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Here’s the low-down on the state of self-publishing in today’s market, as articulated by Greenleaf Book Group, LLC

Self-publishing has gained a lot of momentum in recent years, primarily as a result of decreased production costs and the mass distribution of accessible technologies that make book production simple for the layman. But self-publishing continues to offer authors a mixed bag of costs and benefits.

On one hand, if you self-publish you have the advantage of ownership and total control over content and timeline. You also retain the full cover price for all books sold directly to consumers and a significantly greater portion of the cover price (up to six times more than if you were published by a major house) from standard trade sales to bookstores.

On the other hand, most self-publishers cannot compete with the major houses for one or more of the following reasons:
■ The editorial process major publishers employ is almost impossible to re-create with a freelance editor. The standard editing process with a major house involves multiple editors and input from other departments, such as sales, distribution, and marketing. Though many self-publishers hire talented editors, they rarely have access to a cooperative team with experience in all areas of the industry to help make critical content decisions.
■ Designers of self-published books usually lack access to distributors, experienced book marketers, and sales experts. Talented designers can produce attractive covers and interior page designs, but they often exclude or spoil vital elements that affect market viability.
■ Self-publishers usually lack regular exposure to printers, and as a result, they miss out on new technologies available for book production. This gives major publishers a competitive edge—they can design cutting-edge products and use special effects to make their books stand out more in the marketplace.
■ Because self-publishers usually do not bring volume business to book printers and other vendors, they have to pay top dollar for production services and book printing. Meanwhile, major publishers can keep costs low and establish much healthier margins.
■ For the most part, self-publishers do not have brand recognition with booksellers or experience navigating the industry’s complicated supply chain. This causes many ripples in the distribution process, including lower sales (from weak or nonexistent relationships with national buyers and no established vendor accounts with key retailers) and higher costs (from inefficient systems, expensive fulfillment, and a lack of buying power). Self-publishers can mitigate some of these problems with the help of a distributor, but issues of brand power and experience can still affect sales.
■ Because self-publishers usually have to outsource each element of publication to a different source, their projects often lack the cooperation and synergy required for a successful book launch. Commonly, their editors do not have experience with sales, which affects the market viability of the content; their designers may not know anything about the national buyers’ preferences, which affects the distributor’s ability to negotiate big sales; and their distributors may not have open communication with their marketers, which expands the gap between publicity and sales. On top of this, the author has to coordinate all of the moving parts and manage all of the outsourced vendors.

Self-publishing has a rich history as the starting point for successful authors, and more and more authors are leaving their New York publishers to retain their publication rights and pursue self-publishing. John Grisham, Richard Nelson Bolles (What Color Is Your Parachute?), Deepak Chopra, Ken Blanchard, Stephen King, and even William Strunk Jr. started off self-publishing, and the trend continues to gain strength. The financial benefits combined with ownership, control, and shorter timelines lure more and more authors to the independent sector every year. But in order to be successful, self-publishers must find quality partners and vendors, become avid students of the book industry, and promote themselves with tireless persistence.

If this post tickled your fancy, you may also be interested in Greenleaf’s take on traditional publishing as well as vanity and new-technology publishing.

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