Wednesday, 23 September 2009


There's an old poster from the 1970s, which I presume started life as a cartoon somewhere. I'm sure you've seen it: two extremely hungry-looking vultures are perched on a tree. One is saying to the other, "Patience, my ass. I'm gonna kill something!"

Something of the same entrepreneurial spirit lies behind self-publication. Face it, you are 99.999% unlikely ever to be "properly" published, so why not do it yourself? If nothing else, at least you may have left a permanent trace in a library or on a bookshelf somewhere. When posterity realises you were William Blake all along, it'll be a good place for posterity to start looking.

I'm a big fan of "on demand" self-publishing websites like Blurb and Lulu. They do seem expensive for the end purchaser, unless you understand the true costs of self-publication. Look, in all accounting, there are two sides to the balance sheet: income and expenditure. But, for most self-publishers, there will be no income side to speak of. I mean no income. As in zero. Accept that you will sell no copies of your book. As in not one. So your pre-publication sums, calculated to deliver that modest profit based on modest sales, are a fantasy. You actually stand to lose thousands of pounds. And we haven't even talked about publicity and distribution. Just forget about it.

If you understand that, then suddenly the prospect of getting into print and making available for sale (at a profit, if you like) decent-quality illustrated books totally free of cost starts to seem very attractive indeed. OK, the quality may be variable, but it's a small price to pay not to be stuck with several large cardboard boxes full of unsellable books. What, you think anyone is ever satisfied with the reproduction quality of their own photographs in any book, anyway?

The other sort of web-based service of which I am an enthusiast is the sort of jobbing printer typified by VistaPrint. This setup looks like a scam, feels like a scam, endlessly junk emails you with free offers just like a scam, but actually -- isn't. VistaPrint is actually a terrific custom printing service for postcards, cards, business leaflets, fridge magnets, t-shirts, etc., etc. I won't bore you with the details, but if you're in the market for, say, small runs of nicely printed postcards or gift cards of your photographs, then get yourself on their mailing list, and believe that the endless weekly emailed free offers are just what they say they are: free (but plus postage). Actually, my favourite thing about VistaPrint is the relentless creativity they put into getting your attention: each week, there seems to be a fresh new pitch. They really, really want you to have your 100 free postcards! I have used them to print my postcards and Christmas cards for several years, and will do the same this year, too.

Go on, do it yourself. Enough patience. If you're hungry, it's time to kill something!

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