Thursday, February 10, 2011


“Self-publishing" is something of a catch-all phrase, as there are in fact three different categories within it. Vanity, subsidy, and – well -- just plain self-published. It may seem confusing; but there is a significant difference between them. For now, let's discuss the latter, which is the mast widespread yet least familiar category.

Basic self-publishing involves an author who prints and sells folios, reports, or books; ether in paper form or as PDFs. There are some brave authors who actually hand-produce their own novels and poetry, but that is a long hard road to profit. Usually, though, the typical do-it-yourself publisher who makes money at it offers short "how-to" non-fiction of from 10 to 300 pages.

These are by no means all in finished book form. Some astonishingly popular offerings off this kind that still sell steadily for years are mere typewritten sheets stapled together or spiral-bound. Others are conventional-looking short books with perfect-bound pages, or have made the leap to formatting their info products in Kindle and similar electronic readers.

Computerized typesetting is giving the genre a more finished look now, but that has made surprisingly little real change to sales acceptance. Spartan formatting never seem to be a disadvantage, as customers for this sort of thing are looking strictly for information content. Many “how-to customers” still continue to want utilitarian materials, stripped-down instructional prose in plain format, All they want is straightforward writing that explains how to start a business, perform a skill, cook exotically, or aid a hobby.

Money-making plans are the most popular, and form the bulk of offerings. A self-publisher of information folios assumes all the costs, most of which are for advertising and sales promotion – and keeps most of the profits. Selling expenses are comparatively high, but because the genre charges relatively bigger prices page-for-page than conventional reading material, profit margins are larger.

This thriving type of publishing started in direct-mail over 100 years ago, and has now moved into marketing via the Internet. Though out of the mainstream, it can be astonishingly lucrative, quietly forming a billion-dollar industry.

For example, Joe Karbo wrote a 60-page book aptly titled The Lazy Man’s Way To Riches, and sold enough of them by direct mail to earn several million dollars. After he died, Karbo's son took over, continuing to offer his unlikely yet durable best-seller through full-page advertisements in magazines and on-line.

For years, Valerie Kelly discreetly used pen names while she wrote sex stories for adult magazines. When she realized there was a likely market for her knowledge among freelancers, she authored How To Write Erotica. After being turned down by several major publishers, the undaunted Kelly decided to produce and market it herself, and ran ads in writers' magazines and web pages, offering spiral-bound' photocopies of her 300-page manuscript. After Kelly sold thousands of copies that way, her book was bought by Random House, and it continues to be a steady seller in hard and soft cover.

My own dozen info products include How To Make Money Fast as A Ghostwriter, Military Publications International Directory, and Writing Productive Industrial Advertising. With all my info products, I found that the main key to sales-success lay less in the written content than it did in creating effective ads and placing them in the most effective media.

Jerry Buchanan of Vancouver, Wash., first launched what became a profitable self-publishing business by writing a four page report on how to get rid of gophers in lawns. It sold so well that Buchanan became a full-time publisher of a whole line of booklets. He struck literary gold with a 70-page book named Writers Utopia Formula Report, which sold in the hundreds of thousands.

One such book that's enjoying wide success has the comprehensive title When I Grow Up I'm Going. To Be A Millionaire (A Children's' Guide to Mutual Funds). Written by Ted Lea and illustrated by Lora Lea, this slim 48-page book offers sage advice on long-term investing that could be valuable to adults as well as children. The book's premise is that any 10-year-old child who invests only $10 every month could create about a million dollars over his or her lifetime, and it provides a step-by-step plan for building a nest-egg.

Though the majority of aspiring authors continue to hope to be fiction novelists, many others are taking the surer route to profitable sales by writing how-to books. From just these few examples, you can see just how wide-ranging the demand is for the genre, with a limitless buying public of people who are eager to buy written information on virtually any subject.

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