I could wax lyrical about the inner book and all that but hardly a day goes by when someone tells me how much they would like to write a book. Well, in many respects, it's never been easier to publish your own.
For over 15 years I have been published by major UK publishing houses who have then sold the rights to my books to many countries from China, US, Indonesia, Greece, Australia and others in between. So the decision to publish my own picturebook - The Copper Tree - a book to help young children come to terms with death and loss - was a big decision - not least because I didn't want to upset my editors and agent. But this story was deeply personal, a cathartic response to the premature death of my sister in law and I wanted to oversee the creative process and finished product. To some extent this process was probably easier for me since I am an established author but I am a great believer in encouraging everyone to have a go. What's good enough for Mark Twain, Virginia Wolff, Beatrix Potter, James Joyce, Rudyard Kipling and Charlotte Bronte, to name just a few - is good enough for me. This is not a definitive guide, as such, but one borne out of experience.
So here are some top tips.
Research The Market: Is there an established genre into which your book might fit - or is there a chance you could establish your own? Fifty Shades Of Grey broke new territory in many respects and now many are galloping alongside. Jane Eyre Laid Bare looks set to rattle Bronte bones later this year.
Establish The Team
Editor: Quite a number of freelance editors have previously held positions in major publishing houses. Source one that specialises in the sort of book you are writing. A good editor will oversee the whole work, spot flaws in, and help to tighten the plot, advise on structure and, if necessary, suggest better phrasing and words. Authors, by nature, have an editorial mind to a degree, so comments can lead to lively discussions!
Designer: Similarly, like the editor, a number of designers are now freelance having honed their talents with established publishers. Designers will help with layout and with the cover. Check out the designer's style - is it in keeping with what you are hoping to achieve? A specialist in Disney style illustrations may not necessarily help a book on erotic fiction for women - or would they?
Find A Printer and Distributor: Lots of stories abound about 'vanity publishers' but there are reputable companies out there. I sourced one that, in addition to publishing, would store and distribute, had an established reputation with the major chains and would ship abroad. For a modest monthly fee this means my spare room isn't stacked out and I can get on with other things rather than search about for jiffy bags.
Nielsen Book Data. Register with these and add in the book details. Authors and publishers who supply Nielsen with new product information "immediately gain visibility for their books on the international market" including Amazon. The resource is available to booksellers, libraries and publishers worldwide.
Proof Reader: Proofs will be supplied by the printer for checking before the final print run goes ahead. An effective proof reader will spot the minor errors that may have been overlooked and also, like the editor, comment on structure and plot. They are the attention to detailers who will make sure the grammar gurus don't go twittering when the book is out there.
PR and Publicity: This, together with marketing, is highly valuable. A good PR firm will have established contacts, check on lead times with major magazines and newspapers for previews and reviews, liaise with tv, radio and online sites and look for potential news angles and hooks as well as source opportunities such as appearances at literary festivals. Not everyone feels comfortable behind a microphone but no one would object to being Book Of The Week in You magazine.
Marketing: Whereas PR deals primarily with the consumer, marketing agents will focus on the trade and will liaise with retail outlets, wholesalers such as Gardners and Bertrams, which then sell on to Waterstones, Smiths, Amazon, independent book shops and library suppliers. Often PR firms will take on some of the marketing and vice versa. It should be noted that Waterstones is more than a bookseller. They have a highly effective department that helps small publishers and local writers.
Website, tags and keywords: Establishing a website is a great anchor to showcase your work. Reviews and latest news can be featured together with background to the book and details of you as the author. A good web designer will not only advise on style but also research the keywords and tags that will help your title leap out in a google search.
Foreign rights: My foreign rights agent sold the rights to The Copper Tree within six weeks of publication to Korea and Thailand and there is more interest from other countries as I write. With stands and meetings arranged at major bookfairs such as Frankfurt, Bologna and London, foreign rights agents can be the icing on the cake in the sense that the selling of rights to other countries can help to undercut the unit costs.
Consultants: Even though my picturebook was a work of fiction I was dealing with a real and sensitive issue - grief and loss in terms of how it can affect children. The book was also, in a sense, designed to help parents, teachers and carers as well. I write from instinct but I asked bereavement consultants, psychologists, families and teachers to consider my work and I took on board their comments.
Finally don't lost faith. It might be necessary to maintain the day job and it may be foolish to invest life savings but with careful management and constant monitoring publishing your own book can be an exciting and rewarding venture.
Hilary Robinson will be appearing at the Manx Literary Festival, Isle of Man. The festival takes place between 27th and 30th of September 2012.
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