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The future of publishing is self-publishing

Created date

July 23rd, 2013
An old typewriter

They say that everyone has a story to tell and thanks to a host of new technologies and services, telling that story has never been easier. Once relegated to the fringe of the publishing industry, self-publishing is becoming an increasingly important driver of book sales. The number of self-published books produced annually in the U.S. has nearly tripled, growing 287% since 2006, according to Bowker, a data firm serving the publishing industry.

What has the traditional publishing industry reeling is not the number of books self-published; it’s the fabulous success of those books. Take a look at any major bestseller list, from The New York Times to Amazon, and you’re likely to see a few self-published works on the lists.

Established authors such as Barbara Freethy and Stephen King self-publish titles to retain control and reap greater profits from their work. For new or previously unpublished authors, self-publishing offers a quick, easy, and relatively inexpensive way to get a book to the marketplace. E.L. James self-published her novel 50 Shades of Grey and literally took the publishing industry by storm. Her erotic tale has sold over 70 million copies with 100,000 sold in a single week. It’s the fastest selling paperback of all time—outselling both the Harry Potter and Twilight books.

The definitive guide

Self-publishing is a process and the definitive guide to the process is APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur—How to Publish a Book by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch. This nuts and bolts (self-published) book covers everything an author needs to know about self-publishing. Kawasaki, who once held the title “Apple Evangelist” when he worked for Apple, has published 12 books. He has experienced both traditional publishing and, more recently, self-publishing. He says he prefers the latter. He also prefers the term “artisanal publishing” because it evokes the care that goes into the work.

Speaking at Book Expo America’s uPublishU, Kawasaki listed the pros and cons of each method of getting a book to the marketplace. With traditional publishing, experts supervise every step of the process, leaving the author free to focus solely on the writing. With self-publishing, the author controls everything, from cover design to marketing to determining the retail price. In return for all that effort, come greater rewards. “APE sells for $9.99 as a Kindle e-book,” says Kawasaki. “We make $7 and that is remarkable. That is like four times traditionally published royalties. These are good numbers.”

Kawasaki is also impressed with his return on print books. He uses CreateSpace, Amazon’s print on demand service. Consumers pay $16.50 for a paperback copy. Each book costs $5.60 to print, leaving Kawasaki and Welch with a profit of approximately $8 per book.

Start making decisions

What format to release the book in is one of the major decisions self-published authors must make. The easiest and least expensive option is to publish the work exclusively as an e-book. This involves converting the manuscript into an e-book format. This can be done for free through sites such as Smashwords or for a fee or a percentage of future sales through sites like Amazon.

For authors who want to hold a real book in their hands, companies like LuLu and Book Baby can print hard copies for reasonable prices, but the upfront costs are considerably higher than publishing an e-book.

Get expert help

You may be good at writing a book, but that does not mean you will be equally good at the other skills needed to publish a book. Kawasaki advises authors to hire experts whenever possible. A graphic designer, for example, is a worthwhile investment because contrary to the old adage, books are very much sold by their covers. A professional-looking cover can make all the difference when it comes to attracting potential readers.

A good copy editor is also crucial. Kawasaki recounts the story of submitting his own manuscript to his copy editor. He says he was so meticulous with the work, he expected an email telling him that his was the first perfect manuscript she had ever seen. That email never arrived. Instead, his copyeditor reported finding 1,400 errors.

Last but not least, self-published authors need to have a marketing plan for their work. This includes creating an author website and harnessing the power of social media to get the word out. Kawasaki advises authors to have their marketing plan, website, and social media platforms in place before the book is released.

While the maze of choices may seem overwhelming at times, self-publishing has never been easier and there is no shortage of experts who can help you realize the dream of sharing your literary vision with the world.

Self-publishing websites

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing—publishes your work as e-books for the Amazon Kindle Store (

Book Baby—publishes e-books and regular books (

CreateSpace—Amazon’s print-on-demand service (

Lulu—publishes e-books, regular books, photo books, and even calendars. They offer a multitude of services, including one that will turn your book into a screenplay. (

Publisher’s Weekly—the industry tome offers many services, including book reviews for self-published works and notices in PW Select, a bimonthly supplement about self-publishing (

Self-Published Author—a new service from Bowker that helps authors navigate the self-publishing process (

Smashwords—a “fast, free, and easy way” to distribute e-books to major retailers (—find editors, cover designers, marketing experts, etc. (