Do You Have a Book in You?

By Kim Foley MacKinnon

New Do-It-Yourself Options Make It Easier than Ever to Become a Published Author

At one time or another, almost everyone has said, “I could write a book about that,” or had a friend say, “You should write a book.” But publishing a book has long been an unattainable dream for many. Competition is tough to get anyone in a publishing company to even read a manuscript, let alone sign an unknown writer. Would-be writers have many war stories about the rejection letters they’ve received.

In recent years, though, there have been radical changes in the publishing world. Print-on-demand (POD) technology, where individual books can be printed and bound one at a time – printed only when an order is placed – has opened up a whole new avenue for writers. No overhead and no need for warehouses have allowed on-demand publishing companies to spring up and keep costs down. Many POD books are also available as electronic books (e-books).

The “do-it-yourself” trend has come to book publishing. So it has become much easier to self-publish that great American novel, or whatever else an aspiring author might like to see in print (or online).

In the past, when authors wanted to self-publish their own books, they had to shell out thousands of dollars, according to Angela Hoy, who owns, an e-book and POD publishing company. At, authors can see their book in print for as little at $217, with various add-ons, such as cover design, costing more.

People turn to self-publishing for various reasons, Hoy says. No. 1 is how difficult a field it is to break into.

AN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana">“While there are thousands of books published by the big publishing houses each year, the chances of an unknown author being picked up by one of those houses – or even retaining a respectable agent – are nil,” Hoy explains.

You Could Be the Next Dr. Seuss


A breakthrough this year is the advent of on-demand full-color printing at an affordable rate, opening up the children’s book category for self-publishers. It used to be prohibitively expensive. Both and Trafford Publishing are now offering the service. Trafford expects to publish 1,000 children’s books this year, many written by older adults.

Something to Remember Me By

Self-publishing may be especially attractive to mature adults interested in passing along stories that otherwise may get lost through time.

“Many retirees would like to leave a legacy to their grandchildren, either through a published novel, or through their memoirs or autobiography,” Hoy says. “Some people simply want to leave their favorite recipes behind for their children and grandchildren.”

AN style="FONT-SIZE: 10pt; COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: Verdana">One of the pluses of self-publishing is that the author has total creative control, retains the copyright and earns higher royalties. At a traditional publishing house, authors lose control of their manuscript, the copyright is usually owned by the publisher, and authors can earn royalties of just 10 percent of the price of their book.

MARGIN: 0in 0in 12pt">Ironically though, some successful POD authors use the experience to negotiate deals in their favor with traditional houses, according to Hoy. If the book is a proven seller, publishing houses might come calling.

MARGIN: 0in 0in 12pt">Bruce Batchelor, CEO and publisher of Trafford Publishing, another on-demand publishing firm, offers more reasons for the do-it-yourself movement. “Rather than hoping some gatekeeper will like it, authors can move ahead,” he says.

MARGIN: 0in 0in 12pt">“Many people have a passion to share something. A lot of people do this as a retirement project,” Batchelor notes. So it’s not surprising that Trafford has a number of genealogy books and niche books among its offerings.

MARGIN: 0in 0in 12pt">Some writers simply want to write a book on their own terms, he adds. “They want control of the process. It’s much faster – you can have a book in four weeks rather than years later. And the royalties are much higher.”

MARGIN: 0in 0in 12pt">At Trafford, authors can choose from various publishing packages starting at $699. 

Give It a Try … and Get Help

MARGIN: 0in 0in 12pt">Writer Elizabeth Seitz turned to iUniverse (yet another on-demand publishing house) to publish her mystery, Dissertation Most Deadly, following years of frustration trying to get it into print. After contacting dozens of agents, Seitz managed to land one, a difficult task in itself. But while in the process of editing the book, her agent died. The publishing house then declined to pursue the project with Seitz directly. Not willing to start from scratch, the determined author decided to go the self-publishing route.

iUniverse offers many levels of assistance for authors, including an editorial review and marketing help. Prices start at $459 for a basic package that includes formatting, custom cover and support. Add-ons include hardcover binding, copy editing and book-signing kits.

“The publishing market is almost impossible to break into,” says Seitz, a musicologist by training. “Self-publishing has allowed me to put this book out and see how it is received, then take the next step.”

She is already working on a sequel. Her hope is that this second book will be picked up by a traditional publisher.

Another writer, Darla Worden, who works in Denver on occasion, shelved her book idea for a while after being rejected by six agents. After doing some research, she also chose to go the POD route with her book, Road Shoes. She used Xlibris, which has a partnership with Random House. After seeing some of the work out there, her advice to would-be POD authors is to find someone to help you. Worden had years of experience in the publishing world, but she still had an experienced editor go through her book.

“If you’re going to do it, get an editor,” she says. “Make it as professional as possible.”

Entrepreneurial Spirit

Self-publishing is not for everyone, however. There’s a lot of legwork involved for the author that is usually done by a traditional publishing house; for higher fees, though, some of that can be handled by the POD publisher. For example, almost all of the marketing has to be done by the author. Getting bookstores to carry POD books can be difficult.

On the other hand, royalty checks can be double what an author would earn normally. At, for example, authors earn 35 percent of the book’s listed price if customers purchase from the Web site.

Another option is for authors to buy their own books at a big discount and sell them themselves, perhaps earning 50 percent of the listed price. By contrast, earning 15 percent or even 10 percent is normal through the traditional method.

With Booklocker, authors are mailed monthly royalty checks and can track sales 24 hours a day online. Some variation of the above is common for most POD publishers, most of whom sell books online.

“POD publishing is for those with an entrepreneurial spirit, those who are happy to get their hands dirty in order to get the word out about the book,” Hoy says. “And, of course, POD publishing is for those who simply want to publish something for their families.”

Kim Foley MacKinnon is a published author who has worked with both traditional publishing houses and POD publishers. She is also an editor and writer for United Parenting Publications.