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Self-publishing booms

11 October 2004

As the Frankfurt Book FairWorld's largest trade fair for books; held annually mid-October at Frankfurt Trade Fair, Germany; First three days exclusively for trade visitors; general public can attend last two. draws to a close, it seems a good time to look at what other routes to publication exist for writers who feel excluded from the international publishing circus's focus on bestsellers. Self-publishing has become an increasingly viable option, although it requires energy and the ability to get out there and market your book. The advent of print on demand publishing, making it possible to print one copy at a time and to avoid the crippling cost of an initial print-run languishing in your garage, has made self-publishing a possibility for many frustrated unpublished writers. Last year more than 70,000 self-published books were published in the USA alone.

A number of highly successful writers, including Louis L'Amour, Leo Tolstoy and L Ron Hubbard, have taken the self-publishing route to publication at some time in their careers. More recently, there's been Stephen King's online experiment and Dave Eggers' self-publishing of You Shall Know Our Velocity. These authors have wanted independence, but for others it has provided a way to attract publishers' attention and to get their books taken on by big publishers. The Englishman Stephen Clarke self-published his quirky A Year in the Merde, which pokes fun at the French, printing 200 copies and putting his book on the Internet after he had failed to find a publisher. He now has a big publisher in tow and looks set for major success.

Peter Inson has just launched his debut novel Dunno on the London Tube after getting fed up with comments such as: 'It's a wonderful idea and somebody ought to publish it, but I can't be sure that it will be the next world bestseller'.

American writer M J Rose has shown the way for unpublished writers by focusing on self-publicity. As long ago as 1999 she managed to get Lip Service taken on as the first self-published book chosen by the Doubleday Book Club. This catapulted her onto the Today programme and good sales for her risky self-financed 3,000 copy first print run. With her advertising background she is dismissive of publishing: 'I know of no other business that would invest in a product, spend a year developing it, then throw it up on the shelves without serious marketing to see if it lives or dies.'

If you despair of getting of finding a publisher for your work, self-publishing may be worth considering. If you have a means of selling your work, such as a lecture tour, you may make more money that way. If you want to attract a publisher's attention, then showing that there is interest in your book and how it has already sold may put you in the limelight. Niche books with specific markets can do well, fiction is harder. But don't ever think that it will be an easy option, or that you won't need to put the same energy and determination into selling your book which went into writing it in the first place.

WritersPrintShop gives the lowdown on self-publishing.