Tuesday, 12 September 2006

Self Publishing

When I arrived home after cycling round the world I was excited about the chance to get my book published, earn a nice advance on book number 2, and set off on a new adventure and a career as a writer. Unfortunately it has not quite worked out like that.

None of the big guns wanted to publish my book. There are various reasons for this: there are loads of travel books already, there is no witty quest or fridge involved in my book, I am not famous, this is my first book so it is a bit rough and naïve, I have worked so much on the text that I have flogged the life and charm out of it, and -ultimately- I am not as good a writer as I had dreamed of being.

It has been painful for me to accept that I am better at riding than writing, that I am no instant Laurie Lee or Paddy Fermor or Apsley Cherry Garrard, that the craft is long to learn, and that having a good story to write is no guarantee of writing a good story.

I had virtually decided to give up on the whole project, concede defeat, and start doing something I am good at instead when I came across the concept of Print on Demand (POD) self-publishing. Self-publishing had always felt to me like vanity publishing and I had no desire to spend a lot of money on piles of cheap-looking books that would sit piled embarrassingly high in storage for years. But the internet has revolutionized self-publishing and POD no longer involves financial risk and thousands of unwanted books. So I decided that, rather than quit, I would publish the book of my ride through Africa myself. I have done this for personal satisfaction and because I hated the thought of quitting. I decided to publish only Africa for now for a few reasons: if the book is terrible then I have not used up all my great material for future use when perhaps I have become a better writer. Also, if it is awful, then I have not wasted even more of my time (and the reader’s!) by droning on even further about something that nobody is interested in. And thirdly, if this book for some reason proved to be popular, then I would have the chance to write two books rather than just one!

I think it may be interesting for me to outline the new world of self-publishing that I am so excited by. To publish this book I paid £300 up front on www.pabd.co.uk, downloaded the text as a Word document online, downloaded the front and back cover (made for me kindly by Jim Shannon, www.jimshannon.co.uk) as a JPEG file, chose the price of my book (PABD subtract the price of printing and a percentage commission from the total: the rest is mine) and clicked ‘Go’. My book is then instantly available for sale worldwide on websites such as Amazon. It makes no difference from then on whether I sell 1 copy or 1000000. And that is it. Done. Published.

The process is so simple that I really believe it will be the future of publishing. There are no middle-men skimming the profits, nobody forcing you to choose certain covers or edit the text in ways you disagree with. And I can change the text whenever I wish. There can be much fluidity and contact between author and reader. Email me through my website to say that Chapter 8 is rubbish and I can improve the offending chapter instantly. The concept has so much potential.

There are, however, three main

1. To get a book into a big bookshop you generally have to pay the bookshop a fortune. If you want the book placed in a good spot in the bookshop you pay them even more (have a look next time you are in a book shop at how they push just a few books: the 3-for-2 tables and the Bestsellers shelf just inside the front door). It is not a world for small-fry. It is a world for famous people, big sellers, and a select few others who are either lucky, brilliant, or probably both. The only marketing this book will receive is that which I can do myself.
2. The POD author has no expert editing help. This is my biggest regret of all, and my book would have been so much better with professional people saying, “this is rubbish, this is good, why not try this…” and so on. For a first-time writer that would be invaluable.
3. I wish that this book had lots of photos: they are key to a great travel book. But colour photos were not an option here.

But I am glad to have just got the book finished. It might not look quite as pretty as a ‘normal’ book. It is not a brilliant book. It is simple, home-made and there may be a few errors. But I think of this book fondly now like my ride itself: at the start nobody was interested; I even doubted myself whether I was doing the right thing. But I muddled on and I got there in the end. Like the ride, this book is not pretty, perfect, or brilliant, but I’m proud of it anyway.

Article outlining the long and winding road towards publication

More on Self Publishing

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