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Self-Publishing in the Digital Age

With a little work and $5, you can be a published author

It’s said that everyone has a book in them, something they are passionate about or want to pass on to future generations. It used to be that writing and publishing that book was dependent on finding an agent and a publisher — often the equivalent of winning the lottery — or spending a small fortune to get the book edited, laid out, printed and distributed.
Today, budding authors can send their books to a printer on demand service, have it printed with a laminated color cover, professionally bound and back in their hands within two weeks — for as little as $5.

Besides your manuscript and the fee, you'll need:

  • A little bit of word-processing savvy (word- and photo-uploading savvy).
  • The ability to put your thoughts into words.
  • A creative eye for creating the covers.
  • A reliable Internet connection. 

Sounds simple, but here's where the rubber meets the road. You’ve heard the old Rodgers and Hart song that says “If they asked me, I could write a book.” So stop waiting to be asked and do it. In my case, picking a subject was easy. I had done dozens of celebrity interviews for Grand magazine about the joys and virtues of being a grandparent, so it was just a matter of selecting the best ones and coming up with a title. That’s how my book, Grandeur: The Personal Reflections of Famous Grandparents, was born. 

Step-by-Step Self-Publishing
For my printer on demand, I chose the thebookpatch.com, which was created by Israeli espionage author Victor Ostrovsky, who lives in Arizona. It offered many great features, including the ability to buy one book at a time and free use of the company’s online writing and editing program that allows you to compose your project right on the site.
There are no set-up fees. You can sell your book in their online bookstore — and you determine the cost. The company doesn’t take one cent from sales of your book beyond the cost of printing and shipping, which is the same whether to you or anyone else.
Anyone who's using a PC or Mac with an Intel processor and an Internet connection can use the Book Patch.

Ten days after I uploaded a PDF version of my manuscript, the finished product arrived, printed and bound, looking every bit as spiffy as ones from traditional publishers.
From that moment on, I was hooked on self-publishing. How hooked? Well, in anticipation of a family reunion, I coordinated a project that will yield a family memoir — a book that will feature recipes, stories and photos, and will be distributed at this year’s summer gathering.
The idea caught fire immediately. Like a YouTube video gone viral, text and photo files have been emailed from cousin to cousin for comment. In the end, for just $5 apiece (the price drops to $4 when you order 50 or more books), we’ll have created a family treasure to last for generations.

Get on the Bandwagon
“There are a lot of myths when it comes to self-publishing books,” says Sarah Gilbert, director of marketing and sales for the self-publishing company Lulu.com., which was founded in 2002. “They come from the years of vanity presses who would often charge authors an arm and a leg to publish their works. That model is outdated. Companies like us now exist solely to help authors publish — with no upfront cost — and give them the freedom to share their voice.”
Lulu.com has 1.1 million authors and adds 20,000 titles to its collection each month, Gilbert says. Some clients come to Lulu to publish large quantities of books. Others just one book. Besides regular-size books, Lulu publishes mini-books, photo books, cookbooks, travel books and calendars. Should a friend or family member want a copy of a book, it’s available at the site’s online bookstore. 

More and more people are deciding to self-publish. Here's how mainstream — and simple — it has become. My friend Marlene, who’s a fabulous cook, is writing a cookbook of her favorite chicken dishes. My daughter is finally writing the children’s story she’s long dreamed of publishing. And Sarah Gilbert told me that her 95-year-old grandmother is compiling a book of her own poems. 

Checklist to Become an Author

  1. Write your story. Choose a title, prepare an outline and some notes then begin. Pace yourself. Don’t try to do it all in a day or a weekend. You can start with pen and paper, but sooner or later you’ll have to transfer those scribbles to a computer. Don’t edit yourself as you go along. Stay in the moment and let the story flow out of you.
  2. Edit your work. Congratulations! You did it. Now it’s time to fine-tune it. Run spell check and grammar check through your word processing program. Then read it aloud. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect. It only has to be right for you.
  3. Choose your printer on demand. Research your options (with Google) and choose an online printer on demand that does not charge any fees for publishing your story, allows you to purchase one book at a time and has its own bookstore offering free placement of your book and order fulfillment. A good printer on demand will have formatting instructions about how to set your margins and what size font to use. If you can create a digital document file, you can do this.
  4. Design your front and back cover. Most printers on demand will provide you with the tools to upload your back cover copy and cover picture and calculate the proper width of your book’s spine. Just fill in the blanks.
  5. Register with your printer on demand bookstore. Make sure you place your book in your printer on demand’s online store. It’s as easy as sending a copy of your cover with a description of your book. Your printer on demand representative will take care of the rest.
  6. Place Your Order. Order at least a single copy for your bookshelf (if not hundreds, depending on the size of your family and social groups). It will be delivered in less than two weeks. You’re an author. Now go brag about it.

Mary Ann Cooper is a New York-based journalist and syndicated columnist.

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