Why did you Self Publish?
The sheer amount of competition out there and the prospect of being another manuscript on some publisher’s slushpile didn’t tickle my fancy. (I always pictured these fabled slushpiles as being huge mountains of books stashed away in some forgotten room.) Self publishing seemed like an appropriate, pro-active way of proving my product to the publishing community. The ambition was to generate enough sales, interest and strong reviews with which to hopefully attract the interest of a publisher and cut a stronger percentage deal than a new, unproven author.
How would you describe self publishing?
Hmmm….as a cross between an amazing learning experience and a toxic migraine.
What was the biggest stumbling block you encountered as a self publisher?
Distribution. Online sales and distribution wasn’t an issue but to generate an increased product awareness you really need those books out in (physical)book stores and out in quantity. Yes you can get books stocked in stores such as Waterstones and independent book stores but without a decent distributor you will struggle to get a decent quantity dispatched at any one time. You can bypass this hurdle by paying distributors or even self publishing print companies for the privilege but the added (exotortionate) cost tends to be too high resulting in a net loss per unit sold.
Having limited distribution hurt me the most when after a prolonged marketing campaign demand increased to the point that I couldn’t match it. I had the books but not the ability to get them stocked in shelves. Furthermore I could not take up offers of book signings where book stores typically order 60 units on a sale or return basis to be signed and sold throughout the book signing event.
On a final note I did think it was a beautiful gesture on Waterstones behalf that they do allow self published authors to stock with them – giving small fish (like me!) the chance to swim with mainstream authors. (Waterstones book seller and junior club book reviews here.)
What was the biggest mistake you made?
Oh my gosh, I made sooooo many big mistakes. Mistakes that cost me money, or time, or good reviews, or stronger networking ties or any dozen other painful costs that you could think of. Perhaps the greatest error that I made, one that came back to bite, nibble and gnaw at me regularly was not paying for a basic proofread and edit. It cost me in reputation and several negative reviews (ouch*). However at the time of pre-press I had already broken my set budget and was determined not to do so again – but if I had been willing to dig a little deeper in my pockets for an extra £400-£800 it would have been an investment well made.
What do you think is the biggest mistake made by most self published authors?
Not treating their book as a product. I know, I really know how hard it is to step back from your written work but if you’re hoping to take your book and turn it into a financial success you have to treat it as a business.
How did you supply your books to Waterstones?
I got in touch with Waterstones’ Independent Publisher Coordinator who was exceptionally helpful. They have updated all their information making it easier to access. Please check out their Independent Publisher page here. The distributor for Waterstones is Gardners, you will need to open an account with them in order to send your books to Waterstones.
How did you approach independent book stores?
I made several mistakes going about this and it took me a while to perfect my pitch. I would recommend sending your book off to be reviewed (check out online book review sites and blogs) then once armed with positive book reviews make your approach. Turn up in person to the book store (don’t be lazy and merely send off letters/emails), be presentable (consider this as a job interview!) and ask to speak to the manager (or if it’s a large book store ask to speak to the person in charge of purchasing for your particular book field i.e fantasy, sci-fi, business, self-help etc). If the individual is busy leave them a letter of introduction including copies of your book reviews. Remember that persistence and politeness are your best friends!
How did you generate publicity?
From previous business experience it became apparent that radio, magazine and other paid means of advertising is never cost effective unless you have a huge budget that can maintain a prolonged marketing campaign. Word of mouth, guerilla marketing and out-the-box marketing was the way forward for me. I tried everything from getting students to help me hand out flyers in the street, working with graffiti artists (who had already been using the Charlie Keeper artwork), handing out free posters to teenagers, collaborating with my contacts in the world of parkour and gymnastics to give me eye catching photographic images and of course handing the book out to as many reviewers as possible. All of it helped garner me and my product attention.
Any other advice on advertising or marketing?
Network, network, network. It’s a horrible truth but it really isn’t what you know but who you know (and I hate that with a passion). I literally had no contacts to reach out to and creating a new network in the literary world was laborious and time consuming.
Why don’t you recommend radio/newspaper/magazine advertising?
These are all something that I’ve researched or tried previously with different business models. For smaller businesses with negligible advertising budgets the return for your layout is simply not economical.
What was the most productive advertising technique?
Postive online book reviews generated strong sales and the subversive graffiti that the Corrupt Government Crew had been spraying across London also paid off (of note the C.G.Crew and their graffiti was a fortuitous happenstance that they initiated without my knowledge. Check out their FB here and their photos here).
What was the most cost effective advertising technique?
Handing out flyers. It’s mind numbing and would bore the socks off anyone but for raising awareness in a local neighbourhood or targeting sales around a specific bookstore in terms of results vs cost it’s brilliant.
Where can I get an ISBN for my book (or other media)?
Some self publishing printers will help you out with this but if you’re going it alone you’ll need to get in touch with Nielsen registration services. ISBN’s are normally provided in batch of tens. Don’t be alarmed when they quote that ISBN’s are only available for publishers – if you’re self publishing your own works that makes you a publisher! Click here for Nielsen or contact them at:
Tel: +44 (0)1483 712 215
Fax: +44 (0)1483 712 214
As a self published author do I have to pay VAT?
There is currently no VAT (as of 2010/2011) on the sale of books. Check the HM Revenue services here. However if you sell merchandising alongside your works these items might be applicable for VAT.
Do I need to register as a company to self publish?
No, you can register as a Sole Trader (unless your turnover exceeds £73k). It’s a simpler business structure and involves a LOT less paperwork! Check out the Gov. business link here.
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