Sunday, 10 May 2009

Self-Publishing: By authors who have tried it. #1

Publishing is changing. With modern technology and ease of communication many authors are turning to self-publishing as an alternative route to the traditional method via agents and traditional publishing houses.

I have heard both good and bad stories about self-publishing but I don't want to discuss the pros and cons, I have no experience of self-publishing so how can I comment. Instead, I want to highlight the stories of individual authors and their personal experiences, and let people who are considering self-publishing come to their own conclusions.

One thing I do believe is that, whatever route we pursue in trying to get our work published and out there, we must do our research. Find the right agent, the right publishing house, the right kind of self-publishing, POD company. If we can't cover those basics what hope do we have in successfully achieving our aims. The only people we end up fooling are ourselves. The only person who ends up out of pocket is ourselves.

I do hope that by reading about the journeys and choices my highlighted authors have made, it helps other authors understand the self-publishing process and how best to make it work for them. It's not an easy option, not if you want to get your work out there and read by people other than friends and family, and certainly not if you want to make money.

Over the next couple of weeks I'll be posting interviews with self-published authors who have agreed to talk candidly about the process.


First up we have a great interview with -

GARRY SLACK, author of the Learn to sign with Olli series.

• Reasons why you chose to self-publish?

I actually teach sign language to childminders and other early years professionals on behalf of several local authorities. But because I was new to teaching early years professionals at that time I don’t think that I was even aware that there was a need for sign language books.
The first book in the series actually began life as a workbook to accompany my course. It was in a pretty basic format with photographs that I had taken myself and was printed off from my computer. I originally had no intention of publishing it. But then people began asking for copies of it and I realised that there was a demand.
The more I looked into it, the more I realised that there was a gap in the market for a straightforward and fun sign language book that was not too technical.
Lots of people said that I should publish it, but I realised that if it was to sell it needed to look a heck of a lot better.
I showed my rough workbook version to a few other writers and was advised that I needed to get a celebrity name on board to endorse the book and make it stand out.
After lots of emails and phone calls, I managed to do this and she was sufficiently impressed that she recommended me to her own publisher who she thought would want to publish the book.
I sent the manuscript to the publishing company but they rejected it because they said that although they really liked it, it would be too costly to produce.
So I decided to do it by myself because I knew that I would be able to sell the book on my courses and possibly via a company that I knew of who specialise in books about sign language and deafness.

Type of self-publishing, POD deal you went for and why?

I didn’t really have a deal to choose from. Basically what I do is write the books, employ a designer and oversee the design process, arrange a printer, so in a way I suppose I set up my own publishing company.
Initially the idea was just to publish the one book but since then the idea has snowballed and I am starting to publish more books in the Learn to sign with Olli range plus other titles that I have written.

Did you employ any kind of editor / editing service before going to print?

I didn’t use an editor as I had edited the book myself many times overI used a professional design company to design Olli the monkey and layout the pages.
I also paid for a professional proof reader which was quite expensive and probably a waste of money as we have still found a couple of grammatical errors in the books despite this!
I would suggest shopping around for a proof reader or asking a school teacher or similar to check your text.

Finished book quality – pleased or not?

Absolutely! I have had lots of comments that the books look like something Dorling & Kindersley would produce which was exactly the look I was aiming for.
Because my books contain lots of drawings and photographs it meant that the key to the project was in the books design.
I wanted something that was very different to the usual sign language books that are on the market and I spoke to lots of different designers before I found the one who’s eyes didn’t glaze over when I explained to him that the book was a sign language book with monkeys in it!!!
If you do use a design company, ask to see samples of how the finished book would look and be in constant contact with them. Don’t be afraid to say if you don’t like a particular design. After all it is your work and you want it to look as good as it can possibly be.
Of course, design is very expensive but it is worth paying for a good designer because it will mean that you end up with a book that looks totally professional.

Cover design – did you design yourself or use a professional? Book covers are important – do you think yours is an asset or a burden?

I cannot stress enough that design is everything. People really do judge a book by its cover – I have hundreds of books at home to prove that!
Book covers are vital so make sure you get one designed by a professional. The ones we have had done are colourful and eye catching which all helps the books to stand out.

What kind of marketing do you do and how much time is spent promoting your book?

At first I did a lot of my own marketing. My books are educational and approach the subject of sign language in an unusual way, so I found getting it reviewed in the various educational magazines fairly easy. It was just a case of constant emails to the right people.
I always try to think of as many different types of magazines and publications as possible that the books might appeal to and then contact the editors to see if they would be interested in running a feature.
I even managed to get my second book, Learn to sign and cook with Olli reviewed in the customer magazine of Somerfield supermarket which was put into over a thousand of its UK stores!
Try and think who your book might appeal to other than your normal readership and see if you can get it reviewed or featured in lots of different places.
Somebody once told me that a person has to see a product in 3 separate publications or locations before they consider buying it. I’m not sure if that’s true or not but I know that it certainly helps if your book is seen to have a broad appeal.
A very good way of getting editorial in magazines is to offer your books as competition prizes in the magazines. This in effect means that you get a free advert for your book and sometimes you also get access to the names and addresses of the competition winners who you can target later in another marketing campaign.
Don’t forget to contact your local press and radio as they are always interested in stories with a local twist.

Bookshops, libraries, Amazon, etc – how open are various companies to promoting self-published work?

I have found libraries to be fantastically supportive of my work. I have done lots of readings and sign language workshops for kids and their parents in libraries all over the place. The same has been true of bookshops such as Borders books and even the small independent book shops. I think it helps if you have something to offer them in the form of an event such as a reading or workshop as it helps with both theirs and your publicity.
As regards Amazon and the other online stores – once I had registered the titles with ISBN numbers I was amazed how quickly they appeared for sale all over the internet. Someone is even selling my books on e-bay!

Costs versus sales revenue.

Self publishing is mega expensive! I would estimate that the first Olli book cost around £7000 to have designed and printed. That price doesn’t include the costs of hiring a photographer, paying for the models, studio hire and purchasing the ISBN numbers etc! Our initial print run was for 2000 copies which sold out fairly quickly.
Learn to sign with Olli is now into it’s third reprint since it was published in January 2007 so I suppose it has made a fair amount of money.
The only trouble is that people began asking for a follow up so any money that we made has been put back into the business to fund other books.
Sorry to keep banging on a bout the importance of design but my advice to any one looking for a designer is to start by approaching your local college of FE and see if any of their design students would be interested in working with you for the experience and perhaps a small fee.
I did this with my local college when I first set up my company. I offered a prize of tokens from the local Art supplies shop to the student who could come up for the best logo for my publishing company, Sausage Dog Publishing Ltd.
I also spent a fortune on legal fees to ensure that I owned the intellectual property rights to the characters and images in the books. To save money on expensive legal fees make sure that the designer signs something to say that you own the artwork and images once you have paid their fee.
Lawyers who specialise in this kind of advice do not come cheap so get free advice wherever you can!

Final book costs – how competitive are they in the real world?

As I have already said, self publishing is a very expensive thing to do. But, if you only intend to publish one book and are convinced that there is a market for your work then my advice would be to go for it!

Have you ended up taking a self-publishing deal that has left you with a house full of unsold books and wished you went POD?

Luckily I was able to get a distribution deal for my books fairly easily so we don’t usually have too many books in the house. Although we do sell our books on our website and at trade shows around the UK so we have to maintain a small stock at home for this.
I don’t really know much about POD but the few books of this type that I have seen don’t seem to have the same kind of quality that I wanted so I’m glad I didn’t choose this option.
I think that to be a self publisher you have to be a bit of a control freak and get involved with every aspect of the process.

• Pitfalls and perils – what have you learned along the way. What would you do differently?

Research your market. Is there really a demand for your book or are you likely to be left with boxes of books cluttering up your home?

Get ISBN numbers for your books

Get your work proof read

Get a good designer

Compare prices of printers and have a good idea of what format your book will have (paperback, hardback etc). Look at different paper qualities etc to see what will best suit your book

Make your book look as professional as you can. It should look as good as any of the ones on the shelves in the big book stores

Make sure you get quotes from several different companies

Read books on self publishing before you start

Approach distributors to see if they will distribute your books for you

Get a website for your work. But make sure that you are unable to update the website yourself without having to go back to the designer each time you want to add something as this can be a very costly affair

Control your cash. Publishing a book is very expensive and be aware that people such as designers, photographers etc do not work for the minimum wage!

Self-publishing forever or still keen on pursuing the traditional route?

As I’m a total control freak, I think I will stick with self publishing as it is incredibly satisfying to walk into Waterstones and see your book on the shelf knowing that you are totally responsible for every word and image that appears in it.

Would you recommend following the self-publishing route based on your experiences?


Sausage Dog Publishing
PO Box 259 Stamford PE9 9AT
T/F: 01780 767398 M: 07851907359

1 comment:

Clare said...

I have no experience of self-publishing and no strong views on it either but how refreshing to read a POSITIVE post on the subject for a change.
It is clear from Garry's articulate and informative account that it was a perfect medium for him to realise the book he intended - and what a quality product it looks too. He must be justifiably proud of such a professional, useful and fun book.
Thanks Tracy and Garry - I hope the post stimulates some balanced discussion on the subject of self-publishing.

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