Not too long ago, self-publishing was looked down upon as the venue only of people whose work was truly awful. Now, however, self-publishing is not only respectable but 'in.' Major publishers are concentrating their efforts on mega-blockbusters, leaving the midlist or smaller writers out in the cold, which has led to the advent of the self- and small-press publisher as a solid professional group. And there's definitely a market out there for well-written books. As a self-publisher, you'll not only write your book, but also see it through all the details the publishing house attends to--editing, choosing cover art, working with the graphic artist, getting it printed and, perhaps most important, getting it marketed so that it finds a readership. The main advantage to this business, of course, is in seeing your book in print. But that's not the only one. As a self-publisher, you've got far greater control over every aspect of the final product, from paper to artwork to the blurb on the back jacket, than you would at the hands of a traditional publishing house. You can go on to publish other works of your own, or publish other writers' materials. You get far more of the revenues--up to 50 percent--than at a traditional publishing house, which pays royalties of 7 percent to 10 percent of sales. As a final advantage, if your book does well, you can segue into related products like audiobooks, videotapes and a wide variety of licensed products. And it's not unheard of for a major publisher to snap up your book once they see that it's a success. Before anything else, you'll need the talent to pen a really good book, whether it be fiction, nonfiction or a children's picture book. You should have plenty of marketing smarts, a working knowledge of publishing contracts, terms and conditions from distribution rights to what constitutes intellectual property, and the ability to pull together the varied elements of a pre-production manuscript into a professional final product.
Your customers will be the readers who buy your books, but in publishing it's not quite that simple. Unless you sell through mail order, you'll have to go through intermediaries like bookstores, which makes them your first line of attack in the sales and marketing process. Large chain bookstores rely on a complex distribution system for their stock, which means that even if the manager loves your book, he can't sell it. Bottom line--you'll have to capture the distributors' interests or sell to smaller, independent book stores. You should also aim for alternative sales sources--for instance, if your book deals with gardening, try selling it to garden centers and nurseries whose customers already have an interest in your subject.
You'll need a computer, a laser printer and a fax machine, the usual office software, and desktop-publishing software. In addition, you'll want the usual tools of the writer's trade: plenty of reference books, such as a dictionary, an encyclopedia, a thesaurus and style guides.