Following the recent publication of my 100th book, several journalists and would-be authors have asked for advice on self-publishing. I am going to revisit some old guidelines I gave on line in the past and mix and stir them with up-to-date tips based on more recent experiences. So now that my autobiography – Headlines Deadlines All My Life – has been safely packed off to the printers, here comes the hard-learned Giller Rules on publishing, based on mostly pleasurable but occasionally painful adventures:
GILLER RULE No 1 is that self-publishing should be your last resort
Only go down the self-publishing route if you have exhausted mainstream publishers, who can be trusted to give candid appraisals of your book proposal.
GILER RULE No 2: Be honest with yourself
If you are collecting a fistful of rejection slips, ask yourself what might be wrong with your book. Have you given birth to a book that only a mother could love? Try to look at your book through neutral eyes and ask if it is sufficiently interesting to sell. If not, pack it in right now and turn to your next venture. Just that sentence alone could save you many hours of anguish, and thousands in cash.
GILLER RULE No 3: Know your market
These days when you present a book proposal to a publisher, you should go armed not only with your manuscript and a well-constructed synopsis but also a marketing plan.
“Commercial” was a dirty word when I entered the world of publishing 40 years ago. It would be whispered only in the sales division, while the editorial executives would never sink that low.
Now the first thought of any publisher considering a book is: “Will it sell?”
Publishers have shot themselves in the foot by allowing supermarkets into their cosy world, giving cut-price books the same standing and stature as a tin of baked beans. And then there are monsters like Amazon, who would sell your granny if the price was right.
See it as your job to tell your would-be publishers how and where your book will sell. Ask not what your publisher can do for you, ask what you can do for your publisher.
If it’s a book on fly-fishing, submit along with your manuscript a mailshot list of every major angling club in the land. If it’s a book on village cricket, list every village cricket team you can with a contact name and address. Thanks to Google and the informative internet, this is now a simple task.
GILLER RULE No 4: Don’t be a plonker
If you fail to hook the mainstream publishers, move down the chain to the smaller outlets but approach them with your eyes and ears open. Don’t allow your ego to let them publish your book without getting the deal you deserve. Think Delboy: “Don’t be a plonker all your life, Rodney.”
Tap into the investigative journalist inside you and do your homework on the publishers. Make sure they will represent you and your book with more than just lip service. Talk privately to other authors they publish, and look at their promotions and sales presence in places like Amazon.
Consider getting yourself an agent, but remember they are even fussier than publishers these days and they will want a cut of your advance and royalties.
Randall Northam, vastly experienced publisher and writer, is a former SJA Treasurer, and the type of trustworthy man you want to do business with. But he is not a charity, nor is he a vanity publisher. If he does not think a book will sell, he probably has good reason. Make sure you have a book that has appeal before you approach a publisher like him with a preliminary letter or brief but informative email. Remember, if you bore them with your approach they are sure to feel your book will be boring, too.
I can also recommend the brother and sister team of Paul and Jane Camillin at Pitch Publishing. They will give an honest assessment of your work, and discuss a fair deal if they are interested.
I have never paid to have a book published, but if you feel you have to go down the road, make certain your contract is watertight. There are hundreds of vanity book publishers waiting on the World Wide Web to relieve you of your money.
If you find yourself crashing against the traditional publishing wall, then your last resort should be self-publishing, the world in which I am currently cocooned.
And that brings us to …
GILLER RULE No 5: Do it yourself
Self-publishing should mean just that. Self-publishing. It is chickening out if you put your project in the hands of one of the scores of self-publishing services that are mushrooming online. That should be called Team Publishing … and the “team” will drain your pocket. Be selfish and hands-on in every aspect of the job.
The rule of thumb for me is if I know I can be virtually guaranteed selling 1,000 books, then I will go ahead with the project. If not, I will look for a new outlet for my energy.
Here is a check list of what you need to do:
Choose your specialist subject, confident there is a market for it and that you know how to target your readers. Forget about novels. It’s a fact that fiction does not pay in the self-publishing world, unless you have the 51st Shade of Grey.
Select the size of your book, remembering the more pages and stiffer the cover, the more the postage. See if you can get yourself a deal with a company like ParcelForce or UPS.
Get quotes from several printers, making sure you have somewhere to stock the books and a means of distributing them. Don’t be lured into ordering a bigger print run than you need because you are tempted by the way the unit cost comes down the bigger the print order.
I recommend Antony Rowe/CPI, of Chippenham in Wiltshire. They are not the cheapest, but I reckon they are the best. Don’t forget cheapest can work out dearest in the long run if you pick an unreliable printer. Your first contact at CPI should be sales executive Andy Howarth (firstname.lastname@example.org).
There are scores of printers offering deals on the internet, but my experiences with CPI have only been good. They also specialise in Print-on-Demand, where your risks are low but hardback books are extremely expensive to run off. PoD paperbacks are the way to go, but less satisfying than a litho-produced hardback.
CPI have an excellent fulfilment service, which means I can leave all postage, packaging and delivery details to them. I have downsized to a doll’s house, so do not have stock room. Obviously if you can do the posting and packing yourself, it will be cheaper, but I know that there is nothing more depressing than to have unopened boxes of books jamming your spare room and garage for months on end.
Work only with a printer who has facilities to accept PDF files, and lay your book out with a printer-friendly program. Adobe InDesign is the trade favourite. This has a facility to turn your file into an ePub format for the downloading world that is revolutionising the publishing business. But it’s a fairly crowded market out there with literally thousands of authors joining the eBook publishing party every week. Suddenly everybody considers themselves a writer. For every Harry Potter fortune being made, there are a million writers picking up peanuts.
Pitch to distributors such as Gardners of Eastbourne and Bertrams of Norwich, and also go for individual deals with selected shops (if, for instance, it is a book about Southampton Football Club, you would make personal contact with the manager of every bookstore in the town).
Set up a website promoting your book. If you have to farm that out, I suggest you are not cut out for self-publishing because your overheads will beat you before you start. You do not have to be Mystic Meg to know there will be a strengthening marriage between the internet and cyber publishing, and without a working website you will be dead in the water.
Write your book, and then get on with the all-important selling and marketing. Join Facebook but mind how you tread, because they block you if it’s obvious you have commercial reasons for being on there. Tweet, send press releases to radio and TV stations and local newspapers (few nationals will publicise self-generated books). Here’s a fascinating stat for you: in the last month I have blitzed Facebook and Twitter with promotional posts about my 100th book. I have sold a few hundred to Facebook Friends. Sales so far from Twitter contacts? Uh… just two.
Remember to allow two dozen books from your print run for promotional purposes. Go into specialist forums where your book subject might attract comment, and butter up the webmasters, offering exchange links.
Don’t forget to purchase an ISBN through Nielsens, put aside a pot for the photographs, bear in mind the fact that some bookstores take 53 per cent of your cover price, and that most bookshops work on a sale or return basis … so all the books may come back to you, and then you need reserves to pay for them to be pulped.
Dare you fly without having somebody you trust copy-edit, and also do you need a legal check? Only you can decide. Even with all my experience I have managed to let a howler through with my 100th book, misspelling the name of TV presenter Fred Dinenage. How?
Self-publishing is hard work yet exhilarating and sometimes rewarding. I made a tidy profit on my Lane of Dreams book about the history of White Hart Lane, but then got carried away and ordered a reprint. Big mistake. Everyone likely to buy such a book had already bought it, from me. Unless you have struck an oil gusher, just stick to your original target, hit it and then move on to your next project.
I hope you are booked for a successful adventure.
Publish and be famed.
(If you would like to take a gander at my 100th book, you can buy it now on Amazon or direct from me post-free at http://www.normangillerbooks.com/#/my-100th-book/4567099727 Thank you)