Self-publishing is different from publishing through a vanity press or a POD (print-on-demand) service. When you self-publish your book, you control all aspects of content, design, layout, and printing, and you own the ISBN. You also control every aspect of marketing and promoting the book. True self-publishing involves hiring and managing an editor, a cover designer, a page designer, possibly an illustrator, a printer, and, if you choose, a distributor. Vanity presses and POD services offer certain advantages but generally cost more while delivering a lower-quality product. Before you choose which way to go, consider these words of wisdom from blogger Sue Collier:
POD “self-publishing services” use digital printing to provide publishing services to authors for free or for a very low cost. Most offer free templates that enable authors to upload and format their books. Most also offer fancier packages that include editing, design, and marketing, which can cost several thousand dollars. These services tend to be poorly done and not worth a fraction of what they cost.
It’s also important for authors to realize that the average book from a POD service sells fewer than 200 copies, mostly to the author. Companies like Author House, iUniverse,and Xlibris—all of whom are owned by Author Solutions, Inc.—lay claim to selling millions of books each year. What they don’t tell you is that given the sheer volume of books released, it averages out to only around 40 books sold per title.
POD services call what they offer “self-publishing” or even “indie publishing,” but it is not. With these types of services, authors are bound to the package deals these outfits offer in terms of production. The bulk of any money made off of sales is kept by the company to offset their costs; authors are likely only entitled to a small royalty. (What this means it that authors pay twice—once at the beginning and again with every book sold.) Most of these services own the ISBN assigned to the authors book, giving them at least some claim on publishing rights.
True self-publishing, says Collins, meets the following criteria:
- The author controls all aspects of the publishing process, from manuscript editing to interior and cover design to pricing and promoting. There are many services, including my own company Self-Publishing Resources, that cater to authors in need of help with these services.
- The author keeps all profits from sales of the book.
- The author starts his or her own publishing company (very easy to do!), purchases his or her own ISBNs, and maintains all rights to the book.
- The author works directly with a POD printer, such as Lightning Source, or an offset printer—or both. (Or neither—and simply goes the ebook route.)
- The author has mainstream review, distribution, and sales opportunities that are not there with a POD self-publishing service or vanity/subsidy press imprint on his or her books.
Another warning, this from consultant Susan Daffron:
If you do a Google search on “self-publishing” you’ll see ads for big companies like Xlibris, iUniverse, and Outskirts Press. The problem with these companies is that they separate you from your profits by acting as a “middleman” between you and the real print-on-demand printer they are using. In the book publishing world, these companies are referred to as subsidy or vanity presses. And almost every knowledgeable person in publishing recommends you avoid them (including me).
Here’s why. Subsidy presses mark up their printing costs, and then pay you only a percentage of sales (called “royalties”). If you like profits, subsidy presses are not your friends. Often they have complicated contracts and keep rights to artwork you paid them to produce. Most people regret going with a subsidy once they discover the alternatives.
To make the most profit, you need to be the publisher of record. To do that, you buy your own ISBN block from Bowker. Owning your own ISBN makes it possible for you to go to the printer directly and get the same distribution the subsidies offer.
That said, here are links to some popular publishing resources:
iUniverse (Author Solutions)
Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon.com)
Xlibris (Author Solutions)