More writers than ever are publishing their own books to get their stories out.

Interest in self-publishing has exploded. More and more writers have donned the publisher’s hat. But is publishing your own book as easy as a rash of recent stories indicates? And if you publish it, will you have the marketing chops to attract paying readers?

In 2013, Bowker, a provider of bibliographic information and other services to publishers, book sellers and libraries, released a report showing that self-published titles in 2012 jumped 59 percent over 2011, and 422 percent over 2007. The report also indicated that ebooks continue to gain on print, comprising 40 percent of all self-published books in 2012 that got international standard book numbers (ISBNs), up from 11 percent in 2007.

Experienced publishers recognize the inherent challenges of self-publishing (called “independent publishing” by many self-publishers). However, the independent path to publishing also offers tangible benefits. One of the biggest is being able to wrest creative control of your product back from traditional gatekeepers and others who don’t always have the interests of the writer at heart. The trade-off is that independent publishing gives additional responsibilities to the writer, who otherwise would merely turn in a manuscript and do a few book events for the traditional publisher.

Unlike in the old days, when you would work on and complete a manuscript hoping to find a publisher, technology and market changes have evened the playing field and democratized the process. Instead of pitching your idea to an agent, or sending your manuscript to an acquisitions editor at a publishing house and then waiting weeks or months for a reply, you can literally take your print-ready manuscript and have a book in hand, in some cases, while you wait.

One of the newer twists in the industry, print-on-demand, or POD, is exactly that — you can print your book out and meet demand more easily than ever. But creating that demand is often the kryptonite for many fledgling writers opting for do-it-yourself publishing.

I don’t want to wait

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One writer who’s familiar with the twists and turns of independent publishing is novelist Mark LaFlamme of Lewiston, who is a Sun Journal staff writer by night.

Back in 2005, LaFlamme had a manuscript he knew he wanted to publish. He shopped it around and realized that the traditional publishing method might not be his cup of coffee. After researching his options, he decided to release “The Pink Room” himself.

“I got a few of bites from a couple of agents on that first one. I went back and forth, back and forth — very time-consuming. A couple of months would go by before they’d get back to me,” said LaFlamme. “I was eager to get my book out and not have to wait around two years. Admittedly, I was impatient, so that’s why I opted to go the independent route.”

LaFlamme chose BookLocker, an independent, print-on-demand publisher. He’s been with them since 2005.

“I had a long conversation with Angela and Richard Hoy (BookLocker’s co-owners) and I liked what they told me; there was no up-selling and I could choose as much or as little support as I needed. They really helped with the promotion, and the royalties are crazy — they offer something like 35 percent, which is great,” said LaFlamme.

Changes in the industry

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LaFlamme’s experience is a reflection of the changes in the self-publishing industry. There was a time when a writer’s only self-publishing option was to pay a company to print some books, with the author then taking the books home and trying to sell them.

The model still exists and is used by many authors who would rather arrange their own editing, marketing, sales and other aspects of the business.

But many of today’s independent publishers will not only print a writer’s book, but edit, market and sell it, with the opportunity for the writer to profit more than through a traditional book publishing arrangement.

LaFlamme says he’s been happy with Booklocker, which is a print-on-demand company (POD). With PODs, a writer pays a fee to have their final manuscript set up in book form. Then, when someone wants a book — whether it’s a bookstore ordering copies or a person ordering on Amazon.com — a book is printed and sent out, with the author getting a percentage of the sale.

Seasoned authors using this model, including LaFlamme, caution other writers, however, to be wary of independent publishers that up-sell services — editing, marketing, etc. — to the point that any potential profits are eaten up by the cost of those services, unless high sales can be guaranteed.

A third model for self-publishers these days is the ebook route. With this method, a writer can — for essentially nothing but their time — write and then sell their book online. But many writers use a service or website to promote and sell their books online. With that kind of help, a writer may get less money per book sale, but can earn potentially far greater profits by selling more.

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Regardless of the self-publishing model used, costs and percentages of the take can vary greatly from publisher to publisher. Those thinking of using any of the self-publishing models should do some comparison shopping and talk to other writers who have self-published, to learn the pitfalls and get the best deals.

Writers like Denis Ledoux.

The Barnum and Bailey of self-publishing

Anyone interested in life stories and memoir writing surely knows the name Denis Ledoux. The Lisbon Falls-based writer has been independently releasing books since 1988. Ledoux has put out a number of successful titles, including his latest, “We Were Not Spoiled, A Franco-American Memoir,” which he collaborated on with his mother, about her life and Franco-American heritage.

Like LaFlamme and nearly every other successful DIY publisher, Ledoux learned early on that it’s much more art than science.

“Back in 1988, I read an article that mentioned that the average book by a major publisher sells an average of 2,000 copies. I thought, ‘I can do that,’” said Ledoux. “My ego took over and I think I sold 1,000 copies the first six months it was out. After being persistent for a couple of years, I was over the 2,200 mark — I was hooked.”

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When asked about the path to becoming successful and staying consistent for more than 25 years, Ledoux offered the following to anyone considering flying solo.

“You’ve got to assume a marketing persona,” said Ledoux, who does his own marketing. “A fellow Franco writer once called me ‘The Barnum and Bailey of self-publishing,’” he said. “I was OK with that.”

“Beyond that you need to be creative. I’ve had success repackaging my books, combining a book on memoir writing with other services that tie-in with the subject of the book,” he said.

As an experienced independent publisher who does it all himself except for the actual printing, Ledoux knows the trade-offs you make in doing it yourself. It means making sure your manuscript is edited properly, your book jacket looks professional, acquiring an ISBN number, and then, of course, marketing the book to cover your costs and turn a profit.

“It’s important that you produce a book that looks just like the ones being published by traditional publishers,” said Ledoux. “That means having it professionally edited. Also — the layout and design is important. So is having an awareness of your book’s niche and market.”

Being in the game as long as Ledoux has, he’s learned most of his lessons by experience, which is always a great teacher. But lacking the benefits of experience shouldn’t — and doesn’t — stop writers from seeking out the benefits of self-publishing.

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Writing through grief

When the phone rang that September morning in 2011, Linda Andrews’ world was turned upside down. Her husband of 31 years had been killed in a car accident.

A little more than two years later, she’s found writing to be a source of strength. She’s very close to completing her first book, “Please Bring Soup,” detailing her experiences. And she is reaching out to others who are going through their own struggles with grief and loss.

Andrews started writing mainly as a way to process her grief. While she had a great network of support, she also learned that many people were uncomfortable, not knowing what to say. Sometimes, they just avoided mentioning her tragedy altogether, as if it never happened.

In 2012, she took a publishing course and it wasn’t long before she realized she could publish her own book.

“Everyone thinks I wrote my book to process my grief; I wrote my stories to process my grief,” said Andrews. “My book is actually about helping others.”

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Andrews realizes how fortunate she was to have had her support network. She also recognizes that many may not have one, and she hopes that her book is able to provide hope and support to others.

Andrews is excited to be traveling down her current path toward publishing her first book. While nearly finished with her manuscript, she’s now researching what model will work best for her book.

“I’m still doing my research,” said Andrews. “I’ve had some good teachers and I am considering what’s best for me.”

She added, “My goal is to have my book out before the third anniversary of losing my husband, which will be in September.”

Jim Baumer is a freelance writer and independent publisher. He can be reached at [email protected]

Self-publishing by the numbers*

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Self-published titles in 2007: 47,110

Self-published titles in 2011: 245,912 (422 percent gain over 2007)

Self-published titles in 2012: 391,000 (59 percent gain over 2011)

Ebook self-publishing:

Percent of all self-published books in 2007 that were ebooks: 11 percent

Percent of all self-published books in 2012 that were ebooks: 40 percent

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* The data only counts books that received an ISBN (International Standard Book Number).

Source: Bowker

The myths and reality of self publishing

Myths

* I won’t have to work as hard

* My book will be a best-seller

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* I’ll make piles of money

Reality

* You need to be a self-disciplined self-starter

* You should be able to deal with risk and taking chances

* Having some marketing and sales skills is a plus . . . or be ready to learn them

* You’ll benefit by having good organizational and project management abilities.

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The costs of indie publishing

Costs vary by printer and services provided. However, for a 200-page book, perfect-bound, with a trim size of 5.5 inches by 8.5 inches, expect costs to be in the vicinity of:

Editing: $750

Layout and design: $750

Printing: $500 (per 100 books)

Marketing/promotions: $500

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ISBN #: $125

Jim Baumer’s four go-to links for the self-publisher

* Independent Publisher: “The” Indie Publishing Trade Association and home of the IPPY award (which he won in 2006).

* Independent Book Publishers Association: “Their $129 annual fee is worth it for anyone serious about indie publishing.”

* Independent Publishers of New England: “I just learned about them; they have some great webinars and a regional conference coming up in April.”

* Bowker: “They are the only place you can obtain an ISBN # for your books; they also have a wealth of information that publishers need to know, as well as other resources.”

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Tips for the self-publisher

Educate yourself:

* There are many resources like Independent Publisher, IBPA and others offering publishing guidance to first-timers.

* “APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur — How to Publish a Book,” by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch, ought to be on your bookshelf.

Ask questions:

* Most experienced independent publishers are happy to answer a few how-to questions and offer advice.

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Don’t get up-sold:

* Margins are slim; be careful not to add “extras” that you don’t need, but that your POD publisher may be happy to sell you.

Know your cost per unit:

* First-timers often pay too much for printing their book; get several quotes and keep this as low as possible, while ensuring a quality product.


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