If your book has limited appeal, as you stated, self publishing is probably your best bet. That being said, there are a couple ways to do it. You could do it all yourself by uploading your book to Createspace and the Kindle site, create your cover, edit it, and promote it yourself. I wouldn’t recommend it, however, unless you are very tech savvy and have a lot of free time. It’s a lot of work and often very frustrating. I know from experience.
You could farm out the work to others. There is a whole industry growing in support of self-publishers. Do a Google search and you’ll find there are people who make a living creating book covers, others who edit and format, blurb writers, and others who specialize in promotion. I think some of the services are worth the money, especially for a professional looking cover. Nothing hurts a book more than a bad cover.
Then there are other “publishers” who really are individuals who form their own publishing company. These are people who are tech savvy and can handle the technical aspects of publishing the book. For instance, a colleague of mine published his book through Sunbury Press. The company doesn’t offer an advance but it doesn’t charge any fees to the author either. They take your manuscript, proof read it, put a cover on it and upload it to Amazon, Kindle and Createspace. They pay royalties, less than what you’d receive if you do it yourself, of course. They don’t do much in terms of promotion. That responsibility is on the author. One has to be careful with these types of companies. Some make their money off the authors.
Createspace offers a lot of extra services–premium covers, editing services, promotion, etc, but that can costs hundreds to thousands of dollars.
If you just want some copies for yourself and your family, lulu.com is a nice option. You upload the manuscript yourself, create a cover with their templates and order copies for yourself.
I should also mention this blog: http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/ It’s the bible of self-publishing. It will answer any other questions you have. Author Joe Konrath was with a major publishing company until they dropped him as his sales slowed down. He self-published and he is now selling more books than ever. There are guest blog entries from numerous authors, cover creators, editors, etc.
Sally Driscoll’s Answer
I think self-publishing is THE way to go. I’ve been researching the topic when I have a few moments, reading about the horrendous state of publishing and bookselling, and am convinced that it’s time writers take things into their own hands just as indie musicians have. The older generation still very much equates self-publishing with vanity presses, and when you look at some of the self-published writers out there, it’s no wonder; however, self-publishing also has been attracting more and more quality writers—take our very own Greg Halpin, for instance.
I have to be straight with you though, and tell you that you are going to have to work hard to market your book, that you have a lot of competition and that you need to be open to limited sales and readership (as you allude to). Some subsidized publishers help with promotion—but I would bet you pay for that. So, I would suggest that you do some comparison shopping with the self-publishers to see if subsidized publishing is really right for you. I would do more research about subsidized publishers’ name recognition and compare that with CreateSpace, Lulu, and others that Greg Halpin has firsthand knowledge about. And then there is the Espresso Book Machine, owned by Northshire Bookstore in Vermont and 100 other bookstores and universities—print on demand for cheap!!
One thing especially attractive about self-publishing is that the author doesn’t have to wait 2-3 years for books to appear in print. On the other hand, the chances are slim that a self-published writer will ever be invited on a book tour!