Online Self-Publishing: Wave of the Future?

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Editor, Teacher Education

This interview with one of my colleagues, Anastasia (Staci) Marie Trekles, who teaches IT (Instructional Technology) at Purdue University Calumet came about as a result of a comment she had made on Facebook. She wrote: “I just got a plug for my book from John and Adam on No Agenda – how awesome!”

Of course, I had to know which book and asked if I see could it. Staci put a pre-publication copy of it in my box, and I saw that it was a textbook that she had put together for her class. I walked down to her office and asked her when it was going to be published, and she told me that she had already published it herself as an e-book. I was intrigued and asked why she published it this way and how she did it. Her response made me wonder if online self-publishing will be the wave of the future so I asked if she would mind sharing her story with ETC’s audience. She agreed, and the questions I emailed her and her answers make up this interview.

Anastasia (Staci) Marie Trekles

LZ: What is your position at Purdue Calumet, and what do you teach? What is your background? What is your interest in technology and instructional technology?

ST: I am a clinical assistant professor in instructional technology for the Department of Graduate Studies in Education, which is in the School of Education. I have been teaching here either full time or as an adjunct for about ten years now, and I used to run the Education Media Lab prior to 2006. I have a master’s in instructional technology and am working on my doctorate in Instructional Design for Online Education so I have had a strong interest in technology and how it can be used to enhance learning for a long time. The courses I teach include a couple in multimedia distance education frameworks and an introduction to education technology for preservice teachers as well as a few courses through our teacher license renewal program in education technology for practicing teachers looking to update their skills.

LZ: You wrote a textbook called Putting People First: Human Issues in Instructional Technology for one of your classes. What is the class? Why did you write this textbook? What are the strengths of the textbook? Would other instructors use it or is it specifically designed for your class?

ST: When I was first hired as full-time faculty, our program was making some changes and I was asked to come up with a new course that would speak to the social and ethical issues faced in instructional technology so I also teach a course entitled “Human Issues in Technology,” which discusses social, ethical, and legal issues including assistive technology for individuals with special needs. However, because the course covered so many diverse topics, I quickly began to realize that there was no one book that covered them all. In some cases, such as with some of the legal issues of running technology in educational environments, there were no texts at all. So, I decided to go ahead and start writing a textbook that would cover these issues together, using the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards that we adopted in our program as a framework. I was originally contracted through Allyn & Bacon (now Pearson) to put this together as a book that would be primarily for students in introductory instructional design/technology graduate programs but could also serve as a reference for those now practicing in K-12, higher education, and even industry training environments. It is unique in that it offers a survey of things not typically found together in one text, including assistive technology, designing accessible websites and distance education, understanding learning styles, learning space design, computer security, and writing acceptable use policies for organizations. Previously, any instructional design/technology professor who wanted to explore these issues with students had to resort to a limited range of links and articles, or had to have students buy several different books. While this book is indeed very tailored to my course, many other programs like ours have courses that touch on the same topics so I think that it has the potential to be of value to others.

LZ: Tell me about your experiences when you submitted your textbook to a traditional publisher. Why did you decide to go with the self-published route?

ST: Allyn and Bacon originally put me with an editor who was very excited about the book. He recognized it as a unique entry into the market, and, while he was taking a bit of a chance, he seemed very confident that he could find many potential adopters out there. However, when Pearson merged with Allyn & Bacon, my former editor was moved to a different department, and I was placed with someone new. This person’s primary background was K-12 education and in particular, large-market undergraduate textbooks on the foundations of education and education technology. She did not have many contacts in instructional design at the graduate level and received very mixed reviews because those to whom she had sent the book were not part of the target audience. Due to this, she believed that the book would not be lucrative enough for the company without many significant changes, which I did not agree with. So, I parted ways with Pearson at that time. My book, at that point, was finished and had been through several helpful peer reviews along the way. With manuscript in hand, I went to a few other publishers, but the traditional publishing climate is such that only the “biggest sellers” are considered anymore. I decided that, rather than go through many more rounds of proposals, reviews, and long waits in between, it was good enough to put out there on my own. So, I acquired an ISBN number, put together a website to promote it, and offered it on Amazon’s Kindle store as an electronic book that can be viewed on most devices, including computers, Kindles, and the iPod/iPad. There, I had the ability to set my own price, which is much lower than a publisher would have charged, and I own my own copyright, allowing me full control over the book in its current form as well as any new editions I might do in the future.

I acquired an ISBN number, put together a website to promote it, and offered it on Amazon’s Kindle store as an electronic book that can be viewed on most devices, including computers, Kindles, and the iPod/iPad.

LZ: What do you see as the advantages of this type of publishing? How is it different from vanity publishing?

ST: Self-publishing is not an easy route because it requires a certain amount of work on your part to promote yourself, but it also allows you to publish your work the way you intended, instead of “following the money” as many traditional publishers are doing these days in order to keep their business afloat. While the distinctions between true self-publishing and “vanity” publishing are a little blurry, a vanity publisher is actually a company that puts your book together for you and markets it, often for a hefty fee. In the old days, this usually meant giving you a bunch of very nicely printed copies and some posters to put around town. Today, some of those same companies are really more full-service self-publishing “assistants,” allowing authors the ability to hire reviewers and editors, and to put together a complete package of copies, digital books, and promotional materials. The prices are still steep, though, and in most cases some of your proceeds and sometimes even some of your copyrights go back to the company. In my case, I had already had the advantage of having several rounds of reviews by other colleagues in the field, as well as by students in my course, and I felt comfortable enough with the technology end to format and package the digital book on my own. I purchased the ISBN number myself (it costs a little over $100) under a publisher name I created, Zelda23 Publishing; therefore, any proceeds go directly to me and the copyright is mine. In the future, I’m hoping to use that same name to publish works with others. I already have an art book that may be ready to be published soon, as a matter of fact.

LZ: Do you think that this type of publishing is the wave of the future?

ST: I think that with devices like the iPad becoming more and more viable and desirable for people to use as reading devices, you will see more individuals publishing their work for this format. Whether you use the Amazon store, the Apple store, or create an application entirely on your own, you can create a book that truly captures the vision you had had for your work. Traditional publishing is a changing field, and possibly one in serious jeopardy today, and many authors (as well as filmmakers, artists, and others in creative fields) are turning to alternatives, even if it does not necessarily make them millions of dollars. It seems as if most traditional publishers are far too wrapped up in finding the next Stephen King or the next “big” introductory textbook for first-year college students, and that is understandable – publishing is a business like any other, and one that requires money and time to run. Because of the power of the Internet, those of us with a little bit of time and money, and something to say to perhaps just a small audience, can much more easily find our own alternative routes to get our voices heard.

I think that with devices like the iPad becoming more and more viable and desirable for people to use as reading devices, you will see more individuals publishing their work for this format.

LZ: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about online self-publishing?

My website is at http://www.zelda23publishing.com. I recently received a professional review from Learning Solutions Magazine thanks to my involvement with the eLearning Guild organization and linkedin.com, and I have also received a very nice (unsolicited) review from a student who just happened to be among the first ones to use this version of the text for my course. She has even encouraged her principal to order some copies to distribute to teachers in her school, which is very exciting and makes me feel good. The whole idea was to provide this information in a way that would benefit the education community, and so far it seems to be working.

One Response

  1. I think this is fascinating. I have noticed more information on self-publishing lately via blogs, Twitter, etc. If nothing else, it would seem that the time it takes the book’s content to get published is an advantage – potentially a shorter time frame. Particularly important when technology is the topic. Thanks, Staci, for sharing your experience. Good luck with your new book!

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