Self-publishing for Writers

We receive many enquiries from people considering self-publishing. Opportunities to publish your work yourself have broadened widely in recent years due to revolutionary changes in technology that have made it a cost-effective option. Self-publishing continues to change dramatically and is an area that is starting to have a significant impact on the publishing industry as a whole.

We acknowledge that there are authors publishing their work themselves to a very high standard that is on a level with books produced by conventional publishers. However, there are still many risks for people who self-publish and sadly a large number of self-published books are let down by flawed editing, unsightly design and poor production. We don’t endorse self-publishing but can offer some general advice for anyone considering this option.

There are still many risks for people who self-publish

Know the distinctions between vanity publishing and self-publishing

Vanity publishing was for a long time simply a way of paying another party to publish your book, usually for unreasonably high sums. Vanity publishers do still exist (though they tend to call themselves by other names) and should be avoided.

Though there are companies who help you to publish your work for more reasonable fees, self-publishing implies doing all the work yourself and this is entirely possible if you familiarise yourself with the publishing process and employ skilled professionals to work with.

Self-publishing is like running a small business

The successful self-published author Polly Courtney talks of running her writing and publishing life as a business. Self-publishing can be empowering: you have control over how your book looks and the way it is marketed, and you don’t have to share any profits with your publisher (though retailers will still take large cuts). Many writers who have abandoned the traditional publishing route to go it alone prefer to describe themselves as ‘independent authors’, a term which implies that they control the direction of what they create.

If you are going to self-publish, find professionals to work with you on your book. All books are a collective effort and every author needs a competent editor. The work editors bring to developing and shaping authors’ manuscripts is an essential part of creating a book. Freelancers are widely available, though the best way to find an editor is by personal recommendation. Unless you are proficient at InDesign, you’ll also need a typesetter, while a cover designer with a sound knowledge of the book trade is also highly recommended. If you can afford one, you may also want to employ a publicist.

Printing should be approached with extreme caution as costs can be substantial. Print-on-demand or short-run digital printing offer the option to keep your print runs low and top-up when you need more books. Before deciding to work with a printer, request samples of their output so you can assess quality; ask yourself if that’s how you’d like your book to look. When you’ve decided to go with a printer, take their advice on things such as what kind of paper to use or if you should have a matt or gloss cover.

Be aware of the stigma

Though the stigma associated with self-publishing is disappearing, the one thing it doesn’t bring is the sense of validation that comes from a conventional publisher’s logo. You’ll find it a challenge to get bookshops to stock your book and the majority of mainstream book prizes are not (yet) open to self-published writers. One way of giving your writing portfolio greater validation is to combine your self-published work with publication in magazines and anthologies and to enter writing competitions.

Think about your market

While self-publishing is often an appropriate option for a memoir or local-history book where the readership is very narrow, it may not serve you well in a more specialised or aggressive market such as crime fiction. We wouldn't recommend self-publishing as an option for a children’s picture book, for example, as there’s no way of compensating for the expertise children’s publishers bring.

A thousand books can take up a lot of space and unless things go very well they could be there for some time

How will it impact you?

Give thought to storage, distribution and sales. A thousand books can take up a lot of space in your house and unless things go very well they could be there for some time. Alternative storage facilities are expensive. If you have no access to traditional means of book distribution, then you’re unlikely to get your books into high-street shops so will be looking at selling online or through direct sales (selling at events for example). A professional website can help you to sell your book.

Publishing solely in ebook form may be appealing, as it removes the financial burden of printing and distribution. You will probably have to share your profits with an online retailer and your work will be pitched in a very competitive and flooded arena where prices are low and books are often given away for free. There are also areas where publishing only in electronic form is not an effective way to reach your audience – poetry, for example, is more likely to sell though events than online.

Before embarking on self-publishing, ask yourself if you’ve explored every alternative option. You may have sought far and wide for an agent or large publisher, but have you thought about independent presses? Though small independents are restricted by their resources and won’t be able to offer you huge advances or prominent marketing campaigns, they are often well respected and are open to considering innovative and less commercial writing.