Self publishing for family historians (again)

For the good people who attended the Society of Genealogists workshop on self publishing on Saturday 8th July, here as promised is the gist of what we covered:

First off, it is important to find out as much as possible about the process in order to avoid getting confused and/or ripped off. There are sharks out there.

Self publishing  is ideal for family historians for several reasons:

  • You get to control everything: the length of the book and the look of it including the cover
  • You can mix the genres (ie history/family history/memoir and fiction)
  • It doesn’t matter if you only intend to sell a few copies (see POD below)
  • You can edit the text, images and/or cover at any time and re-publish the book at no extra cost
  • Your book never goes out of print

PRINT ON DEMAND (POD)

This is what has made self publishing in print form possible and financially viable. Instead of having to print off hundreds or thousands of copies of your book, and find somewhere to store them, Amazon (or whoever) files your book electronically and only prints a copy when someone orders one. Unit costs per copy are the same no matter how many you order. Shipping costs on top vary according to the country the buyer lives in and how many copies he/she is ordering. So if for example you order ten copies to be sent to the same address it will not cost ten times as much as ordering one copy.

BEFORE PUBLISHING

EDITING

Having written your book and polished it to within an inch of its life, it’s a good idea to have it professionally edited. Every writer no matter how successful or experienced needs an outside eye to check for overall structure, clarity, repetition and consistency.

(That said, if you are only intending to publish for your immediate family this may not be essential, though the right editor can always improve any book.)

COPY EDITING & PROOFREADING

Copy editing means checking the book for grammar and sentence structure. Some editors will do this for you, but don’t expect it.

Proofreading means checking for typos. You should be able to get a sharp-eyed friend or colleague to do this for you.

Once your book has been written, rewritten, edited and proofread, the next step is to gather it together in two documents:

  • INTERIOR
  • COVER

The interior consists of Front matter, text and End matter. What goes where is a matter of choice but generally speaking this is what I go for:

INTERIOR FRONT MATTER  

  • Title page
  • Copyright page
  • Dedication/quote page
  • Map/family tree/photo
  • Table of contents

INTERIOR END MATTER

  • Afterword
  • Acknowledgements
  • Appendix & chapter notes (or notes if you have footnoes)
  • Bibliography
  • Author biography
  • Index

FOOTNOTES

In my first book The Worst Country in the World I didn’t use footnotes for various reasons: a) I didn’t want to interrupt the flow of the text and b) footnotes don’t generally work in ebooks. Instead I referenced my sources in the Appendix and Chapter Notes, and expanded on various things only the seriously interested, such as family members, might want to know. This was a personal choice however. With my current book I may rethink.

DESIGN

Whether you decide to go it alone or get people to help you it is useful to have some idea of what you want your book to look like. It can be helpful to find a book whose layout you like and use it as a template. (I chose Kate Grenville’s The Secret River for the plainness of style, clarity and size of font and relatively generous margins.) These are the considerations:

  • Page/trim size: Amazon’s POD templates are limited to standard book sizes such as 5” x 8” (standard novel), 6” x 9” (standard non fiction) etc. (I chose 6” x 9”)
  • Font and font size: (I chose Palatino 11 point – on the large size, deliberately; I experimented with different fonts and sizes, & margins,  by printing out a few pages and cutting them down to the relevant size, but it’s difficult to see how it looks until you can see the full printed proof)
  • Margins: (mine were top & bottom 1.9cm, inner 2 outer 1.5, gutter .33)
  • Chapter headings layout: (Aligned L, R or C, upper or lower case, start some way down the page)
  • Extras: such as drop caps (1st letter of 1st sentence in each chapter enlarged), small caps at beginning of new chapter, headers
  • Images: (photos, maps, family trees) – see below for copyright

COVER

Received wisdom says don’t try to create your own book cover unless you are an experienced graphic designer or au fait with Photoshop. Professionals know what is eye-catching and what is not and what is appropriate for the genre. They should also be clear about how many versions and amendments they are willing to provide for their fee. Fees differ according to how much they are required to do; original artwork will obviously cost more than if you provide your own image, or if they are able to use stock images from copyright free sources. Expect to pay from around £250 upwards.

Recommended cover designers

Alternatively look online for cover designers and if you find one you like, contact them direct. Likewise in a bookshop: the designer’s name may be on the fly-leaf of the book, otherwise contact them through the publisher.

COPYRIGHT

As we touched on in the workshop copyright is a minefield, and I cannot pretend to be an expert. However I did come up against a copyright issue when I wanted to use a 19th century painting by Australian painter Tom Roberts for my cover. The image itself was out of copyright but the high-resolution photo of the image online belonged to an art gallery in Ballarat, Australia. They allowed me to use it on condition I signed a detailed license form stating I would not change the image or superimpose text on top of it, and that I would send the final proof to them for their approval. In the end my cover designer decided she couldn’t comply with their demands, so we didn’t use it.

So while an image may be out of copyright the online photo of the image – or in the case of books or documents, the scanned version uploaded online by an organisation or library – may not be.

BLURB

This is what appears on the back of a paperback or on your Amazon page. The blurb is notoriously difficult to write, but it is your selling tool, and should be:

  • Brief – no more than 200 words
  • Written in the third person present tense
  • A selling tool not a synopsis

Here for what it’s worth, is my blurb for Worst Country:

In 1787 a handful of people – convicts, marines and government servants – sail across the world to settle a new colony and call it New South Wales.

In 1801 Mary Pitt, a widow with five children, migrates to New South Wales from her home in Dorset to live among these same convicts.

Two hundred odd years later Mary’s great great great great granddaughter travels to what is now Australia to discover why her ancestress risked the lives of her entire family to make her home in a penal colony. She uncovers tales of astonishing bravery and bloody-mindedness, the origins of a unique form of class distinction, why her own Australian/English mother was the person she was and how what was once regarded as the worst country in the world became one of the ‘luckiest’.  (135 words)

I’m not saying this is an ideal example (nowadays I think I’d edit it down a tad), but what I’ve set out to do in three paragraphs is:

1) The original story
2) My family’s part in the original story
3) My quest to investigate 1) and 2)

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HOW TO GO ABOUT SELF PUBLISHING

There are three basic options

  • DIY using POD with either Amazon Createspace or Ingram Spark – the cheapest option
  • AIDED – through a reputable publishing company or individual
  • HIGH-END – custom-made with special paper, size and shape and/or binding, eg coffee table book. Ideal for image-heavy books.

DIY – This is the option I chose but I would only recommend it if you have a lot of time and patience. I formatted both the paperback and ebook versions of my book – it took me longer than it should have or than it would do now. It isn’t that difficult, you don’t need any particular IT skills no matter what the books tell you.

If you are interested in the nuts and bolts of doing things yourself you can find more technical details here

Amazon Createspace: https://www.createspace.com Amazon are the market leaders for self publishers. They may be behemoths, and tough employers, but they are very efficient and easy to deal with. Their submission guidelines are very straightforward and easy to follow. They can also show you what kind of royalties you can expect to receive according to how your book is priced. The submission process is free, they don’t start to make money until you start to sell books. They also provide their own free ISBNs and barcodes.

Ingram Spark: http://www.ingramspark.com Ingram have been around forever but Ingram Spark, the self publishing arm, is relatively new on the scene. The advantages of IS are they have print outlets in the UK and Australia as well as the US (Amazon CS is US-based), their distribution is considered to be better, and for the Amazonphobes, they are not Amazon. The quality of print is also slightly better, in my experience. The drawbacks are you have to provide your own ISBN (available in the UK in batches of 10 through Nielsen – http://www.isbn.nielsenbook.co.uk/controller.php?page=121) – and you have to pay a small fee to submit your ms (unless you are a member of ALLi, see below).

AIDED – Here is where you get someone else to do the work for you. You can buy in services a la carte so to speak, in other words you can provide the cover yourself but hire someone to proofread the book, or to format it.

Before contacting an outside organisation, there are things to be wary of.

  • DO be clear exactly what you are looking for
  • DO make sure you hang onto the rights to your book: if you’re using a self pub company pay the one-off fee to get the book up there and that’s it
  • DO make sure the royalties come straight to you and not through a third party: otherwise you’re dealing with vanity publishing and have the worst of all worlds and will make zilch money
  • DON’T sign any long-term contracts

Recommended organisations:

I Am Self Publishing https://www.iamselfpublishing.com. A young brother and sister organisation, very friendly, very savvy, experienced in producing all kinds of books. They offer an initial no-obligation consultation, either in person or on the phone.

SilverWood http://www.silverwoodbooks.co.uk/packages – Silver, Gold and Platinum service. Much recommended by fellow indie publishers.

Matador  http://www.troubador.co.uk/matador.asp  A large organisation with a rather confusing website. Probably American but also based in the UK. Again recommended by indie authors.

HIGH END – Custom-made, recommended:

I Am Self Publishing – see above
Lifelines Presswww.lifelinespress.com
Pynto – as above

WEBSITES

If you don’t already have your own family history website I would recommend creating one. It is an excellent way for other family members to get in touch with you. I have a static (ie not a blog) site at marymatchampitt.wordpress.com and I’ve had all manner of distant relatives contact me with very useful information. You can create one for free, or for a small annual hosting fee, at WordPress.

RECOMMENDED BOOKS

ALLi guidebook
Published by ALLi and available on Amazon and elsewhere*
ALLi 2
Published by ALLi and available on Amazon and elsewhere

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*There seems to be a problem with this Amazon link. I will query it with ALLi and repost.

RECOMMENDED WEBSITES

An organisation run by indie authors for indie authors. They publish a list of recommended service providers (available to members only) and books (available to all). They also have a closed Facebook page and monthly meetups in London and elsewhere, plus they offer other perks such as reduced rates with Ingram Spark and free entry to the London Book Fair, among other things. If you want to know more, click on the ALLi logo on the top right of this page.

MARKETING

Not of great relevance to family historians necessarily. But if you want to submit an article or ask for reviews here are some online magazines.

For example when I contacted Who Do You Think You Are for a review they were pretty sniffy, but I sent them a copy anyway and heard nothing more. However they do – or did – have a feature in their magazine called ‘My Family Hero’ and when approached were very keen to include a story about my ancestress.

EBOOKS

Whether or not you are thinking of publishing in e-form (not so suitable for picture-based books), ebooks are easy to produce – again on your own or with help – and you receive a higher royalty (70% through Amazon compared with around 20-25% for paperbacks). Most indie authors sell more ebooks than paperbacks, partly because bookshops are generally reluctant to stock  indie published books, and partly because of the cost of POD. My sales are 90% + ebook, and of those, 95% are through Amazon Kindle.

Submission is straightforward, and free, through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing: https://kdp.amazon.com/

For other e-devices such as Apple iBook, Nook and Kobo, you can use one site to distribute to all platforms such as Ingram Spark or

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com
Draft2Digital: https://www.draft2digital.com/

Again it is free to submit your book.

That’s about it. If there is anything you would like to add or comment on, or if you have any further queries, please either comment on this post or email me at patsytrench@gmail.com.

 

 

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