20110310

Taking the self-publishing route


WHAT TO DO AND WHAT NOT TO DO TO GO IT ALONE AND WIN


Not so long ago, self-publishing would be dismissed as little better than vanity publishing, where authors would pay to see their work in print and make nothing in return.
But falling print costs have made it much more possible to turn a profit even from fairly small sales.  Dave Armitage -- author, publisher and publicist for 150 BC -- reckons that in a difficult market place, being a one-man show might be the way ahead.
“It’s not going to make you a millionaire but if you can sell a thousand copies, maybe even fewer, there is a worthwhile profit to be made,” Dave said. “If you can sell more, of course, the rewards will be higher.”
Of course, there is no guarantee that a book will generate a thousand sales, tiny though the number might seem when you consider that The Da Vinci Code has sold more than 4.5 million.
Finding even a thousand buyers requires the author to know the market and target it vigorously.
But having achieved success with a self-published title, Dave is well qualified to offer advice and guidance to any writer eager to dip his toe,
“The first step is to come up with the right subject,” he said. “It helped in my case that I was writing about a big name in Brian Clough with wide appeal but if you feel there is enough potential interest you could do a book about a non-League football team and still make a little money.
“It is always worth testing the idea on somebody else rather than rely solely on your own judgment, especially if it is a subject close to your heart.  But once you are sure the idea is good you can move on to the next step, which is to decide whether there is a market for the book.
“If, say, it is a book about a relatively small club, are there enough fans who might buy a book about it?  Could you sell 700-800 copies?
“And where will it be on sale? Is there a club shop that would stock copies? Are there shops in the local town who would have it in their window?”
The big question for many budding author-publishers, naturally, concerns how much money might have to be risked in order to see a profit down the line.  Retailers -- distributors, if you use them -- all take a slice of sales revenue. It is this area where making the right calls is essential.
“You’ll have to pay the printer whether your book sells or not so you will want to know there is a good chance of getting those costs back at least.
“And remember that retailers such as Waterstones and WH Smith will be taking a big percentage of the cover price.
“Your book might have a cover price of £14, for example, but your 1,000 copies are not going to make you £14,000.  It will be more like £7,000.
“And you will have paid maybe £5,000 to the printer for the 1,000 copies to be produced.  That brings it down to £2,000.
“If you have more copies printed at the beginning, it will cost you less.  But it is probably wiser to start small. The rates you would pay for 10,000 copies are very economical by comparison, although not if you end up with 8,500 copies unsold.
“The bigger the sales the better, of course.  If you sell 2,000 copies at £2 profit on each, that’s £4,000 in your pocket.  Sell 3,000 at £3 each and you’ve made £9,000.
“But the way I look at is this: your book on Telford United or whatever might be a labour of love but if you can make just £1 a copy then you’ve got some reward for your hard work.”
Getting the book into the shops is also down to the self-publisher‘s own efforts.  Unless you can afford to pay a distributor’s cut as well, you will have to do the leg work to visit local bookshops and don a salesman’s hat, too, to persuade them to put your bok on their shelves.
Aside from getting the sums right, there is one other, hugely important element to making self-publishing pay and that is publicity.
“It’s vital,” Dave stressed. “You can have written the best book in the world but without publicity, it is dead. People will not know it exists.
“So contact the local newspapers and radio stations in the areas you are hoping to sell the book.  Be prepared to give away a few copies to be reviewed or as competition prizes, offer to be interviewed as a local author, ask if they would be interested in serialisation.
“I was lucky enough that Waterstones, encouraged by how well 150 BC sold in their local stores, adopted it as a core range, which meant a copy could be bought in any store across the country.  And I managed to get extracts spread over five nights in the Nottingham Post and three nights in the Derby Telegraph.  As advertising space that was worth hundreds if not thousands of pounds.
“Not every book is going to generate that level of interest but even a five-minute slot on a local radio show can turn into extra sales.”
Other tips to bear in mind, Dave says, are the need to find a second pair of eyes once your manuscript is complete -- “you need a friend who is a schoolteacher or a journalist, perhaps, to read it through, looking for spelling or grammar mistakes” -- and the need to pay attention to how the finished product looks.
“What you don’t want when your book finally makes it to the shops is for it to look amateurish.  I had a cover price of £18.99 on 150 BC and if someone is going to pay that they want to leave the shop with a quality product.
“If they are buying it for somebody as a Christmas present, they’ll want him or her to be impressed when they take off the wrapping paper.
“A good printer will help you lay the book out but it is worth spending a couple of hundred quid on a graphic designer so that it looks right, with a nice, well-designed professional looking cover.
“When people are browsing through the latest titles from the big-name publishers, yours does not want to look like the poor relation.”
In short, the message is to do your homework, plan carefully, adopt a painstakingly professional approach and be prepared to blow your own trumpet a little to get your book noticed.
And sports book readers who might otherwise be offered only a limited choice as mainstream publishers tighten their belts will thank you for having the conviction to go it alone.


Dave Armitage is Midlands football writer for the Daily Star


Buy 150 BC: Cloughie - the Inside Stories direct from Amazon.


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