Every time I hear someone say, "I've been thinking about self-publishing my book idea," I reply, "Why? Don't you want it to be good? Don't you want the world to read it?" Then I explain to them, what I'm about to reveal to you.
It should really be called By-Your-Self Publishing. Because when you do it, you are all alone from concept to execution.
Over the last two decades, scores of companies sprang up, offering self-publishing products – the vanity press. Lulu and the like offer low cost solutions that include editing, design and distribution services. The biggest cost until recently was the print run of books, which could be in the thousands.
For aspiring authors, self-publishing eliminated all but one barrier to entry: Financial resources. Anyone with some cash to spend could be the proud owner of his own perfect bound opus. And thousands upon thousands did. Now, with the rise of eBooks, you can self-publish for free or very inexpensively. The floodgates are now open.
My crude survey of dozens of self-pub'd authors verified my hunch: Few were satisfied with their finished product either in terms of its content or packaging. To be clear, I'm not suggesting that the companies they hired are scam artists or shoddy operations. Smashwords, for example, was founded because Mike Coker couldn't find a suitable service to publish he and his wife's self-penned works. They've poured their heart and soul into their company – and this problem-solution approach underlies the greatest companies of all time from Apple to Dyson. Today, if you are one of the few that can product a great book from tip to tail, it's a useful service for your book. But that is incredibly rare.
So why are self-publishers clients under served? First of all, too many authors errantly believe they can write their own book, sans agent, editor or proof reader. And they can't. I learned this back in 2000, when I embarked on writing my first book. My agent loved the concept, and had faith in my marketing abilities, but my writing skills were not ready-for-prime-time. She brought in a writing partner, often referred to as a ghost writer, and Love Is The Killer App was published in 2002 and became a New York Times bestseller by the end of the year. If I didn't have my writing partner, I would have never been signed by a major publisher, and my resulting self-published book would have been unreadable and as a result – a tree-killing failure.
Lulu, Fast Pencil and other self-publishers realized this, so they added author services for-hire: editing, cover design and layout. They put together affordable all-in-one packages to convert your word document into a packaged retail-ready product. But the business model doesn't scale. When you break down what they charge and map this against talent costs, there's only one way to make the P&L work: Build a book factory, requiring the workers to produce products very quickly, using cookie cutter techniques. Realizing this, Smashwords won't provide such services and upon request, will send you a list of freelancers to comb.
And for authors, there is no Yelp or Angie's List to figure out which company or freelancer actually provides decent author services. You read their (hand selected) testimonials, take them as fact, and end up a few months later with a garage full of books you can't give away or don't want to. I feel bad for authors who do this, because they have dreams of being the next Stephen King or Stephen Covey – raking in millions each year in royalties and lecture circuit appearances. That's why its called vanity publishing, because it preys on the mark's dreams.
Even if there was a self-publishing service that could scale their services offering, at the end of the day, it is still a transactional exchange. They are not your partner. You are their customer, usually for a one-off relationship. In my case, with my first book, my ghost writer was awarded thirty percent of the book advance and royalties for his talents. Because of his equity position in the project, like a startup founder, he was obsessed with producing the best possible book. That's like the difference between ham and eggs: The chicken is involved, the pig is fully committed.
At Net Minds, we have a better approach: Group Publishing. If you have an idea for a book, and lack the leverage or track record to secure a contract to write a book for a publisher – you can still produce a work you are proud of. The secret is to share your royalties with your team. This approach has analogs in history such as the Hollywood indie-movie model and the Silicon Valley startup approach.
All you need to do is build a proposal regarding your book that shares your point of view, style, sales potential and affinities. Properly done, this could attract partners to the project that have a stake in the book's success. In many cases, you will be able to realize your dream for no money down. More over, because these are partners, you'll have a support system in place to keep you positive, focused and moving forward to the finish line.
There will be situations where you run your idea up the Net Minds flag pole, and no one salutes. Through this social proof, you'll realize that maybe it's not a book that you should write. Absent Greenleaf, none of the other self-publishing companies will ever tell you this. If you have money, they'll take it and you'll be on your way to a solo-project. By the time you realize it's folly, you've spent oodles of your time and money chasing a bad idea. That's the peril to creative work in a vacuum. No perspective, no truth, no reality kings or queens.
So, if you are about to double click on the Buy button to do it on your own, give it a second and third thought. It's lonely by your self, especially with creative projects like writing a book. To quote one of my favorite songs from Three Dog Night, "one is the loneliest number that you'll ever know."
NOTE: Greenleaf is a high quality organization that specializes in non-fiction business titles. They screen them heavily, reject most proposals and have a good track record of producing high quality titles with adequate distribution. I have much respect for them.
Tim is a bestselling author and former Yahoo! executive with a mission to disrupt the traditional publishing and self-publishing industries and share knowledge with authors looking to publish and market high-quality books.Follow @sanderssays