Self publishing in the UK - my progress so far

There's a bit of a lull for me at the moment - I'm waiting for various stuff to be done by other people - so I thought I'd jot down my experiences so far in self-publishing.


I'm in the process of self-publishing my non-fiction book, The Golden Web. I'm following the self-publishing route for the book because the standard non-fiction publishing route isn't really available to me. Since I'm not a television presenter or senior scientist or academic, it's unlikely a publishing house would want to commit funds to try and sell my book. I also don't have any personal connections in the UK publishing industry so I can't call on any favours or phone any ex-school publisher friends asking them to add The Golden Web to their list. That's okay though, because you don't have to be well known person to get a non-fiction book published and sold nowadays. Hooray!

Having said that, I'm only going down the self-publishing route with my non-fiction book. I'm not thinking of self-publishing my fiction book 'Faery Engines'. The reason for that is that I do have a plan for promoting and publicising my non-fiction book. Once it's available to people to buy, I'll try and get articles relating to its subject matter in appropriate magazines. There are several magazines that publish articles in the field of ancient mysteries and most will happily pay for articles from individuals. By doing that, I can increase my profile and, by adding links in the articles, promote my book. I can also attend appropriate conferences, join on-line discussions, submit to popular web sites, pay for adverts in periodicals etc etc. All of this will require time and money but I'm happy to do that. A key part of my plan for The Golden Web is that I'm treating the whole project as a business endeavour. Like any business endeavour, I'm expecting to put time and money into it at the start and probably barely break even. Hopefully though, as word of mouth spreads, I'll start to make a return. I'm not publishing The Golden Web to make money, I just feel I should let people know what I found, but my savings won't last forever!

So, what are the choices for self-publishing in the UK? Well, fortunately, it's a very different industry from what it was twenty years ago. When I was a teenager, self-publishing was very much a vanity project. An author would pay a small publishing company a pile of cash and the company would make a nice hardback version of their book, print off five hundred copies, arrange a buffet lunch where friends could buy a copy and that would be it. Those companies are still around but in the modern era of digital publishing, very different options are available to a new author.

For a start, modern, large-scale book printers can print off a single copy of a book if someone wants one and charge them the same price as if the book was part of a tradition print run. I've italicised that whole line because it's very important. Publishers don't have to commit a big, up-front cost to publishing a book because printers no longer print in minimum print runs of a thousand or more copies. Brilliant!

Secondly, you don't have to persuade bookshops to stock your book in order to get some sales. The rise of amazon means that as long as the book is available from a printer/distributor, people can buy copies through amazon without bookshops even being involved. I'd certainly like my books to be available in bookshops. I'm hoping to persuade my local independent bookshops to stock The Golden Web when it's available but it isn't necessary.

Thirdly, the rise of eReaders like Kindle have created an entirely new market to sell a book. There are authors now who have become rich just by selling their novels as digital downloads. The Kindle market is particularly well suited to authors who can produce a series of books of a similar style in a popular genre, like sci-fi epics or supernatural romances or chick-lit etc.

Right, that's the overview of self-publishing. What about specifics? Well, here's what I found:

Firstly, I was going to use createspace. This is Amazon.com's self-publishing system. I went for them because it made sense to sell my book through Amazon. They're big, nearly everyone uses them and they have a huge market in digital sales to Kindle devices. I also got a discount token because I entered a novel in the amazon breakthrough novel award, a yearly competition they run to find the next great author. It's a great competition to enter because it's free and you get impartial feedback. There's also a deadline which can encourage you to complete and polish up your opus! A word of warning though; the young adult is very commercial. From what I can tell, they're desperate for the next Stephanie Meyer Twilight author. I'm not sure that much else will get a look in.

Anyway, I put my book together using the CreateSpace web site system. It works well and is very helpful. There are templates for authors unable to do their own layouts and book cover design. The problem came for me when I wanted to order a proof copy of my book. CreateSpace is based in the U.S., which is fine when things are digital but when you want a physical copy, you have to order from the U.S. and pay U.S. shipping fees. Each proof copy will therefore cost forty quid if you want it in a week, or fifteen quid if you're willing to wait a month (those are approximate values). Also, if your book sells, you'll be paying U.S. taxes on the book. There's no sign at the moment of a U.K. version of CreateSpace either. All in all, very impractical for a U.K. author.

Because of that, I looked for an alternative publisher. Companies like Lulu are often mentioned but again, they're U.S. based (as far as I know). Fortunately, I found one that was U.K. based; FeedARead. FeedARead are funded by the Arts Council and have been set up to help UK authors self publish. The way they can do that is through their connection to Lightning Source.

Lightning Source is a very important outfit. It is a very modern, digital, printer and distributor. It prints and distributes huge numbers of books every month, supplying the large bookstore chain both here and in the U.S. On top of that, its very happy to work directly with small publishers. If you run a limited company and want to publish some books, it'll happily work with you. You give the company the digital version of your book and an ISBN number and they'll put it in their digital library. When someone orders your book in a bookstore, the bookstore can request a copy from Lightning Source and they'll print it and send it out in a week or so (roughly).

FeedARead acts as a middle-man between Lightning Source and authors who a) don't want to set up a limited company and b) would also like some help with the process of submitting a book for publication. In that sense, they supply a similar service to CreateSpace. FeedARead do take a commission per sale but the author always retains copyright and so can switch to another publishing setup should they want to.

Because of all these factors, I've been using FeedARead to publish The Golden Web. I've also used Amazon's Kindle Direct Service to create a Kindle version of The Golden Web. That was fairly straightforward although making a kindle version of a non-fiction book, with images etc, wasn't easy. I'll write about that when I'm sure my approach has worked by borrowing a friend's kindle and buying a copy of the book.

Right, that's enough for now. I'll add some more info when The Golden Web is available for purchase (it's currently working its way through the system at FeedARead-LightningSource). For other people looking to publish their books, I hope that was helpful!