Cover SP cropLast week we looked at Step 1 – the most important step of all – Write a Great Book! This week it’s all about options, as we walk through the various ways you might choose to self-publish.

When I started my research into indie publishing way back in May last year, there were so many routes open to authors it was mind-boggling. I made pages and pages of notes, and in July wrote this post optimistically titled: Self Publishing Options: All you need to know. I distilled my research into this useful spreadsheet comparing the most prevalent options in the UK.

I’ve just checked most of the companies compared on this list and the information is still up to date. But I no longer stand by my claim that Matador are ‘the best of the author solutions companies’. They are fab for sure, but companies like Silverwood are just as viable.

While this comparison is undoubtedly useful – and should save you a bit of legwork – I can now narrow down the options to two main routes:

  1. Do it all yourself.
  2. Pay someone else to do it all for you.

Neither of these routes are as simple as they sound, however. For a start, doing it all yourself doesn’t mean literally do it all – it means source the skills and services you need individually. Editing, proofreading, cover design, printing etc – this is the route I have taken, and there are both pros and cons (explored below). Equally, paying someone else to do it for you won’t actually cover it all – there are some things you simply can’t buy. You still have to get out there and sell your book! Plus, there is a marked loss of overall control and manageability in taking the second route. So, let’s look at them in a bit more detail:

Option 1: Putting the ‘self’ into self-publishing

What some might call the true indie route, if you choose this path you will be the project manager of your book. We’ll be looking at each of the steps in this guide so there’s no need to feel overwhelmed – many authors have successfully navigated this route and you can too.

Pros

Total control! While route 2 also offers control over such aspects as cover design and (to an extent) the size and feel of your book, there are limitations. If you go it alone you get to choose everything – trim size, paper thickness, typeface, cover image and style (some publishing solutions companies have limited access to design), price, royalty, where and when it’s sold, e-formatting design, listing categories, keywords … OK, I’ll stop now. You get the picture. Total control means you choose your own editor and cover designer – you choose how much you want to pay, ask for referrals and negotiate etc – or you can do it yourself, of course. Total control means the end product is exactly the way you want it to be.

Instant information. With Amazon KDP the indie author gets instant feedback on sales and downloads; Lightning Source and CreateSpace provide regular reports on paperback sales. This is important for a number of reasons, not least of which is that you can track marketing activities and see which, if any, are working.

Monthly royalty payments. Many author solutions companies pay royalties six monthly. This is, if you don’t mind me saying so, rubbish. Amazon, Lightning Source and CreateSpace all pay monthly (Amazon: 2 months in arrears; LS: 3 months in arrears; Amazon US and LS wait until earnings reach $100/£100 respectively before issuing payments). As an indie author, it’s important to be in control of this stuff.

Cons

Total control! That’s right, it’s both a blessing and a curse. With complete control comes complete accountability and a lot of stress. If your proofreader’s a bit rubbish and misses tons of errors it’s your fault because you chose them. If you do your own cover, or approve a bad design, ditto. So many decisions to make can be overwhelming – which is why lots of authors do chose to have a company help them out and hold their hands through the process. But hey – that’s what I’m doing right here, guys …

If you do decide to go it alone, in my current opinion, there are really only 2 options for printing in the UK. (There are, of course, many options, but these are the main two my research has thrown up.) Lightning Source and CreateSpace. These days there’s very little to choose between them if you are a UK author – even six months ago there were big differences, which was why I went with Lightning Source. But now … well, let’s just say that novel number three from the pen of yours truly will probably be printed and distributed by CreateSpace. The only main differences I can see right now are that CS don’t offer a matt laminated cover, and that they send author copies from the US with costly shipping. BUT they get your book for sale on Amazon much quicker, and their upload process it very easy to use. Lightning Source are fast and efficient, and they will list books with Gardners for possible book shop distribution (you have to get the shops to stock, of course).

Option 2: Throw a bit of money at it

Now let’s look at the pros and cons of route 2 – choosing an author solutions company. Well, what do they do, exactly? The short answer is pretty much everything; the long answer is more complex. At its worst, you could end up spending £thousands and have a product that is no better (or possibly worse) than if you’d taken the route above. Many companies use Lightning Source for POD printing so there’s no difference there. You’ll be paying them an all-in sum that will (should) include editing and proofreading and cover design – but you have no control over the quality of these. Some companies offer distribution – Matador have a very good track record of this – but you will have to pay for the printing of all those copies up front, of course. Will you break even? This is something you will need to investigate fully. (Watch out for the next post on costs and breaking even.)

Pros

Expertise and hand-holding. If you choose a really good company, like Silverwood Books, you will have the benefit of someone’s publishing experience and a colleague to bounce ideas off. Many authors are too close to their books, and make mistakes with cover design, say, or in the final edit. A reputable company will mimic the values of a good trad-publisher and ensure your book is of the best possible quality.

Distribution. As mentioned above, if you choose a company with a proven track record in distribution – and choose to pay for it – you will get your book into bookshops. Without super-human effort, this is almost impossible for the indie author going it alone.

Kudos. I debated with myself whether to add this as a pro, but decided I would, as for many authors having a publisher’s name on their book is important. Matador and Silverwood are both recognised quality brands, so if this is important to you it’s certainly a pro.

Cons

Cost. Well, of course it isn’t cheap! Expect to pay at least £800+ for a basic package (and if it includes proofreading and cover design it should be at least this – beware of companies that are too cheap). Then add on extra costs for additional services. Some companies ask you to pay for warehouse stock (for distribution) – this can run in the £thousands. As a minimum you’ll need six copyright library copies and a few for yourself – POD is the most cost effective printing option. Many authors who have used an self-publishing company have incurred upfront costs of between £1,500 and £3,000.

Work out how many books you’ll have to sell to get this back.

Loss of control. As we talked about above, if you hand over control to another company you lose something. Factor in the lack of available sales figures and instant information – or at least remember to ask the questions about reporting and royalties before signing up.

Coming next week – Step 3: Budgeting for success.

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