DIY In Publishing: More Than Writing The Book

This article originally appeared on Red Room in 2008, and the project under discussion was a print book. With all the new resources available in recent years, there's even more options for folks. I still think it's a good idea to make friends with those who have tried publishing and learn from their mistakes and successes. DIY means much more than just writing the book, but the educational resources are better than ever if you want to try it out.

To Publish Or Not To Publish Yourself

I am convinced that everyone has at least one book in their head.  This comes from that usual conversation which begins "what do you do?"  Once I answer that I'm a writer and, yes, I have had several books published, the questioner tells me about the book in their head.

This conversation used to progress to "how do I find a publisher?"  But these days, more people are ask me "how do I publish my book myself?"  The DIY movement has swept over publishing because the technology has made it so much cheaper than it used to be and the Internet has made distribution outside of the traditional bookstore-to-consumer much easier.

So yesterday, I had that "should you publish it yourself?"  chat with a contractor in the middle of my kitchen. Because, as much as  I love the idea of DIY, if I hang my kitchen cabinets, the result would not be pretty.

Turns out the contractor was a good candidate for becoming his own publisher.  He had most of the elements in place that would make his project work:
  • His wife was professional graphic designer who specialized in commercial packaging and also had good understanding of print buying.
  • He had a friend who was a small niche publisher, a mutual acquaintance who was somebody that I knew would make a great mentor.
  • He was willing to hire experts, like a line editor, to make his work look great and he had a realistic idea of what you have to pay freelancers.
He also had a few ideas on where and how he could sell his book, which is perhaps the most difficult part of making any small publishing project sucessful.  Sometimes you get really lucky, like a publisher I know who woke up with the only published biography of Sarah Palin on the day she become the Republican pick for vice-president. He found 40,000+ backorders on waiting for his attention. Most small publishers have to work every day on selling to move even a few books every week.

My final recommendation to the contractor, before we got back to debating the merits of maple vs. birch, was to talk to his publisher friend and even drop into a couple of meetings of a local branch of the Independent Book Publishing Association.  Because if you want to launch a new business, and publishing is a business as much as writing is an art, it is good to learn your trade from others who have gone before you.

I also told him that as much as I love managing book projects, and I've done several for other people, I always end up going the more traditional route of having someone else publish my fiction.  Why?  Because when I am writing fiction,  I want to concentrate on that aspect of the project.  I don't want to be thinking about trim sizes, distribution contracts, finding a cover artist, ebook formats, etc.  For now, that seems to be the right way for me to bring my work to the public. But I'm never ruling out DIY or saying that one particular way is the only way.



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