Publishing for Disillusioned Writers (Part 2) – Chris Thomas | Guest Post

This is the second part of Chris Thomas’ guest post. You can read the first part here.

Library and Copyright Registration
Before doing any actual selling you have to send a copy of the book to the British Library (US copyright and LCCN) and another to each of the five copyright libraries. As a publisher of any sort you are required to do this. The five copyright books can be sent to a single agency that will distribute them for you but you’ll have to send the one to the British Library direct. That’s six of your precious books gone already and you haven’t made a penny yet! You won’t make anything on those you give away to family and friends, either, though a subtle mention of how much it cost you to produce each book may at least partially reduce the losses on some of your stock.

There are several other things you can do to unload another chunk of your stock and it will help if you have some practical experience of selling.
Local Book Signings
With a bit of luck your local library can arrange a book-signing session for you as a local author and will inform you how to go about doing it. After all the help your library has probably given you in the lead-up to self-publishing your first book, the least you can do then is donate a copy to grace their shelves. That’s another one gone for no gain but when the big day arrives for your signing you go along with a bag full of books and a pen to do what so many better-known authors are obliged to do—and often dread! It’s no big problem really; simply ask what the eager recipient wants written inside the front cover or on the title page, write it down, sign and date it—then collect the cash! Even if all goes very well you may still have a lot of books to get rid of and despite achieving a bit of local notoriety you’ll find it gets more difficult from then on.
Don’t expect to get the cash up front whatever outlet you use to sell your books; all book sales these days are done on a sale-or-return basis. So what are the outlets? For a start, you can try contacting your regional Arts Council. Several of them are keen to support local writers and may operate a book distribution service for authors living in or books about and based in the region. It’ll still probably be a sale-or-return arrangement but find out how many copies they’d like to start with, get the books to them with a proper delivery note and invoice then sit back and hope for the best.
On second thoughts, maybe you shouldn’t just let things slide once the local Arts Council has some of your books in the pipeline—there are other avenues to explore.
Getting the word out and your books out there
Remember when you got your numbers from the ISBN agency? Well, that agency is part of an organisation known as Nielsen Book, which also operates a book distribution service. Details of how to contact them for information can be found at the back of this book. If you register with them as a publisher they’ll e-mail you any orders they get and you can then send off the books directly. Touring the local bookshops with a bag of books can also get rid of some more but be prepared to negotiate the trade price and cash collection arrangements – a 35-40% discount off the cover retail price is a good starting point.
Although Arts Councils, Nielsen Book and some book stores have their own web sites, it wouldn’t hurt to rig up your own and you don’t necessarily have to pay anyone else to do it or you if you’re reasonably computer-literate. Most modern computers come with a web-building program of some sort and it’s not really all that difficult to build your own web if you have enough time and patience (and don’t panic easily). This exercise could come in quite useful as you expand your range of books.
Useful people to facilitate getting your web onto the internet with our own domain name are at the end of this book together with contact details. You’re now a proper publisher – in practice, if not exactly in profession. You’ve published one of your own books correctly and there’s nothing now to stop you doing another if you’ve got one on the slipway ready and waiting to be launched. You can then add that one onto your website if you’ve got one yet.
Once you’ve published your second book you should be familiar with the procedure and, unless you’ve already thought of it, with your ISBNs, imprint and logo, you’re now in a position to do the same for any other aspiring authors who haven’t been able to get anywhere with the mainstream publisher because, like you, they’re not famous (or notorious) enough to be worth bothering with. There’s always the chance you may be able to assist another struggling writer along the tortured road to some sort of literary recognition and if that happens it’s something you can be justly proud of.
Spread the word! Any way you can. A useful start would be with any local writers’ circles or literary groups.
Selling your book through other mediums
When you’ve gained a modicum of success and managed to put a few books on the shelves you may start thinking about how to expand your marketing options by looking for other modern mediums in which both to sell the printed titles you’ve already done and any that might come along in the future. Years ago, when CDs replaced floppy disks for feeding information into a computer (now succeeded in their turn by DVDS), several publishers thought it would be a good idea to put books onto a CD (floppies didn’t have the storage capacity) so that the purchaser could bring up the book on their computer monitor and either read it directly on the screen or print it out on their own printer to read later.
The idea seemed good at the time. The results turned out to be disappointing—to say the least—despite some Reader programs which allowed the book to be read out loud in a pre-set mellifluous voice so they could be listened to on the computer, a CD player at home or when outdoors by a battery-powered portable—a boon to those with poor eyesight.
Although this medium has now fallen out of favour and into disuse due to so many other clever (and often useless) electronic gadgets available to woo gullible punters away from the written and spoken word, there’s no valid reason to suppose that books on a CD or DVD won’t enjoy a resurgence of popularity one day and you’ll be in an ideal position to enter that market. You’ll have to expend another of your precious ISBNs for each title though because of the different medium it’s being published in – that’s the rule!
Strangely enough, the latest way of selling books, although not so very different from a CD or DVD, is also electronic and involves the use of a computer or possibly a CD player and is increasing in popularity as time goes by.
The result is just the same as off a CD or DVD but the purchaser doesn’t have to go and actually buy one over the counter.
New to E-books?
What is it? E-books, that’s what. If you haven’t come across any yet, here’s how they work; all you need to do is go on the internet, do a search for E-books and log on to a few of what turns up to see what’s involved. There’s not much to it; simply check out one of the titles on offer and follow the sequence through up to paying for the E-book with your debit or credit card. You’ll notice that this sort of book is a lot cheaper than its equivalent title in printed hard- or paper-back form – but it would be, wouldn’t it? What with no design or printing costs, discounts to retail outlets, far fewer staff to pay and minimal distribution costs; the cost of production goes way down and this is reflected in the purchase price.
If you’re tempted by what’s on offer maybe you’d like to pay for, download and read through one of the titles that takes your fancy and you’ll then find out what is acceptable as an E-book as well as seeing how it’s laid out.
As far as production costs are concerned, E-books have at least one enormous advantage over the printed format; if any of those you may have so laboriously produced up to now needed colour photographs, diagrams or maps interspersed among the pages of text, you may have received a bit of a shock at how much it cost to get them printed out. Compared with plain text, colour printed can be very expensive and this is where an E-book has a very definite benefit when it comes to presentation—you can put in as much colour wherever you want at no extra cost. [ED—I would add that heavily illustrated books require a great deal more knowhow and formatting skills. Some e-book devices, like the iPad as an example, can be far better for illustrated books than e-ink only devices.]

Colour photographs necessary in some sorts of book can now be used instead of plain grey-scale photos and the same goes for drawings, etc. You can lay the E-book out just like a printed one and put a colour cover on the first page followed by the prelims and so on with even the back cover on the last page if you want. Not only that, you can also spice up the text and prelims by using coloured fonts for chapter headings, paragraphs, captions and sentences of special significance as well as use colour backgrounds on appropriate pages. These extras will inevitably increase the size of the file stored in your computer memory but it’s going to be distributed electronically just like an e-mail so your only limitation may be the size of the file to be sent.
The author of the E-book gets a small royalty out of it, of course, but think on these lines: suppose you were the author and distributor of an E-book through your own web site, who would benefit most? Any income received would be 100% yours, wouldn’t it? Well, yes and no (or is it the other way round?). Like everything else to do with publishing and the Internet, things are never anywhere near that simple. You’ll probably be able to set up the E-book very nicely ready for a purchaser to download onto a computer – you’ve already got it all on file, anyway. So far, so good: but what about collecting the cash?
That’s where it can get tricky. You’ll have to have a current account of some sort into which the cash can be paid directly from a debit or credit card. In order to make this easy for the payer you’ll also need a few special pages on your web site that allow the money to be transferred electronically into your current account.
It’s likely you’ve used this type of arrangement yourself when paying for goods ordered on the Internet – but how do you go about doing it through your own little web site? Luckily there are a few companies providing this service so you’d better do a search on the Internet to find one that will arrange things for you, starting perhaps with one called “Pay-Pal”. It works well enough for others but you’ll have to set it up yourself because that’s as far as this little book can advise you on this particular subject – sorry!
Assuming you’ve got a copy of either the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook or the Writer’s Handbook from the time you were so desperately struggling to find a mainstream publisher flexible enough to take even a cursory interest in your work, you must have come across a few entries from “vanity” or “subsidy” publishers without quite realising at the time what they were angling for.
The Rise of Subsidised Publishing
Mainstream publishers realised a very long time ago that there was a lot of cash to be made from aspiring writers whose work they couldn’t ordinarily be bothered with and some began publishing books with much of the cost of production being paid for by the author and getting the thing out on the shelves in their normal way. Well, that was OK; it suited both sides of the arrangement and there’s nothing wrong with that. Such is subsidy publishing.
Unfortunately the success of this spawned a host of new enterprises which, not to mince words, are nothing less than a scam in the majority of cases – the vanity publisher reared its vulpine head from the pit.
Take bit of advice and stay very well clear of the vanity variety: if you make the mistake of sending them the usual samples, etc., you’ll almost certainly get back a reply lauding your work to the heavens as the best thing since beer was invented and insisting upon seeing the full manuscript immediately. This is the “suck-in” point and you’d get the same response if you sent them a selection of your old shopping lists (it’s been tried – and proven).
Another word of caution: never send your samples by e-mail, even if they say they accept such submissions, or you’ll be pestered relentlessly from then on with messages begging to see more of your “wonderful” work.
Those unwary enough to get sucked in at the first try will be led through an intricate and expensive process to produce the book and then be expected to pay for a minimum number of copies to be printed (typically 500). The nearly impoverished hopeful writer will then be advised to sit back and wait for the royalties to roll in. If you, dear reader, are gulled by this part of the system you’ll probably have to wait longer than you expect to live, so your best bet is to write the whole thing off (no pun intended) as a valuable learning experience and never fall for it again.
Subsidy publishers, on the other hand, are a much better bet. In their case, they will at least produce the book without trying to flannel you about its literary worth though sometimes you may have to pay up front for some aspects of the process before it goes to print – editing, cover design, layout, etc.). From then on the process can take different directions; for instance you may be asked to pay for a certain number of the books to be printed (again typically 500 copies) or agree to pay for and accept a minimum number of copies, maybe a hundred or so, that you’ll have to sell by yourself.
In the meantime, the subsidy publisher will at least also be trying to sell your book via their own web-site and through their usual distribution outlets, which is a lot more than any vanity publisher will bother to do and you’ll also be paid the agreed royalties for these in the same way as a mainstream publisher would. It’ll still cost you to get your book out for the enlightenment of an avid reading public but it’s an infinitely better deal than you’ll ever get from a vanity publisher.
Is that all you can do to extend your publishing venture? Is it all over? By no means! Now that you’ve produced printed books by yourself the hard way, tried out the E-book market and maybe even dabbled at the fringes of digital books on a CD or DVD, perhaps it’s now time to consider the newest (and arguably the most successful) form of do-it-yourself publishing.
Print-on-Demand (POD)
Known as Print-on Demand (POD for short) it has already proven itself to be a safe haven for writers whether they’re new to the game and wary or uncertain of getting their work on the shelves any other way as well as for experienced authors who’ve been through the mill already and wish to be independent of the mainstream publishing rat-race and haven’t got any long-term contracts to fulfil with any of the outlets for their primary work.
In fact, POD is what many subsidy publishers use to produce books for their clients. Why shouldn’t they? The customer picks up the bill for the books, expenses, etc., and the subsidy publishers simply add on a little extra for themselves for setting the whole thing up. Everybody’s happy – the writer has the books, they’re being sold though the publisher’s usual outlets and with a bit of luck the writer might actually get back a bit of his/her financial outlay.
If it’s good enough for subsidy publishers to make some sort of a living out of it there’s no reason why you can’t do the same, thereby cutting out a “middle-man” and getting the book out exactly to your own requirements. This may be seen by some as a last resort. Not so!
If you’ve already been through much of the sequence described earlier on in this little booklet like so many other new writers have done, it means that having hopefully been a publisher yourself you not only know what layout is required to make up a printed book but you’ll almost certainly have nearly all the necessary text, etc., already on file in your computer – and on at least one backup disk, remember!
You can now go ahead and get some POD books made up for one of the titles you’ve already got on the shelves if you need some more: on the other hand, you may prefer to do a POD on a new book you’ve already written and get some copies run off whenever you feel like it if you can’t get a mainstream publisher to take any interest (as usual).
That’s another benefit of POD—you can get as many nice new POD books as you think you’re able to sell whether the number you order is just a few dozen or a few hundred (or more). All you need to pay for is the actual number of books you want and you’ll soon discover that the price per book isn’t far off what you had to fork out when you were doing the whole thing yourself – printing, covers, binding, etc.
If you take into account all the running around and everything else you had to do when making up your own books then each book works out a good bit cheaper—and someone else is doing a lot of the work for you.
Of course, you’ll still have a lot to keep you busy besides actually writing the book. The first thing to do is get in touch with one of the organisations producing books in this way. You should be able to find a few by a search on the Internet for contact details: a couple of them are at the end of this book. Another way of getting a POD arrangement is to enlist the aid and services of an “enabling” organisation that will assist you every step of the way right up to the time your books are delivered.
These Samaritans, unfortunately, are fewer in number but at least one of them is included in the “Useful Contacts” section at the end of this book.
Whatever way you choose to get your POD off the ground, whether it’s directly with a provider or an enabler, you’ll often have to supply the same things each time and will usually have a choice of uploading them via your email or posting them off on a disk. Both methods, you may have noticed, employ electronic means, which can make the process a lot easier for you to deal with.
A cover design and a proper text layout are two of the things you have to supply and sometimes the prelims though you may be able to add these in before the book text quite satisfactorily. All are usually put on templates that you will be able to download from whoever you’re dealing with. You may be asked if you want the provider or enabler to supply an ISBN but if you’ve already tried publishing your books the hard way you won’t need this service, will you?
Depending upon your computer prowess and the sort of graphics programs you have on your faithful, overworked machine, you may or may not have any problems doing a nice job of everything and e-mailing the result off to whoever you’re dealing with. If you have any trouble, don’t hesitate to phone up and ask for advice, though there is another way of avoiding any unnecessary stress and that is to engage the professional services of your provider or enabler. They will be only too happy to pass your problem over to designers and other specialists they have on call for just such eventualities, solve the problems for you and get the whole thing ready to send off to the printer for however many copies you want – and the sooner the better! As you were already expecting to shell out a dollop of your hard-earned to get the books, you won’t be surprised to learn that these setting-up services will come as a cost to compensate for whatever you haven’t been able to do for yourself. If this comes as a bit of a shock, think of it this way – for what is involved, the charges aren’t normally particularly exorbitant and just think of the time, frustration and stress you’ll save by getting someone else to do all the difficult bits.
While all this is going on you can put your saved time to good use by either getting on with finishing off your next book or asking around all the computer whiz-kids you know to find out if there is some way you can crack any of the design difficulties you’ve come up against when trying to get the whole thing ready for printing by yourself.
In the fullness of time you’ll get your books delivered and then you can dispose of them in the same way as when you were producing your own books—via your web site, any distributors you’ve got to know, direct sales, or any other method you’ve come up with; that’s always assuming you haven’t skipped that phase in your publishing career, of course. The POD company will almost certainly have its own arrangements for distribution, too, and you should make full use of this. With a little luck, depending on how many books you’ve ordered and paid for, you may come out of it without making too much of a loss. Even a little profit is not beyond the frontier of possibility!
Now that you’ve got all the bits and pieces necessary to lay out a POD at your fingertips, you are faced with a choice of paths that will allow you to progress further. If you think about it for long enough over a gargle of alcoholic brain-food and a packet of stress-relieving fags (if you can find a pub that permits civilised behaviour) you might come up with a minimum of three directions to take.
Taking these choices in order of possible future fulfilment, you could decide to . . .
  1. Get on with writing another book or finishing off one you’ve already started and putting that out for the world to enjoy by means of a POD.
  2. Go back to one of the books you may have already published but weren’t really happy with or didn’t sell particularly well, re-hash the whole thing, give it a different title and ISBN, design a new cover, use a pen-name and put it out as a POD. Nobody will ever know the difference and with the added distribution assistance of the POD people it could sell a lot more copies than your original effort ever did.
  3. Pass the word around your usual writing contacts about what you’re doing and offer to create a POD-friendly arrangement for them to get their literary career going before they get sucked into the claws of vanity scams if they’re not famous enough to attract the charity of any mainstream publisher that’s getting a bit low in the “celebrity” or “famous” pool. You never know; you may get a few responses from other disillusioned writers and be able to afford them some sort of recognition. There just could be half a chance that your efforts on behalf of another unknown writer might lead to some, or even an enormous success for him/her/it and this can be pointed out to other aspiring authors willing to give the POD path a go. A few more successes like this and you may realise you’re now experienced enough and have the right connections to become a POD enabler yourself.
If you ever get as far as being a competent POD enabler you can consider yourself one of a special breed of disillusioned writers, some of whom will have staggered along the same agonised path as yourself from the days when you believed you had some sort of contribution to make to our literary heritage only to come slamming up against the immovable wall of mainstream publisher indifference.
From that nadir in your progress you might have gone on to making up your own books the hard way as a small-time freelancer and doing the same for others then maybe going through the CD and e-book junctions before settling comfortably into the POD scene.
Only a lack of stamina (you already have the competence) can now stop you from turning your POD arrangements into a proper organisation. Look at how other POD enablers go about it and emulate their procedures: you should be familiar enough with them by now. You’re almost bound to know enough people who can do a lot of the donkey work while you concentrate on the organisation and it might not be a bad idea to approach another POD enabler with a view to sharing each other’s workloads. It needn’t be too hard to make a success out of your efforts: there’s plenty of advice and assistance around in the guise of small business start-up and development assistance as well as finance or grants and help from Arts Councils, Venture Capitalists and similar “angels” who will help you to get going. You would be well advised, if possible, to avoid taking your begging-bowl to a bank or any other entrenched financial institution for start-up cash – but that’s up to your own judgement unless you can afford to fund the project yourself.
Tailoring Your Expectations!
If your little venture ever does get off the ground, don’t expect to be able to laze around and relax while your helpers do all the hard stuff. You’ll have to keep your website up-to-date and, being at the centre of things, probably have to spend quite a bit of time on administration, dealing with questions from your writers and fielding all the problems, enquiries and complaints with which all business ventures, large and small, are plagued.
In your spare time (Har, Har!) you can get on with your own writing with a view to putting any books you manage to finish onto the shelves entirely through your own organisation. Never forget your roots! Treat your writers as you would have wished to be treated by the merciless, apathetic publishers you approached in the dark days of your own writing beginnings and do the right thing by your writers – always! Think back over your painful progression to this point and reflect upon this – You’re now in a position to tell all the mainstream publishers to get stuffed because you don’t need them any more. Ain’t that grand?
Such is the ultimate zenith of your literary career, which can be summed up in one word:
Good luck for the future.

This was the second and final part of Publishing for Disillusioned Writers. You can read the first part posted on TIPM last week at this link.

Author Bio

Chris Thomas is an author and contributor to numerous articles and books on fishing in Wales, a series of science fiction books (Gildas series) and an informative book about Sacred Welsh Waters.

Enraged by unscrupulous publishers, he also set up a micro-publishing company, Wuggles Publishing, to publish his books and ended up saving numerous authors from the clutches of the sharks. A rare and virtuous author and publisher!
A lover of justice, ale, fish and cats, he continue to promote awareness amongst as many fellow authors as he can.  

Mick Rooney – Publishing Consultant

If you found this review or article helpful, but you’re still looking for a suitable self-publishing provider to fit your needs as an author, then I’m sure I can help. As a publishing consultant and editor of this magazine, I’ve reviewed and examined in detail more than 150 providers throughout the world like the one above. As a self-published and traditionally published author of nine books, I understand your needs on the path to publication and beyond. So, before you spend hundreds or thousands, and a great deal of your time, why not book one of my personally tailored and affordable consultation sessions today? Click here for more details.
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