Self-Publishing Options: Four Models for Getting Published

It used to be that if an author couldn’t land a major publisher, their main alternative was vanity publishing, which amounted to paying to have your book published at a financial loss. Today new options make it possible to self-publish and still make a profit, often even a bigger profit than a major publisher would provide for most authors. Here are four ways to self-publish and make money doing it.

1. Ebooks

An easy, quick, and cheap way to get published is to publish an ebook in PDF format. Anyone who can create a Microsoft Word document can publish an ebook, and many ebooks with amateur production quality have been financially successful. However, production quality can be much higher for professional ebooks targeted at business readers, called white papers.

Ebooks can be promoted through means such as websites, electronic mailing lists, social media, and affiliate programs. The cost of creating an ebook and promoting it through these methods can be lower than $300 a year.

2. Mobile Ebooks

An even less expensive option that can be even more profitable is creating ebooks in formats designed for mobile reading devices such as Kindle. Kindle Direct Publishing, provided by Amazon, is the most famous mobile publishing service, but there are others such as Barnes & Noble’s PubIt!

There are several advantages to publishing through a mobile ebook service rather than publishing a regular ebook. One is that you don’t need to maintain your own website to sell and promote the book, though you may elect to set up a website to boost your promotional outreach. Another is that you can tap into the promotional networks of industry giants like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

A disadvantage is that these promotional partners do take a cut out of sales, reducing the profit margin you would enjoy with a regular ebook. Also, you may be more restricted with formatting, publishing rights, and pricing. Whether or not this is a good trade-off depends largely on how many copies you could sell using the resources of a site like Amazon versus using your own site and promotional tools.

3. Popular Print-on-Demand Services

Amazon and other vendors also provide services for authors who want to publish their own print books in short runs. Where a traditional publisher can only turn a profit by printing books in runs of thousands of copies at a time in anticipation of estimated sales, digital publishing technology used by print-on-demand (POD) publishers enables authors to profitably publish only as many copies of a book as are needed to cover actual sales. Many print-on-demand services also offer services such as promotion and order fulfillment.

Popular print-on-demand services include Lulu and Amazon’s CreateSpace. Lulu has looser requirements for format, ISBN number, tax compliance, and editorial review, resulting in nearly instant availability. CreateSpace’s stricter requirements translate into a review delay of a day or two prior to availability. Both Lulu and CreateSpace offer promotional and order fulfillment services to authors.

Lulu and CreateSpace do not require up-front fees for basic printing and order fulfillment services, but take a percentage out of sales. They offer additional services such as professional design and promotional support for a fee. This presents a viable option for writers who want to publish a print book quickly on a budget without a need to adhere to professional production standards.

4. Professional Print-on-Demand Services

For books aimed at a professional audience, the industry standard for professional print-on-demand publishing is set by Lightning Source, a subsidiary of book distributing leader Ingram. Lightning Source works with publishers rather than working directly with authors. They require publishers to adhere to professional production standards, with strict requirements for book cover design and interior formatting. In return, their books enjoy superior promotional and distribution support that encompasses traditional distribution channels such as bookstores, libraries, and universities as well as online retailers like Amazon. For an author seeking to reach a professional audience, working with Lightning Source through a print-on-demand publisher is a recommended option.