There are many variables and choices along the self-publishing road, whether an author decides to use author solutions companies like AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Infinity, Xlibris, Mill City Press or the many others using POD (print on demand) technology. Some publishing overlords will snipe from the hedgerow on our road and argue and catcall to us that these companies are simply the modern version of the vanity presses so prevalent from the 1970’s through to the late 1990’s. For the worst of them – take away the POD print technology and Internet and it is hard not to disagree with that argument; empty vessels with loud and powerful marketing departments hell-bent on one sole objective – the prosecution of their services rather than the sales of an author’s books. Perhaps the strong sun beating down on us on this long road is getting to us already and we are being a little too demonstrative. After all, these companies are there by definition to sell services not books. We must never confuse them in the blistering sunlight with book publishers. Real book publishers exist to produce and propagate the sales of books. And unless an author solutions company financed by their authors can hand on heart claim to have the sales of books as its primary commercial focus, then they can never claim the precious garland that reads ‘Publisher’.
But let us not cast the hand of generality too easily because along our road to self-publishing we will pass dwellings of many kinds to the left and right. The grand gardens which surround the traditional publishers are all too familiar. How we tried so many times when we first started out on our journey and dreamed of publishing a book. We just wanted to push open those large gates of stately publishing houses and rap upon their heavy doors. With Heaney’s stubby finger prodding and digging into our backs, pushing us closer to the door; with Platt’s rasping pen clutched tightly in our hands, we tapped gingerly on the timbers; with Wilde’s Bravado we brought an ear up close and heard the rustle of a thousand pages of literature flicked through by eager fingers inside. We wondered if those eager fingers might actually be flicking through the pages of that manuscript we pushed through the letterbox so many months ago. Perhaps, perhaps, but no... We knew we could have made it better, kept at it and written it beautifully until our own fingers were blood-cracked from the weariness of pen and thoughts humming in our heads. ‘Nietzsche and Thelma Go to Louisville’ was a shit title anyhow...should have called it ‘Nietzsche and Oscar Go to Paris’.
If we look hard enough along the road we will also see some detours. Old wooden signs both mock and cajole us at the same time. Signs that say ‘Vanity’, ‘Love thy Self’, ‘Walk This Way’, POD For Hire – No Job Too small’, ‘Publisher For Hire’, ‘Printer For Hire’, ‘Come In, We’re Open’ and finally, ‘YES WE CAN’. I wonder why Barack Obama is stretched out on a deck chair at the side of the road. “You never answered the kid. How much does self-publishing cost an author?” he asks.
In truth, much depends on the amount of work an author is willing to take on. There is plenty of work to choose from. The road to self-publishing is paved with as many opportunities as obstacles. One option available to an author is to use services like Lulu, Createspace, Blurb or work directly with a fulfilment printers like Lightning Source, Booksurge, RJ Communications (SelfPublishing.com) or Bookmasters. If an author has learned some design skills and has an eye for good layout, then on line publishing software offered by Lulu and Createspace can be ideal and not only does an author have the choice in deciding how much of the design and book production work to take on, they can do it themselves or utilise the individual bespoke services provided. An author can choose to go a step further along the road and register their own publishing imprint, obtain a block of ISBN’s and use one of the available fulfilment printers like the above mentioned Lightning Source.
To answer Barack Obama’s question, yes, it can be done, but to do it properly, I do not see how it can be done well for anything less than £500 ($800), and that would include ISBN’s, LCN, legal deposit, on line distribution and print set up with whatever service is chosen.
That of course takes us along the road of self- publishing to the point of having a print on demand book available to purchase. It assumes the book is already well edited, and does not include any promotion or marketing; the area a commercial publisher will actually spend the highest amount on when a book is published. The promotion and marketing of a book is still a long way down the self-publishing road. Critically, an author needs to get the first crucial steps right in preparing and producing their book. If not, then the self-publishing road ahead is going to become increasingly covered with oil and glass, and ultimately, we may never stir Barack from his deck chair.