Is Self-Publishing for You? Only if you want to be assured that you will make money from your book

I wrote a book. It was published by a subsidiary of one of the world’s leading publishers. It sold 20,000 copies at $24.95 each, a total market value of almost $500,000. Yet my publisher judged it a failure – and it only netted me $2,311. Yes, you read that right: $2,311. On a book that my publisher made $500,000 (ok only $497,689 after paying the author), I, the author, only earned $2,311. And no, I’m not bitter and twisted. Just determined to expose the flaws of the publishing industry to anyone who aspires to write a book they hope to sell. Here are my tips to make money on your work:

Make more money on your book: As we’ve seen, prior to founding Lulu, my own book “Under the Radar” was traditionally published and made only $2,311 from the sale of 20,000 copies. Contrast that with Goh Koon Hoek’s first book published on Lulu.com, “e-Start Your Web Store With Zen Cart,” which sold less than 7,000 copies, but made Hoek nearly $170,000 and it’s easy to see why self-publishing has exploded. In addition to keeping complete control of the editing, design and distribution process, with self-publishing you set your price and profit from your work. With the current state of the economy, this is more important than ever.

Self-publishing allows you to do more than save money during these tough times; it empowers you to make more money. The percentage of your profit from a book sale on a self-publishing site varies, but some, like Lulu.com offer 80 percent of your sales in your pocket, after the cost of book production. Be sure to look for a self-publishing site that has no upfront costs. Yes – FREE. The only time you should have to reach into your pocket is when you want to add professional services or purchase your own book. Also make sure there are no minimum order requirements.

The beauty of print on demand (POD) is the management of your book inventory – there is none! With POD your book will be printed only when orders are placed, which eliminates the upfront cost of ordering books before they are sold, warehousing and shipping costs – giving you a stronger return on your investment.

Control of your book project is everything: Almost everyone you talk to will tell you that publishers and the editors who work for them help in small ways but drive you crazy in most of the important ones. Modern fact checking is almost non-existent. I’m still apologizing to people whose names I miss-spelled in my book, but my publisher did not do any fact checking and as a result they relied on my complete inability to spell. So given that with self-publishing you have to do all the work, you don’t have to put up with anyone’s questioning of your hard work; you get to use the tone and style you know works best with your audience.

Self-publishing also gets you out of the traditional six month turnaround time books and new versions of old books used to require. With self-publishing if you find an error, want to update a fact or add a new chapter, you can do it immediately and your very next customer… er… reader, gets a copy of the new version of your book with the very next order, not when the next version is proofread, printed and distributed to bookstores.

You don’t need the New York Times best-seller list: Consider this: 90 percent of books from traditional publishing houses do not even cover the author’s advance, let alone earn a profit for the publisher. To cover the rest, major publishing houses continue to be on the hunt for mass appeal, best sellers like the next Harry Potter or Twilight book series – forsaking the small profits from books that sell moderately, but consistently over time. Does your book fall in the latter category? Does it appeal to a clearly defined niche audience – whether that is one reader or 1,000? Self-publishing grabs a hold of the “long tail,” the concept that there are a nearly infinite number of niches, and that by leveraging technology platforms, independent creators whose work fulfils these specific interests can find a market for their book. Long-tail content might not have a place in a more traditional publishing house where an author selling fewer books is not their business model.

Would you be satisfied if your poetry, experimental fiction, autobiography, family history, essay collection, academic writing or personalized cookbook found a large fan base of readers that embraced your work and recommended it to the others with similar interests, but never made it on a best seller list? Then self- publishing is for you.

Toot your own horn: Every author wants to see their book available at major bookstores and online retailers. But that is no easy feat. If you work with a traditional publisher, the promotion of your book is in the hands of their staff, on their schedule and dependent on where you fall on their priority list. With self-publishing, while you have more control, you are the marketing and sales team that is responsible for finding the best way to reach your audience. Self-publishing sites can even assist you in obtaining an ISBN— International Standard Book Number—to sell your book through distribution to thousands of retail and online bookstore locations just like a traditionally published book. However, in this case you are registered as the publisher of your book, not the publishing house, and you control the entire distribution process.

Self-publishing sites are giving tools to authors to help reach their readers directly through their community marketplaces, personalized storefronts, and widgets for blogs and networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. Be sure to see if your self-publishing service offers social networking applications like weRead, which gives authors the ability to have their work compared favorably or otherwise by their friends, with the likes of J.K. Rowling or even Shakespeare, through their social networks. Promoting and distributing your book takes sales savvy and determination whether you are traditionally published or self-published. Make sure you are prepared to be your book’s best salesman.

For self-published authors, success comes in many different ways – winning the “Mom’s Choice Award” from the Just For Mom Foundation like 11-year-old McKenna Andrews, seeing your life-lessons from baseball being sold to the world at the Baseball Hall of Fame like Dan Migala or getting picked up by a traditional publishing house like Jill Bolte Taylor. But self-publishing is not the right fit for everyone and it’s not a decision to be taken lightly. Putting as much thought into choosing your publishing path as you did writing your work will make sure your work gets the attention it deserves.

Bob Young is the Founder and CEO of Lulu.com.