One Stop Self-Publishing Conference 2010 – Review (Part One)

The first One Stop Self-Publishing Conference was held in Ireland last Saturday at the beautiful Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel, perched on Killiney Hill and overlooking the east coastline of County Dublin. Billed as ‘Everything you need to know to get your book into print professionally – in one day’, this was always going to be an information-packed eight hours of speakers and sessions. Event organisers and hosts, Eoin Purcell and Vanessa O’Loughlin, were quick to point out that they did want to avoid ‘information overload’, and as well as each attendees ‘physical pack’ received during registration, a subsequent information email would be sent out, which would include back up information and further resources.
What strikes you about an event like this is the variety of people attracted to self-publishing – from all walks of life and age groups. It was also notable from talking to some of the attendees there, quite a few had already embarked down the path of self-publishing – some had already published several books, and you sensed they were there as much to learn and perfect the process of self-publishing, as they were to soak up new information and resources they could harness for their future endeavours.
In Eoin Purcell’s opening welcome address, he was quick to point out that publishing, as an industry, is in a state of great change and faced with many challenges, particularly digitalisation and pricing. He set the tone for what would become a consistent mantra from many speakers throughout the day.

“Self-Publishing is taking charge of your book. Publishing is a business, and you’re selling a product…”

There can never be truer words spoken about self-publishing, and aside from the nuts and bolts of producing and printing a book, the sales and marketing of that product are absolutely critical. It’s the one area so many self-published authors underestimate, and often they only start to think seriously about it when they look at the pile of books in the garage or spare bedroom.
I’ve written about the success of self-published author A.J. Healy elsewhere, and reposted that article again yesterday on the website, so I’m just going to focus on Healy’s sedentary points of his keynote speech.

“Send your book out to people who have no link to you for feedback.”

Healy actually had his book placed with a literary agent in London, and like so many authors who get a similar break; he thought he was finally in the door of the publishing world, but three years passed by and nothing happened. It was then he decided to self-publish. As a children’s author, he wisely used school kids as his tester audience to perfect his book, and still does with his subsequent book when he was finally signed up by Quercus in the UK.
Some further snippets of advice from Healy:

“I wouldn’t recommend going the way I did with a printer in China – it’s just difficult with the language and distance.”

“Avoid the ‘delusion’ factor. Before you start out – ask yourself, why do you want to self-publish?”

A session on on the editorial process of publishing followed, from the perspective of mainstream publishing as well as for self-publishers with Patricia O’Reilly and Sarah Franklin. Sarah Franklin took us through the process a book goes through at a mainstream publishing house and how the editing process works. Again, the emphasis was on the fact that self-publishing like mainstream publishing is a business, and you must make your book the best you can. That can only ever be done by using professionals—editors and designers—to prepare your book for publication.
For Patricia O’Reilly, an author and editor, she chose to move from mainstream publishing to self-publishing for her last book and would consider it again for her next book:

“I would consider self-publishing for the next one – I liked the control – if something went wrong, I knew it was my fault.”

There was eagerness by the event attendees to ask plenty of questions, and it was clear as each speaker presented their experience of self-publishing, particular when Patricia O’Reilly and A.J. Healy delivered their pieces. It struck me that in many ways every author brings with them their own unique experience of self-publishing, the ups and the downs, successes and failures, and authors considering self-publishing warm to that personal aspect in a way that doesn’t seem to exist with mainstream authors. I suppose when you attend a session with a mainstream author – the natural attention is on ‘the book’ as opposed to the process of publishing that book.
Eoin Purcell briefed the attendees on the important consideration of which print option to use. As former commissioning editor and publishing consultant, this was a key choice for a self-publishing author. POD (print on demand) was ideal for authors who might want to simply print a book for family and friends, or did not require many books ‘up front’. Digital Short Run printing would suit an author looking to print maybe a few hundred copies, while traditional offset printing was something only to consider if your envisaged reasonably good sales (1000+).
Claire McVeigh, a freelance book designer now, has worked with a number of leading Irish publishers, and she joined Eoin Purcell for a session on the process of book design and presented samples of her work over the years and some book design terminology and what self-publishers should look for if they wanted to publish a quality book product.
The marketing session gave the attendees a real eye-opener into the bookseller’s world and their perception of self-published books with Dubray Books, Adrian White. Sarah Franklin joined the panel as well to focus how to target your reader audience and the importance of an author putting together a viable marketing campaign and all the components that go with making that successful. The real insight and what sparked a great deal of audience discussion was White’s perspective as a bookseller. The attendees were effectively face to face with someone they might have to impress further down the line when they self-published their book. White pulled no punches, and conceded, that yes, he gets lots of self-published books sent to the Dubray buyer’s office, and sadly, yes, many of the books on offer (Advance Review Copies) for shelf spacing are of poor quality – lack of editing and proper trade cover design. He did equally point out that with restrictions on shelf space in the retail trade; they reject books even from some of the largest publishing houses.
White said Dubray remain open to self-published authors, and do stock some self-published books, but only when they are impressed by the product, the reviews of the book, and that the book has a genuine chance of sales. One of the attendees I spoke to at lunch took White up on his offer and presented his book for a quick product review. I asked him later how he got on and what White had said about his book – he quipped back, ‘Let’s just say I’ve some revisions and reprinting to do!’ All in all, it cemented the early mantra – self-publishing is a business. No matter how uneasy you may be about it – your book is a product. You have to make it the best you can, and if making it the best you can to reach the serious market place means commissioning professionals to help you do that, then, do it.
Sarah Franklin explained that there are usually two waves of publicity for a book. Six months before a book comes to publication, and a second wave should begin about three months after a book’s publication date – right at the time booksellers will consider whether to return any unsold copies on their shelves. I’ve always believed that self-publishers should not be dissuaded from aiming high; so long as they remain realistic, but their marketing should begin at a local level where they may be better know. Getting your book stocked in local bookshops can strengthen the chance of getting it into the larger chains like Eason.
The sponsored session of the event was delivered by David Jones of TAF Publishing, an Irish author solutions service based in Dublin, providing a full range of self-publishing services, from editing, design, printing and sales and marketing. This was the first time in the event we really discussed service companies, and the attendees could see many self-published books at close quarters. Jones did concede that breaking into the brick and mortar retail trade was hard, and of the thirty books on their list, but, yes, a few of them have made it into one of Ireland’s flagship retailers, Eason. We would hear a lot more during the afternoon sessions about the challenges of getting a distributor for your self-published book and getting ultra important shelf space.
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