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how to self-publish a book
An excerpt from the 2005 edition of How 'U' Can Compete with the Giants of Book Publishing by Dan Poynter and Danny O. Snow appears below.

The new edition is a concise guide to self-publishing, providing step-by-step tips on writing, editing, designing, printing, distributing and promoting books independently, at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods.

While compact, the book is enhanced by extensive online resources that are regularly updated, and a free monthly e-mail bulletin -- integral features that make this a "living book" of lasting value to anyone who wants to publish independently.

Why Self-Publish?

Self-publishing (also called independent publishing or alternative publishing) offers many benefits to writers: more control of content, a greater share of profits, faster publication, and the potential to tap lucrative “non-traditional” markets beyond bookstores and libraries.

The benefits of more control and more money are self-evident. The benefits of exploiting non-traditional markets are less obvious, but equally important.

In a 1996 study, the American Booksellers Association estimated that there are nearly ten times more outlets for books than bookstores per se. Books are now sold almost everywhere: in gift shops, supermarkets, airports, truck stops, doctors' offices, and most importantly in uncounted numbers of stores with specialized product lines that are compatible with a particular book’s subject. No kidding: we’ve seen books about fishing selling like hotcakes off a rickety wooden pier on a remote stretch of the intercoastal waterway, miles from the nearest town... and farther from the nearest bookstore!

Traditional publishing concerns may supply some of these outlets as a sideline, but sell the majority of their books through major chain bookstores and libraries.

The terms for mainstream book trade sales are less than ideal for the publisher, conventional or independent. Traditional booksellers expect big discounts, a long time to pay, and the right to return unsold books to for a full refund on a routine basis. On the other hand, non-traditional outlets are more numerous, often pay more, pay faster, and return fewer (if any) unsold books. While conventional publishers move most of their inventory through mainstream channels, the savvy independent publisher can usually find better outlets.

To illustrate, suppose you have written a book about a relatively narrow subject like organic fertilizers… how many casual bookstore customers are interested in this subject? Probably very few. But now imagine the customers of a tree nursery or gardening supply center: nearly all of them are potential readers!

Traditional publishers generally don’t even try to sell books in outlets like these, but self-publishers can take advantage of specialty markets that are usually neglected by conventional publishers.

Professionals in the publishing industry tend to look down on self-published books, citing frequent writing errors, amateurish layouts and cover designs, or other problems that are rarely seen in books from major publishers. Frankly, this attitude is sometimes justified by books from vanity presses -- BUT there is absolutely no reason why a self-published book can’t meet professional standards. To illustrate, below are just a handful of books that were originally self-published:

  • What Color is Your Parachute? by Richard Nelson Bolles: originally published by the author, it has enjoyed more than 22 editions, 5 million copies and 288 weeks on the bestseller lists. Now the “evergreen” title of respected publisher Ten Speed Press.

  • In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters: more than 25,000 copies were sold directly to consumers in its first year. Then it was sold to Warner, which sold 10 million more.

  • Real Peace by Richard M. Nixon.

  • The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield: his manuscript made the rounds of the mainstream houses, and then he decided to publish it himself. He started by selling copies out of the trunk of his Honda -- more than 100,000 of them. He subsequently sold out to Warner for $800,000. The #1 bestseller in 1996, it has now sold at least 5 million copies, probably more.

  • The One-Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson: sold more than 20,000 copies locally before they sold out to Morrow. It has sold more than 12 million copies since 1982 and been translated in 25 languages.

  • A Time to Kill by John Grisham.

  • The Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer: this classic was self-published in 1931 as a project of the First Unitarian Women’s Alliance in St. Louis. Today Scribner sells more than 100,000 copies each year.

    Other well-known self-publishers include: William Blake, Stephen Crane, e.e. cummings, Deepak Chopra, Benjamin Franklin, Zane Grey, James Joyce, Rudyard Kipling, D.H. Lawrence, Thomas Paine, Edgar Allen Poe, Ezra Pound, Carl Sandburg, George Bernard Shaw, Upton Sinclair, Gertrude Stein, Henry David Thoreau, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman and Virginia Woolf… to name just a few.

    So don’t tell us that a self-published book can't meet (or beat) the standards of conventional publishers. If you have the passion to write about a subject you love, the time and skills to prepare a quality book for publication, the confidence to take some financial risk, and most of all the determination to promote and market it proactively, you can self-publish successfully.

    For those who do, this book will briefly summarize the most important things you can do to succeed, and some of the pitfalls to avoid.

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