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It’s a Complicated Business

September 22nd, 2014

Self-Publish-blogThey used to call it ‘Vanity-Publishing,’ but that was back in the days of rotary telephones and four channel TV. These days it’s ‘Self-Publishing,’ and it’s quite the thing. There’s loads of ‘Book-Making’ websites out there, Amazon even has one of its own. But are they any good? What do they actually provide? Do you have to pay them up front? And do they take a cut of your profits? (should you ever make any).

Now, I’m really cautious about things like this – ask my wife. I don’t like signing agreements or anything. So with my sceptical eye, I’ve been looking into Self-Publishing. And what have I found? Well, it’s a complicated business, and if you’re after a useful stock of printed books, it’s not cheap. Nonetheless, it looks exciting and, I must admit, I’m sorely tempted to have a go.

To illustrate how diverse the market is, there are two companies I want to talk about. The first is Blurb – an online, Do It Yourself business from California. With them, you download some special software, then put your book together on your computer at home. You do everything – copy-editing; cover design; layout; proofing … They ship stock out internationally (though not everywhere) and, for the EU, books are printed in Holland. You can order anything from a single copy to a run of ten thousand (or more), and it’s relatively cheap. But the only support is email messaging. There’s nobody to talk to at the end of the phone if you get stuck, and if you make a mess of things, nobody points it out to you.

The other company is very different. YPS (York Publishing Services) are recommended by the Writers and Artists Yearbook – which is quite a commendation. If you go to their website and click the Contact button, the first thing you see is a telephone number in big, bold type. And if you dial that number, you get to speak to a very pleasant real person who, in my case, managed to answer most of my questions on the spot.

With YPS, your project is overseen by a ‘Design Manager.’ Following discussions with you, she makes up three specimen designs with different layouts, then once you’ve chosen the one you like, your manuscript goes through a three stage process of first, then second proof-reading, finishing up with a single ‘Proof Bound Copy.’ At that stage, if you’re happy with everything, your book goes to print. Now, obviously, all that proofing and design work costs money, so it doesn’t make sense to work with YPS for a small number of books. But for runs of 200 and up, it seems a viable option (the more you have printed, the cheaper it is for each one).

I asked both companies to quote for 250 copies of a 350 page novel in standard paperback format. At Blurb this came to (deep breath now) £1448.02* (£5.79 per copy). The same run at YPS would be £2060** (£8.24 a copy).

So, which way to go? On the Blurb hand it’s less expensive, and you could even start with a run of 25 books. But it looks like a lot of work, you have to be at least comfortable with computers, and you may have to pay extra for proof-reading and illustration. On the YPS hand it seems (from the contact I’ve had with them) that you’re in good hands, and the bigger a run you go for the cheaper it gets per book. But you have to lay out quite a chunk to get started. And either way, there’s no guarantee you’ll make any money at all for your trouble.

For myself, I’ve not actually used either company, so I’m not in a position to point you one way or the other. But what I would say about Self-Publishing is – don’t rush into anything. Producing a stock of print books is only part of the process. There’s also eBooks, ISBN numbers, bar codes, marketing and promotion, copyright and licensing … a whole lot of stuff to think about. So, if you fancy giving it a try, take your time, do LOTS of research, and make sure you know exactly what you’re getting into before you sign any agreements.

Keep on writing!

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*  There’s an Express Shipping option which would take the cost up to £1699.13

** If you provide your own cover, the cost comes down to £1785

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