Self-publishing is the publication of any book or other media by the author of the work, without the involvement of an established third-party publisher. A self-published physical book is said to be privately printed. The author is responsible and in control of entire process including, in the case of a book, the design of the cover and interior, formats, price, distribution, marketing and public relations. The authors can do it all themselves or outsource all or part of the process to companies that offer these services.
The key distinguishing characteristic of self-publishing is that the author has decided to publish his or her work independent of a publishing house. In the past, self-published authors had to spend considerable amounts of money preparing a book for publication, and to purchase bulk copies of their title and find a place to store them. Print-On-Demand and e-book technology mean the author, via numerous, accessible global distribution channels like Amazon.com, can have a book printed or digitally delivered – virtually world-wide – only when an order has been placed.
In 2008, for the first time in history, more books were self-published than those published traditionally. In 2009, 76% of all books released were self-published, while publishing houses reduced the number of books they produced. According to Robert Kroese, "the average return of the self-published book is £500".
Technological advances have enabled this growth:
- Print-On-Demand (POD) technology which can produce a quality product equal to those produced by traditional publishers – in the past, you could easily identify a self-published title because of its quality.
- Online retailing where dominant players like Amazon.com have enticed readers away from bookstores into an online environment.
- Technological advances with e-book readers and tablet computers that enhance readability and allow readers to 'carry' numerous books in a concise, portable product.
Types of self-publishing
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Print on Demand
Print-On-Demand (POD) publishing refers to the ability to print high-quality books as needed. For self-published books, this is often a more economical option than conducting a print run of hundreds or thousands of books. Many companies, such as Createspace (owned by Amazon.com), Lulu and iUniverse allow printing single books at per-book costs not much higher than those paid by publishing companies for large print runs. Most POD companies also offer distribution through Amazon.com and other online and brick-and-mortar retailers.
Electronic (E-book) Publishing
There are a variety of E-book formats and tools that can be used to create them. The most popular formats are .epub, .mobi, PDF, HTML and Amazon's .azw format. Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and Smashwords all offer online tools for creating and converting files from other formats to formats that can be sold on their websites. Because it is possible to create E-books with no up-front or per-book costs, E-book publishing is an extremely popular option for self-publishers. Some recent bestsellers, such as Hugh Howey's Wool, began as digital-only books.
The term 'vanity publishing' originated at a time when the only way for an author to get a book published was to sign a contract with a publishing company. Reputable publishing companies generally paid authors a percentage of sales, so it was in the company's interest to sign only authors whose books would sell well. It was extremely difficult for the typical unknown author to get a publishing contract under these circumstances, and many 'vanity publishers' sprang up to give these authors an alternative: essentially, they would publish any book in exchange for payment up front from the author. The term 'vanity publishing' arose from the common perception that the authors who paid for such services were motivated by an exaggerated sense of their own talent.
The line between 'vanity publishing' and 'traditional publishing' has, however, become increasingly blurred in the past few years. Currently there are several companies that offer digital and/or print publication with no up front cost. However, most of these companies also offer add-on services such as editing, marketing and cover design. Self-publishing companies that fit this model include Lulu, iUniverse and Createspace (owned by Amazon.com). An author who simply hands his or her book over to one of these companies, expecting the company to make it a bestseller, would meet the previously established definition of 'vanity publishing,' but it's unclear how many authors fit this description. Further blurring the distinction between self-publishing and traditional publishing was Penguin's purchase in 2012 of Author Solutions.
Increasingly, then, 'vanity publishing' is being defined as a behavior rather than a set characteristic of certain companies or individuals, although there remain a handful of companies that clearly qualify as vanity publishers. These are companies that offer the cachet of 'being published' and make the majority of their income on fees for intangible services paid for by the author, rather than sales revenue. These companies are also known as joint venture or subsidy presses.
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- Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy (1759–67) was self-published.
- Franklin Hiram King's book Farmers of Forty Centuries, or Permanent Agriculture in China, Korea, and Japan was self-published in 1911, and subsequently published commercially by Jonathan Cape in 1927, later by Dover Publications and has gone on to become an agricultural classic text.
- Between the Acts is the final novel by Virginia Woolf which was self-published by her Hogarth Press.
- Ezra Pound's A Lume Spento was sold by him for six pence each.
- John Ruskin at the age of 11 sold a book of poetry he self-published with his father.
- Other authors who self-published include Marcel Proust, Martin Luther, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Jane Austen, and Derek Walcott.
Contemporary authors have also self-published.
- J. K. Rowling sold the e-book versions of the Harry Potter series directly from her website, Pottermore.
- In 2013 James Altucher's Choose Yourself sold 44,294 copies in its first month, is a Wall Street Journal bestseller and debuted at #1 on Amazon's top non-fiction list.
|What Color is Your Parachute?||Bolles, Richard Nelson||Later published by Ten Speed Press|
|Chicken Soup for the Soul||Canfield, Jack||With Hansen, Mark Victor, co-author|
|Golden Handcuffs||Courtney, Polly|||
|The Christmas Box||Evans, Richard Paul|
|Spartacus||Fast, Howard||During the McCarthy era when Fast was rejected by previous large scale publishers|
|Invisible Life||Harris, E. Lynn|
|Eragon||Paolini, Christopher|| Later published by Knopf|
|In Search of Excellence||Peters, Tom|
|Elfquest||Pini, Wendy and Richard|||
|The Celestine Prophecy||Redfield, James|
|The Joy of Cooking||Rombauer, Irma S.|
|A Choice, Not An Echo||Schlafly, Phyllis|||
|Shadowmancer||Taylor, G. P.||Later published by Faber & Faber|
|The Visual Display of Quantitative Information||Tufte, Edward|
|Poems in Prose||Wilde, Oscar|
|The Wonderful Wizard of Oz||Baum, L. Frank||Later published By Reilly & Lee|
|Wool||Howey, Hugh||Later published By Simon and Schuster|
|Fifty Shades of Grey||E. L. James||Later published By Vintage Books|
|Be The Change||Amit Besra||Published by Partridge Publishers, A JV between Author Solutions and Random House|
|It's Dying Time||Amit Besra||Published By Power Publishers|
|The Shack||Young, William P.||First million copies published by Windblown Media; subsequently on New York Times best seller list.|
Self-publishing in music and in other media
Musical performers often self-publish, or "self-release" their recordings without having access to record label resources. While some acts who enjoy local or small scale popularity have started their own labels in order to release their music through stores, others simply sell the music directly to customers, for example, making it available to those at their live concerts.
In the years since the Internet became prominent as a medium for publicizing and distributing music, many musical acts have sold their recordings directly over the Internet without a label, either through their own websites or from third party websites. In some cases the sale takes the form of a physical CD or LP that is shipped to customers, while more sales today are beginning to take the form of downloads. Several musicians who first found prominence recording for record labels have recently attracted wide attention for self-releasing records online, among them Radiohead, Frank Ocean, Nine Inch Nails, Brian Eno and A Day to Remember.
- Alternative media
- List of self-publishing companies
- Small press
- Category:Self-published books
- Publishers Weekly (4 April 2010). "Self-Published Titles Topped 764,000 in 2009 as Traditional Output Dipped". Retrieved 31 October 2011.
- Robert Kroese. Self-Publish Your Novel: Lessons from an Indie Publishing Success Story.
- RICH, MOTOKO. "Math of Publishing Meets the E-Book". New York Times. Retrieved 9 May 2013.
- Rosenthal, Morris. "Print on Demand Publishing". Retrieved 9 May 2013.
- Neuburger, Jeffrey D. (10 September 2008). "Court Rules Print-on-Demand Service Not Liable for Defamation". Retrieved 31 October 2011.
- Greenfield, Jeremy (19 July 2012). "Penguin Buys Self-Publishing Platform Author Solutions for $116 Million".
- Christina Patterson (18 August 2012). "How the great writers published themselves". The Independent. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
- Paull, John (2011). "The making of an agricultural classic: Farmers of Forty Centuries or Permanent Agriculture in China, Korea and Japan, 1911–2011". Agricultural Sciences 2 (3): 175–180. doi:10.4236/as.2011.23024.
- The Guardian (27 March 2012). "Pottermore conjures Harry Potter ebooks". Retrieved 9 August 2012.
- "How To Self-Publish A Bestseller: Publishing 3.0".
- Brown, Helen (2010-01-08). "Unleash your inner novelist". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved September 16, 2011. "Polly Courtney [...] made money self-publishing her novel, Golden Handcuffs, in 2006. [...] Courtney now has a three-book deal with HarperCollins [...]"
- Saichek, Wiley (September 2003). "Christopher Paolini interview". Teenreads.com. Retrieved 2009-01-31.
- Lane, Frederick S. (2006). The Decency Wars: The Campaign to Cleanse American Culture. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. p. 99. ISBN 1-59102-427-7.
- Rich, Motoko (2008-06-24). "Christian Novel Is Surprise Best Seller". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-24.
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