What’s it like to publish a book?

In the past year I’ve often been asked, “what’s it like to publish a book?”. At the moment my response is to mildly grimace… You see publishing a book is difficult; it is time consuming and can be expensive. And so much of one’s heart goes into it.

After going through many, many months of ‘bearing’ the book i.e. deciding on the final content, editing, copy-editing, typesetting, cover design, proofreading, organizing ISBNs and liaising with printers you finally give birth to your ‘baby’.

Now come the questions. Who’s really going to be interested in your book? What will they think of it? And crucially, who will actually buy it?

It may be rather unpleasant to have to ask yourself these questions, but they do need to be considered carefully before deciding on how you wish to publish your book.

The good news is that there are so many resources out there for people who want to self-publish a book, and resources too, for someone interested in establishing an independent press.

Two excellent books that will give you plenty of useful information are here:

How To Publish Your Own Book by Anna Crosbie (published by howtobooks)

Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook (published by A&C Black)

I would suggest that it’s a good idea to be ruthlessly realistic. How many books do you think you will sell? If it’s not many (say, on the scale of tens, or perhaps hundreds) and you like the look of books that have been digitally printed, then POD (print on demand) may be your best option, since the books are only printed and bound when they’re bought. This means less upfront costs (good!) and less worries about distribution and storage of books (good!), but I believe that margins are not so good with this method. And I’m not sure what a full-colour POD book would look like. There are a number of companies out there who produce POD books.

Perhaps you think you’d like to get a printing firm to print a few hundred and you’re happy to sell and distribute it through your own networks – be they electronic or real (!). Printing copies of a text-only book using digital printing could work well, although there’s still the upfront printing costs to consider.

Lastly, there’s the larger scale litho printing (which produces hundreds and/or thousands of books) which incurs large upfront printing costs, but it does have that beautiful ‘whiff’ of a traditional printing technique.

So… having a realistic answer to the question ‘how many books will I sell?’ will give you an idea of how you want to print (and distribute) your book, and how long it will take to pay back the upfront costs of producing a book. It’s worth bearing in mind that some self-published titles do not cover their production costs. Grimace.

As to the production of the book – well, there are many companies/freelancers who provide the services that will get words/pictures into a book format i.e. graphic designing/typesetting/desktop publishing. Or you can teach yourself, like I did. *Gulp!*

Editors, copy-editors and proofreaders also carry out an essential job, and if you have the funds it’s well worth employing them. They really help to make a book look professional.

Selling and distributing your book is a whole other matter…!

If you’re thinking of publishing a few more titles ‘and setting up shop’, this quote may be of interest:

“Starting an independent publishing company is not for the faint-hearted.”

[from The Insider’s Guide To Independent Publishing (published by The Independent Publisher’s Guild)].

But hard work and faint-heartedness aside, producing – and publishing – a book is incredibly exciting and rewarding. Which is why, I guess, so many people wish to take matters into their own hands and get their work published themselves.

If you’re one of those persons, I wish you the best of luck!

And if you’d like to remove the grimace from my face – come visit my store and buy a book! 😉

p.s. [November 2015] Since I wrote the above I have often been asked for help on others’ book projects. If you’re interested in having me involved in your project, please do contact me.

Thank you!