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PUBLISH YOURSELF – WHY NOT?

Self-Publishing sounds an ideal solution to getting your work onto the bookshelves, but just how viable is it? Marilyn Floyde investigates and looks at four interesting case studies

Most people who buy a house in France have long-held ambitions about what they’re going to do when they get here. Many dream of writing that book they know they’ve got “inside them”.

 

Writing a good book is very difficult. Anyone who has ever tried, will confirm that. It’s lonely and time-consuming. Getting those words to behave as you want them to needs self-control, commitment and determination. Sometimes it takes years to refine, revise and re-draft your work before you’re happy with it. Once you’ve got that far, and made all that effort, it can seem unthinkable that a publisher will not be interested. Sadly, in almost all cases, your work will be rejected by mainstream publishers. It’s not personal – it’s business.

 

It’s a heartless and depressing experience. Getting published for the first time is almost impossible unless you’re a major celebrity or know someone in the publishing business. If you want to write fiction, then it’s well nigh impossible even to get it seen by a publisher, without going through an Agent. And getting an Agent is well nigh impossible unless you are a major celebrity, or have a publisher…

 

In such a ‘Catch-22' situation, just how are you going to present your book to the market? Before launching yourself, lemming-like, into the submission/rejection cycle of mainstream publishing, have a look at Self-Publishing. It’s neither shameful nor vain. It never was. Self-Publishing has given us the work of some of the world’s greatest writers – James Joyce; Lawrence Stern; Mark Twain; D.H. Lawrence; Kipling; Byron; Beatrix Potter; John Galsworthy; Virginia Woolf, and, you don’t have to do a Leonard and Virginia, and have your own printing press any more.

print-on-demand

Change is in the air, and just as technological advance has revolutionised the music industry, publishing books will never be the same again. The internet and digital technologies have restored the means of production to authors, and a vast choice to readers – without the need for the middle men and women who have hitherto dominated the industry – and reaped the financial rewards. Print-on-Demand has done away with the garden-shed-filled-with-unsold-copies-being-nibbled-by-rodents nightmare; and e-publishing enables us all to post our work on the internet for the entire global population to read.

 

Do your homework

Self-Publishing is within the grasp of all writers. It is the fastest growing sector of the industry. Self-Publishing companies are falling over themselves to sell you services at every stage of the publishing process. But when is Self-Publishing, not Self-Publishing? A word of caution.

 

Johnathan Clifford, that shining knight-protector of authors everywhere, brings us all down to earth. His excellent website www.vanitypublishing.info which offers free downloadable Advice Packs for authors, gives us this definition:

 

‘For a book to be genuinely self-published, a name designated by the author as his publishing house must appear on the copyright page of the book as ‘Publisher’ and the book’s  ISBN number must be registered by the ISBN Agency to that author as publisher’. This has many connotations for the financial future of your project in terms of translation, film or TV rights etc.

 

Hone New Skills

 

Now you have to think as a publisher, and you will need to have a range of skills far wider than knowing how to Insert Page Numbers in a Word document. To be successful on your own, you will need to know about every aspect of the business: editing, design and production; the laws relating to publishing; and crucially, sales – the pricing, placing marketing and distribution of books, not only within the framework that has existed for the last hundred years or more, but also within the electronic market potential of the future. In short, you will need to have, or to purchase, professional publishing skills.

 

A mainstream publisher will do everything for you – at their expense, not yours. As soon as a publisher asks you for any money towards any part of the process, then you have entered a hybrid place where vanity publishing deals can be couched in language which may confuse, or be downright misleading. So beware. Read respected and un-biased advice from publications such as “Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook” and “Writer’s Market UK”. Join the Society of Authors and take advantage of their services to members. In any event send for their downloadable “Quick Guide to Self-Publishing” (£7.50 to non-members) from www.societyofauthors.org.

 

And what of these new companies who claim to be able to assist you in your Self-Publishing?

A valuable information resource is “Self-Publishing Magazine” www.selfpublishingmagazine.co.uk which offers good advice about the range of services offered by a Self-Publishing service provider.

Surely it’s of great advantage to be able to purchase these unfamiliar services and parts of the publishing process that are beyond you? Let’s find out from those who’ve done it.

CASE STUDY 1    PUTTING IN THE HOURS

One of the most well-known Self-Publishing companies is the US-based www.lulu.com. Walter Moore published 'Bicycle Your France - Secret Burgundy' entirely through Lulu.

Bicycle Your France” is a practical handbook for cyclists giving an impressive and colourful range of routes, maps, mileage, advice and gobbets of Burgundy history. It runs to over 100 pages. It's in 8.5" x 11" format (not quite A4 size) and is 'perfect bound' like a normal paperback.The quality of the paper and printing is good. The quality of the cover is good. The design of the cover shrieks, ‘I am a self-published book’ at you. But, like those old-fashioned little booklets entitled for example, ‘Poultry Rearing for Pleasure and Profit’ , the amateur nature of the presentation only endorses the fact that you are receiving real words of wisdom from a person passionate, experienced and hugely knowledgeable about his subject. This is perhaps the hidden strength of Self-Publishing, and a positive selling point.

 

Walter summarises the process: ‘After others and I judge that it is a decent book, I upload it to Lulu in a Word document. Lulu converts it to a Portable Document Format that drives their contractors' high-speed printers. I make my covers on Photoshop sized to fit in a template provided by Lulu. Then I upload the covers to Lulu. I download the content and covers for review (my smaller embedded graphics occasionally slip out of place). I repeat this process until I am pleased with the result. At this point, the book is perfect bound. I must consider an ISBN. With all that completed I must buy a review copy before Lulu allows release of the book. It is at this point with the exception of a $99 ISBN package, that I pay money to Lulu. And then I pay only for the cost of my book plus shipping. I always retain all rights to my books for any use at all. For books with a black and white interior, Lulu may print and ship from the UK.’

 

Walter estimates that 90% of his sales to date have been through personal contact. Some dozen copies have been sold online through Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and twice as many through his Lulu.com sites. He also sells through retail outlets in Burgundy and the USA. He recognises the need to use more internet marketing tools such as Google Adwords campaign; Ebay; the free business promotion site, www.pr.com.

 

As for making a fortune, Walter rather ruefully keeps track of the hours he spends: an ‘average of 57 hours per week on this enterprise’.

Guardian newspaper journalist, Victor Keegan, had similar praise for Lulu: 'Lulu's claim to publish in five easy stages was accurate, subject to two vital provisos. Your manuscript must be 'oven-ready' in a format such as Word or Open Office or a PDF with pagination in order. Mine turned out to be too far to the left and the typeface looked bad when we got the proof (both my fault). Second, you must get the size of the pages of the script and cover to coincide exactly with the template on offer, which is easier said than done.'

"Bicycle Your France - Secret Burgundy" by Walter Judson Moore, ISBN 978 0 557 00830 8

www.lulu.com/waltermoore

CASE STUDY 2            GOOD COMPUTER SKILLS

The technical aspects did not faze Michelle Caffrey who published her memoir 'Just Imagine: A New Life on an Old Boat' with Lulu in February 2008

“I glide the waterways of Burgundy six months each year with my husband Paul, on our restored 1906 barge ‘Imagine’ where we found a new life on an old boat. I spent five winters writing about the experience.

 

I decided to try Lulu.com. The site seemed concise, well organized and was recommended by one of our guests on board. The first step was proper formatting to upload the book to Lulu. It helped that both my husband and I have over 25 years experience with computer software. I had used Microsoft Word for years but needed to learn about page sizing, gutters, indents and spacing. Microsoft help features and tips on Lulu were enough for me to put together a file. As long as we had a good, fast internet connection, the upload process was quick and easy.

 

“We were pleased with the quality of the book and the speed and ease of ordering copies. We chose Lulu because it is what’s called “on demand” printing. A book is printed only when it is ordered. Other companies print in bulk orders – and you pay for them in advance, whether or not you can sell them.

 

“The cost is easily calculated with a cost calculator on the website. The self-publisher selects the size and type of paper, binding and cover from the selections on the screen, enters the number of printed pages and the cost for each book is displayed. Retail pricing has a similar calculator, which models cost, royalty and profit information. One of the options which may be purchased is a “Distribution Package” for around $200. Along with an ISBN number assigned, this allowed the book to be available to major on-line retailers such as Amazon, Borders and Barnes and Nobel.

 

“But there was still more work to do on my part. I updated Google Books with my book in their electronic format. I added search strings in Amazon and I’ve added it to their new Kindle* format. I promote it on websites, do presentations and book signings. If you are willing to do the work, you will be in total control of the project for little cost and have the satisfaction of seeing your work in print.

(*Kindle is the Amazon electronic reader used to read downloaded ebooks in a more friendly way than sitting staring at your computer screen for hours. You can take it to bed with you. Sit out in the sunshine. Find reviews of this and other wizardry on the internet. Many maintain this is the future for books…)

"Just Imagine: A New Life on an Old Boat" by Michelle Caffrey IBSN 978 1 411 67141 6 www.lulu.com

CASE STUDY 3   NUMBER CRUNCHING - DISTRIBUTION IS THE KEY

A success story such as Judy Ridgway's would seem to endorse the suitability of Self-Publishing for non-fiction. The financial rewards however, are surprisingly small.

Journalist Susan Wolk reports on Judy Ridgway’s talk to the Guild of Food Writers in London about her experiences:

 

“Ridgway recounted her experience of self-publishing two editions of her Best Olive Oil Buys Around the World in 2002 and 2005. It features 120 different olive oils, with full colour photographs. Despite selling 8,000 copies and netting £34,000, the first edition made no money. But she did manage to cover her costs by dint of selling through Sainsbury’s. The 3,000 additional print run meant a net cost of £2.50 per book, retailing instore for £9.50. Even with a 52% discount to Sainsbury’s, this made good money for the author.

 

“She also had to pay for a special display holder with stickers advertising the book at half-price but, as Ridgway says, “It flew off the shelves, and in three months sold 3,000 copies, with orders for a further 1,000 copies.”

 

“The second edition did better financially. With on-demand printing runs, it was considerably cheaper to produce. She invested £10,000 to produce 3,000 copies, at £3.33 each, retailing at £11.99. So far, sales of 2,500 have netted her £14,500. The book buyer at Tesco was very enthusiastic but did not have the authority to place it by the olive oil section, where it would have sold best, and ultimately decided against stocking the book.

 

“Ridgway gave each olive oil producer featured a free copy, with an offer to sell them more at trade price. Cleverly, she also offered them jpegs of their pages, which they could buy for £75. That brought in a further £3,000 or so. Currently she has no plans for a third edition.

"Best Olive Oil Buys Around the World" by Judy Ridgway, Gardiner Press ASIN BOO147T8EC

 

CASE STUDY 4         TAKING THE TRADITIONAL ROUTE

On the other side of the coin, a success story in mainstream publishing. Potter Josie Walter, who has a house near Vézelay, had her book "Pots in the Kitchen" published in 2002.

“Pots in the Kitchen” arose out of Josie’s MA research on cooking pots, and includes a chapter on French pots. She approached publisher Crowood Press armed with an outline plan for her book, endorsed by her credentials as a practising artist and ceramics lecturer with previous short publications. When the plan was accepted she received an advance of £1,000 which she used to help pay for photo copyrights, a professional photography course, and to contribute to the travel costs of further research.

 

Her travels took her around France, to Holland, and to North Carolina. Her sumptuous book has many fine photographs, most of which she took herself – using her new skills – and employing an ingenious idea which transformed a large bag into a portable studio, with stand, changeable background roll, and a couple of builders’ lights.

 

She was fortunate to be given a six month sabbatical from the lecturing work, and generated further funding from writing articles about her discoveries for the magazine, “Ceramic Review.”

 

For Josie this was so much more than “writing a book”. It triggered a set of experiences which she has been able to take back into her work as an artist and lecturer. The book itself is a highly professional piece of work, and Josie was able to do what she did best, without needing to be concerned with the nuts and bolts of publishing.

"Pots in the Kitchen" by Josie Walter, Crowood Press Ltd ISBN 1 861 26 508 5

So where does that leave us?

 

Clearly you have to be in possession of many publishing-related skills if you want to be successful or even get a modest return on your investment. Or you will have to learn them or pay for them. It will take time – possibly most of your available working time – to promote and market your book once it’s printed and available. And that means, time taken away from writing.

 

As for my own book, I’m going to carry on trying to sell it to mainstream publishers. I (quietly) believe in my book and that there is a market for it, and I am prepared to do whatever I can to help a publisher locate it. But I’m not familiar with the ways of the publishing industry. I don’t have design skills, and my computer competency is limited. I would therefore have to buy into a large package of ‘publishing services’.

 

But what really puts me off about the Self-Publishing route is the thought of waking up every morning and knowing that I’m going to have to spend my day ‘selling myself’; coming up with marketing plans; spending hours on the computer networking and getting my name known. I want to spend my time writing. That’s what I do.

 

©Marilyn Floyde

 

After two years of research, Marilyn Floyde completed her non-fiction book “King Arthur’s French Odyssey – Avalon in Burgundy” in June 2008. It is currently being translated into French by Françoise Garlick. It has received acclaim from internationally-know Arthurian scholar, Geoffrey Ashe who calls it “a real addition to Arthuriana”…(which raises) “many fresh issues.” He also calls it “subversive” because it is the only field-study of the French ‘Avalon’ theory which allows for a Glastonbury connection. The hunt for a publisher continues… contact Marilyn on info@burgundytoday.com