Monday, 6 April 2009

Interview with editor of The Self Publishing Magazine

Self publishing is rapidly becoming a viable option for many writers. However, in an industry that is still smeared by the reputation of a number of unscrupulous companies, good advice is sometimes difficult to find. One source of reputable self publishing advice is the industry magazine The Self Publishing Magazine.

BubbleCow spoke with Jane Rowland, Editor of the The Self Publishing Magazine.

Tell us a bit about your magazine and what it can offer to writers…

The Self Publishing Magazine was launched specifically to help anyone who has, is or is thinking about self-publishing. Originally the magazine was called as Readers’ Review and focused on reviewing self-published books. In 2007, however, we relaunched as The Self Publishing Magazine and became a feature led magazine concentrating on all aspects of self-publishing. It is full of articles and case studies aimed at helping anyone to self-publish successfully, and we still have an extensive reviews section.

The magazine covers any topic that is of relevance to self-publishers – from marketing and promotion, cover design, the technical aspects of getting a book published, and so on. The most popular articles tend to be those that look at marketing and promotion, which are usually seen as the really hard part of the self-publishing process.

We currently publish three issues a year (in April, August and October), and we are always interested to hear about self-publishing authors and how they have fared – in particular with ‘how to ‘ articles or case studies.

Changes in technology and the development of the Internet has made self-publishing a viable option for many writers. Would you agree?

The increasing number of people self-publishing, along with the gradual change of attitude from the books trade towards the concept, have both helped self-publishing thrive. There are now many internet-based self-publishing service providers which, if used correctly, can be a fairly cost effective way for people to publish their work. But the internet is also useful for researching self-publishing, and it can help in marketing books, especially for writers who don’t have large marketing budgets. Online bookshops can sell all books in print, making them easily available to potential readers. Social networking sites can help authors create a buzz about a book – regardless of their method of publication.

So yes, advances in technology over the last few years – from the internet to digital printing – have allowed us to all move from being merely consumers of books (or music, or film!) to being producers. In fact, it’s currently a very liberating and exciting time to be involved in publishing.

What advice would you give writers looking to self-publish their work?

People chose to self-publish for a variety of reasons – be it the fulfillment of a hobby or as a launch-pad to a writing career. What many writers do not always appreciate is that there are different ways to self-publish, and what may suit one person will not always suit another. For example, if you want to sell to more than just family and friends, or a close target audience, then you will have to do so via the books trade. You will thus need to sell via the wholesalers (who can take up to 55% of your cover price). So you have to work out what you can afford to sell the book for and then work out how to produce it so that you make the best return on each copy sold. Many people are convinced that PoD is the best way to self-publish – but it is possible (for people serious about selling mostly through the books trade) that PoD can actually be less cost effective than printing copies in bulk all in one go, for example.

I would also say that if you choose to use a self-publishing provider, you need to look carefully at what you get for your money and compare more than one service and get more than one quote. Packages (where you get a certain ‘deal’ for a certain price) can look tempting, but do the packages you are looking at cover all the things you need? Will you get clobbered for any extras on top? It can be hard to compare packages from different suppliers because they all include or exclude different things. It’s also worth remembering that you might prefer to get a quote that is tailor made for your book and your project – rather than simply looking at packages.

Finally, I have found that people often can get impulsive about getting their work into print – and sometimes the manuscript itself could do with a little more time spent on it before it gets turned into a book.

Are the days of the vanity press dead or is it still a case of writer beware?

I think there are plenty of people out there who are looking to make a quick buck out of others – be that in plumbing or publishing! As with everything, you have to go into a project with your eyes open and weigh up the risks. Getting recommendations from writing friends is a good measure of a company, but a bit of research upfront can save heartache later. There are companies that offer full service self-publishing (where you deliver your manuscript and work with them towards getting your book), and companies offering things like critical assessment, editing or cover design. In fact the popularity of self-publishing has resulted in an entire industry of support services, all vying for a self-publisher’s business. Most of these services will do exactly what they say they will, but at a wide range of costs – and of course, some will be less reputable. Recommendations and research are the watchwords!

How do companies like Lulu differ from specialist self publishing companies?

It can actually be hard to generalize about what a self-publishing firm will do for you because there are many different firms that now offer self-publishing – from large US-based firms (with UK offices) to small self publishing companies working in niche markets – and all offer slightly different things! In addition, people self-publish very different manuscripts and all for different reasons. For these reasons I don’t like to give general overviews of the different services that you can get from different service providers because I think that it needs to come down to what is right for your book.

The Lulu style services can be a cost-effective way to get into print, but you do most of the work yourself and need to be fairly computer-savvy. Having said that, some of the other larger self-publishing service providers can also get you to do quite a lot of the uploading of your book and cover – and can be fairly ‘template-based’ as well. This is why I feel the only way to work out what will be best for your book is to do your research and choose a service that best matches that you want.

What you should expect to get from a self-publishing services provider (as opposed to an internet firm where you just upload your own files) would be a company that will work with you to get the book you want, will be available to talk to you, face to face or via the phone (and not just via email). You want a firm that has strong links with the books trade, which offers real marketing, and which will be honest about your book and its chances of selling. It is also important to see the quality of the work they produce (a badly produced book is inexcusable in this day and age), and to get recommendations from people who have used the service already. You will pay more for such a service than you will for online self-publishing, so once again, it comes down to what you want for your book.

Finally, it does not follow that the cheapest option is the best – but it is not a given that the most expensive option is the best either (vanity presses were known for charging eye-watering amounts for doing very little work, for example!).

How can writers get hold of your rather excellent magazine?

We have a website ( where you can download a free sample copy of the magazine, see a list of back issues, read some free articles and find information about subscriptions.