I used to co-own a publishing business, where we created local history/interest titles, but also had some massive print runs of larger, full-colour books, which we primarily sold by the direct selling method back in the 1990s-2000s. We also sold to bookshops. My role was as writer/commissioning editor.
Since then, as a hyperlocal website publisher, I have been commissioned to write books about Bude, which were written to a format (not much scope for originality) and now have a ‘labour of love’ book about Pamela Colman Smith (tarot artist, Bude links) with a publisher for publication in 2019. I am thrilled to say that I was contacted by the publisher, responded, sent in a sample chapter, blurb, and idea of market audience, and received an offer to publish within the hour. This was, it must be said, pretty unusual.
So, how do you get your books on the shelves (bookshop or virtual)?
It must be said I have no experience of self-publishing but many people follow that route especially if their book is too niche/not commercial enough to attract a mainstream publisher. However, I have plenty of experience in writing, commissioning and editing books, plus writing magazine feature articles.
Checking online, self-publishing has advantages. It offers you a 100% chance of being published as opposed to a 1% chance of finding a publishing deal. However, and this is very important to some people, in self-publishing you retain all rights over your work and the process, publishing and marketing. You also get bigger royalties. However, distribution costs are yours, and shops also require a considerable discount for stocking your items. With a publisher, control is relinquished and rights handed over for that edition. However, you still are actively involved in marketing your work through interviews, social media, and so on, and there may be tussles with an editor along the way. The publisher will choose the cover, format, paper quality, and so on.
As I’m someone who is totally absorbed in writing a book but then wants to move on to my next project, control is not personally an issue, but for some people control is super-important. Their book is their child. They want to be involved in the marketing and they want the publicity. If you are entrepreneurial and confident, enjoying getting your name/face out there, it’s a good road to travel. However, self-publishing because you cannot find a publisher or agent is telling you something.
Self-published ebooks do sell well on Amazon though, popular with Kindle readers, and some self-publishing companies do ‘handhold’ and advise on elements of your book. This will come at a cost. Please, please, please, however, do find an independent editor for your self-published book, someone who can edit and also proofread. This is truly not a job for an amateur. This American blog is useful for those considering self-publishing, as is this one by David Gaughran. as there are plenty of vanity publishing scams out there masquerading as self-publishing outfits.
Whichever way you choose, the process is quite long and complicated. What tends to happen when a new title is produced is that back titles really drop off the sales shelf, so beware of publishing too many too quickly. If you publish three titles, people (unless family and friends are being kind) will still only buy one in the first instance to see what they think. You can find you have spent a serious amount of money for little return. If you traditionally publish, then the liability is taken on by the publisher. Many publishers will have marketing teams working well in advance of publication, often in several countries. The selling largely becomes their issue and they have teams of people who are expert in it.
Like everyone else, I really like my books to sell, and I love positive feedback, but if they don’t my life does not depend on it. If you have self-published, this approach may be a luxury unless you have plenty of money to spare. If you have a message to get out there, it may be worth considering writing articles for magazines, as the readership is immense, far more than for any book. That is, indeed, how I started my writing career.