Self-publishing your open access book
There are advantages and disadvantages to self-publishing an academic book. Advantages include speed and autonomy. Disadvantages include the labour involved and the lack of peer review, quality assurance, dissemination and marketing support provided by a reputable press. This article explores these issues and the tools and platforms that can enable you to self-publish.
To decide whether or not to self-publish, you should consult with your department or with colleagues in your field about how a self-published book might be received. Consider whether you have used self-published academic books in your own research and examine the range of open access publishers available. There is a broad variety of publishers, ranging from commercial, to university presses, to scholar-led publishers, so if one publisher does not appeal to you it is worth seeing what others have to offer as well as exploring self-publishing (See How to choose a publisher for your open access book).
What are the advantages of self-publishing?
Self-publishing can be faster than working with a publisher. You have greater control over the book and you receive any money you make from the sale of non-open access editions (unless you engage a company that takes a percentage of sales as payment). Note that some publishers offer royalties on the sale of non-open access editions of open access books.
Some academics prefer self-publishing because they want to publish in an experimental format and they cannot find a suitable publisher to support them, or because they believe (Schrock, 2016) that publishing companies have too much control over research.
What are the disadvantages of self-publishing?
You lose the labour and expertise that a publisher should put into navigating all aspects of publication and dissemination. Reputable publishers offer high standards of editorial and production support, marketing support, access to distribution channels, existing relationships with libraries and booksellers, archiving and other services (See Types of publishers and publishing services). It is a lot of work to coordinate all of this by yourself, and difficult to achieve to a high standard.
Any reputable publisher provides rigorous peer review of your work. Publication with a publisher or university press therefore gives confidence to readers and peers that your research is academically sound. Self-published work does not always have this benefit. There might also be legal matters that need to be addressed, a publisher could support the author with this. Whereas if self-publishing you may need to look into this yourself.
How do I self-publish?
There is a range of companies and individuals who can supply the services you need to self-publish.
The whole process: Companies such as Lulu, Glasstree and Inkshares provide services such as editorial and production support, marketing and distribution. They charge fees or take a percentage of sales in return. They are not all dedicated exclusively to academic work. Not all of these companies offer specific open access options. If they do not, you must add a Creative Commons licence to your work (see Choosing a Licence).
Proof-reading and copy-editing: There are many freelance editors and proofreaders, and companies who provide these services. It is important to check that they are accredited by a recognised body. For example, the UK Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) has a directory through which you can find a suitable professional.
Distribution: Companies such as Ingram Spark enable you to upload a cover and the interior of the final book manuscript, publish in a number of formats (print or ebook) and distribute to readers and libraries. They charge a fee and do not offer any editorial or marketing support. Again, if the company does not have an open access option you must add a Creative Commons licence to your work.
ISBNs and DOIs: If you want your book to be sold in bookshops and included in library collections, you should ensure it has an ISBN (see Nielsen UK; Bowker; ISBN International). It is advisable to obtain a DOI (Digital Object Identifier) to make your book more discoverable (see DOI FAQ); it is also recommended that you obtain DOIs for individual chapters.
Other tools and platforms: Tools such as dokieli and LaTeX and platforms such as PubPub, arXiv and Humanities Commons allow you to publish academic work online. You can add persistent identifiers and seek feedback from peers. Some platforms are free to use, but many are intended for content that is article-length, rather than a book project. You can also share a self-published work on your own website and it might be possible to deposit it in an institutional repository, depending on the repository’s policy for self-published work.