Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Self-Publishing Manual by Dan Poynter

Many people -- even those that aren't writers by profession -- have at some point in their lives dreamed of writing a book. They fantasize about how satisfying it would be to see their names in print, their pictures on the dust jacket, and their book on the shelves of major retailers all across the country. Sadly, however, the reality is that only a small percentage of the manuscripts received by large publishing houses ever make it to press. So, what are all the other aspiring authors supposed to do? Well, according to Dan Poynter, the answer might be self-publishing.

The Self-Publishing Manual is a how-to book designed to show would-be writers how to get their manuscript published without having to deal with agents and the bureaucracy that usually slows down the entire process at the bigger publishing firms. He states early on that his instructions are geared more for people interested in writing nonfiction for niche markets rather than those who believe they have the next Harry Potter phenomenon on their hands. I knew that was the focus of his book before I purchased it, so I didn't feel misled and wasn't disappointed at all.

The first thing I noticed about The Self-Publishing Manual is that it looks professionally done. It doesn't look like something that was run off on a basement press or anything, so this gave me additional hope. Moreover, the About the Author page near the front of the book shows a picture of Poynter with a tall stack of books. The note on the page says that Poynter has written, published, and produced over 80 books.

I'm mentioning these two points right at the start for a very important reason. You should be wary of anyone who claims to be an expert at something, yet doesn't have the resume to back those claims up. For example, Poynter is supposed to be an expert on self-publishing. Therefore, it would look very strange if he only had one or two books with his name on them. That would indicate that he actually makes all of his money from selling advice rather than books, which is not what I'm interested in at all. So the fact that he has produced so many books coupled with the fact that the book actually looks professional gave me high hopes that I might be able to achieve the same results.

At the beginning of the book, Poynter lists a bunch of reasons why self-publishing might be better for some people than going the traditional route. Although these pages served to reinforce my convictions about purchasing the book (which very well may have been his intention), I thought they were pretty unnecessary since most people who buy this book will have already done quite a bit of research into the topic.

After that, things start to get really interesting. Poynter gives advice about how to get your manuscript out of your head and into your word processing program. He presents some ideas about organization and research, and even lays out a blueprint of what the back cover should look like. Again, the actual book that I was holding in my hands followed that advice to the letter, and the result was excellent. So I was still convinced that Poynter was on to something.

Then Poynter goes into a lot of details about the actual printing and binding process, along with many descriptions of the different types of paper and cover stock that printers have to work with. He gives some guidelines about which kind of paper to use that will be best suited to your purposes, and talks about how to get artwork for your cover design. This stuff was actually a bit confusing and boring while I was reading the book, but I'm sure it will be useful later when I finally reach that stage with my manuscript. But for now, I just skimmed that part.

Finally, Poynter talks about what to do with your finished product. He tells of the importance of promoting your book, talks about how to get on radio shows, and gives tips on how to get your book reviewed by significant people in your niche market. He then explains how pricing works, reiterates the importance of fulfilling orders promptly, and talks about how to deal with being a published author. I found that part to be a bit cheesy, especially when he devotes a couple of paragraphs to the problem of signing autographs -- but that's just my opinion!

Overall, I am pleased to say that I found The Self-Publishing Manual to be very informative. Unlike a lot of how-to books on the market today, this one was not full of vague advice and rehashed cliches that have been circulating forever. In most of the chapters, Poynter gives step-by-step instructions on how to get things done, often including measurements and other details that show he really knows what he's talking about. Plus, for almost every piece of advice he gives, the reader need simply look at the book itself for a concrete example of how the finished product will turn out.

I also found the chapter on electronic books and e-publishing to be very useful. Poynter gives enough information in this section that it would be possible for even a novice to produce an e-book without going through the other steps to produce a printed book. This is obviously a much cheaper and faster option, and could be quite useful for people who need to immediately capitalize on an idea that might not be able to wait for the printing process to run its course.

I haven't followed all of the steps in this book yet, so I can't say with 100 percent confidence whether or not they will work. But I have taken Poynter's advice about several preliminary steps and I seem to be on the right track now. After reading this book, I feel very excited about continuing on with a few book projects that have been on the backburner for some time now. The fact that Poynter's book has inspired me to start working on my own projects again is another reason that I liked it.

If you know that you have a great book idea inside of you, but you can't make any headway with the big publishing houses because you don't have the right connections, then I recommend reading The Self-Publishing Manual by Dan Poynter. This guide will tell you everything you need to know in order to get your book into printed form and ready for distribution. Now you can stop dreaming of being an author and instead take the steps to make it happen!

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