Book Smart: A Guide To Self-Publishing

With more and more emerging writers choosing to head down the route of self-publishing, what was once considered a vanity-project has become a viable business route. We asked Sarah Taylor of self-publishing services provider Matador to guide us through the basics of what it’s all about.

How does self-publishing work?

A self-publishing services provider is used by an author to undertake all of the processes involved in self-publishing. These services include: editing (copyediting and proofreading), typesetting (formatting the book for print), bibliographic data set-up (how the book trade find out about and order a book), cover design, printing, distribution (supplying the book to the book trade), marketing and ebook conversion.

The process starts with the author sending in their manuscript to the company for a quotation to publish it. If the company is happy to take the work on then they will send a quotation back. Once everything is agreed and contracts are signed, the work can begin.

Can anybody self-publish a book?

In a nutshell, yes ? anyone can self-publish a book. We do turn down manuscripts (which I?ll explain in further detail) but in theory, yes. Authors can self-publish books in whatever genre they choose: crime fiction, poetry, children’s books, business books, and they get to write what they want, rather than what an editor wants them to write.

What can an author expect when they self-publish? Is it up to the author to promote their book?

It really depends on the author and how they choose to go about self-publishing as the choices they make will influence the success of their project. Some authors choose to go it completely alone and liaise directly with different companies for all of the different services involved, but this can really limit them in terms of marketing and distribution.

Authors often neglect the vital aspects of the self-publishing process that are difficult to do alone or outsource ? the first of which is the bibliographic data set-up. This involves sending all of the data associated with your book (including the unique ISBN, size, title, author, price) to a data aggregator ? a company who will then make this information available to retailers across the country.

The second is trade marketing, a vital part of book promotion that involves informing retailers about a book’s publication in advance of its publication date. PR marketing is a slightly easier step for authors to do themselves, at Matador we always recommend that an author does undertake some form of marketing ? especially where they are printing a large amount of copies, or if they anticipate big national interest for the book.

Another factor authors should consider when tackling the self-publishing process alone is making sure that all of the elements they are outsourcing separately come together within the timeframe they are working in. There’s a lot of work involved in self-publishing, a lot of authors have full-time jobs and want to use a self-publishing services provider like Matador to do everything on their behalf.

What benefits are there to self-publishing? Are there any risks?

The main benefit is the control that authors get over their own books ? they don’t have to change any of their writing and they won’t end up with a cover they hate. Self-publishing also generally means the authors recoup a higher amount of royalties; at Matador you can make up to 85% of the returns ? both on paperbacks and ebooks. Another key element is time, a mainstream publishing house can take up to 24 months to publish a title ? self-publishing is much more immediate.

The main downside is that authors have to pay for all of the printing/production costs. There are risks, too, but these can easily be avoided ? for example, choosing the wrong printing options.  A lot of firms tout POD (printing on demand, which means printing a small amount of copies at a time to meet demand) as the best printing option, but in reality this won’t work for a lot of self-publishing authors as bookshops won’t generally order a POD book because it is supplied on a firm sale basis, so if an author chooses this printing option it can seriously inhibit their sales.

Most ?pitfalls? of self-publishing can be easily avoided, but it’s key to identify these at the start of the process to ensure that you are making the right choices.

What can an author do to make their book more appealing to a self-publishing agency?

The great thing about self-publishing is that there are no restrictions or gatekeeping. Authors should however make sure they have had the book rigorously edited and that it is fit for publication and in a readable condition. Matador turns down a quarter of all submitted manuscripts, with the main reason being that these submissions are not in a publishable condition. More often than not, the author will go away and work on the book and return to us with a sellable product.

What advice would you give to an author before they decide to self-publish? 

Editing is the first; research is the second. We’re one of the only companies in the industry that recommends authors to go and look at our competitors. Self-publishing isn’t a one-size-fits-all process; there are so many different options available to authors and it’s up to the author to make sure that the options they choose will help them achieve the result they want.

Timing is also key ? authors shouldn’t rush into self-publishing. At Matador, we give all of our books publication dates six months ahead, to give us adequate time for marketing. Rushing publication can result in less sales and publicity ? authors need to give retailers enough notice about their book ? so they should be aware of this before starting their self-publishing journey. This is vital for authors to remember, especially if they want their book out in time for the summer market, or if they’ve written a Christmas book.