How to publish online and make money

The catch? Amazon takes 65 per cent of the income from sales. Ouch. Fortunately, there are lots of other options — of which more later — for budding authors. What you get out of them is subject only to the limits of your imagination.

It doesn’t have to be an embryonic bestseller because self-publishing is best suited to limited editions. Anything over 1,000 copies and you would be better off going to a traditional printer to take advantage of economies of scale. I know a lot of people who are self-publishing a record of their own lives together with memories of their parents and grandparents as a bit of family history. That’s not vanity publishing, just a great way to preserve memories for future generations and add to the archive of local history. Self-publishing is ideal for that.

Blogs
Others publish their blogs or photo albums. Every year I try to put the best photos of the past 12 months from a photo site (Flickr.com in my case) so we have the equivalent of the traditional photo album which will last longer than my Flickr subscription and my hard disk. You could equally download an out-of-copyright book from the not-for-profit Gutenberg archive or from the millions of books Google has scanned or extracts from the Wikipedia — and it’s all legal.

For years I have written poems as a relaxing pastime — rather like other people collect stamps. I couldn’t face the prospect of collecting rejection notes from agents and publishers so decided to self publish. The first book I did by paying for 1,000 copies to be printed in the traditional way (because it was only a little bit more expensive than printing 500).

By the time a second book was ready new technology came to the rescue. I used Lulu.com, which enables you to upload files and cover designs for nothing, and launched it in the virtual world.

For marketing, I experimented with ‘product placement’ by attaching poems to photos or paintings on Flickr and other sites thereby generating discussions that you wouldn’t get with traditional publishing where the author is remote from the reader.
Through a chance meeting on Facebook, the Glasgow indie group ‘A Band Called Quinn’ is recording a number of the poems for a CD, including ‘Truth’ which can be experienced here on YouTube. My new book I hope to publish on Lulu and an iPhone app, if I can find a decent one. The point about all this is that new technology offers new and cheap ways both to publish and promote your books and we are only at the start of the learning curve.

Which self-publishing site to choose? There has been a lot of change recently. This is partly because of Amazon entering the market (and now Apple as well) but also because the process is becoming simpler and the operation more vertically integrated. Amazon has bought Createspace and Lulu has purchased We Read, a social book club with a presence on Facebook and other social sites with a claimed 3 million readers. This could help it towards reaching the nirvana of self-publishing: to become the iTunes of books.

They seem to be through these problems, however, and now print in the UK so delivery takes days rather than weeks and postage is down to more reasonable levels. The proof of my latest book arrived while writing this column, five days after pressing the final button.

Lulu is my favourite for text-driven books, but if you are more interested in picture-driven publications then Blurb.com is the one to choose.

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