How to Self-Publish
Books on shelves . . . . a dream.
Salaries are rising and mainstream publishers have teams of editors to pay. These experts know what sort of books are rising in popularity and which are falling. Long before a manuscript is read, the publisher needs to know that he can sell it. He is a businessman and will not pay someone a salary to read manuscripts from unknown authors.
The answer is to send a proposal to convince the publisher your book will sell. Even proposals will only be looked at if they are on the list of subjects that publishers are actively looking for. Remember, you are selling your book idea to the publisher. You are asking him to invest heavily in your work, which is unproven.
People often say; "But they wouldn't even read my manuscript!" Well no, they look at it from the other end of the telescope. It is not the quality of your writing that matters, but what the book-reader wants.
And what’s selling at the moment? Top of the non-fiction lists in the UK, unbelievably, are detailed tales of sexual child abuse, while sex and violence thrillers and horrific ghost stories have over taken historical romances long ago. Meanwhile, modern women’s romances used to be called bonk-busters; now “bonk-a-page” might be more appropriate. Only a handful of writers, the Dan Brown’s and John Grisham’s of this world, have guaranteed book sales of more than a million. Naturally these are the sort of writers mainstream publishers want, profits guaranteed. A new writer cannot offer that.
Until recently self-publishers were those (as Val does today) who wrote their own books and published them. With the help of a sympathic high-street printer, you can produce your own book. Or you can do your book as an e-book with the help of specialised companies like Smashwords, if you format your manuscript correctly with Word. It's free and they pay you a commission on sales. Then the hard work begins for a self-published author. You need to publicise your print book (do a Paypal button on a blog about the book) and you need to promote your e-book. You need to learn how to sell.
Some writers have managed to find a mainstream publisher and were disappointed with the results. They lost all control over their books, they had to wait a year for the book to be on sale and then they got paid miniscule royalties 18 months after that. Only six mainstream publishers are still in business and many of their subsidiaries are, for example, asking writers to do their own publicity and promotion and making other cut-backs.
So writers are choosing to publish their own books through a self-publishing company. "Self-publishing" has recently grown into a multi-million dollar industry. But these companies are offering and selling services to writers simply to publish the book, they do not include promotion in their services, although they imply they do. Nearly all the growth in the publishing industry comes from these companies. Even previously successful mainstream publishers are opening “self-publishing divisions” which ask their writers to contribute financially towards the publishing costs.
What about Amazon?
Their promotion of e-books for authors is well known, but their "Create-Space" service can be recommended. You pay nothing and Amazon helps you to put together the lay-out for your book. Then the book is for sale on Amazon and when the orders come in, Amazon does all the work of printing each individual book on demand and posting it out. Often the price to the customer is quite high but the service is like by self-publishers because they do have have to make a great upfront cash investment. However, be careful - Amazon can claim copyright of your book.
Meanwhile, no-one will see your book by accident. You cannot browse all titles in Amazon like browsing in a bookshop, and decide - “Oh, that looks interesting!” Your book needs to be heavily promoted and advertised, so that people key its name in when they go to Amazon to buy it.
Self-Publishing is changing and it's big business.
The rise of companies offering self-publishing services has risen dramatically, and using one of these companies is the leading method to get your book "out there." But be careful.
When you look at the self-publishing sites, they invite you to send them a manuscript. Then they contact you telling you how wonderful your book is, how they would love to publish it, and offer you various packages of services at various prices, with a lot of talk about all the royalties you are going to earn.
Compare this with looking at the site of a mainstream publisher. There you will see pages and pages of glowing descriptions of the books they publish, the life-stories of their authors, etc etc, but the bits about how to contact them or submit a book to them are very small. This difference is because mainstream publishers are in the business of selling books, while self-publishing companies are in the business of selling their services to authors - not to the reading public.
They handle the mechanics of text-editing, design, lay-out, printing, ISBN numbers and e-books. So your book is published and you will receive a certain number of books for your own use in the post, with an offer, if they haven’t done so before, to sell you your own book at “cost” price, that is, less your royalties, so that you can then sell copies to your friends.
But there is no warehouse holding boxes of books to be distributed to bookshops. They offer “world-wide distribution” but what this means is, every time they get an Internet order, they will “POD” - print-on-demand - and send out the book.
Self-publishing companies’ web-sites will have pages and pages of books, mostly that nobody has ever heard of, to persuade you they are a regular publisher. They will tell you about the high royalties they pay, (of course - YOU paid the publishing costs!) and the Book Fairs where they will promote your book, and how they will "encourage" you to do book-signings (at your own expense.) But generally, once your book is published, they will do little or nothing more. YOU do it, and they get to sell the books and then you get royalties 18 months later! Some companies insist on “all rights” for a specified number of years. This means you cannot go-it-alone or offer your book elsewhere.
Self-publishing companies are not dependent on the sale of books - they have made their money already providing services to you. So many people have spent quite a lot of money but found nobody buys the books.
Where are the readers and how will they decide to buy? Only if they hear about your book from somewhere. If no advertising and promotion is done, then “selling” the book will be up to you. “Even mainstream publishers expect authors to have an Internet presence, such as on Facebook and to have a blog or a site in the name of the book,” a spokesman for a publisher told me.
Even a mainstream publisher interested in your book, will expect you to take, or to have taken, various steps yourself to help promote your book. Some self-publishing companies (but not us) will leave ALL the promotion and publicity to you to do.
The idea is to get your book, described in glowing terms, out in front of the public. In short, this is “selling.” Many authors find this difficult for modesty and family reasons but - it has to be done!
You can of course hire someone to do your publicity for you. Have a look at one of the articles on Andrew Lownie's site by clicking here. You may find some hints . . . Doing your own publicity is so worth it when the results come in.
First things first
However your book is published, you need a public presence before you start, usually on Facebook or Twitter, and a blog of some sort, preferably in the name of the book. BEFORE you start publishing.
Some people already on Facebook do a page in the name of the book, or start a group in the name of the book or the site promoting it. Facebook is the largest "social networking" site, and is used so much for promotion you can take courses is how to do it. Some successfully self-published authors say they couldn't have done it without Facebook.
If you have a personal blog, then use it for chatty posts mentioning your book, but it’s better to have a blog in the name of the book and devoted to it.
What do you say exactly, on these posts on a blog or on Facebook? Always be positive. It is a a good exercise is to look at your book and make a list of all the good points about it, all the positive and wonderful things. Name specific good points. For example, if you’ve written a cook-book, saying “This is a really good cook-book” makes a tame cliché. “For all imaginative foodies” would be better. And note the hidden compliment to the reader, that works too. "You never knew what you could do with a carrot or a cucumber" makes people laugh.
Never post things like “I’m really struggling with the book today” or “My husband wanted to go out so I couldn’t do any writing!” Be positive. “A surprise ending for chapter ten!” or “My publisher invited me to lunch today.” If you do extracts on your blog, make sure they never give too much away and always leave the reader wanting more. The extracts are to tantalise, not to make people feel they don’t need to buy the book because they’ve already read it.
At the last stages of writing your book, send sample chapters, privately, to friends and ask them for short comments. These pithy comments will go on the back cover of the book, especially if they are names who could do with a bit of publicity themselves, such as a local celebrity. Some people might be too busy but will give you a quick quote if you tell them something briefly about the book, even just on a phone call. “Riveting reading” by the Mayor of London would please everyone, while “Totally mysterious” sounds good even though somebody never understood a word of what you wrote!
Many future readers pick up a book and look at it from the back first, so these words on the back or inside back cover will encourage them to read further. Then they look at the inside back cover, so make sure they find a picture of you with a description of your life and of the book.
Once the book is out
Many authors are quite interested in sending books out for review but don’t, because people won’t read them, they just keep them and give them to friends as Christmas presents. Even mainstream publishers are limiting reviews now. Ring round first and ask people to review your book and gauge their reactions about how interested they are; remember, you want positive reviews.
You can also offer to write free articles for various web-sites as long as your name is followed by some publicity for you - full site, blog and buying information.
Then, think local. Your local newspapers will be interested - prepare a “Press Release” or “Press Information”, one page preferably in Word so they can easily edit it, and send it to them by e-mail. Maybe there are other local publications however small. Parish magazines will always accept articles by a parishioner.
One of your best contacts will be your local radio station or TV channel. If you live in a town with more than one, offer yourself to be interviewed and the book to be discussed, exclusively. They won’t want to interview you tonight if you appeared on a rival channel last night. Some TV companies will only mention the name of the book as they are not allowed to openly sell, so make sure your book is on Amazon. Big publishers of course, place ads on the TV Channel and make sure the books are stocked with books. Try and get a clip - certainly have someone at home recording the programme.
All your local publicity is inclined to work better if done through someone you know that will give “tip-offs” to people in the media by telephone. This person need not be somebody very glamorous - for example, if you’ve written a thriller, your local policeman might well give the papers tip-off, so they will listen to him.
Depending on where you live, ask the manager of your local bookshop for help. You are a local author, and local authors sell. Some bookshops ask you to give a talk, and make an event of it and film it, and you do a book-signing. This is excellent publicity, afterwards the film is posted on Facebook and YouTube.
Indeed, even with an ordinary camera you can make a film to promote your book, just an image and a voice-over. Put the camera on a tripod and have a go and post it on YouTube!
Meanwhile, why not hold a stall in your local street market and do your own signing? You can even take your books to a car-boot sale and sell them there. Sometimes people will arrange things for you for free, for example, if your book is about religion, your church will let you sell there.
I understand this is not International jet-setting, but your dream is more likely to come true if you do these things.
When facing the public, just be yourself. You have got something to offer the world, as well as your natural friendliness and positive outlook. Smile at passers-by and always be prepared to chat. It’s spreading the word that counts and so that’s what you are doing. Writing a book is more than just churning out words in the expectation of making money. It’s communicating to the world, to the world’s benefit. You are a published author!
Keep it rolling
Once the publicity starts rolling, keep it rolling. Immediately any newspaper or magazine publishes something, photograph it and paste it on Facebook. Paste it on your blog. Respond to people. You will find it all gathers momentum very slowly. Meanwhile, write another book! Once your second book is out last year's publicity backs up this year's.
Is self-publishing a stepping stone to greater things? Sometimes. Links between all sorts of publishing are increasing steadily, and some authors have used self-publishing as a stepping stone to mainstream publication - AND made a small fortune. These include Kathleen McGowan and David Icke; you can see both of them on Wikipedia.
And some people,approached by a mainstream company, say no because they are making money and they enjoy having all rights over their book.
And what about us? Yes, Val Wineyard Publishing is also publishes other authors besides Val.
We would stress that we do not always ask for a contribution to costs; we financed the print version of “The Prism of Rennes” completely and are now gratified that it is successful. We published "East, West, Med's Best!" as would any other publisher, and we paid royalties from the first month. We will always look at any manuscript or book idea and give a brief opinion and from there, treat each case on its merits. We can also help with only parts of the process, confidentially if the author wishes, hence, some writers do not appear on this site.
So don’t hesitate if you have a worthwhile book inside you crying to get out! Send a message via “Contactez Auteur.” If you are on Facebook, contact Val Wineyard.