Ever heard of NaNoWriMo? If you’re an aspiring novelist, it’s a safe bet that you have. The acronym stands for “National Novel Writing Month”, which is marked every November as a creative writing project encouraging participants to write 50,000 words of fiction in one month.
If you haven’t heard of NaNoWriMo, but you have plans someday of self-publishing your own book – be it a novel, short story collection, poetry, memoir, corporate souvenir, e-book, children’s book, cookbook, picture book, guide or how-to book, vampire anthology, etc. – then you might want to read on.
Of course, you can always work on finding an agent and attempt to have your manuscript edited, printed, distributed, and marketed by traditional publishers. But that takes a lot of guts – and, possibly, money. (Besides, one can only take so much rejection letters.) So in case you choose to do-it-yourself, or have no choice but to do-it-yourself, below is a list of the top five self-publishing tools on the Web today.
Lulu: Founded in 2002, headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina, Lulu is an extensive print-on-demand solution that allows you to self-publish your manuscript for a reasonable price. (No exorbitant set-up fees! No need to download software!) The site also gives you complete control over every step of the publishing process: just upload your manuscript, photos, or digital files, and then use Lulu’s flexible customization features to come up with your own cover, determine the type of binding, choose the font type and paper quality, etc.
Need help? Lulu has a professional team of editors, designers, writers, and marketers dedicated to helping get your book the attention it deserves.
At Lulu you have the option to order a copy of your book just for yourself, or buy multiple copies that you can distribute yourself, or set a price for the book and let Lulu act as your sales team. (As the creator/author, you get 80 percent revenue for every book sold.) It is also possible to get your own ISBN (International Standard Book Number) so you can extend your reach – and your masterpiece – to retail stores and libraries all around the world.
Lulu isn’t just a self-publishing platform, though. It’s a digital marketplace that lets people monetize – if they want to – their creative ideas and intellectual property. That’s why, when you visit Lulu.com, you’ll see a search box that helps you find others’ books and projects – all of them for public purchase. There’s also a list of featured books that you can browse – by category/genre, by “newness”, by “staff picks”, or by season – just like in any other online bookstore.
Who knows? Your self-published book (or e-book, calendar, CD, or DVD) may just find its way to Lulu’s front page. The site has about 3 million monthly visitors, so you’ll actually get the chance to be in a position to market yourself, if you so choose, to a wider readership.
CreateSpace: Like Lulu, CreateSpace offers a flexible set of on-demand self-publishing solutions for authors. (The company also specializes in enabling musicians and filmmakers to distribute and market their creative work.) You just upload your manuscript or files, choose from a number of printing options, and even use the CreateSpace Cover Creator to design a professional cover yourself and customize your paperback or e-book with photos, logos, and text.
Also, like Lulu, CreateSpace can assign you a free ISBN if you don’t already have one, and there’s a team of CreateSpace professionals ready to do editing, publishing, design and layout, marketing, and sales work for you. You also have the option of collaborating with other authors in the community section, so you can test the waters and see for yourself the value of your manuscript.
There are various plans/service packages to choose from, and if you’re serious about marketing your book, the minimal up-front fees should not be a cause of concern. Anyway, CreateSpace is an Amazon company, so you’ll actually be able to sell your published work on Amazon.com: you set your book’s list price and earn royalties from there. Furthermore, CreateSpace offers services for helping you sell your work through your own website, other online retail stores, bookstores, libraries, academic institutions, and other organizations that are part of its expanded distribution channel.
Blurb: Unlike other online self-publishing tools, Blurb focuses on unleashing your inner photographer or artist. That’s why it works best for book projects that involve pictures: wedding albums, cook books, travel books, yearbooks, corporate portfolios, etc.
You start by choosing your preferred bookmaking tool: Bookify Online (for simple, streamlined photo books), Blurb Booksmart (for books with photos and text – software download needed), or PDF to Book. With Booksmart, you can import photos from your own computer or from your web albums in Picasa, SmugMug, and even iPhoto (for Mac users).
Blurb is very easy to use, and it’s great for beginners who want more independence and cost efficiency than having to work with designers, printer companies, and editors just to produce a book or personal printed souvenir. Pricing starts at $2.95, varying according to the number of pages, with several options on the kind of cover that you want (soft cover, hard cover with dust jacket, hard cover with image wrap, etc.), orientation (square, portrait, landscape), and book type (pocket or trade). Because Blurb backs its service up with generous return and refund policies, you can be sure that what you’re getting is of professional, book-store quality.
While Blurb doesn’t provide you with your own ISBN, you can still market your book through its visually impressive online bookstore. There are also online marketing tools on Blurb that allow you to spread the word about your new book: a Blurb badge for your website, blog, and social networking sites; option to send E-mail announcements to contacts; a charity fundraiser; and even a Blurb dashboard for monitoring sales and analyzing your metrics.
WordClay: Like Lulu, WordClay has a simple publishing process that allows you to prepare your manuscript in ready-to-publish format in no time. There’s an easy-to-use DIY self-publishing wizard that you can use for free, plus an array of support services that include editing, content design, cover and graphic design, channel distribution, and marketing support. An extensive FAQ section offers tips and advice and complements WordClay’s excellent live-chat support feature.
BookBrewer: Have you ever thought of turning your blog or website into book form? Why not? The writing work that you do online, every single day, may translate equally well to an edited, rearranged, single format. Or maybe you’re an e-book author who wants to reach readers on the iPad, Kindle, Nook, and other e-book reading devices. In which case, you might want to check out BookBrewer, a tool for importing posts/content from your website or blog and turning them into a manuscript.
It’s free to create your e-book using BookBrewer (and satisfy the curiosity of wanting to know what your blog looks like as a book). If you do want to market and sell, you’re going to have to shell out $89.99 to send your e-book to online stores with your ISBN (or one BookBrewer assigns for free).