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Self Publishing for Academic Authors

Updated on July 12, 2011

Getting your work published

Not so long ago I was approached by a publishing company to publish some of my work with no cost to me. Excited about the opportunity to get a book published, I happily agreed. I now have a book that is available online from many larger online book retailers, as well as a book in my bookshelf written by me! Fortunately, the group that I got my book published with publish books in many different academic disciplines, so if you are hoping to get an academic book published for next to no cost—the cost being only a little of your time (and the writing of the book, of course )—then read on now…

My Story

In January 2010 I was approached by a company called VDM Verlag, who were interested in publishing some of my work. It was a little unusual, for the work they said they were interested in publishing was not book-length, but a paper I had presented at a post-graduate seminar. I was justifiably elated (for the chance of getting something published) and confused (had they made a mistake? Was it a sham?), so I did a quick search on Google to see if anyone else had had the same experience. I found that there were a few references to this publisher. The general consensus seemed to be that they are harmless and that it is a good avenue for people who want to get a book published at no cost to them. I decided to go ahead because I thought it would be kind of neat to get a book with my name on it. That was my only goal, and I achieved it. But if I wanted to I am sure I could get some publicity for it; but this is not my goal.

The Publisher

VDM Verlag are the ones who published my book. They are a German based country, but sell books in other countries, and languages, as well. They use a method called Print on Demand (POD), which means that they only print as many books as are sold. This means that they are not the sort of books that you see in your bookstores (unless, of course, the bookstore specifically orders them). They sell their books in online bookstores, such as Amazon and Abebooks.

They have received some bad press for their methods. The problems seem to be that they don’t proofread or edit work before they sell it, they charge high prices for the books, they don’t review work, so some writing can be of quite low quality and some of the writing they publish can be found for free, elsewhere. These are things you might want to weigh up before attempting to publish with VDM Verlag, for it might have an adverse affect on your book sales.

A Brief Summary of What to Expect

My book was printed really quickly. I was first contacted in January 2010 and my book was ready for purchase in February (5 weeks later). All I had to do was ensure that my manuscript was in an appropriate format for publishing (that is, in word format and other guidelines they specified). After this was sent off and approved by the publishers (I know not what they do), they asked me to select a front cover from a set of pre-set designs. Once I chose this I was promptly advised that my book was available online.

As a gift, they provide one free copy of the book, which I received approximately 8-12 weeks after it was sent to the printers. Mine is sitting in my bookshelf (probably the only one that will ever be printed!).

When you get your book published you sign over some of your rights to your work. I took this into consideration when I agreed for my book to get printed, but decided that it was a good idea to publish it anyway. But I recommend to anyone interested in going this route to have a careful look at their terms and conditions before agreeing to get your book printed. There were two important points that I noted. First, I was able to reprint 80% of the work anywhere else for publication and if no books have been sold for five years I get all my rights back.

Being able to reprint 80% of the work is all I needed. Apart from getting a few journal articles out of my work, I was not going to need it anymore (at least, that is what I thought then—and still think now). Furthermore, anything that I was likely to attempt to get published in a journal will be substantially changed (that is, over 20% of it) so as not to infringe on any copyright. So this was not a big deal for me, but it is worth thinking about whether it is a problem for you.

Will I make Money?

When a book is sold I get a percentage of the sale price. My cut is around 12%. As I said, I have not sold any books so I have not made any money from it, but this was never my aim anyway. I think it is worth asking yourself why you want to publish your work. For me it was just for the fun of it, for you it might be different. There are two other reasons I could think of that you might want to get your work published (discounting reasons such as: to show my mum I could do it, to annoy my sister, to show my ex- that I am good for something). You might want to promote your own ideas (including getting better known so you have more chances of getting a job) or you might want to make money. (I hope you don’t want to do it merely to be able to put it on your resume, this would not be very honest!)

Whether you want to promote your own ideas or make money you will need to actively market your book. You need to think of good ways to do this. I don’t have hands-on experience in this, but here is a list of things you might want to try:

  • Drum up interest through blogs, online chat cites, etc.
  • Put up posters of your book in your academic department
  • Ask colleagues to promote your book
  • Give some presentations/seminars on ideas from your book (perhaps at a university, or some public event)
  • Flyers, posters, letters, signs, adverts are all ways to get more interest in your work

With any of these ways of promoting your work you really should ensure that you are targeting the right audience. For example, a book on highly sophisticated chemistry is highly unlikely to appeal to the general public. But it might have a much higher appeal for science departments in universities, or, perhaps, a local science club. So while delivering a whole lot of flyers into people’s letterboxes may get the odd one or two interested ‘civilians’, targeting specific groups will be much more advantageous and cost effective.

The bottom line is that it is up to you to promote your book. VDM Verlag advertise it on different online bookstores, but the active marketing side is up to you.

Of course, there are many other avenues you might want to try. I thought that I would let you know of one that I have first hand experience of.


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