To the gracious people attending The Oldie workshop on 22 October on writing Memoir and Biography here is the gist of my brief talk on self publishing, with some recommendations of people who can help you along the way.
If you are deciding to self publish it is important to arm yourself with as much information on the process as possible from the start. Even if you intend to hand over much of it to other people you need to know exactly what it is you are asking them to do. The better armed you are the less likely you will fall under the spell of the sharks (excuse the mixed metaphor).
Suggestions and recommendations for reputable service providers are below.
The pros of self publishing:
- You get to control everything: what kind of book you write, its length, the look of it, the cover, when you are ready to publish, how it is priced and marketed.
- You get to keep a good percentage of the royalties yourself: with Amazon it’s 70% for ebooks, in most countries.
- If you are not aiming at a mass market then marketing need not be too much of a headache.
The cons of self publishing:
- You get to control everything: with no necessary prior experience of publishing you are turning yourself, an individual, into a publisher. You are taking on the work of an experienced team of professionals.
- Marketing for self publishers is a challenge. Without a publishing house behind you you are less likely to be reviewed or interviewed in the national newspapers, or to be able to sell your book in major bookshops. (Though neither of these is impossible.)
1) What does self publishing involve?
- Write your book. Rewrite it. When it is as good as it could possibly be
- Find an editor. (Suggestions below.) This is crucial for all writers, no matter how experienced or talented. Hunt around to find the right editor, who understands the genre you are writing in and respects your style without wanting to rewrite your book. This could be the biggest financial outlay in the whole process (it was for me) but it is worth it.
- Have the book proofread. An editor is not necessarily a proofreader, so it’s important to find someone – a close-eyed friend is fine – to read your book and spot the typos. There are bound to be some no matter how many times you checked.
- Choose a cover. Unless you are an experienced graphic designer it’s best to hand this to a professional. Print and ebooks have different requirements although both will appear on online retail sites in ‘thumbnail’ size, so make sure the wording is legible.
- Write the blurb. Online retailers usually ask for a short description of your book (up to 400 characters) and a long one (up to 4000 characters). This is a selling tool – along with the cover it could be the difference between someone deciding to buy your book or not. Basic guidelines are:
i) Write in the third person present tense.
ii) Don’t try to tell the whole story.
iii) Write in the style the book is written in. (ie Comic if your book is comic, punchy if your book is likewise, etc.)
iv) Including extracts from reviews is fine.
As with the book cover, it’s a good idea to spend time in a bookshop looking at books and analysing why some make you want to pick them up and read them and some don’t.
- Create your book interior (paperback): you may want to outsource this too (although it is not difficult to do yourself). It is useful to use a published book you like the look of as a template, and copy the design. You can choose your own font and font size, page (trim) size, margins and chapter layout. Alternatively you can buy ready-formatted templates from the likes of The Book Designer: http://www.bookdesigntemplates.com/
- Convert your manuscript into ebook form: this basically involves removing hidden codes embedded in your word processor and creating internal links. Click here for details.
- Submit your book. There are currently two main options:
- AMAZON. https://kdp.amazon.com Whatever you think of their business practices they have opened up the self publishing business and made it possible and simple for independent writers to upload their books onto their site. Submission is free: they provide you with their own form of ISBN. The submission process is extremely simple, just follow their clear instructions.
Amazon have a print ‘arm’ called CREATESPACE:www.createspace.com/ Again this is free and easy to understand.
Amazon is for Kindle ebook only of course. For other e-devices use
SMASHWORDS. www.smashwords.com Again the submission is simple, and free, and they will convert your Word manuscript into the correct formats for Kobo, Nook, Apple and so forth.
2) INGRAM SPARK. www.ingramspark.com/ Ingram have been around for centuries but only recently opened up to make it easy for self publishers to submit their books. The advantage over Amazon is a) they are not Amazon (bookshops don’t hate them) and b) their global distribution of print books is better. Also c) they offer more print options, such as colour, page size, hardback etc. The disadvantage is the submission process is less customer-friendly and you have to provide your own ISBN. (Of which more later.)
This is a whole different ballgame and may not be relevant if you are only planning on distributing your book to family and friends. However if you want a broader reach, first
i) Define your target audience
ii) Try for reviews in family history/memoir magazines, or in the local press
iii) Approach your local independent bookshop and ask if they will stock your book, or even help you host a book launch
iv) Social media is an important part of marketing, including author websites
2) How can I go about it?
There are three main options:
- Do it yourself (apart from editing and cover design).
- Get partial help with, for instance, cover and interior design and converting to ebook.
- Hand the whole thing over to a service provider. There are things professionals can do that we can’t. But BE VERY CAREFUL who you deal with and make sure you know what you are paying for, and that you hang onto your rights.
Generally tried and tested, some by me and others by ALLI (The Alliance of Independent Authors).
Cover and/or interior print design:
- PYNTO pynto.com A husband and wife team. Can design covers and interiors and create websites. Very friendly people to deal with.
- Jane Dixon-Smith: www.jdsmith-design.com Cover and interior design.
- Cathy Helms: www.avalongraphics.org/books.html
- Jessica Bell: www.jessicabellauthor.com/book-cover-design-services.html
- www.99designs.co.uk Your cover remit is ‘put out to tender’ to a number of designers who are invited to submit their designs, and you choose your favourite. The more you pay (from £189 up) the more designers you will attract. This has the advantage of you being able to choose between several completely different approaches.
- Rebecca Lawston: www.lawstondesign.com/index.html
The following are recommended by ALLI.
Averill Buchanan: www.averillbuchanan.com/
Katherine D’Souza: www.katharinedsouza.co.uk/
Sally Vince: www.editorsal.com/
Alison Shakespeare: http://shakspeareeditorial.org/
Cornerstonses and The Literary Consultancy are manuscript assessors and they also offer some editing services.
- Cornerstones: http://cornerstones.co.uk
- The Literary Consultancy: https://literaryconsultancy.co.uk
The following two companies are consistently held to be efficient, honest and trustworthy:
- MATADOR: troubador.co.uk/matador.asp
- SILVERWOOD www.silverwoodbooks.co.uk/packages
You can buy in part service from them (ebook conversion only for instance) or full service.
- Sarah Houldcroft: http://www.vaforauthors.com/
- Leila Dewji : http://www.iamselfpublishing.com/
If you do decide to do the whole thing yourself take a look at my self publishing pages. Or buy my book (available on Amazon at £1.99)!
Self publishing may seem daunting, and is, but the more research you do the more sense it makes. It is a fantastic resource for memoir writers.
If you are serious about it you might consider joining The Alliance of Independent Authors. If you click on the logo on the sidebar of this page it will take you directly to their site.
GOOD LUCK with your publishing enterprise. And If you have any other specific questions on things I haven’t covered please email me at
Choosing a Self Publishing Service, published by ALLI