Self-publishing for the 1%
Venture Press will help you make a book. It provides hands-on custom service: It will set you up with a ghostwriter and designers for the cover and layout. The company acknowledges that creating a book isn't easy: "It's an enormous challenge," according to its website, "requiring hours of concentration and hard work in front of a computer screen, followed by the arduous task of turning your words into an actual book."
Just hours? Most writers labor for days, weeks and months to write a book. After publishing "The Corrections" in 2001, it took Jonathan Franzen nine years to write his next novel, "Freedom." Anticipation was so great that he landed on the cover of Time magazine.
Venture Press' self-publishing service is designed to ease, streamline and speed up that process. But that all comes at a premium: The cost for a Venture Press book starts at $100,000.
"Who knows, you might be able to pay $100,000 for that service," said Bob Young, president of the online self-publishing service Lulu, when Jacket Copy reached him by phone. "If you have more money than God, why wouldn't you?"
Lulu, which allows authors to self-publish their books using online tools, has a much lower barrier to entry: a writer/designer can publish a book for free. Fee-based design and editing services at Lulu range from $700 to $7,000. Compared with $100,000, that's a steal.
Self-publishing grew out of what was once called vanity publishing -- small private printings geared for friends, family and professional colleagues. With readily available technologies for making books emerging in tandem with online markets for selling books, self-publishing has become a robust and lively business. "What you're seeing in publishing is this remarkable transformation," Young said. "It's creating a huge number of additional authors who want to be heard, and it's putting pressure on the publishers to reduce the number of authors they pay to do the work."
Amanda Hocking was one of those authors who wanted to be heard. Hocking -- who now has a deal with St. Martin's -- initially went the self-publishing route. From Austin, Minn., far from the publishing industry, she self-published 10 urban fantasy, paranormal romance and vampire novels, grossing about $2 million. But most self-published authors won't reap Hocking-style financial rewards; In fact, they stand the risk of losing money on their books.
Self-publishing inverts the longstanding publishing model -- where authors have traditionally been paid by publishers, self-publishing asks authors themselves to pick up the tab. "No one will know if getting the author to pay for his book is going to work better than getting the publisher to pay," Young said.
No one knows exactly who might pay the $100,000-plus cost of a book with Venture Press. As yet, the company, launched March 9, has not signed up any clients.
-- Carolyn Kellogg