When I had finished high school, my parents asked me what I wanted to do with my life.

“I want to be a writer.”, I said.

They asked me: “So, what do people do who are aspiring writers?”

“Well, I said. Not much. They get drunk, do drugs or whatever. And write, I guess. “

“Ah”, they said.

typewriter self publishingFor lack of better advice we decided that I should try my luck studying lingustics. At least that would allow me to steal some time to write, I thought.

Which is what I did. For years. Participated in writing circles, read stuff on poetry slam stages, scored a few publications here and there, but lived mostly from teaching language to teenagers whose company I preferred anytime to the self-described “artist”-types and would-be comedians, all waiting to be “discovered”.

The years went by and my father (who had been working many years as a marketing manager) suggested that I write detective novels set in Bangkok, where we had lived for a few years. “I’m sure that will sell!”

“Right.”

Instead I continued doing what I did. Writing. And learning about publishing stuff via the Internet. And I always wondered why, if James Joyce, Nietzsche and many others had been “self-publishing” their stuff, it had such a bad image? When people asked me what I did and I said, “I write”,  the inevitable question was:

“Real publishing or only ‘self-publishing’?”

Self-Publishing has a bad image for a number of reasons. First of all self-publishing seems to imply that a person without skill or having made the effort to work on his craft can “buy” an audience by letting the dollars speak. The fact that there are many bad writers and a lot of companies who will print and publish anything if paid the correct sum seems to validate this assumption. But we have to keep two things in mind here:

1. There’s a big difference between Vanity Publishing and serious Self-Publishing. In the first case, you go and pay a so-called Vanity Publisher an outrageous sum of money to print your books and send you a few hundred copies, depending on how much you can pay! And then you sit on those copies because there’s no distribution, unless you pay even more. This is Vanity Publishing: Printing for people with too much money and low self-esteem.

2. Self-Publishing, contrary to popular opinion is not the “bad writer’s way out”. To me, it simply means not working under contract but being your “own boss” which, although you don’t get to present your work to a huge mass of people right away, actually has many advantages.

  • when a book is being sold you get all (or bigger) shares of the sale than if you are under a publisher
  • you can write whatever you want
  • you can wrap it in whatever way you want
  • you can publish it whenever you want
  • if it fails there is no publisher to blame

Now all of the above traditionally refers to the paper-publishing model. Whether you go the way of sending manuscripts to publishers and ending up being rejected, or savagely edited or go the way of self-publishing. It’s a long and painful process before your writing finally sees the light of day.

It had always bothered me that instead of focusing on the actual writing itself, people were fighting with their publishers over chapters and single words or arguing with printing houses over prices of paper and ink.

It seemed such a huge waste of time. This is why I’d been publishing my stuff online for years. The moment it was out, I could focus on other things. Which mostly meant, writing new stuff.

Apart from being able to write articles like this one whenever I like, everyone can open a blog and publish their thoughts, stories and whatever, accessible to the whole (connected) world within a click – The Net is revolutionizing the way we write, read and publish books.

And it seems that online publishing is reaching a stage these days where it’s becoming more and more worthwhile to engage in it. People are becoming more aware of the options. The system works better from day to day. For example, the ebook which I published last year as a personal case-study of ebook-publishing potential keeps selling at a steady pace.

Here are some reflections on the current state of the ebook publishing “industry”.

Places to Publish eBooks Online

1. Amazon

Everyone can upload a book through their “Direct Publishing” site. But be prepared that if you have a beautifully formatted PDF or other document file, Amazon’s converter is going to chop it up and you’ll have to do some serious sisyphus work to correct it. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Amazon’s ebooksales are soaring.

Fifty percent of people who purchased an ebook in the past month bought it at Amazon’s Kindle store. Ebook sales, under $1 billion in 2010, are projected to more than double by 2015 to $2.8 billion, according to Forrester. As a destination to purchase books, Amazon’s brand is made. (source)

Nevertheless, high competition forces down prices (from which then again Amazon takes its bite of commission)

This is why someone says on the absolutewrite forum:

Self-publishing on Kindle, for most authors of fiction, is likely to become a stepping-stone to real publication rather than a viable business in its own right. The model going forward will most likely force authors to price at $0.99, in hopes of garnering significant sales that will attract an agent and publishers, and then a real book deal. (source)

I also have stuff on Amazon (both music, paperback and ebooks) but all of the above makes it very annoying to publish there. Especially the ebook publishing process feels like a straightjacket. Once you got your document formatted in a way Kindle won’t make a mess of, you’ll have to wait 2-3 days for it to be approved. Fair enough, but then for each tiny change in category, or a tag or whatever, again 24 hours waiting (at least).

Somehow it feels like you’re just fueling Amazon’s empire!  I’ll probably continue experimenting with it but my primary focus will not be with Amazon for the moment.

Instead I reserve my excitement for courageous new projects like ebookling, whose basic premise is very similar to what we’re trying to do in our own little shop here at Learn Out Live: “Lots of free stuff + supporting independent publishing. “

UPDATE: ebookling looks rather dead. The idea was good, though. Anyone else wants to try?

2. eBookling

Officially launched on February 15th, 2011, the three-person team behind eBookling makes sure to publish high quality ebooks only, crafted by independent individuals as part of an interesting business model: If an author sells a book, he gets 50 %, ebookling gets 50%. On the other hand everyone can sign up at ebookling and make 25 % on each of the books as an affiliate. The whole process is very simple. The site is clean and friendly.

Allegedly, in less than two weeks over 1,000 ebooks were sold!

It’s founder Colin Wright explains their vision as follows:

“We’re trying to create an ecosystem within an ecosystem that will encourage people to consume and create this type of publishing. As a user you want to help your favorite authors make money and you may be able to do that through a personal newsletter, book club, embedding the affiliate link on your website or just having a great social network. I’m waiting for the day when someone can quit their job and make a full income off of affiliate sales.” -Colin Wright (source)

Ebookling thus challenges two “black sheep” at the same time: self-publishing and the “affiliate sale” model. The first is tainted by the vanity publishers, the second one by the evils of multi-level marketing schemes and more. Will ebookling manage to lift the shadow from these approaches? Maybe not. Is it worth trying? Certainly.

I am currently working on an ebook for aspiring online teachers, a pre-release version is already available for Kindle, but I’ll release a more elaborately formatted version, soon, on both eBookling and here at Learn Out Live.

All in all, the ebook publishing world is still a Wild Wild West. That’s what makes it so exciting.

…to end on a more contemplative note:

What does it mean to be “a writer”, anyways?

Is the answer the same today like 50 or 100 years ago?

Is it about the writing or the publishing?

What validates an author? Sales-statistics, truckloads of paperbacks and appearing on TV?

Or is it maybe something else. Something more subtle. Something to do with self-respect and a willingness to share?

UPDATE: for more self publishing opportunities see also barnes and noble, iBooks, or Smashwords, if you don’t want to deal with the retailers directly.