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Self-Publishing definition

Self-Publishing (© REDPIXEL /

Self-Publishing (© REDPIXEL /

Self-publishing means creating your own physical (and digital to a lesser extent) books, magazines and titles. There has never been a better time to try self-publishing and when done right, this can actually be a highly profitable process.

Publishing simply means creating printed works – whether those are magazines, newspapers or books. The term can sometimes be expanded in order to also encompass other forms of publishing – such as publishing to the web, or publishing games, films and other forms of media. However, as a general rule, the term will refer to books and magazines.

Traditionally, this is done through a publishing company/publisher/publishing house. This is an organization that has the means to not only print the work en-masse, but also to edit the content, to design a front cover and to handle marketing and distribution. They might also organize press tours, book launches and more. A single publishing company will often publish multiple magazines under a single title, or might publish books under numerous imprints. Either way, most writers or organizations hoping to get their work on the shelves or the stands will first need to approach a publisher.

However, the internet has been introducing many new opportunities for businesses and individuals, which include means to get published without the help of a third party. This is what we call ‘self-publishing’. Self-publishing comes in a variety of forms and has numerous different advantages and disadvantages depending on the approach you choose. Read on to learn more about self-publishing and whether it could benefit you.

Vanity Publishing

Self-publishing may not seem particularly ‘traditional’ at all, but if there is a traditional form of self-publishing, it would be what we know as vanity publishing. Unfortunately, this form of publishing is generally very frowned upon and is considered poorly within the industry. Vanity publishing essentially means paying to have your work published and forming an agreement with the publishing house that you will buy a set number of copies of your book.

Conventionally, when approaching a publisher, a writer will first go through an agent. The agent will then send copies of the manuscript to multiple publishing companies and wait to get a positive response. If the publishers liked the writing, they will normally respond by offering an advance (an up-front payment) as well as a percentage of the profits. These types of agreements will often be very profitable for the writers then and in some cases, their advance might be worth thousands of dollars before the book has even be released.

Vanity publishing on the other hand, tends to be a last-resort for those that have been unable to get published through conventional means but are very keen to see their books in print. Thus, they will approach publishing houses and offer to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in order to have copies of their books printed. They’ll then sign an agreement to buy the books in bulk, in order to then be able to sell them themselves. This will be at a significant discount.

However, unlike ‘conventional’ publishers, vanity publishers will not agree to edit the content or proofread it. They will not design covers or edit formatting and they will not market the book (some of these options may be available at an additional cost).

In short, this often leaves writers with hundreds of copies of books, a large debt to pay off and no one willing to buy from them. This is why it’s so fortunate that the internet has produced a different option.

While everyone is very much focused on 3D printing right now – and understandably so – we should remember that this isn't the only disruptive printing technology to emerge in the past decade. The first real mover and shaker in that department was 'POD'…

For those who aren't aware of the term, 'Print On Demand' refers to a certain type of publishing that allows you to print off copies of your books as and when you need them in a short space of time. What this means is that a publisher no longer has to print thousands of books and store them in a warehouse hoping they'll sell… Now they can simply create the digital file and distribute them only when orders come in. They might still get returns from bookstores that order more books than they need, but it still represents much less of a risk for those companies.

If eBooks don't stand a hope of completely destroying traditional publishing though, then POD still has a very real shot at it. Here we will look at how they've already seriously overturned the publishing industry and how they threaten to transform many more businesses in the near future.

How POD Has Changed Publishing

While POD has obvious and very big potential benefits for publishers, it also presents a number of serious dangers.

As mentioned, a publishing company now has the luxury of printing off their books only when they get orders, avoiding situations where they end up stockpiling thousands of copies of a book that won't sell.

At the same time though, this is also a luxury that's now available to writers themselves who can opt to completely bypass traditional publishing companies. Sites like and even Amazon now offer a way for anybody to print their books themselves and then sell them directly online. A publisher can still be useful for editing, marketing and distributing the book… but in terms of getting a hard copy of the book in their hands there's no need for an individual to use a publishing company at all. And that means they get a much bigger cut of the profits.

Should You Use POD?

For most smaller authors this isn't going to be hugely useful – many would struggle to sell copies of a book we published ourselves. But say a 'big name' author was to move to POD like Tim Ferriss, they'd be able to generate enough buzz on their own and could cost publishers millions. This is precisely what happened, when Tim decided to begin selling books himself and keeping a much higher percentage as a result.

Thus, if you have any kind of platform of your own – if you are an influencer in your niche – then choosing this kind of self publishing might be a very good idea.

As for 'vanity publishers', there is now very little need for them to exist at all. These are companies that offered to print copies of books for thousands of dollars but leave the marketing to the author themselves. Anyone could use this sort of printing and thus it really was an exercise in vanity. Today authors can do this themselves though, so many vanity publishers are struggling.

The Future

In the future though this technology is set to mix things up even more. Some book stores and libraries for instance already have 'book printers' that customers can use to print the books they want. If a book isn't available off the shelf, then they can simply print out what they are looking for right then and there.

In the further future we might get to the point where you can buy these types of printers for the home. Thus you would never need to head out and buy a book at all – you could instead just download the file, buy some paper and some ink and have the book in your hands. This would be a solution for anyone who didn't like the sometimes restrictive nature of eBooks and would force publishers to adapt in a big way.

Other businesses could use this too – being able to publish new leaflets and instruction manuals right there on their premises with no need to outsource. This could be devastating for many businesses, a huge advantage to many more, and ultimately a massive win for the consumer.

Creating Dramatic Covers

If you’re going to start producing your own books and possibly even other forms of published works, then you need to learn how to do the jobs that would conventionally fall to the publishers. That means thinking about things like the cover, like proofreading and like marketing.

openPR tip: Creating a cover these days is fortunately relatively easy. You can do this by using crowdsourcing platforms like 99Designs for instance, in order to have someone create a cover for you. Or you can try and make one yourself with the right photography skills and a little editing.

Dramatic Images

The majority of your magazine/book should be taken up with an image that leaps out of the page and that grabs the attention of the person browsing. At the same time, it should be a picture that people will associate with success, positivity and good feelings. People read Men's Health magazine for instance partly because it makes them feel successful and healthy to look at, which can be enough to help them make the snap decision to buy. Bright colours can also help create this positive vibe and make the covers more eye catching.

Men's Health, like many magazines, uses images of people on the front covers which is a good strategy as well for a number of reasons. The main reason that using people on the front of a magazine is that we are evolutionarily programmed to notice faces and figures when scanning the environment. Even babies have been shown to pay more attention to stimuli that looks like a human face.

Books will generally try to stand out by offering something that looks significantly different from the rest of the content on offer, but also by offering something that expresses the genre and the ‘tone’ of the book well.

Standing Out

Then again though, Men's Health, Women's Health, Esquire, FHM, Galmour, GQ and many other magazines all use roughly the same strategy for their covers which can cause them all to blend into one another rather. When there are rows of magazines with smiling people on the front, none of those is likely to really jump out. To make your magazine more noticeable then you should consider using this technique but also other elements such as decoration around the person or perhaps unusual clothing or an enigmatic smile (hey, it worked for the Mona Lisa!).

This is something we see much more often among published books – which these days often go for more abstract or eye catching designs that draw the shopper in.


The title/logo that you use for your magazine/bok is another important tool in promoting your magazine. This is another element that will help your cover to stand out, but at the same time it will also enable people to find you again more easily in the future if they enjoyed what they read. You can tie this in with your marketing also.

openPR tip: The way you write your title though will also become a logo that you use for your branding in other ways - for your digital printing and for your website etc. Make sure then that you create a logo that is also easy to replicate and versatile enough to be used in a number of different ways.

Creating and Selling an Ebook

And of course, the other option is to create an ebook. This is still a form of ‘publishing’ (especially if you choose to go the Kindle route), but it reduces the amount of work and expense involved in the process.

Fortunatley, there has never been a better time to sell an eBook. Not only are eBooks more popular now than they ever have been, but there is also now a much more extensive infrastructure of hardware and software making it possible to create your books and find a market for them.

Making money from an eBook is a fantastic way to supplement your income as it requires no work once you've written the book and is something that anyone can do. While not every book will hit it big, there's still no upper limit on how much you can make from it and nothing to stop you selling 10 or 100 books if you want to multiply your passive income.

That said, making 100 books is a waste of time if you aren't maximizing the sales from each and if you don't know how to get the very most out of this process. Read on to find out how to make potentially serious money from an eBook even if your name isn't JK Rowling...

What if You Can't Write?

But what if you can't write at all? Is it time to move on to another money making strategy? Actually no - there are still plenty of ways you can make money from an eBook, you just need to get a bit more cunning.

One strategy for instance is to go online and try to hire someone to write the book for you. On a site like Warrior Forum you will find plenty of people happy to write you a good 10,000 words for around $100. Another option is to look for writing that is in the public domain, such as an old book that's gone out of copyright. This is free to publish and sell, but make sure it's still relevant and that you aren't being underhanded in your marketing - be upfront about what you're promoting.

openPR tip: If you run a website but don't have time to write an eBook, then another strategy is simply to collect some of your site content into a book and sell it that way.


If you want to sell your eBook via Kindle, then all you need to do is create a .doc or .pdf file and upload it to the Kindle store. From that point on it will be searchable via the Kindle or on and you can start making money right away.

This is not the only place to start selling your book though. Another good way to sell for instance is through iTunes which will let people read your book on their iPads and Macs. Then there's Kobo and Sony to think about (with their own brands of eReader). On top of this you can also sell your eBook directly in which case you'll keep 100% of the profit - create a landing page with a convincing sales pitch and a PayPal button and you can sell a book for $20 or more if you know how to make it sound good (topics that sell well in this manner include bodybuilding, dating and making money online). Other options include the likes of the Google Play Store.

Making it Sell

For this to work though, you need to make sure that your book is marketable and likely to sell, and it's a struggle trying to stand out among all the competition out there. Of course, you can do this partly with marketing, but what can also help is just knowing how to make your book searchable and popular.

One way to do this for example, is to make your book title highly descriptive and something that people are likely to search. Kindle and other online eBook stores work a lot like search engines, so if you can get the number one spot for 'Lose Weight Fast' then you'll probably sell a lot of books. Another strategy is to think about a popular book title and use this to bring more attention to your book. The fantastic 'Zombie Pride and Prejudice' probably sold a lot of copies simply because lots of people found it looking for the original title.

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