There is no shortcut to awesome.Zoe Winters

The only thing worse than crushing people’s dreams is to mislead them. The problem isn’t that traditional publishers are dumb or evil. There are plenty of smart and nice people in the industry—probably more than most industries because a love of books motivated these folks.

The problem is that traditional publishing was geared to a world with limits, but these limits no longer exist:

  • Shelf space in bookstores.
  • Access to printing presses.
  • Expertise to edit and produce books.

In the old, constrained world, something had to select and distribute what was worthy of shelf space, press time and attention. That something was publishers; they served as a filter, finisher and arbiter of taste. Several thousands of these organizations added value for hundreds of years.

But now shelf space is infinite; ebooks and print-on-demand mean that access to printing presses is irrelevant; and anyone who can use a word processor can write and publish a book. These changes don’t mean that books are now better—any more than a democratic political system that enables everyone to vote produces better leaders.

However, there is far less need for something to distribute dead trees to dead bookstores when people can shop online for millions of titles and have their choices delivered to their computers, ebook readers, tablets and phones in under a minute. And if these people aren’t buying ebooks, they could still order printed books from an organization that will produce books on demand.

The 3Ds of Self-Publishing

Even if you like the heft, smell and feel of printed books, this is the world we live in now. While printed books may never die (an ebook of Annie Lebovitz’s photographs doesn’t cut it), we’re not going back to a time when there were only printed books.

Amazon, Apple, and thousands of companies, programmers, and geeks have produced three fundamental changes in publishing:

  • Democratization. Anyone with a computer and a word processor can publish a book and anyone with a computer, tablet, or smart phone can buy a book. Writing and reading are no longer the province of the rich, famous, or powerful.
  • Disintermediation. Entities that add value remain in the flow of books from authors to people. Entities that do not add value are bypassed. The distribution of books from authors to people is direct, immediate, and inexpensive.
  • Determination. Authors can determine the success of their book, and readers can determine the quality of what they read. This doesn’t mean that all books are good, but there’s nothing else blame when you’re self-publishing your writing, and people can choose from millions of books.

If you’re going to succeed in self-publishing, you need to believe in these changes to the core of your existence.

The Advantages of Self-Publishing

Enough about the big picture and megatrends of publishing, let’s get down to the nitty gritty details of the advantages of self-publishing:

  • Content and design control. When you self-publish a book, you control what’s in it and how it looks. This level of control is exhilarating for an author, and assuming that you’re right about what people want to read and that you have a good sense of design, you’ll have a better book. Or, at least you’ll have a book that you like, and if you don’t like it, you have no one else to blame.
  • Royalty. Royalty from a traditional publisher is 15-20 percent of net revenues. Kindle ebooks, by contrast, pays a 35 percent or 70 percent. Apple pays 55 percent, and Barnes & Noble pays 65 percent. If you select Kindle’s 70 percent royalty rate, remember that Amazon subtracts delivery charges for ebook files according to this schedule: $0.15/MB £0.10/MB €0.12/MB €0.12/MB €0.12/MB €0.12/MB. (A book without pictures is about one megabyte or $.15 to deliver.
  • Time to market. Using a print-on-demand company, you can get your book to market in a week. You can get an ebook through Kindle in two days. Apple takes a week. A traditional publisher takes six to ninth months to get a printed-on-paper book to market, and it will not release the ebook version earlier than the printed version.
  • Deal flexibility. As a self-publisher, you can cut any kind of deal with any kind of organization. For example, you could sell a site-license for your book to a large organization so that all employees could read it. Traditional publishers sell to distributors, bookstores, and online resellers as well as directly to buyers for bulk purchases of printed books. Anything outside of this—for example, my desire to sell 500 copies of the ebook version of Enchantment—is difficult for traditional publishers to handle.
  • Foreign rights. If your book is successful, then foreign publishers will contact you to buy the rights for various countries. In this scenario you might make more money because you’re not sharing revenue with a traditional publisher. You must weigh this possible advantage, however, against the difficulty of finding (or being found by) a foreign publisher, negotiating a contract, providing artwork, and collecting royalty.

Next up, I will explore the disadvantages of self-publishing, then talk about some of the other ways to get your book out there.

Guy Kawasaki is the author of 11 books, including What the Plus!, Enchantment, Reality Check, The Art of the Start, Rules for Revolutionaries, How to Drive Your Competition Crazy, Selling the Dream and The Macintosh Way. He is also the cofounder of and a founding partner at Garage Technology Ventures. Previously, he was the chief evangelist of Apple. Kawasaki has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA, as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College.

This is part of a multiweek series from Guy, featuring exclusive excerpts from his new book, APE: Author, Publisher, and Entrepreneur, which he will self-publish this fall, barring a massive advance from a traditional publisher.