How to Get Your Own Book Published: A Step-by-Step Guide | Silver

“A A literary agent at the top of her game tells us she gets around 3,000 submissions a year,” says Joe Sedgwick, head of writing services at The Literary Consultancy. “Of these, she asks to see the complete manuscripts of about 70. Of these writers, she will accept perhaps five to 10.”

Faced with these obstacles, many people who dream of getting their writing into the hands of readers turn to self-publishing.

Do it yourself

Paul Ilett self-published his first novel, Exposé, in 2014 and sold around 35,000 copies worldwide. He is about to release his second, Exposed. “The second time around, I didn’t consider anything other than self-publishing. I am very comfortable having full control over my book, its appearance, content and promotion. »

Cost recovery depends on selling enough copies to earn royalties. Photograph: Hugh Threlfall/Alamy

Ilett used Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) service, which basically doesn’t cost a penny. In addition to e-books, authors can choose to offer paperbacks and hardbacks, to be produced on a print-on-demand basis.

Darren Hardy, UK Author and Editorial Programs Manager at Amazon.co.uk, says: “The author needs to follow a few simple steps to get this book uploaded to KDP and then published anywhere in the world, and there is no fees or costs attached.

Be aware of the costs

Being “in charge” also means managing all stages of publication. Hitting the KDP publish button is free, but getting a book ready for readers, with some editing and design work, and then marketing it later, isn’t.

Ilett estimates that you would need a budget of around £4,000 to produce a professional quality book.

For starters, according to the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, the recommended minimum hourly rate for basic editing – to ensure your work is grammatically correct and free of repetition and misused vocabulary – is £31.30. A proofreader will charge from £26.90 per hour.

Cost recovery is dependent on sufficient sales to accrue royalties. For e-books, Amazon pays 70% or 35%, depending on the cover price (£1.79-£9.99 usually qualifies for 70%), with royalties paid 60 days after the sale. For hard copies, KDP pays 60% to the author, less manufacturing costs.

Other services

Man wearing red t-shirt and jeans sitting on sofa using laptop
The most important characteristic for an author is that he wants to do it for himself. Photography: Camera Press Ltd/Alamy

Unlike KDP, Matador Troubador, the self-publishing arm of Troubador, screens manuscripts and will reject a portion of those submitted. It gives a sample price of around £725 to turn a “192-page MS Word manuscript into print-ready files (includes typesetting, design, ISBN, barcode, cover…everything to prepare the manuscript for printing)”, but points out the costs vary.

The Choir Press, a Gloucester-based self-publishing services company, specializes in print books. He charges around £583 for a print-ready manuscript for 10 small color paperback copies – subsequent copies printed on demand. A 50,000-word manuscript, including editorial work, would cost around £1,739. There is an additional cost for ebooks.

You can’t assume you’re going to sell a lot of books because you might not sell any

The average royalty paid by The Choir Press is 19.7% of the cover price. “Our model is unusual in that we pay the author the difference between the print cost we quote and the wholesale price,” says company owner Miles Bailey.

He adds: “There is an important distinction between the self-publishing world and the traditional publishing world, in that the author is our client. In the traditional model, the publisher pays the author to publish his book. With self-publishing, the author pays us.

Although the customer isn’t always right, the company relies on sales as part of its business model and rejects books if they have no chance of selling. Bailey says, “We get pretty poor manuscripts that we can’t publish, just because they’re so badly written.

It’s important to be realistic, he says. “We tell people, ‘You can’t assume you’re going to sell a lot of books because you might not sell any. Do not enter into a transaction that you cannot afford. We are very concerned about letting people know that what they are getting into involves financial risk.

Simply put, the majority will not get back what they spent. “The most important characteristic for an author is that they want to do it for themselves. Whether a small percentage recoups some or all of their costs is irrelevant,” Bailey says.

Consider crowdfunding

Brightly colored illustration showing lots of people
Some crowdfunding platforms can help you create a direct line with your audience. Photograph: Robert Kneschke/Alamy

Crowdfunding means you set a cash flow goal and people commit to donate money in exchange for a copy of your book. Indeed, you are soliciting pre-orders but, according to Oriana Leckert, director of publishing and distribution of the comic on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, it is also about “building a community and having a line directly with your audience.

It follows that people with large followings are likely to achieve the most impressive sums – American fantasy author Brandon Sanderson has raised $41 million on the platform. But it was also a hit for people without thousands of followers.

Sarah Burns, an artist raising money for two books, set herself a goal of £2,000 to cover publishing costs, but raised £13,635. Photographer Philip Butler and Art Deco Magpie Publishing raised over £10,000 (the target was £4,000) for a photo book, Tube Station Typologies 1924–1961.

In 2021, only 53% of edit campaigns hit their target, though the success rate was 82% among those with at least 25 contributors (suggesting they had done more than “ask your mother and your best friend,” says Leckert). Total fees for 100% funded projects are approximately 10% through Kickstarter.

No money changes hands unless you reach the goal, so if you don’t succeed the backers just keep their promised money and you don’t have to pay any fees. But Kickstarter is a funding platform, so if you’re successful, organizing the rest of the release process is up to you.

Intermediate publishing house

A woman typing in a library
Being “in control” also means managing each step of the publication Photographer: Aleksei Gorodenkov/Alamy

When Jane Perrone, journalist and host of the On The Ledge podcast, decided to write her houseplant book, Legends of the Leaf, she ruled out Kickstarter. “I didn’t have the time or the energy to research where to get the book printed or find someone to edit it. It’s not an efficient use of my time. I just wanted to write a book.

So she approached Unbound, where authors can fund projects through its crowdfunding platform.

Its co-founder John Mitchinson declares: “We behave very much like a traditional independent publisher. We do marketing, we have a relationship with a sales team that sells in bookstores, we do advertising, design, printing and all the services you would expect. Where it differs is that it is a sales, crowdfunding and submissions platform.

There is no guarantee that a book will make money

It’s not an easy club to join: Mitchinson estimates that only 10% of projects are submitted. A third of the books on the site are through agents, and others are by authors wanted by Unbound.

Projects typically need around 500 backers and funding targets range from around £12,000 to £30,000. Unbound begins paying royalties once the books are fully funded – if a project doesn’t reach its goal within six months (or less), there’s a “serious discussion” to be had; donors may be reimbursed and a line drawn under the project.

Attention buyer

Woman hiding behind a book
Self-publishing should never involve giving up rights to your work. Photo: Room the Agency/Alamy

Compare the services, royalties, and contracts of at least three different self-publishing companies — they often have different models, so you may not be comparing like-for-like.

There’s a world of difference between a self-publishing company that pays you for a service and those that claim to offer a publishing deal while charging you.

Bailey says: “Some companies will tell an author that they would like to offer him a contract, subject to an editorial review board. When the review board came back with comments, they said, “It’s a good book, but as you’re a first-time author, we’re going to have to charge you £6,000”. Others will offer to send your work to “a Hollywood director” for a few thousand.

Self-publishing should never involve giving up the rights to your work and, says Sedgwick: “There is no guarantee that a book will make money – no legitimate publisher or agent should ever promise that ‘a book will sell’. This also applies to self-publishing companies.

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