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From Traditional to Self Publishing and Back

When I first thought of writing a book I had no confidence in producing anything people would want to read. So I took my (brief) manuscript to the local printer, who mostly produced posters and newsletters. The finished book (a bit of nonsense called One Dog and His Man) cost me just £1 (Irish) in 1984 and sold quickly at £2, so whatever it made was doubled. I sold 500 copies locally and thought I should rewrite and improve my work and offer it to a publisher. A writer friend found me an agent and everything stopped for more than a year. My book was rejected again and again, making me think I should have stayed with the printer. My agent was ready to give up and I asked him to try just one more publisher. He tried the Blackstaff Press in Belfast and they accepted at once. It was out in a matter of weeks and got fantastic reviews. I followed with a sequel, One Dog and his Trials and that did well too. I turned the two books into one, One Dog, his Man and his Trials, which stayed in print for many years and is still popular. Before I acquired an agent, I had tried to place ‘One dog’ with a publisher myself. Having no idea how to start, I thought I’d send it to the next publisher whose name I saw in print. I went to Church and noticed that my hymnbook had been published by Collins of London. I duly sent the handwritten copy to this august firm. They answered! They liked it! They said they would contact me if they wanted an animal book. Because the book wasn’t accepted at once, I thought ‘it’s no good. Forget it.’ I was 54; old enough to have more sense, but I didn’t recognise the personal...

Beware Online Subsidy Publishers

I wrote a previous article explaining why I don’t like vanity presses. Unfortunately, because vanity presses have become so unpopular because they developed a bad reputation, they are changing their “skin” (outer appearance) to appear to be something else.  Now, many of them are calling themselves Online Subsidy Publishers. Sometimes they call themselves “POD Publishers,” (POD stands for Print On Demand) and they tell you you can get published for free. Others offer low or medium-cost fees to “get published” with a variety of packages that offer services that “take care of everything” (it’s the classic vanity press scam in new clothing). They often talk about paying “royalties” — after you’ve paid for all of their services. The reason they talk about paying royalties is that somewhere hidden in the contract they have taken possession of your copyright. Their common services include: — Preparing a PDF of the book interior. (Some may ask you to provide it.) — Offering you a choice of their stock cover designs. A few offer more cover options or allow you to make suggestions or provide cover art. — Submit your book to reviewers. (Most authors have a less than pleasant experience related to this. The book reviewers are not real bona fide book reviewers, because the important reviewers won’t accept a book that comes from one of these online subsidy publishers. — Put your book in their online store (only frequented by other writers desperate to be published). — Offer to put the book on Amazon.com (usually at an unreasonably high price). I suggest that instead, you go through Amazon’s REAL POD publisher, CreateSpace.com and get your book on Amazon all over the world for less than $50. — Sell copies to you at a discount from list price, even though you have already paid them a lot of money for your book....

Do I Need An Editor For My Self Published Book?

This is one of those questions with several answers; a trick question if you like. The nearest I can get is, ‘probably.’ I have edited more than fifty self-published books, fiction and non fiction and in every case I had no doubt that I was needed and that it would pay my client to pay me! I have been following a discussion on line, which is sure to bewilder anyone looking for information. Yes, there was good advice, but also bad advice and fits of childish temper on the part of people who ought to have known better. One popular question was, ‘can a writer edit his or her work?’ That’s a tricky one. If you are writing a memoir or a book about a subject that you know backwards, the answer is usually ‘yes.’ In fact, the writer can do what the editor can’t, having more knowledge of the subject. That doesn’t mean that the editor is ignorant, merely that the writer will keep remembering things, researching fresh material and needing to update while writing. Back in 1991, I wrote a memoir called Breakfast the Night Before. It was published by a famous London house, André Deutsch. I had already had two novels accepted by Collins, also of London, and experienced a publishers’ editor. I didn’t know there were such people! I discovered the hard way that I could resist changes if I was sure I was right. When I wasn’t sure, I kept quiet. The books had done well, but I was nervous about the memoir. To my astonishment it came back to me with minor tweaks and nothing that I couldn’t understand. I discovered that the editor was the publisher herself, a prize-winning author, Diana Athill. Later, she wrote a wonderful foreword for my non-fiction Part-Time Writer, Notes and Reflections. Incidentally, Breakfast the Night Before was...

To Edit or Not to Edit?

Recently I triggered a seemingly unstoppable discussion on LinkedIn by asking writers if they would pay for editorial services and, if so, how much they would pay. Writers and editors weighed in with both yea and nay responses, various analyses of pricing, and the chasms into which writers fall when hiring an editor. Opinions ranged from one extreme to the other: either writers who fail to work with professional editors are doomed, or writers don’t need editors if they learn to edit for themselves. A writer wading through such a swamp might wonder who, if anyone, is right. Reality The reality lies in the middle. We all self-edit, and publishers edit even the greatest authors. That’s just how it works, or at least how it used to work in the age of traditional publishing. Today’s world of print-on-demand, self-publishing, and ebooks has rung a few changes on the old formula. While the traditional route is still available, it has become so easy to publish a book that everyone with a keyboard and half an idea has jumped into the business. It’s now possible for a writer to spring straight from rough draft to published work without a single edit. Is that a good thing? Absolutely not. Very few of us get everything right first time, every time. An unedited work usually reads like an unedited work, littered with typos, grammatical mistakes, and structural weaknesses. Readers seldom notice good editing, but they sure notice sloppiness and poor writing. As a writer, your byline is your brand, and you don’t want your brand associated with poor quality. Poor quality loses customers. Essential So editing is essential. The question is how to approach it, and the answer is not very different from what it used to be. First, self-edit. Check for spelling and grammatical errors, for poor organization, pacing problems, plot issues,...

Use Industry Standard Non-Fiction Book Elements

As a self publisher, you need to meet industry standards in order to get your book recognized. Thousands of books are published every day. This means you have lots of competition. If your book appears to be sub-standard, missing elements that are required by the publishing industry, you won’t get very far in publishing. I have seen the forums for self publishers where some authors argue that these elements are not really required. If you have read that somewhere, do not listen to it. All of the elements that are standard publishing industry are there for a reason. Front Matter Front Matter occurs prior to the core content of the book, and is typically arranged in this order: Title page (contains title & author only) Copyright page Copyright Acknowledgments (for titles containing reprinted / permissioned material) Dedication (if included) Table of Contents Foreword (if included – usually written by someone other than the author describing interaction with the author) Preface (if included – by the author, it  covers the story of how the book came into being, or how the idea for the book was developed) Acknowledgments (if included) Introduction (if included – usually states the purpose and goals of the book.) Go to a bookstore with this list, and note how these elements are included in books. Table of Contents Give special attention to your Table of Contents (TOC). A Table of Contents is critical for any non-fiction or how-to book – it is the map your readers use to navigate your book. Prepare your Table of Contents(TOC) after you finish writing and editing your manuscript. List each part, section, chapter, and headings that you feel are appropriate. Many books list the title of the chapter, plus the primary heads in each chapter. Your manuscript must match the order, context, and titles of the TOC. Body Matter After the...

Why I Don’t Like Vanity Presses

Over the years, vanity presses have gotten a pretty bad reputation for duping people into printing a whole lot of books that won’t sell. (Ironically, one of the biggest reasons that the books won’t sell is that they were published by a vanity press.)  Since the term vanity press has become synonymous in some circles with “ripoff,” many have taken to calling themselves subsidy presses instead. Whether you call them vanity presses or subsidy presses, they are the same thing. Vanity Presses require the author to pay all the costs to print and ship your books. Many of these presses will claim to help you with marketing, sales and placement of your books. From the many experiences that I have read from people who have used vanity presses, it does not appear that they do any real marketing, sales, or placement of your books, even though the contract you sign with the vanity publisher may give the impression that they will market and help place your book. As part of their services, the vanity/subsidy press will file copyright documents, provide ISBN, and secure LOC (Library of Congress) CIP (cataloging in publication) data as necessary. The author pays all the costs (usually higher than normal) of editing, design, production, and printing. Vanity presses try to make you think they will “take care of everything” for you. Some might even tell you that you don’t have to do much to sell your book. Every published author knows that whether you are self-publishing your book, or going with a big mainstream publisher, you have to do a massive amount of the marketing yourself. Only the very biggest name authors, less than 100th of one percent, get a big marketing budget from the mainstream publisher. It will be your job as the author to promote your book as much as you can by...

Publishing Choices For Authors

An aspiring author wanting to see his or her books in print has a more options today than just a few years ago. E-BOOKS A very popular option is to publish your book as an e-book. E-books come in several formats. I’m sure you have seen people who are hawking their how-to books online and offering them for some pretty high prices such as $79.99, or even $139.99 for a downloadable PDF of their book. Of course, they claimed the book is worth much more (but I highly doubt that it is worth anywhere near the cover price). Anyway, selling your book in PDF format is a possibility. You can also sell your e-book on a variety of popular platforms such as Kindle, Nook, and iBooks.  Each of these requires special formatting, agreeing to their contract terms, and agreeing to their pricing structures. Going this route means your books are published through the channels of Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Apple. They sell the books and keep a portion of it for themselves. The amount you get ends up being the “royalty” they pay to you. These channels pay royalties faster than traditional publishers, so you will see your money sooner. They also pay you a higher percentage of the cover price of your book than traditional publishers do. E-BOOK AGGREGATORS For authors who cannot or don’t want to learn all of the specific ins and outs of creating an e-book for publication, there are services called e-book aggregators. The two e-book aggregators that I have seen recommended most often are SmashWords.com and Draft2Digital.com.  SmashWords has a few more requirements than D2D, but those requirements force you to submit files that are well formatted and meet other quality requirements. Some people use these aggregators only for certain vendors.  Four instance, I know someone who publishes their books on Kindle themselves but uses Smash...