Hot Off The Press

Self-publishers with the write stuff grab a piece of an $18.5 billion industry.

Barbara Saltzman had a book. Not just any book, but one penned and illustrated by the 22-year-old son she lost to Hodgkin's disease. The book is alive with engaging characters, lively rhymes, sweet illustrations and hope for the children who read it. Before her son David's death in 1990, Saltzman vowed she'd get his book published, whatever it took.

But that was before she ran up against the New York publishing establishment. They recommended shortening the book, editing out the rhymes, and printing it on flimsy paper. Even for Saltzman, a newspaper editor by trade, the "business end" of getting published was a cold shock.

So, like a growing number of authors worldwide, Saltzman published the book herself. With the help of her husband, Joe, her older son, Michael, a $250,000 home equity loan and a loan from friends, Saltzman printed 30,000 copies of The Jester Has Lost His Jingle (The Jester Company Inc.). Since its October 1995 release, about 165,000 copies of the book have been printed.

When she isn't traveling the country on promotional junkets, Saltzman works tirelessly out of her home in Palos Verdes Estates, California. Becoming a publisher has been hard but gratifying work. "I work on this constantly," says Saltzman. "But when I see the impact the book has on kids, it's really quite tremendous."

According to Dan Poynter, founder of Santa Barbara, California-based Para Publishing and author of The Self-Publishing Manual (Para Publishing), Saltzman is in good company. Poynter estimates there are at least 53,000 publishers in the United States today. "Of those," he says, "maybe 23 are large companies; another 300 are medium-sized presses. That leaves more than 52,000 smaller publishers."

And why not? Book sales have been on the rise throughout the '90s, with estimated publishers' sales in 1996 of $18.5 billion, a 35 percent increase over 1990 sales of $13.7 billion.

More important, it's never been more feasible--or attractive--to self-publish. What began as a do-it-yourself movement in the 1980s is now a thriving, professional industry. "Ten years ago, self-publishing was not the thing for an established writer to do," says Mark Dressler, associate publisher of Small Press and Publishing Entrepreneur magazines and vice president of The Jenkins Group Inc., a Traverse City, Michigan, firm that helps small presses produce professional results. "Today, I'm working with people who were previously published by the [major houses] and didn't like it."

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This article was originally published in the March 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Hot Off The Press.

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