Ask the Editor—Frequently Asked Questions: Self-Publishing

  • What is self-publishing?

    Self-publishing is when the author pays for the full cost of the book’s publication and controls all or most aspects of the publishing process—production, marketing and distribution.

    Self-publishing is not the same as subsidy publishing. Subsidy publishers charge the author for a specific package of publishing services and give the author a percentage of all book sales.

  • Should I self-publish?

    People self-publish for many reasons, but usually authors decide to do so after being rejected by traditional publishers and agents. Other reasons might include the need to have total creative control of the product or the timeliness of the book’s content.

    Before self-publishing, you should ask yourself several key questions: Who is my book’s audience? How will I reach and market to my book’s audience? Do I have the time and dedication to promote my book? Many successful self-publishers say writing and producing the book is only 5 percent of the work—the rest is promotion.

  • What is print on demand (POD)?

    With print on demand technology, your book can be printed in very small runs or as orders are received. Your book is stored in electronic form on the POD company’s server, where it can be retrieved when a print request arrives.

    Many different types of POD services exist, and the cost and services greatly vary. Keep in mind that with POD publishers (e.g., 1stBooks, iUniverse), you will not be listed as the publisher—they will.

  • How do I get a self-published book into bookstores?

    For a bookstore to order your book, it usually must be available from a wholesaler (e.g., Ingram) and/or distributor (e.g., Independent Publishers Group). Because distributors sell books to wholesalers and bookstores nationwide, your best bet is to find a distributor to represent your book. Doing this is a difficult, but not impossible, task. See below for resources on how to do this.

    Alternatively, sometimes you can visit bookstores with book promotional materials in hand and get them to work with you individually, although this approach works better with independent stores than with chains—who usually have regional book buyers.

    Be aware that POD books are rarely stocked by bookstores because they are often nonreturnable and not sold at the traditional discount.

  • Where can I find more information about self-publishing?

    Several guidebooks to self-publishing provide valuable information even for those traditionally published. The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing by Tom & Marilyn Ross (Writer’s Digest Books) tells how to write, publish, promote and sell your own book.

    Or look for The Self-Publishing Manual (Para Publishing) by the acknowledged guru of self-publishing, Dan Poynter, who is WD’s self-publishing columnist. His book provides valuable info on starting your own publishing house and printing and selling your book. Plus, Poynter’s Web site provides a good online starting point for self-publishers—visit

    Writer’s Digest also publishes a special newsstand-only magazine for self- and e-publishers, Writing Success; the next issue is due out in September and will be on sale at

    It’s full of fresh ideas on book sales, marketing and promotion, and includes an up-to-date resource directory detailing important companies, organizations and Web sites every self-publisher should know about.

    Visit our Speak Out page at for more information and to submit questions for consideration. Due to the volume of mail we receive, only questions of a general nature will be answered.

    From the August 2002 issue of Writer’s Digest.

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