You've done your research and you've decided that self-publishing is the route for you. It can be very daunting trying to figure out exactly where to start and who to approach. Furthermore, making the wrong decisions can result in a needless waste of money – something that, as a self-publishing author, you may not have very much of to begin with.
One of the first questions you need to ask yourself is: What is my vision for the book?
The answer to this question will determine a lot of things, the most important of which is whether to approach a custom publishing and book production company, OR use a package-deal publishing option, OR use a free DIY publishing service, OR approach your local printer to print and bind your books from a Word file or PDF supplied by you.
Each option has its advantages and disadvantages, and your available budget will no doubt have a bearing on your final choice. To find out more about the options available and which one is best suited to your project, consider investing in an obligation-free publishing consultation.
Publishing is a business and being successful requires that you treat it as such. As an author who chooses to publish independently, you are still ultimately responsible for all the important business decisions, including marketing and promoting your book. While there are many service providers who can help you along the way, help costs! Nothing comes for free. While your book writing may be a passion or hobby, service providers, although driven by passion, do what they do to make a living. And they will charge.
Choosing your publishing solution
Your first job when choosing to self-publish is finding a suitable author services or book production company who will carefully shephard your book through the production process. An author services business and book production company are basically the same thing, and most provide a full-spectrum production service from manuscript evaluation and editing right through delivery of a final printed product, or ebook.
If you are serious about your publishing endeavour and intend distributing on a larger scale through bookstores, then you need to be especially selective about the book production company you choose to use. It is advisable to find a company or person who has had actual experience in a publishing house or who has been a service provider to one or more large and reputable publishing houses. This company or person should have a good, broad understanding of all the different production functions.
One way to tell whether you're dealing with a professional company offering true publishing quality is to look at their production charges. Good cover design does not come cheap, and neither does good editing. At the same time, don't be fooled by automatically assuming that a high price tag guarantees a good job!
The most important barometer of whether an author services company will do your book justice or not is their previous production experience. As mentioned before, it is best to use an author services company that has had experience working in a traditional publishing environment as these companies are used to working to professional standards and they understand what goes into creating a trade-quality book.
Whether you choose to source the various service providers yourself, or to go through one author services company who will handle all the different functions for you, it is helpful to have an understanding of the different aspects of production.
Sourcing an editor, designer, and printer yourself
As a self-publishing author, you will have to decide whether to shop around yourself and source professionals to complete the different components, or pay a professional self-publishing service provider or author services company to do this for you. Unless you have had experience in publishing, the latter is usually the wiser option, for a few reasons:
- Without proper publishing experience, it may be hard for you to know whether you are dealing with a good editor, or a bad one; a good cover designer, or one who does not understand the principles of effective cover design; a great blurb and cover text writer who will greatly influence a buying decision, or one who has missed the essence of the book and its key selling points. Professional self-publishing and author services companies know the difference!
- Bookstores and book marketers usually won't take books that appear self-published – while you may not be able to tell the difference between a self-published book and one that has been traditionally-published, they certainly will, and they do! A reputable and experienced self-publishing or author services company will create a trade-quality book for you that will not be rejected on the grounds of poor quality.
- One company is accountable to you for the end product. Should anything go wrong, they have to take responsibility and the onus is on them to correct it. When outsourcing and managing the different functions yourself, it is up to you to determine what went wrong, and where. Without sufficient production knowledge, it could be difficult to pinpoint the exact source of the problem, and correct it.
- A self-publishing service provider already has the needed contacts in the industry and can usually get the job done fairly quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively, whereas you could end up spending many months trying to find the right people for the job. If timing is an issue, in other words, if your book deals with a topic that is current and/or in-demand, this kind of delay will have a negative impact on your timeline. It can also be quite difficult keeping your motivation up whenever you hit a blank wall or get let down.
- A self-publishing service provider will usually add a lot more value for money in terms of advice and recommendations – and they usually offer it at no additional cost. Individual service providers will rarely have the publishing experience that a self-publishing service provider has, and so will not be in a position to advise you, even if they wanted to.
- Choosing the wrong service providers can end up being very costly, whereas sending your manuscript to one reputable and experienced provider who handles the process from beginning to end is usually the more cost-effective option in the long run, particularly if you're looking to produce a truly professional product that is accepted by the book trade.
Many author services companies offer additional services, such as putting you in touch with book marketers and distributors, listing your book in their own online store for easy distribution, listing your book in various local and international catalogues, connecting you with a publicist, advising you on pricing, sharing marketing ideas, representing you at fairs, and so on. These additional services can prove invaluable.
What is your vision? What is your budget?
Great visions and bookstore distribution usually require a larger capital outlay – anything from, say, R45 000 to R150 000 or more for production and printing, depending on whether you are producing a single colour text-based book or a full colour coffee table book, and the quantity you are producing. These figures are fairly low when compared to the production budgets of large publishing houses that can easily extend into hundreds of thousands of rands!
On the other hand, a more modest vision for your book may not require the high level of production expertise required for bookstore distribution – you would certainly not want to be spending R45 000 for the production and printing of a book about your family history, intended only for family members and close friends! In fact, one of the free, online DIY solutions might be best for you.
And what about books requiring professional production but with smaller scale distribution to a niche market? An author services or book production company is recommended, but instead of using litho printing, you can use short-run digital printing or create a downloadable ebook. For this type of book application, you could expect to pay anything between R15 000 and R30 000 for production and editing. Digital printing costs are relatively low and the advantage is that you can print just 1 book or 500!
It's very much a case of courses for horses, so it's important to figure out which horse it is that you're going to be riding.
Looking for a digital printer who can offer affordable cover design and interior formatting?
Looking for a mid- to high-end publishing service with extensive experience in professional book production?