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The art of independent publishing

I've always wanted to write and publish books. When I was a girl I had a dream to be a novelist long before I realized how hard it would be for my temperament to develop and stick to such a long-term project. I have the utmost admiration for successful fiction writers both because of their talents and their focus.

Anyway, along came in July 1994 which has turned the publishing industry on its head (and don't we wish we'd bought its stock when it went public in 1997 and is since up some 20,000%). It used to be that you had to write a spectacular query letter to find an agent who would peddle your book to one of a small oligarchy of top publishers or legions of small publishers. Then you would get a lot of editorial help and everyone would take chunks of the price of the book. The agent would be paid a small amount and the publishing house would get the lion's share. A known writer who had done the significant work of sitting and writing could get 15% of the royalties for each book sold (7% perhaps for a first-time author).

The traditional model worked well for the publishers for decades. Agents filtered out books of low saleability and editors could concentrate on books that would profit, often from previous best-selling authors or celebrities. Unknown but talented writers could dream, and of course, a minuscule minority broke out of the pack in big ways, e.g. J.K. Rowland.

Oh, there were and still are always printers ready to print books, some with token editorial assistance, but all on the writer's checkbook. Beautiful books are printed in Israel in all shapes and sizes, hardcovers and paperbacks. I looked into that option and was well impressed by the quality, less so by the price. Privately printed books generally have little chance of finding room on bookshelves in stores or reaching a readership beyond the writer's family and friends.

Now, the world of book publishing is rapidly changing for the benefit of all who wish to create books. Anyone with a computer can tap out a book of any length and publish it at no or very low cost. You can write down stories from your life and have them printed and bound by Amazon and then buy copies for a low price - maybe $4 -$7 depending on the length of the book, to give to your grandchildren. That's what H. B. of Netanya did. I saw his book there on the site, but it's not intended for anyone outside of his family. You could fictionalize your life and write a novel, publish your book of poems or sketches gathering dust in a drawer, or produce a,record of your life lessons and wisdom, as other Anglos in Israel have done. has made publishing about as easy and inexpensive as it can be made (naturally this is a source of dismay to potential competition). They've taken out all of the middlemen and peripheral staff, and they give the writer/book creator a significantly higher royalty than the traditional publishing companies did. Authors take control of all aspects of their book creation or hire their own independent editors, illustrators, graphic designers and book marketers. You can pay Amazon for some of those services too if you don't know where else to look.

This is a learn-as-you-go proposition. Amazon's free services can take you through step-by-step, and include tutorials and the possibility to email questions to a representative. Or you can always find your own freelancer/consultant who will format and upload your text for you if you don't want to spend the many hours that editing and formatting may entail.

There are two ways to work with Amazon. I chose to publish my first two books on CreateSpace which creates the paperbacks and then transfers the texts to Kindle format. For the third book I did the reverse. I published first in Kindle. Then I uploaded and published the CreateSpace paperback version. The digital format is available for all types of computers, smartphones and androids and not just the Kindlewhich I don't even own.

Alas, fewer people are buying real books, and you can see in every bookstore still in existence that they have branched out to selling coffee or other non-book products to entice people into the stores. My first three books were specifically intended to be used in paperback as they are meant for reflective journal-writing, but even so, they mainly sell in digital form. As I write, I am happy to say that dozens of my books have been downloaded in North America, the U.K., Germany, India and Australia in addition to the much smaller number of paperbacks sold mainly in the U.S. and Israel. I'd really be happy if I could say thousands of books, but this is not likely to be a full-time source of income for me anytime soon. 

J K Rowling . . . talented writer Photo Credit: Daniel Ogren

You can create a Kindle book for no money and there is no minimum length. In other words, as an example, you can write on your home computer a 'letter to my (grand)children' type of document with your life experiences and gems of advice. If it's in straight prose form it is very easy to format, upload and put on a cover through the free Cover Creator - and voilà! Including pictures, poetry or a play makes the formatting a little harder, but still manageable. In digital format there is no minimum price, so you can give it away for free and tell whomever you want to download it for posterity. Of course you can do this sort of thing in an email attachment with no effort, but wouldn't it be nice to say you wrote a book?

The CreateSpace format has a minimum price, set by Amazon, due to printing costs. This is the price for the general customer and you can choose a higher price if you want. Nevertheless, the writer with his/her address on record is entitled to a writer's discount of about 40% in order to encourage him/her to order multiple copies to distribute.

Gone are the days when self-published authors would end up with a storage room of 983 copies of their book because there was a minimum print run of 1,000. Now, it's print on demand. A computerized system called Lightening Source prints only the quantity ordered for purchase. Amazon is not the only game in town; it's just the easiest and cheapest, for now.

Your best bet is still the traditional route if you want your book to be available in bookstores and libraries. My books can go there too, but I have to physically take them and donate them to the library or make a great sales pitch to the bookstore owner. All in all though, I'm pleased, and these days when you ask me what I do, one of my answers is that I'm an independent book publisher. 



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Saturday, 30 September 2023

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