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Independent book publishing

What is independent publishing?

Independent or self-publishing means the author handles the many jobs of a traditional publisher — such as editing, designing, promoting, distributing the book — or contracts them out to one or more company.

The number of independently published titles grew by 422% between 2007 and 2012. A large part of that growth is because it’s quite easy to publish a monograph, compilation of lecture notes, book of essays, textbook, or novel; there are now dozens of companies that will help you sell to a potentially large audience or simply print a copy of your book.

Why publish independently?

  • Your book may not sell to a traditional publisher.
  • You want to hold onto your rights.
  • You want to handle the design.
  • You want to set the book’s price.
  • Your book is for a small audience/you don’t want to sell it.

Things to consider when choosing a publisher

Start with some questions:

  • Who is the book for? Yourself, friends and family, colleagues, students, or a wider audience?
  • Do you hope to make money from sales?
  • Do you want to print one book or 1,000, or do you want an e-book only?
  • Does your book have a lot of graphics, photos, or complex technical charts?
  • Is your book already finished, or do you need help getting there?

The answers may help you determine which services are most important to you: editing, design, higher royalties, affordable printing on demand, marketing, etc. Some companies offer multiple services; others specialize in one or a few. Some publish e-books only; many do print as well.

Royalties can be particularly complex, and companies aren’t always straightforward about how they determine what you make. For an in-depth look at how various companies calculate royalties, one resource is Mark Levine’s The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, which offers a qualitative evaluation and ranking of many of the top companies in terms of printing markups, royalties, author-friendliness of contracts, customer service, and total cost of publishing.

An important issue to keep in mind with any company is whether the terms of the author contract are acceptable to you. This is also a complex area. Levine provides suggestions in The Fine Print of Self-Publishing and on his website. The department of Scholarly Communications and Collections Strategy can also assist you with the process.

Sample of independent publishers & what they do

Below is an overview of the services offered by a small sampling of publishing companies, including some of the most popular ones used by independent authors today. (Note that these companies are more like content managers and printers than traditional publishers in the sense that they don’t discriminate about genre or quality. You pay, you publish.)

We describe the kinds of projects a company is known for, where your costs lie, and anything else of note. Unless otherwise noted, the companies below will register your books and e-books with online retailers (like Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Borders) and international distributers (like Baker & Taylor, Ingram, and the Books-In-Print database). They may do this for free or as part of publishing packages, though your book must meet some requirements. See, for example, those of Lulu and Createspace.

This guide doesn’t address open access publishing, which can overlap with independent publishing but often doesn’t. Many traditional presses offer open access publishing, and there are also open-access-only publishers. Here is a list of publishers of OA books.