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Page last updated at 18:44 GMT, Friday, 27 November 2009

Budding authors publish own work online and in print

By LJ Rich
Reporter, BBC Click

Teresa Pereira from online publisher Blurb
Teresa Pereira from Blurb said the net has empowered writers

Self-publishing on the internet has given many budding writers a platform where their work can be shared with the world.

It marks a departure from a bygone era when self-publishing was exclusively for self-indulgent aristocrats.

"It's democratised the publishing world and allowed anyone to make a book," said Teresa Pereira from online publisher Blurb.

The National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) website invites authors to write 50,000 words during the month of November - with an emphasis on output, that is, quantity rather than quality.

It is trying to encourage more people to put the novel in their head on to the page by challenging them to complete it in a month. Almost 120,000 decided to do so in 2008.

But for authors determined to see their prose in print, technology has made it much easier and cheaper to turn this into reality.

Beyond expectations

The Espresso Book Machine at a Blackwell bookshop can print and bind a book in five minutes.

It offers customers the chance to get out-of-print titles printed in-store - although more customers use the service to get their own electronic manuscripts bound.

Espresso Book Machine at a Blackwell bookshop
The Espresso Book Machine mostly prints out people's own books

"At the moment most of the interest is coming from self-publishing so it is people bringing their own titles in and having them printed off," said Gareth Hardy, head of buying at Blackwell.

The Espresso has expanded the number of units the bookseller can hold by an extra half a million, but currently 70% of its output is personal titles.

"We knew there'd be a mix of self-publishing, of out of print and in-copyright books. But actually the bulk of it at the moment is the self-publishing which is more than we expected," Mr Hardy added.

On-demand printing

Other companies have identified the growing demand surrounding self-publishing and moved to fill the gap in the market.

Blurb is an online publisher which helps authors create, market and sell their book on their site. People can print just one copy of their book, and the firm still makes a profit.

It has been in business for four years and has so far sold two million books.

Ms Pereira said the internet has given everyone the tools to create a book.

"We've seen a lot of charities that are starting to use self publishing for fundraising - it enables them to do is create a book without any risk at all," she explained.

The advantage of printing titles on-demand is that the publisher is not left with stocks of books no-one wants to read, she said.

Author MG Harries
You'd pretty much have to have a best seller on your hands to be able to recoup the money you'd put in… very few self published books become bestsellers
MG Harris, author

'Few bestsellers'

However, author MG Harris believes that writers taking on the whole publishing process themselves can fail to give their work proper scrutiny.

"It's all too easy to just end up writing whatever you feel like writing and then just say 'it's ready' with a few minor superficial corrections," she explained.

She added that real publishers have all the expertise needed to bring sheets of words into a marketable book.

"They see the book that they can sell in the manuscript that you've delivered. Then you work with them to make it into that book," said MG Harris.

"Then you have somebody who will make the package, the book cover and the design and a marketing person.

"You'd pretty much have to have a best seller on your hands to be able to recoup the money you'd put in… very few self published books become bestsellers," she concluded.

MG Harris believes the move towards selling books in digital formats will not necessarily make the process easier for online self-publishers.

"Amazon and Google and maybe Apple between them will one day sell a lot of digital books… publishers will have to look to the internet even more.

"It will all be about having a really good looking website, having a fantastic way for readers to interact with you. If the traditional publishers go that way, they will be in a much better shape to promote a book than a self-published author."

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