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Overcoming Pitfalls in Self-Publishing

Using Your Appropriate Publishing Method
by Jef Bartow

Up until the 21st century, being published by a major publisher was seen as the only way to become successful as an author.  I view the recent changes and trends in publishing similar to the way gas stations went from full service with a mechanic on property to the variety of ways that we self pump and self-pay today. Unfortunately, the vast majority of best-selling authors and award-winning books come from these major publishers.  Some are even trying to disguise themselves as small independent publishers to take advantage of new and growing markets.

There are a wide variety of major publishers publishing the diversity of books in general.  If you look to the metaphysical and spirituality book markets, this number is reduced drastically.  Today, there are about 12 to 15 publishers who handle the vast majority of books in this niche.  Their overriding mindset is to publish books that will appeal to the largest and widest audience possible. Within spirituality, this target audience is spiritual beginners and those in mainstream society who want an inspiring, feel-good book of about 150 to 200 pages that includes real content of about 30 to 40 pages.
If you choose to go after these major publishers to handle your book, treat each one as a separate target and do your research to make sure you comply with all their guidelines.  First and foremost, your cover letter must demonstrate your ability to sell and how your book will outclass the competition.  Beyond that, you might figure out a way to bribe the editor, for in many ways that’s what it will take (ha! ha!).  But even more of an issue is that they control both the content and style of the finished product. What is finally published may not be anywhere near what you intended.

Another way for you to get published is to hire an agent that will circumnavigate all of the pitfalls in finding an established publisher.  Unfortunately, this will reduce your profits by including their fees.  Even more unfortunate is regarding spirituality book publishing.  Of the hundreds of book agents, less than five or so specifically focus in this niche.  And getting them to take on your book can still be difficult if they're already handling a high profile author. They just don't have the time for a new client.

A third way for your book to get published is through what used to be called "vanity presses."  These are small independent publishers who will publish any book as long as the author pays all costs, plus their fees.  In essence, they handle all the details in taking your manuscript and producing a finished printed book.  Even though they promote marketing services for your book, the majority of time you are the salesman, and only you.

Finally, you can commit to self-publishing.  During the last 10 years, self-published books have gained more acceptance in the marketplace because the distribution channels know the efforts and costs it takes to self-publish.  As time goes on and publishing moves toward self pump and self-pay, the line between self-publishing and so-called vanity presses will disappear.  To be successful in either case, you need to become not only a good writer, but also a good salesman.

Another dynamic change in publishing is what is called “print on demand.”  In the past, all books where printed in press runs. Therefore, unless you printed more than 1000 books in a run, the costs were far beyond what you could sell the book for.  In our new digital world, you can literally print one book at a time.  This part of the industry is changing fast. Where it was very difficult to do print on demand in the early part of this decade, is now becoming viable for every type of book, color or black-and-white, hardback or softcover, etc.

Images on this page provided by Two Moon Artistry

In self-publishing, it is smart to do print on demand for book reviews, book award programs and promotional purposes. When your book has gained some acceptance, then consider a press run to drastically lower costs. For example, my first book on metaphysics was hardcover, 635 pages with a full-color insert.  The print on demand run of 250 books cost $19 per book.  My first press run of 2000 books cost $8 per book.  Through normal distribution, the breakeven retail sales price for my print on demand book would have been over $42.

Picking the appropriate publishing method for your book can seem daunting.  Pitfalls exist in every method. A good way to minimize lost time and money is to get educated. There are number of publishing associations that provide meetings, conferences, online help and publications to assist you. You don't have to walk down this road alone and I strongly suggest that you don't.