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The Fine Print of Self-Publishing
Mark Levine : Good News for Unpublished Writers

Good News for Unpublished Writers — More Self-Publishing Options

By Mark Levine

Faced with declining sales and rising paper costs, traditional publishers released 18,000 fewer books in 2005 than in 2004 and there is no indication that the trend will reverse itself anytime soon.

As a new or unpublished author, you might wonder how this can be good for you. Most new authors are under the illusion that if they keep sending their work to publishers and agents, eventually they'll be discovered and get a lucrative publishing contract. What the numbers in the preceding paragraph should tell you is that this illusion is now more like a fantasy.

We all want validation for our work, so you will send out query letters to agents and publishers. Do yourself a favor and don't waste a lot of time or money doing it. With fewer titles coming out, publishers are only looking for the sure thing, the easy buck. And, gambling on newbie writers isn't where publishers will be spending their money. Even if you are lucky enough to get signed by a traditional publisher, that publisher will still expect you to handle most of the marketing of your book on your own. The publisher might spend a few thousand dollars on the marketing of your book. So, even if you get lucky and get signed by a publisher, the only thing you'll have for sure is bragging rights. ("I just signed a book deal with...."). On top of that you'll be paying for the marketing of your book out of your pocket and be getting a royalty percentage of maybe eight percent. You'll be doing all the work, spending all your money, and if successful, you'll be making someone else all the money.

That's why this decline in books is great for you. Take it as a sign that it's time to explore publishing on your own. You'll pay money up front for book cover designs, formatting and editing, but you'll keep most of the money.

The publishing world today is beginning to mirror the music industry in that the talent (musicians and writers) realize that they don't need agents and publishers like they did before. There are hundreds of self-publishing companies that provide all the necessary elements of getting your book from your computer to the virtual shelves of Amazon.com. For between $300-$2,000 you can have your book formatted, get an original cover, and have your book for sale on all the major online retailers.

You can also publish your book on your own, but what I tell authors is to start by sticking their toe in the proverbial publishing pond. If things start to work and you get the hang of marketing, etc., then you can always dump the self-publishing (assuming you picked a good one) and publish on your own.

Whether you choose one of the self-publishing companies out there or publish on your own and start your own self-publishing company, if you can effectively market your book and actually garner some sales, you will then have the option of approaching agents and traditional publishers, who will be much more interested in hearing from you. At that point, you might not even need them, but it's always nice to be invited to the dance.

I've published books through a small traditional publisher and through my own company. My second novel, Saturn Return, a coming of age story was just released by my company. We are using it as a test case to prove that many of the traditional book promotion tactics, like sending your book to tons of reviewers who won't ever read it, mailing press releases to everyone under the sun, and begging bookstores to carry a few copies, is a waste of time. Instead, we are treating my book like we treat the other 19 ecommerce websites we own. We are engaging in pay-per-click advertising on Google, Yahoo, and MSN. Harnessing the power of the huge online networking sites, like Myspace.com and Friendster, are quickly allowing me to develop an eager fan base. There are many other out-of-box marketing tactics we are developing to cost-effectively sell books. Ultimately, that's what it's all about.

Our company was founded to empower entrepreneurs, writers, musicians, and artists. We continually strive to find ways to do that. For any writer considering self-publishing, I suggest you read the Author's Bill of Rights. This is the new ethics code I developed for the self-publishing companies. When you visit the site, you can learn much more about which self-publishing companies are the most author-friendly.

The next few articles will cover what qualities a good self-publishing company will have. Then, we'll cover such important topics as whether you should choose a self-publishing company or self-publish on your own. Finally, we'll track the success of Saturn Return through our marketing efforts and discuss how some of these marketing tactics might work for you as well. •

© Mark Levine 2006

Mark LevineMark Levine is the author of The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, which analyzes and ranks the contracts and services of 48 major self-publishing companies. More »

6/1/06