Ariion Kathleen Brindley

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Self-Publishers Flourish as Writers Pay the Tab

Ariion Kathleen Brindley

The point may soon come when there are more people who want to write books than there are people who want to read them.

Readers' Comments

"Many people incorrectly assume that profit is the sole motive for self-publishing. For many writers, creating the work and then sharing it is its own reward." Todd, Burlington, VT

At least, that is what the evidence suggests. Booksellers, hobbled by the economic crisis, are struggling to lure readers. Almost all of the New York publishing houses are laying off editors and pinching pennies. Small bookstores are closing. Big chains are laying people off or exploring bankruptcy.

A recently released study by the National Endowment for the Arts found that while more people are reading literary fiction, fewer of them are reading books.

Meanwhile, there is one segment of the industry that is actually flourishing: capitalizing on the dream of would-be authors to see their work between covers, companies that charge writers and photographers to publish are growing rapidly at a time when many mainstream publishers are losing ground.

Credit for the self-publishing boomlet goes to authors like Jim Bendat, whose book "Democracy's Big Day," a collection of historical vignettes about presidentialinaugurations, enjoyed a modest burst in sales in the hoopla surrounding President Obama's swearing-in.

After failing to secure a traditional publishing deal in 2000, Mr. Bendat, a public defender in Los Angeles, paid $99 to publish the first edition of his book with iUniverse, a print-on-demand company. He updated the book in 2004 and 2008, and has sold more than 2,500 copies. IUniverse takes a large cut of each sale of the book, currently on for $11.66.

As traditional publishers look to prune their booklists and rely increasingly on blockbuster best sellers, self-publishing companies are ramping up their title counts and making money on books that sell as few as five copies, in part because the author, rather than the publisher, pays for things like cover design and printing costs.

In 2008, Author Solutions, which is based in Bloomington, Ind., and operates iUniverse as well as other print-on-demand imprints including AuthorHouse and Wordclay, published 13,000 titles, up 12 percent from the previous year.

This month, the company, which is owned by Bertram Capital, a private equity firm, bought a rival, Xlibris, expanding its profile in the fast-growing market. The combined company represented 19,000 titles in 2008, nearly six times more than Random House, the world's largest publisher of consumer books, released last year.

In 2008, nearly 480,000 books were published or distributed in the United States, up from close to 375,000 in 2007, according to the industry tracker Bowker. The company attributed a significant proportion of that rise to an increase in the number of print-on-demand books.

"Even if you're sitting at a dinner party, if you ask how many people want to write a book, everyone will say, 'I've got a book or two in me,'" said Kevin Weiss, chief executive of Author Solutions. "We don't see a letup in the number of people who are interested in writing."

The trend is also driven by professionals who want to use a book as an enhanced business card as well as by people who are creating books as gifts for family and friends.

"It used to be an elite few," said Eileen Gittins, chief executive of Blurb, a print-on-demand company whose revenue has grown to $30 million, from $1 million, in just two years and which published more than 300,000 titles last year. Many of those were personal books bought only by the author. "Now anyone can make a book, and it looks just like a book that you buy at the bookstore."

To be sure, self-publishing is still a fraction of the wider publishing industry. Author Solutions, for example, sold a total of 2.5 million copies last year. Little, Brown sold more than that many copies of "Twilight" by Stephenie Meyer just in the last two months of 2008.

But in an era when anyone can create a blog or post musings on Facebook or MySpace, people still seem to want the tangible validation of a printed book.

"I wanted the satisfaction of holding the book in my hands," Mr. Bendat said.

As a result of his iUniverse book, the British news channel Sky News asked Mr. Bendat to provide live commentary on Inauguration Day. A group of Washington hotels ordered 500 copies to give to guests who were in town for the event.

"O.K., it's not a best seller," Mr. Bendat said, "but I'm happy for what's happening."

Vanity presses have existed for decades, but technology has made it much easier for aspiring authors to publish without hefty upfront costs. Gone are the days when self-publishing meant paying a printer to produce hundreds of copies that then languished in a garage.

Now, for as little as $3, an author can upload a manuscript or collection of photos to a Web site, and order a printed book within an hour. Many books will appear for sale on or the Web site of Barnes & Noble; others are sold through the self-publishing companies' Web sites. Authors and readers order subsequent copies as needed.

The self-publishing companies generally make their money either by charging author fees — which can range from $99 to $100,000 for a variety of services, including custom cover design and marketing and distribution to online retailers, or by taking a portion of book sales, or both.

Some, like Lulu Enterprises and CreateSpace from, allow the author to create the book free, but then make their money on a small printing markup and a profit split with the author.

For some authors, the appeal of self-publishing is that they can put their books on the market much faster than through traditional publishers.

Of course, authors who take this route also give up a lot. Not only do they receive no advance payments, but they also often must pay out of their own pockets before seeing a dime. They do not have the benefit of the marketing acumen of traditional publishers, and have diminished access to the vast bookstore distribution pipeline that big publishers can provide.

Young Victorian woman writing a book

Young Victorian woman writing a book

Photo credit: Meg Cabot's Diary

Still, many self-publishing companies allow authors to take more than the traditional royalty of 15 percent of the cover price on hardcovers and 10 percent or less on paperbacks.

Michelle L. Long, an accountant who advises small businesses, published "Successful QuickBooks Consulting," a guide for others who want to help businesses use a software package made by Intuit through CreateSpace a little more than a year ago. She said she had earned 45 to 55 percent of the cover price on each sale and had made $22,000 in royalties on the sale of more than 2,000 copies.

During an economic downturn, books tailored to such narrow audiences may fare better than titles from traditional publishers that depend on a more general appeal.

"A lot of this niche content is doing fairly well relative to the rest of the economy because it's very useful to people who have a very specific need," said Aaron Martin, director of self-publishing and manufacturing on demand at Amazon.

For many self-published authors, the niche is very small. Mr. Weiss of Author Solutions estimates that the average number of copies sold of titles published through one of its brands is just 150.

Indeed, said Robert Young, chief executive of Lulu Enterprises, based in Raleigh, N.C., a majority of the company's titles are of little interest to anybody other than the authors and their families. "We have easily published the largest collection of bad poetry in the history of mankind," Mr. Young said.

Still, the dream of many self-published authors is that they will be discovered by a mainstream publishing house — and it does happen, however rarely.

When Lisa Genova, a former consultant to pharmaceutical companies, wrote her first novel, "Still Alice," a story about a woman with Alzheimer's disease, she was turned down or ignored by 100 literary agents.

Ms. Genova paid $450 to iUniverse to publish the book and sold copies to independent bookstores. A fellow author discovered the book and introduced Ms. Genova to an agent, and she eventually sold "Still Alice" for a mid-six-figure advance to Pocket Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, which released a new edition this month. It had its debut on the New York Times trade paperback fiction best-seller list on Sunday, at No. 5.

Ms. Genova likened her experience to that of young bands or filmmakers using MySpace or YouTube to attract a following. "It's really tough to break into the traditional model of doing things," she said.

Louise Burke, publisher of Pocket Books, said publishers now trawl for new material by looking at reader comments about self-published books sold online. Self-publishing, she said, is "no longer a dirty word."

Diamonds in the rough, though, remain the outliers. "For every thousand titles that get self-published, maybe there's two that should have been published," said Cathy Langer, lead buyer for the Tattered Cover bookstores in Denver, who said she had been inundated by requests from self-published authors to sell their books. "People think that just because they've written something, there's a market for it. It's not true."

Story credit: Rich Motoko, New York Times

These are the companies specializing in self publishing, sometimes called POD (Print on Demand)

An old man working at his computer in the grass

An old man working at his computer in the grass

Photo credit: Flickr

Author House

We provide a broad array of tools and services to allow authors to make their own choices throughout the publishing process. Authors retain all rights, maintain editorial control and choose the exact selection of services that best suits their goals. Our self publishing company allows every author to control his or her own publishing destiny.

At AuthorHouse, we’ve helped more authors self-publish more titles than any other company. So whether you’re writing a romance novel, historical fiction, mystery, action and suspense, poetry, children’s or any other genre, we can help you reach your book publishing goals.

Through our exclusive self publishing process, you maintain creative control of your book. From editing and proofreading to cover design and page layout; from royalties and distribution to marketing and returnability, you choose what you want for your book.

Best of all, your personal team of author advocates will support and encourage you throughout the entire self-publishing process.

A little girl sitting on a phone book at typewriter

A little girl sitting on a phone book at typewriter

Photo credit: Amy Gravino Bio


CreateSpace on Demand Publishing is simple: we manufacture physical products when customers order so no pre-built inventory is needed. Through our service, you can sell DVDs, CDs, and books, for a fraction of the cost of traditional manufacturing, while maintaining more control over your materials.

With our services, you can make your books, music and video available to millions of customers by selling on, the CreateSpace Shop, and on your own website with a customized eStore.

With an array of options, realizing the book you've always wanted is easier than ever. Use our free Cover Creator to build a great-looking book cover — or you can design your own for even more customization.

We let you focus on your book — manufacturing and shipping is taken care of. Your book remains in-stock, without inventory, made on-demand when customers order.

Start setting up your book using our free online tools.

All book covers are printed in full-color on cover stock and finished with a protective laminate coating

Black and white books can be printed on white or cream (also called "off-white") paper

Full-color books are printed on white paper

Free CreateSpace ISBN is assigned if you do not already own one

The benefits of making your book available on

Reach millions of potential customers on

Amazon listings include the Search Inside!® feature orders may be eligible for Super Saver Shipping, One-Day Shipping, 1-Click® ordering, and Amazon Prime

Self Editing Blog by John Robert Marlow

The Self Editing Blog offers professional advice on self editing from author/screenwriter/editor John Robert Marlow. Editorial services are also available here.


BookSurge offers complete publishing, inventory-free fulfillment and online distribution services for independent publishing. Whether your book is in ready-to-print PDF format or a working draft requiring editing, illustration, or formatting, we provide services to create your desired book and the tools to distribute your books cost effectively.

BookSurge, a brand of On-Demand Publishing LLC, a subsidiary of Inc., is a pioneer in inventory-free book publishing, printing, fulfillment and distribution. We continue to expand our inventory-free book fulfillment network, allowing publishers and authors to seamlessly distribute their content through existing channels, as well as to leading retailers, e-tailers, distributors and other specialty book sales markets.

Headquartered in Charleston, South Carolina, BookSurge's state of the art book manufacturing facility produces one book or 100 books profitably for authors and publishers. BookSurge books are typically listed as "in stock and available from," a distinction proven to lift sales.

BookSurge provides professional services that enable authors to publish their own work, and by doing so, allows authors to retain control of their books' sales strategies and their profits. Offering a wide range of services from professional book interior and exterior design to editing and promotional tools, thousands of authors have taken advantage of our Global Publishing System (GPS) software platform and expert staff to make their dreams a reality.

BookSurge Publisher Services allow leading publishers to bring books back into print, test experimental titles and market niche content without the risks associated with predictive printing and distribution. Smaller publishers take advantage of BookSurge's fulfillment services, so they can concentrate on other important aspects of their businesses.

Through our Libraries as Publishers initiative, BookSurge is successful in addressing the needs of unique vertical industries and university presses by aiding digital preservation efforts and making important historical collections available for sale on and other retail channels.

But, the primary driving force of BookSurge is our customers. In every interaction, we strive to exceed expectations, listen and respond with a caring staff, thorough information, relevant products and quality services. As a result, BookSurge continues to grow and innovate the industry with a new vision, unique programs and unparalleled opportunities.

A baboon works at his computer while 3 others watch

A baboon works at his computer while 3 others watch

Photo credit: The Financial Blogger


Xlibris is a book publishing company created by authors, for authors. By focusing on the needs of creative writers and artists, and on how print on demand technology and new approaches can be applied in the publishing industry, we provide authors publishing services to help them get published.

Whether you are writing a book, promoting your work, or searching for online publishing services or a self publisher to publish your book, Xlibris' comprehensive range of publishing, editorial, add-on and marketing services enable you to customize your self-publishing experience. Our professional team of publishing professionals are available every step of the way to guide you through the self-publishing process.

Xlibris’ comprehensive range of Publishing Packages offer several combinations of publishing, editorial and marketing services which allow you to create a customized self-publishing plan and publish the book of your dreams.

Xlibris’ Black & White Book Publishing

Xlibris’ Black & White Book Publishing makes your book available in quality paperback, hardback and custom-made leather bound tomes. Perfect for fiction tales, non-fiction books, memoirs, poetry or almost anything you can envision. Xlibris’ Black & White Publishing Services feature a full-color cover, grayscale interior and perfect binding. Choose from seven comprehensive publishing packages, each with a unique combination of marketing, editorial and publishing services for a truly customized self-publishing experience.

If you are interested in how to publish a book, look no further. Xlibris can help you become your own publisher. You write and edit your book. We complete the design of the interior and cover, get your book listed at the big distributors and online stores, print-on-demand as orders come in, and pay royalties on each sale. You keep all the rights to your work.

Xlibris’ Full-Color Book Publishing

Xlibris can help you publish almost anything in full-color. From children’s books to cookbooks, family photo albums to corporate materials, graphic novels to catalogues – the possibilities are limitless. With six complete full-color book publishing packages to choose from, Xlibris makes your decision to publish easy and straightforward. We also provide a range of additional services to give you even more flexibility. To make the process even easier, our knowledgeable publishing consultants are available for a free consultation to help you choose the package that is right for you.

By publishing your full-color book through Xlibris, you are choosing the world’s most affordable and convenient route to achieving first-rate digital color publication. Once your book is published, it is available to readers and booksellers worldwide in a beautiful, full-color edition and you receive a royalty on each copy purchased by your audience.

Xlibris' Specialty Publishing Packages

Xlibris Specialty Publishing Packages are designed specifically for writers who are after a book publishing service specific to their genre. Here at Xlibris, we understand that each kind of book has unique needs, and want to make sure that your book publishing experience is custom made and the best possible fit to your publishing dream. Choose the specialty publishing package that best describes your genre, and you can choose to publish your work in classic black & white, or dazzling full-color. Publishing a book has never been more rewarding than with Xlibris tailor made specialty publishing packages.

A typist working at her typewriter from a French postcard, 1910

A typist working at her typewriter shown on a French postcard, 1910

Photo credit: Wikipedia


Why iUniverse?

At iUniverse, you get published with help from leading industry insiders. Since we offer the range of professional editorial, marketing and publishing services authors expect from a traditional publisher, your book will be at its best when the time comes to compete in the marketplace.

What is Supported Self-Publishing

Only iUniverse has professionals with extensive industry knowledge who make it easy for you to affordably publish your book. Our "learn as you publish" approach combines specialized author support with value-packed publishing packages and a variety of high-quality, competitively priced editorial and marketing services.

The iUniverse Difference

With experienced leadership from the worlds of publishing, sales and marketing and technology, our management team is dedicated to helping you achieve your publishing goals. iUniverse has the right mix of self-publishing services and products to help you get your manuscript off your desk and into the marketplace.

Publishing the iUniverse Way The iUniverse Roadmap illustrates your path from manuscript to publication. Begin your journey today!

Different Authors, Different Journeys

Whether it's a novel, a professional how-to guide, a book of poetry, a cookbook of favorite family recipes, or a memoir about growing up in a foreign country, we all have the makings of a book inside us. Now you can actually get published and achieve your writing goals with iUniverse self-publishing services.

Baby working at his computer

Baby working at his computer

Photo credit: Baby Link Project

Tate Publishing

Have you written a book? Are you looking for a publisher? Have you searched out and submitted your manuscript to dozens of publishing companies only to be turned away, time and time again? If you've answered yes to any of these questions, Tate Publishing could be your answer.

Tate Publishing & Enterprises, LLC, is a Christian-based, family-owned, mainline publishing organization with a mission to discover unknown authors. We combine unknown authors' undiscovered potential with Tate Publishing's unique approach to publishing and provide them with the highest quality books and the most inclusive benefits package available.

Tate Publishing was formed after Founders Richard & Rita Tate published their first book with a traditional, mainline royalty publishing company. They soon found that after investing many years of their lives into their work, it was no longer theirs. The rights were now the publisher's, and the majority of the royalties were going to the publisher. That's when the Tates set out to redefine what a mainline royalty publisher should be.

Remember, the most important step to get started is to submit your manuscript. In 2008, we accepted only a single-digit percentage of authors who submitted manuscripts for publication. Your manuscript will be reviewed for one of three possible contract options. First, it will be reviewed to see if the work merits a negotiated royalty advance. Second, it will be reviewed to determine if Tate Publishing will absorb all production and distribution costs with no investment by the author. Lastly, you may be offered a contract in which Tate Publishing absorbs the bulk of the production and distribution costs with a refundable author investment. However, most unknown authors who fall into the single-digit percentage of authors receiving contracts from Tate Publishing will have a refundable, author-investment contract. The author investment may not be taken from future royalties.

At Tate Publishing & Enterprises, we believe your work is just that—your work. We believe that you should make the most money from your project. You will retain all rights to your manuscript, PLUS retain the highest royalties in the business from your sales. That's the way it should be! And that's the way we do business.

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