Times are tough for publishers. More layoffs. Fewer readers. But there is one aspect of book publishing that is getting some attention: writing.

Companies that charge writers and photographers to publish are growing rapidly at a time when many mainstream publishers are losing ground.

Many self-publishing companies allow users to print on-demand for a one time fee. While a share of the profits goes to the company, it doesn't seem to dissuade authors who have struggled to get a traditional book deal. Even when a book sells only five copies, self-publishers can still make money because cover design and other printing costs are covered by the author.

In 2008, nearly 480,000 books were published or distributed in the United States, up from close to 375,000 in 2007, according to the industry tracker Bowker. The company attributed a significant proportion of that rise to an increase in the number of print-on-demand books.

Technology has made it much easier for aspiring authors to publish without hefty upfront costs. Gone are the days when self-publishing meant paying a printer to produce hundreds of copies that then languished in a garage. The rise of web sites like iUniverse and Word Clay means that everyone who wants to write a book, can, making the elite practice of book authoring more mainstream.

Books are sold primarily online at Barnes and Noble, but some opt to use sites like Lulu,YouPublish and CreateSpace from Amazon.com, which allow authors to create the book for free, but then make their money on a small printing markup and a profit split with the author.

Of course, the world of self-publishing isn't as glamorous or as lucrative as traditional publishing. There are no advances, marketing or a pre-established audience waiting for a book's release. The odds of being discovered by a large publishing house are also slim, but that doesn't seem to stop fledging authors.

Like young filmmakers before them who used YouTube and MySpace to promote their cinema arts, self-publishing is helping people get their words out.