Why Self-Publishing Doesn’t Mean I Own My Own Printing Press

What does self-publishing mean? The mass of words above might give you some idea.

In short, self-publishing means that I do not have a signed book deal with a publishing house and also doing everything needed to create a book by myself.

Self-publishing is also known as Indie Publishing, DOY (Do It Yourself), and, as I am doing it, POD (Print-on-Demand). With POD, my book will be listed like any other on Amazon and other outlets (and the goal is that a reader won’t tell the difference between my self-published book and a traditionally-published book), but there are not boxes of the book sitting in some New York office. Instead, the self-publishing outlet prints a copy of the book once someone (you!) orders a copy.

(The book will also be available as an e-book on Kindle which obviously circumvents the printing process entirely.)

Traditional publishers tend to have 100 famous authors all selling 50,000 books; POD platforms such as CreateSpace (owned by Amazon), Smashwords, and Lulu have 50,000 unknown authors all selling 100 books each.

Now, I hope I sell more than 100 books, but the idea is that no one has invested any money into my book except me, so there is no risk for these self-publishing companies –- I do everything upfront and then grind out every book sale once my book “goes live.”

I have complete creative autonomy which is nice, didn’t have to wait one to two years after my draft was done, and but don’t have the professional designers helping me out either. I am doing all the different parts of what it usually takes to get a book from an idea swirling around in that mess of gray matter to getting the pages of that book under the eyes of readers.

Some of these steps I have finished, some I am in middle of, some I have yet to start. And there will be some that will be the part of a never-ending process.

What being every department in a publishing house looks like for me:

  • Research. Travel Colombia and take copious notes. Come home. Read some books. Search around on the internet. Read some more. Research again. Travel back to Colombia.
  • Writing. Get it all down on paper. And by paper, I of course mean pixels on a computer screen. Write stuff, then sit down and write some more.
  • Editing. (with the hard work of my editor). Read through what I’ve written. Edit and change stuff. Re-read. Re-write. Edit. Read aloud. Edit. Read it all again…
  • Formatting and book layout (for print books and Kindle e-books). Research how this works. Attempt to format. Keep changing so it looks good.
  • Cover design. Figure out what this means. Find a photo. Find fonts. Attempt to be a graphic designer. Get feedback. Try again. Edit. Format.
  • Website design and content. Figure out blog hosting. Design and format. Write some stuff. Keep content updated and hopefully interesting.
  • Marketing and advertising. Set up Facebook page. Find blogs and reviewers interested in reading a book about Colombia. Figure out any advertising.
  • Distribution. Figure out types of distribution. Try to sell books and e-books.

 (The Wordle Word Cloud above reflects this list and what self-publishing involves).

I am pretty much doing everything except pulling the levers on a printing press in my basement and writing the html code on my website. Social life now consists of having a beer while I work the night away in front of my computer.

Okay, that’s a little of an exaggeration, I suppose.  Amazon’s CreateSpace platform provides the network for formatting, printing, and distribution, my website is built on a WordPress template and server, and a number of people have looked over all or part of the book, including the thorough edits of author and editor Bradley Sands.

In this lovely age of the Internet, hundreds of hours online has also taught me most of what I have learned about this new age of self-publishing. My two favorite sites have been The Creative Penn and The Book Designer.

And through all the writing, editing, and formatting, there was the sheer joy of the best part of this process, of course: actually living and loving the country of Colombia for a year.

But two years out from my time exploring the country, struggling to motivate students, bumping along rutted roads on the back of a motorcycle, and eating way too much coconut rice, I have found the researching, writing, editing, and sharing about Colombia has been just as rewarding.

And now I head back – as always – to edit.

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