Check Please!

Self-Publishing for Fun, Profit and an Ounce of Legitimacy


For the past few years I've looked at different options available to expand the reach and scope of Perplexing Times. I've considered books, but found little interest from publishers. I've considered making a print-edition, but despite the low costs, the energy required to make a serious run of it would be crushing. Aside from merchandise, with which I've had minimal success, the idea I kept coming back to was self-publishing. It can be easy and profitable, if done properly.

Self-publishing has had a sketchy reputation amongst writers, readers and publishers alike due to a combination of understandable problems. It can be high cost (both for the author and the buyer), low quality, and the sales will invariably be a fraction of what they would through a traditional publisher. But there are ways around most of these problems, assuming you're willing to do the work.

Companies like Author House, iUniverse and Cafe Press are notoriously expensive. They may charge as much as $10,000 just to get set up, and in the end all you get is a batch of non-focused, cookie-cutter press releases and a plain old book with a prohibitive price tag. The value of the countless up-sell features is never even remotely justified. If you have more money than you know what to do with, hire a qualified publicist and go from there.

You are the only interested party in your book's success. If you don't promote it, no one will know it exists. is the best self-publisher I've found. There's no setup charge and the cost-per-book remains reasonable. The only up-charge available is $99.95 for global distribution, which will get you an ISBN number and list your book on Amazon and Google Books. You don't have to opt for global distribution. Lulu will still give you an author page, fulfill your orders and mail you royalties; you'll just have to do more marketing to get the results. Unlike some self-publishers, Lulu assumes no rights over your work and requires no minimum contracts for time, quantity or money. You retain all rights and can step up to a traditional publisher at any time you like.

The quality of Lulu books is good, but the real question of quality lies within your finished text. As time consuming as it is, you need to correct spelling and grammatical errors. It's a hassle, but it's worth the trouble if you're looking to be taken seriously. At a minimum, it is worth having someone besides yourself go through the text carefully; preferably, you should get a professional copy editor to make sure your manuscript conforms in every respect to the University of Chicago style book. Nothing turns off pros in the book publishing industry quicker than sloppy editing and inconsistent style.

No matter who you use, you are the only interested party in your book's success. If you don't promote it, no one will know it exists. The average self-published book sells just 50 copies during its run, but bear in mind this factors in cooking and poetry books, which rarely sell well. After 18 years as the host of Love Line, Dr. Drew Pinsky's last book only sold 50,000 copies, and he's the biggest name in his field.

But if you have an internet publication, you already have an interested audience and a free, active marketing machine. Much as Google Adsense aspires to find the most relevant ads for the most relevant pages, your book is the most relevant product promoted on your site. If you're a member of a publishing community, such as HumorFeed, there may be members interested in assisting you by reviewing your new book. Nonetheless, you should assume your sales will be low.

The truly hard part, however - actually writing the book - may not be as hard as you think. If you have enough content in your website's archives to stock a book, your work is already half done. It would be a good idea to come up with a rationale for your selections and an introduction; you may also want to sort your work by theme or topic, and perhaps give your articles a bit of polish. With these details taken care of, all you have to do is put it together in a PDF, upload it and you're done. Go put links up on your site and see who's interested in buying a copy. And because of the technology used in printing, you can include photographs on as many pages as you like with no additional cost for printing or setup, so you can make it look as much like the original article as you feel is appropriate. (Of course, it's wise to be careful about using copyrighted images. At a minimum, make sure you give credit where it's due.)

So if you're thinking about getting more mileage out of your archives or pursuing something different, there's no reason to put it off any longer. The keys to success in self-publishing are straightforward. You just need to take all aspects of the project as seriously as you would expect a publisher to do on your behalf. Don't cut corners on setup, editing or the scope of your marketing campaign. Since the costs are low and you've already done most of the work, it's so easy to take the next step forward. It may not bring you more revenue or legitimize your writing, but at the very least it will broaden the scope of your publishing career and give you something real you can put on your mantel.

It makes a great conversation piece, and that's one of the biggest driving factors behind writing satire; having something interesting to talk about when guests come over.