Thanks to Andrew Bell for suggesting this post idea!
Years ago, becoming a published author was a really big deal; one had to write up a book proposal, find an agent, shop the book around to various publishing houses and hope that one of them would sign on to publish the book. In the traditional publishing model, the author also relinquishes a good deal of control over the manuscript, may be expected to do most of his/her own marketing and may receive a royalty in the range of 5-10% of the cover price for each book sold (this information is based on anecdotal evidence from people I know who have worked with traditional publishers). I hate to look at the glass half empty, but to me, earning $1-$2 per copy of a $20 book is a tough way to make a living.
Recently, the self-publishing industry has really been revolutionized by the advent of high-quality Print on demand (POD) services. POD, previously derided as one cut above a photocopied manuscript, is now in widespread use. As its name suggests, POD books are printed one at a time when someone orders a copy; thus there’s no inventory, no waste, no storage issues, etc. Many traditional publishers, especially academic publishers, are now using POD to keep their backlist of books “in print” pretty much indefinitely. POD books have also come a long way in terms of quality and appearance; I’ve even had people comment that the paper and printing in my book look superior to what some traditional publishers produce. POD also offers authors the option to update their manuscripts at any time and start distributing the new edition immediately since there is no backlog of books that have to be sold or destroyed.
I used the POD service Lulu to publish my book
How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator in 2006, and I’ve been thrilled with the process (I don’t have any affiliate deal with Lulu, I just love them). The book has since sold over 2,800 copies and has risen to #59 on Lulu’s all-time bestseller list. I estimate that I’ve made about $15,000 in book royalties; all of this isn’t to brag, but to say that if I can do it, you can do it! POD royalties vary, but seem to fall in the range of 25-50% of the cover price depending on how expensive the book is.
I really wonder why more translators don’t self-publish using POD services. Translators love to write and translators consume a lot of information. Why aren’t people publishing subject-specific glossaries, or manuals to all of the software applications that we battle with on a daily basis, or their own literary translations (after securing copyright permission of course)?
Self-publishing on Lulu is easy, and getting easier all the time. You can have your book for sale only through Lulu (you can then order whatever quantities of the book you want and sell it yourself, or people can buy it off the Lulu website) or you can purchase an ISBN and have the book for sale through major retail outlets (Amazon, Barnes&Noble, by special order from bookstores, etc.). If your book is for sale only through Lulu, you pay nothing up front and Lulu takes a commission on each book that you sell; their “Published by You” service which includes an ISBN costs $99.95. You can also make an e-book or an audio CD of your book and Lulu will sell that too. In addition, Lulu offers a wide array of service levels, from DIY (the option I selected) to their “publishing packs” ($369-$1,369) which get you phone and e-mail support, a cover design, editorial support, formatting services, etc. In addition, you set the price of your book, so you determine how much royalty you earn off each copy. And unless you specifically want to handle the distribution and sales yourself, Lulu does it for you, then deposits the revenue in your PayPal account.
Basically, Lulu will publish anything that you can upload as a PDF or Word document; then you can pick whether you want your book to be hardcover, paperback, spiral bound, etc. If you want your book to be distributed through major retail channels, it must meet certain requirements (these are imposed by wholesale book distributors, not by Lulu). Lulu offers templates to help you meet these requirements, so in theory you could just write your book in Word or OpenOffice, upload it, and Lulu will create a suitable PDF of it. For my book, my husband served as the editor and designer, so he did the layout using a free program called LyX, which I think produces a book that looks much more professional (much more “like a traditional book”) than one that is generated from a Word or OpenOffice document.
If you’re interested in self-publishing on Lulu, the easiest first step is to browse their Publish section and check out the options. Then you can decide what you feel comfortable handling yourself and what you need to hire someone to do for you. I think that a nice cover design goes a long way toward making your book look professional; for my book, we were able to find an image from an illuminated manuscript that showed a Medieval translator and that happened to be in the public domain. Before you use a piece of artwork for your cover, make sure that you are in compliance with fair use and copyright law; some online stock art sites specifically require you to purchase an extended license if you want to use an image for a POD product.
Now, all that is left is to write your book! Feel free to post your book ideas in the comments, I would love to see what other people have in mind.