Monday, 28 July 2008

Are the roles of publisher, bookseller and author blurring?

The Internet has made it easier for anyone to become a bookseller without having a physical store and therefore easier for publishers to promote their authors and titles through their own transactional web sites. This is good news for authors, who can also offer their books through their own web sites, or through links to their publisher's web site or an online retailer. Author and publisher win. But it's not such good news for booksellers, particularly those with the heavy overheads of a physical store. And it doesn't end there. The next revolution in book publishing could be about to begin with the introduction of a printing device in the first British store in October.

The Espresso Book Machine, nicknamed the ATM, which will be installed in Blackwells, will allow customers to download and print not only rare or discontinued titles but many well known publisher's titles and also the customer's (author's) own self-published efforts. So not only is the line between publisher and bookseller blurring but also the line between publisher and author, making it much easier and more cost effective for authors to get their work to market. Is this a good thing?

For book lovers who are getting fed up with publishers constantly pushing only their big name authors, and bookstores being overwhelmed by piles of heavily hyped books from big publishers, while more unusual titles become harder to find, the answer has to be yes.

Initial signs from America, where a handful of on-demand machines have been installed, suggest they are helping to democratise publishing by opening it to writers and poets who do not have the backing of a multinational publisher. The machines are able to design and print books of reasonable quality in runs of 50 for as little as £200.

It works by the customer typing in the title they want to buy and after about seven minutes, the book is printed out, trimmed and bound, selling for the same price as its shelf equivalent at the shop.

Other chains are waiting to see whether it proves popular and if the machines become smaller. But it doesn't necessarily have to be a book shop. Second hand book dealers are an obvious outlet for these machines. And how about coffee houses? I can just see it: 'Coffee while we print, sir?' And perhaps a Danish Pastry or Doughnut while you read. Watch this space.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Self Publishing - Producing a quality book

The following excerpt has been taken by permission from 'The Easy Step by Step Guide to Publishing and Promoting Your Book.'

Before publishing your novel, or submitting it to an agent or publisher, it will pay to have it professionally edited. You can find a suitable editor through a Literary Consultancy. It will cost you but it could be an extremely worthwhile investment. An editor will help knock your novel into shape, correcting your punctuation if necessary, examining sentence structure and the overuse of certain words or terms (we all have them) and suggesting alternatives. He or she will suggest where you might need to re write, some may even re write for you, if you wish.

Some editors prefer to edit on line, using e mail as the means of corresponding with you, others prefer to work with hard copy. Ask how much they charge? Is it by the page or the complete project? How long will they take to edit? What is their workload and when will they be able to schedule in your book?

If you have decided to self publish here are some further tips to help you get the 'product' right.

Make sure you book is professionally typeset

A typesetter will set the book in a certain style consulting with you over this and preparing it in a format that is suitable for the printers, often liaising with the printer and ensuring that the finished text is sent to the printer on time and in the format they require. You can search for a suitable typesetter on line or in writing magazines. Alternatively the printing company helping you to produce the book might be able to recommend someone.

As with all relationships personal chemistry is important so ensure you find someone who understands what you are trying to achieve and who you can work with.

Size of book

When deciding on the size of your book take advice from the printer but also look for books that are similar to yours and compare sizes. Does your book need to be A Format – the standard paperback size - or B Format the larger size? Is it a large hardback illustrated book or a children’s book? There are all sorts of book sizes and most have a technical name, or at least a name given to that size in the industry. Don’t worry too much about this, just take a sample with you to the printer, or measure the book you are comparing yours with and give the dimensions to the printer.

WARNING - Do not agree on a special or unusual size.

This will not only cost you a fortune to print but will meet with resistance from the bookseller to stock your title as it might not fit neatly on their shelf space. It may also cost you more in envelopes if you are sending books out direct to fulfill customers’ orders or to bookshops; you could end up having to buy a larger size of envelope or worse having special ones printed.

Type of paper

There are so many different papers that it can be and is extremely confusing for the lay person, and sometimes for the printer. Again look at the type of book you are publishing and compare it to similar ones already published. What kind of paper do they use? What does it look like, is the paper cream or white? What is its weight - is it thick or fairly thin and limp? Smooth or rough? Does your book need to accommodate illustrations and photographs which will influence the weight and quality of the paper required?

Before speaking to the printer try to get clear in your mind how you would like the finished product to look and feel. Choose a paper that is suitable for your market and your book. In addition, choose a stock paper and not one that has to be specially ordered, as it will substantially increase your costs.

Ask to see samples, both loose leaf and bound into a sample book; that will give you some idea of the quality and feel of the finished product.


The printing industry has its own jargon when talking about binding which may confuse you, it certainly confuses me e.g. limp, sewn, perfect bound etc. Essentially you need to decide how you want your book to appear, is it a hardback or a paperback? Is it stapled or sewn into the binding? You do not necessarily have to produce a hardback copy of your book but can go straight into paperback if you wish; again this depends on the type of book you are publishing.

Ask the printer to show you samples of different bindings and explain them to you. Look at other books that are similar to yours and see how they are bound; do you wish to emulate that? Is it the norm?

Do I need an ISBN and what is it?

In order for your book to be found by a potential buyer you will need to apply for an ISBN. This is not complicated. Some printers and typesetters/editors may even do this for you.

In order to get an ISBN you need to apply to the ISBN Agency who will send you an application form to complete and some notes on how to complete it. ISBN’s are sold in a block of ten so you will need to purchase this amount even though you may have no intention of using any more than one. Any publisher is eligible to apply for an ISBN providing they have a qualifying product available for general sale or distribution to the public.

When you apply for an ISBN you will need to give the name of your publishing company. This does not mean that you have to form a limited company simply come up with a name. It usually takes ten working days for you to receive your ISBN so allow this in your schedule although there is a fast track service offering a three working day period but you will pay extra for this.

By registering for an ISBN you are ensuring that your title is available on a database that can be accessed by the bookseller, distributor and librarians. This information is also used by many online booksellers and you will find that your book appears on sites without you having to do anything

For further details on this in the UK contact the ISBN Agency. There is also a helpful FAQ on their web site. In the U.S.A., and to locations outside the U.S., Bowker assigns ISBNs. To learn more about the ISBN in the U.S visit

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

What drives readers to buy books?

Understanding how the publishing and book selling world operates can help a new or budding author (and even an experienced and published author) sell more books. Unless you are a BIG name author, (an A Lister) then much of the marketing will fall on your shoulders. Your book doesn't just suddenly appear on the shelf in bookshops or on line and people flock to buy it. There are thousands of books to choose from and you need to make yours, and your name, stand out. Here is some useful background information from some recent research carried out in the UK by the Next Big Thing that illustrates this point and might help you.

What drives readers to buy books?

More than a third of Britons (36%) will buy a book because of who has written it claims the research carried out by the Next Big Thing and sponsored by IBS Bookmaster. Reading the Future found that the author name is by far the biggest sales driver when it comes to book choice and this is particularly important to those aged 65 and over (44%) and to those in Scotland (77%) and the South East (49%). Perhaps the rest of the UK is more adventurous when it comes to trying new authors, or perhaps they don’t buy so many books! To crime fiction fans (my own field) 48% of readers buy a book because of the author, so building readership and spreading my name is an important marketing strategy for me. But it is equally important to those who write historical fiction (49%) and even more so for those who write poetry (56%). It has slightly more influence on women (38%) than men (33%). The author has less influence on how- to- guides (12%) and on those who prefer to buy their books from supermarkets (28%).

The next biggest driver of sales is the belief that the book ‘looks like the sort of story or material I like’ which is why cover design, title and description is so important. I once met a reader at a book signing event who told me she only bought crime fiction books if the word ‘dead’ or ‘murder’ was in the title. I got a sale because she bought Tide of Death. I think that’s a little extreme but she was rather eccentric.

Another little snippet of interest from this very useful research for authors and publishers alike was that the socio-economic group C2DEs are also more likely to wait until a book goes to paperback, rather than buying the hardback although the figures aren’t as high as I would have expected. Those who buy chick lit (36%) crime (29%) and historical fiction (27%).

I’ve met readers who like their books to be all the same size so that they fit neatly on their bookshelves. This is a bit of problem for me when different publishers bring the paperback out in different formats. The price of the book can also vary, and I get a bit twitchy when I have to tell them the new book is more expensive than the previous one. Where though I have avid fans of my crime fiction I find that they don’t care which format the book comes out in, hardback, paperback or which size. And I have yet to meet a reader who baulks at the cost. They buy the book because they are interested, or are crime fiction fans, or really want the next Inspector Horton and this is exactly in line with what this research found. So it's nose to the grindstone and keep building that author brand.

Publishing News to cease

PUBLISHING NEWS, THE UK book trade weekly magazine, is to cease publication. The issue of Friday July 25th will be the last. The news has just popped into my in box so thought I would pass it on. The statement says that the publication, founded in 1979, has been hit by the same problems that have affected all magazines and newspapers, as advertisers have shifted increasing proportions of their spend to online and direct sales. See story here I have worked with Publishing News for about the last ten years and will miss them. Good luck to the editorial staff and I hope to see them in the book trade elsewhere.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Self publishing your book - printing options

The following article has been written by Pauline Rowson, a published crime writer who also ran a publishing company publishing business and motivational books in The Easy Step by Step Series, most of which are also available as audio books and e books. This excerpt is taken from her book 'The Easy Step by Step Guide to Publishing and Promoting Your Book.'

There's been a great deal of bad press over the years regarding self publishing but it's now emerging from the closet as a viable means of getting your book into the market place. And the good news is that it has also become more affordable. Many great names have self published including at one time the great thriller writer, John Grisham. In a climate where it is increasingly difficult for new authors to find a publisher self publishing can be a means of not only testing the market and building readership but of being noticed by a mainstream publisher - think Richard Adams and Watership Down.

But what exactly does it mean and how does it differ from vanity publishing?

Self publishing means that you organize the editing, typesetting, printing and production of your book yourself, overseeing the whole project and ending up with the finished product. The books are yours to do with as you please at the end of the day. You become the publisher and remain in control of the whole process.

Vanity Publishing is where you pay a sum of money to a company who will produce the book for you and they hand over a specified number of copies for the money provided.

In between this there are companies that can help you through the production process for a fee, but you still make the decisions on printing, design, price etc. and you control the process and have all the finished copies.

Whoever you use to help you produce your book check their credentials carefully. Many claim they will market your book for you and in fact don’t. Others ask you for money to conduct advertising campaigns for your book, which never materialize. If you send your manuscript to a vanity publisher you may get a glowing report from them on the back of which they ask to be allowed to publish the book but for a cost. Always be wary of this. You could find yourself handing over large sums of money for little in return.

Self publishing could not only be a more cost effective way of producing your book but also provide you with greater control. In this article I focus on the printing aspect of self publishing. In future articles I will examine the other aspects of getting your book published and in the marketplace.

Finding a printer

There are now many specialist book printers who will help guide you through the self publishing process. Many can also help you with designing the jacket covers and book layout and can advise on typesetting, paper, format, obtaining an ISBN (International Standard Book Numbering) and ensure that the book cover carries a bar code. If they can’t help directly then they can usually put you in touch with others who can help you.

Some printers also provide distribution services, fulfilling your book orders, or they work with others to provide this. What most printers (if not all of them) do not do is market and sell your book for you. That is down to you.

Printers will print your book they are not publishers, you are the publisher.

But not all printers have an understanding of, or experience in, book printing. A simple telephone call to them followed by a visit (if possible) will help you check them out. Ask to see samples of their work. If they can’t show you books that they have previously printed then don’t use them unless you are a hundred percent confident they will do a good job for you.

How do they print?

There are two types of printing processes: lithographic and digital.

Digital Printing
Digital printing is highly suitable for producing short print runs, cost effectively, and uses the latest in computer technology. This means you can test the market before committing yourself to huge print runs and incurring high costs. Or you might simply wish to have a small number printed to give to your friends and family. Digital printing allows you to print just one book, fifty, a hundred or more. It is capable of reproducing high quality colour photographs and can also produce jacket covers although these are generally printed using the more traditional lithographic printing.

With digital printing the unit cost is usually higher than if you were to have your book printed by the more traditional method of lithographic (litho) printing which can run into quantities of thousands to hundreds of thousands but there is no point in printing thousands and only selling a hundred. It will tie up your capital (cost you more) and you will have storage problems – where are you going to keep all those books?

Lithographic printing
Whilst digital printing will suit most people’s requirements lithographic printing can be an option if your book is mass market fiction. There are a number of printers who specialize in this area and the best way to track them down is to examine the inside pages of books that are similar to your own, where the name of the printer is given. Contact that printer for an estimate of costs. Generally the lowest quantity they will print is a run of two thousand ( although this has come down in recent months and they could go as low as one thousand).

Costs vary from printer to printer so it is advisable to get a few quotes for comparison purposes before making a decision.

It is easy to be over optimistic about how many books you think you will sell and go for large quantities when in fact it might be better financially to produce a smaller number.

Questions to ask a printer

Before agreeing to proceed ask the printer:

What type of printing equipment do they have –i.e. can they print digitally and therefore produce short print runs of your book. What is the minimum short run they can print for you – one book? Twenty books? Five hundred books?

What experience do they have of the book printing market? Can they show you samples of books they have previously printed?

Do they have in-house designers or illustrators, or connections with designers and illustrators who they can recommend? Can you see some examples of their work?

Do they have connections with editors and typesetters or can they assist you with this?

Do they provide any other services once the book has been produced? For example they might have a web site and offer to put your book on their web site with a link to your own web site.

What sort of timescales do they work to? How quickly can they turn around your book?

What sort of options are there on binding your book – should it be hard back or paperback, can they do either?

What are their charges? How much will it cost you for different print runs?

How do they like to receive the work? Many will take it in Word format or as a pdf file. If your book is hand written then you will need to build in the cost of getting someone to type it up for you.

Can they help you with obtaining an ISBN and can they insert a bar code on your jacket cover?

Printers can be found through advertisements in magazines like Writing Magazine and at Writers’ Conferences or through personal recommendation. You can contact the British Printing Industries Federation (BPIF) and ask their advice. Alternatively look at the title page of published books that are similar to yours and see who prints them. Look them up on the Internet or contact the BPIF for details and then ask them to quote.

Before we leave the subject of printers it might be worth mentioning here e books. You may decide not to print your book at all but go straight to producing an e book – considerably cheaper as there are no associated printing costs. Or you may decide to produce an e book as well as a traditional printed book.

e books come in a number of different formats and you will probably require the services of a specialist to make your material compatible. This will obviously cost you. There are e publishers who will help you with this and showcase your book on their web sites and possibly others for a fee. This is a new and growing market so tread cautiously before parting with any money, check submission statements and terms and conditions of contracts before making any commitment.