Self-publishing: one writer's experience

David Craig offers a few words on his self-publishing experience, and with the help of Andrew Lownie has recently published his book.

For almost 18 months Andrew offered my book Rip-Off! The scandalous inside story of the management consulting money machine to every publisher we could think of...

Many of the general publishers liked it, but felt that it was a “business” book and therefore not for them. The business publishers either hated it or didn't want to take it as they were afraid of harming their relationships with the major management consultancies. That left me with a choice – I could either give up and throw the book away or publish it myself. What might be interesting for other people is that I actually published it myself twice – first using a vanity publisher and then doing it “professionally” by setting up my own publishing company.

On my first attempt to publish – the benefit was that it was cheap, only a few hundred pounds. However, the book looked terrible - the typesetting wasn't done properly, the cover design was third rate, the quality was dreadful. When I saw the book, I realized that there was no way I could approach any of the retailers with it. So I junked it and decided to start all over again.

This time I approached the whole matter like a businessman and not as an amateur. I set up my own publishing company The Original Book Company with its own address, stationery etc. With Andrew's help, I found a freelance editor. For a few hundred pounds, she wrote me a report which guided me towards making over 400 changes to the text, including deleting over 10,000 words. Meantime, I went into my local bookshop and checked out which companies had printed a number of books which looked similar to how I imagined my book should look. I contacted these to get production quotes for 2,000, 5,000 and 10,000 copies. Also I asked their advice on finding a typesetter to knock the text into shape and a design studio to do the cover. This meant I managed to get people who clearly knew what they were doing. Moreover, as they had worked with the printers before, I reduced the scope for misunderstandings and cock-ups. For the cover, I looked through about 45,000 pictures from the Getty Picture Library – that took about a day. Yet out of the 45,000+ pictures, I found just one that absolutely encapsulated the subject and tone of my book.

While the book was being produced, I did the smartest move of all – again, advised by Andrew, I hired a small PR company which specialized in PR for books and worked out a 12 month PR plan with them to ensure the book got press attention. I also set up a website where people could view the book, read the first chapter free and buy the book either from the website or by clicking through to www.amazon.co.uk

For sales, I tried to use one of the several companies which represented smaller independent publishers. None would take me on as they all already had sufficient work. This was probably a benefit – if my book had just been one of the fifty or so they were presenting to retailers that month, it never would have got the attention that it got when I was selling it. To sell the book, I produced a sales pack consisting of a really striking 4-colour sales leaflet, an Advanced Information sheet and a 12-month PR plan. I was also lucky as I managed to get a prominent public figure to write a recommendation for the book. Being able to put this recommendation on both my sales leaflet and Advance Information made the whole enterprise look more substantial than it really was and gave the major retail chains some confidence that the book might be worth stocking. All this cost about £13,000 for 6,000 paperback books, PR, website and sales material.

The book was published about 3 weeks ago. To support the launch, my PR agency managed to get major feature articles in 4 national newspapers. There are about 1,200 copies somewhere out there in the shops and I've just had a re-order for another 300 copies. Today it is number 25 on Amazon.co.uk's list of bestsellers and number 5 on their top business books. And I am working with the PR agency to more press coverage and to try and interest radio and TV, otherwise there is the risk that the book will quickly disappear from public view and I'll have an awful lot of spare copies to prop up wonky tables.

What I learnt from this episode is that you have a clear decision to make – are you going small or do you really want to aim high? If you just want to sell a few hundred copies locally – just use a vanity publisher – it's cheap and cheerful and quite fun to see your most profound thoughts appearing in print. But if you believe in your product and are ready to make the investment, you must approach it like a business. But before you make that decision, test your product with the professionals – literary agents, PR agencies, editors – and take their guidance. However, having had 5 books published by mainline publishers and now having done my own self-publish, I can only say that despite many moments of utter despair, I have had a lot more satisfaction doing it myself rather than being subjected to the endless delays and problems that you get working with a mainline publisher.

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David Craig

For over 20 years, David Craig has worked for and competed against some of the world's best and worst management consultancies. He has sold consulting in 15 countries in Europe, US and Asia to almost 100 organizations, including Disney, Mobil, Dupont, Roche, Air France, Eurotunnel, The NHS, CapGe...More about David Craig