Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Now for the hard part

I'm still droning on about publication today.

How times change! As a completely unknown Assistant Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh in 1969 I had an idea for a book. So I wrote a short letter to E. & S. Livingstone (who later became Churchill-Livingstone, who became Longman, who begat Pearson and then I lost count) with my idea. A week later the secretary to the Managing Director, Mr. Henderson, rang me and asked if I could possibly find time to be Mr. Henderson's luncheon guest at a smart Edinburgh restaurant. You bet I could, even if only for the meal! In those days Assistant Lecturers earned half of nothing and drug firms didn't provide doctors with posh meals. So we had a pleasant meal with a bit of a chat and a bottle of wine and he offered me a contract. Two days later the written contract arrived in the post, I signed, job done.

A shrewd decision Mr. Henderson! Over the next 30 years they made a lot of money from my books.

But here and now, having written a book which several publishers have rejected, you eventually decide that at this rate death will precede fame, and having opted for self-publication, you will then have three choices:

1. Find a couple of printers who will give you quotations for however many copies you choose to fill your garage with. This is relatively painless providing you have the soft-ware and computer skills to prepare the manuscript in PDF format and know how to fit it on the chosen page-size of your book. If you can't do this yourself, you'll find a young person who can (usually for a price). Scientific photographs and diagrams can be tricky for all sorts of reasons, but novelists don't need to worry about that.
If you need an ISBN number you'll have to pay £111 for a batch of 10 numbers from Nielsen's, even though you only need one number. Without an ISBN number most bookshops will refuse to stock your book and it won't be listed by so how will you ever market it? But then you'll be a publisher and you'll have to register your business with the tax man and give a copy to the British Library.

2. Sign up with a print-to-order firm such as Lulu (search the Internet and read the small print). This has the great advantage that there often no capital outlay, and you can order as few copies as you like, but it has the the great disadvantage that each copy costs much more to produce, so sending out review copies or giving copies to all your friends and relatives becomes expensive. They will also, on request, provide you with an ISBN but this puts the price up again, and this will also give them certain legal rights with regard to subsequent editions, foreign translations etc.

3. Find a vanity publisher who will do all the work for you (maybe even edit or ghost-write it if necessary) and will then produce a few copies for an astronomical fee. This is the recommended route for multi-millionaires, or those writers who cannot write.

Option one sounds good, but there is a surprising amount of leg-work involved, and printer's questions to be answered, but if you persevere it happens, and every 20 years or so somebody self-publishes a book and makes a good profit. Every week somebody self-publishes a book and makes a loss. However it is quite exciting when the delivery-van arrives and the large cartons containing stacks of your tome are unpacked. And your Mum is thrilled.

So far so good. The writing of a book is great fun. The work involved in the manuscript preparation, printing and binding is interesting but time-consuming and there's a lot to learn and many mistakes to be made. The marketing however is murder.

Read the Writers' Year-Book, they'll tell you. Count the number of friends you have, count the number of work-colleagues, count the near neighbours, count the people whose book you bought because you once met them, add them up, divide by two, add five and that's the number of copies you can more or less guarantee to sell.If you're a blogger you might add the number of your 'followers'. Apart from that its a lottery!


  1. How about trying the Humanist Society? They've got an on-line shop which doesn't stock a hell of a lot, but might be another avenue to sell a couple of books?

    Send a copy to what's his name who's ALWAYS talking about there being no God - Dawkins. He might give you a good quote that you can add in to your ms and add to next copies to be printed.

    What about sending a review copy to a magazine that targets your market? I'm thinking, The Oldie maybe?

    Get yourself on to twitter and start using it as a marketing tool. Set up your account and do a regular search for 'God' or 'no God' and send a tweet to everyone who is talking about your subject matter, asking them to visit your website to check out your new book.

    Just did a quick Twitter search and, while a lot of it *is* juvenile drivel, there MAY be people to whom a little tweet saying 'no God? Couldn't agree more! I wrote a book about it (link to website)'

    You have got a website, haven't you? No? Well, I can sort you out there - e-mail me. Go to Hestia's Larder and find the link that allows you to e-mail me 'Contact Hestia on Olympus' and I'll get you sorted out with a little website.

    *gets off soapbox and turns her attention to housework*

    Ali x

  2. Thanks Ali,
    I sent a copy to Dawkins, no acknowledgement.
    I wrote him a friendly, chatty letter a few weeks later. Still no reply.
    Then weeks later, a reply arrived, what bliss, an E mail from Dawkins! It was a circular letter asking me to send money to support his Foundation.
    I wrote again, expressing my disappointment. Still no reply.
    Par for the course with regard to review copies I'm afraid.

    I think your advice is sound. I'll follow it.