview of the current publishing terrain so that you can pick and choose wisely and safely among them.