Self-publishing is a wonderful cultural development that has become possible over the last 30 years thanks largely to the development of digital printing.
For a long time — perhaps a couple of hundred years— to be economical, print runs have had to be in the thousands, which effectively made them out of reach of anyone other than publishing houses. Publishing houses, therefore, largely controlled what was published.
This did not rule out self-publishing, but limited its reach only to very wealthy people,
Digital printing makes it possible to print just one copy of a book, although print runs of, say, 100 to 500 are more common.
This has meant that high quality publishing is now possible for anyone with a story to tell but relatively limited means. We have published numerous family histories, children’s books, books on the history of various geographical locations, novels, books on Christianity and Islam, biographies, business books, Australian history, theology, short stories, psychology, politics, music, leadership, marketing, ethics, the environment, education, design, sociology, science fiction and so on. The initial print run would rarely be more than 500 — usually much less. Many of these books have been reprinted, some multiple time.
Our strong conviction that most of these books are worthy of a larger audience, and that potential self-publishers need all the help they can get, has been the driving force behind the development of this web site.
Self-publishing is sometimes demeaned as “vanity publishing”. We are hard-pressed to think of a single title we have printed that would fit into the category of vanity publishing. Virtually every book we have had the privilege of printing has been a worthy title in its own right.
As we have indicated about, we have produced books on a vast variety of subjects, but above all, we like to encourage people simply to tell their stories. We can all recall how important the last years of the lives of our loved ones were as they opened up and we learnt so much we never knew from them. We tend to think of our own lives as boring and repetitious and not worth writing about. We are, of course, very wrong, and our children and their children will find our own stories incredibly valuable as we approach the end of our days. So . . . we encourage you to write down your own story and publish it. You may want to write for immediate family only, or for current and former residents of a particular geographical location. Whatever the case, you can write for your chosen audience, and you can print only as many as you need.
Here are some things you need to know to improve your chances of successfully self-publishing.
Self publishing is relatively easy
After writing the book, editing it (or having it edited), and designing a cover (or having it designed) all of which is the hard part, you submit your book to a printer who will produce and electronic or hard copy proof and send you. If the company you use is any good, they will encourage you to look at the proof very carefully, and encourage you to use a third party to look at the proof. At this pint you can ask for changes, and another proof. Once the proof is signed off, expect the books to arrive in a week or so.
Going down the traditional path can mean it will be years before you see your book in print. It will take you months to find an agent. the agent will take months to find a publisher. A publisher’s timeline can be one, two or even three years. The current literary flavour of the month will probably have changed since you started the process. On the other hand, self-publishing is a vastly faster process, and you can have a book out within weeks of signing off an a press ready manuscript.
You control the process
If your book is picked up by a publishing house, you sign over the rights to your book. The in-house editor may well make substantial changes to material you would prefer not to change. If you self-publish you remain in control all the time. The contents, the cover, the price, the marketing all remain in your control.
You’ll make more money
After organisations such as CreateSpace, publishing houses and your agent take their cut you are left, as one blogger puts it, “with about enough to pay rent on the cardboard box you’ll have to live in”. If you self-publish, you will need to give a discount to any bookstores that agreed to carry your book, but the percentage of the retail price you retain will be vastly greater than if you go down the traditional route.
Digital printing has made print-on-demand a reality, so you are not lumbered with a garage full of thousands of books — you can order just enough and keep re-ordering as you sell more books.
Marketing is your responsibility — whether you are picked up by a publishing house or whether you self-publish. Develop a marketing plan (see below). You need to research how to market your book as best as possible. The more you are able to get exposure and reviews, the more you do giveaways, the more you network, the more interviews you give, the better your chances of selling a lot of copies.
Specialised books tend to do best
Non-fiction books on a well-defined topic do best in the world of self-publishing. We have found books on the history of a given area — often quite remote — do very well. Books for children that have a specific hook — often teaching about nature — do well. Christian books are very suitable for self publishing. Fiction is a tough area — even traditional publishers struggle.
Creating a “professional” book is difficult
The barrier to entry may be low, but creating a book that looks professional and is indistinguishable from a book published by a “real” publishing house is very difficult and requires a minimum investment of a few thousand dollars. It is a significant challenge to get everything right — editing, layout, graphics for instance. If you’re a novice at book formatting, Microsoft Word will become your worst enemy — and novice or professional — InDesign your best friend And once you’ve finally received that final proof, you feel it could be slightly better.
Buy your own ISBN
Don’t let anyone else do this. If you buy it, you create your own publishing entity. Elsewhere on this web site you can learn how to obtain your ISBN.
Get a CiP entry
This is a Cataloguing in Publication entry, and is freely available from the National Library of Australia. Detailed information on CiP entries is available elsewhere on this web site.
Create a unique title
Your book should be easy to find in a search engine. It should come up in the first couple of search results. Unfortunately, many authors make the mistake of using a title that has too many other products associated it with it — and it gets buried in search results. If someone is actually looking for your title, you want them to be able to find it easily, and not find something with a similar title, or an out or print version of an earlier book with the same title.
Colour and black and white in your book
Books we print can be printed in full colour throughout, in black and white throughout or any combination of colour and black and white. Our digital printing process means black and white and colour pages can appear in any combination throughout your book. There is no need to gather all the colour pages into one part of the book — put them in wherever they are needed.
Work out how much editing your book requires
Not all books need expensive editing. If your market is your family, then there’s not a lot of point in engaging an independent editor. On the other hand if you are hoping to sell hundreds or thousands of copies, then the book should be professionally edited. There is an extensive article on editing elsewhere on this web site. Click here to access the article.
Your book cover should look good as a thumbnail
Ideally a book cover needs to look good in a bookstore (title and author at the top please), but also look good when listed as a thumbnail or little bigger on a web page with many other titles.
Price your book intelligently
In our experience, most self-publishers don’t ask enough for their books. Perhaps this is because they lack confidence in their work? A good way to come up with a realistic price is to wander through a quality bookshop and see how books similar to yours — size, subject matter, quality — are priced. Bear in mind that your book is most likely unique, and with a local flavour. We have found that customers can be prepared to pay a little extra for such books.