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Rethink Publishing – Is Artisanal Publishing the Future?

In the recent months there were some remarks in the TYPO3 community about publishing books  and the obstacles they imply for authors. From these conversations and some other sources, I tried to collect these issues and asked myself how to overcome these.

The publishers power and obstacles

Publishers decide, which topic will be published in which language

Only those topics, that promise a certain amount of sold books will be published. Smaller topics will not be published as the expected revenue is too small for the publisher. This is also true for the languages in which the book will be published. Translating and publishing a book to an even smaller market will not pushed by a publisher.

Publishers decide, who will publish a book with them

It is not easy to find a publisher, if the author is a newcomer and did not write a book until now. Especially, if (s)he wants to write about a topic that has only a small target group, the risk for the publisher to loose money with this project, is quite high.

Publishers decide, how much the author gets paid

AFAIK authors receive around one euro per printed book that is sold at a price from 40,00 to 50,00 €. For many topics, like TYPO3, the number of copies is not very high. So I expect earnings from 500 to 3.000 Euros for one edition.

Publishers decide, that authors have to buy their own books

I have heard of cases where authors must buy a significant number of  their own books from the publishers at the normal customer price, in order to sell them on their own. The number depends on the total number of printed books. Let us assume that the book costs 40 Euros and the author has to buy 50 books, he has to invest 2.000 Euros upfront. In the last paragraph I estimated the possible income up to 3.000 Euros.

Publishers have to make profit

Yes, publishers do their business because they believe to earn money with it … and they have to in order too feed their employees. That means they are no partner, but need to earn money with the work of the authors … the more, the better. As the author is the one, who has the least power in the whole system of publishers, wholesalers and bookstores, he will be the one who earns least.

The publishers services

On the other hand classical publishers accomplish some services for the authors: Proofreading, marketing and sales, printing and logistics and billing. Yes, these services are needed, but all services can be done the author himself or together with freelancers or service companies.


Proofreading consists of two parts: The technical part, verification of code and examples. That can be done by community members. Their input is very valuable. Each reviewer may not read and comment the whole book, but just parts where (s)he is good in or according to the time (s)he can . Concerning the non-technical part there are freelancers who offer these services. But if you are publishing in your mothers language there is be probably somebody who is good at it. In other cases the community can help.

Marketing and Sales

One of the most valuable thing in regard to marketing is getting an ISBN (International Standard Book Number). With this number a book can be found by  bookstores or libraries around the world. There are several services that provide these numbers. Some do it for free, some offer it for a little fee like about 15 Euros, some offer it as part of a larger and more expensive package together with other services like printing.
Another part of marketing and sales are advertisements in magazines and distributing printed catalogues. Communities can substitute it by blogs (not only on the one of the author ;-) ), forums, mailing lists, Facebook, google+, twitter, user groups, bar camps and conferences. It seems very crucial to me not „sleep” in the start phase of the publishing but to use all the bells and whistles that open sources communities provide.

Printing and Logistics

Many folks like to have a printed book, where they can flag chapters with „Post It“s, underline, highlight or comment sentences or paragraphs. This is only possible in printed books. These have to be distributed through the usual channels, like wholesalers, on-site bookstores or online stores. It is already possible to use POD (Print on Demand) services with some higher delivery times or services that offer pre-printing of your books with only a small number of copies. The pre-printing usually needs some pledge of the author, but will be refunded completely whenever a copy is sold. These services will also deliver the books to the stores, may it be Amazon or a local book retailer.


An author would probably not like to bill every single book that has been sold, so one needs a service to do that. Most online publishers have an own online store where the books can be bought. They transfer the earned money in regular intervals. Additionally they offer to push the ebook version to several other ebook sellers like Apple, Amazon or the Tolino network in Germany. Issues sold over these channels will be credited through these services with different shares of the revenue.

Go for Artisanal Publishing!

„Artisanal Publishing“ is a term that was characterized by Guy Kawasaki and his book “APE – How to publish a book“. APE stands for „Author Publisher Entrepreneur“. The term is there to distinguish between the old publishing industry and the new approaches to publishing of authors, publishers and entrepreneurs.
Due to the internet and the possibilities of new services and the communities, which I described above, there is the chance to overcome the obstacles and to benefit from the new freedom:
  • An artisanal publisher is free to publish whatever he wants whenever he thinks it is ready.
  • An artisanal publisher is free to choose the channels where to publish his work.
  • An artisanal publisher is free to bundle, split, update and republish his work whenever necessary
  • An artisanal publisher is free to set the price of his work
  • An artisanal publisher is able to influence his revenue at large

How to publish a book?

There are only five steps to get there. Yes, it seems to be as simple as this.

1) Loose the fear of publishing

Yes, I think that is the that fact the most people prevent from publishing their own book. The fear the knowledge of somebody is not sufficient to write a book. In most careers and resumes there is at least one thesis at university or a degree work. Some of them must also be published. The step from a thesis to a book is a small one … just the target group is another one ;-)

2) Get an idea and file a concept

The questions here are: what is the knowledge to transfer and what benefit will the reader have from your book? At this time the topic is not the number of pages and their pricing. At this time it is a question of value. Most people are underestimating their ideas and the value of these. These thoughts must be ordered and a concept for a book

3) Write the book

The next step is to write the book using. Simple start writing and do not focus (too much) on formatting or spelling. The used tool is also not crucial. Use MS Word, Apple Pages, a simple text editor, Scrivener or anything else, but be comfortable with it. In this step to focus is on producing text without as less distractions as possible.

While finalizing the book several correction loops are necessary regarding the content, regarding spelling and so on (AKA proofreading). This phase takes its time because other people need to get involved.

4) Choose Service Partner(s) and Publish

In parallel to Step 3 a decision about the way of publishing and the service partner must be made. Questions to answer in this step are:
  • Printed or only as ebook or both?
    Only a few publishers offer both ways of publishing. Most of them focus on ebooks. I personally prefer a dual publishing as an ebook and a printed version, since I like to have printed books in my daily work as a “third screen”.
  • Choosing and / or declining the channels?
    The author should be able to deliver certain ebook stores on his own, since the profits may be higher using the “direct way”.
  • Has the publisher the exclusive right to sell the publication?
    The author should be able to distribute, sell and translate the book on his own. The publisher must not decide on these things.
  • How high it the revenue you get?
    All of the services use percentage values in sales documents. The percentage values have different bases, so the resulting outcome is worth a look.

5) Start Self-Marketing

If the book is published the authors job is not over yet … Latest now, the marketing starts! The earlier, the better. The author must use all channels he can imagine. As already stated above, blogs (not only on the one of the author), forums, mailing lists, Facebook, google+, twitter, user groups, bar camps and conferences are channels to promote the publication. Other options can be magazines or podcasts. Contact everyone who could be helpful and do not feel upset if somebody can or does not want to support.

Artisanal Publishing is the Future

In my opinion “artisanal publishing” is the future, especially for publications targeted at small groups, may it be because of the topic or product, may it be because of the language of the potential readers. The next steps are that
  • first books get published this way
  • the author share their experiences and support new ones
  • the community helps proofreading and promoting the books

Probably you ask: Hey, if you are so optimistic about this kind of publishing, what about you? Hmm, yes … currently I have three topics, that could be published, but I can not promise that one of them gets to life.

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