It wasn't so long ago that self-publishing was viewed as a bit, shall we say, déclassé. Distribution was often facilitated by the trunk of the author's car, and word-of-mouth was the only form of publicity. Thanks to ebooks, the internet, and the availability of digital publishing platforms, however, things are changing. The stigma of self-publishing has diminished, and even previously trade-published authors are giving it a try.
Some of the biggest publishers in the world are also getting into the self-publishing game, either with their own startups or by buying existing companies. In July 2012, Pearson, PLC bought Author Solutions for $116 million. Self-publishing is now big business.
There are numerous places to sell your ebook online-and almost as many platforms. You'll need to reformat your ebook for almost every different website. For those authors who don't have the knowledge or the time, the process of setting up all the different ebook formats and uploading to the various websites can appear daunting. But not to worry, there are companies out there who can do all that work for you, plus upload directly to the various outlets, and in some cases, sell your ebook.
Founded in 2002, Lulu Enterprises, Inc. was one of the first online self-publishing companies. It now sells a variety of services, but it's still possible to publish on its site for free. The company takes a 20% royalty on books sold, and the author sets the price.
Kobo, Inc.'s recently released DIY portal, Writing Life, allows you to publish and sell through its site for free. (Full-service publishing and other services will cost you.) Kobo will format and sell your ebook through its site and e-readers, but it will also give you your ebook in formats that other sites use. Mark Lefebvre, director of self-publishing and author relations at Kobo, explained that while the company hopes its authors will stick around when they see how much Kobo has to offer, it understands why writers want their work available on multiple platforms. Kobo has created some unique features available on its own platform such as the Author Notes Program, which can allow for a dialogue between readers and the author on the ebook pages themselves. And in Canada, Kobo e-reading devices are outselling Kindles almost two-to-one.
BookBaby, an offshoot of CD Baby, doesn't sell your ebook; it just does all the formatting work for you-for Kindle, NOOK, iPad, Sony, and even Kobo, with packages starting at $99. It will keep track of your accounting from all the different sites and offer payments on a weekly schedule. (You certainly won't get weekly royalties or even statements with a trade publishing house.)
The aforementioned Author Solutions, which calls itself the "the leading indie publishing company in the world," offers both print and ebook services to authors-including formatting along with other options, such as cover and interior design, publicity and marketing, website creation, and according to the website, even "television and infomercial advertising." In the past, Author Solutions has helped start self-publishing imprints for several large trade publishers, including Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. and Thomas Nelson, Inc. In 2009, Author Solutions purchased Xlibris Corp., another self-publishing company, which had previously been partially owned by Random House, Inc.
With more and more services being offered by more and more companies, options are growing for authors who choose to self-publish. However, is the line between self-publishing and vanity publishing becoming blurred? If you're spending far more than the book will ever earn, is it worth it? The "rah-rah, self-publishing is better than trade publishing, away with the gatekeepers" cry can sometimes smack of sour grapes. Choosing to go it alone only because you're afraid you don't have a shot in commercial publishing or because you don't want anyone editing or even changing a single word does a disservice to your book. I worry that there are books, particularly novels, which might have a chance with agents and publishers, but that will never live up to their true potential and are now getting lost in the sea of self-published material.
It's important to keep in mind why you're self-publishing. The majority of self-published ebook authors do not make much money. In May, The Guardian reported that half of self-published authors made less than $500 on their books in 2011. But that may be enough for authors who've struck out with the traditional route.