a journal of observations, obsessions and inspirations

musings on the artist's life

Posted in: The FAB Book

How to survive self-publishing

I’ll never be any traditional publisher’s dream client. I don’t fit in. I mean, I’m pretty happy to have gotten my elevator speech on the current book down to four and a half minutes, but that doesn’t make for easy marketing. So it’s a good thing I have a day job.

Figuring I’d sell fewer than 100 copies (about 20, probably!) makes print-on-demand a great option. I’d worn all the hats, gotten some financial backing, when I self-published my first book, but that was ten years ago. So I needed to find out what was available now. About a year back, I started looking at several sites and a few more-traditional self-publishing packages, and I was drawn to POD. At the time, Lulu had the option of design-your-own and Blurb didn’t — huge issue for me. I ordered a couple books from each, tentatively choosing blurb.com because the quality of their products was better and the online ordering experience itself was smoother. Besides, blurb was definitely geared towards photography. I went to the Palm Springs Photo Festival and at the blurb seminar, heard they were beta testing a PDF-to-book option; got to see a lot of sample books and talk to the staff; and I was impressed.

This kind of publishing gives me both the freedom and the control I want. Whichever you choose, you’ll be promoting your book (traditional publishers will only do that if you’re a million-copy seller) and either way, the only person who sees the whole project, and cares about it, is you. There are tradeoffs, as with anything else. So. What have I learned?

Price versus availability. With print on demand, I can be faster-to-print and I can actually have the book, period. This way, you order one book and they print one book. Lower costs in printing are tied to how many get printed — the book will still be marked up for the consumer, but the per-unit cost is reduced. In theory, the people who really want to read the book are willing to pay a premium price simply to have it.

Wearing all the hats. I am in charge of writing, editing, quality control, project management, marketing. My need to do it all doesn’t exactly mean all. I’m happy to call in the pros. I knew I’d need a copyeditor, so I hired a freelancer, and he was so good he became a collaborator — his suggestions, especially in the formative, malleable stages of the draft, added greatly to the finished piece. When I was procrastinating like mad, fretting over the cover design, I brought in a graphic designer. I do not recommend getting “help” from friends or family — you need cheerleaders, but only on the sidelines. Stick with people who know what they’re doing.

Personality. Control-freak or hand-it-off? This one’s important, with consequences either way. I’m equal parts visual and verbal, and my work is intimately tied to how it’s presented. Having designed two books — trying this, placing that, nudging something over here, no wait, go back, go here — I would be pretty unhappy having to turn all that over to someone a publisher designated.

Intangibles. The process of puling all this together, the way the images relate to the text, figuring out how the reader’s eye will move across the page is as critical to my satisfaction as the finished product. I’d never get that in traditional publishing, and they’re not going to invest in me, anyway, so we’re perfectly suited not to be with each other. If I try to justify the number of hours spent compared to what I learn, the obsessive attention to detail versus number of books sold, it’s a losing proposition.

But if this is my art, if this is how I make a meaningful bridge between a world I know is real and one that I imagine, with the way it best suits me, it feels like a win. typed live, excuse erors went live on blurb.com on February 14. And I’m already working on the next one.


  1. Dicy McCullough - February 10, 2012 6:00 pm

    Marth. I like your take charge attitude about publishing. There’s more than one way to publish a book.

    • martha - February 23, 2012 7:33 pm

      Thanks Dicy – the folks on LinkedIn are proactive – I like that. I’m a big fan of going around an obstacle if you can’t go through it or climb over it… even if my current “obstacle” is finding the time to get my thoughts on the screen, here!

  2. Dicy McCullough - February 10, 2012 6:05 pm

    Hi Martha. I’m sorry I left off the ‘a’ at the end of your name in the previous comment. I didn’t see a way to delete and fix it. I found your blog on Linkedin.