A Complete Guide To Publishing Your Own Book

Producing Your Own Physical Book

There’s something wonderfully nostalgic about the thought of a traditional book, and the hard copy market is not dead, far from it!

Before you look at producing your own physical book, you’ll need to have the basics in place. If you’ve not already, read chapter 1 and check out how to prepare your own book.

Chapter 3:1 - How to Approach a Publisher

Publishers traditionally deal with the physical production of your books, and are notoriously difficult to impress. Ultimately, they deal with thousands of enquiries every day and you’re just going to be another unnamed author through their in-tray, so this noteriety makes sense.

Advantages of Using a Traditional Publisher:

  • Nothing beats the feeling of holding a book you’ve written
  • Publishers have the knowledge and experience to give your book the greatest chance of success.

Disadvantages of Using a Full Publisher

  • You’re going to have to learn to cope with rejection, a lot of rejection
  • The time from being accepted to seeing your book in print can be massive (typically a year)
  • Very low royalties compared to eBooks
  • If they do an eBook version, your margins are also significantly lower
  • Shorter shelf life
  • Far more difficult/expensive to market.

If you want a quick glossary to explain all the important terms around book publishing, there’s a great little article here (apologies for the website design, but the information is good).

Unless you’re an established, successful author, this route is going to be very difficult. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing though, so we’ve listed everything you need below to give you the best chance of success!

Step 1 - You’re Going to Need An Agent

If you want to maximise your chances of being accepted by a publisher, the first step is to find an agent. Not many people realise but many of the major publishers don’t even accept entries submitted without an agent, which really hits home how important this step is.

Your agent can be a knowledge base for your book to feed off, assisting in anything from publishing best practices, to your rights if a book ever goes to film or foreign markets.

Tips On Finding An Agent

Writing groups are a great way to start finding connections in an area. There’s a great resource on Twitter for this - @WritersGroups - which is a good way to get in touch with like-minded people who can help.

The internet is a fantastic resource, with access to countless social websites and of course Google, for finding top recommended and reviewed agents.

Bloomsbury actually recommend a company

though it does come at a cost of £119.

What Kind of Agent - Big or Small?

Agencies can come in two forms, your massive firms with senior partners and agents that deal with thousands of clients, to the single agents that will deal with a few dozen authors personally.

Whichever you prefer, try and deal with an agent/agency that specialises in your topic. For example, if you’re the proud author of the next big science fiction novel, try and find agents with previous experience in science fiction books. They’ll have the market contacts and knowledge to give you the best possible chance of success.

An example of a specialist agency is the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency. You’ll see whenever they talk about themselves they mention specialising in non-fiction, particularly in history and biographies. Contacting them with the next best fantasy adventure probably won’t yield a result.

Beware Scam Agents

Agents for authors is a market heavily at risk of fraud, and you need to be very careful when approaching anyone. The major clue will be in their pricing.

It is highly unusual for an agent to charge any form of fees other than their share of sales they make on your behalf. Be wary of upfront costs or agent fees that are not directly linked to the sale of your book.

What to Send a Potential Agent

Once you’re ready to contact an agent, you need to prepare a few things. Double check this with the specific agent in question as they may request exactly what they want. Otherwise a good standard to adhere to is:

  • A covering letter, with any author-related qualifications and what your intent for the book is
  • The first three chapters
  • If you’re applying by letter, they also expect a self-addressed stamped envelope so they can send you a response.

Step 2: Taking the Plunge - How to Approach a Publisher

Before approaching publishers you need to understand their role. Their job is to limit the thousands of applications they receive to the worthy few. This simple sentence explains the role of a publisher perfectly:

The supply of hopeful authors is infinite, the supply of publishing resources is finite.

Due to this, you need to make the most of your own chance to impress, and it’s up to you and your agent to get this proposal together.

There’s an amazing guide from the incredibly experienced publishing editor, Michael Hyatt, which walks you through the stages a publishing house goes through when moving a potential book from proposal onto the shelves. I highly recommend that you read it.

Whilst I won’t take all of the points from that great guide, there are some key pointers to draw from it. Please note these are all Michael Hyatt’s comments, not ours, but we literally could not phrase this section any better than he already has. Thanks Michael:

  1. Write a killer proposal. This is the foundation of every successful project. You will need this to enlist the support of an agent. Your agent will need it to attract interest from acquisitions editors. It will be used to clear each hurdle in the process.

  2. Listen to your agent. Remember, your agent doesn’t get paid until your project is sold. If he has survived for more than a few years, it is because he knows how to get from point A to point B. Therefore, treat him like a trusted guide.

  3. Co-operate with your editor. Do everything you can to comply with the acquisition editor’s requests. Once he agrees to present the project to the Editorial Committee, he has become your representative inside the publishing house. You have to equip him to succeed.

  4. Be patient. The process takes a while. Hopefully, this post has helped you understand why. There is more happening inside the publishing house than you may have initially thought.

No matter what stage you’re at, always remember to be polite. Publishers are renowned for being a close knit circle of power players, if you get a bad reputation or review from one, you’ll likely find many other doors suddenly close.

Step 3: What to Expect if Successful

Publishing Date

Typically it takes over a year for a book to be published once it has been accepted, and that is after months of waiting to hear whether your script has met with the publisher’s approval.

Costs and Revenue

There shouldn’t be any direct costs involved with producing your book, as your publisher takes responsibility for everything from cover design to marketing. Obviously you’ll still have input and influence in the matter, but the money is with the publishers.

Once your book is published, your royalties will hopefully start to roll in. Typically you’re looking at around 15% of the net revenue of your book coming back to your wallet.

eBook Revenue

Unless they have their head in the sand, publishers will also produce an eBook version for you. However, and this is where the real complaint for publishers comes in, you make absolute pittance compared to if you publish your work. Instead of the typical 56%-70% returns, you’ll be getting roughly a 15% return per eBook sale, for the life of the book.

Beware of higher quoted returns on “net” revenue. For example, a 25% return on net revenue from an Amazon Kindle sale equates to 14.9%, after Amazon take their 30% share and the agent takes an assumed 15% share.

Publishing Rights

The vast majority of publishing contracts will sign away the rights for the life of the book. Any royalty rate agreed will typically remain for that single book, which is why you need to be so careful with initial negotiations.

Marketing Demands

Again this will be down to the publisher and the route to market your book takes. Whether it’s an interview for a book review blog, or a signing at certain book stores, there will be expectations of you to get the most out of your book (less so if this is your first book and you’re an unknown name).

And That’s the World of Publishers…

If you feel there’s anything missing or still have some questions, get in touch and we’ll both sort your publishing question, and get the guide updated.

If you’re not interested in other methods of publication and are ready to go, check out our tips on preparing your book for publication in Chapter 1, and marketing your book in Chapter 4.

Chapter 3:2 - How to Publish Your Own Book

Printing used to be prohibitively expensive for most authors, but as technology improves, costs get lower. Print-on-demand services have grown significantly and it’s now possible to link sales from your website to a company that prints as and when needed.

Advantages of Printing Yourself

  • Print-on-demand removes any need to carry stocks of your book
  • There’s something innately satisfying about taking your beloved book from idea to a physical, treasured item
  • Works perfectly in combination with an eBook, acting as a limited edition hard copy.

Disadvantages of Printing Yourself

  • Difficult to distribute hard copies yourself
  • If you want to distribute large numbers of books, the upfront cost is significant
  • More expensive than eBooks and/or publishing deals.

Ultimately, there is very little money in print-on-demand services if you’re using it as the only publication route. You can’t qualify for the discounts offered by large print runs, and you won’t have enough clout to get your books pushed into your local Waterstones to drive sales that way.

In fact you’ll be largely printing reactively to requests. Thus, narrowing your sights to just publishing this way puts you in a difficult position.

So Why Bother With Print-On-Demand Services?

Low volume printing is absolutely perfect to complement another book-selling medium, such as eBooks. There are few better ways to build intrigue and a relationship with your readers and fans than offering limited edition hard copy versions, complete with author signature and personalised message. This is where low-volume print versions really come into their own.

Furthermore, if you’re operating in a niche environment, or have perceived expertise in an educational area, a limited print run of a book means you can charge a higher cost and actually profit from smaller numbers. You commonly see this from professionals in fields such as psychology, where they can publish experience and research in limited volumes.

So What Are Your Options For Low Volume, Hard Copy Printing?

Self Printing / Binding

Making your own hard copy is surprisingly cheap in monetary terms, the largest component of the costs being the postage. The true cost however is in time, creating a book by hand requires patience and skill, as well as some simple tools.

Most of the bookbinding tools you’ll need are commonly found in craft stores but you may have to build your own binding jig as these are slightly harder to come by. However the process of making one isn’t particularly difficult, and since it’s simply a wooden frame it’s not expensive either.

We’ve also gathered a couple of guides and videos offering you advice on how to go about the physical steps of printing and binding your own book.

Print-On-Demand

If the idea of getting involved in the glue and paper side of your book really doesn’t appeal to you then your best bet is a print-on-demand service. The name is fairly self explanatory, you make no commitment to a minimum print run or upfront cost, and simply print a single copy whenever a book is purchased or requested.

This whole process can be automated over the internet allowing your book to be on sale through major retailers online before the first copy is printed.

This system is very cost effective, since books are only printed when they’re sold, so there’s no large sum of money tied up in stocks. What’s more, the print-on-demand services we’ve listed below understand their markets and as such provide affordable rates on their services that won’t break the bank.


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