Writers take lead in DIY publishing

Tech-savvy publishers are realising that writers are starting to have the upper hand when it comes to getting books made

31 January 2011

TECHNOLOGY-savvy publishers are realising that writers are starting to have the upper hand when it comes to getting their books printed.

The arrival of new computerised printing technology means that it has never been easier to get that “book just waiting to be written” down on paper and bound into a hard- or soft-back edition.

However, there is no check for quality in the self-publishing industry and that has opened a gap for publishers to step in and take advantage of the cheap production technology to make sure that what are now called print-on-demand books are edited properly and with thought, so that there are no jarring mistakes to offend the reader.

Steve Walsh, the chief executive officer of Pyjama Press, said that means it could be time for the shoeboxes stuffed with rejected novels, poems, children’s stories, recipe books and photo journals to be opened up.

He admits that, after decades of impossible hurdles between the first-time writer and the world of publishing, the tables have finally turned and, in the following interview, explains the new world.

If your name isn’t Nigella Lawson or Stephen Fry, surely your chances of a book deal are pretty slender. What has changed?

With print runs of 500,000 copies, traditional publishers are nervous of making mistakes, only taking on writers whom they know they can sell.

But the flip side is new printing technology, making it an excellent time for new writers to break in. I would say the world of book publishing is more accessible now than ever.

Can you explain this new technology in simple terms?

Print-on-demand is what is says on the tin. Your Word document is set up professionally in book format, the cover is designed for you, the file is stored digitally at a specialised book printer, then each book is printed to order at
the touch of a button.

You no longer need the permission of a traditional book publisher to get your manuscript into the system. A good print-on-demand publisher can do all this for you.

Can you buy these books on Amazon?

Yes. Expect listings with 30,000 bookstores worldwide, such as Barnes & Noble and WH Smith. You get ISBN registration and a copy in the British Library. That’s much better than stuck in a shoebox! You set the price. You keep the royalties and retain copyright.

Is this vanity publishing by another name?

No. Vanity publishers charged thousands and sent you a garage full of books. Print-on-demand should cost around £500 all in – turning your manuscript into a finished book, available through major book suppliers around the world.

As a book is ordered, it is printed and sent direct to the customer. You order for yourself at author discount.

It’s very green. It is the future. Compare that to the 77 million unsold books that the Publishers’ Association said were shredded or pulped last year. There were 61 million books returned to publishers in the UK last year and another 16m returned by overseas retailers.

What about quality? Will the market be flooded with trashy fiction?

A good publisher will offer you professional copy editing to shape up the continuity of your manuscript and bring it to a good standard, and this may be included in the price. It will not turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, but it will search out novice errors and optimise your book.

Proof-reading is the minimum service you should be looking for in a publisher.

Is this just for fiction and novels?

A good publisher will offer a range of book types; perfect-bound for fiction and nonfiction, colour books for children’s stories and photo format for recipe or “how to” books. If you don’t need an ISBN registration – perhaps it is a university dissertation or thesis, or a family book for a special occasion – then it should cost you less.

What about marketing?

With print-on-demand, you would expect to pay for any marketing services, but you could do this yourself if you don’t mind hard work.

Search engines and the internet have revolutionised person-to-person contact; if it is a book about bees, then get networking and tell bee clubs worldwide. For science fiction, target sci-fi lovers online.

If the book has global appeal, try for an interview with Radio 4’s Bookclub or Woman’s Hour. Arrange and publicise book signings, send reviews to magazines and local papers. Start with what you know and build up.

Steve Walsh, Pyjama Press
Tel: 06 79 35 75 21 / 05 16 86 93 58

Marketing is hard but pays

WHEN Irene Niven wrote her first novel, she found a publisher quite quickly, but decided to do some work herself to keep costs down.

As a high-level export saleswoman, she had travelled the world and thought marketing her own book would be no different to selling false teeth and alarm clocks.

Once The Chateau had been printed, she started to get in touch with papers across the UK and in France – including The Connexion – and also spoke to bookshops and online agencies such as Amazon and got them to sell her book.

An innovative idea to include a competition for a holiday in France helped publicise the book in the UK and, after hundreds of phone calls, she had agreed book signings in places as varied as Bordeaux, Market Harborough, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Ms Niven, who lives in Indre, summed it up: “With all the calls, you need a good phone contract, but I have been doing marketing all my life and this is no different; it’s just more personal as it’s my own book.”

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