How to Publish a Book

How to Publish a Book
The Journey of Self-Publishing

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In my weekly blogs, I have recorded the things I discovered when publishing my books. I have copied some of the more useful ones here. It is an on-going journey, so as I expand my business, I add to my blog posts. For an up to date record, my blog is a better source of information (though you will have to trawl through funny stories and travel diaries to find the relevant articles.) I have tried to include actual costs and problems and time frames – because people tend to be rather coy about these things, and it is difficult, when you are starting out, to know what you are committing to. I hope this is helpful.

4th July 2016

Hi, how was your week? I have been working hard on my book. Getting it published as been an unexpected journey, so I’ll share my experiences so far with you in case you ever decide to go the same route.

The first (and most fun part) is writing the book. I love doing this, it feels a lot like acting – I sort of ‘become’ the characters, think about how they would feel or react and daydream them into interesting situations. Most books seem to fit into the 70,000 to 100,000 words range. Which means that after I have written the story, I usually have to go back and delete great swathes of unnecessary sentences. I found the book ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King to be a big help here.

Next comes the ‘not fun’ part. You have to decide how to publish your work. I wrote my first book soon after I realised I would not be returning to teaching (long story, won’t go into it here.) I gave the completed manuscript to Husband to read, who tends to be ‘constructively critical’ of most things I do. To my surprise, he loved it, said he had never realised I could write so well, and encouraged me to send it off to publishers. I did a Google search to find publishers and discovered that most (all of them really) do not accept unsolicited manuscripts from new authors. To get to a publisher, you first need an agent.

I bought the ‘Writer’s Handbook’ and found contact details for various agents. They were all different, all asked for very specific details. Each submission took most of a morning. I then settled back and waited for them to request my full manuscript. I waited a long time. A few replied with very nice, personalised letters, telling me that my book showed real potential but wasn’t something they felt “passionate enough about” to represent me. Several replied with a standard ‘no thank you’ letter. Most never replied at all.

I have since learned that a good agent already has many authors as clients, they only take on a few new authors each year. They receive however, about 300 submissions every week. In order to cope with that, and to not spend their entire working day reading submissions, they employ people – often work experience students – who read the submission letters and decide if they think an author is worthy of being viewed by an agent. The criteria for knowing if the cover letter is ‘good enough’ is vague and subjective. I think, unless you know someone ‘in the trade’, finding an agent involves a lot of luck.

During this time, I was writing book number two, Hidden Faces. I also began to talk to other authors. They informed me that rejection was normal. I heard stories of people who had eventually been accepted by mainstream publishers, but during the editing process, their book was changed beyond recognition, it didn’t feel like theirs anymore. Publishers need to make money. Some seem to almost have a formula for the types of book they can sell, things that are currently in fashion, and they ask the authors to fit into it. I feel it is a bit like an artist painting a picture, expressing how they feel, then daring to exhibit their work, and being told, “I would like to buy your painting, but please change the sky to green and add some people and take out that tree…” Would it still be their work of art?

I was now not sure I wanted a mainstream publisher. I began to look into self-publishing. This was confusing. It seemed to fall into two categories: the rather unflattering term of “vanity press” and “self-published”. But what was the difference? It seemed that shops were willing to sell “self-published” books, but not those that used “vanity press”. But it was hard to discover the difference. Both were what I would call “self published”, as the author had themselves paid for the book to be published and they only received money if people bought it. (Generally, my understanding is that for a first book, a publisher will pay the author about £800. All profit after that goes to the publisher. However, people are shy about talking about specifics when it comes to money, so that may not be correct. When I get to the relevant parts, I will tell you what I paid for things, so you know.)

I eventually learned that “vanity press” is when an author writes a book and immediately sends it to be printed. So, no one edits it, no one checks the spelling and punctuation, no one says, “this bit is confusing, you need to change it”, no one type-sets it. You can find sad stories online of people who paid a company to publish their book and then found it had no copyright page, or Chapter One began on the left-hand side of the book. They received books that ‘felt wrong’, often cheaply bound in very thin card, with pages that were loose.

My feeling is that if you have written a book that you are proud of, that you just want to see in print, to perhaps give to your family (but not sell to strangers), then why not? I hate the term “vanity press”. Writing a book takes time and effort, why not see it published? I much prefer the terms “home press” or “amateur published”.

However, I did want to sell my book. I wanted a ‘proper’ book, one I could be proud of. I started to look online for editors, copy-editors, type-setters, printers. There were many publishers who offered a self-publishing service, and everyone seemed to have a corresponding ‘horror story’ on the internet. (If you Google search the name of the publisher and ‘scam’ it is quite scary what appears.) It was beyond me, so Husband took over (he is good at that sort of thing.) There was a lot of business stuff involved. He started by going into a bookshop and asking if they stocked any self-published books. He then looked to see who had printed them and contacted the printers. He got quotes for printing and asked for details of editors and type-setters, people they had worked with before who they could recommend. He then contacted various people, asked for examples of their work, quotes for prices, details of what they would do.

While Husband did all this research (made me remember why I love him) I rewrote a serial, Counting Stars, that had appeared on my website, making it a complete story. I now had two new books ready to publish. (I had given up on the first one and decided I needed to rewrite it.)

11th July 2016
All the characters in my book had the same names as my cousins. I have a lot of cousins. This was completely unintentional. When I write a story, it’s like watching a film, I see what is happening in my head and write it down. When a new character arrives, I pluck a name quickly from the air and continue. Obviously somewhere deep in my subconscious, my cousins’ names popped up. I didn’t even notice until reading the manuscript a few weeks after I had finished it. None of the characters were like my cousins, they just shared names. I changed them (the names, not my cousins.) I now use the internet to find ‘the most popular names in’ a certain year, and choose a surname from the telephone directory. It is safer.

My point is, it is difficult to always see what we have written. We are too involved. This is why I think an editor is an excellent investment. Someone unconnected with the book can point out that you use ‘that’ five times in a sentence and that it isn’t always that essential. Plus all those split infinitives that want naughtily to creep into your writing.

Finding an editor was not altogether easy (nothing was, to be honest.) To begin with, anyone can call themselves an editor, so how do you know who is worth employing? It will be a major outlay before you can even think about recouping any money – about £750 for a 100,000 word manuscript. If an editor is worth having, they will be busy, so sending them samples of work as a ‘test’ is unlikely to be possible unless you intend to pay them for that. You can of course ask which other books they have edited and buy them. However, how do you know if the splattering of unnecessary commas and the split infinitives are because the editor didn’t spot them or because the author/publisher rejected their editorial points? We decided on two editors eventually, one for Hidden Faces and one for Counting Stars. We figured that whichever one we preferred could then edit my other books (which had now grown to four, as I had finished writing Joanna, my story about a psychopath.)

One person (who had better remain nameless) was an editor by trade, did a lot of work for mainstream publishers and was very busy. So busy in fact that we had to wait three months before she would start work on my book. This was annoying, but I felt she was ‘a professional’ and therefore worth waiting for. The other editor we chose, was a writer himself, a writing lecturer and had edited various other books.

I think you need to decide what you want the editor to do. I thought I wanted them to simply proof read my work. This is a confusing term. A proofread is the final thing that happens, after the work has been edited and type-set, before it goes to the printer. What I actually wanted is called ‘copy-editing’.

My use of English is not terrible, I have taught English, I know most of the ‘rules’ about using possessive apostrophes, using fragments of sentences, all the usual stuff. I also knew that it is very difficult to notice mistakes in my own work. I tend to read what I meant to write. I also tend to miss things if I have rewritten something, and perhaps the tense is now different, or the possessive comma is now in the wrong place because I have changed to a plural noun. There is also lots of formal English that I do not know. I am hazy on when you need an Oxford comma, when to use “had -plus -verb” in past tense, when “leant” should be “leaned”. I would guess that most of my readers would also not know, however, I find badly written books irritating to read. I did not want my book to irritate someone who was better educated than me. I did not want to be embarrassed by my book (letting strangers read my work is embarrassing enough as it is!)

Editors will also check for continuity. It is easy to lose track of days in a story, and then you find that you have a nine day week. Or a character enters a room wearing a blue sweater and leaves wearing a red one. The editor should spot these mistakes. I also wanted to be told if the book was too long, or had boring parts, or was confusing. It is difficult to know yourself, because you have written it, you know everything about the story, someone else has to tell you if you have communicated it effectively.
The final thing an editor will do, is prepare the file for the type-setter. So, when everything is edited and all the words are perfect, they will prepare a file that shows where the time breaks are, which paragraphs should be indented, things like that.

As a separate point, do you know where paragraphs are indented? I thought a new paragraph was always indented. My editor pointed out that actually, the first line of a new chapter or after a time break, is NOT indented. I had never noticed that before! This is the sort of thing that makes paying for an editor worth the money. If I had simply printed my book (the “vanity press” label) then I would have started the chapter with an indented paragraph. Then, when someone pointed out to me that actually, ‘proper’ books do not have this format, I would forever be embarrassed by my book. (In case you haven’t noticed, this is a big fear of mine.)

Now, the actual process of editing was also unexpected. Editor 2 took my manuscript immediately and in roughly two weeks, returned it, with comments put in using ‘track changes’. This allowed me to read his comments and either accept or reject his advice. It was good advice, I accepted it. He told me things like, I had built up a lot of tension, and then immediately let it go, I should keep the reader in suspense for longer. Or, I had used “then” four times in a paragraph. Or, Max had put a drink into his bag but the next day he took out a snack. He pointed out split infinitives that I had missed, some dodgy spelling and suggested I lengthened some descriptions. All very helpful, well worth the money.

Editor 1 was a different experience. As a rule, I try to not criticise people on my blog – I think there is enough negativity in the world. But I want to warn you, so you don’t make the same mistakes. Some of her recommendations were valid, but many were just frustrating. She changed things that made the text clunky to read, changed the flow, made it feel like a school essay, not a novel. I spent many hours going through my manuscript, mainly changing her additions to what had been there originally. This is a definite bonus with self-publishing. If someone else was publishing my book, they may have accepted all her suggestions, changing my work into something which I myself would never want to read. I’m not sure how you would initially avoid this. People have different writing styles, so unless you have worked with an editor previously, you will not know if their style suits your own.

This makes choosing an editor difficult. If they do not actually write themselves, will they be aware of emotive writing, making the words flow easily, building atmosphere – or will they just plonk down full-stops where they were taught to in school? If, however, they are writers themselves, will they necessarily know what a split infinitive is? Will they have the discipline necessary to catch every error?

Then, when I returned the manuscript to editor 1 for the next round of changes, she informed me she had received a lot of work from Random House, she would let me know when she had time to pick up my script again.

This was a shock! I had expected that, having waited three months for her to start, my manuscript would then take priority. I felt like the person who hires builders, watches while they dig a lot of holes for foundations, and then doesn’t see them for months because they have gone to build something else. Please learn from my experience. If you hire an editor who works for mainstream publishers, those publishers are likely to take priority. If time is important to you, discuss that at the outset and put it in writing.
Also, someone who is using all their energy editing other work, will not necessarily be as thorough with yours. I found grammatical mistakes in my returned manuscript. True, I had missed them myself, but my misconception was that an editor would find and correct them all. This is not the case. I sometimes read books that have occasional errors in them. It doesn’t much bother me, they are easy to pass over, and I have always assumed they were printing errors. I now realise they might not be, they might be mistakes that neither the author nor the editor nor the proofreader picked up prior to printing. No one is perfect and three checkers do not guarantee perfection. When I queried this with the editor (and in fairness, she did lower her final bill accordingly) she said that no editor would expect to pick up every mistake, that is the job of the type-setter and author and proofreader. So, be warned, employing other people does not mean your own work is finished!

Eventually, your work will finally be edited. It has been back and forth several times until it is exactly how you want it and this takes time. It is a full book. A book takes a few days to read and every time it is returned you need to read the whole thing, from beginning to end. Hours of work. By the time I had read it for about the eighth time straight, it was beginning to lose some of its appeal. I was finding it hard to enjoy the story. This is where you need good family and friends. My sons pointed out that authors often dislike their own work when it’s first published, that actors and directors are renown for not wanting to watch the films they are in. This was normal. I should keep hold of my first conviction and keep going. (Sometimes my family are nice to me.)
After the editing, you also need to consider the cover, the blurb for the back, the type-setting, the final proofreader. Then of course, you will need to sell your book, which involves some marketing. Son the Economist has studied Marketing, he had a LOT of advice. I will continue this another time.

18th July 2016
So, after you have had your manuscript edited, have proofread it about a million times, and are fairly sure that you have picked up as many typos as is humanely possible, it is ready to send to a typesetter.

The typesetter puts your book into the right format for the printer. You can assume a cost of about 90p a page. It depends on print size, but a 100,000 word book is about 300 pages. They will send you examples of different text, ask if you want the first letter of a new chapter written as a capital, or the first word, or the whole of the first line. These were all things I had never noticed before (and I am an avid reader!) I think I only notice if something is ‘odd’, if a self-published book has strayed from what my eye is used to seeing. I was therefore grateful that my typesetter knew more than me. He had done this many times before and could tell me what a ‘normal’ book looked like. I had to keep running to my bookshelves to check things.

You also want someone with experience so the margins are the correct size – you don’t want the words running into the fold of the book, nor do you want massive margins because that means more pages, which will cost you more money.

Some people choose to have a running header, with either the author name, or the chapter title on each page. Some people like the page numbers in the centre, some prefer them at the top. I didn’t have strong opinions on much, I was mainly just keen that my book didn’t look odd : that chapter one began on a right hand page, that the starting margins were full width and all others indented, things like that. This was all learned while I was answering questions and checking inside other books.

I was told that pages are bound in batches of 16 (I think it depends on the size of your book.) This means there might be some empty pages, at either the front or the back. My typesetter suggested that this would be a good place to put some ‘tasters’ of my other books, to encourage people to buy them, a ‘free’ advert.

You might also like to think about the copyright page. There is fairly standard wording inside most books, but you can adapt it to suit yourself. In England, copyright is automatic, if you have written something, you own the copyright. Proving that you have written something might be difficult, so it is possible to register your copyright – there are details of how to do this in the Writer’s Handbook. It does not mean you now own the copyright (you did already) but if someone challenges you, you have proof of when you registered it.

It is usual on the copyright page to name the publisher and to put their contact details. If you use a self-publishing company, they will, I presume, put their address there. We weren’t using a company, we were doing it all ourselves and I wasn’t keen on having my own address in the book. We therefore made a company name, The Cobweb Press, and made a website. This gave us an email address that we could use in all the books. (I am sort of hoping no one ever looks at the website, as we made it in a rush, and it’s not going to impress anyone. But it serves a purpose and means strangers can contact me – to order books – without knowing my home address.)

You might decide to have an ISBN number. These are usually included on the copyright page and also on the back cover. It is not essential to have an ISBN number, but shops like them (some shops will refuse to stock the book unless it has one) and it makes it easier for people to find your book if they know it. You buy them. I bought 10 numbers for £149. There was some paperwork to fill out (husband did that for me) and then they were issued, to use as I wished. The ‘cover guy’ had to leave a white space in the correct place so the barcode could be added (my printer did that.)

We also needed to register the book with the British Library, and send them a copy when it was published.

You need a cover for your book. Go and look at some. I wanted something that would stand out, but not something that looked odd. Find someone who has done other book covers. You need to consider how thick the printed book will be, because that changes the thickness of the spine (and the cover is designed as one long, -front/spine/ back – file.) My typesetter had also done other book covers, so he also did my cover. For the front, you can look online and find many different photographs that are available to buy to use as book covers. These range from textures to use as backgrounds, to full pictures. I opted to have a person on my cover, as the book is about people. The ‘cover guy’ came and took lots of photographs and I chose the one I liked best. He then added the words, designed the spine of the book, suggested ideas for the back. I included the ‘blurb for the back’ in the file I sent to the editor, so that was ready to use. I think you need to allow £35 for a cover, plus a price for the photograph.
We also discussed choices with the printer. We used CPI (if you look at books you have bought, it usually says who has printed them; CPI have printed many of the paperback books that you find in the bookshops.) They were very helpful and gave us a menu of options. We could, if we had wanted, had just a single book printed. If anyone has a book they want to see in print but they don’t plan to sell, they might like to have one copy made. Obviously, the more books we had printed, the cheaper the cost per book. It cost about £2 per book to print 500 copies. If you want to add a barcode then add an extra £35 to the overall printing costs.

They asked us which thickness of paper we wanted and what size of page. I didn’t have a clue! They kindly sent samples of books they had printed, so I could ask all my family and friends to turn the pages and tell me which thickness they preferred. Made a change from talking about the weather.

If you read all the terms and conditions that the printer sends, you might find that one condition is that you have indemnity insurance. This was quite a hassle to arrange, and I don’t think actually it will cover much should anyone ever sue me, claiming I have stolen their ideas. But if you read all the small print (husband is good at that sort of thing) it was a condition of being published, so we did it. We had to estimate my probable earnings for the year – the insurance company then told us they didn’t go that low! It cost £175 for annual insurance.

25th July 2016
When your book has been written, edited, typeset, proofread (sweated over, prayed over, cried over….) it will be ready to send to the printer. Now all you need to worry about is selling it. This is, I think, the main (and massive) disadvantage to self-publishing. So, how to overcome the problem?

Son-the-marketing-expert had lots of advice (really, lots – many, many hours worth – I have summarised.) He strongly suggested that before I even thought about selling, I should listen to some focus groups. He told me to think about my target audience and ask groups of people some questions. This was not within my comfort zone, so I thought I would just email questionnaires to some friends. This apparently is ineffective, as when a focus group discusses, they remind each other of things, so the results are better. I was told that after listening (trying to not influence the discussion) I should decide where and how I would advertise and sell my book. Here are some of the questions:

Were they influenced by price? – So, would a very cheap or very expensive book make them more or less likely to buy?
Most people said they were unaffected by price, as long as it was within the ‘normal’ price for a paperback book. If it was cheaper, some people said they would be suspicious of the quality unless it was marked “special offer”.

Where do they buy books? Would they consider buying a book from somewhere different (for example, a charity shop or coffee shop or community hall.)?
Older people and avid readers tended to prefer shops to Amazon. If there was a display of books somewhere unusual, they would look at them and possibly buy one.

Before buying a book, do they read some of it first? If so, where would they do that? (Would they remove a book from a shelf to read it, or more likely to pick it up from a display on a table top?)
Definitely table top.

When did they last buy a new author, and why? (Was it recommended by a friend, seen in a review?)
Reviews in newspapers or on radio scored highly here.

Would they look at a book that came with a ‘special deal’? For example, ‘buy the book, get a bar of chocolate for free’. {I told my son this was silly, no one would buy a book just because it had a bar of chocolate attached! He told me ask anyway, so I did. One of my friends told me that in China, a new author did exactly that – if you bought the book, you got a free mobile phone! The author made a massive loss, but her book rose to the top of the best sellers list. Her subsequent books made a profit and she is now a well known author. Interesting…}
Everyone I asked agreed this was silly!

What types of cover attract your attention?
Some looked at books with scenes from the television. Many liked people or ‘cosy scenes’ on the front.

xxx

I dutifully asked the questions and thought about the answers. This guided the types of places I decided to advertise and display my book.

If you persuade local bookshops to stock your book, they will want to receive a certain amount per book (between 35% and 50% mark up, depending on the shop. So, £2 or £3 per book.) You also have to deliver the books to the shop and collect them if they don’t sell, as shops tend to be willing to take them on a ‘sale or return’ basis. If it’s a bookshop in your town, that’s easy.

If you decide to sell through a big London shop (say Foyles or WH Smith) then you will need to factor in travel/delivery costs. Large bookshops (like Foyles) will sell self-published books. Each shop has different criteria, and you may need to use a wholesaler, which is expensive. For Foyles, you have to write a submission, much like when trying to find an agent, and they decide whether your book is suitable for their shop. You need to decide if it’s worth the time/money. You can find all the details online (sometimes it is hard to find – try clicking on the ‘contact us’ button, it’s often there.) I will explain about wholesalers in my future blogs, as there’s a lot to say.

Amazon also charges to sell. If you use Amazon, you can either use ‘fulfilled by Amazon’ in which case, they will store (for a price) and send out (for a price) your book. Or, you can post the book yourself. For my size of book, an envelope cost 35p, UK postage was £3:35 and US postage cost £7:80. If you aren’t a US resident and you want to sell on amazon.com (to US customers) you have to register for US tax. You need to think about if you are away/ill – will someone else send out your books for you, or will your customers have to wait a few weeks?

As can be seen, even selling the book is expensive and relatively time consuming. The basic cost of your book depends on how many you print (which should depend on how many you think you will sell.) As a rough guide, if you print 500 copies, your costs are likely to be as follows:
Indemnity Insurance : £175
Formatting : £302
ISBN (for ten titles): £149
Editing : £750
Printing : £1,051
Barcode: £35
Cover Format: £35
Cover photo : £50
Proofreader : £300

If you add the amount a small shop requires for selling the book, this comes to roughly £7:99 per book. This is the price of the average novel. So, if you want to make any profit at all, your book will cost more than the average book on the shelf. You need to listen carefully to your focus groups. If people in your target audience (and this will depend on the type of book you have written) are affected by price, then consider carefully how many books you will print.

If, realistically, you are only going to sell to your close friends and favourite aunty, then probably price matters less but you will need fewer books.

If you are trying to launch a new career, you hope your book will become popular, that your friends will recommend it to their friends, will buy a second copy for their mother’s Christmas present, then I would recommend keeping the price of the book down. Try to cover your costs, but don’t expect to make a profit. Not even a penny. None. If you give books to your nearest and dearest, they are not ‘free’ books, they are a gift, which has cost you £6 (not that this should deter you, but you should be aware.)
If people help you, if they recommend your book, if they buy a copy as a gift for someone you don’t know, if your market place grows, then you can do a second print of your book. Then, all your fixed costs (editing, formatting, etc) will already be covered, then you will make a profit. You might turn out to be the next JK Rowling – making 50p per book on a couple of million books, is not to be sniffed at. But probably you shouldn’t plan for that. Probably you shouldn’t start looking at new cars just yet….

August 2016
So, rather momentous – my book arrived (cue small fanfare of trumpets…) Now,  I needed to find some more places to sell it. I drove to Bluewater.

Bluewater is not my favourite place. It has way too many shops. I took son for moral support. He was keen to come due to the possibility of Pokemon being more available than in our country lane (hard not to be proud of them sometimes, isn’t it…) Anyway, there we were, standing outside WH Smiths, me wondering if it would be better to just have a coffee and go home, him concentrating on a Pikachu (no idea how you spell these things.)

I went into WH Smith first. I was told the person I needed to speak to was on holiday. But they were nice, no one shouted at me or told me I was an idiot. Feeling slightly braver, I went into Waterstones. I learned lots of information, the most important being that selling through big shops takes time and is expensive. I will cover what I discovered in future blogs.

I decided that I would first launch my book locally and online. The bookshop in the next town was happy to sell it. I would try to find another couple of small shops who would be willing to stock it, and also sell it on Amazon. This was not as easy as it sounds…
First, the maze that is Amazon. My overall feeling about Amazon is that the process is slow and confusing, like trying to join a secret society. It is also expensive – you pay for everything. We first (note the ‘we’, I decided fairly early that this was beyond me, so Husband rescued me. But I will pretend that I helped) explored the ‘fulfilled by Amazon’ option. This would mean our customers would pay less in postage, and I could go on holiday or be ill without worrying about posting book orders. However, it was far from easy. You could email and ask for help, and they would phone back and advise you. But each advisor only dealt with one area, so they could only answer specific questions.

We wanted to know where exactly we had to deliver the books – if it was Scotland, we might find a different option. This information is a secret. If I ever discover it, I will tell you. I even accosted a poor Amazon delivery man and asked him where the depot was that stored the goods. He told me, “Oh, we’re not allowed to give information like that, I would get into trouble.” The plot thickens.

It was taking ages, plus would only cover five countries in Europe, so we decided in the meantime we would become Amazon sellers and post the books ourselves. We then went online to add the book – only to discover it was already listed! There it was, Hidden Faces by Anne E. Thompson, published by The Cobweb Press, with the ISBN number and a price. It was also, strangely, listed as a ‘mystery/thriller’ (which it isn’t, it is contemporary fiction.) We had more phone calls, but no one at Amazon could explain who had listed my book. Eventually we learned that when you buy an ISBN number, it is automatically listed on certain websites. Some shops also list it (though they won’t sell it, because I do not yet have a trading agreement with a wholesaler.You can ‘buy’ it, and checkout, they will then check their suppliers and notify you that it’s unavailable. They will not deal directly with either authors or publishers. I know, I tried.)

We eventually managed to add a photo, price, and the correct description. Then, when it appeared on the Amazon website (after about an hour) it had deleted all the paragraph breaks. No idea why. Not easy to rectify this (you might notice other book descriptions with no paragraph breaks – there are many – do not blame the author.) I am trying to remedy this but not sure if it is possible. It has something to do with the fact that people use different devices, so the paragraphs have to suit computers and smart phones and tablets, and apparently this causes problems. Please be understanding if you look at my book on Amazon….

Approaching local shops was also not without problems. I drove to East Grinstead, which is slightly beyond my comfort zone. The town was having some sort of fair, half the roads were shut and people were everywhere. I parked in a side road and walked to the bookshop. The owner was on holiday. I took his contact details and walked back through the fair – only to find my car was not in the side road I thought it was. It was hot, I was tired, coming had achieved nothing, and now I had lost the car. I thought about phoning home, but they tend to be unsympathetic when I lose the car. Bought an ice cream. Wandered around and eventually found car. Drove home, having not sold a single book.

My own town was also difficult. There is no bookshop – my town has mainly charity shops, supermarkets and hairdressers (everyone has nice hair in my town. And secondhand clothes.) I tried a few ‘gift’ type shops and some stationers. No luck. One stationers even told me that he wouldn’t take a couple of books on ‘sale or return’ because “it would just be another thing to think about”! Honestly! Here I was, a local author, with advertising in place, asking if they could take a couple of books. They would earn a few pounds on every book sold, and I would collect any unsold books. No wonder small businesses are failing. I felt rather cross with my town. Until I found a very nice man in the newsagents at the top of the High Street. The shop is one of those open all hours, family owned, tiny shops, selling mainly newspapers and alcohol. He was willing to help and said he would display five books and a poster. Nice man. I hope it brings him some extra business.

I also popped into my local Shell garage and the Waitrose in my town (you can’t say I wasn’t trying.) Both were surprisingly helpful, but said it needed to go through head office. This seems to be the story with all chains of shops – however willing the manager is, the final decision is with head office. I took contact details and will let you know what happens.

29th August 2016
Having launched my book locally, it was time to think about something bigger.

I went into Waterstones. I asked to speak to the manager, which seems to always make people look a bit nervous, then they are relieved when you tell them why. The manager at Bluewater was very nice. She explained that all Waterstones shops can only order from certain suppliers. Those suppliers WILL take books from self-published authors, though they deal with the publisher, not the author. If, therefore, you choose to self-publish with a publishing company (who you pay), I am not sure if they would also deal with wholesalers on your behalf. We created our own company, so that was okay, I could approach them as an ‘indie publisher’.

Wholesalers will only consider books with both an ISBN number and a registration with Nielson. If you look on the Waterstones website, it explains how to do all of this. It is a long process and takes several weeks. If the wholesaler accepts your book, you can then go into individual Waterstones bookshops and persuade the manager to stock your book. They will then order it directly from the wholesaler. I am just starting this process (actually, I started at the wrong end and went into the shop first, but they were very nice about it.) I will let you know how I get on.

We left Bluewater – I am not one to linger when shops are involved and son had finished hunting Pokemon. On the way home we called in at a smaller branch of WH Smiths. I spoke to the manager, who took details of the book and looked at a copy of the cover. He said everything had to go through head office and he would email the publisher to let them know. It was encouraging – he didn’t say no. However, he also didn’t explain anything – I’m not sure if WH Smiths only buy through wholesalers. Their website is unhelpful. (Actually, I have since spoken to a different WH Smiths manager. The shop manager is allowed to sell books by local authors, and, after agreement from head office, can take them directly from the author/publisher without the need for a middle man.)

When I got home, I learned a little about wholesalers (not a term I was used to hearing.) Basically, they take books from publishers – probably the printer sends them straight there if you are a major publishing house, presumeably Mr Hodder and Stoughton doesn’t have a spare room full of books. Shops then order them straight from the wholesaler and they deliver them. This means the shop is dealing with fewer people, they can order books from a selection of publishers and just have one delivery to deal with. It also means the publisher (me) doesn’t have to drive to the shops every time they need to restock. It means I could go to bookshops where I grew up and persuade them to stock my book, but I wouldn’t have to keep driving back there every time they sold a couple. This sounds brilliant. I have no idea at this stage what such a service costs – I will tell you in my future blogs. There was an online form, which had a section I didn’t understand, so I phoned them. Spoke to a receptionist, who also didn’t know, but who was nice and gave me an email address so I could write and ask. I am finding this – people are nice and generally helpful. I knew nothing (John Snow) when I started doing this, but at each tiny step, people have helped me, given me the information so I can progress to the next stage. It’s slow, but it’s not overwhelming.

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29th August 2016
I am feeling like bit of a plonka. Someone – a complete stranger, never met them before – asked me to sign their book, which I was very excited to do. So, they told me their name, I wrote a little message, then signed it “Love, Anne”. As you do. Except, when you are an author, signing a book, I imagine that you don’t write “Love, X” I bet JK Rowling doesn’t sign books for strangers “Love, Joanna”. Realised immediately it was an amateur mistake, but what could I do? I could hardly snatch it back and put a line through it.

Most authors have a ‘book launch’. I am not brave enough to do this. This was bit of a mistake. I hadn’t realised that local shops (possibly bigger ones too) are quite slow when restocking. They have lots of suppliers, there is no sense of urgency. So friends were going in to buy my book and being told it had sold out. I took a fresh supply, but was told by the shop that they couldn’t take them until they had done the paperwork and paid me for the books sold. There was no way round this system (I did try). The process took three days. I have no idea how many sales I lost in those few days – some people will go back, but not everyone will bother twice. Very frustrating. If I had organised a ‘book launch’, all my friends could have come in one go, seen the book, and if they liked it, they could have bought it then. This would leave the shops for the slower, less definite customers. Next time…

I also realise now how important it is to make sure my supply chain is working properly before I start advertising. (Hope you are noticing all the clever marketing phrases I have been learning.) I have now put it into more than one shop in each town, so if one sells out, the other will hopefully still have some.

Also this week I was interviewed by the local paper. This is so not me – I’m quite a private person really. Son came for support. The reporter was very nice, but he did tend to chat about me, and I just wanted to talk about the book. You can’t “not answer” when someone asks why you stopped teaching or where you lived and when. Of course, when the article appeared, it was more about me than the book. But it was nice of him to include something. He even took a photo (which is awful, I am wearing my “I feel really silly” face.) I hope it’s a good way to let people know about my book. I loved writing it, now I would like to hide under the bed and let people buy it and recommend it to others. But no one will buy it unless I advertise it a little, so I’m forcing myself to publicise it. I have to keep reminding myself, it’s not about me, it’s about the book. And it IS a good book. It has strong, realistic characters, so by the end you feel they are real people, and you might have met them, and you want to give them some advice about the terrible decisions they are making…

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hidden-Faces-Anne-E-Thompson/dp/0995463204/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1469974917&sr=1-1&keywords=hidden+faces+by+anne+e+thompson

hidden-faces-final-cover-6-july-2016

December 2016

This week, Joanna went to the printer (small fanfare of trumpets please!).

This is always very scary. Any typos that have missed will now be in the final book for all to see, for ever more. We did very nearly have a disaster. The cover was finished – brilliant photo from Chloe my photographer, formatted by Geoff my cover guy – but I was unsure about the colour. It was greys and blacks, and I wanted it to be blues and purples. So both people tried various filters, but it wasn’t the colour I had in my mind.

Geoff (who understands these things having been a printer in a former life) gave me a brief lesson about colour in light (and therefore on my computer screen) being different when transferred to ink (and therefore on my book cover.) It was possible to pay the printer for a fifth ink, whereby I could be picky on the colour. But it would cost extra. I am hoping to break even with this business, so unlike big publishers, I don’t actually have any ‘extra’.

We decided to ask the printer to print one cover and to post it to me, so I could decide if the colour was okay. They kindly did this. Which is when I noticed there was a white margin around the cover photo. I hadn’t noticed it on the proofs I had been sent, but it was absolutely not the look I wanted. It was a horrible moment when I realised that if we hadn’t decided to check the cover colours, we wouldn’t have spotted it, and the cover would annoy me forever (even if possibly no one else would have noticed.)

So, my advice to anyone planning to self-publish, always ask the printer for a cover sample before they print off hundreds (because while it delays things very slightly, it doesn’t cost any extra.)

The colour is still not exactly what I had in mind, but I don’t have the funds to be fussy, so it is staying as it is. It is still an amazing cover. You will love it when you see it, the photo is perfect for a book about a psychopath. Very exciting.

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My other bit of news is on the selling front with Hidden Faces. We had contacted Gardners, a wholesaler, and they said that if a retailer wanted to sell the book, they would contact me via the Nielsons website and supply it.

I decided to test this before I advertised it, so bought my book from waterstones.com. Waterstones charge £8.95 plus £2.80 postage, so I paid over £11 (for my own book.) I was somewhat perplexed when the following day I was contacted by Bertrams, a completely different wholesaler, and asked to urgently send a copy of my book. Waterstones obviously decided to use them. It then took about 10 days for my book to come back to me, though it was in perfect condition considering it had gone round the country! I have not yet been paid by Bertrams, though they did ask for an invoice to be enclosed with the book. I could, I suppose, have charged them what I wanted for the book, as I don’t have a trading agreement with them. But they would have added a bit before supplying Waterstones, who would then have found the book was costing more than they were making. So although they would have supplied me (as the customer) they would also I assume have deleted me (as the publisher) from their website. I rather like being on there, so sold to Bertrams at a sensible price. It was an expensive experiment.

I notice I am also on the Foyles website. My advice, is set up clear details when you register with Nielsons (who are the people you buy the ISBN numbers from.) Then, every major bookseller will be able to supply your book if people order through them. And it’s rather nice to know your book can be bought through Waterstones and Foyles.

Really though, the best way to actually recoup your costs, is by private sales. Big shops use wholesalers, and everyone wants a cut of the profits, so you receive very little money. I have spent November and December selling books at Christmas Fairs. I even started to enjoy it after a while. I sold loads of books, people bought them because I was local author, or because they wanted to give it as a gift. I would definitely recommend it as a route to sales. I am hoping to find some summer fairs too. If you’re keeping count, I have now recovered half my costs (which is about what I was hoping for in my time plan.) Now I need people who have enjoyed it to tell their friends…..

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The local papers have been brilliant. They have given me lots of support and included photos of me/the book a few times now. I was in a third newspaper this week (well, the book was, not me – but actually I prefer that.) It makes you feel very grateful when people help. Setting up any business is scary, we all need people to help us. It’s nice when they do.

 

 

 

13th February 2017

Hidden Faces is still selling, though as expected, sales have slowed down. I have sold about 60% of the books now (in 6 months, so I am meeting my sales targets). Most sales have been either to friends buying them from Amazon, or by direct sales – me attending fairs and bookclubs and speaking to various groups. Talking to other new authors, this seems to be normal.

Although I sell through Amazon, they do take nearly all of the profit (which means if I am to break even, I must sell every last copy). Shops that buy through a wholesaler (Waterstones and Foyles) take even more. I therefore decided I would sell my books through my own website. I can absorb the cost of UK posting (as it roughly equates what Amazon’s cut is) and I can also now sell internationally.

Initially, I was going to include my email details on my blog, so people could email their address and I could reply with payment details. However, a quick look online suggested this would mainly fill my inbox with spam, and I was better off making a ‘contact form’ on a post for people to use. I can’t process credit/debit cards, so I will have to ask people to pay by bank transfer or cheque. I also think most people might feel worried about never receiving the books, so I will ask for payment after they have received their copies. Of course, some dishonest people might then never pay. Or people might feel uncomfortable doing business with someone they don’t know. I will let you know what happens. If I have too many people who don’t pay, I will have to stop selling them privately. My new book, JOANNA, is due to be released at the end of March, so I have set up a preordering form too.

On the copyright page, it is usual to state that a copy of the book has been lodged with the British Library. I looked into this. Apparently, anything that is published in England, is legally supposed to be sent to the British Library. It’s an old law, and means that throughout history people can see the sorts of things that are published. It applies to all published material, whether or not it has an ISBN number (so I assume it also applies to things like school magazines – though I’m not entirely sure.) It certainly applies to books. If you publish a book, you are obliged to send the library a copy. The address is:

Legal Deposit Office
The British Library
Boston Spa
Wetherby
West Yorkshire
LS23 7BY

They are working on some kind of computer program, so in the near future we will be able to send a digital copy. But for now, you must send a paper copy.

There are a few other libraries (one is in Scotland, one is part of Cambridge University) which also have the legal right to request copies of your book, and you are obliged to send them one. However you only have to send them one if they actually request a copy.

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As I said, JOANNA is now ready. We added the ISBN number and cover photo on the Nielsen’s website. This means it is listed as ‘published’ now, even though I don’t intend to sell any copies until the end of March. It also appears automatically on Amazon, Waterstones and Foyles online shops. (Note, this does not happen if you publish via Amazon Self-Publishing. This is because other shops view Amazon as a competitor, so will not stock their books. I’m not sure about other self-publishing services.) But I doubt anyone will order from there until I advertise it, (plus it costs them more) so I am hoping to preserve the launch date.

We now have to decide whether or not to also publish it as a Kindle book. Although I find it harder to sell Kindle copies ( you need to spend a lot of time networking on social media to build relationships with people who you don’t know, and I don’t really have time). However, some people tell me they only read ebooks. A few have still bought copies, but I realise they would prefer to read it on Kindle. But most Kindle books are cheaper, and I need to recoup my editing/typesetting/cover photograph costs. Will people be willing to pay as much for a Kindle copy as for a paperback, or will they see the Kindle book as ‘free’ to produce, and therefore think I am being greedy (rather than understanding that actually, it did cost me almost as much, as the printing costs are a tiny proportion of overall costs.) Difficult to know. Do let me know if you have an opinion, it will help me to decide.

Talking of Amazon, I was a bit shocked to see there are now three other sellers listed as selling Hidden Faces. They are selling secondhand copies for a cheaper price, which they keep reducing, so they appear before The Cobweb Press. This was unexpected. I have no idea if they actually have copies (they claim they are in stock). It’s a pain, because friends who look on Amazon for my book might not notice, and click the first seller that appears (rather than looking at ‘buyer options’ and looking for a ‘new’ copy). I don’t think there’s a way to avoid this, anyone can set up as a seller on Amazon. They cannot have new copies (because I own them all). I am suspicious they may have come from wholesalers. When you apply to a wholesaler, to ask them for a trading agreement (which you have to do if you want to sell through big shops) they ask you to send them a copy of the book. I guess they receive hundreds of books each week. They’re not going to bother to store those books, so I’m wondering if they sell them on to dealers. Or perhaps even have their own secondhand bookshop. I don’t know. I do wish though that I had written ‘Sample, not for resale’ somewhere in the book. It’s another reason for encouraging people to buy directly from me, as potentially I am losing money. Yet again, the big companies are making it almost impossible for the new indie publisher.

Of course, the main hindrance to managing to cover my costs is the number of people who lend books! You wouldn’t believe how many people bubble to me how much they have enjoyed Hidden Faces, they can’t wait to read the next one, it was really gripping and they have now lent it to their sister/neighbour/friend. Aaagh. I wish they had told other people about it and got me a few more sales, or written a review. But what can you do?

March 2017

Radio Interview

I was invited to speak on Meridian FM, which was very exciting (and rather terrifying!) I’ve never been on the radio before, so had no idea what to expect.

I arrived about half an hour too early, because I was stressing about being late or not being able to park anywhere. I ended up going for a walk, so it was lucky the weather was warm. Then I went inside.

Meridian FM is based at the Jubilee Centre in East Grinstead, which is a large building (with a big carpark) in an industrial estate. The downstairs rooms are used for a playgroup and community events. I was told to go up to the first floor. At the top of the stairs was a door, with signs warning me to be quiet if the red light was lit as they would be on air. How exciting is that!

I then went in to an extremely hot room (they seriously need some air conditioning) and I waited until Samantha Day, whose show I was speaking on, was ready. One of the local journalists, who knew I would be there, popped in too, to take a photo. (So I was glad I had worn some make-up, I nearly hadn’t bothered as it was the radio and no one would be able to see me!)

I sat on a chair, facing a big orange mic. Samantha did a sound check, telling me to move nearer and nearer. I told her I was a teacher, I could speak as loud as she wanted – she said to speak up a bit! On the desk was a whole lot of equipment – computers, sound desk type stuff, wires. The other side sat Samantha, and a student doing work-experience. They wore headphones, and Samantha controlled the volume, played music etc in between interviewing me. She was very good at her job. There was a lot going on all at once – I arrived as she was finishing with other guests, she was interviewing, putting on music, directing us, welcoming me and saying goodbye to them, all at once. No one else was up there. When she hasn’t got guests, it must be a weirdly lonely job. Strange to be talking to 8,000 listeners in a room entirely on your own.

My interview was fine (big relief). I had sent Samantha some information about psychopaths, and she had formed questions from this. To be honest, I had forgotten what I’d sent her, and probably wandered ‘off script’ a bit, but it didn’t seem to matter. I can waffle about psychopaths for hours. I could see her while we talked, so I managed to forget other people were listening, and it was really just a chat between the two of us.

My daughter had sent a whole lot of instructions about what not to say – “Jokes about Nanny won’t be funny”, and I managed to not do anything wrong. Husband had suggested a few jokes in case I got stuck – but none were at all suitable, so I didn’t repeat any of those. I also resisted the temptation to do the whole interview in a foreign accent, and managed to not swear. So all in all, a success.

Of course, the main purpose for me was to promote JOANNA and the book launch. Samantha was brilliant here, and asked me right at the beginning to explain where and when the launch was, so I could forget about that and just chat about psychopaths. Hopefully it will encourage some interest in the book. I was able to explain how psychopaths think differently, their brain doesn’t process information and respond in the same way as most people’s. I then told her that I had written JOANNA partly in the first person, showing the reader how Joanna viewed the world. The rest of the book shows how other people are affected by Joanna, what it was like to parent her, live with her, work with her. As the reader hears from other people, they realise that Joanna lied to them in the first part of the book, that her view of the world is not an accurate one.

I do hope it will lead to some sales. I am back in East Grinstead on 8th April, to do a book signing at the bookshop there. Hopefully people will come. So far, everyone has been very interested in the book – I think psychopathy is a hugely interesting subject, and people seem fascinated by it. I will let you know what happens next.

xxx

Thank you for reading.

JOANNA is available from bookshops and Amazon.

Published by The Cobweb Press
ISBN : 978-0-9954632-2-6
Available from bookshops (if it’s not in stock, they can order it).

29th March 2017

Planning a Book Launch

Having a book launch is scary. However well planned you are, you cannot be sure anyone other than your Mum will actually come. This is true for all but the most famous authors, and authors who are more successful than me assured me beforehand that this is normal. One even told me that she’d held a launch that was packed to the rafters, and another, just last year, when only her husband and daughter came. This made me feel better – because the success of the launch does NOT reflect your ability as an author. It’s random. There are however, a few things you can do to try and improve the situation. I’ll let you know what I did.

Firstly, obviously, you need to decide on time and place. Decide who is most likely to be interested in your book, then consider things like school term dates, when people are likely to be skiing or away on holiday.

Then choose your venue. Many authors hold a launch in a bookshop. This has the advantage of being in a public place, so you might have strangers wander over and buy a book – it increases your visibility. However, a big drawback is that most of your profit will go to the bookshop owner, as they will be selling the book and taking their cut, but you will still have all the catering costs of the launch. For me, this sounded like I would make a loss, and after producing the book, my debt was already pretty huge, so I hired a hall. Our town has a community hall, used as a cafe during the daytime, run by the local churches. In the evenings, you can hire it for £11 per hour. I figured I could afford that.

Next is catering – what will you feed people? You need to bear in mind that this is meant to be profitable. However, I was unwilling to serve my friends and family cheap wine. So, I (as a wife) decided to donate to myself (as an author) the cost of the wine. My husband is often rather flummoxed by this logic, but it works for me. As the event was in the evening, I served wine and nibbles, and made loads of cupcakes (mainly because I like baking cupcakes and they look impressive). Again, I (wife) decided to donate the cost of this to myself (author). You might be spotting a theme here. The cost of the event is an issue though. I was once told that if you self publish, when you hold a book launch, you recover the cost of the book. Unless you are charging £100 for the book, I am sure this is untrue.

One good hint is that Waitrose will lend glasses for free. You just pay for any you break. There is no minimum spend on wine. You simply have to order the glasses well in advance and collect them from the shop on the day of the launch, wash them and return them within 48 hours. A brilliant service.

You need to advertise the event. I managed to have 3 separate articles about the launch in local newspapers and was interviewed on local radio (there are some very kind journalists in my town). This did not result in anyone coming to the launch at all. Not one. It might, of course, have added to the invite as a whole, but in terms of results, it is not enough.

People came because they had a personal connection – even if a somewhat tenuous one. I made invitations and posted them through neighbours doors (in an envelope explaining I was their neighbour, as some have never met me). I invited people from church, old work colleagues, book groups I have spoken at, shop keepers who stock my books, parents who once had children in my classes. And of course friends and family. So did my Mum (really, you need to borrow my Mum, she is brilliant at all the promo stuff!) Someone suggested I make an ‘Event’ on Facebook, as this includes an automatic reminder feature. Most people just ignored it though. I sent about a million emails. Then I waited.

The majority of people completely ignore the invitation. Several reply to decline. A few (precious) people accept. Of those who accept, some never actually show up on the day. This seems normal, so invite more than you need to.

Before the event, plan the space. Think about where people will buy the book, where you will sign them, where the food and drink will go. You want to have a flow of people around the space, so might want to separate the book signing from the book buying. You will also need to ask people to help, because everyone wants to speak to the author, so you really cannot be taking money or pouring drinks. You want the atmosphere to seem welcoming, so we had some music playing. If your book has a particular setting, you might decide to theme the launch – such as decorating the space with posters or dressing up as a pirate or whatever if that’s relevant. My book is about a psychopathic poisoner – but I decided not to do that. Though it would have increased my fame considerably. I did send off photos of the cover and get them enlarged as posters.

Most authors read some of the book at the launch. I didn’t want to do that. When I read a book, I see the characters in my head, I hear their voices, I imagine whole scenes. Then if the book is made into a film, I am always disappointed. If the film comes first, when I later read the book, the characters all look and sound like the actors in the film. So, I did not want people to hear the book in my voice. I wanted them to hear their own phrasing as they read, their own accents.

I did however, give a speech. It was a chance to thank all the people who helped to produce the book. I also explained why I had written the book, what I was trying to show, and what I had found when researching it.

So, now for some facts.

If I am honest about my costs, I made roughly £2 profit on every book I sold. Which, when you compare it to selling via shops/Amazon is good. That money will offset the cost of printing all those other books.

Was it worth it? Financially, it wasn’t exactly a fortune. Anyone who tells you that a book launch recoups most of your publishing costs is either lying or knows something I don’t. (Unless, I guess, they publish very few, very expensive books that they then sell to select friends.)

However, the event did give me a ‘hook’ so that local journalists publicised me/my books – and you never know if later, when someone sees my books in a shop they will be more likely to buy it.

It also widened my reader base. I invited people to the launch that perhaps I wouldn’t have been brave enough to simply ask to buy my book. Hopefully, those people will like it and tell other people.

Also, as an experience, for me, it was worth it. I have never done anything like that before, I’ve never been on the radio before, never hosted a public event where literally anyone might show up. I think it was good for me, and because nothing went disastrously wrong, it helped to build my confidence. Which is no small thing, because if you intend to play this game, you need LOTS of confidence!

 

xxxxx

I will let you know how things progress. Thanks for reading.