Self Publishing - Finding the Right Help

Original cover art for Ice Dancing

I don't normally write 'how to' posts, these days . But I keep meeting writers who want to dip a toe in self publishing waters, either because they have old out-of-print books nagging away at them, or because they've written more than their publisher can reasonably cope with, or because they are tired of the long slog towards traditional publication, or because they have a project that they just want to get 'out there'. 

As well as researching a new project for my traditional publisher, I've spent some time during lockdown  revamping a couple of older books. I'd already published both of them as eBooks on various platforms, but I wanted them to be available in paperback. Both of them were well reviewed, and when I went back to them I still quite liked them. Always a good sign. Like most writers, I have several bottom drawer 'practice' novels that ought to stay just where they are - but these had fallen into the gap between publishers.

First I tackled Bird of Passage, and then moved on to Ice Dancing. Let's face it, most print on demand paperbacks are never going to be as lovely as the books my publisher, Saraband, makes. They've produced some wonderful covers and beautifully designed books for me. On the other hand, if you want only a few copies, and also want your books to be available in paperback for those who can't cope with eBooks, then you might well want to look at POD paperbacks. 

My advice to anyone with even a modicum of tech skill - by which I mean if you can handle a blog like this one or sell on eBay - would be to publish your own edited eBooks, but get some help with formatting the paperback. As long as you're thinking of a normal novel or collection of short stories, it has become easier and easier to publish an eBook. I use Amazon to start with, and D2D for every other platform. You need a good clean edited Word document, and a cover, or a good cover image - and that's about it. 

I'm lucky in that my husband Alan Lees is an artist, so I can pinch his images for some of my covers. He painted the cover image for Ice Dancing, for example. Sometimes I use my own photographs. Amazon itself will give you basic cover design for eBooks, and if you're only going for the eBook version, and have a good strong image in which you own the copyright, that's probably all you'll need. But there are excellent freelance designers out there as well and you could and should think of commissioning them. 

Paperbacks are much more tricky. The paperback will demand a formatted PDF and a specific cover design, and if it's not done properly, the upload process will be fraught with difficulty. I took one look at the 'easy' instructions and realised that it wasn't for me! But I didn't want to hand over control of these two books to anyone else either. A friend suggested a company who had published her paperback, but I bought a copy and although I loved the actual book, I found the formatting, both for eBook and paperback, not as good as it might have been in return for quite a restrictive contract. There seems little point in doing self publishing, only to lose control. 

Then I found the excellent Lumphanan Press  here in Scotland. And I've been more than pleased with the service they offer. They will give you the help you need, without the hard sell so often associated with other companies. I wanted a decent cover design, for which I supplied my own images and blurbs  - and I wanted a formatted PDF that I could upload smoothly and that would produce a reasonable book. Both of these were supplied at a price I could afford. Both uploaded without any tears. I tweaked the blurb myself, realising that my original draft for one of the books had been far too long for a paperback cover - something you tend to notice only when you actually see it. 

The other error was entirely my own fault. Post edit, I had managed to delete a whole chapter from one of the novels, and then foolishly reformatted the chapter numbers so that I spotted the omission only at the last minute, when I was doing a final proof check of the PDF. Fortunately, Duncan at Lumphanan came to the rescue immediately and inserted the missing chapter without any fuss. (I always save many drafts so the chapter was still there of course!)

Realistically, I'm not expecting to make much if anything in the way of profits from these two books. And there will be a third that I'll bring out once I've completed my current traditional mega project. But they always felt like unfinished business, a few people had asked for them - and for all that I do most of my fiction reading in eBook form, these days, it's still good to hold the solid reassurance of a paperback in your hand.

If you want more distribution without being tied to that big river place, there are other print on demand options. I have friends who sell large numbers of their very popular self published paperbacks at fairs and shows, and whose local bookshops will stock and publicise their books. There is, if you look for it, a great deal of help out there, plenty of people who know more than I do about this, and are generous with advice.

Just make sure you don't sign away your rights to somebody who will then go on to demand large sums of money for doing many of the jobs you can either do yourself, or sub contract to experts. That's vanity publishing, and still a bad idea.