The range of services that self-publishing companies offer writers varies greatly. Some are straightforward printers, who will produce copies of your book from the cover image and manuscript you provide them with. Some offer everything you might need, from editing and cover design, to formatting and typesetting, to distribution and marketing. So how do you choose the right company to self-publish with?
The first thing is to know what you want. There’s no point paying for services you don’t need.
So, you need to find a company that provides the right services for you. Good places to start are the Writers’ and Artists’ Year Book, and the Alliance of Independent Authors. My tips for ensuring you find the right company are:
- Search the internet for feedback on each company – there are often warnings about unscrupulous behaviour, and poor service, on internet forums.
- Talk to companies you are considering using. Do they answer the phone? Are they helpful? They should be able to clarify what they provide, and help you decide what’s best for you, rather than pushing you towards services you don’t want. The better companies should help you with things like formatting manuscript and cover documents.
- Ask for a sample of their work, so you can assess the quality of the books they produce, which should match that of the books you see in bookshops.
There are various points to bear in mind that are not immediately obvious – some more important than others. Perhaps the most crucial is to realise that, however comprehensive the services of the company you choose, you are the publisher, and not them. You need to be sure that your publishing name appears on the copyright page and not theirs, otherwise you could be inadvertently giving away the rights to your book. [1.]
I’ve been struggling to get a hold, in my mind, of everything I need to get done; concerned that I might miss a critical step. I had a breakthrough when I realised that it doesn’t all need to be done at once.
Distribution, for instance, is vital if you want to sell a lot of books. Getting your book data into the databases that all bookshops use for ordering, will mean that anyone can go into a bookshop anywhere and ask them to order a copy of your book. And then you need a way of getting the books out to the bookshops and taking payment. All of this is pretty much beyond individuals like you and me, but many self-publishing companies will deal with this for you (for a fee). But the fact that anyone, anywhere in the world, can walk into their local bookstore and order a copy of your book, doesn’t mean that they will. Getting your book into the global distribution network won’t sell a single book without the accompanying marketing that will let the world know your book exists. Successful marketing is the real trick, and near impossible for anyone but the big publishing companies.
So, although global distribution is something you might want later, you don’t have to set it up straight away. Although it makes sense to get an ISBN and a barcode for your back cover so that you’re ready ( an example of the complex interdependencies you need to get right).
For me, this means I can concentrate on getting copies of the book printed, and worry about global distribution if and when I need it. And if I don’t need it, then I may just have saved myself some unnecessary expense. POD (Print on Demand) means that, unlike in the past, you don’t have to have a stock of books printed, which will save you a large initial expense that might not be recouped (if you don’t sell them all). Books can be printed and sent out as and when you make a sale, one copy at a time, if necessary. And you can order a quantity of books for your own use. The downside is that the unit price can be higher than traditionally printed books. So why do I want physical copies of the book?
Well, the first stage of my master plan is this:
- Get to local and independent bookshops and persuade them to take some copies on sale or return.
- Give copies to local media (newspapers, magazines, radio stations) with the aim of getting the book reviewed, and maybe giving a few interviews.
- Maybe sell some copies (probably at cost price) to friends and family (although I don’t want anyone to feel obliged!)
For this plan to have any chance of success I will need to take my sales skills to a new level. Although I hope that the quality of the writing, and the cover design, will make the job easier.
The choice between POD and a traditional printer will come down to…
- Quality. While I’ve yet to compare samples, I’ve been led to understand that POD books can match traditional printed books for quality, but I need to check this out.
- Cost. The price per book is fixed for POD, but with traditional printing, the larger the print run, the lower the price per book. What I’m in the process of determining is how many copies I will need, and whether I can order enough to get a unit price that is significantly lower than with POD.
The current favourite for POD is Ingram Spark, but I’ve also identified a couple of more local (i.e. small and in the UK) traditional printing firms who look like they might be reputable and helpful – my next stage is to speak to them, get costings and samples. If they prove to be a more cost effective way of getting the number of copies I want, then I’ll probably go with them. And if my attempts at marketing are successful enough to make global distribution worth while, I can arrange that later.
I’ll let you know what I’ve decided in the next instalment. And, coming soon…
…my finished cover design (behind which there’s a story)!
[1.] This comes from Johnathon Clifford’s website ‘Vanity Publishing, a campaign for truth and honesty’. He also says that the ISBN for your book should be registered (at the Nielson agency) to you, the author as publisher, and not to the company you use to help you get your book published. Ingram Spark, one of the biggest self-publishing providers, advise against getting your ISBN from a self-publishing company that includes them in the price, because if you need to move to a different provider, you won’t be able to take it with you – you’ll have to buy a new ISBN.