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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 for and in control of the 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.

Self-publishing is not limited to physical books. Ebooks, pamphlets, sales brochures, websites, and other materials are commonly self-published.

The history of self-publishing[edit]

Despite technology making it both easier and cheaper to self-publish books, going down the independent road is nothing new. Already in 1931 the author of The Joy of Cooking paid a local printing company to print 3000 copies of her cooking book. Later Bobbs-Merill Company acquired the rights, and since then the book has sold over 18 million copies. More contemporary: the popular trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James was originally published online as twilight fan-fiction before the author decided to self-publish it as an e-book and print on demand.[1]

Business aspects[edit]

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, purchasing bulk copies of their title, and finding a place to store their inventory. Print-On-Demand and e-book technology have allowed authors to have a book printed or digitally delivered 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.[2] According to Robert Kroese, "the average return of the self-published book is £500".[3]

Technological advances:

  • Online retailing, wherein dominant players like have enticed readers away from bookstores into an online environment.
  • 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.
  • Technological advances with e-book readers and tablet computers that enhance readability and allow readers to "carry" numerous books in a concise, portable product.
  • Access to global distribution channels via online retailers.

Types of self-publishing[edit]

Unless a book is to be sold directly from the author to the public, an ISBN number is required to uniquely identify the title. ISBN is a global standard used for all titles worldwide. Most self-publishing companies either provide their own ISBN to a title or can provide direction;[4] it may be in the best interest of the self-published author to retain ownership of ISBN and copyright instead of using a number owned by a vanity press. A separate ISBN number is needed for each edition of the book.[5]

Electronic (E-book) Publishing[edit]

Main article: E-book

There are a variety of E-book formats and tools that can be used to create them. 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. E-book publishing platforms include Smashwords, Blurb, Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, Bookbaby, Pubit, Lulu, and CreateSpace among others,.[6][7] E-book formats include e-pub, mobi, and PDF among others.

Print on Demand[edit]

Main article: 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, Blurb, Lulu and iUniverse allow printing single books at per-book costs not much higher than those paid by publishing companies for large print runs.[8][9]

Vanity publishing[edit]

Main article: Vanity press

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.

Vanity publishing differs from self-publishing in that the author does not own the print run of finished books and is not in primary control of their distribution.

James D Macdonald at one time started a campaign of educating other writers about the problems of vanity publishers. As part of this campaign, he coined Yog's Law, which states "Money should flow toward the author." [10]

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 CreateSpace (owned by, iUniverse, and Lulu. 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.[11] Further blurring the distinction between self-publishing and traditional publishing was Penguin's purchase in 2012 of Author Solutions.[12]

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.

Creative aspects[edit]

The Author also as a self-publisher takes on many of the creative tasks to complete the finished works. These tasks include creative writing and choosing writing software, deciding on an editor, and cover designer.

Technical aspects[edit]

The technical aspects of self-publishing include formatting for printing and digital conversion, as well as distribution and marketing/PR.[13] Successful marketing may involve building a web presence, a mailing list, as well as promoting e-books through targeted giveaways.[14]

Self-published best-sellers[edit]

Contemporary authors have also had self-published best-sellers.

  • James Altucher's Choose Yourself (2013) sold 44,294 copies in its first month, debuted at #1 on Amazon's top non-fiction list, and is a Wall Street Journal bestseller.[17]
Title Author Notes
Golden Handcuffs[18] Courtney, Polly
The Celestine Prophecy[18] Redfield, James
Shadowmancer[18] Taylor, G. P. Later published by Faber & Faber
The Shack Young, William P. First million copies published by Windblown Media; subsequently on New York Times best seller list.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Balson, Ronald H. Bestseller Success Stories that Started Out as Self-Published Books. The Huffington Post, 10/08/2013 [online] [accessed 19/03/2015]
  2. ^ Publishers Weekly (4 April 2010). "Self-Published Titles Topped 764,000 in 2009 as Traditional Output Dipped". Retrieved 31 October 2011. 
  3. ^ Robert Kroese. Self-Publish Your Novel: Lessons from an Indie Publishing Success Story. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ "The Easiest, Cheapest, Fastest Way to Self-Publish Your Book - Mediashift - PBS". Retrieved 15 May 2015. 
  6. ^ "How to Self-Publish Your E-Book - Mediashift - PBS". Retrieved 15 May 2015. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ RICH, MOTOKO (28 February 2010). "Math of Publishing Meets the E-Book". New York Times. Retrieved 9 May 2013. 
  9. ^ Rosenthal, Morris. "Print on Demand Publishing". Retrieved 9 May 2013. 
  10. ^ "James D. Macdonald". Retrieved 15 May 2015. 
  11. ^ Neuburger, Jeffrey D. (10 September 2008). "Court Rules Print-on-Demand Service Not Liable for Defamation". Retrieved 31 October 2011. 
  12. ^ Greenfield, Jeremy (19 July 2012). "Penguin Buys Self-Publishing Platform Author Solutions for $116 Million". 
  13. ^ "The Real Costs of Self-Publishing a Book - Mediashift - PBS". Retrieved 15 May 2015. 
  14. ^ "DIY: How to Market Your Self-Published Book". Retrieved 15 May 2015. 
  15. ^ a b c d e Christina Patterson (18 August 2012). "How the great writers published themselves". The Independent (London). Retrieved 17 August 2012. 
  16. ^ 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. 
  17. ^ "How To Self-Publish A Bestseller: Publishing 3.0". 
  18. ^ a b c 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 [...] 
  19. ^ Rich, Motoko (2008-06-24). "Christian Novel Is Surprise Best Seller". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-24. 

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