Miércoles 22 de Febrero de 2006, Ip nº 141

Frustrated author? Publish yourself
Por Victor Keegan

Are books about to go the same way as music and videos, with everyone able to publish from their back rooms, cutting out all the agents in the middle? Demand is certainly there from the legions of frustrated writers unable to interest an agent, let alone a publisher, in their musings. The technology to self-publish, using print-on-demand facilities, has been around for years but is now getting cheaper and easier with the publisher doing everything from the ISBN number to placing your tome on Amazon. Judging by the number of self-publishing websites, it may not be long before we reach the tipping point of mass adoption.

To test how easy it has become, I decide to try it out for myself with some material at hand in the form of the entries to the Guardian's text message competitions in 2001 and 2002, nearly all of which were anonymous and have not been published. First, I tried a small UK outfit operating from a loft in south London which has appeared in these pages before, Publish and Be Damned - or PABD (named after the words of the Duke of Wellington when his mistress was about to spill the beans).
I was impressed by the friendliness of its website and that it was confident enough to list the prices of competitors. It charges £160 for the first half-dozen copies, although specialised services, such as editing, cost more. All went reasonably well until we got to the stage of "manuscript submitted". I didn't receive the expected email with news of a proof copy, queries went unanswered and the only telephone number turned out to be in Canada, where the recipient was not pleased to be awoken early in the morning.

After a couple of months' wait, I reluctantly switched to Lulu.com, a trendy US company that also publishes your CDs and DVDs. It was pretty impressive. An audio guide takes you through a series of simple steps and its claim not to have any set-up fees or minimum orders turned out to be true.

Lulu's claim to publish in five easy steps (data, uploading manuscript, binding, uploading cover and finally fixing a price) was accurate, subject to two vital provisos. Your manuscript must be "oven ready" in a format such as Word or OpenOffice or a PDF with the pagination in order. Mine turned out to be aligned too far to the left and the typeface looked bad when we got the proof (both my fault).

Second, you must get the size of the pages of the script and the cover to coincide exactly with the templates on offer, which was easier said than done. For a cover you can either take one of their standard ones or upload your own. I persuaded someone to do the cover for nothing, which turned out to be the most professional part of the book.

The total cost of getting the proof copy to me about 10 days later was only $6.33. That means I had published one copy of a small book (under 100 pages) with a full-colour cover for only £3.60. Not bad at all. The final stage is to add on the royalty you want on each copy. Lulu gets 25% of that. The catch was something I hadn't realised at the start. They are shipped from the US and postage more than doubled the cost. So I decided not to move to publication.

At this moment I got an unexpected email from PABD saying my proof was ready. It was more presentable than the Lulu one. It accepted some proofing changes over the weekend and I will now proceed to the final stages. If all goes well, the text poem book could soon be on PABD's site (at cost price).

One other site with a different business model is Grosvenor House, which charges £495 for a bespoke service including add-ons (such as text editing, jacket design with 2,000 colours, distribution, five free copies and marketing) that cost extra with other companies. It looks as though the publishing industry could be in line for a much needed shock. Vanity publishing is dead. Long live print on demand.

  16/02/2006. The Guardian.