Here’s proof of what is needed to get published

VIEW FROM THE PRESSBOX: Think you’ve got a sports journalists’ life story to write? Publisher RANDALL NORTHAM is sceptical, but offers some advice on publishing it

A lot of journalists “have a book in them”. And many are turning to writing the story of their own career.

Problem is, commercial publishers like me quickly realise that these don’t sell. If they did, I’d write my story. But they don’t.

Remember, if a publisher rejects the idea, it’s probably because it won’t sell.

There is a fashion for self-publishing and I thought I might offer a few tips on how to best present your book – and for people who still want to send their autobiography to a commercial publisher, there are a few dos and don’ts.

Generic BooksFirst, make sure your manuscript is copy edited and proof read – by someone else.

Proof reading is essential. I find it difficult to proof my own pieces and I imagine it’s the same for most people. I wouldn’t suggest you get the book properly edited unless you can afford it. But copy editing – the checking of facts – is vital. I read one entertaining book by someone with whom I once worked and it was damaged by all sorts of literals and facts I knew to be wrong.

Second, get a professional to design your cover. However confident you feel with Photoshop and InDesign, the results will not be as good. It won’t cost the earth but it could make a big difference to sales.

Research has shown that when someone picks up a book it has 11 seconds in which to sell itself. If the cover is decent it helps.

conqs 1
Book covers: Randall Northam’s effort

I once had a paperback so esoteric – the history of the 1,500 metres between the Los Angeles Olympics of 1932 and the Berlin Games of 1936, since you ask – that I decided to design the cover rather than spend money on it. As it happened, there was a talk on what makes a good cover at a conference of the Independent Publishers Guild and they asked for samples to be discussed by the panel. I sent them mine. The kindest comment was that, “it looked as if someone had spent five minutes on Photoshop”.

I slunk away and had it redesigned by a professional. The difference was there for all to see.

Third, ring around for print quotes. I always get three and you will be surprised at how they can vary.

A printer may have spare capacity. They might have a surplus of paper. But you are not going to get their rock bottom price, because a) they don’t know you, and b) they aren’t going to get repeat business. Printers will often give you a keen price at the start of a relationship, and then increase it over time. It’s why small publishers like me keep changing printers.

Print on demand is still very expensive and, in my opinion, not economic.

Book cover: professionally done

Fourth, most printers work in multiples of 16 or 32 pages. It’s more economic if you can sort your pagination so that it divides evenly. Don’t give them any work to do other than print it. The pounds pile on if you get, say, page numbers in the wrong order.

Fifth, distribution. This is the highest hurdle for a self-publisher to overcome. You can go down the Amazon route and pay a massive 70 per cent discount for the privilege of seeing your work sold by them, or you can trudge around bookshops trying to sell copies.

Anton Rippon, who established the highly successful Breedon Books, tells a story of his first book. “When we published our first Derby County book in 1984, WH Smith in Derby wanted 33 per cent discount and started with an opening order of 1,000 copies.

“The manager piled them high and sold them quickly and we reprinted. And so it went on.”

Nowadays if a shop takes 10 copies you are lucky. But don’t let that put you off.

If you still want to submit a manuscript here are my dos and don’ts.

Don’t format your manuscript. A publisher doesn’t need chapter headings centred and underlined. We only have to unformat it.

Make sure it’s double spaced, but don’t separate paragraphs by typing another paragraph mark… we only have to … etc.

If there are photographs, send them separately, don’t embed them with the text.

Better still, send in what the publisher asks for electronically. And stick to what the publisher wants.

I say on our website that we want a synopsis and three chapters. We don’t want to see the whole book.

And above all, contact us by post or email. Please don’t ring up and pitch us your book. We still get around 20 submissions a week. We simply don’t have time to talk about a book at length.

It isn’t rudeness; even now SportsBooks is publishing fewer books than in the past – the market is awful for selling books at the moment and I’m getting on.

  • Randall Northam runs SportsBooks Ltd. A former Daily Express sportswriter, he is a member of the SJA committee.
  • Next week in View From The Pressbox: Adrian Warner, former Reuters, Evening Standard and BBC London sports news correspondent, now university lecturer
  • As with all authored pieces on, the views expressed here do not represent the views or policy of the SJA. Readers are always welcome to post their comments on the content of this column and the rest of the site
  • The SJA is the largest member organisation of sports media professionals in the world. Join us: Click here for more details
  • This year, the SJA’s nominated good cause is The Journalists’ Charity. To find out more and how you can donate on a one-off or regular basis, go to