By Lee Foster

My new book on self-publishing is now out as a printed book and an ebook. I am also going to release part of the book, Chapters 1-5, here gradually as a partial website book. After five sample chapters, a consumer can determine if the book looks useful. This first release is the Introduction and Chapter 1.

Here is an announcement about the book followed by the Introduction and Chapter 1 “How Traditional Publishing Worked (and Sometimes Still Works).”indie-300

The Announcement:

Lee Foster Publishes Book on Self-Publishing

Lee Foster has published a new book about the independent publishing movement. After completing 16 books with traditional publishers, why did Lee switch to producing four books “independently” published or “indie”? Why does he now recommend this path for most authors? The book describes Lee’s advice on the publishing of printed books (print-on-demand), ebooks, books-as-websites, apps, and audiobooks.

The book is titled An Author’s Perspective on Independent Publishing: Why Self-Publishing May Be Your Best Option. The book can be seen on Amazon and on Lee’s Amazon Author Page. A more detailed announcement about the new book can be seen on Lee’s website.

The book is both an Author’s journey in this gradual transition from traditional to indie publishing and a practical how-to guide for Authors who may wish to follow a parallel path.

Self-publishing is now an ascending practice and will continuing to thrive, in Lee Foster’s assessment of the current market. More and more Authors are pursuing the independent publishing dream. Technology developments make “indie” publishing more plausible with each passing year. Increasing market access for indie Authors continues to erode the domain that traditional publishers once ruled exclusively.

The book covers the logical subjects that developed in Lee Foster’s practices, as the table of contents suggests:

1. How Traditional Publishing Worked (and Sometimes Still Works)
2. Why Independent Publishing, Also Known As Self-Publishing, Arose
3. Why Independent Publishing Today and Tomorrow May Be Your Most Viable Option
4. Your Print-on-Demand Book
5. Your Ebook Distribution
6. Your Book Content as a Website/Blog, Funded Partly by Advertising
7. Your Social Media Outreach
8. Your Book Marketing Strategy
9. Your Need for Quality Design in Independent Publishing
10. Your Book’s Possible Specialized Adaptations, such as an Audiobook, Chinese Translation, and App

Many modern Authors are restless with their traditional publishing options. They may find some comfort in the self-publishing trajectory described in this book. Lee Foster had a very positive experience with his traditional publishing partnerships in the past. It’s just that with all the new opportunities, indie seems much more appealing to him.

The Book:
An Author’s Perspective on Independent Publishing: Why Self-Publishing May Be Your Best Option
ISBN for printed book 978-0-9760843-4-1, retail price $14.95
ISBN for ebook 978-0-9760843-6-5, retail price $3.99

Introduction and Chapter 1:


The Independent Publishing Dream, and Why So Many Authors Now Embrace It

Our world of modern publishing is a new and exciting world in numerous ways. Many aspects of our lives, including our publishing lives, are experiencing rapid change. Technological advances are having a profound effect on us, way beyond what we can comprehend.

Publishing our books independently can be a fun, engaging, intellectually-stimulating, and profitable activity.

An Author (please allow me to capitalize this noun throughout this book) can now connect with a reader in ways never previously imagined. There are similar tech parallels in other human endeavors. For example, individuals who now want to travel and stay in a private room in a residence can now do so through Airbnb. And Airbnb has more market value in the stock market today than Hilton and Hyatt and several other top players combined. How did Airbnb achieve this dominance in lodging without ever investing in a single hotel?

Today an Author can independently publish (or self-publish, if you prefer that term) a book with print-on-demand print-book technology at relatively low cost. The Author can also develop a parallel ebook with new technology at a similar minimal cost. Then the Author can get access to the vast market of worldwide consumers as well as to all bookstores and libraries. The initial marketing mechanism of major consequence is Amazon. As of 2014, it was reported, selling of books online surpassed the selling of books in brick-and-mortar bookstores. As an “independent” or “indie” publisher of books/ebooks, I have the same access as all my “traditional” publishing partners to the Amazon marketplace. This is a technology revolution in publishing parallel to the Airbnb saga in lodging.

Currently, I have four independently-published or self-published books in Amazon (I will use the code word “indie” for brevity from now on). I have 16 “traditionally” published books, with major publishers. These books can be seen on my Amazon Author Page at and on my Foster Travel Publishing website at

Amazon is a big, complicated, and controversial subject to discuss, and will figure in several chapters in this book. The critical concept for an indie Author to comprehend is that Amazon is the most successful contemporary seller of books. Amazon sells (data is a bit secretive) perhaps 60% or more of all the books and ebooks purchased in the United States. Managing your Amazon relationship wisely and judiciously is a major consideration for all Authors, indie and traditional.

The main question you may have for me is, “After publishing 16 traditional books, why did you proceed to do four indie books? And why do you appear to believe that indie is the most viable path forward for most Authors?” This book will describe my own evolution on this publishing trajectory and indicate all the specific strategies I am following. I have even made some mistakes that you can avoid, with my current knowledge. Note that the best strategies will continue to evolve, some quite rapidly. I will periodically re-release this book to reflect the changing times.

Success is not guaranteed in the indie publishing world. Success was also never guaranteed in the traditional publishing world. Success depends on multiple factors, primarily today and tomorrow on the Author continuing to nurture a positive relationship with readers. However, one thing is absolutely different in this new world of indie publishing: Today no one can tell an Author that his or her work is not worth publishing. In the past, a few “gatekeepers” determined what could and should and would be published. That era is now over. The reader will now decide what is worth being published, by either buying or ignoring the published products.

The burdens (and opportunities) of publishing now fall on the Author. The burdens are substantial. The Author has the responsibility to produce a book of respectable literary and design quality. The Author is now the marketer of the book. The Author may need to invest in editors, designers, and marketers to make the product successful. The Author may want to establish a consistent Social Media presence to promote the book.

The main question on everyone’s mind is, “Which indie Authors will succeed in connecting with their purchasing readers, and how will they accomplish this feat?

This book presents my best judgments on the indie publishing revolution. This book may tell you everything you need to know. If you have a specific project and want elaborate personal advice from me, we can arrange that for an hourly consultation fee. You can contact me at [email protected]

Chapter 1

How Traditional Publishing Worked (and Sometimes Still Works)

Traditional publishing worked reasonably well for me (and many other Authors) from roughly 1970 to 2005. After that, it became a troubled model. As I have indicated, I have 16 traditionally published books, which can be seen on my Amazon Author Page at

Traditional publishing was once the only viable way to produce and sell books. There were several factors.

Most books were sold through bookstores, and only traditional publishers had access to the buyers for these stores, whether Barnes & Noble or independent stores. Now, most books are sold directly to the public, through Amazon and other vendors. Bookstores today have an important but diminished role. Moreover, an independent Author can distribute a book through an entity known as Ingram (more on this later) and have access to all bookstores if the Author can create a market for a book.

Traditional Publishing involved huge capital costs, and traditional publishers were the folks with the capital. It was necessary to print thousands of copies of a book offset to get the unit price down. Then the books had to be warehoused and shipped. Major infrastructure was required. That has all now changed with quality print-on-demand books, which can actually be manufactured one at a time when there is a sale.

There were two basic models of compensation for Authors in the traditional publishing world. One was “royalty” and the other was “work for hire.”

The royalty model was my primary strategy. This involved the Author receiving a percentage of the net money that the publisher earned when a book was sold. About 15% of net was considered a good deal by most Authors. Usually there was an “advance” (of perhaps $2,000 for a travel guidebook, my primary area of publishing) to keep the Author’s spirits up and help with the research costs of the book. The advance was logged off against the gradual monies due to the Author from actual sales. Usually, there was a semi-annual accounting report and payment. I liked the royalty model because I wanted to be part of the action. I wanted to share in the long-term success of my books. Here, in more detail, is how the money was shared. A book’s retail price might have been $14.95, as an example. The publisher sold an average book to the bookstore or distributor at roughly 55% off or net $6.73. The Author got 15% of that net or $1.01. So I earned about a dollar when one of my $14.95 books sold traditionally.

The other model was work-for-hire. The publisher paid the Author a set fee for creating the content of the book. Many Authors liked this model because it meant substantial and helpful up-front cash-in-the-bank. This was a clean-in and clean-out arrangement. It also suggested an important aspect of traditional publishing in many situations—that publishers essentially took on the responsibility to produce and market the book. Publishers liked that they had a known cost to produce the book and would not have to share additional income with the Author in the future. Accounting was simplified. The publisher could slice and dice the book any way they wanted. The Author also had no requirement or responsibility to market the book.

I actually voluntarily stepped back from my indie publishing model in 2013 and participated in one such work-for-hire book. The book was my Back Roads California for a publisher named Dorling Kindersley (DK). DK is possibly the best-funded worldwide publisher of lovely travel books, including their Eyewitness Guides, the series for my book. My friend Chris Baker and I wrote the book, and our friend Bob Holmes stepped in to share among the three of us photographing the book. I participated in this book because it was destined to be one of the great books on “my” territory–Northern California–so why not be the Author/Photographer? Also, DK said this would be clean in-and-out for $15,000, which was helpful. Moreover, as you will learn in the Amazon discussions coming up later, DK declared me an “Author of Record” for the book, so whenever that book comes up on Amazon, the consumer can click into all of my books at the bottom of the page in the reference to my Author Page. This is a substantial residual benefit.

Another aspect of why this traditional model worked well was that a bookstore often wanted to carry the entire line of books from a certain publisher. Publishers and their lines of books had a special identity and cachet. For example, in my field of travel books, Lonely Planet was the major player. Many bookstores made a point of carrying a huge range of Lonely Planet travel books, sometimes even all of their books. I formed a partnership with Lonely Planet and supplied photos for their books (I did not aspire to write their books). I had photos in more than 300 Lonely Planet books. This was a healthy partnership and produced more than $150,000 in income for me over 10 years. This was a reasonable share for me of their revenue from sales of their books, which were illustrated partially with my photos.

However, these big brands, led by Lonely Planet, gradually began to falter. It was reported that the Top 5 Travel Book Publishers sold about $140 million in books in 2007, but that dropped to about $70 million by 2012. The trend was not good. Some of these big brands continued to reinvent themselves and evolve in the digital era. Lonely Planet was one of the more successful adapters.

I’ve always had good relationships with my traditional publishers, even as I moved on to pursue indie opportunities. I have never seen my traditional publishing partners as conspirators. Rather, I have found them to be genial people who loved books and happened to be caught in a structure adversely affected by changing times and opportunities. Kermit Hummel, the publisher of my two books with Countryman Press, is an example. Those books are The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco and The Photographer’s Guide to Washington DC. Kermit came out to California to have lunch with me one year when I won the prestigious Rebecca Bruns Award for my travel journalism from the Bay Area Travel Writers. I found Kermit to be a cultured man, living in Vermont near the Countryman headquarters. He loved books and had a flare for Japanese culture. He is a publisher with whom I would always enjoy a glass of wine, lunch or dinner, and good conversation.

It may be a valuable life lesson to conclude, thinking of Authors moving between traditional and indie, that it is good to try to make all your relationships successful, in publishing as in life. In publishing, your relationships may affect you for the long-term future. DK’s optional decision to declare me the Author of Record for Back Roads California is an example. They didn’t have to do this. But it was in their best interest and mine, given that we had a good working relationship.


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