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Sultana's Dream
April 2012


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So You STILL Wanna Be a Writer!


Popular opinion has it that getting published has never been easier. With new technologies, such as electronic publishing, and print on demand, writers can take their destiny into their own hands. But does this mean you should? This article will present an overview of the traditional publishing process, so you know what you need to replicate if you decide to self-publish.

Not understanding the process of publishing is one of the biggest mistakes self-published writers make. Most seem to take the view that publishers are obsolete guardians of literature with a capital L, whereas these new technologies provide a democratic option for readers to decide what is quality.

This camp points to Amanda Hocking as the prime example of publishers not knowing a good thing when they see one. Hocking wrote paranormal YA fiction and couldn’t get a publishing deal to save her life. Frustrated, she eventually self-published on-line via Amazon’s Kindle. One million sales later, she accepted a publishing contract with St Martin’s Press, a decision that shocked those in the blogosphere who saw her as the ‘poster child’ for sticking it to publishers.

Hocking defends her decision saying: ’I'm a writer. I want to be a writer. I do not want to spend 40 hours a week handling emails, formatting covers, finding editors, etc. Right now, being me is a full time corporation. As I said before…I am spending so much time on things that are not writing.’ It is worth reading her blog posts where she discusses her decision as she delves into her reasons which include all the work she had to do that a publisher usually would on her behalf.

So, on to the overview of what happens in a traditional publishing house. Like Hocking, you will have to undertake many of these responsibilities yourself if you self-publish:

  • Editing process: A publishing house will generally undertake three edits.
  • Structural edit: The manuscript is edited for consistency in point of view and intention, and structural flow.
  • Line edit: Checking of grammar and spelling.
  • Proofreading: Checking the lay out of the book to ensure errors haven’t occurred, as well as weeding out ‘Orphans’ single word lines to eliminate extra pages and keep costs down.
  • The cover: Usually, an author will be presented with a few different covers designed by a graphic artist. The author will have input, but ultimately the decision is made in the marketing meeting by the publisher and marketing department.
  • The blurb: The editor writes the blurb with the aim of enticing the reader.
  • The Puff: The publishing house will submit a review copy to authors in the genre to provide a quote for the cover.
  • Promotion: Free review copies will be sent to magazines / journals / newspapers so that the book is reviewed to coincide with the release.
  • Publication: The book is published a few weeks before the release date and the author receives a certain number of free copies.
  • Distribution: The sales team promotes the book to bookshops prior to the release date and drums up orders.
  • Launch: Usually the publisher funds this if the author can guarantee a certain number. Otherwise the author organises the launch with a bookstore they have a relationship with.
  • Promotion: The publicist coordinates interviews for the author. This process would have started months before when the author provides a Q&A about themselves, their book, and what networks they have. The publicist will advise the author and, in some cases, accompany the author to support them while undertaking publicity events.

As you can see, there are numerous people involved in producing, editing, publishing, distributing and promoting a book. At the very least, an editor, graphic designer, marketing person, sales person and publicist.

If you self-publish you will need to take on all of these duties yourself. While not insurmountable, this does require a great deal of work, networking and developing new skills. Most importantly, it means undertaking thorough research to ensure your venture is a success. Unfortunately, many self-published writers skip over this in their excitement.

How do you know self-publishing is for you?

Niche -Does your book fit into a niche that traditional publishers have overlooked?

Self-publishing succeeds when it taps into something new that publishers are too risk-averse to touch. In Hocking’s case, she wrote about trolls, a new trend that didn’t seem to have that ‘wow’ factor that would appeal to readers. She succeeded, however, by offering a new spin on the paranormal angle.

Adding value -Do you have a marketing plan to add value to your marketing efforts?

If you have a niche then you also hopefully have a reader base you can tap into. This could be through club memberships, accessing forums, or advertising in media that deal with your particular topic/genre.  Bob Young, founder of Print on Demand publisher Lulu, points to the book The Replica Watch Report by Richard Brown (a Lulu bestseller), that the author sells at collectors’ fairs all over the USA.

Networking -Do you have the networks to tap into in order to successfully undertake your venture?

One of the biggest criticisms directed at self-published books is under-editing. Most writers are inexperienced and don’t understand the rigorous editing process that a traditionally published book goes through. If there is one thing you must spend money on, or develop networks for, it is ensuring your book is edited structurally and line edited. Pesky typos will ruin the reader’s experience and guarantee a bad review.

Realistic expectations -Do you have realistic expectations about the sales of your book?

Some statistics from an excellent article on self-publishing by Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc: ‘The average printed book from a Print on Demand service sells fewer than 200 copies, mostly to ‘pocket’ markets surrounding the author–friends, family, local retailers who can be persuaded to place an order–and to the author him/herself. At, one of the most popular and cost-effective of the POD services, the average print run is fewer than 2 copies.

So, if you still feel that self-publishing is a viable option for you, check back to discover the how of it all.

Amra Pajalic

The next instalment will provide information to help you get started on your self-publishing journey.