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Life is not forgiving to a writer trying to get their first work published, believe me, I know. The process goes something like this- spend months or years of your life completing a first draft of the story you’ve always wanted to tell. Spend more months or years gathering constructive feedback, editing, redrafting, polishing and proof reading the work. Once you’ve redrafted it so many times that there words have started turn into a sort of inky soup whenever you try and look at them, you get submit to the greatest agents in the land.

The agents will send a polite but impersonal letter thanking you for the chance to look at your work, but apologising that due to the large number of submissions they receive they will be unable to take you on as a client.

Then you submit the book to more agents, who will reply the same way. If you’re lucky, an agent will take you on and send your book to the greatest publishers in the land. The publishers will explain that they loved the book but in the current market they don’t really know how to sell it. Then the agents will send it to more publishers and maybe, one day, you will find your story has been turned into a real book.

Not surprisingly, over the years, quite a few budding authors have taken a look at this process and said “To hell with that!” and sought other avenues to publish their fiction. Back when I was seeking a publisher for my first novel, we called this “Vanity publishing”. Vanity publishing was when you gave all your money to someone who printed off a bunch of shoddy looking editions that were delivered to you in a box. You were left to try to sell the box full of books, while the printer ran away cackling madly and rubbing five-pound notes all over his face. It was a dark time.

But since then, things have changed. Firstly, with social networking, it’s actually much easier to find people who might buy from your box of books. Secondly, with the birth of print-on-demand technology, you now only need to pay for books to be printed off when someone actually buys them. Thirdly, with the invention of the Kindle, we don’t even need to print the books off if we don’t want to.

Most importantly, people are making money at it. Writers such as Cory Doctorow and Chuck Wendig, who have both had successful books published through traditional means, are also making good money through self published projects. It’s starting to look like self publishing is a valid alternative to the traditional process of submit, reject, repeat.

The Costs

Like I said, it used to be that self publishing was considered a mug’s game, and it has to be said that the con artists aren’t entirely out of the business.

With print-on-demand books you’ll usually find that the quality of the paper and the cover are lower than those put out by mainstream publishers especially if you haven’t gone to the trouble of paying a professional cover designer.

You will also have to pay additional costs to acquire an ISBN number and to have your book listed with online bookstores such as Amazon.

The biggest thing to consider when looking at self publishing, either through print-on-demand or ebooks, is that when you have your book published through a publisher there will be a whole team of people working to get your book onto the shelves. This includes publicists, designers, proof readers and editors who can give you valuable feedback on your manuscript. The writer provides the meat of the book, but there’s a massive process that meat has to go through before it can be sold as sausages.

If you’re really dedicated to going the self publishing route than you’ll have to come to terms with the writing taking a backseat as you get into the down and dirty business of publishing.

The Rewards

Perhaps the biggest reward for putting your book out on your own as an ebook or through print-on-demand is that you own the book. You don’t sign away any of your rights, meaning that you’re free to do whatever you want with it. You will also see a much larger percentage of the profits (although, as mentioned before, this is because you’ll be doing a much larger percentage of the work).

With the extra work comes extra control you get final say on the cover design, the back copy, and how your book is publicised.

However, I’m going to say it now. If you want to self publish just because you’re tired of getting rejection letters, then it’s going to be a bad idea. If you’re self publishing because it seems like the easy way to go, or because you don’t have the patience to go through the lengthy process I described at the beginning of this article, then don’t do it. The process of self publishing and marketing your book is one of the toughest and lengthiest projects you’ll ever take on.

The truth is that there is no easy way to publish a book. Like most things worth doing, it’s something worth putting effort into.

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Posted by William Dodd

William Dodd is a freelance writer covering subjects such as print jobs, publishing and media.

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