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Twain, Poe and Sandburg started out as self-publishers
By Sarah Long | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 3/8/2009 12:01 AM

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One of the questions often asked of librarians is, "How can I get my book published?"  Unfortunately, the unwanted answer is, "In your dreams" or "Not easily."  But being mannerly people, librarians steer would-be best-selling authors to books such as "Writers' Market Place" or "Writers' Market."  Both are annuals and you can find them at almost any library or bookstore. Both books offer good advice about agents, preparing a book for submission to a publisher, researching likely publishers, etc. Still, it is very hard for a first-time author to get a book published by a commercial publisher who will be absorbing the cost of publishing with the hope of recouping the money from book sales.  

If you are willing to underwrite your publishing effort you can self-publish. Publishing companies who do this work are sometimes called vanity presses or vanity publishers. Typically, these are traditional publishing companies specializing in producing books on offset presses at the author's expense. All the copies produced are the authors and can be given away or sold. The term, "vanity press" now has a negative connotation based on the assumption that if the book were truly worthy, a commercial publisher would have accepted it. But given the difficulties of getting a commercial publisher to look at the work of a first-time author, this is not always the case. In the past, many famous authors self-published in order to have more control over their work, and perhaps, with the hope of larger profits. Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, Carl Sandburg, and Henry David Thoreau, among others, went the self-publishing route. 

Now that we are in the digital age, printing technology allows for print on demand, or "POD," in which small numbers of books can be printed making self-publishing much more affordable. There are a number of POD companies including BookSurge and Lulu. Typically, editorial and design services, promotional tools and other helps are also available. You can self-publish one copy of a 100-page hardback book for around $50 or multiple copies for less per copy.  

All of the above applies if you are thinking of a "book" as a paper and ink object. Now that we have the Internet, it is possible to have publications, including books, which are "born digital" and never take a paper and ink form. A number of Internet publishers now exist with web sites for aggregating digital or e-books and other e-content. Have a look at the Web site of EPIC (Electronically Published Internet Connection) at epicauthors.com for an impressively long list of e-book publishers.

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to Darcy Frunchak, CEO of readerjack.com, and Chelsea Baker, readerjack's head librarian. Readerjack.com is an e-book publisher that welcomes all authors.

"We don't want to be gatekeepers," Frunchak said. "Our business model is to make publishing available to all authors." Readerjack authors retain 100 percent ownership of their work and receive royalties of 50 percent for each book sold. "Our job is to promote our authors and we do this in blogs, with print and online marketing tools," Frunchak said. "We want our authors to be successful."

The readerjack.com Web site is interesting to readers of books in all genres and for all ages, on a wide variety of topics.

"You can find literature gems on our Web site," Baker said. "One of my personal favorites is 'Deadly Quirks' a collection of mystery thrillers by Lynn Iles." Lynn Iles is an award-wining author for her short story "The Growing Moon."

Listen to my conversation with Frunchak and Baker on my weekly podcast, "Longshots" atlibrarybeat.org.