Uncle Norm’s 5-step guide to self-publishing

NORMAN GILLER, author of 84 books, and counting, really knows the score when it comes to sports publishing, and here he offers a few simple pointers to successfully getting your book into print

Tear yourself away from watching who goes in and out the door at No10 for a moment and see what you think of this idea I’ve got for a book. It’s called Publish and Be Doomed, and it features an oily-smooth chap who is about as sincere as a politician’s handshake. He talks dozens of ego-swayed sports writers into letting his company publish their books for nothing but royalties.

The punchline is that just as the authors are ready to collect their hard-earned income, the company goes into administration. They are left as empty-handed, forlorn and frustrated as an election candidate who has lost his deposit; truly hungry and angry writers.

Too far removed from reality? Unfortunately, maybe not. I am being fed all sorts of horror stories by sports book authors who have recently, so to speak, been left on the shelf.

Last week, Anton Rippon told the worrying story of two sports publishing companies that have gone bust.

Anton (describing me as “small and beautiful”. Not so much of the small, if you don’t mind) suggests I have found the key to the kingdom of successful publishing. Wish it were true.

I am still stuck in the foothills of the self-publishing mountain, and trying to find a route towards the top is about as easy as flying through Iceland’s volcanic ash.

What I can do from a springboard of years of experience in the book world (85th book under way) is offer advice to anybody out there who is contemplating the self-publishing adventure.

Giller Rule No1 is that self-publishing should be your last resort.

Only go down the self publishing route if you have exhausted the mainstream publishers, who can be trusted to give candid appraisals of your book.

Giller Rule No2: Be honest with yourself.

If you are collecting a fistful of rejection slips, ask yourself what might be wrong with your book. A mother can never see that her much-loved baby is in fact ugly. Try to look at your book through neutral eyes and ask yourself if it is sufficiently interesting to sell.

Giller Rule No 3: Know your marketplace.

These days when you present a book proposal to a publisher you should go armed not only with your manuscript and a well-constructed synopsis but also a marketing plan.

“Commercial” used to be a dirty word when I first entered the world of publishing 35 years ago. It would be whispered only in the sales division, while the editorial executives would never sink that low.

Now the first thought of any publisher considering a book is: “Will it sell?” Publishers have shot themselves in the foot by allowing supermarkets into their cosy world, giving cut-price books the same standing and stature as a tin of baked beans.

See it as your job to tell them how and where your book will sell. Ask not what your publisher can do for you; ask what you can do for your publisher.

If it’s a book on fly fishing, submit along with your manuscript a mailshot list of every major angling club in the land. If it’s a book on village cricket, list every village cricket team you can with a contact name and address. Thanks to the informative internet, this is not as hard a task as it used to be.

Giller Rule No 4: Don’t be a plonker.

If you fail to hook the mainstream publishers, move down the chain to the smaller outlets but approach them with your eyes and ears open. Don’t allow your ego to to let them publish your book without getting the deal you deserve. Think John Sullivan’s Delboy: “Don’t be a plonker all your life, Rodney.”

Tap into the investigative journalist inside you and do your homework on the publishers. Make sure they will represent you and your book with more than just lip service. Talk privately to other authors they publish, and look at their promotions and sales presence in places like Amazon.

Randall Northam, vastly experienced publisher and writer, is the SJA treasurer, and is the type of trustworthy man you want to do business with. But he is not a charity, nor is he a vanity publisher. If he does not think a book will sell, he probably has good reason. Make sure you have a book that has appeal before you approach a publisher like him with a preliminary letter.

I have never ever paid to have a book published, but if you feel you have to go down that road make certain your contract is watertight. There are hundreds of vanity book publishers waiting on the World Wide Web to relieve you of your money.

If you find yourself crashing against the traditional publishing wall, your last resort should be self-publishing, the world in which I am currently cocooned. And that brings us to …

Giller Rule No 5: Do it yourself.

Self-publishing should, in my opinion, mean just that. Self-publishing. It is chickening out if you put your project in the hands of one of the scores of self-publishing services that are mushrooming on line. That should be called Team Publishing … and the “team” will drain your pocket. Be selfish and hands-on in every aspect of the job.

The rule of thumb for me is if I know I can be virtually guaranteed selling 1,000 books, then I will go ahead with the project; if not, I will look for a new outlet for my energy.

Here is a check list of what you need to do:

□ Choose your specialist subject, confident there is a market for it and that you know how to target your readers. Forget about novels. It’s a fact that fiction does not pay in the self-publishing world.

□ Select the size of your book, remembering the more pages and stiffer the cover, the more the postage.

□ Get quotes from several printers, making sure you have somewhere to stock the books and a means of distributing them. Don’t be lured into ordering a bigger print run than you need because you are tempted by the way the unit cost comes down the bigger the print order.

I recommend Antony Rowe of Chippenham in Wiltshire. They are not the cheapest, but I reckon they are the best. Don’t forget cheapest can work out dearest in the long run if you pick an unreliable printer.

□ Work only with a printer who has facilities to accept PDF files, and lay your book out with a printer-friendly program. Adobe InDesign is the trade favourite. This will put you a step ahead for when the iPad becomes established, and �” just watch �” downloaded books will revolutionise the publishing business.

□ Pitch to distributors such as Gardners of Eastbourne or Bertrams of Norwich, and also go for individual deals with selected shops (if, for instance, it is a book about Southampton Football Club, you would make personal contact with the manager of every bookstore in the town).

□ Set up a website advertising your book. If you have to farm that out, I suggest you are not cut out for self-publishing because your overheads will beat you before you start. You do not have to be Mystic Meg to know there will be a strengthening marriage between the internet and cyber publishing.

□ Write your book, and then get on with the all-important selling and marketing. Join Facebook but mind how you tread, because they block you if it’s obvious you have commercial reasons for being on there. Twitter, send press releases to radio and TV stations and local newspapers (few nationals will publicise self-generated books).

□ Remember to allow two dozen books from your print run for promotional purposes.

□ Go into forums where your book subject might attract comment, and butter up the webmasters, offering exchange links.

□ Don’t forget to purchase an ISBN through Nielsens, put aside a pot for the photographs, bear in mind the fact that some bookstores take 53 per cent of your cover price, and that most bookshops work on a sale or return basis … so all the books may come back to you, and then you need reserves to pay for them to be pulped.

Dare you fly without having somebody you trust sub-edit, and also do you need a legal check? Only you can decide.

If you are really clever, you will copy me and produce a clone in the shape of a son or daughter. My partner is my son Michael, who writes like a dream and knows his sporting history inside out. So it is misleading when I say I am self-publishing. It is really we who are publishing, but as soon as you bring other people on board it quickly becomes uneconomical.

Self-publishing is hard work yet exhilarating and sometimes rewarding. I made a tidy profit on my Lane of Dreams book about the history of White Hart Lane, but then got carried away and ordered a reprint. Big mistake. Unless you have struck an oil gusher, just stick to your original target, hit it and then move on to your next project.

Anybody who knows the score will tell you to publish within your means.

Norman Giller’s self-publishing website is here:

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