Pros: Breadth of scope; insider’s view of the publishing industry; widely applicable to different self-publishing needs
Cons: Lack of depth and specificity in some areas
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Since I recently read Peter Bowerman’s The Well-Fed Self-Publisher (TWFSP), I wanted to dig Jennifer Basye Sander’s “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Self-Publishing” (CIGSP) off of my bookshelf and finally read it as well, the better to compare and contrast the two books.
One of the things that made TWFSP so useful was its narrow focus on self-publishing as a profit-making enterprise primarily by professional writers in non-fiction niche markets–this allowed the author to go into a great deal of depth with respect to relevant information. However, this also meant that book wasn’t nearly as useful to other folks who might want to self-publish. There are plenty of reasons to self-publish, not all of which have to do with wanting to make a profit in a niche market that might not be received so well (or marketed so well) by a traditional publisher. For instance, you might want to preserve family history and memories for your loved ones. You might want to publish fiction, which operates by somewhat different rules than non-fiction (much of TWFSP could apply to fiction as well, however Bowerman makes no bones about the fact that fiction is harder to turn a profit from when self-publishing). You might have a novel idea for a gift product that loosely falls into the “publishing” milieu.
In these cases, you might find Sander’s CIGSP to be an equal or better resource. She addresses her book to anyone at all who might wish to self-publish for any reason, and thus covers these aspects better than Bowerman does. However, what she gains in breadth she loses in depth. Bowerman often gets across the nitty-gritty nuts and bolts of an aspect of self-publishing or marketing that Sander comparatively glosses over. I certainly felt that the CIGSP gave a decent overview of the process and covered most of the basics, but TWFSP felt more like a solid battle plan for success.
There are some other areas in which the CIGSP differentiates itself from TWFSP. Sander comes from a more traditional publishing background originally, unlike Bowerman, and this informs her assumptions. Her marketing suggestions are more mainstream, where Bowerman believes in highly-targeted campaigns that take advantage of whatever niche your subject falls into in order to maximize your return on time investment. Where Bowerman keeps suggestions regarding the choices involved in publishing your book as simple as possible, Sander goes into a great deal of detail regarding everything from paper weights and colors to typefaces and even embossing choices–wonderful if you’re planning on creating gift books or the like, but not so useful if you’re going for the comparatively plain, practical books Bowerman assumes.
Both books cover the process from beginning to end–planning, production, editing, layout, cover design, publicity, marketing, web sites, and so on. It seems to me that Sander’s assumptions regarding dressing up your book and marketing definitely assume a mainstream slant and a decent budget, whereas Bowerman assumes a very practical budget-minded (yet professional) approach that’s calculated to take advantage of whatever niche you fall into.
If you fall into Bowerman’s more narrowly-defined audience, I highly recommend reading his book–it goes into much greater depth in its chosen area. If you require information regarding the wider possibilities of self-publishing, however, the CIGSP provides a very nice overview of the basics to get you started. Overall I prefer TWFSP simply because of its wealth of detail, but it isn’t the right book for every self-publisher, and certainly Sander provides a great deal of valuable information in “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Self-Publishing.”