Best of 2012 TIPM: Is Self Publishing A Real Option? By Mike Welham

This is a repost of the best of 2012 on TIPM. Enjoy the festive season…

My first book was published by a mainstream publisher in 1989 and titled Combat Frogmen. It was non fiction and unique in that nobody had written about the subject since the Second World War. It sold well and was even translated into a German edition. At that point the reality of being a published author was made known to me at a meeting with the editor of the book. He said that it was very lucky for a new author to get published. He showed me a growing pile of unopened manuscripts which would never be read by that publisher, but in time, returned to the author with a ‘not this time or not for us’ style of letter. I had fortunately sent a letter separate to the manuscript and the right person read it and the rest as they say is history.

Path to Self-Publishing
In 1993 I ventured into self-publishing following a disastrous holiday with a well known top-end tour operator. I found little to no help with our cause and was left with only one option; putting the case through the courts. The outcome was successful and the claim was settled out of court. At the time there was very limited help available, so my wife and I wrote a book to provide advice to others. Successful Holidays: And What to Do If They’re Not was in the making. The problem came when we could not find a publisher as it was claimed that it could be seen to put the travel industry in a bad light.
Determined to continue we looked at the options. There were at the time publishing companies called vanity publishers. They wanted large sums of money to produce a book, which when printed, copies were delivered direct to the author who then had to market, sell and distribute the books. Following some research we found that we could do what the vanity publishers offered, at a fraction of the cost. We set about typing the manuscript, found an editor to work on the content and an artist to design a cover. Obtaining an ISBN and complying with publishing requirements was not a problem. A printer set out the contents and printed the books. We had a good professional product but then faced the hardest part of publishing, getting the books into the marketplace. At this time there was no worldwide web or social networking sites. The media facilitated mass advertising from travel companies and they did not want to promote a book that helped people to deal with travel problems. The book was sold wherever we could find a customer and that really was the hard bit.
When I was commissioned by a mainstream publisher to write a book entitled Exploring the Deep it required me to write the contents and obtain more than 200 specialist photographs within a time frame of nine months. After a mammoth effort on my part the book had a flurry of sales and then just moved down the list of published books. The company had moved on to new titles.
We were flogging through the conventional publishing houses with our new titles but became frustrated with publishers’ attitudes. Onepublisher confirmed that the focus was on ‘celebrities’ and those well known at the top of the pyramid. Their demands for high advances meant that the amount of money available to everybody else was dramatically reduced or in many cases not available. So we sought to self-publish using a company that was not a vanity publisher but a professional house that could undertake the whole process. I cannot stress enough how important it is to select a good company providing self-publishing services as it is your money that is being invested.
So how do you find one?
My first action was to search the web which produced copious amounts of information relating to self-publishing companies. I also consulted the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbookfor information on self-publishing, but, beware, they will advise that if your book is good enough it will be published by a mainstream publisher. Now, that requires an agent. I have had an agent but found that they focused on mass market selling authors, of which there are not many when compared to the vast volume of books available and ‘celebrities’ who dominate the bookshelves. It could take at least two years to get an agent to accept you. Then you wait until a publishing house decides whether you have a book worthy of their name. However, you could be lucky, right place – right time!
Equipped with information about self-publishing, I reviewed those companies that could do the best job for me. I required a professionally published quality book where consultation would allow an input into what the finished product would look like. In fact, I was lucky, because my son provided the cover photograph/designs for my latest self-published books The Crabb Enigma and Crime Pays. There had to be access to editors if deemed appropriate. Equally important was what each step of the process was going to cost. Many of the companies I evaluated said they could produce the book for a minimal fee but I then found that there were hidden extras.
I also needed the publisher to have an in-house marketing and PR option, utilising the web and social networking and not just a link to another unknown company, which made it difficult to assess their credibility. The books had to be available to the distributors and be an integral part of the industry. So from the vast amount of information, I found a company that ticked all of the boxes. However, even with the odds in my favour, the one thing they cannot do is make a customer buy a book. So in terms of your investment, ask yourself why anybody would want to buy your book; know what it is going to cost you; understand that you may not get all of your cash back; and then decide to publish and be damned. Through self-publishing you will be the master of the destiny of your book.
Mike Welham was a magistrate for sixteen years and a chairman of the Bench for most of that time. He sat on a wide and diverse range of cases in the adult courts.
When not in court he was an enforcement officer managing a team of government inspectors. During this time he gained experience in both investigations and court activities. He also worked with the police on investigations and prosecutions for manslaughter. Using this experience, he wrote a professional book, Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide – A Managers Guide to Legal Compliance. He has for 6 years acted as an expert witness to the courts.
This combination has placed him on both sides of the adversarial arena and in the middle making judicial decisions. Although he no longer sits on the Bench, he is on the supplemental list retaining the JP title.
Mike served in the military and also worked in the dangerous world of oil and gas diving, both in the UK and various parts of the world. His interests outside of court and work activities include researching, with his wife, the life of Commander ‘Buster’ Crabb, a frogman who ‘disappeared’ in mysterious circumstances. They have produced two books on the subject: Frogman Spy and the recently published, The Crabb Enigma. He has a keen interest in elephant conservation.
Mike chose Matador, a self-publishing service of Troubador Publishing UK for The Crabb Enigma (with Jacqui Welham), and now, Crime Pays – Reflections from the front line of criminal justice,available from 3rd January, 2012.  We are very pleased with their professional services and it frees us to spend time on research and writing. 
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