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To self-publish or not, that is the question

Posted on 12th March 2011

As promised, I have another interesting and hopefully inspiring guest blog for you this week from Helen Hart with some great ideas and tips for anyone thinking about taking the self-publishing route. As a proofreader, I know a bit about this topic and try to help my clients taking this approach, but here's some wisdom from someone closer to the heart of the industry. Enjoy!

Self-publishing. It's easy! Buy some ISBNs... choose a nice font.... get your cousin who knows a bit about Photoshop to do you a book cover... get it printed cheaply and quickly using this great Print On Demand technology...

Readers will be beating a path to your door to buy your book, right?


Do it this way, and unless you've got experience as an editor, proofreader, jacket designer and book promoter, it's unlikely you'll sell any copies of your book beyond your friends and family. And in any case they'll all expect a free copy because they're friends and family.

The reality is that your shiny new-minted books are gathering dust. The local bookshop has politely said 'Thanks but no thanks'. Your dream of being a writer whose work is actually read is rapidly crumbling to dust.

It doesn't have to be like that. Do it right, and self-publishing can mean that your book is stocked in bricks and mortar bookshops across the UK (not just online) and you're getting letters from around the globe from people who love your writing.

So just how do you self-publish and make a success of it? Here's the SilverWood Books essential guide to successful self-publishing...

  • Learn about the business of publishing: find out how the mainstream does things, and aim to be just like them.
  • Prepare your work for submission: learn how to format a manuscript, revise your work, get a fresh pair of eyes to pick up things you might be too close to spot.
  • Get your work professionally edited and proofread: whatever your skills with English and grammar, always get a professional to edit or proofread your manuscript before you go to print. Even JK Rowling gets an editor and a proofreader!
  • Find out about printing: research short run digital printing, Print On Demand (POD) and lithographic printing. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Decide which best suits your needs. Be realistic about the size of the print run you need.
  • Understand the importance of good typography: it's part Art and part Science. Find out which font, size, spacing, words-per-line-and lines-per-page facilitate easy reading. Best advice is to get a professional – their knowledge, experience and technical expertise may cost money but without it your book will look amateurish and it simply won't sell.
  • Understand the principles of good book jacket design: more Art/Science stuff. Again, get a professional. Your cousin with a bit of knowledge about Photoshop probably isn't up to the job of competing with the mainstream.
  • Don't skimp on quality: study similar books to yours that are published by Penguin, Random House, Harper Collins. Choose cream bookwove paper for the interior of your novel, and a laminate for the cover (matt laminate is currently fashionable and offers a classy finish).
  • Understand distribution, trade discounts and how to get your book into readers' hands.
  • Develop your author platform: give people a reason to read or recommend your book.
  • Have a book promotion strategy.
  • Be prepared for hard work and relentless self-promotion.
  • Don't self-publish to make money. Any profit should be a bonus, and not the reason for doing it.
  • Keep the ball rolling.
  • Use a self-publishing company that's supportive, understands the business, and has a good track record (and who is willing to put you in touch with its previous authors so you can check out whether the company is as good as it says it is!).
Good luck, and whatever you do - enjoy self-publishing! It's great fun, and very few things can beat the thrill of holding your book in your hands for the first time.

[Helen Hart is a published author and runs SilverWood Books, a self-publishing consultancy that helps writers get their work into print. Get more tips and information on writing and self-publishing at www.silverwoodbooks.com and www.authorhelenhart.wordpress.com]

Written by Kate Haigh.