Self-Publishing in the 21st Century: It’s Not Just for Authors

Five years ago, if you’d felt like doing a little reading, you would most likely have reached for a physical, printed book. Today, you might grab your iPad or Kindle. Our idea of a “book” has changed dramatically with the advent of e-readers and tablets, but today, what constitutes a “publisher” is also up for debate.

The big six publishers aren’t the only ones releasing books anymore, and with self-published titles breaking onto bestseller lists, indie publishing has become more than “vanity publishing.” Individual authors, law firms, universities, and companies can now easily and affordably publish their own books. These institutions have brought publishing in-house as a way of sharing knowledge and marketing their services or message.

Breaking Barriers
Just like the economy, the main barriers to entry in publishing have collapsed. Gone are the days of authors emptying their bank accounts to pay for a print run of a few hundred books that they’re responsible for selling. Print-on-demand technology has made it affordable for self-published authors to sell their books directly to readers.

Many libraries, bookstores, and universities now use Espresso Book Machines, which prints books at the point of sale, even out-of-print titles. College professors can print their own textbooks in a low-cost manner that’s convenient for students. There’s no need to pay more to outsource the production and distribution of the books.

E-publishing also saves money on printing, warehousing, and marketing costs. Online publishing wizards allow authors to publish and distribute e-books to major retails sites for free; instead of money, authors and companies that self-publish must now invest time. Authors can hire freelance editors and cover designers on sites like Guru.com and Elance.com to further cut costs.

It’s much easier to reach niche audiences with e-publishing. When Steve Jobs started iTunes, his idea was to sell “all music to all people.” Today, it’s a little-known fact that iTunes makes more selling an infinite number of songs you’ve never heard of than it does on Top 40 hits. Similarly, in e-publishing, the readers decide what’s hot or not.

Some Words of Wisdom
E-publishing can be a dangerous world to venture into if you’re not prepared. I’ll offer a few tips to boost your chances of success:

  • Don’t overestimate your audience. If you run a law firm, for example, who’s your audience? Are you writing for other lawyers or the general public? If you choose the latter, don’t fly above their heads with legal jargon and references they’ll never understand. Having a publishing strategy will get you ahead of other firms just now self-publishing — or at least bring you up to speed when you decide to join in.
  • Pay attention to how you distribute your book. How will you reach the people who enjoy reading about your subject? Inclusion in major e-book sites is obvious, so think beyond that. You want to seek out blogs, colleges that teach that field of study, conferences, local accounting businesses, etc.. In other words, your niche audience.
  • Invest money in professional editing, cover designs, and layouts. The main reason independent publishing historically has “enjoyed” such a bad reputation in the industry is the sheer volume of unprofessional products that make their way into print. (Think the lime green title in Comic Sans with a poorly Photoshopped cover image.) A professional appearance will reap greater rewards.

Change Is Good
When you go to bed tonight, take a look at your nightstand. There might be a sleek new iPad sitting there, holding more words than one printed book ever could. Publishing has transformed from print to digital; now, publishing as an industry is moving toward becoming a function of individuals and businesses. The world of self-publishing is changing. My suggestion? Hop on board before you miss your chance.

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