Friday, April 17, 2009

A brief on self-publishing

Over the years, I have commented to more than a few friends that they had a story to tell and that telling their story would be a contribution. Contribution to "what" I never declared, I simply meant that every one of us is a hero and has a hero's story to tell.

Years later, about two years ago as I type, I realized that I had a story to tell and set about telling that story. I am and have been for 14 years now, a divorced dad of two great kiddos. They became divorced kids when they were 'wee ones" and are now "semi-adults."

I wont go into the "story that I had to tell" as it has now been told and is, (happy to say) available on, but I will go a bit into the whole self-publishing dynamic.

Now I cut my teeth, business wise, in technology (primarily software sales) and have been at it for 20 plus years. I have made a living off selling and reselling Intellectual Property (IP) and have strong opinions about "giving up" my IP. Once it is gone, it is hard to get back. For these reasons, and a few others that border on pride of ownership; it simply did not seem like the traditional publisher-to-distributor-to-bookstore route of selling and marketing a book was fit for me. I chose to go the self-publishing (i.e. bootstrap) route.

I did not want to sign off my IP to a publisher with no hope of regaining control. To be honest, I did not have great visions of my book being transformed into a blockbuster movie (but I guess Brad Pitt would have to suffice as playing my role in that film) but you never know exactly how tall a tree will grow by looking at the seed, so I wanted some "go forward" control. Self publishing is pretty much the only route for a new writer to maintain any IP control.

Years ago, this was called "vanity publishing" and was the turf of the "well heeled" (moneyed). In that process a "writer" would lay down their ideas or stories or poetry and have a ghost writer make them look smart. Then the "writer" would pay the publisher for the entire cost, and profit, associated with the fits print run. The publisher was then assured to make a profit off the book, albeit modest, and the writer had holiday gifts to give to all of their loved ones and business associates. (Perhaps vanity publishing hasn't come all that far when you consider some of the tomes recently written by Hollywood Glitterati )

This process was cost prohibitive for a serious bootstrap writer as the cost associated with that first print run was thousands of dollars then you were stuck with "how to get these little books to market." The following article from the Houston Chronicle speaks a bit more about the whole self publishing game.

As a self-published writer you are now able to escape the burden of paying for all of the first run set up and printing fees as technology allows for "print on demand" approach. Print on demand is exactly what it sounds like; the publisher does not print the book until someone buys it.

So what does this look like you ask? It looks like every other book sold online. Here is the deal, you pay a publisher a few hundred dollars (seriously it is only like $300 or so) and send them two .pdf files. Why two you ask? Well one is the cover (front/back) and the other is the contents of the book. The publisher has pretty strict parameters around what these .pdf files should look like in terms of margins, headers, etc. They have, pretty much, NO parameters around what you actually write (content) in your book. They then load the pdf's on a server somewhere and some (most) have relationships with (or other large online distributor) and the publisher connects the big online folks to your little pdf files. So when somebody searches for your book on they see what looks like every other book on But these books a bit virtual in that they are not sitting collecting dust on a warehouse somewhere, instead they are tiny 1's and 0's sitting on a server - the book is bought and the "printing press" rolls out one copy. Technology in printing has obviously come a heckuva a long way to allow this process to be so fast and so cheap. Guttenberg is rolling over in his grave.

Now, in the "pre-print on demand" world you had a publisher who got you in touch with their "house" distributor or connected you to another distributor. All of these "middlemen" had a hand out to collect a percentage of your book's sales price and you collected a "royalty" and by the time they were all done, it was not so "royal" of a fee.

In today's world you can get on through one of the on-line print on demand publishers and still gets a hefty fee as does the publisher. You will still not be in the big box book stores (Barnes n Noble and others----uh, are there others?...seems to be a dwindling list). To get into those bookstores, and pretty much any other bookstores takes the work of a distributor---and there goes another cut of your profits.

What did I learn about this process? It is actually easy to get the book out there.
  1. select on demand publisher (there are a bunch available)
  2. pay small fee
  3. load two pdf files
  4. re-load and re-load pdf files as it takes a few iterations to get it inside all margins but I understand that in the last year these publishers are making it even easier by giving out templates for covers/back (great idea)
  5. price the book
  6. wait for it to appear on or others ( uses as distributor so you will also be available for ALL those book buyers who go to target's online store - I can only imagine!)
Oh, I forgot to mention, you have to write THE book! But writing is easy….as they say, "simply take out a pencil and open a vein"

enjoy the journey------

Patrick Talley is a bootstrap photographer and author of DIVORCED DADS’ RULES FOR RAISING RELATIVELY STABLE KIDS.

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