Finding a publishing service
Services to suit your budget and needs
Decisions, decisions …
When choosing to publish independently, two of the most important things you will need to consider are: 1) budget – and thus the publishing solution you can afford, and 2) the quality of the book you’d like to produce, remembering that the higher the quality, the higher the cost of production and printing.
You will also need to consider whether bookstore distribution is vital to the success of your book. If it is, a high-end professional production and publishing solution will be required as it is very difficult for self-published authors to get into mainstream bookstores if their books do not meet the stringent quality requirements for this type of distribution. Publishing budgets for bookstore distribution can range from R65 000 upwards, and you will only make 30% of the retail price when choosing this distribution method. Small scale distribution to your own network or clients, or distribution mostly through online platforms, on the other hand, is a lot cheaper and you can be much more flexible with your budget and the production processes you choose to use.
Independent publishing is best-suited to authors who have direct access to their target market and who are not shy to promote and market their own work. In fact, the bulk of most self-published authors’ sales will result from their own efforts and direct-to-customer sales. Publisher.co.za provides the perfect alternative to mainstream bookstores as it is very easy to remember and find – a simple search for your book title will also bring it up – and you will make much more money selling through this platform than you would when selling through bricks-and-mortar bookstores, if you’re able to get into them.
If you are a first-time author, or you’d like to improve your writing skills, we encourage you to consider enrolling on a writing course. If budget allows, opt for a professional course, such as one of the courses offered by Writer’s Write, SA Writer’s College, or Porcupine Press. The more skilled you become at writing, the cheaper will be your editing and production costs, and the more likely it is that you will produce a book with the potential to do well and help you recoup your publishing investment. The National Library of South Africa’s Centre for the Book also offers free writing and publishing workshops. Once a year, they award a publishing grant to a deserving author whose work they feel is good enough to be published.
Having your work evaluated
If you have finished writing your book, it would be a good idea to have your manuscript professionally evaluated. Here, your book is assessed from the viewpoint of both a reader and a publisher. The strengths and weaknesses of your manuscript are highlighted and recommendations are made on how you can improve your book to make it more marketable and provide the best reading experience. Some companies you can consider for your evaluation include Quickfox Publishing, Porcupine Press and Writer’s Write.
Choosing your production and publishing service
Most publishing companies offer the full range of book production services, such as: editing, proofreading, cover design, book interior design and layout, ISBN assignment and barcode generation, printing, ebook conversion, and online distribution through most major retailers. Who you choose to use will depend on your budget, quality requirements, and vision for the book. We have listed a few options to suit a variety of budgets. We suggest that you research each option carefully to find the one that is right for you, bearing the following guidelines in mind:
- Low-cost options will invariably produce a low-quality product, and bookstore distribution will usually not be possible. You may also struggle to secure media reviews unless your book has been very well written and edited, and the presentation is of high quality. The upside is that financial risk is very low and capital outlay is minimal.
This option is ideal for: personal projects; authors who are experienced editors and designers or have free access to these resources; authors who require only a few books at a time; niche books with very low sales volumes; authors who will be selling their books directly to their target market; authors who aren’t seeking professional editorial or design quality.
- Medium-cost options are often appealing as they are both affordable and books usually look reasonably well-designed and formatted. However, editorial quality is likely to be sub-standard as this option usually includes only one edit (by contrast, traditional publishing includes multiple edits) and rarely involves substantive editing, which is often required for manuscripts written by inexperienced or non-professional writers. If your quality requirements are not that critical, then this option will accommodate authors on a limited budget. (Note: Some medium-cost options can end up becoming fairly expensive because although their entry-level costs are relatively low, their add-ons, such as additional editorial or design services, may add substantially to the price.)
This option is suited to: personal projects; authors who require low to medium quantities of books at a time; authors who will be selling their books directly to their target market; authors who are not too concerned about quality.
- Professional options cost the most and usually involve professional book production performed by industry experts, including multiple editorial passes and appealing cover and book interior design. However, do not assume that you will be receiving a high quality product just because you are paying a lot of money – look at samples of the work the company has done and assess the quality of their workmanship before you commit. This is especially important since you will be investing a much larger sum of money and you’ll want to know that every penny spent will deliver the quality you expect. You will also need to be sure that you can recoup your investment, so when going this route, full costings should be analysed upfront before you sign on the dotted line. A reputable publishing company should be able to provide objective advice and guidance regarding your project and publishing budget, and ensure that your project falls within the allocated budget and that the project remains viable.
Low to no-cost options
DIY PUBLISHING: If you have no budget for a professional production service, you can use self-help services such as CreateSpace, Lulu.com and BookBaby. It is strongly advisable to invest whatever money you have in editing and proofreading before publishing through these platforms. These platforms usually offer templates that you can use to format your book and lay out your cover. They also offer international distribution via Amazon and other major retailers. To use these services you will need to be comfortable using the internet. Most services are customer-friendly and offer online help guides with a step-by-step process for preparing and loading your files.
CENTRE FOR THE BOOK: The core functions of the Centre for the Book include information and advice, reading and publishing advocacy, and book development. The Centre for the Book coordinates book-related activities nationally, such as book discussions, poetry readings, book launches, writing workshops and conferences. Authors can also hold their book launches in the beautiful National Library building in Victoria Street in Cape Town. They have an auditorium and various meeting rooms, with catering facilities.
TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING: If you believe you have a solid manuscript with good mainstream potential, you can try the traditional publishing route. A traditional publisher funds the entire production and marketing of your book and you earn a royalty on all books sold. However, you need a strong book idea and your manuscript must be in excellent shape as traditional publishing deals are difficult to secure. If you are a first-time author, or you have written your book in an African language, consider one of the publishing workshops offered by Centre for the Book (see above) to help you increase your chances of securing a publishing deal. Good books in African languages are in demand and can potentially do very well. For a list of traditional publishers, visit the Publishing Association of South Africa’s website and click on the Members tab.
PARTRIDGE PUBLISHING AFRICA: A division of Author Solutions LLC, Partridge Publishing offers package-based publishing and a range of editorial and production services, as well as international distribution. What you won’t find here, unfortunately, is unbiased advice or high quality editing – their business model is to sell you their services, even if your manuscript is weak and unlikely to sell, and editing generally consists of basic grammar, spelling and punctuation checks made by English second-language speakers. Although they can be considered a vanity press in the true sense of the word, they have opened the door for new African writers and their entry level publishing options (book cover design, layout, ISBN, printing and distribution) are very affordable by normal publishing standards. If you are thinking of using one of their more expensive packages, you’d be well-advised to consider a professional option, instead.
QUICKFOX PUBLISHING: Quickfox Publishing is a bespoke professional book production and publication service provider. Their team of editors, designers and consultants have worked for South Africa’s largest publishers such as Random-Struik, MacMillan, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, Pearson Education, and others. They specialise in non-fiction, coffee table, academic and educational books, and offer print and electronic magazine, quarterly report, newsletter and catalogue production services and content hosting. They also offer cost-effective package deals for fiction and biographical ebook conversion and distribution through the world’s largest ebook retailers, and international print-on-demand distribution services. Clients include entrepreneurs, motivational speakers, businesses, corporates, subject specialists, chefs, trainers, and educational and academic content providers. Quickfox is based in Cape Town but services clients throughout South Africa and abroad.
PORCUPINE PRESS: This independent publishing company offers high quality publishing services in a variety of genres, including fiction and non-fiction. Porcupine Press are one of the few publishing companies that offer writing courses and assist with writer development and guidance. They also offer in-house bookstore distribution services, innovative brand promotion and marketing, and international distribution of their print and ebook titles. They are based in Johannesburg but service clients throughout South Africa.