Self-Publishing: Beyond LuLu

November 24, 2010

11:28 am

Back in July, we published an interview with an author who self published her work through LuLu.com. In that short time, we’ve run into countless others who have self-published their own books via other methods (and some of us who have promised to, but haven’t quite gotten around to it yet).  We thought we’d bring you a few more perspectives, illustrating the variety of publishing options available for those of us with information to share.

Our two authors today bring unique perspectives; neither work in technology, one focuses on nutrition, the other on positive psychology. However, they’ve both embraced the technologies available for getting their ideas to market.

First Time Publisher, Amy Arnold.
Amy ArnoldFirst time self-publisher Amy Arnold, an early AOL pioneer who worked in technology for 15 years, left AOL to follow her passion for holistic health. One of her first experiments was a video blog leveraging YouTube and Blogger, producing a recipe a day for 44 days, which continued to grow after that. She grew quite an audience, but her followers wanted her content in a more portable book format, so she set to work creating her first book “AmyA’s Green Smoothies”, which she published via 48hrbooks.com. I asked Amy a few questions about her experience.

Tech Cocktail (TC): Once you decided to create a book, did you do much research into tools and options to create it?

Amy Arnold (AA): Actually, my intention was to create an e-book, but the demand was there for a printed and signed copy, so I reached out to a friend who had just self-published. She had looked at everything out there and said 48hrbooks was the best in terms of professional service, platform, pricing and turn around. As I really respect her opinion, I decided to use the same publishing/print house.

TC: What was the process like?

AA: I had been thinking about creating an e-book for my green smoothie recipes for two years — I’d been gathering the recipes, but really got focused and serious this past summer. I launched the e-book on Labor Day and almost immediately started working on the print version with 48hrbooks. Basically, I had to get the book exactly how I wanted it, created a pdf and submited several files for the cover, the body and the back cover. I used MSWord and then created PDFs for submission. They made it easy and had step-by-step instructions. I communicated via email and over the phone. They were always very helpful. I opted to get my own ISBN number – it was very easy. I used an amazing resource for the cover design — http://getedesigns.com — I shot the photos, told them what I wanted, colors, energy, etc. and they delivered exactly what I wanted in the first try.

TC:  Any tips for others who are looking to do the same?

AA: Hire someone to proof your book for you – it’s impossible to do it yourself and will drive you crazy. If you are using MSWord make sure you lock in each section on its own, so the spacing will always be the same. It can be very frustrating to reformat every time you have a change.

Now that Arnold’s book is launched, she has plans in mind for more books as a method for inspiring others to live a more healthy and joyful life.

Internationally reknowned author, Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener.
In contrast to Amy’s experience, Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener has published many books through established publishersDr. Robert Biswas-Diener and is a reknowned author in his field of Positive Psychology. He is widely known as the “Indiana Jones of Positive Psychology” because his research on strengths, happiness and empathy have taken him to such far-flung destinations as Kenya, Greenland, Israel and India. His most recent work is The Strengths Book (2010). Despite having deep relationships with publishers, he chose to self-publish a series of positive psychology workbooks and sell them through his website, intentionalhappiness.com. He launched to a hungry audience who quickly snatched up copies of the workbooks for the first six months, but then sales slowed. Here’s a short interview with Dr. Biswas-Diener:

TC:  You have experience working with publishers but have also self-published and marketed your own books. In your opinion, what are some of the pros and cons of each?

Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener (RBD): The process of self-publishing is generally far faster than the laborious schedule of working with an established publisher. With publishers you can expect fairly slow editorial responses, lots of prep time for manuscripts, and little control over cover art and other stylistic features. That said, working with publishers has many advantages. First, you usually get a larger advance– money up front– if you have a good idea. Second, if you are anything like me, you could likely benefit from having firmly established deadlines and an editor who checks in with your progress. There is also some pressure to ensure that your content really rises to a professional level of quality. Finally, established publishers generally have more marketing reach than you do. I consider myself a small fish in a big Internet and know that I can sell self-published books in the thousands of copies. I don’t kid myself, however, that I am going to beat out a prominent publisher who can sell tens of thousands of copies. On the other hand, there is much more flexibility in self-publishing. You can experiment more with both form and content. I tend to believe that most non-fiction books, for example, are too long. I would love to see non-fiction books of 80 to 120 pages, which is about my attention span. With self-publishing you can do that. Also, I self-published a series of on-line workbooks and was able to take great liberties with “flick factor” elements such as text boxes, room for notes, suggestions for other reading, and so forth.

TC:  Did you use any particular software or services for producing, marketing or selling your work?

RBD: I am a terrible detail guy. I hate proofreading and make a huge number of small mistakes in my computer formating, linguistic conventions… in almost every aspect of the book publishing process. Knowing that, I hired a professional proofreader and typesetter to polish my documents and format them up to professional standards. This makes my work more marketable because it has a professional shine. Then, when I go to sell, I think about branding and market. I tend to think of publications in relation to one another. Rather than just publishing a book on, say, washing machine repair, I would be inclined to do a series called “reparing your home” and have titles related to appliances, cars, your marriage, and so forth. That’s just an example, of course, I can’t fix anything, except perhaps my marriage, and I would be the last qualified person to publish such a series. But I find there is more market power in a series, especially if you invite guest authors for some of the volumes. Then, I target my marketing to the people most likely to read and purchase my books. In my case, I am a psychologist, so I am interested in targeting my work towards educators, parents, people interested in self-help and others who I think will be uniquely receptive to my work.

TC: The workbooks you self-published and sold on your website are now in negotiations with a publisher. I would imagine that would be most self-publishers’ dream. How did that come about?

RBD: I published a series of positive psychology workbooks and sold them through my personal web site: intentionalhappiness.com , which is not a particularly large or hot site. Even so, we had a great start becuase our content was so cutting edge and filled a niche that didn’t exist. There were NO positive psychology workbooks anywhere on the market. Our sales were gangbusters for about six months and then I noticed a dipping point where I was putting more and more effort into marketing and the return on this investment was slowly dwindling. I realized that I was the wrong person to be spending all this time on marketing and that the opportunity was ripe for me to approach a publisher. As an author with 5 non-self-published books I have some contacts in publishing and was able to attract the attention of an editor. When I spoke to her I walked into my meeting prepared. I was able to show her monthly sales figures, as well as translation deals I put together In Lithuanian, Korean, Danish and Dutch. I made the case that these workbooks had serious market potential. I also offered to add to the existing line-up of titles if the series was acquired.

TC: Is there anything you learned from the self-publishing/promoting process that you could share with our audience of entrepreneurs?

RBD: I would be sure of your reasons for self-publishing. If self-publishing is a shortcut to getting lackluster fare onto the market then I would encourage you to reconsider. If, on the other hand, you have a top notch idea I think there are many reasons why an established publisher would be in your best interests. If, however, you have a publication idea that is too niche, too unusual, or you want to present it in an atypical format, then self-publishing can offer you just the freedom you need. There might not be a large enough market for an established publisher to justify, say, a 100 page history of sans serif font. But if this subject is your passion, and you have good material, then self-publishing is for you.

Thank you Amy &  Robert for sharing your experiences.

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Jen Consalvo is the Cofounder and COO of Tech.Co. She previously worked in product development for almost 13 years at AOL for audiences of millions. Follow her on Twitter at: @noreaster.

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