2010 starts tomorrow

30 September 2009

Tomorrow is October 1st, time for a new year on the copyright page.

What?????

It would be reasonable to assume that the copyright date on a book matches the calendar year in which a book is published, wouldn’t it? Well, yes. However, this isn’t so. (Nor is this date the same as the release date.) Rather, a convention among publishers is to use the next year’s date in the copyright notice for any book published on or after October 1st.

This practice confuses many authors when first they encounter it but really the answer is simple. Moving books from one warehouse to another (or from printer to warehouse) can take weeks. Add to this the time to deliver a book from warehouse to bookshop – and for a customer to then come in, find and purchase that book – and, before you know it, more than two months have elapsed. Suddenly it’s January and that brand new book now looks like last year’s book.

Perceptions matter – as simple as that.


Indexing methods

29 September 2009

Following on from my previous post, there are four main ways of preparing an index, none of them ideal.

All that you need for the first method are the final proofs and maybe some paper. For the second you need a PDF file of the proofs. The last two methods require that you have a single text file generated from the typeset proofs (or, if you are brave, from the edited files delivered to the typesetter). Saved as a MS Word file, this must then be paginated to match the typeset proofs by playing with the font size and/or inserting hard page breaks. (The file need not be pretty; it simply needs to have the page breaks – every single one of them – at the same place as in the typeset proofs.)

  • The traditional method is that, while you proof-read the text, at the same time you prepare a manual index, recording the entries with highlights or notes in the proofs, or keyed immediately into a text document.
  • A modern variation on this method (which I personally favour) is to prepare the outline of the index (minus page numbers) beforehand and then fill in the page numbers by searching on a single PDF file of the book. Acrobat’s search functions are very useful here and of course the text you are working with is the real paginated book (I find that psychologically useful).
  • The mark-up method involves entering indexing tags in the book file itself. This can be as slow a task as the traditional method but, when completed, the resulting index is instantly generated and with luck should not need a lot of adjustment (e.g. to divide a large number of single-level entries into groups of two-level entries). Index generation can even be re-run repeatedly in conjunction with adjusting the tagged entries until the index is perfect.
  • The quick and dirty method commonly used is to create a concordance file (a list of words to be indexed) then let Word automatically generate the index from your book file. Though quick to create, this is not something I’d recommend; the resulting ‘index’ will be full of junk entries that you can spend days weeding out and it may lack entries that later you realise are necessary. In the end, then, this method may save no time at all.

Just what you index is another issue of course, likewise how you structure your index. These are topics for later posts (or alternatively you can take a look at our book; there’s a lot more on the subject there).

(NB: A substantially revised treatment of this subject can be found here.)


When to start on the index?

29 September 2009

Something I have also been recently asked is:

I have not yet started compiling an index for the book. Should I begin doing that already (a rough version), or can it wait for the time being? If I should start doing it already, how much space do we have for it and what indexing method do you suggest?

An index may be unassuming, loitering at the end of your book with not a lot to say for itself. It is also one of the last things to be made, usually by the author, and often under great time pressure at the same time as the vetting of the second (paginated) proofs.

Nonetheless, the index is perhaps the most-used pathway to searching a book, accessed far more times than the table of contents. A poor index signals to the reader that this is an inferior book. Do not fail your book at this last hurdle, mere days before it goes to the printer.

Indexing need not be a last-minute affair. Here are a few suggestions:

  • You can prepare in advance by producing a mind map of the book that identifies elements you wish to include.
  • From this, you could draw up a list of index entries (and sub-entries) minus the page numbers.
  • If you feel confident that the text sent for typesetting will change very little during typesetting, you could even create a book file from this text in your word-processing program and begin entering index tags. (This is indexing method 3 – see my next post.)

Just how much space is available for the index is really not clear until after the typesetting is well advanced. Only then will the book’s final extent begin to be firmed up. (If, however, you are interested to try calculating the book extent, then you might find it worthwhile taking a look at my earlier post on this subject.)

As for choices in indexing method, see my next post.

(NB: A substantially revised treatment of this subject can be found here.)


How many charts and tables in a book?

28 September 2009

An author asks:

About the tables and charts in the book, do you have any rough rule of thumb on how many tables and charts would be sufficient or too much? In the dissertation, I had 8 charts and 14 tables and I am looking to cut those numbers considerably. Also, do you have any general advice on what kind of tables and charts to keep and what to discard?

Many years ago, we published a study of entrepreneurship in Vietnam that included over 200 tables. This was quite a nightmare to typeset and not exactly easy reading. I’d never do this again and doubt that many other publishers would be game to take on such a mammoth task, either.

Mind you, ultimately, it all depends on the field and subject. This was an intense economic analysis, a type of study in which masses of charts and tables are almost expected. In contrast, one would expect a political or historical study to have far fewer charts and tables. As such, ‘merely’ 8 charts and 14 tables may be OK for such a study. The question is, however, is that number OK? Accordingly, ask yourself

  • What is the purpose of this table or that chart?
  • Can its meaning be worked easily enough into the text instead?
  • Is a table really the most effective way of presenting your information, or is a chart/graph a better communication tool?

In line with my ongoing obsession with readability, I would argue that you only include those charts and tables that illuminate the text. In addition, avoid like the plague any charts or tables that are oversized and/or have excessive detail, also those that are only meaningful if reproduced in colour (more about these points in later posts).


Elements of a book

28 September 2009

Planning a successful book requires that you first conceptualise your study (more about that another time). But, once you have done that, then it’s time to plan in detail. Essentially, you need to build a structure for your book, one that not only considers how best to present your argument but also ensures that it is of a suitable length, that it includes what needs to be included (and excludes the rest), and that it has the narrative pace and coherence that will draw the reader through your text – in short, that it is a satisfying (even uplifting) experience for the reader.

One of the first steps in this process is to map out your manuscript. Here, it is a good idea to be quite clear what is (and need not be) required – in short, to understand the various elements that should eventually constitute your book.

Generally, these elements come in a specific order:

  • (Half title page – something the publisher makes)
  • (Half title verso page – also something the publisher makes)
  • Title page (your publisher will change this, of course)
  • (Copyright page – something the publisher makes)
  • Table of contents
  • Lists of figures and tables
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements (if not part of preface)
  • Author’s notes, lists of abbreviations, chronology, etc.
  • Introduction
  • Body chapters
  • Conclusion
  • Appendices
  • Glossary (if not in front matter, a placement common with many European publishers)
  • References/Bibliography
  • Index

Not all books contain all elements, but before you start it is useful to have thought through if, say, your book should include a list of abbreviations or a glossary, as these are much easier to write as you go along rather than after the main text is finished.

Note also that those elements constituting your manuscript are fewer than the final elements making up your published book. Here the difference is that your publisher will insert extra material in the prelims, most importantly a copyright page. These are bracketed in the list above.

These are elements which you need not worry about. Focus instead on shaping (and getting started with writing) your manuscript.


What do publishers want?

25 September 2009

Like everyone else (and especially like their authors), publishers want to be successful. Just how they get there is another matter, one that baffles some authors and leaves others enraged.

Perhaps the best way to approach this, then, is to understand where publishers are coming from and where they are going to.

Environment

I have described the woeful state of academic book publishing earlier (and no doubt shall do so again) and also pondered on the very survival of publishing but here are a few quick points:

  • There has been a dramatic decline in library sales, the bread and butter of academic publishing, in part due to rising periodical subscription charges and IT costs swallowing bigger chunks of libraries’ budgets.
  • Sales to individual scholars have also fallen, in part because too much is being published (thus hard for scholars to maintain comprehensive, personal libraries).
  • No significant new source of income has yet been tapped.
  • Falling sales have prompted publishers to raise prices causing further falls in sales.
  • The recent global recession has seen universities cutting back on their funding for their presses (indeed, some university presses have been closed or sold off in recent years).
  • New print-on-demand (POD) technology is allowing single-copy printing but, though this is excellent for reprints, it is not cost-effective for quantities over 300 copies (and for most books an initial printrun under this amount is not commercially viable).
  • The POD revolution may lead to on-demand ordering/printing for consumers (e.g. using the Book Expresso machine described here), leading to the death of the traditional bookshop and end of the current global book supply chain.
  • There is a proliferation of e-book readers, none of them particularly good yet in terms of reading for extended periods of time but the likelihood is high of an ‘iPod moment’ in e-publishing within the next five years.
  • Hopes of new income from electronic sales are driving massive investment in e-publishing but economic returns to date have been negligible (and, worse, this development undercuts the status of the printed book, currently the prime revenue earner).
  • Demands from funding agencies for Open Access is pushing publishers into offering free electronic content but a viable business model for this is not yet in place.
  • Copyright, the bedrock of the publishing business model, is under attack from several quarters, not least because it is seen as incompatible with the internet and e-publishing revolutions.

Some of these developments will have a huge impact on the future shape of publishing and already today they shape publishers’ perceptions and expectations.

Which publisher?

Another key point – but one that many people lose sight of – is that (unless you are dealing with a really small press) ‘the publisher’ is more than one person.* Each has their own personality, interests and agenda. Over and above that, an author will encounter at least three faces of a publishing house:

  • editorial (focused more on scholarly content)
  • production (focused on costs and deadlines), and
  • marketing (focused on financial returns).

These divergent interests interact, not always coherently, nor to the benefit, comprehension or sanity of the author.

(*Note: Actually, in any publishing house, the publisher is often one person but here we are taking about ‘publisher’ in another sense.)

Ramifications

OK, so these are some of the places where academic publishers are coming from but what effect has this environment (and recent changes to it) had on publishers’ expectations and behaviour? The main effect is that today academic publishers are taking a more hard-nosed, commercial approach to the books they publish than was the case a decade ago. In concrete terms, the key changes are:

  • Increased commercial behaviour.
  • Cost cutting, outsourcing of especially production work to outsiders, and increased workloads and stress for remaining in-house staff.
  • The rising power of marketing departments and corresponding decline in the power of editorial staff to decide what is published.
  • Editors must take the bottom line into consideration when signing up a new title.
  • Each new book project must stand or fall on its own merits (far less cross-subsidization).
  • Demands for author subventions are more common.
  • Greater aversion to financial risk, hence to taking on book projects that look commercially unpromising or expensive to produce.
  • A far greater proportion of book proposals and manuscripts are rejected.
  • A big increase in the number of ‘crossover’ titles (of interest beyond an academic readership) and interdisciplinary titles.
  • Greater willingness to publish purely commercial titles (aimed at the general public) with little or no scholarly value.
  • Reluctance to publish highly specialized studies.
  • Reluctance to publish edited or multi-author volumes (more about this in a latter post).
  • More ‘fad’ and ‘me-too’ publishing as publishers seek to emulate the successes of their competitors.

Hit list

Although these developments have wrought great changes in publishers’ expectations and behaviour, what publishers want from their authors is not all that different than before (though there may be far less flexibility and room for compromise than there was in the past). Here are some of these wants and desires:

  • Publishers want to publish only books that will succeed. This has important implications for what book projects are viable, and hence for how you formulate and develop your book project, find its ‘right’ publisher(s), and pitch it to them.
  • Once a book proposal *is* accepted, the publisher wants the book to succeed. This requires full commitment from publisher and author, and no half measures from either side.
  • Your publisher expects you to deliver the manuscript that was agreed upon (and contacted). If different, make sure that the manuscript is far better than promised (and accept that this is not something for you alone to judge).
  • Your publisher requires you to be a team player working your butt off to achieve the book’s final publication; tasks assigned will be finalized swiftly and efficiently (and without any comment or criticism of the publisher’s own delays and failures!)
  • At all time (not just after publication), the publisher wants you to tirelessly promote your book to its widest possible readership, especially by utilizing channels and contacts not available to the publisher.

All the rest is detail.

But coming later …

That said, a detailed ‘bitch list’ is something that I shall prepare one day soon, possibly together with my assistant, Samantha, who yesterday reeled off a screed of pet hates – top of the list: ‘Don’t inundate me with lots of tiny corrections. Why not instead just send me your manuscript when it’s finished.’


How to calculate book length

20 September 2009

In an earlier post I discussed broad issues relating to word count and book length but didn’t actually explain how the length of a book is calculated. Let’s take a quick tour of copy fitting, casting off and related issues here.

Which side of the equation?

When we talk of copy fitting, generally we think of a publisher’s production editor or typesetter looking at fitting the delivered amount of text, tables, illustrations, etc. into a specific number of pages. (This is why, as recounted in my earlier post, so much fuss is made about authors delivering a ms according to what was specified in the author contract.)

However, in your case (especially if you are self-publishing your book or a bit worried about having hassles with your publisher), it may be smarter to look at the equation from the other side – to calculate the likely number of pages resulting from the setting of X thousand words, Y tables, Z illustrations, etc. This is also known as casting off.

More than word count

Obviously, a prime determinant of book size is the word count. No matter how much you adjust the other variables, if the ms is only 50,000 words in length instead of 95,000, then you have a problem if the book was announced as being 288 pages in length but the most it can be stretched to is 160 pages.

However, other variables do enter the equation, among them:

  • page size – academic books tend to follow a 9″ x 6″ (228 x 152 mm) format but the smaller traditional British Demy octavo format is also used a lot.
  • font/typeface – some fonts fill a lot more space than others but obviously here as elsewhere readability and what publishers want are also important considerations.
  • font size – this varies depending on font but usually it is between 10 and 12 points for body text, a bit smaller (sometimes much smaller) for notes.
  • letter spacing (kerning) – you should assume this is set at 100%.
  • word spacing – best to ignore as this is not easily adjusted.
  • line spacing (leading) – usually 1.2 times the font size with any deviation from this needing to be handled with care.
  • amount of normal text vs notes – as the font size for normal text is a bit bigger than for notes, the number of notes can have a significant effect on chapter/book extent.
  • number and size of tables and illustrations – calculate in terms of half and whole pages including captions. (The related issue of oversized tables and illustrations will be discussed in a later post, likewise problems with image resolution.)
  • word length – MS Word only counts the number of words not their length, nor does it care if your language is full of bombast and excess syllables. But, apart from being harder to read (the subject of forthcoming posts on readability and simple English), such ‘flab’ demands much more hyphenation of your text and even then the result will be looser text filling a far greater extent than the word count would imply.
  • chapter breaks – these can fall awkwardly (e.g. just before a new part that must start on a right-hand page) hence why it is more accurate to calculate the length of a book by its constituent parts than in the whole.
  • elements of the book – all of these constituent parts must be considered (e.g. space allocated for an index, something not delivered with the main ms).
  • sections – most books are printed on large sheets of paper folded and cut into 16-page sections. Part of the typesetter’s art is in ensuring that the number of blank pages at the end of the book is as low as possible.

Feel overwhelmed? If you do, then you are not alone. However, the above list is for typesetting nerds not ‘real’ people. For your purposes, many of the above elements can be safely ignored or incorporated into a simple procedure, as you shall see.

Making your estimate

If you have a page-layout program like Adobe InDesign, then it is a simple matter to calculate how many pages your manuscript will fill by creating a dummy book and then tweaking its layout parameters. Otherwise, you can make a pretty accurate calculation of the length of your book by following the steps below.

  1. Create a map of your book, listing all of its elements in your first column. This map can be made on paper but it is relatively easy (and ultimately will save you a lot of time) to put it on a spreadsheet. (I will make available a sample Excel template for free download when I can sort out where to store such a file. Meantime, a screenshot of such a file is at the end of this post.)
  2. On your map, define additional columns that later will hold the following values – in column 2: word count; 3: number of tables and illustrations; 4: calculated extent; 5: adjusted extent; 6: end page number
  3. Determine the average number of words per page. Usually, this is about 400 for a standard academic book but only about 350 if the page size is Demy octavo. Changing the font, font size, leading, etc. will change this number a bit but, for your purposes, it is best to stick to these standard values.
  4. Assign actual extents to those book elements where this is known (e.g. the first 4 pages of the prelims are standard and – depending on if you have a dedication, how detailed are your table of contents, and if you have lists of tables and illustrations – you can also safely guess the next few pages). For the index, you can probably only guess at this stage but here too you need a value. Enter these fixed values in columns 4 and 5.
  5. Count the number of words for your preface, chapters, bibliography, etc., putting their values in column 2. Make sure that you include footnotes and endnotes (if using MS Word, by checking the appropriate box). Normally, it’s enough that you count these notes but obviously a lot of notes will skew your page calculation.
  6. Count the number of tables and illustrations for each chapter (and other element in your book), putting their values in column 3. Although they may be much smaller, the assumption here is that each table or illustration fills an entire page. We’ll adjust for this in step 8.
  7. Calculate the (unadjusted) extent of your preface, chapters, bibliography, etc. To do this, divide the word count by the words per page set in step 3, add a whole page for each table or illustration, then round up to a whole number of pages. Enter these calculated values in column 4.
  8. Assess your calculated extents and put adjusted values in column 5. Reasons for doing this may be that some tables and illustrations are smaller than a whole page in size, there are a lot of endnotes (which will be set in a smaller font size), the chapter is followed by a part divider starting on a right-hand page, and the last page looks to be only a few lines long which could easily be saved in the typesetting.
  9. Calculate a running total by adding the adjusted values, putting the end page number for each element in column 6 (i.e. the end page number for Chapter 4 is calculated by adding its adjusted page value to the end page number for Chapter 3). The final page number (effectively, the book’s grand total) will appear in the bottom row, that for your index.
  10. Calculate the final extent (and number of blank pages at the end of the book). To do so, get the number of sections by dividing the grand total of pages by 16, then round up to a whole number of sections, multiplying these by 16.

Ten steps – it’s a simple as that.

Where now?

Is the likely extent of your book too long? Too short? In most cases, if the variation in length is only about a section (16 pages), then it probably won’t matter. Your publisher’s production editor or typesetter may swear a bit and try to tweak the book design so that all the material does exactly fit the announced book extent. But, if s/he fails, it is more than likely that your publisher won’t even blink at this slight variation.

However, if your book is likely to be significantly over or under its contracted/announced extent, now is the time to start sweating and thinking hard about how to retrieve the situation. Serious chocolates for your editor may be in order, but this may not be enough.

Extent calculation for the book, "Getting Published". (Note that pagination restarts after prelims.)


The death of community and consensus

18 September 2009

In a series of recent posts, I have explored the issue of self-publishing from many different angles. To recap these posts have been:

A wider issue

There is, however, a wider issue with self-publishing that troubled me as I began sketching out the series – its impact on the wider scholarly community and the often-unstated consensus that gives coherence to this community. Unfortunately, while this issue troubled me, its shape was – and still remains – unclear. Hence, what I write today may be reworked at a later stage.

Broad communities

Among the reasons why you might consider self-publishing your scholarly output are:

  • This is where the future is (the slow death of the publishing house in its present exclusive form and the gradual adoption of open, collaborative forms of authorship)
  • Altruism (the free exchange of information/research)

Certainly, these ideas and ideals are common among people engaged in such collaborative endeavours as Wikipedia, in the Creative Commons movement, and in open-source publishing more generally. These are indeed broad communities given coherence and energy by their mission.

So what’s my problem?

My problem is that these interest groups have many scholars among their members but they are neither scholarly groups per se, nor are scholarly concerns as such a central concern for them. Moreover, they may function as communities but they are not and do not represent the interests of the wider scholarly community in its entirety.

Elements of the scholarly community

Of course, I run the risk here of invoking an ideal – the scholarly community – that is not grounded very much in reality. That said, despite its fragmentation into fields, factions and fashions, I think that we can discern the outlines of a scholarly community found around the world (areas of it global, others firmly anchored in a local setting). In part, this is defined by:

  • The pursuit of knowledge
  • A spirit of questioning and exploration
  • Scientific inquiry framed by an intellectual discourse and grounded in the application of commonly accepted methodologies
  • (In most cases) collection, analysis and presentation of evidence that is observable, empirical and measurable (sometimes derived from experimentation)
  • Information exchange and debate
  • Scrutiny and validation by one’s peers
  • Advancement on the basis of merit
  • Collegial responsibility

The last two points are of course debatable. No doubt some people would add a few other defining characteristics as well: greed, envy, in-fighting, etc.

Where self-publication doesn’t measure up

But, if the above features are reasonably correct, where is the difficulty in placing self-publication firmly within this community?

Scholarly endeavour is not rewarded equally so let’s not get too starry-eyed here. Nonetheless, I guess that in one way or another my misgivings all relate to (lack of) scrutiny and validation by one’s peers and what this implies. A few points:

  • Some presses are less rigorous than others in enforcing scholarly standards but there is a general consensus among them on what the standards are. Realistically, can these standards be provided by the ‘wisdom of crowds’ instead?
  • If no common standards are applied to measure all scholarly output, can there be any coherence to the body of knowledge or confidence in its veracity?
  • Peer review has its faults but replacing it with a ranking system derived from social networking would have quality losing out to popularity as the main determinant of worth.
  • Peer review is a semi-altruistic activity; although a notional payment may be received, it is an important way for scholars to contribute to their field and thus build a ‘community of excellence’. Replacing it with social ranking would likely be divisive and encourage scholarship based more on activism than on the pursuit of knowledge.

In addition, there is the issue of value to consider. Publishers exist in part because they offer quality in return for payment (sales finance the editorial input). However, a tenet of open-source publishing (home of many self-publishers) is that information should be free. While there can be debate about the correlation between the price charged for a publication and its intrinsic scholarly value, it is undeniable that not charging for a work makes it far less likely that there will be any (impartial) editorial scrutiny of it beforehand.

As such, in my mind self-published works have a place in the scholarly world but not an important one. Certainly, they may be good for specific individual scholars but as a phenomenon they do not meet our collective needs; they do not measure up.


Making the self-publishing decision

9 September 2009

In most cases, self-publication is not simple, easy or cheap. For these reasons, in the past week or so, I have tried to explore the issues, present the options and offer you as much advice and information as possible to help you make an informed decision if this is the publication route for you.

But enough mythering on the matter. Now it’s decision time.

If it were up to me, I’d make a gut decision based on all the input I’d received. But let’s assume that you are more analytical, concerned to make an intelligent decision. If so, then it should involve answering these questions at least:

  • What are your aims and motives?
  • How will you measure if your publication is successful?
  • How suitable is your text?
  • What you can manage and afford?
  • What format do you want to self-publish in?

Understanding your aims and motives

Sorry but, if your sole reason for self-publishing is stubbornness – that you have already invested far too much time in writing your manuscript and are loath to admit that the effort has been a waste of time – then grief may be the end result. You need to have a positive reason to self-publish, one that gives you a reasonable expectation of success.

Such positive reasons could be that:

  • There is an interest in your research but only from a small audience.
  • You want to throw an intellectual grenade into your field, which is in the thrall of a small elite that even dominates what is published.
  • None of the literature for a course you are running meets your needs.
  • Professor X is retiring and a festschrift would be an ideal way to honour her achievements.
  • You love getting your hands dirty and want to learn more about how books are made.

There are many good and valid reasons for pressing on where no traditional publisher is willing to go. Just make sure that yours are sustainable.

Defining success

Your measures of success should be directly linked to your aims and motives. For instance, the course that you ran was so much easier (and popular, too) by using course material tailored to its contents, or the highlight of your professor’s retirement function was the look on her face when presented with the festschrift.

Assessing your text

Be stubborn in achieving your aims, in the pursuit of success, but please show a little flexibility and freshness in your judgement when reassessing your manuscript. Perhaps there is something useful to be gleaned from that abominable peer review report. Maybe you should ask the opinion of your colleague, even if he does wear the same shirt several times a week. Above all else, as urged in my earlier post, be ruthlessly honest with yourself.

Determining resources

Once your basic material is good, there is likely to be a clear correlation between the effort you put in and the impact your work achieves. However, only you can decide what is the right level of sophistication to aim for. In part, this determination depends on what is appropriate but equally (if not more) important is what you can manage and afford. Try to be realistic about estimating what investment of time and money it will cost to reach your target. Then double all your estimates, and for good measure double them again. Here, the ballpark costs detailed in my earlier post may be useful, likewise the discussion on doing it all yourself or employing others to do some of the work.

Deciding on format

Print or electronic or both formats? And if print, are we talking about laser printing, photocopying, single-copy digital printing or long-run lithographic printing? The electronic choices are equally difficult. Take inspiration from my post on these formats but above all else draw a straight mental line between what you aim to achieve and the best form(s) to achieve it.

Decision time

On this basis, you should be able to make a decision. If that is to go ahead with self-publication, then I am certain that your chances of success and self-satisfaction will be much higher because of the research and analysis you have put into making this decision.

And if you decide not to proceed with self-publication? No, your time and effort have not been wasted. You will have learned much about writing, about what readers and publishers want, and (not least) what is really involved in the entire publication process. This is precious knowledge (even wisdom) that will shape your future writing and generally be immensely useful for you in building a successful academic career.


DIY or working with partners

6 September 2009

The refuge of the poor and miserly is to do it yourself. There are limits, however; none of us would contemplate a DIY approach to brain surgery. Self-publishing is a lot simpler – and has less lethal consequences than brain surgery if you get it wrong – but here too some people will decide that the DIY approach is not for them.

So what hired help is available for self-published authors?

Freelancers

To some people, the publishing world may seem to be run from an office suite on Fifth Avenue (it isn’t) but the work is done elsewhere, much of it by freelancers. Hence, one approach to outsourcing (some of) your self-publishing work is to hire the appropriate skilled practitioner to do a specific job – a copyeditor to clean up the text, for instance.

The problem with this approach is that, unless you already know the person and the quality of their work or take the time to do a thorough investigation of potential candidates, you could as easily hire a substandard copyeditor, typesetter, etc. as an exceptional one. On the other hand, if you get it right, the results can be out of this world. One small problem: the cost of using such freelancers can also be out of this world.

Author-pays presses

The alternative approach is to go to a single provider. In this respect, authors are particularly well served these days; a whole new industry catering to their needs and dreams has been spawned by the internet. There are several companies that offer assistance to self-publishers, usually employing print-on-demand (POD) technology to do so. Among them are Lulu.com, mentioned in an earlier post.

It varies what such author-pays presses (or ‘POD publishers’) offer and what they specialize in. Some offer a standard package of services whereas others allow you to pick and choose services from an à la carte menu. All typically offer to print and sell your book for you, charging a flat fee for printing plus a commission on any sales that they facilitate. Quite a few companies also offer editorial and typesetting services. Their prices are not necessarily lower than those of freelancers but convenience is one of the attractions of such presses.

As with freelancers, standards vary between companies so you need to enter into such arrangements with your eyes open.

Vanity publishers

Is there a difference between such author-pays presses and the vanity presses of ill repute? Yes, but you need to watch out for the differences. Essentially, author-pays presses offer services to self-publishers in return for payment; the author stays owner of his/her work. If you want ten copies of your book, you will pay this much for the printing and shipping. If someone else orders your book, you will be paid the difference between the sale price (including shipping) and the printing cost minus a sales commission.

Contrast this with vanity presses, who usually masquerade as orthodox presses and expect the author to hand over their manuscript for ‘normal’ treatment except that it is the author who pays (indeed, pays a premium price for any work to be done). Moreover, a vanity press usually takes ownership of the author’s work in exchange for the false prospect of eventual royalties.

Doing it yourself

For many self-publishers, however, actually doing everything themselves is an essential (and existential) part of their role. There can be painful financial outlays, much work, and huge frustrations involved in designing and producing your own book. But also the project brings excitement, the work taps previously unknown wells of drive and creativity inside you, and there is much pleasure and satisfaction to be had from knowing that the final product is yours and yours alone.

As detailed in my previous post, however, there are also costs in doing it yourself – real costs in time, effort, equipment, software and training.

Many would argue that these are worth it.

Decision time

But enough digging, let there be no more comparing of apples and oranges. Now, finally, the time has come to make a decision, the subject of my next post.