When writers decide to self-publish, one issue is cost. The creative control of self-publishing may be liberating, but absorbing the costs of book production… less so.
On the other hand, it affords the opportunity to be creative about it. Some artists finance self-publishing projects before the books are published – artist/entrepreneur and opera singer Ja-Nae Duane raised funds to publish her book How to Start Your Business with $100 on a site called Fundable.com. Another crowd-funding site, Kickstarter.com, in which creative types seek pledges to fund their potential projects, lists about 30 literary projects currently seeking support.
Print-on-demand technology has the potential to simplify some of the complexities and costs of self-publishing for writers. So the news that Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, MA now operates a books-on-demand machine might have some interesting ramifications for Massachusetts writers.
The machine, dubbed Paige M. Gutenborg (and pictured, left), was featured in Wired.com and other national media due to its affiliation with Google Books, who have digitized and made available books from Harvard University’s libraries (that’s right, sagacious plant fans, The Sagacity and Morality of Plants is FINALLY available to non-Harvard students).
But it’s the self-publishing possibilities that may prove most interesting to authors. According to the store’s self-publishing guidelines, authors pay a set-up fee and submit the book as PDFs, which you can develop using the extensive do-it-yourself instructions. When books are printed, there’s a cost-per-page for authors.
How do writers get paid? Bronwen Blaney, print-on-demand manager at Harvard Bookstore, says there are two primary methods. The most common would involve an interested reader requesting the book, which has already been scanned for the machine. “So even if we don’t have a copy on the shelf,” she says, “if a customer calls, comes in, or orders through Harvard.com, then we would print and sell the book.” The writer then receives the difference between their selected retail price and the cost-per-page to print.
Alternately, an author could print and pay for a number of books, and sell or distribute them on his/her own. An author could also choose to have a copy kept on the store’s “Printed on Paige” shelf.
Though the machine has been operational for just a few weeks, Bronwen says that she’s already working with a number of authors interested in printing their own books. The first author to use the machine? Steve Almond (Fiction/Creative Nonfiction Fellow ’08), who printed a short run of chapbooks.
That detail drives home one of the technology’s most intriguing facets: flexibility. On-demand machines make it relatively easy for authors to print a book of trade paperback-quality (or close to it), be it a chapbook, tome, novella, or eclectic mixture only your mind can conceive. Assuming you don’t have an exclusive contract with a publisher, you could continue to publish traditionally but opt to self-publish for works that don’t quite fit with a traditional press.
Of course, other questions about self-publishing still loom, such as: what do you lose by way of marketing, distributing, editing, publicizing, and/or presentation resources when you’re doing it all yourself? I can think of at least two self-publishing success stories – Massachusetts authors Lisa Genova (Still Alice) and Brunonia Barry (The Lace Reader) – in which eventual deals with a mainstream publishers were a big part of that success.
Have any intrepid ArtSake readers experimented with self-publishing? We would love to hear about how you made it – or are making it – work.