Book publishing is a business, not an art form.


FOR MANY ROMANTICS out there (and I number among you), this is what we love to envision when we speak of book publishing. The beauty of bringing a story, immaterial and imagined, into life and binding it into something tactile and lasting like a book is an easy magic to appreciate.

I’m sorry to break your precious hearts, aspiring authors: when you publish your book, this is not what it’s going to look like, and if it was, nobody would be able to buy your book – can you even begin to consider the cost of a single craftsman’s time spent creating that masterpiece, let alone those materials?

For better or worse, publishing has branched out and moved on from the painstaking artisan craft you see above. Printing and binding of paperbacks is done by machines in only minutes, en masse, and hardcover publishing is now reserved mostly for those titles a publisher feels warrants the extra cost, such as special editions, keepsakes and texts so lengthy that the cost difference actually levels out.

Increasingly, book publishing is moving to digital. Most of the processes shown in the video are bypassed as typed text remains bound within its software home, is converted into a number of electronic formats for readability across devices, and is released to readers for instant, and cost-effective, download.

“But e-publishing isn’t the same as traditional publishing.”

No, it isn’t the same, but please, stubborn romantics – don’t make the mistake I did of immediately discounting the virtues of electronic publishing before you’ve even started down the publishing path. The desire to hold your published work in your hands is a strong one, and one that may put you off direct digital publishing.

I get it. I was in your shoes. But ask yourself this: is your primary goal of publishing to hold a print copy of your text in your hands? If the answer is yes, pop on down to Officeworks and print yourself your very own hardcopy of your book, and bang a few staples in it. I did. It feels awesome. Goal achieved.

Shayla Morgansen knows the cold, hard facts of a new age in publishing.
Shayla Morgansen knows the cold, hard facts of a new age in publishing.

LET ME GUESS goal not achieved, because your primary goal is to get read. Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. If your goal is to get read, then you need a book that is available and accessible to as many readers as possible. Once upon a time, this meant publishing a print book and getting it into as many bookshops as you could. The video up above shows a beautiful process of putting together a single elegant copy, but the actual production of a trade paperback is wrought with all sorts of costs and tasks the video doesn’t begin to hint at. Let’s touch on just a few of them, after the editing has been thoroughly done, naturally:

  • formatting
  • cover art
  • ISBN
  • printing
  • paper stock
  • postage
  • storage

So now you have a big box of books (you either bought in bulk to bring down unit cost, or remembered that the space under your mum’s stairs won’t hold 2,000 paperbacks and you ordered less) that you have to move. You have to approach bookshops and negotiate prices and agreements with them.  You are in for a lot of work, and while I definitely don’t mean to bring you down – after all, this is what I did, and I can assure you the hard work has moments of reward that feel oh so satisfying – I don’t want to sugarcoat it for you, either.

Now let’s look at the alternative. Direct to digital publishing. You write your book, you have it edited, you hire the services of an artist to develop you a nice cover. You make an account with any one of a number of digital publishing specialist companies (see inexhaustive list below). You upload. It guides you through the process.

You set your price. Your book goes on sale, all around the world. Anyone, anywhere, with the appropriate device, can buy, download and read your work. You didn’t have to pay for paper, printing, binding and postage, and your readers appreciate not having to cover those costs in what they pay for the joy of reading your book. You didn’t have to clear out under your mum’s stairs to fit all those books. You’re a published author, and you didn’t need to bankrupt yourself in the process.

I am not qualified to tell you what to do with your book. I’m only here to make suggestions. My suggestion is that you do what is absolutely best for you, your circumstances, your goals and your book, and you can only confidently do that with all the available information. Do not discount a style of publishing off the bat that may actually be the most effective and useful for you right now. Go and have a poke around. Smashwords, Amazon Kindle, Lulu. There are heaps more. Take a look at this analysis of ten online publishing companies to compare what they each offer and what their strengths are.

In the meantime, when you have two hours randomly spare, sit and watch this tutorial by Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords. He explains his rationale for developing his business, demonstrates the rise of e-publishing and gives some really excellent advice for new authors.

There are no rules. You can go digitally-only, or your can publish digitally and later print your book as well once you get an idea of how well it’s selling or once you have the funds to go ahead with traditional publishing.

You can do whatever you like, but for the sake of your own hard work and dreams, do it informed, and do it objectively. Books are an art but they’re also a business, so play it smart and do your research.

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