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Industry Insider: How to Self-Publish

Lee Crompton, author of Digging Deeper, helps us launch our Self-Publish or Perish competition with his guide to Self-Publishing.

So, you’ve written a book and want to see it in print. Who could blame you, but how do you get your novel into the grubby little mitts of Joe Public? Well, put down your quill and listen up, because I’m about to tell you.

I was once told the average literary agent receives two hundred submissions a week but takes on maybe three or four new clients a year. Whatever the statistics, it’s safe to say there’s a large element of luck as well as talent when it comes to bagging an agent. Protocol would also suggest you are only supposed to approach one at a time. Some agents can take up to three months to reply. Let’s therefore assume you’re either not one of the lucky few to be picked or too impatient to go through the process. Let’s then further assume you haven’t slept with a professional footballer or appeared on X Factor, which seemingly gives you a right of passage into the world of “literature”.

You now have three options.

1. Vanity publish.
2. Self-publish.
3. Do nothing.

As strange as it may sound, I know people who have gone for option 3. Writing a book was merely a satisfying experience to be ticked off the list of achievements and there never was any intention of anyone else reading it. Let’s disregard this. If I’ve spent months, possibly years writing a book, I want people to read it. I want feedback so I can improve. What’s the point in painting a picture if nobody gets to see it?

Option one can be a tricky and costly affair. Someone I know had their manuscript accepted by a “publisher” on the proviso they made a few changes. Oh, and then there was the £3000 fee. The author involved failed to recognise this as vanity publishing as their work was “accepted”. A year later and the company went into liquidation and the book was lost … no warehouse filled with copies waiting to be sold, no comeback.

If you’re going to go down this route, do your research. What are you getting for your money? What services are being provided? Watch out for seemingly low cost options. The company makes the money somewhere. Some will include a few copies of your novel within the fee but how much are additional books and the associated postage and packaging? What percentage of royalties do you keep? Do you maintain the copyright? Do they offer any help with cover design, proof reading and editing or marketing?

Vanity publishing doesn’t have to be expensive however. There are companies who offer their services for free. The downside is you still have to do the formatting and cover design etc yourself and the company still needs to make its money somewhere. This normally comes in the form of production costs and/or royalties. They might charge over £6 for an average sized paperback and that’s before adding their postage and packing to the bill. So whilst the upfront cost is nothing, you would need to sell your book at inflated prices compared with mainstream paperbacks in order to breakeven. Furthermore, if you’re selling through a third party, retailers will expect 40% to 60% off the RRP which makes it impossible to sell on a large scale with your own costs far outweighing what the likes of Amazon are willing to pay. It was going through this experience myself which lead me to option two.

It’s not easy or the perfect solution but with some effort and research, self-publishing, true self-publishing where everything comes under your own control can be a very satisfying process. Here are my top tips.

Re-write and proof read

Before getting carried away with the process, make sure it’s the very best it can be. Cut out the overwriting, edit, proofread and repeat as applicable. If you’re able to get a friend to help, so much the better. I HATE proofreading. It’s very hard to be objective about your own work. It’s difficult to pick up mistakes because you read what you think you’ve written. I also find it brain-numbingly boring, so if you can get any help, do so.

Find a printer

100% happy with the book? The next thing to do is design a layout and ensure the printer you have in mind can produce the book in the size you require. Get some quotes from different suppliers. What are their standard sizes? Ask what the price difference is for different quantities (some will offer larger discounts for buying in bulk). Look at the weight of paper on offer. It’s measured in grams per square metre (gsm). You may find a cheaper supplier intends to provide thinner paper. Does the quote include delivery? What time of year are you intending to go to print? Costs can vary greatly if a printer is busy with seasonal cards and calendars.

Many printers now print on demand which means they are able to complete very short print runs, but costs and standard sizes vary. Do your homework before you start. It’ll save you time in the long run.

Design a layout

So you now know what size your book is going to be. Examine some of your favourite novels and decide how you want yours to look. Decide on the font, the size of the font, the width of the margins. Design a template in Microsoft Word which matches your requirements.

TOP TIP: Books have what is known as a gutter margin. This means the margin on the spine edge of the page is wider than the outside edge. Set your template up so the odd and even pages reflect this.

Judge a book by the cover

For me, this is the fun bit, but be very careful what you put on the front, including the title. How many times have you not even bothered to pick up a book to read the back blurb because you’ve been put off by the title or the image on the front? Think about how you want your book to look.  Are you going to have a back page blurb and/or an author’s photo? Remember to leave room for the ISBN. The International Standard Book Number forms the barcode that will go on the back. These are available online, but beware. Costs can vary and each is affiliated to a specific publisher (and sometimes country) unless you buy it direct in the UK. 

Make your cover template the same size as the rest of the book but allow a bleed margin around the edge. The printers can then trim the finished product to size. Various software packages are available on the market to enable you to create your own cover. Many of them have trial versions so see if you can get to grips with the software before making an investment.


So your book is available, but how do you let the masses know it’s been released into the wild? This is where the real work begins and the possibilities are endless (and time consuming). From social network sites to local bookshops; Readings to book festivals; Press releases to book signings.

TOP TIP: Create your own website. I’m self-taught and certainly no web designer but it’s easy to buy a domain name. They’re fairly cheap to obtain and there are plenty of sites out there offering web-hosting with simple drag and drop tools to help you create your own site. At least then you have a focus where people can see your books, what you’re up to and most importantly, you can take orders through the website.

And this is where the difference is made. As I mentioned before, the retailers are going to want their cut but you’ll be able to break even at the very least if you sell through a third party because your print costs will be so low. Sell anything through your own website and you keep all the profits for yourself.

For me, much of the above has come through trial and error. Each small step has been self-taught and I appreciate some may find it a daunting prospect. Which is why, having gone through the learning curve myself, I set up to help others through the process. I know the feeling of holding your book for the first time and if I can do that for someone else and give them a platform, that’s got to be a good thing. I also happen to think there are a lot of good books (and ten times as many awful ones) waiting to be published.

Writing a book is tough. Getting it published is tougher. Marketing the finished product is tougher still. If you’re going to write, do it because you love it, not because you want to become rich and famous. If you turn out to be the next J.K Rowling, that’s just a bonus.

If you’re interested in self-publishing enter our Self-Publish or Perish comeptition. 


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One thought on “Industry Insider: How to Self-Publish

  1. What a very generous spirit you have. I have had a little toe dipped into this but admit it is indeed very daunting and it’s not writing is it and that’s where the pleasure is (for me anyway). I found this very informative and interesting, will it tempt me to have another try – I don’t know to be honest but if I do at least I know where I can look for hints and tips – thank you. – Diane

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