How to publish yourself picture of book

(in the UK)


The book that is supposedly inside all of us is trying to get out?

You've written your memoirs and no-one will publish them?

You've written a local history book, or something with a small circulation and readership, and no-one is interested in publishing it?

You answered one of those adverts that offers to publish your book, but they want too much money?

Yep, it's all typical.

For many people the need to be published or to have a tangible printed result outweighs any considerations of profit and glory. This is just as well, because publishing yourself is not the path to instant riches. The best that you can hope for is small sales, a warm glow and the feeling that you climbed Everest without oxygen, carrying the Sherpas.

The reason that the 'real' publishers are not interested is because they are hard-nosed commercial businesses. The reason they stay in business is that they shift millions of units (NB - not works of art, units). They have the distribution channels, the sales teams, the muscle. They can even afford to give away up to 50% in discount, sale-or-return and 90-day credit. They make sure their 'properties' sell by launching them on a wave of expensive publicity.

Did you ever wonder why books cost so much? If you really want to know how much a paperback costs to produce, take a look at the Wordsworth Classics series. These are all reprints of out-of-copyright works, selling at (usually) 1 each. War and Peace, which is 980 pages of small print, still only costs 1.

A bulk-printed paperback costs the publisher about 20p. The author gets 10-15% of the cover price. The bookshop gets 30-50%. Where does all the money go? Advertising and distribution. Want to know how to sell lots of books? Advertise and distribute.

OK, flame off.


The simplest way to get published used to be to photocopy and staple a few booklets. This is still ideal for things like local histories, that you can sell through local shops. If you can interest some of the local businesses in placing an advert, this will cover the production costs. This method is highly recommended: it is simple, cheap and it works.

The new simple way to get 'published' is to give the text away on the Internet. This article is an example. If you can put it on your own Web site, or find someone who will add it to theirs, then you have achieved some kind of fame. Who knows, you may develop a reputation and readership or even have publishers calling you. Be aware that no commercial publisher will consider anything that has been 'published' on the Internet. If your prize-winning novel sat on your Web site before you were discovered, then you are unlikely to be offered money for it.

You could skip the whole ink-on-paper business completely and lodge your book with a print on demand service - see below. You should still go through all of the steps below to make the book look and feel like the genuine article, but you can miss-out the expense of printing. You will have to do all the marketing yourself though; this is what real publishers do and why publishing costs money.

Avoid vanity publishers. These are the people who advertise in Sunday newspapers, saying that they are looking for new authors. They will always accept your work and offer to publish it (although they may try to charge you reading fees and editorial work). The catch is that you have to pay them. Remember the Golden Rule: money should always flow towards the writer. A vanity publisher will typically produce a few dozen hardback copies of your book, ship them to you in a box and present you with a fat invoice. It is your responsibility to sell the books. As you have no contacts or credibility in the book trade, the best you will be able to do is give a few copies away to friends. The Misc.Writing Usenet group maintains a list of dodgy publishers for the USA. Included on this list are some vanity publishers who misrepresent themselves.

My feeling is that if you are going to make all the effort to market and sell your own books, you may as well produce them for as little money as possible. Enter self-publishing.

Self-publishing is where you perform the whole process yourself: from creating the original text and drawings, through layout, printing and binding, to distribution and sales. It sounds daunting, but it is actually quite easy. If you are prepared to settle for producing paperback books in small numbers, it can also be inexpensive.

How to self-publish

1. Define your readership and your market. What is it you want to say, and who are you saying it to? What is the best way to present your ideas and work to them? Be honest, and estimate how many copies you are likely to need. Aim low, as it is much easier to reprint to meet demand than it is to fill the loft or garage with crates of books. Answer these questions and keep them in mind as you write.

2. Write your book. This is the easy part.

3. Edit and rewrite your book. Repeat until you are happy with it. What you have at this point is a word-count. Estimate 250 words per page and you will have an approximate number of pages.

4. Plan your book. What is it going to be? A5-sized perfect-bound paperback? A3 hardback? Get together a rough idea of what the book will look like and the number of pages. Unless you know a bookbinder, you will probably not be planning a hardback volume. Paperbacks are of two main types, perfect-bound and chapbooks. Perfect-binding is what you see in 'commercial' books: the spine is flat and carries the title and author's name. This is the ideal, as it makes the book visible on shelves. The alternative for small booklets is to fold the pages and staple through the crease. This works well up to around 50 pages, and is usually called a chapbook. What you have at this point is a rough idea of the finished form of the book, plus the page count from (3).

5. Find a printer. What you are looking for is a small print shop who are used to producing finished work to the standard you need, in small quantities. If you live near a University, then the firms that do theses are often capable. As them about small runs. Can they take camera-ready artwork? Can they produce the finished article, or will you also have to find a binder?

There has been a quiet revolution in the printing business. The best books used to be produced by printing your text pages onto huge sheets of paper by offset litho, then folding and cutting. It was a black art. The pages of the finished book had to be arranged in the right order and orientation on the large sheets. The big sheets were folded and trimmed, arranged and bound, and it all came together. This is the reason that books always used to have a multiple of eight or sixteen pages (or however many book pages could fit onto one large sheet of printing paper).

Then someone crossed a printing machine with a photocopier. The new small-run printing machines can take a computer diskette at one end and produce finished paperbacks at the other. Because the set-up costs are so low (compared with the traditional plate-making and lay-up), you can also have extra copies run-off as needed.

Talk to your printer: describe what you are trying to achieve and ask for their suggestions. You will be supplying camera-ready artwork (a good printed copy of the text) and you will be wanting something like an A5 card-covered perfect-bound paperback of 200 pages (or whatever). You will get the best results by sticking to standard sizes and materials. A shiny coloured cover will cost a lot of money, but it adds enormously to the professional image of your book (see the comment below the table on getting some photography). You can often save money by specifying cheaper paper inside the book. Take a look at a standard thriller - it will have an expensive full-colour shiny cover and be printed on newsprint.

The standard way of quoting for a print run is to give a price for the number of copies produced, plus a price for run-on. These are extra copies, after they have set-up to do the first batch. This is the price you will pay if the book is a runaway success and you come back to them for more. If you are using a 'traditional' printer, ask about 'overs' as well. It is often difficult to print the exact number of copies required, so a printer will often make a few more to be safe. Find out if you can have them, and if you will be charged for them.

6. Layout your book. This is the big money-saver, because it consumes the most time and effort (after the actual writing). You need to convert your polished text into polished pages for the printer. You don't need Desk Top Publishing or anything fancy - any word-processor is more than capable. What you are doing is setting-up margins and page breaks, numbering pages and generally making the raw text look like a book. 
One good tip is to work on the next largest size of paper to your finished book. If you are planning an A5 paperback, prepare the layout on A4 paper (check first that your printer can reduce your originals). The act of reducing the size sharpens-up the printed letters and minimises any marks on the paper. Play with a photocopier that reduces to find what size of text you need to arrive at the right size in the final book.

What does a book layout look like? Look at some examples of the genre you are writing in and copy what looks good. There is a 'standard', but in practice everyone is different!

The main jargon is Recto and Verso. Recto's are right hand pages and are odd numbered. Verso's are the left-hand pages and are even numbered. The book always starts on a recto, and chapters always begin on a recto. (As with all things, break any of these rules if you have good reason).

The following is near enough the full standard - drop whichever bits you don't need.

Page and Content Facing
Front Cover.

Title, (subtitle), author, publisher, nice picture or graphic
Inside front cover

First 'paper' page

Repeat of front cover
Publishing information:

Published in (country)

by (your Press)

Copyright notice.


Printed in (country) by (printer's name and address).

Conditions of sale.

CIP credit line.

Design credits.

Typography info.
Table of contents. Recto
Blank Verso
Table of illustrations Recto
Blank Verso
Foreword Recto
Blank Verso
Preface or Introduction Recto
Blank Verso
Acknowledgments Recto
Blank Verso
Quotations, if you want them Recto
Blank Verso
You may also choose to begin the page numbering here (as Page 1), or start earlier in the Foreword bits.
Each new chapter. Recto
Appendices. Recto
Lists and bibliography. Recto
Index. Recto
Extra blank sheets as needed to get the right multiple of pages for the printer.
Rear cover, contains the blurb, the price, the ISBN and the barcode. Verso
Spine - Title, author, publisher. The text should be the right way up when the book is laid face-up (unless the spine is wide enough to have them the right way up when the book is stood upright).

You will need to create your own artwork and illustrations. Use clip-art, drawing programs, friends and whatever comes to hand. Avoid colour, as can be very expensive. Be careful of copyright, as well. Clip-art is OK, but don't start photocopying pictures or stealing them from Facebook or Flickr. If you do want a cover picture though (or illustration shots, or that moody shot of the author that goes inside the rear of the dust cover), try these guys - I know them and trust them.

7. Refine your layout. Get an estimate from your printer, and fettle the layout, font size, margins, etc. until you get it right. 'Right' means a book that looks as though it was commercially-produced, is easy to read, and not too expensive to make.

While all this was going on, and around the time when you have a good idea of what your book will cost and what it will look like, you will also be turning yourself into a publishing company.

8. Become a Publishing House. This is the legal niceties bit. You will need a name and identity for your enterprise. The fact that the publishing empire is just you and your cat does not mean that you can't present a professional front to the world. Businesses in the UK can be of several types, and all the transactions and rules are governed by laws. For a (very) small turnover operation you will be working as a Sole Trader. This means you basically adopt a business name (omitting Ltd or Partners), and do business. The profits are declared on your personal tax return, and you may offset some operating expenses against tax. If you intend to be successful, then you will want to form a Limited Company. Buy a name and company off the shelf, and find a good accountant. Get some business cards printed.

For the Sole Trader, you can just pick a trading name, but do make it unique. You can check the business directories at your library to make sure that the name is not in use. For an address use your own or a PO Box number. The latter is useful if you are likely to move house, as you can pay to have the mail forwarded from it. A PO Box number also looks more professional than an obviously private address.

You are now a Small Press. Take yourself out for a three-hour lunch.

9. Register your publication. Each book you produce will need:

ISBN - the International Standard Book Number. This is unnecessary if you are just making a few copies of your book for friends, but essential if you want to sell it or look professional. The ISBN allows bookshops and libraries to catalogue and order your book.

Single ISBNs are free, but you have to pay for blocks of 100 or 1000. In the UK apply to:
J.Whitaker and Sons Ltd,
12 Dyott Street,
London WC1A 1DF.
They will send you the form to request a number. At the same time, ask them for ...

CIP data - Cataloguing in Publication data - gets your title listed in the British Library bibliographic service. This is needed three months before you publish, so apply early.

Once you have completed the CIP form, you put the magic words on the inside front cover of your book:

"British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data. A cataloguing record for this book is available from the British Library".

Barcode - once you have the ISBN you will need a barcode to match. On the back of every paperback you will find a barcode. This is a machine-readable version of the ISBN. It makes the book look "real", and also allows bookshops to handle and sell it.

Once you have your assigned ISBN, you buy a Bromide barcode to glue onto your camera-ready back cover. This is easier than it sounds: you send money (around 15) to a Company, telling them your ISBN. They send back a thin slip of white paper with the barcode on. You keep this safe, and then paste it to the back cover just before you send the manuscript off to the printer.

10. Price your book. You now have a complete laid-up manuscript. You know how much the printing will cost, and you have an idea of how many you will (try to) sell.

How much does a book cost? A book is traditionally priced at five times its production cost. Small Presses usually have to settle for three times, as their costs are proportionally higher.

If you choose to sell through bookshops, they will demand at least a third of the cover price (Smiths will want 45%). They usually get this in the form of a discount. If you are paying royalties to an author, they usually get a tenth (after any advance has been earned-out). The publisher keeps the difference and has to pay all of the costs.

So, do some sums and calculate a price that will avoid you becoming bankrupt, and that your readers will pay.

11. Print your book. Send the manuscript off to your printer, with written instructions restating the agreed requirements. In a very short time some heavy boxes will be delivered to you. Check the books immediately to make sure they are as specified.

Some time after you have published, you will get a letter from AT Smail in London, asking for your legal deposit. They deal with five of the six Legal Deposit libraries. By law you must send six copies for legal deposit. This usually happens one month after publication, and it's OK to wait for them to contact you. Once you have sent five copies out via Smail's, you will need to send a sixth copy to the Legal Deposit Office at the British Library at Boston Spa near Wetherby.

AT Smail,
100 Euston Road,
London NW1 2HQ,
(020 7 388 5061)

The good side of this is that your book is now preserved for posterity!

12. Sell your book. This is when you find out why the big publishers only bet on certainties. You will have to use every marketing trick you can dream up to get your title noticed. Bookshop managers are used to dealing with reps from the big publishers who have advertising money to burn, so they will not be impressed by someone with a couple of paperbacks in a briefcase.

Mail order is good. The customer sends cash with their order, you bank the cheque before mailing the book. Or you could take Paypal, for example.

As a result of obtaining your ISBN, your book will be recorded in the Books In Print database. This may generate some sales, as bookshops search the subject index for their customers. Single orders from a bookshop are usually invoiced at the cover price (and you pay the postage). Multiple orders from a bookshop, or a bookshop that agrees to stock the book, are a different game! Negotiate hard over the discount they want. Remember that they will take a minimum of three months to pay-up after each sale. They also have the right to tell you to collect any unsold books from their stock at any time.

This is why publishers don't take risks on authors!


There are many, but this is who I used.


Intype London Ltd
Units 3/4 Elm Grove Industrial Estate
Elm Grove, Wimbledon, SW19 4HE.
Tel: 020 8947 7863
Fax: 020 8947 3652


KTP Ltd.
Walcham House,
Riverview Road.
West Yorkshire HU 17 8DY
(01482) 867321


Send details of your book just before publication, to:

NEBS Dept,
PO Box 185,
Oxford OX1 2ED

Bibliographic Services Dept,
PO Box 17,
24 Gamble St, Nottingham NG7 4FJ
WH Everett and Son Ltd,
Unit 8,
Hurlingham Business Park,
Sulivan Road,
London SW6 3DU

It's worth contacting them first to ask how they want the information formatted. I seem to remember they sent me a form to fill in.

The alternative

Publish the text on the Internet. No-one will read it. Of those who do, some will steal it or reproduce it elsewhere. You won't make any money.
On the other hand, you will have spent none. But if you really can write, you might just find an audience. Get one of these and a publisher will follow. My own experience is that I self-published first and then found a real publisher on the strength of having some sales and a real product. In my case it was a great relationship that helped push the sales (you can see a review of the book here). It all started from publishing it myself, though.

The alternative alternative

Print on demand

This is new and is going to be big. It takes a conventional publisher up to two years to publish a book, from manuscript to paperback. But you can buy a machine (a clever photocopier) that can take a computer file as input and plop out a paperback as output. One at a time. This is 'customer pull' as all the disciples of Toyota and Lean methods will understand. Instead of taking a careful bet on which manuscript will sell enough to cover its costs, you can lie back and let the market decide.

This is where the Internet will change publishing. There are already several publishers who will accept manuscripts and sell them off their web sites, only printing on demand. They are real publishers (not the scummy vanity publishing kind). You can tell the difference because with real publishers, money flows towards the author. 

Of course, the marketing is all down to you. But you have a URL that you can point people at, and a real product that they can buy. Shift a few copies through this, and you can take joy in spurning the fawning advances of the old-world publishers.

Check out the offerings here. If you do all the layout work to match their book formats, you could avoid any cost at all and see yourself in print.

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