Self-publishing in the digital world

One of the biggest factors that demotivates would-be novelists is the harsh reality that only a tiny fraction of all manuscripts submitted to publishers are ever picked up and professionally published. For those who don’t just want to write for the sake of it, but who actually want to share their works with the world, this thought is often enough to stop them writing altogether.

However, an exciting and accessible alternative is opening up for these writers – digital self-publishing. Traditional self-publishing has always been considered an exclusive, vanity-driven niche since the associated costs are so high and willing publishers are so few. Publishing digitally removes almost all of these barriers, and it keeps the control in the hands of the author – though it does come with its own challenges.

The Wall Street Journal had this to say about digital self-publishing:
“Fueling the shift is the growing popularity of electronic books, which few people were willing to read even three years ago. Apple Inc.’ s iPad and e-reading devices such as Amazon’s Kindle have made buying and reading digital books easy. U.S. book sales fell 1.8% last year to $23.9 billion, but e-book sales tripled to $313 million, according to the Association of American Publishers. E-book sales could reach as high as 20% to 25% of the total book market by 2012, according to Mike Shatzkin, a publishing consultant, up from an estimated 5% to 10% today.”

Here is a quick rundown of everything you need to know.

What is it?

Digital self-publishing means creating an electronic version of a book (called an ebook) without the assistance of a publisher. Authors write, compile, market and sell the books themselves, without any intervention or help from a professional publishing company (though often with the help of other experts like editors and designers).

What do you need?

These days, creating your own ebook is extremely easy, and there are only a few things that you will need. First, and most importantly, you will need your completed and edited manuscript. You will also need a computer, internet connection and decent ebook creation program – in fact, you can create an ebook directly from Microsoft Word, simply by saving the text as a PDF document. If you plan to make money from your book, it helps to have the marketing and web skills to promote the work yourself, and the design skills to create a professional-looking product. If you don’t, you can always hire a freelance consultant to help with these aspects.

How does it work?

Digital self-publishing can either be very simple or quite complex, depending on your web savvy and your goals. In the simplest form, digital self-publishing just involves putting your finished ebook online where anybody can read it. More complex options, which can also earn you money, involve adding your book to Amazon’s online ebook store, creating a website for your book or finding creative online ways to market it (on social networks, for example). The process is up to you — the time, research and effort you put in will equal the rewards you get out.

Can you make money?

Absolutely – there are so many ways to sell, promote and market your book online that you are only limited by your time and motivation. Since you have very few overheads – editing and design are generally the only costs you need to budget for – and since most or all the profits will come to you (depending on the online store’s policy), digital self-publishing can be a very lucrative and rewarding venture. Many authors have found that selling a book online for US$3 has earned them greater profits than a full advance and book launch; JA Konrath has written extensively about his experience with self-publishing.

If you are prepared to market yourself actively, you stand a good chance of success.

To find out more about self-publishing, join the Random House Struik Creative Writing course, which starts on 21 February 2011.



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