Publishing your book


Part III What to self publish


[Gentlemen, you must not mistake me.  I admit he is the sworn enemy of our nation and, if you will, of the whole human race.  But, gentlemen, we must be just to our enemy.  We must not forget that he once shot a bookseller.         - Thomas Campbell, proposing a toast to Napoleon at a literary dinner.]              



So what can you be reasonably sure of successfully self-publishing?


Books that have local or regional interest are usually relatively easy to place on local bookshop shelves.  The better-known the author is locally, the more readily too will the books sell.


Books that deal with a specialist subject, where the author has first-hand experience of the area covered, will again be more marketable.  Here, however, the market is likely to be more appropriately reached via mail order rather than through the bookshop.


To revert to my own success story and the publication of my first book.  This arose from a commission I undertook with the World Bank in Washington DC whereby, with the help of the Sea Containers Group and its resources, I agreed to produce a guide to refrigerated containers.  Researching the material for this publication, I grew fascinated with the whole history of refrigeration from the days of ice and sawdust to modern methods of temperature control that enable us to put fresh produce on our dinner table from every part of the world.  

I ended up gathering enough material to produce a large book giving a broad-brush treatment of the subject.


[In seeking photographs to illustrate the early sailing vessels which introduced frozen meat to the tables of England from Australia and New Zealand in the nineteenth century, I visited - among others - the library of the Royal Maritime Museum in Greenwich.  The librarian was fascinated by the subject and made me promise to let her have a copy of the book in due course to place on their shelves.  She also mentioned in passing that another subject missing from their shelves was the history of military transport.  Six years later I wrote and had published my (first hard back) Arteries of War.  A book to fill a need or a niche.]


Refrigerated Transportation was hawked around various publishing houses, the best deal offered being an advance against royalties of 5,000.  I regarded this as a remarkably small return for the amount of effort I had put into the book.  [Nowadays I recognise that it was extremely generous for a specialised book of that type and that, maybe, I should have jumped at the offer.  But then I wouldn't be recounting this story.]


I decided to explore the possibility of producing it myself, utilising the marketing skills that I had honed and perfected during my previous 30 years of commercial life.  I persuaded a trade association to sponsor the book, which lent it a certain cachet and, incidentally, assured publicity in their international newsletter and a guaranteed sale to their members.  I also persuaded Sea Containers to take a quantity of the book at a reduced price in exchange for my including photographs of their equipment in the container sections and giving them credit.

I also added a directory of refrigeration services at the end of the book, giving free entries to anyone who qualified, knowing that all of them would inevitably buy at least one copy of the book.  I then decided to sell four "endpapers" of coloured advertisement front and back.  This was perhaps the hardest task of all.  But I eventually succeeded.


The result of all these efforts was that the costs of production of 1200 copies of the book - a very professionally produced book which cost 8,000 - was more than covered before the first page was printed.  I also advertised the book with "flyers" in various trade journals at a reduced pre-publication price, and sold over 300 copies before it was printed.  I ended up making a profit in excess of 20,000 in the first year.


Nothing I have published since has reached that glorious height, but the experience was invaluable and was the impetus behind Authors' Self-Publishing Enterprise.


[An amusing sequel to that story is that ten years later an old-established and very highly-regarded London publisher happened to hear of the book, asked me if I would be prepared to up-date it, and has since published a second edition.]


I have not recounted this story at such length in order to "strut my stuff", but because it demonstrates so well the type of conditions required to market a self-published book properly and profitably.  Find your niche, determine a need, ascertain how to access the demand, and go for it.  If you can also discover ways and means of producing additional revenue, by advertising or linking to some form of sponsorship, so much the better.


For some really astonishing and inspiring examples of successful self-publishing, leagues removed from my own modest achievement, go to:

Self-publishing success stories

You will find this link - and others - in Part V: Resources.



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