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The Complete Guide to Self Publishing: Everything You Need to Know

When I was considering self-publishing, I was frustrated by the lack of information available. So today I’ll share my own self-publishing journey, in the hope of helping those who are considering this route to getting into print.

Why Self-Publish?

The key difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing is that with the latter you don’t have an agent. Agents, among other things, have contacts with publishers and will offer your book to them for publication on your behalf. They also help to professionally market your book. An agent can be a great asset, but you can become a published author without one, although you will need a lot of time, money and determination. I would recommend approaching at least six or seven literary agencies first before you consider going it alone. Get a hold of the most recent edition of The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, which lists reputable literary agencies and what their specialties are. Target agencies that are interested in the genre of your book, then search the agency’s website to see which of their agents are specifically interested in work similar yours. You’ll occasionally find publishers who will accept work directly, but this is rare. I targeted six agents and one publisher. I was rejected by all of them. It was tempting to abandon hope and give my notes and drafts a Viking funeral. Instead, I went back to the Yearbook, but found no other agents who might be interested in my genre. So that’s when I started to think about self-publishing.

Fortunately, self-publishing companies are also listed in the Yearbook. Self-publishing offered greater independence than traditional publishing. Self-publishing companies can be as involved as much as you want them to be at each stage of the publishing process, and you can say yea or nay to every decision. Your chances of being accepted by them are higher than with a traditional publisher, but you are not guaranteed to be accepted. The first self-publishing company I approached warned that they reject around 25% of manuscripts. But this means they’re discerning. I sent my manuscript to two self-publishing companies and both were willing to take me on. The one I chose was Silverwood Books.

The Cost of Self-Publishing

Before I get into the self-publishing process, there is one point I must stress: self-publishing is VERY EXPENSIVE. As opposed to traditional publishing, with self-publishing you have to pay for everything at every stage, from the copy-edit to marketing materials. The self-publishing company will ask to see your work before they send you an estimate. This estimate will be valid for around six months. It’d be a good idea to have some disposable savings in the bank before you even approach self-publishers, possibly a couple of thousand pounds. It’s wise to set a slightly higher budget than the initial estimate, in case you decide later down the line that you want additional services or if the printing cost goes up. My pre-print costs amounted to £5,488. I wouldn’t have been able to afford this had I not saved money from my part-time job for three years. Remember, this is just how much it’ll cost to turn your manuscript into a book. There’s still the actual printing and marketing to consider after that.

Polishing the Manuscript

As I said earlier, self-publishers can be as involved as you want them to be, depending on the needs of your project. If you’re publishing a family member’s memoir, you might just want a dozen copies printed for your family, without any prior copy-editing or proofreading, or subsequent marketing. But if you want to send your book into the wider world, having the manuscript professionally copy-edited and proofread is essential – expensive and time-consuming as this is. A copy-edit is a line-by-line edit of your manuscript, looking at structural elements like characterisation, continuity, and consistency, as well as grammar and spelling. A proofread is much less in-depth and checks the typeset text for presentation errors, punctuation accuracy and inconsistent phrasing or terminology. No matter how many times you have read your manuscript, there are things you’ll miss because you’re too familiar with your work. A fresh pair of eyes will spot these errors. As much as I cringed when I received my copy-editor’s feedback, I tried to take her advice on board. You can accept or reject their changes, but remember that they are professional editors and it’s usually wise to submit to their authority. Silverwood had a different member of their team look at my work at each stage of the publishing process to bring a fresh perspective to the work. At some stage, you’ll be assigned a publishing assistant who will be your main point of contact.

Type-Setting and Cover Design

Type-setting is where the manuscript is formatted from a Microsoft Word document to a book interior, and is both an ‘art and a science’. This involves setting the font, size, page layout, and adding bits like the copyright and title pages at the front. This is when your work starts to look more like a book. My publishing assistant cleverly reflected my book’s steampunk aesthetic by choosing Nutcracker font and adding tiny gears on the first page of a new chapter. One expense I didn’t budget for was having an illustrator create an original artwork for the cover, rather than using stock images. But I don’t regret this decision because the finished cover design was gorgeous and a perfect fit for the genre.

Some stages of the publishing process happen simultaneously. The entire process from start to finish will take months.

Recommended Retail Price

Before your book goes to print, your publishing assistant will have discussed setting a Recommended Retail Price (RRP) with you. Your print price (the cost of having the book printed) should be around 40%-50% of your RRP so you can make a better return on royalties. Self-published books tend to be slightly more expensive than traditionally published books because of the higher printing costs they incur. When it comes to printing the book, there is a choice between bulk buying and print on demand (POD). I chose POD as it has the advantage that a book is only printed if someone requests it. It might not always be cheaper to sell books directly through you rather than through your self-publisher, after shipping and postage costs are taken into account. Also, if you want to sell through Amazon, they take a cut of around 40% of the RRP. Your best bet is probably to sell through your self-publisher.

Marketing Your Book

It’s a proud moment when you finally get to hold your book. Now you’ve reached the tricky part: selling some books. This is especially tricky at the time of writing during the lockdown, when all of the bookshops are closed. But there are other ways to promote your book besides a physical book launch event and offering your book to retailers such as Waterstones. Blog tours, Facebook live events and video Q&As are all things you can do without even leaving your house. (It also helps if you have a web developer boyfriend who can build you a website: Nor should you underestimate the power of word of mouth. Friends can tell friends-of-friends about your book and soon you’ll have sales. Oh, and before you approach reviewers and bookshops, have an Advanced Information Sheet ready. This is a summary of your book, including information such as the blurb and author bio, and looks very professional. And yes, you have to pay for this too, but I find it’s a handy tool in my marketing arsenal.

I’m glad I chose to go down this route and enjoy the flexibility self-publishing affords. The journey to getting into print has been a huge learning curve and I would definitely do it again.

Written by Emily Owen.

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