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.
Large-scale distribution: You will also need to consider whether bookstore distribution and media reviews are vital to the success of your book. If it is, a high-end professional solution will be required as it is very difficult for self-published authors to get into mainstream bookstores and garner the interest of the media if their books do not meet the stringent quality requirements for this type of distribution. Publishing budgets for bookstore distribution can range from R60 000 upwards, and you will only make 25–30% of the retail price when choosing to sell through bookstores. This means that authors must also have an accessible market or fan base they can sell directly to in order to cut out the expensive distribution chain and make back their investment. This option is not for everyone.
Small scale distribution: Distributing and selling to your own network of customers and clients, or distributing mostly through online and print-on-demand platforms, is a lot cheaper and you can be much more flexible with your budget and the production processes you choose to use. You can enjoy free self-help publishing services, as well as assisted services for a set package cost. But beware: when choosing the self-help or assisted package-publishing route, publishing quality can range from very poor to acceptable, depending on the services you use and the level of production expertise of your service providers. If you later want to sell through stores or obtain media reviews and publicity, this can be difficult as the ‘book trade’ can spot a poorly self-published book a mile away. This option offers a great foot into the market where you can learn and grow in your publishing at minimal risk.
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, Porcupine Press or Jenni-Gay Coetzer. 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.
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 Amazon’s KDP publishing platform, Lulu, BookBaby, and IngramSpark among others. 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.
This option invariably produces a low-quality product as authors manage their own publishing, regardless of their level of experience and knowledge of book production. Bookstore distribution in South Africa will not be possible due to the very high unit costs per book after international shipping. You may also struggle to secure media reviews unless your book has been 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.
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.
PUBLISHING FOR THE YOUTH: An innovative company promoting writing and reading for the youth is Pelmo Books. They encourage young authors to submit manuscripts offering fresh stories with a wide variety of perspectives. They also publish books by experienced authors.
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 book production and publication service provider offering high-quality publishing services. Their team of editors, designers and consultants have worked for South Africa’s largest educational and trade publishers. Although they publish a variety of genres, they specialise in non-fiction, coffee-table, spiritual, alternative health, health, academic and educational books, and offer print and electronic magazine, quarterly report, newsletter and catalogue production services. They also offer cost-effective packages for fiction and biographical ebook conversion and distribution through the world’s largest online retailers, as well as international print-on-demand distribution services through Amazon, Ingrams, and other leading retailers, reaching a network of 39 000+ retailers and libraries globally. They network with other service providers such as publicists and bookstore distributors to provide a seamless one-stop solution. Clients include entrepreneurs, motivational speakers, businesses, corporates, subject specialists, chefs, trainers, and educational and academic content providers. Quickfox is based in Cape Town but assists 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 bookstore distribution services and international distribution of their print and ebook titles. They are based in Johannesburg but service clients throughout South Africa.