the traditional way is to send a copy of your manuscript to every publishing house you can find and hope that one of them calls you to say that they like what they see and want to work with you. That translates as “We have read your story and we think we can make a profit by printing and selling it”.
It is the most straight-forward way to become a published author but there is one big problem going this route. What if they don’t think your book is commercial? What if they think it is a decent read but it won’t have much of an audience, or it will only appeal to a narrow group of people?
Well, your other option is to self-publish.
What is the difference between publishing and self-publishing?
The main difference is who takes the financial risk. If a traditional publishing house takes you on as an author, your role will be limited to writing the book and helping to promote it through interviews and appearances. With self-publishing, you are the publisher. You are the one investing the time, energy, and money to have the book designed, printed, promoted and distributed. You are responsible… but you are also the boss. You maintain full control over what happens to your book.
And the good news is that there are plenty of people out there who have taken this route, and there are also plenty of people out there that can help you do the same. These people have helped authors and organisations to publish and sell their books and they have the skills and experience to help you too.
How do I get started with self-publishing?
The first step is to show your manuscript, or a portion of it, to someone who you think would be a member of your target audience, someone who would have an interest in the subject matter and whose opinion you would trust. If their response is “Yeah… I’d buy that” then you move to the next stage.
Do I need an editor?
We will get to addressing the budget shortly but in essence, if the budget can accommodate an editor’s fee, then it might be a good idea to employ one. It will certainly make the whole process smoother and faster.
You want to ensure your book is factually accurate and reads well. If you can’t afford a professional editor, or if the subject matter is difficult or very technical, then you should ask a colleague who understands the subject matter to help out by reading through the manuscript and correcting any errors of fact they see. Spell-check in Word will help you get the general spelling right, but the more technical language is down to you and your friendly ‘editor’.
Once the manuscript is finished, do I give it straight to a printer?
To my mind, the next stage is the most crucial in making your book a success. You should give great consideration to employing the services of an experienced book designer. They have years of experience laying out text and making it easy for an audience to read and take in. There has to be enough ‘white space on the page’, as we say, or the average reader will find reading your book a chore – even if it is a compelling read. It is important that the photographs or illustrations you use are perfectly represented within the book, so the reader understands their meaning and they add to the enjoyment of the book. And remember, in some books such as biographies, local histories and books about the natural world, the images are often the most important aspect of the book.
Are hardback books more expensive than paperbacks?
Yes, in most cases, they are. The manufacture of paperbacks has been refined over the years and the production process is very efficient – allowing the books to be produced at very affordable prices. The production of hardback books is done in stages and takes longer – meaning they are more expensive. But that doesn’t mean you can’t afford them. It just means you must spend some time looking at the budget before you go too far down the road.
How much does it cost to print a book?
There are several costs you need to examine before you decide to go ahead and self-publish your book. The good news is that they can be estimated very accurately before you decide if, and how, to go ahead. A 30-minute conversation with an experienced printer / self-publishing company / graphic designer, followed by some number crunching, is usually enough to provide you with all the figures you need to make your decision. Conversations with some recent clients covered:
Do I need an editor and how much will it cost?
How much will the book design cost?
How many copies do I need to get printed?
What if I only want the cover in colour and the rest is black and white?
Why in some biographies do they group all the colour pages together in the middle and should I do that?
How can I promote and sell the book, or, even better, get someone else to do it?
While many of the answers to these questions are along the lines of ‘how long is a piece of string’, a short conversation with an expert can provide you with all the answers you need to decide – do I go for it and self-publish?