Sunday, April 24, 2005

In Touch With Your Inner Dostoevski?

Or, just want to turn those old unwanted usenet posts into $$$? Then, thanks to modern technology, you'll want to investigate the world of self-publishing:

iUniverse is one of more than 100 ''author services'' companies in a fast-growing industry aimed primarily at writers who can't get the attention of traditional publishers. Earlier this month got into the act, announcing that it had acquired BookSurge, a printing company with a self-publishing division based in Charleston, S.C. BookSurge uses print-on-demand technology that makes it possible to guarantee a two-day turnaround to print a book, even if only one customer orders a copy. For the first time, print-on-demand companies are successfully positioning themselves as respectable alternatives to mainstream publishing and erasing the stigma of the old-fashioned vanity press. Some even make a case that they give authors an advantage -- from total control over the design, editing and publicity to a bigger share of the profits.

It was the issue of control that appealed to Amy Fisher and her co-author, Robbie Woliver, editor in chief of the weekly Long Island Press, where Fisher has a column. They were confident that the book would sell well; indeed it appeared on the New York Times paperback best-seller list on Oct. 24, if only for a week. ''We figured we might make more money doing it this way,'' says Woliver, who called the royalties ''significantly higher'' than traditional publishers', though he would not reveal the percentage. ....

Self-publishing companies like iUniverse have been growing rapidly in recent years, displacing old-style vanity presses and competing with the number of titles produced by traditional houses. AuthorHouse in Bloomington, Ind., which leads the pack with more than 23,000 titles, sold approximately one million volumes between 1997, when it started business, and 2002; in 2003 alone, it sold another million volumes, mostly through online retailers, according to the company. ....

The difference between traditional vanity presses and modern print-on-demand publishing is essentially technology. Instead of expensive offset printing, which mainstream publishers use, print-on-demand relies on a glorified digital printer. ....for as little as $459, iUniverse will turn a manuscript into a paperback with a custom cover design, provide an International Standard Book Number -- publishing's equivalent of an ID number to place the book in a central bibliographic database -- and make it available at, and other online retailers.

.... ''Publishing has been an arcane specialist skill under the control of a guild of people that are unique and different from anyone else,'' the founder and chief executive of Xlibris, John Feldcamp, says. ''Those skills have been so complicated they haven't been accessible to normal human beings. What's happening is all the technologies of publishing are becoming increasingly cheap and accessible,'' as almost every aspect of production, including design and printing, has gone digital.

And, in a blow to television situation comedy writers, it turns out that Kramer would have been able to produce a coffee table book, on coffee tables, with ease:

Michael Spinozzi, executive vice president of the Borders Group, notes that the future of self-publishing may be in altogether less commercial forms. ''People are looking to come away with 20 copies of something very personal and very important to them: a cookbook with all the recipes they've collected through their lives; capturing a sporting season or a major occasion,'' he says.

Indeed, someday you may be able to walk into your grocery store and convert your Christmas photos into an instant coffee-table book written in your own deathless prose, Xlibris's Feldcamp predicts. Almost anybody will be able to say, ''I published my book last week.''

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