Publish Your Book Yourself

New online services mean “you no longer have to get permission to publish your book.”

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when catherine dyer and her four sisters put together a funny book of their recipes and cooking foibles, they skipped the repeated rejection letters from agents and publishers. They went online to an on-demand printer that gins up copies as needed, one at a time. "I just wanted something in my hand, and I had it within days," Dyer says of the book, You Want Me to Bring a Dish?

The sisters have sold about 500 copies in the year since they published it. Not enough to quit their day jobs: Dyer is an actress (Lt. Margaret Riley on television's Army Wives) and producer. But she's enjoyed her taste of authorship, including talks at stores near her Atlanta home. "It's been so much fun having the book and having full control over the process," Dyer says.

The Internet is prying open the world of publishing. Online services like Lulu.com and Blurb.com have linked authors to computer-driven presses and binders that can produce single books at reasonable cost. Many are family histories, diaries, or photo compilations. A few even make good money for their creators.

The new online printers differ from traditional vanity presses because they don't require you to pay upfront for an order of books, often in the hundreds, that's more than you need to get started. Per-book charges are higher with the new on-demand services, but the overall cost is cheaper for the vast majority of self-publishers. Lulu offers a wide variety of options, including black-and-white paperbacks that start around $5 per 100-page book. Blurb focuses on full-color books with an artistic bent (which start at $13) but recently added black-and-white paperbacks. Both services provide selling tips, as well as online book markets. Authors can also get an ISBN number that enables sales in bookstores.

The Dyers pay Lulu about $19 each for their full-color cookbooks that sell online for $27 (with a 20 percent cut of the profits going to Lulu). They have to do their own marketing. Oh, and you won't be getting a big cash advance from a book company. But self-publishing offers at least one major benefit, says CEO Bob Young at Lulu. "You no longer have to get permission to publish your book."