Everyone’s an Author (Or at Least Can Be With Custom Publishing)

August 9, 2010

Those who fancy themselves true connoisseurs of the written word have at least once in their lives flipped through a book, perhaps even a bestseller, and thought, “Heck, I could write better than this.” Well, now opportunities abound to prove it.

Derisively labeled “vanity publishing,” self- or custom publishing used to be the last resort for writers who failed to convince publishers of their manuscripts worth. But as we recently noted, the publishing industry has changed radically, especially as it relates to custom content, where now more than ever aspired writers are turning themselves into published authors. And major publishing houses are only too happy to have them.

Arguably, self-publishing still has a way to go before it’s equally respected and coveted as traditional publishing routes, but it’s still a viable resource, not only for first-time authors, but established ones as well. That’s because one of the most important things many self-publishing companies offer is full control over a writer’s entire body of work, including manuscript preparation, editing, design, and even publishing rights. It’s a pretty appealing idea for newbies, divas, and seasoned veterans alike.

But taking the publishing process into your hands for greater control often means taking on far more responsibilities than many authors realize. Writing the book is the easy part, but there’s still the burden of editing, printing, and marketing. And while full control creative control is amazing, it’s important to remember that publishing is still a business endeavor. It’s taking your art and turning it into a commodity. You are no longer the consumer; you are the entrepreneur.

The pros: You get to do it your way. You can pull crazy marketing stunts, pass out free copies on the sidewalk, host book-signing parties in your apartment, local watering hole, or your company cafeteria. It’s all up to you. Be confident! Take this amazing opportunity to do everything you thought the mainstream couldn’t. Or, mimic everything the major publishers are doing to give your product a sense of establishment. As we become increasingly comfortable with accessing our books electronically via e-readers, it may become more difficult to tell whose work is backed by a major publishing house and whose work is not.

The cons: It’s tough out there. People will both openly love and hate your book and for the most part, can publish those sentiments in any number of ways. What you once would never let anyone read is now open for everyone to read (and comment). Also, if you think you’re going to get the same kind of placement in Barnes & Noble as the next John Grisham novel, think again. You are officially the little guy or gal, and with that, can come some setbacks. And of course, you have to have a rather tidy bundle of cash to get an endeavor like this underway, so prepare yourself for begging and pleading your friends and relatives for cash, as well as planning fundraisers and courting investors.

The more money you have squirreled away, the more you can get out of a custom publishing house. Authors with larger budgets can usually ask companies to have their staff help with editing, layout, or marketing. Of course, these fees can be substantial, and as John Hewitt cautions authors about scams and exploitation:

Read the fine print and understand fully what is being purchased and what rights are being given. For instance, check into whether or not a proof copy is given to review between editing and printing, because if not they will have the right to re-write [SIC] your book and it will be too late before the author sees the changes. If thousands of dollars are being spent on self-publication, the author should have more rights concerning his or her own work than the company being paid.

To those brave souls who enter the world of custom publishing, remember that the reason you’ve chosen to undertake such an incredible task is your belief that the major publishing houses are missing something; there is a chorus of voices that continues to go unheard. But don’t fall too in love with the sound of your own voice that you forget your audience. As a self-published author, you might be new to thinking like a businessperson, but not new to thinking like a consumer. And that is definitely an advantage.

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