Review: A People’s Guide to Publishing

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I picked up “A People’s Guide To Publishing” by Joe Biel to get new ideas for my self-publishing.  Biel founded Microcosm Publishing and knows what he’s doing.  The book changed my writing agenda for the next two years, and I’m going to recommend it to all writers.

The idea behind PGTP is how to start a publishing company.  That may seem to be outside the scope of most indie authors, but a good 80% of the advice applies to them as well.  The difference between “publishing company” and “indie author” is more fluid than many realize.

I learned a few things. So let’s take a look at the book.

The author, Biel, speaks from direct experience creating Microcosm Publishing and interactions with other writers and publishers.  While he acknowledges the world today isn’t the world he started in decades ago, the advice stands up because most of it he’s using right now.

Let’s talk about what the book covers (everything, but let’s list the everything).

I was delighted that the book opens about vision.  Author or future publisher, vision matters – what do you believe in and who do you serve?  Your vision helps you decide on concrete steps, so I was thrilled to see it so well explained (I’ve had to do this before).

After vision, the book covers the real nitty-gritty on publishing and not relying directly on Amazon, Ingrahm, etc.  The author believes – and wants you – to engage in actual physical books and control your printing.  Biel considers Amazon Kindle or Ingram’s POD services to be glorified vanity presses that can limit you, even if they have their uses.  He makes a good case, to be honest.

The advice given here surprised me because it made me think in different ways?  Why not make your book a ‘zine at first to test it?  Could you split distribution between a POD service and a regular printer?  Do ebooks really fit your marketing plan?  Could you just print 20 copies of your book and test it at a bookstore?

With the printing and stocking out of the way it’s time selling, marketing, and more.  This advice isn’t particuarly noteworthy, but what stands out is its practicality and explanations of why things work.  He’s very much of the return-audience, focused-effort, long-term outreach school.  This may sound overwhelming, but he even has advice on using limited time and resources.

Finally, the book discusses running your own publishing business.  Some of this may not be relevant to a solo author, but don’t skip it.  You might find out how to budget better, or understand how to protect your IP.  Like the rest of the book, right when you think “this doesn’t apply to me” it ends up applying to you.

As you guessed, this is a very complete book.  It has exercises, checklists, links, and more.  If you need more, Biel and his company have all sorts of books on writing, publishing, and “punkish” entrepreneurship.

I’d like to say more about the book beyond “buy it,” but buy it.  It’s a fantastic guide to self-publishing, even if you don’t want a company so much as a profitable hobby.

What did it do for me?  It helped me re-look at my back catalog, look into doing less e-book only books and more physical-and-e-books, and look at better ways to do print.  My regular readers know I’m planning to shake things up, this book is why.

No more rambling.  Go get it now, read it now, and use the information.  Maybe we can even learn together.

Steven Savage