Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Publishing your masterpiece on a shoestring

It's much easier to publish that book you always intended to write than at any other time in history, but it can be very expensive to do so. It seems to me that we have three options when it comes to publication, and I have tried them all. 


The first option is to use a conventional publisher, but interesting a conventional publisher in a book by an unknown author is about as likely as winning the lottery. My first two books were published in this way some years ago. I was asked to pay the cost of professional editing from my advance on sales. I'm not saying that professional editing is not a good thing, I'm sure that it is if you want the book to be the best that it can be, but unless you are confident that you have a best seller on your hands, the probability is that you will never re-coup your investment. 

My books were sold at £7.50 each, and my royalty share was 10% of sales, or 75 pence per copy. After tax that left me with 60 pence per copy if they all sold at full value. If the editing bill happened to come to £1000, which in this day and age is a very conservative estimate of costs, I would have to sell 1,666 of each book just to cover the cost of the editing. I resolved this problem by offering my editor a writing credit, and 2% of my book royalties. The publisher designed the book covers, printed the books, did all of the marketing, and I received an annual check for a decade.


When I retired from full time employment, and decided to try my hand at writing novels, I approached a print on demand publisher after responding to an advert. This method of publishing would have been described as vanity press not so very long ago, because the author is expected to foot the bill for pretty much everything. The publisher did produce the book at zero cost, except for a nominal charge for "administration," but I quickly discovered that this kind of publisher makes their money from selling services to authors, rather than selling books to the reading public, so I cancelled my contract  when sales dried up after just  35 copies had been sold.

This is the option which I currently favour, unless of course one of the conventional publishers would like to take a chance on an unknown like me. In this option the author is also the publisher, and marketer, so it involves a lot of time, work, and commitment to bring the book to fruition. 

How to get started? assuming that you have finished writing your manuscript, it will need to be edited, and edited, and then edited some more. You will be surprised how many mistakes you have made and some you won't even recognise as mistakes, but Microsoft Word will find some of them for you and there are other free download programs to help you to look for mistakes. Professional editing will  resolve these problems but at a cost. To avoid editing fees I employed the services of two of my friends to search for mistakes, and at the end of the day it only cost me two signed copies and a curry at the local Indian restaurant. Editing is more than searching for spelling and grammar mistakes, it includes context and running order, all kinds of things in fact, so I joined YouWriteOn, where you can submit your manuscript for a critical assessment, but to receive an assessment you must be  prepared to do the same thing for someone else. The feedback is very useful, if you are thick skinned enough to accept it, because some of the comments can be brutal. I learned from the process that I'd included too much unnecessary detail, and that my story didn't grab the reader from the beginning, and took too long to get going, so I took on board the comments, analysed my story, re-arranged it, and removed about 80 pages worth of waffle, which is the kind of thing that an editor might do. I am very happy with the result.

A book is no good without a cover. A cover helps to sell a book and could be the difference as to whether a book sells or not, so it must look professional. Book designers will produce a good cover but again at a cost, but it doesn't need to cost a fortune to produce a decent book cover. I bought the rights to use the photograph on the left  on-line, for about £30. My novel is about a band which crashes and burns after being connected to a series of killings, so the picture seemed to be appropriate.
On Microsoft Word, you can select insert from the tool-bar, and then Word Art. There you can choose your text design, and colour. Save the result as a PDF, in your Word document, which will easily convert to a JPEG on a free download. I use free PDF to JPEG converter. It's a bit primitive but it does the job. For the back cover  select page layout from the tool-bar in Word, and then select a page colour. You can use Word Art, or simply chose a text style to complete the cover blurb. You can now self publish your book as an e-book on Amazon Kindle, or as  a paperback on Createspace for free.

When I discover how to market on a shoestring I'll let you know.


  1. Thanks for posting, Roy!! Some really helpful ideas in here for us Indie authors!

    1. We are all learning as we go on Cynthia.

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