The Ins and Outs of Self-Publishing

I am going to present here material that I developed on techniques of self-publishing for a number of talks that I have presented on this topic in the last year or so.

These days, more authors are facing the daunting task of self-publishing. Although time-consuming, preparing a book in a format and appearance that equals that of professional publishers is not all that difficult from your own computer using a common program like Microsoft Word™. Nor do you need special word processing skills. Some key points are:

Weight of the book. Keeping the book below 500g will save postage costs. This means restricting an A5 sized paperback to less than about 320 pages. This is important for overseas sales.

Front cover. The appearance and design of the cover is very important for sales. If the customer does not pick up the book, they won’t buy it.

Maps, plans and images. Use these generously. They help to make your history story understood, and they make your book attractive. The cost of colour plates dispersed throughout your story is no longer prohibitive. Maps are easy to draw, and names easy to add using free software, such as Goggle Picasa™. Most family history programs have easy systems to draw ancestry charts. Digitised images of old prints, drawings and paintings held in many archives and libraries are readily available at low cost or free, and are out of copyright.

Fonts. Choose a font that suits your story. In my recent book, Two Squatters, I used Garamond 11pt for my text, but for the cover, I used Lucida Calligraphy because it seemed to match the cover image better. You should not mix fonts too much. However, I found Times New Roman was better than Garamond for chapter headings and headers and footers.

Endings. Work hard on writing a good concluding chapter. Everyone knows that the opening paragraph in the opening chapter is important, but equally a satisfying conclusion is important. This is hard to control when one is writing non-fiction. Avoid making it too much of a summary or repetition.  It is not a place to deposit information you have not used elsewhere in the book, but forgot to include.

Footnotes and Endnotes. Extensive footnotes can disrupt the flow of the text, make the appearance of the page messy, and can be a constant distraction. Placing these as endnotes at the end of the chapter avoids this, but means that the reader may have difficulty finding the last page of a chapter to look up an endnote. Many non-fiction authors group the endnotes together after the last chapter. If you do this, re-start the numbering of endnotes for each chapter by using section breaks. This avoids you ending up with huge reference numbers in the text.

Promotion and Marketing. Ideally, plan this before you go to print. Set up your own website. This can be done using a DIY website provider. Set up a blog site such as that offered by WordPress™. Plan to write new blogs regularly – 500 words every month. Link these to social networks such as Twitter™and Facebook™. Hold a book launch, but make publicity easier by linking it to a literary festival. Pricing your book is difficult. Your recommended retail price needs to be high enough for you to cover your out-of-pocket costs of printing, images, ISBN and barcodes, and up to 40 percent commission by many large booksellers. Selling privately, selling online, and selling through specialty outlets, such as the RHSV, are important if you are to recover your costs.

Legalities. Include your legal page on the reverse side of your title page. This should include your publishing name and ABN, publication date, a copyright statement, and the cataloguing information from the National Library. You obtain this from the Library beforehand and reproduce it. This also ensures that your book appears in the Trove search system. Register your book with Books in Print™. This makes sure that your book is listed internationally. Large bookshops and libraries will then be aware of it.

Next time I will continue with some more detail on aspects of self-publishing. Specialist non-fiction works will nearly always have small markets, and are relatively unattractive to commercial publishers, so self-publishing will become the norm for many authors in this genre. Fortunately, modern home computers and good word-processing software allow the self-publisher to achieve standards of publication equal to those of mainstream publishers.


2 thoughts on “The Ins and Outs of Self-Publishing

  1. Great hints. In part 2 can you possibly mention letting the local library and historical societies know of your publication. You may live in QLD but your story may be set in Parramatta NSW. Let these organisations know of your book as they will more than likely purchase copies for their collection. Some societies will purchase copies to onsell. Prepare an article about your book, the people the localties to whet reader’s appetites and provide to local family history groups to use as articles on their journals/newsletters. (This could be just a matter of re-using a blogpost) Finally mention Legal Deposit.

  2. Many thanks for those useful comments and ideas, Michelle. I will be covering in more detail ideas on promotion, marketing, distribution and selling your book

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