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The International Writers Magazine
: Publishing: Taking Control of your manuscript

Empowerment for the writer or delusional self-indulgence?
Sam North investigates

eciding to go down the route of self-publishing is a rocky road indeed. As I write this I have an email from a friend whose mother wants to publish her autobiography. Just for the family to read. No big deal. Maybe 50 copies. Somehow or another, a company that shall be nameless on the South Coast tried to persuade her to part with ten thousand pounds for this privilege.

Another author, just one office over from me, I discovered quite casually in conversation has parted with thousands of pounds to have his book about the ‘sixties’ edited by a company in Chichester. I know a lot of editors who would LOVE to get their hands on thousands to fix a book. Sadly it is not a highly paid profession. The people perpetuating these crimes are exploiting peoples vanity and of course, promising the earth.

Let’s be very clear, unless there is a miracle, and you get your book published,and actually into a bookshop, where it is then bought, you will not make a penny. You will not be considered for the Booker prize or any prize. Yes there are exceptions.

You might be aware of the Rev Graham Taylor who self-published ‘Shadowmancer’ for around 3,500 pounds and sold the rights and for six more with Faber for $6 million.
This gives you hope yes? But there are millions of authors out there who pay out millions more a year to get their books into print only for their mother-in-law to use them as a wedge to keep a door open.
The reality is that in the USA lin 2004 there were 80,000 individual titles published. In print, presumable available from bookshops. A self-published book is usually only available on-line and almost never in bookshshops and worse, it is almost impossible to get reviewed. There may be something like *4.5 million books in print at any one time! *According to Russell Kierzkowski, buyer for the University of Pittsburgh Book Center.

It is house policy for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for example never to review Print on Demand books and pretty much house policy for libraries and booksellers too. Their reasoning is that POD books in general don’t go through the critical phase of editing, rewrites, quality control, fact checking (which includes plagiarism and legal issues). Traditional publishers will not publish a book until it has been polished and is worthy to carry their imprint.

So those are the negatives.

The trouble is, of course, to get published by a traditional publisher these days is monumentally hard. Getting an agent even tougher, we should all live so long. Add to the mix that many titles are mid-list (ie: publishable but not quite worthy of a marketing push) so they don’t get printed, or the authors are dropped for sexier, pretty chick lit writers. Been there, bought their T-Shirt ... d’oh.

The POD market is then, quite often the only way to get noticed. However, you are in the same swimming pool as the kid who pees a lot and somehow you have to seperate yourself from the person who just prints any old thing without due care and attention for plotting, spelling, punctuation, narrative structure and the reader. Remember many of these companies run no quality control whatsoever. It is empowering for the writer but in the end, people will only buy if they perceive they are getting a work of quality.

So why and how?
The internet helps. If you have chosen a printer/publisher wisely and your book is edited, well put together with a decent cover that truly reflects the contents; and your sample chapter (which many companies will allow people to read) is enticing enough; several things might happen.

– search engines will pick it up and if people are browsing for a particular type of book, it might pick it up.
Two: Your book better look good, sound good (via the blurb) read well, via the sample chapter and the browser must be used to ordering using a credit card and then experiencing the delay (a week or more) for the book to actually arrive.
Three: This has to happen hundreds of times for you to make any money.

Speaking as someone who hates browsing, even in a bookshop, I think it is a miracle when we sell even one book on line. As a reader I quite like to read reviews first so I can decide. Or better yet, automatically buy titles by my favourite authors (Haruki Murakami, William Gibson, Alexander McCall Smith (if they’re are set in Botswana)).
But if you, like me, are not anyones’ favourite author, we aren’t automatically being reviewed, we aren’t in the bookshops when people need a book to read ‘right now’.
So we need good tools, a particular kind of buyer (a patient one) and a good quality book. If the book is good enough, (not just for the reader), but as a stand alone quality print with a good sturdy cover, then if your lone reader likes it, they are also the type of person to recommend it to someone else. (I know I do) This is a slow, but incremental way to grow your reputation. You have to be teeth grindingly patient, but it can work.
So who do you go to to print it, edit it, lay it out? Design the cover.
I’m only recommending one publishing option here. One I have been through personally and another because they do seem to offer a similar service and appear ‘straight’

After much investigation and dialogue with several companies I decided to do the following. I wanted my book to look just so, be laid out just right and most POD companies will not allow you to submit a PDF. They want it in Word and they just sort of chuck on the page complete with lots of strays and windows that just look bloody awful. You cannot lay out a book in Word. It will not look good. Ever.

If you do go the PDF route there really is only one company you can go with and caveat empor, you better make sure there is more than one pair of eyes on that manuscript. It is sooooo easy to make simple errors: punctuation, spelling, syntax, factual errors, time, place, names anything might trip you up.

In a novel there are a million mistakes to be made and corrected. In an historical novel more so. I have woken up in a sweat at night because I cannot remember if there was a train station in a particular city in that year or not, or if a newspaper was published in 1872 or 1873. They may seem like minor points, but believe me, someone always knows more than you and can pick them out. (And let you know most likely).

So you need an editor you can trust, you need someone to lay it out in quark express or indesign and also have Acrobat Writer to hand so it can be saved as a PDF. Then you need to read it again. Many cities – for example Vancouver, Cape Town , Melbourne, have a list or association of editors, (speak to your local librarian) all who whom will work freelance for a very reasonable fee. And this is money worth spending.

If you want to design your own cover do so. (I have always hated my covers of my previous books - so I really wanted to try to get it right.) I spent several useful days in Vancouver Library going through their wonderful collection of photographic images from 1860 onwards. If you find one, and I did, you have to buy the rights. But at least you will have the right image you want. You can find places like these libraries with original research material via the internet or perhaps your local University.

Again you have to lay your cover out in quark and my designer Dominic in SA did a wonderful job for me. (But save it as a .jpg curiously for sending to the publisher)
OK. So then, you have to follow the on-line instructions ‘precisely’!

My choice of publisher was

These are my reasons for going with them.
1: No upfront costs – whatsoever.
2: They will accept PDF files (here’s a warning note as left and right pages, but as single pages, it’s a quirk of POD machines).
They also have links to professionals who will for a price lay it our for you and design a cover.
2: They will allow you to upload your own cover (or design one for you at a reasonable rate or supply you with an image from their ever growing image bank.)
3: You can upload and delete as many times as you like until you get it just right. But and here’s a big but. Once you say yes....that’s it and it gets expensive to fix thereafter except by publishing a new edition and starting all over again.
What is interesting about is that is appears to be entirely manned by robots.
There is customer support, but essentially you do all the work and they just print your book. So essentially they are the printer. There is a Forum – an online community of Lulu authors swapping notes and suggestions and this is very useful. Support can be a bit slow however which can cause minor irritations. But do use the Forum and there are useful templates for cover design for example on site.
4: For a price, you can have two levels of ‘publishing’.
a: A basic ISBN number printed on your cover (make sure you left a big space for that) for just under $40 bucks or ISBN plus which gets your book listed on search engines, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and in the distribution list at Bertrams. This costs $176 which includes a proof copy of your book. Best to go with this option. Do not be cheap, it's your book.
Check your proof carefully. I had to do two proofs as the ISBN number over printed on a detail and left a ragged edge. On my recent Sherlock Holmes novel I had to be four proofs as the first books came in the wrong size. Again my error but really annoying if you tick the wrong box.
5: They provide you with a shop where you book is listed and a web storefront where your books is listed and you can say something about yourself, your book and link to a review if you have one. You can put what you like there, within reason.
6: Your book is available as a printed book or e-book even spiral bound if it is a slim volume. I’d rather people chose the printed book, as although the e-book would be my PDF, who the hell wants to print off 280 pages and read them loose like that? OK it is cheaper but hey, that’s too cheap plus there’s the ink!
7: Now you have to sell it. Lulu don’t sell books. They print them. You have to sell it.
Your mother-in-law for example. She needs at least ten copies. So you have to tell people it is there. If you have a website, great, if you don’t, create one.
It isn’t going to make you rich. It might make your cat proud, but you aren’t doing this to make money. Here’s a tip. Join a writer’s group. Read them from your book. Who knows, they might tell others. It’s a start.
8: Delivery and Shipping:
If you are reading this in the USA, you don’t have a problem, Lulu are great. If you live overseas, it is quite expensive to get small amounts of your book. My tip is for you to contact you local shipper. You’d have to buy a least a hundred copies to make it worth your while (and hope you can sell them) but your local shipper will have contacts in the USA and believe me, I saved 500 dollars on shipping alone by doing it my way. So don’t panic, it can be done. Why import them? Well your local area is probably the only place where you could reasonably be expected to sell copies of your book, to people who know you or know of you. So you can reach them. Otherwise, leave it to the internet to help you sell. It will or it won’t.
Since I wrote this Lulu hooked up with Lightning Source and people can now buy the book and have it printed in the UK or USA depending if they buy through Amazon UK or USA. I have tested it. It works well and Lightning Soruce books are if anything slightly better in finish, but both are good.
9: What does the book look like?
Exactly as it should. The inside pages are clear and the paper is of good quality, the cover seems robust, or at least similar to other mass paperbacks (There is now a hardback option). It feels hefty (it should do at 6 x 9 inches) and showing the proof copy around, it has garnered favourable impressions and promises of orders once I have imported them. I am selling at cost (because I am mainly selling to students) but you could try to add a buck if you wanted . What is cost? The price of the book to you, the author, plus the cost of shipping divided by 100 (If you bought a hundred)
10: Where is the best place to buy it? from Lulu of course. They sell it at the lowest price plus shipping. But it will also be available at Amazon and others at the retail price set by you or by Lulu, (your choice) and they can buy and sell, just like any other bookseller can at discount. Lulu have thought things through pretty well and have around 10,000 authors these days. *It takes about six weeks from proof approval to be in the system at Amazon and others.
So where can you buy my book? Here of course: Buy it and judge for yourself.

Diamonds - The Rush of '72
By Sam North
Buy now direct from
'...a terrific piece of storytelling'
- Historical Novel Society Review

Buy now from

Now printed in the UK and available from


ISBN: 1-4116-1088-1
289 Pages
6 x9 inches perfect bound paperback

The Curse of the Nibelung
A Sherlock Holmes Mystery
by Sam North

ISBN 1-4116-3748-8
$19.98 Retail - 300 pages - Lulu Press USA

'Chocolate will never be the same again' - Sunday Express

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