Be Your Own Dang Publisher

POD_cover

We get a lot of unsolicited manuscripts and book ideas at Lost Art Press – way more than we could ever hope to handle. As of now now we have 18 upcoming books under contract, which is more than five years of work for us.

So when potential authors come calling, I am quick to encourage them to publish their book themselves. (If they embrace the idea, that tells me something about their dedication to their project. If they reject the idea, that also tells me something about their dedication to their project.)

These days, it’s easy to print a decent-quality book using a “print-on-demand” (POD) service. These POD products aren’t permanent books. The pages are merely stacked and glued. With traditional books, the pages are folded, sewn and glued, which makes for a much more durable product.

POD_interior

But the POD option is a good one for guerilla publishers. Or people who want to make only a few books at a time. There are many companies that will print and sell your POD book (Amazon and Lightning Source are two of the bigger players). But there is a smaller and sometimes cheaper option.

Local libraries often have “Maker Spaces” that have POD machines, such as the Espresso book machine, a $185,000 technological wonder. The Cincinnati Public Library has one, and I’ve been using it for the last year to print off workshop manuals and personal publishing projects with great success.

Yes, it sucks that its book blocks are glued and not sewn. But there is a solution: Sew the book blocks yourself. It’s not all that difficult, and I’ll demonstrate the process in a future blog post.

Lately I’ve been printing up the 70-page manuals that I’ll give to students who take my staked furniture classes. Compared to other photocopied and stapled manuals, these POD manuals are nice. And they don’t cost much more than a trip to Staples or Office Depot.

So, if you have your own publishing project in mind – “The Baptist’s Tool Chest” or “The Democratic Design Book” – you might want to first give your local library a call to see if it has a POD machine. You might just put me out of business some day.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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27 Responses to Be Your Own Dang Publisher

  1. jpassacantando says:

    Further proof, as if we needed any, that Schwarz is really an anarchist.

  2. Richard Jones says:

    Interesting. I considered such options for what eventually morphed into Cut & Dried, but rejected them all. I reasoned my scribblings needed a professional to transform my demented maudling into something presentable. I dread to think how many cock-ups might have made it into print without the help of someone with some insight in the book publishing game. I like to think the end product turned out pretty good, Chris … maybe you agree, ha, ha. Richard.

    • Hi Richard,

      The fact that you were considering POD is an indicator of how keen you were to see the project through and was one of the reasons we took up your book (which did come out well).

      Everyone does need an editor. But that can be your spouse, your colleagues or a freelancer that you hire.

      • Richard Jones says:

        Not sure about my spouse being a proof reader in my case, Chris. Spelling really, really isn’t her strong suit! It’s true though, I very much wanted to see my manuscript published, and I guess I was persistent. As you are aware, I’m very happy with the end result, and I really couldn’t have done it justice without all the input from everyone at LAP.

  3. bswoodworks says:

    Firstly, I’m still newer to woodworking in general and found Chris Schwarz and all your dabblings a few months back and have been hooked. I flew through ATC and wish I had found it early to help me not buy some crap tools. I thoroughly enjoy your writing style and wit and frankness.

    Now I know this isn’t really the thread to ask this question, but any recommendations for a book that covers design guidelines for furniture building (i.e. shelf load limits for a 4/4 board, coffee table heights, etc.). Does one of the Hayward Volumes cover this? If there is no such book then that is fine but I figure if there is everyone that follows these threads would be the group to know.

    thanks!

    • Get “Illustrated Cabinetmaking” by Bill Hylton. And “Human Dimension & Interior Space” by Julius Panero et al. If it’s not in those two books, then it’s really a minor point.

      • bswoodworks says:

        thanks! I will look into those

      • Joe says:

        Hey Chris, hate to be a pest, but apparently there’s two versions of the Hylton book? One called “Rodale’s Illustrated Cabinetmaking: How to Design and Construct Furniture That Works” from 1998, and another called “Illustrated Cabinetmaking: How to Design and Construct Furniture That Works (American Woodworker)” in paperback from 2008.

        Do you know if it’s just a change of publishers, or are there bigger differences? They’re both apparently by Hylton but have different ISBNs. Recommend one in particular or whichever is cheaper?

    • Jimmy says:

      You might also look at the Humanscale Manual. It’s really neat, it was created by a big design firm in the 70’s and has been out of print since the early 80’s, but someone else recently brought it back in to print.

      It doesn’t cover anything structural, but it’s an amazingly concise and quick-to-use reference for every possible measurement of the human body and appropriate dimensions of things for humans to interact with.

      It’s set up as sleeves with rotating cards inside that let you select average ranges or specific human sizes and read the correct values out of holes in the sleeves.

      I have no relationship with the original design firm or the people currently publishing it besides having backed the current publishing run on Kickstarter.

      https://humanscalemanual.com/

  4. Wes Smith says:

    Saw one of these while perusing a the Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge. Looked really cool!

    http://www.harvard.com/clubs_services/custom_printing/

  5. fedster9 says:

    While I would be all for self publishing, I am not 100% sure I am convinced that selling hand sewn, self published books would be economically viable outside the smallest scale… unless obviously, one could get those pesky kids to put off whatever gadget and chip in some help.

    • Bruce says:

      I know people who have a niche market for just that, Medieval Books of Hours with tooled leather bindings and blank journals similarly bound. Must be working for them as I keep seeing them turn up to various markets and people ask for their contact details on-line if they miss the markets.

    • jenohdit says:

      The books come glued. No need to sew unless you or the customer want. The ones I’ve seen look pretty good and if you have something worthwhile you can consider them a prototype that someone else might take an interest in once you demonstrate demand. The examples I’ve seen didn’t even exist until a customer had ordered one so no need to even keep any in stock to meet demand.

  6. Chris Carruth says:

    Yeah, I’m sorry, but this is actually pretty crap advice.
    The POD options available are expensive and shoddy; pretty good for a manual for a one-off class, but not for anything else.
    And for you to tell someone that their dedication is lacking because they won’t go self-publishing is pretty shitty. Smacks of pulling the ladder up after you’ve climbed it.

    • mike says:

      I think it is great advice. LAP owes exactly zero people a publishing deal. Chris and his partner risked (I assume) a lot of their own cash to get LAP up and running. He has a 5 year back log of projects. And the reason he is in that position today is 1) he had a good product and 2) he was willing to risk his own money to get it to market. If people are not willing to take a risk they should not expect a reward.

    • Mike Siemsen says:

      First one must build the ladder.

    • I can see how you could read this post that way, but I have to respectfully disagree, and I’m going to try to explain why.

      When my wife and I got married, our wedding favor was a cookbook of recipes collected from our wedding guests. We wanted it printed and bound well enough to survive typical cookbook use. Which meant going through a printer and binder. Bearing in mind that we had to generate approximately none of the content ourselves, we went into this with the assumption that it would be a relatively simple project.

      How wrong we were.

      Getting a book print-ready, even at the most basic level, required learning enough about bleeds and safe zones and page sizes and etc, etc, etc to put off anybody who isn’t pretty darned serious about getting ink on paper. And then we had to learn enough layout to competently lay the content out. Bear in mind that we didn’t have any pictures to go with the text, and that the longest contiguous sections of text spanned 2 pages. Relatively speaking, this is not a hard layout job, and it was black and white, not color.

      Granted, we were learning as we did it, but if I hadn’t been between jobs in the several months leading up to our wedding, we’d have never gotten it across the goal line in time.

      Then there’s editing. We’re both reasonably competent writers, and have edited each other’s work, but editing for somebody else is a whole different animal. Jim Beam helped a lot with the editing.

      And all of that is the *easy* part of what a publisher does. The hard part is figuring out who might plausibly be interested in buying a book, how to make them aware of the existence of the book, how to warehouse it, how to ship it, and all of the unsexy stuff that actually gets books into the hands of readers.

      • All that to say:

        If you’ve toughed out enough of the easy part to get a book print-ready, even at a basic level, and made an honest attempt at answering the hard questions about why anybody should buy your book, and come up with answers that suggest it might be viable to publish yourself, you’re in a much better place to convince a publisher not only that you’re serious, but also that they stand to gain from publishing your book.

      • mike says:

        Yes, back to the ladder analogy. Assume the ladder has 10 steps. The idea is step 1, writing the manuscript step 2, packaging, editing, indexing, etc, steps 3-5. Steps 5-10? Getting people to buy the thing.

        My day job (which has nothing to do with woodworking and little to do with publishing) has had me in product development roles as well as sales and marketing. I can tell you that developing a client base and getting people to spend money is far more difficult than many technical/product people will admit. Life is not “Field of Dreams”. You can build it, they might not come.

        LAP has built a nice niche publishing business, but a huge part of that business is marketing and distribution (even if Chris has to hold his nose when he uses the word marketing).

    • jenohdit says:

      Telling someone that self publishing demonstrates commitment is not the same thing as saying that not self publishing demonstrates lack of commitment. nor does it bar anyone from following the exact same path that Chris Schwarz did. The article helpfully suggests a stepping stone to success that wasn’t available to him.

  7. artisandcw says:

    Alternately, many of the best-loved books of the past were published as serialized magazine articles, a model I have been contemplating for some time. A fair bit of my output (fiction, professional manuscripts for which I am legally prevented from deriving income, etc.) seems to be amenable to this strategy. Only instead of magazines the vehicle would be my blog. Hey, if it worked for “The Martian” maybe it can work for “Riesener’s Legacy.”

  8. Mark Gilsdorf says:

    That maker space at the library downtown is a real hidden gem! Too few people know about it (which makes it a shorter wait to get on the banner printer) 🙂

  9. Daniel Williamson says:

    The anarchist in me is absolutely taking this as “disobey me.” Meaning, if I have an idea, I should instead come directly to you based on the title of this post.

    I’ll have to do some thinking about the idea though…

  10. craig regan says:

    I wonder if Rude Mechanical Press would read my manuscript? They only have one book published to date and my treatise on bird feeders could nicely fill a void in their catalog.

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