Self-Publishing Perils

Self-publishing is a wonderful idea whose time has come, but from initial inspiration to final sales there are innumerable pitfalls that can drain your enthusiasm and your bank account. Let's divide the publishing process into four stages: research, writing, printing, and distributing. Now, of the four, the novice self-publisher can well imagine that having the book printed is the easiest part. He will have to pay the bill, but the printer will do the work. This kind of trusting attitude can be an invitation to disaster. Let me summarize the history of the printing of our first book to illustrate how many things can go wrong.

Nov. 1983. The manuscript and down payment off to the printer. Happy to see it go after countless revisions and rewritings. Learned the difference between local printers and specialized short-run book printers. Discovered the enormous disparities in quotes for the same job. Found a good price from a company who will do typesetting and printing, have the latest computer equipment with spell checkers, free copyright, marketing advice, etc. Inspected a sample copy.

Jan. 1984. Initial print-out arrives. I find spelling and grammar errors I missed in the manuscript. But I also find over 300 errors introduced by the printer, as well as a number of deletions. Maddening to attempt to rout out all the typos hidden in the tiny nooks and crevices of the page. My eye just jumps over them. What happened to the spell checker?

June, 1984. The page proofs finally arrive. Disaster. Illustrations slapped in the middle of the page, ignoring all manuscript indications. Tables and diagram titles not typeset. Many typos. Countless phone calls follow. Good thing they have a toll-free number. No front matter or bibliography proofs. Vastly increased cost estimate due to the printer underestimating the amount of pages.

July-Oct. 1984. Page proofs bounced back and forth. Each item becomes a battleground. On one page five errors are corrected and three new ones are introduced. Bibliography finally arrives with over 70 errors. Cover proofs arrive. A bad joke. Printer wants to use microscopic print on the spine it's probably easier to bind that way. Claims that the letters of the front cover title can be no more than 3/8" high. Wants more money for the cover. Does no design work, but simply wants to slap the name and author on. Claims he never agreed to our ownership of the negatives. Luckily, we find his initial letter. Then wants to charge an exhorbitant sum for them. More negotiations. More time goes by. Depression sets in.

Oct. 1984. Page and cover proofs completed. They promise to try to get the book printed before Christmas.

Dec. 1984. No book.

Jan. 1985. Still no books. Claim the printing equipment has broken down. Nightmares of law suits flit through my mind.

Mid-Jan. 1985. Claim the cover came out wrong and they have to do it again.

Feb. 1985. No books. Apprehension growing that they will somehow mess up the printing job.

March, 1985. No books. They have been shipped somewhere else. Sorry. Luckily, in the U.S. and not Hong Kong.

April, 1985. The books have finally arrived! They come shrink-wrapped and in good condition. We take a good look. They will pass a normal inspection, but our eyes have become sharpened through constant proof reading. There is uneven inking on several pages, a few typos have slipped through to be immortalized. Our time, energy and money have become depleted just when we face the biggest hurdle. What are we going to do with all these books?

Postscript. We never did hear anything about marketing advice, but nine months later we received the copyright form in the mail blank except for title and author. Would we please fill it out- and send it back to them? The title was wrong, and the author's name misspelled. They hadn't changed too much. But it didn't matter. We had registered the book ourselves long ago. We were learning.

What can you do to avoid this kind of ordeal, which, unfortunately, is all too common? Aside from learning the basics of self - publishing, a task that many good books can help you with like Dan Poynter's The Self-Publishing Manual, or Marilyn and Tom Ross' The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing you have to learn about short-run book printers. A good price and a good sample is not enough. Find out about their reputations. Learn how to make out a good request for quotations. Ask other self-publishers who they use and who they avoid. You can meet them through an organization like P.M.A., a national group of small presses magazines. Take a look at John Kremer's Directory of Short-Run Printers.

You should also consider typesetting the book yourself. Well-done books are now appearing that have been typeset on personal computers. You can also do the computer keyboarding yourself and have it typeset professionally either by sending the typesetter the disc or telecommunicating. Most of all, though, take your time and check your typesetter or printer out well.


2005. For a description of how we are now printing our own books locally go to Print Your Own Book.