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Book Designer & Self Publishing coach

Why Do Writers Choose to Self-publish?

Book Basics

August 31, 2020

…and what has changed to make it possible.

Why is self-publishing so popular with writers? The short answer is, because we can. Changes in design and printing processes have made the dependency on specialized companies a thing of the past. These processes are now open to anyone with the desire to learn. I’ll explain the advances in a bit. But first, why would authors choose to embark on a publishing project on their own?  That is, without enrolling a traditional agent or publisher? 

A few reasons why writers self-publish

  • The author had difficulty finding a publisher or agent to take on their project. Publishers reject most unsolicited submissions even before they read them. As few as two percent even get selected!
  • The publisher wanted to make changes to the book’s content that were unacceptable to the author. The author values total control over the content of their book.
  • The publisher offered unacceptable terms, and the author wants control of their material and profits.

  • The author doesn’t want the hassle of finding an agent or publisher. Most of my clients chose to self-publish to avoid the time and hassle of finding a publisher.

Whatever your reason, if you choose to self-publish, self-publishing IS an achievable option.  The advantage of self-publishing is that you are in control, and you can start on it today. The disadvantage is that you are now in charge of managing a job done traditionally by a team of professionals. But even with that said, it is doable, within your reach, and you can publish your book. But it is best to embark on this journey with your eyes open. The majority of self-publishers lose money on their books. These odds make it all the more important to create the best book possible without selling the farm. See the top 10 ways to save money on printing.

What has changed to make self-publishing possible?

Two words—new technology.  Book publishing, once only available to a limited few, is now possible with desktop publishing and digital printing. As a graphic designer for over 35 years, I have seen huge changes in design and book publishing.

When I started studying design, publishing was on the cusp of the computer age. I would draw marker and pencil page layouts on tracing paper. These mockups gave me something to show my client before I invested in typesetting. They also helped guide the typesetter to what I wanted.  From those mockups, I would take the typewritten manuscript and write instructions to match the mockups. Then, the typesetter would manually retype the text from the manuscript using codes to add boldface, change the space between lines, set the line length, whatever I instructed.  The coding was a bit like the website or HTML coding of today. 

Before desktop publishing was available, typesetting equipment was not WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get).  The typesetting machines projected the letters on photographic paper. Long filmstrips clipped to a spinning wheel, carried the font alphabets. To change fonts, you changed the filmstrips.

The type would come to me in long galleys, that I would cut and paste onto boards using X-acto knives, and wax or rubber cement.  The printer would photograph the boards, make them into negatives, and burn them to plates for the press. Each of these steps required special equipment and skill. If you wanted screen tints or photographs, you had to cut overlay windows, and the printer would “strip” in those images in production.  It is easy to see why large publishing houses were the leading authority for book publishing.  But today, one person on one computer can perform most of these steps and send a book to print online.

Offset printing made larger runs the only economical option

Much like design, printing has also experienced massive changes. Before digital printing came to the scene, books were typically printed offset. Offset printing transfers ink from a plate to a rubber blanket, and then to paper while the paper moves through a press. With offset, many pages are arranged on a large sheet of paper called a parent sheet. The sheet is folded, gathered, and bound into the book, known as a signature. Most books in bookstores are printed offset. It is just more economical with larger press runs. More books share the cost of plates, set-up, and cleanup. The price per book decreases as the offset press run increases. So traditionally, to print books, you needed to print a lot of them to make the price per book reasonable.  

Digital printing makes it possible to invest less in the printing of a book

Today, digital printing makes it possible to print smaller quantities of books without incurring the expense of setup. Digital printing works much like a color copier, but the art is digital like a PDF file, and there is no need for big cameras, negatives, plates, and toner. This digital process is quicker, cleaner, and less expensive when running smaller quantities.

Before the new technology, book production took months performed by a team of experts. It required specialized equipment to set type, make halftones, scan color, photograph art, make proofs, and create plates. Now one person on their laptop can produce a book.

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