Heard the one about the two English actors who collected he scribblings of their dearly departed mate, published them, and made a fortune? Take a bow, John Hemming and Henry Condell, who saved for posterity the works of William Shakespeare. Some 400 years later, a growing band of entrepreneurs is following them into self-publishing. Cheap digital printing, smart design software, the internet and developments in the book trade have sparked a boom. Whether it's your mother's favourite recipes, a manual on how to catch moles or The 237 Best B Films That You Probably Never Saw on Video, pretty much all you have to do as a self-publisher is decide on the print run and cover design. There are now at least 12 companies in Britain, alone, offering self-publishing - a trend that's caught the attention of the big publishers. After selling well over the internet or by mail order, about 40 self-published novels were picked up by major British publishers in the past 18 months - most having been originally rejected. Successful, smaller, niche-focused publishers such as Chameleon Press in Hong Kong and Indonesia's Equinox also create opportunities for writers away from the western market. And translations are tipped for big growth, after acclaimed books by European authors championed by independent publisher Harvill Press and three well-received novels by Chinese writers (Ma Jian's The Noodle Maker, Xialuo Guo's The Village of Stone and Su Tong's My Life as Emperor). The stigma of self-publishing has been softened by six-figure advances for the likes of Graham Taylor. An Anglican priest, former policeman, druid and punk rocker, he sold his motorbike to help raise the #3,500 he needed to publish his first book, Shadowmancer, a children's fantasy. Word of mouth led Faber & Faber to buy the rights, pushing it into the best-seller charts. A US publisher last year paid #300,000 (HK$4.3 million) for the rights. Lynne Truss' Eats, Shoots and Leaves, a treatise against bad punctuation, was snapped up by independent publisher Profile Books. It has sold nearly a million copies. Jeremy Thompson, director at Troubador publishing, whose Matador imprint offers self-publishing services, says students, academics and housewives are among those publishing their own manuscripts. 'A lot are retired,' he says. 'The reasons are many: a passion to write and publish your own book, or even as a romantic present for a loved one.' If you can design your layout, companies such as Pabd and Lulu.com will let you create a book for nothing. They make money through the base price of the books bought at their web store. The cost of a Pabd book of fewer than 200 pages with your own cover design is #6.99, although you have to buy 10 copies. Authors set the price and get royalties. Pabd deals with the rest. 'We want to move away from the vanity publisher, which takes your money and gives you little in return, towards the idea of the empowered writer,' says Iain Plunkett, partner in Publish and Be Damned, which offers self-publishing in Britain. John Squires, 59, is a semi-retired traffic management consultant from east London. His self-published The Motorist's Guide to Parking Tickets, which offers tips for avoiding fines, has sold 5,000 copies. Having paid #6,000 for the first print run, a second batch is ready to roll. 'I didn't want to go the traditional route,' he says. 'I didn't know how to approach the big publishers, and I quite liked the idea of doing it myself.' Jeff Nicholls paid Troubador to publish his second work, Molecatcher, a non-fiction manual about how to hunt rodents. Nicholls says new British laws banning poisons will force people to catch moles with traps. These aren't the zaniest titles. Californian small publisher Impermanent Press is selling The 237 Best B Films That You Probably Never Saw on Video. Whether or not that beats Buses in Stroud is another matter - although that sold 500 copies. Peter Gordon, head of Chameleon Press in Hong Kong, says he prefers the term 'print on demand'. 'Self-publishing carries a stigma,' he says. 'Probably because the assumption is that the book isn't very good. However, if an author-financed book is good, people quickly forget how it came to the market. 'With new technology and digital printing, we can print in very small quantities. In our case, the minimum economic number is about 25. Print on demand sidesteps several logistical problems, and is great for cash flow.' Chameleon published The Phenomenon that was Minder, a book about the long-running British TV show Minder, by Brian Hawkins, a Hong Kong-based doctor. 'It's been very successful in Britain, but sold next to naught anywhere else,' says Gordon. 'The number of copies isn't a relevant consideration with print on demand. They're run off as required. 'Whether an author considers the returns on their investment as economic depends on their objectives. But the cost is about the price of a beach holiday in Thailand. So, you either get a tan, or get your book out. Your choice.'