Self-publishing, a publicist’s perspective

I often get calls enquiring about my publicity services from self-published authors.

Usually, these calls come too late. The author has gone down the self-publishing route, produced a book, tried to market it, and has reached the point where they are despairing what to do about the hundreds (or sometimes thousands) of copies sitting unsold in the garage. These calls break my heart, not just because they represent broken dreams (and probably bank balances), but often there is a great book inside the whole project simply dying to get out. And it’s simply too late.

Yes, it seems a good idea at that point to make the call for some outside help, and I have successfully worked with self-published authors and will continue to do so but the whole offer must be right. The book must be properly edited. The cover and production quality must be up to a standard where book retailers would be prepared to stock it. The price must be reasonably competitive. Yes, as a self-publisher the economics of bookselling mean you’re unlikely to be able to produce a B format paperback with a recommended retail price of £6.99. So, be clever and choose instead trade paperback at £9.99.

Book marketing starts a long time before a book is finished, and unless you are planning a very specialist non-fiction book, or a title you intend to literally hand-sell every copy yourself, decisions like title, cover, distribution, recommended retail price should only be taken after you’ve done your market research.

So while I have kick-started success for self-published titles post-production, I’m much more likely to be able to help you if you call me before all systems are go.

I had a call from a self-published author about a B format paperback, printed on exceptionally heavy paper, with a retail price of £15.99. Worse than that, the novel was actually funny and the author could write. But the cover was completely, utterly wrong.

Another self-published book I was sent to take a look at had a lovely, attention grabbing cover and good enough production quality. The subject-matter was unusual and also the author’s own background. I was concerned about the title, but was quite excited nonetheless that it was a book I could do something with. Until I opened it. It had not been edited, let alone copy-edited. Howling spelling and spacing errors jumped off the page. I couldn’t read it, and the author could not at that stage afford to correct the problem.

The bottom line is this: self-publishing is expensive, risky and unlikely to make you much (if any) money anyway. If you are thinking about it, put your vanity/author ego to one side, do your research and write yourself a business plan, just as you would were it any other business venture. If you’re unsure about about any part of it, get advice. I’m always happy to look at self-publishing proposals and business plans and one the services I can do for you in advance is provide you a tailored book marketing plan with my realistic suggestions, based on experience, of how you might best market and publicise your book.

There is an excellent article on self-publishing from Simon Haynes, author of Hal Spacejock. (Thank you to Grumpy Old Bookman for the heads up).

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3 Comments

Filed under book covers, book publicity, Book trade, books, marketing

3 responses to “Self-publishing, a publicist’s perspective

  1. I would echo the importance of getting a good editor for your precious typescript – choose one from their professional website, http://www.sfep.org.uk. Well worth every penny! I would also recommend print on demand rather than a huge outlay on a large printrun. That way you can really control costs. And, as Kate says, Market, Market, Market.
    For anyone interested in self publishing, there is a short article recounting my experience on my website, http://www.beanpolebooks.co.uk.

  2. 95% of self-published authors don’t ask for help before they finish their book AND before the book is printed. That is a serious mistake. Ask for help as soon as possible — help in your writing style, help with your content, help with figuring out who your audience is, help with marketing. All of this should happen before the book goes to print.

  3. I think writers are too much in a hurry to get published and because they don’t want to play the waiting game which is a big part of it, they opt for vanity publishers or they’ll self-publish. There are some wonderful self-published books out there and I believe that all authors deserve the best publicity they can afford whether they are NY published, self-published or vanity published. However, you make a very very important point…please, please, please, don’t send it out without getting it professionally edited. Readers don’t pick up on a lot of things that you or I might notice, but you have to remember, if someone reviews your book and plasters it up on Amazon for example and they mention the editing, how do you think the life of the book is going to go after that? Something everyone should not only think about, but take action to prevent it before it happens.

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