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SELF-PUBLISHING is cheaper than vanity publishing, but requires you to do all the work yourself -- you find an editor, cover designer, book printer, marketing expert, etc., and pay their rates out of pocket. In effect, you are you own publisher. Expect to pay several thousand dollars for this option.
PRINT-ON-DEMAND is a new, interesting phenomenon. For anywhere from $500 to $2500, you pay a company to put your book together, distribute it, and market it. The catch is, the company turns your book into a file, not into a wad of paper. When your Aunt Gertie orders your book, her order goes to a printing company, which then opens the file and prints her a copy of the book. Because this technology exists, neither you nor the publisher is ever stuck with boxes of unsold books. One good example of a POD company is Bookpublisher.com: http://www.bookpublisher.com.
But how does all this lingo help your book get printed? At the very least, you can decide what your priorities are, and weigh them against the options.
Traditional publishing is a high-stakes game, and offers the most opportunities for profit, recognition, awards, and all-around prestige. You don't have to do your own marketing, either, and this appeals to many people. Just don't wait up for Roger Straus to call.
Vanity publishing -- well, I have no experience here, and hence no trustworthy advice to offer. There must be writers out there who opt for this one, but I just haven't yet encountered any of them.
Self-publishing is a lot of work, but I have seen some nice final products in this area. One of my former clients is a good example: http://www.chunktohunk.com. If you have up-front cash, good organizational skills, and knowledge of what you want and how to market it, why not?
Print-on-demand is an accessible, relatively affordable publishing model. To be truly satisfied with the final product, however, you may want to hire outside professionals to do some of the work. POD companies often have in-house copyeditors and cover designers who do a passable job, but a good substantive editor and a talented designer can really polish your book and make it more marketable. There is an element of self-interest in this advice, as my company offers editing and design services to many POD authors, but I wouldn't be in business if there wasn't a need for quality editing and design in the first place.
As with any big decision, do your research. The Writer's Market offers information about traditional and vanity presses, and regarding self-publishing and POD companies, copious information exists on the Web. My favorite POD company is Bookpublisher.com. I have dealt with them peripherally through one of my clients, and find that the people who work there are professional, client-centered, and talented -- qualities which are not yet the norm in this area.
A final word: you have spent months, maybe years, writing your manuscript, and may be anxious to see it published. KEEP TAKING YOUR TIME. A printed book is a permanent thing. Do your homework, and take steps to guarantee that the final product is something you will be proud of ten years from now. #
If publishing a book interests you, check out this step-by-step Book Publishing Plan.