Self-publishing is the new blogging

Everyone a writer, everyone a publisher, everyone a citizen journalist.

Everything that could be digital would be. Content wanted to be free. Then we had to get paid. But animated smack-the-monkey ads were so declassé. Ch-ching, Google AdSense, ch-ching, The Deck advertising network, ch-ching your ad network here.

Everyone a writer, everyone a publisher, everyone a citizen journalist, ch-ching.

First the writers and designers did the writing. Then the non-writers who had something to say did it. Then the people with nothing to say got a MySpace page and the classy ones switched to Facebook.

And ch-ching was heard in the land. And the (not citizen) journalists heard it, and it got them pecking into their Blackberries and laptops.

And then the writers and designers, ashamed at rubbing shoulders with common humanity, discovered the 140-character Tweet and the Tumblr post. No stink of commerce, no business model, nothing that could even charitably be called content, and best of all, no effort. Peck, peck, send.

When you’ve flown that far from Gutenberg, the only place to travel is back.

Enter Lulu, all slinky hips and clodhoppers. Self-publishing is the new blogging. No more compromises. No more external deadlines. No more heavy-handed editors and ham-fisted copyeditors. No more teachers, lots more books.

You don’t need distribution, you’ve got PayPal. You don’t need stores: there’s only two left, and nobody buys books there, anyway. You don’t need traditional marketing. Didn’t we already prove that?

Got book?

[tags]blogging, editing, publishing, self-publishing, writing, writers[/tags]

56 thoughts on “Self-publishing is the new blogging

  1. But what’s left when everything has been said before? And most importantly who will have the last word?

    I try to be creative with my writing but I often erase whole paragraphs at a time knowing that no one reads my blog anyways. But still I try.

  2. I’ve been hankering to make a book on Lulu since I first heard of it two years ago. But maybe I need all of the hassle of external deadlines and pressure from hamfisted editors to actually write one. Nah :)

  3. Like Jerry Seinfeld said about the seedless watermelon, “We did it. It’s done.”

    Maybe everyone will go home, have babies, devote their time to raising a family, be solid citizens and live happily ever after?

    I can dream, can’t I?

  4. Self-publishing isn’t real publishing. It’s vanity press with false promises. Unless you don’t mind that your self-published book will only be bought by you and three friends.

  5. When Walt Disney was self-promoting and self distributing his short cartoons … that was vanity? Of course it was. Professionals are just amateurs who don’t give up.

  6. And this from the man whose traditionally-published book that I bought from one of the two stores is sitting next to my computer at work… Brilliant as usual, regardless.

  7. An interesting idea, but I thought self publishing had been around while before blogging. I have seen, over the years, many of the more literary bloggers I know self-publish books, but I have never seen it really take off. The hard part of selling a book is still making it known, and I’ve never understood the appeal of making a book that will be read by only a small portion of your blog audience (let’s fact it, few others are going to buy your poorly- (or perhaps un-) marketed self-published writings.)

  8. Blogging is still a long way from reaching critical mass. Blogging is true self publishing only when the blogger has full control of his or her blog. Throwing words at or through Facebook or Myspace or similar is publishing for someone else.

  9. I first discovered lulu when i read about a book from 37signals called “Get Real”. It’s a very interesting way to bypass all the overrated high class editors and just do it yourself :D Although there’s a reason why those editors exists..

  10. “No more heavy-handed editors and ham-fisted copyeditors. No more teachers, lots more books.”

    Of course the corollary to that statement could also be: “No more correct spelling, no more proper grammar, no more smooth flowing exposition…”

    Editors at least serve some very important roles. Every professional writer that I have ever heard speak on the subject loves their editor.

    Not that I’m against self publishing in the least, (I think its a fun idea and Lulu makes it even more fun), I’m just trying to show some love to the editors of the world.

  11. I guess Lulu’s a viable option if you are only going to sell a few dozen or maybe a few hundred books. But these analyses of of the new world for self publishing, involving a print-on-demand solution, never seem to mention that the cost per book goes through the roof when you don’t use offset printing. If you print 5000 copies of a 300 page book using a traditional offset press, your cost per book will probably be right around $1.50. It’s likely to be double or triple that (or more!) with a service like Lulu. I’ve priced things out in the past and these print on demand companies don’t make any sense if you have strong reason to think your book will sell at least several thousand copies.

  12. Initially, Its nice that folks in the niche now have an outlet. And if you publish a book on Lulu, you still have to be able to persuade someone that you have decent content.

    I think Twitter better captures the conversational nature of the social web better than most alternatives.

    Point well taken about the declining quality of content.

  13. … never seem to mention that the cost per book goes through the roof when you don’t use offset printing …

    Yes, but print-on-demand, although expensive per copy, is a great way to ‘taste’ a market for your book before investing tons of money in offset. Run it up with Lulu, order a few dozen copies, and see if you can make it fly … even a little. If it does, then you can safely order a proper batch of offset books, without as much danger of them ending up in boxes under your bed …

  14. By the way, I find discussions of revenue models to be in extremely poor taste. In my mind, the point of self-publishing is to furnish high-quality insight and design to an audience that demonstrably wants it – and in the case of design, at least, to give them something of higher quality than they’d be getting from the commercial publishers.

    “How much money can I make by doing this?” is the wrong question to start with. One has to start by respecting – by cherishing – those people who favor you with their attention. Do the right thing by them, and the revenue will take care of itself.

  15. Yawn.

    Another trendy “Web 2.0″ site just like all the million others out there.

    This is really getting boring.

  16. aren’t people learning from the music industry? from Chuck Berry to the Beatles to the Sex Pistols, if you leave your work in other people’s hands, you’ll get shafted. The smarter bands are paying for all their production costs and then *leasing* the recording to record companies for fixed term contracts.

    Perhaps that could be a model for Adam and “Everyware” (well, next time).

    but I’m facing two problems with “backyard publishing”, especially when used in an education context

    1) in a lot of cases (tho not all) it’s all been said before. the only thing left is different interpretations or viewpoints and new mashups of the same old stuff.

    2) just who are these authors anyway? and why should I consider what they’ve written worthy of my (or my students) attention? there’s a battle being fought in academia at the moment, because a lot of content has been written by people who might have dubious credibility (and possibly no formal training), their work is not peer reviewed and not published by respected press or in recognised journals. Wiki’s, blogs and self published work is regarded as the product of amateurs for an amateur audience.

    don’t get me wrong – these aren’t my arguments, just what I’m facing. With the education sector I’m in (computer games, digital media), traditional academia just can’t keep up. I personally regard what I read via MXNA as more worthwhile than some out of touch “boffin” publishing a pile of unreadable drivel in an obscure journal, but when you’re trying to get courses accredited, the point of where to get “content” from arises.


  17. @Gary, Lulu is not a new Web 2.0 site, not by any stretch. They’ve been around a long time.

    I personally have only used the service to publish a journal that I kept when taking a year out to travel. I printed full colour, so it wasn’t cheap for me, but the quality was great and wow, what a keepsake. And the great thing was that I could prep it all myself, save as PDF ready-to-print, crreate my own cover and bingo.

    It was never done for revenue, I doubt anyone else will ever print it, but, like Apple’s iPhoto book printing tools, it gave me the opportunity of creating something that looked polished and that I would want to keep.

    That said, if I chose to self-publish I would definitely consider doing it this way.

    You can see the result here: (on Flickr, not in a set – this is the first photo taken, so move right to see example)

  18. By the way, I find discussions of revenue models to be in extremely poor taste. In my mind, the point of self-publishing is to furnish high-quality insight and design to an audience that demonstrably wants it

    I always felt that way about web content, too. Remuneration for my creative efforts was the last thing on my mind. Fortunately karma is a boomerang. Which means, book or website, if you focus on content and love your readers, eventually you might even get paid.

    The path of love, not money, is the right model for an individual content creator to follow.

    If you’re starting an alternative publishing house, then you actually do need to crunch some numbers, if only to ensure that your business is viable. (You need to be able to cover costs and pay your authors.)

    Lest my post be misinterpreted as dismissive of the value of editors, I’ll just point out that A List Apart has three (not counting technical editors): Erin Kissane (lead), Krista Stevens, and me. Some of our writers may complain of our interference but most will tell you a good editor really helps.

    Helps is an understatement. Good editors are pearls beyond price.

    I’ve had good experiences with the editors at New Riders. I wouldn’t be where I am without them. Not every writer has this good experience; certain kinds of genius require a special care and understanding that even a great commercial publisher may be unable to provide.

    Writing the second edition of Designing With Web Standards gave me the privilege to work with my own editor, ALA’s Erin Kissane, the greatest living avatar of word wisdom. Every writer needs a good editor. Self-publishing doesn’t mean doing without that. Any really good writer knows that and plans for it.

    When 37signals self-published, much of their book’s success was due to the following they’d built with their community leadership, great products, and years of intelligent blogging. But some of their self-published book’s success was due to the credibility they earned by writing an earlier book published by a real, credible publisher.

    Applauding good authors who choose, for good reasons, to self-publish, does not mean attacking publishing as an industry.

    At this moment, Happy Cog is hip-deep in a creative project for a renowned traditional publisher. We are book freaks and word junkies; it’s one reason they hired us.

    Blogging initially disrupted traditional journalism but is now seen as complementary to it. The same effect will shake out of the recent increase in self-published books by great authors who don’t need to self-publish but choose to do so for reasons of control. The death of print is greatly exaggerated; print won’t die; paper will outlast ones and zeros by millennia. But publishing is in turmoil; smart publishers (and new publishers) will learn from what is happening.

  19. Most of this discussion has been had in more depth and better at the many self publishing/small publishing/alternative publishing blogs out there. In answer to the offset point – so are you willing to buy 2500 copies of my book that I can’t distribute? If you are naive enough to think that you can guarantee several thousand copy sales in any publishing model then by all means go ahead – I doubt you’ll sell enough to break even.

    Lulu not only lets you test the waters – it gets you free (but not universal) distribution – that alone makes it at least the financial equal of offset printing a run of books if you don’t already have a good distribution channel in place.

    As for writing/editing/etc. Sadly, it is obvious that nobody cares. I’ve been a professional writer then editor for 25 years. My knowledge and skills have been discounted more as each year has passed.

  20. I self published a fiction kindle book and have had 0 sales. It’s not that the book is no good, it’s that I haven’t figured out a way to surface it on the Amazon site (other than doing some initial tagging and such), and since I work full time it’s not likely I’ll get the time. So I’m just gonna send it to an agent and see if I can get it published for real.

    As someone who has published several non fiction books, I actually think professional editors are a pretty good idea, btw.

  21. I’m sorry both that you’ve had that experience, Owen, and that it’s left you so cynical.

    Having just published a pamphlet with Lulu, I can tell you that it simply did not meet my expectations for quality, the cover stock particularly. It’s acceptable, barely, for what it is…and what it is still isn’t much.

    The one way in which the Lulu model does point forward is that you can download the book’s entire content, for free, from the same page on which you order the physical item. This is crucial. (To me, charging money for a PDF is obscene.)

    But for anyone that is truly invested in the qualities and pleasures of books, it’s not going to wash. Offset and quality binding are the only way, and happily these are more accessible than ever.

    I just don’t agree with you, at all, that “nobody cares.” In relative terms, this may seem to be the case, but in absolute terms the audience for specialist, small-press, letterpress and other niche publications is orders of magnitude larger than it ever has been, and the methods and means of production proportionally more accessible. I would argue that this is a direct consequence of the Web’s helping those of us who do care discover the vibrant communities of interest gathered around these things.

    Ironically, it’s the massifying, decentralizing, distributed, universal-solvent Web that’s both enabled me to see that high-quality self-publishing is an economic proposition, and afforded me access to the magnitude of audience that makes it so. So cheer up a bit: there are all too many reasons to be depressed about the state of the world, but this isn’t one of them.

  22. I published a book (a manual) on Lulu and get an average sale of one a day ($11.00), day in, day out. More than what I had anticipated. No publisher would touch it because it niche subject. The book has objective content like my site so people are willing to buy something they have experimented can see will be useful (manuals are much better held in the hand than on the monitor). I am not against revenue or discussions about it, revenue allows me create, keeps my site up and content (lots of it) available.

  23. Writing a book with Apress gave me a good experience of what professional writing is like. They pushed me when I needed it, and made exuberant suggestions when necessary. I must say, writing books is far more different than blogging

  24. Writing books is way harder than blogging, yes. And brown isn’t really the new black.

    Self-publishing without first building an audience probably doesn’t make much sense, but here’s the kicker: traditional publishing without first building an audience also doesn’t make much sense, unless you’ve written the next How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read—and, let’s face it, you haven’t.

    Traditional publishers have expertise you and I lack. But they don’t have advertising money, at least not for most titles. Without advertising and marketing, a book will die whether it’s self-published on Kindle or Lulu, or traditionally published by a respected name in the business.

    Traditional publishers rely on you to build an audience, maintain an audience, and sell your book. That’s not what they do for you. What they do is provide expertise in creation and production, and get it into distribution channels. The rest is up to you.

    Unless you have written a blockbuster, your book won’t sell without (conscious or unconscious, commercial or accidental) community building on your part. You’re going to have to shag ass.

    So if you’ve had a bad experience with self-publishing, it doesn’t mean self-publishing sucks, and it also doesn’t mean your book sucks. It may just mean that you haven’t built an audience (yet). But, hey. You still can. Hint: starts with an “inter,” ends with a “net.”

  25. Self-publishing isn’t real publishing. It’s vanity press with false promises. Unless you don’t mind that your self-published book will only be bought by you and three friends.

    I think it’s really important to distinguish between self-publishing nonfiction and self-publishing fiction. Most of the above comments are about nonfiction self-publishing.

    The self-publishing industry in the fiction world has long preyed on new writers who are easily taken in by scams that promise big sales via vanity publishing. Publish America is the biggest and most well known scammy press in the field, but there are dozens of others. And even if you avoid the scammers, self-publishing in fiction is still a long, lonely road that leads, for most people, to sadness. There are, very occasionally, exceptions; Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi come to mind. They write geek-friendly SF and have huge online followings, and generally have a lot in common with successful nonfiction self-publishers. (Their books are also now published by “real” houses, though I believe Cory at least continues to distribute his work online under a Creative Commons license.)

    Oh, and FWIW, I buy PDF books pretty frequently — half a dozen a year a least — and I don’t regard paying for them or charging for them as obscene. For me, the primary value doesn’t lie in the printed object, but in the work of the writers and editors and designers who put the thing together in the first place. And that’s despite my obsessive love for books as objects as demonstrated by the number of boxes I have to lift whenever we move. (I’m also happy to pay for downloaded music.) But that’s just me.

    And Jeffrey, you really are much too kind.

  26. Everything you say is an accurate description of what is taking place. Self-publishing is simply an idea whose time has come. It’s rather useless to argue anymore if it’s a good or bad way to get your work out. However, the reason self- and POD publishers still get looked down upon is due to the attitude of “No more heavy-handed editors and ham-fisted copyeditors. No more teachers, lots more books.” Many self-publishers act like 7th graders with a substitute in the classroom. The truth is that the self-publishers who are truly successful take a cue from the people who have been publishing for centuries (at least decades). Publishing is still a business and, like any business, the shortest route to success is to learn about the industry from people who have been successful in it and copy what they have done–then tweak it to make it better.

  27. Getting Published Through a “Self-Publishing Company.”

    Writers are confused and it’s not their fault. In searching for the best way to break into print, they come across self-described “self-publishing companies”. I get emails asking if I can self-publish for writers. That is impossible!

    The problem is that many vanity publishers are calling themselves “self-publishing companies.”

    We have been building name recognition for self-publishing for more than 35 years; there are more than 85,000 of us in the U.S. Self-publishers, write, publish and promote their own books.

    According to Wikipedia, Self-Publishing is the publishing of books and other media by the authors of those works, rather than by established, third-party publishers.The only “self-publishing company” is you—by definition. If you contract with a publisher, your book is not SELF-published.

    Now that people know what self-publishing is, we find we have to re-educate the public to the fact that we are the real self-publishers and the other DotCom digital publishers are really just vanity publishers masquerading as us. They are trading on the good reputation we have built.

    For information on the choices for breaking into print, get the f-r-e-e Information Kit #2 on Publishing at

    Let’s respect historical and common definitions. These publishers are “vanity” or “subsidy” presses. Stop confusing people new to the book trade.

  28. I’m not sure there’s a right or wrong in this discussion. But I do know that many of us who are reexamining publishing are taking unnecessarily extreme positions. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater, folks: while traditional publishing models are full of contradictions, inefficiencies, and over-intermediation, self-publishing is full of contradictions, inefficiencies, and under-mediation.

    As with any established industry, let’s consider what value a publisher can or should provide. Then let’s think about how it could be done better today–with new technologies and new ways of doing business brought to bear. Publishers, as I believe Dan Poynter suggests in his highly useful book (hi, Dan), should own responsibility for two things: 1) product (e.g., selection, editorial, and production) and 2) marketing and promotion. Pretty much everything else can be outsourced these days. So publishers should focus on how to improve and innovate in those two areas.

    And authors should at least consider working with publishers who offer true value in those two areas, because for many of us, ain’t gonna cut it. With a few notable exceptions, it’s very, very difficult for potential authors to write an excellent book and be responsible for production andpromotion.


  29. Full disclosure: I work at a tradtional publishing company and have for 10 years, so I can’t help but want to chime in to this discussion.

    Jeffrey and Lou both hit on this but I’d like to second that selling books is hard work. That is really what good editors bring to the table, in addition to the ability to identify and sculpt a good idea that’s well written. Most editors specialize in very specific disciplines so that they “know their market.” If you’re going to self-publish, you have to become an expert in your market too because when the book comes out, you’ll need those contacts to get it reviewed and noticed by the people you’ve written the book for. That’s why if you’re already an established name in your field or you have a following, self-publishing can work for you.

    What do publishing companies also have that a self-publisher doesn’t? Sales people. People whose entire job it is to get that book into those stores and displayed in the right way, and while the market is shifting, people are still buying books at those 2 places, as well as the few independent stores. Even if you’re not trying to get into the stores, you’re still going to have to be selling your book.

    I’m all for the revolution and breaking down the barriers to knowledge and information sharing, and there are lots of potentially good books that don’t get published because they aren’t viewed as having a market. Publishing is definitely a business, and it is out to make a profit. It’s particularly tough to break in to the fiction/poetry market because it’s really who you know that can get your book reviewed in the right place, so that it will be noticed and sell. If I were trying to break into this, I’d do my best to develop an online audience and get media of any type to notice me.

    I do have a few tips for those who self-publish.
    1. Hire a really good copyeditor. They are absolutely worth their weight in gold and they will hopefully keep you from having an embarrassing “oops” moment when you’re holding your printed, permanent book in your hands.
    2. Pay attention and study up on book design. There are certain established design practices and if you want to have a professional looking product, you’d best follow them.
    3. Writing the book is hard, but producing it and selling it are going to be very tough too, so prepare for a long haul. Even if you just have 1 book to sell, if you want it to reach a larger audience than your friends and family, you’re basically starting your own business, where you (or your small team, if you’re lucky) will be writer/editor/production manager/publicist/sales rep/warehouse manager/CEO and CFO…
    4. It can be done successfully. I’m not a big fan of the “Chicken Soup” books, but they’ve been very successful, and they were completely self-published from the start. Their secret apparently was convincing gas stations to display them in order to sell outside of bookstores to reach more people or as one might say, to reach their ideal market who traditionally are not entering bookstores.
    5. Know your market. It’s hard to do this as a writer, but it’s essential. And with the internet, getting out there and doing the research is so easy, you can’t afford not to.


  30. I would politely argue that Twittering isn’t effortless, if only because I’ve found it can be difficult (for me) to write anything interesting in 139 characters. It initially reminded me of writing prompts given in college wherein we were supposed to get to the point, already.

  31. Good suggestions for self-publishers from Denise. However, the Chicken Soup books were never self-published. From the beginning, they were published by Health Communications, a small publisher in Deerfield Beach, FL. The authors, Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, set the bar for self-promotion and marketing that today’s authors can aspire to if they wish to sell millions of books. One of the things they attribute their success to is doing a minimum of one media interview per day for a year.

  32. Very interesting discussion…
    As a mid-career Canadian artist/author I’ve tried a couple of different approaches to ‘getting my words out.’..My first two titles came out with ‘traditional’ publishing houses in ‘limited’ printed runs of 750 (softcover) and 3000 (hardcover), respectively. In retrospect, the ‘royalty’ percentages were a bit of a scam, (7-10% ), but I was ‘keen’ and ‘wanted to be published’. One simply cannot ‘live’ off ihese revenues unless you are selling hundred’s of thousands of books, and I wasn’t. (Interesting ‘journey’ though.) My next three titles have been self-published. What a difference that has made. I just LOVE complete design control!!! Plus ‘net’ returns were ALL mine AND I finally made some money at this wacky game. That said, the internet has changed the ‘field’ dramatically. It seems increasingly ‘silly’ and ‘elitist’ to print on paper these days – I mean, ‘DEAD TREES’ people – THINK OF ALL THAT WASTE of CARBON & OXYGEN etc.! So, currently I am trying ‘blogging’ over at There, I am posting/publshing ‘short stories’ , paintings, photographs and a few poems. I consider the whole thing a ‘major work-in-progress’….I’m not 100% sure yet if this is the way I will continue to go…because even though response has been excellent, there is just no dinero coming in off of it…..So, rock and a hard place. I may attempt the Lulu downloadable pdf route later, but first, I am testing the internet waters with the blog. Check it out, let me know what you think.: (People seem to particularly like ‘The Dancing Bear’ and ‘Gone Native’…) .It’s a BRAVE NEW WORLD, we must all be BRAVE.

  33. Dark visions… we are in the middle of the process of dumbing down of the general population. Books are still alive and well and I like to read them in their printed incarnation, even if they are available as e-books. Reading a lot (especially of intelectually engaging material) from a screen hurts, gets one exhausted… Books will be here to stay for a while… The problem is that a lot of people surf the Web to read trivial b.s. and are brainwashing themselves with this stuff. These kind of people wouldn’t read a book anyway, just paparazzi-sleaze magazines anyway. Those who read quality material will continue to do so, even when e-paper becomes a common thing.

  34. Traditional publishing is NOT what people think it is. The author’s royalty amounts to less than minimum wage, the author gets no benefits, no bonuses, and the author essentially has to deliver a camera-ready copy. Add to this the instability of the constant turnover of publishing employees. Here’s the reality: Publishers make a fortune off the fear of authors – the fear of self-publishing. Name another occupation where the primary producer gets a meager percentage of the net sales, gets paid once or twice per year, and has to produce the entire product with a publishing team that changes so often that you never meet or know who is working on your product. The “credibility” of being published is a myth. There are a number of self-publishing successes (ie: Celestine Prophecy). There is absolutely nothing wrong with self-publishers. The only critics of self-publishing are publishers.

  35. I just self published my new fiction thriller novel, “Perfect Lies” and my goal was to get the book out without delay so I can write more books. I did pay to get the book edited and self published it through CreateSpace which is an Amazon company.

    I know how important promotion is and I spend a lot of time doing it every day but does pay off with sales. I’m sure both sides have a valid argument here but for fiction writers who just love to write like I do it self publishing can free up a lot more time for writing.

    I also think that if you have a good enough story and promote your book the right way, you can sell thousands of copies. I get way out of my comfort zone every day calling radio and tv stations, newspapers and any other media I can think of to see if they will interview me.

    I get rejected about 90% of the time but 10% say yes and that is free promotion. I also call the stations that turn me down again because sometimes they change their mind.

    Whether I get a publishing contract or make a lot of money with my writing not will not make any difference in the quality of my books. I’m a writer, and for me it’s all about being able to produce great stories that people enjoy reading. Self publishing allows me to produce more novels and short stories and that’s what makes me and my readers happy.

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