Publishing Questions and Answers

Having worked in the writing/publishing world for more than ten years, I have noticed massive changes in the way publishing works for both independent and traditionally published authors. After a successful five year indie book campaign, I negotiated a deal with a UK publisher which gave me further insight into this elusive business.

But often for new writers, the area of publishing is daunting altogether, so in good faith I have answered a few questions. (Bear in mind that I am based in the United Kingdom and publishing methods can vary in other countries.)

Lastly, my thanks goes to @crites_es for posting the following questions for me to answer in Twitter, which we both agreed would be useful for others.

1. It’s my understanding that you have to market yourself regardless if you self or traditionally publish. What’s pros and cons for both?

I know that many independent publishers today require their authors to make some considerable effort towards marketing their books. If you don’t have something more to offer them other than a manuscript, i.e. time, personality, drive, confidence… it’s not the most attractive pitch.

Traditionally published authors are stepping up to doing a lot of the marketing themselves, by agreement even, and for many reasons. One is that many independent publishers don’t have the resources or time to do it for every single author they have. It can’t be a bad thing to do a few book signings yourself, talk to reader/library groups etc. So that is a pro. With a good pitch you can attend signings and festivals with a good publisher’s backing. Attending writing groups is also a good way to improve your social skills in this respect.

The con is that if you’re a particularly shy person who isn’t great at putting yourself forward it’s going to be doubly hard. This also applies if you live in a remote area and have little access to venues or locations where you could actively promote your work.

2. If you self publish can you still send the book off to publishers to see if they will accept it?

Some publishers are very strict on this. Others may be open to discussion. It really is a matter of asking.

My publisher offered me a hybrid deal. It suited me because I retain a lot of the control I already had, and get a ‘little extra.’ through true publishing channels. In effect I am both a self published and a published author. This is becoming more common today. My books were re-published with a new ISBN which is required by the publisher for his own trade catalogue. (This is how you come across books saying “First published by.. or Second Edition published by..”) Yes! Books can really do the rounds.

My books were also deposited to national libaries in Oxford/Cambridge in London and distributed in the paperback trade via companies that are ‘locked in’ to publishers only. Those aspects of marketing come under a publisher’s control. How that actually works down at admin quarters, I have little clue because I am not a true publisher, but it is their end of the deal and my book is a product. He sells a few and I get my royalty, so win/win.

At the end of the day, it all depends on what the publisher wants from you and what you are able to offer, and wish to accept. It can be a small bit of support or it can be large.

3. What are the best ways to advertise your work?

Each SP author needs to learn this and it takes a while. It took me over a year to gain traction. Some tips: Make sure you don’t spam. It never works. And it doesn’t really work selling to those who are also trying to sell to you. Seek writers for feedback, book swaps etc. If you’ve done your homework in knowing your target audience you should be looking in those places, for your customers: the readers.

Also beware of rogue marketing claims. How to write a bestseller and make $$ in 30 days. It’s rubbish. The thing with big publishers is that they spend thousands on advertising/marketing. They have experts running campaigns that they’ve been learning to do for years, throwing in vast amounts in advertising, but they also lose just as much. Most indie authors are winging it and then can have varying degrees of success.

In self-publishing standards, marketing your book yourself is a harder task because you may not have the leverage and/or funds to get your books into the mainstream, reviewed by media etc. As you can see SP books have saturated the market. Readers have abundant choice. The only way I have seen that is effective in marketing self-publishing books is by actively ‘even physically’, approaching third parties and networking with those who can extend or provide valuable author opportunities.

4. Is it best to self publish through Amazon or a private press?

I think the large quantity book production tank is a bit of a risk. I personally don’t think it’s worth it. I never did it. But as said, each SP author will have his/her own goal plan and directives.

Unless I had a significant number of buyers and/or pre-order customers it’s just not worth it. I’ve spoken to many excited authors who ordered large quantities of their book, only to still have the majority of them stacked away in a cupboard a year later and end up flogging them to family and friends. It’s deflating.

Print on Demand is a better option for unknown authors, in my opinion.

5. If you publish through Amazon, can someone search Amazon for you or can they only go through a link?

Every author on Amazon can be found on their search engine.  Today each author’s page includes a bibliography, can include a biography, author photo, plus much more. They do not allow outbound links, for obvious reasons. Amazon are getting more tuned in to providing a framework for authors that is not just a platform for book sales but also to showcase their writing careers.

6. How many books sold is considered good?

I suppose it depends on personal expectation. Initially I thought 50 sales of my first book in a year would be fantastic, but then I achieved a few thousand. I could say that was good, but not as good as those authors who sold 10, 20 or 100 times more.

What I do know is that as an independent author, at the end of the day if you base your happiness and fulfilment levels on sales figures and monetary rewards, disappointment is highly likely, and probably inevitable. To look at sales as something that is possible or achievable but not the be all and end all of your writing life, is a much healthier perspective to have. It is always best to focus on the quality of your work for the enjoyment and pleasure in creating it and sharing it with readers, building up a platform, getting noticed, then looking at any future sales as a bonus for the hard work you’ve put in.


Things Professional Editors Won’t Tell You

You’ve finished your book and you’re ready to self-publish it.

Are you sure that the layout is up to a reasonably professional standard? I mean really sure?

Did you know that you NEVER indent the first paragraph of a chapter?

“Professionally printed material typically does not indent the first paragraph, but indents those that follow.”

Well, that one tiny detail, (plus quite a few others) let down a lot of self-published authors.

And mainly its because they ‘re never told, or they don’t know. Editors won’t tell you that. It’s the secrets to their job! 

So I decided to share a few tips about this important topic because the subject of professionally formatted manuscripts came up in a thread I was recently engaged in.

I’ve heard self-published authors say, “I wasn’t sure if my formatting efforts were completely up to scratch but I couldn’t afford a proper editor.” Well that’s true, many of us can’t afford the high prices of professional editors but that doesn’t mean you should make a half-hearted attempt. The appearance of your text and layout is massively important and if you can’t afford or somehow connect with a professional editor or reliable freelancer (without breaking the bank,) you need to sit up and pay attention .

Here are some of my tips. (And make a note of them when you do get to this particular stage,) because believe me, even if you have the most amazing book cover or story in the world, a badly formatted e-book, and God forbid – printed book – is going to make your reader blow steam out of his ears.

  1. For print books, get familiar with and compare the different layouts and sizes, here are some good book layout tips.
  2. Check out recommended fonts/most commonly used fonts for both e-book and print book formats. (Find out what the best fonts to use are, and don’t veer too far from this with some fancy whim of being different or unique.) Certain fonts are best for reading in print and others good for reading online. Font choice is a big deal either way to professional editors and they aren’t all free to use. Get some advice here on picking fonts for your book.
  3.  Some editors like to lead the first chapter in with one capitalised letter in a stylised font. Many publishers have a stylistic preference and the style is usually consistent over the entire manuscript, but when editors (and critical readers) open your book and see that your first paragraph of your first chapter is indented; they cringe.
  4. Get out of editing mode and slip on your formatting-research head. This is when you stop actually reading the words but pay attention to how they look. It’s another hat to wear I know. There’s a lot to consider and learn, especially if you want the style and text in your book to reflect your story well.  There are some tips here on Typography, which is the visual style and appearance of your text. Formatting text is something of a huge industry all on its own, and it’s deep.

There are many tell-tale signs whether or not a self-published author has done his or her homework. None of us are experts and we all make mistakes, but surely it’s worth gaining some knowledge in this area if you aren’t going to enlist professional services. You want your book to appear its best right? Don’t feel daunted, you’ll feel empowered by how much you’ve learned during this process, and like me, you can pass on your experience and advice to others.

Remember, many readers can spot amateur mistakes too, and if they can’t easily recognise them they won’t be impressed by some weird looking design.

Have you any formatting tips that you can share here with us?

Here’s some further reading on the subject.

4 Top Formatting mistakes to avoid – The Book Designer

Using fonts legally – Read this if you want to know more about the legalities of using commercial fonts and copyright issues.

Createspace thread focusing on font – Worth a gander. I regularly check some of these threads for author thoughts and opinions.

The duties of editors – A blog post on the different types of editors within a publishing house and their varying roles.

Preparing your manuscript – An article on the various formatting and design elements.