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By Jennigay Coetzer

When I wrote my first book A Perfect Press Release – or Not? I was faced with decisions about editing, publishing, distributing and publicising it. This was a wake-up call for me because as a journalist I was used to writing articles, handing them over to the editor at the newspaper and moving on to the next assignment.

So, how to get a book published?

The traditional approach

I spoke to a couple of people at reputable publishing houses, who showed interest in the book and told me how the process would work. It seemed I would hand over the manuscript and they would then be responsible for the entire process from editing to production, printing, distributing and publicising the book – at their expense.

But, this process would take about nine months – from when the book was accepted – and it meant relinquishing control over how the book turned out – including the cover design, which, being a control freak, did not suit me at all. Plus, an author friend of mine said the publisher takes most of the profits.

I had also recently received a book to review that had been published by a well know publishing house. It was so badly put together, that the lines of print were sloping upwards, the print was small and densely crammed onto the pages and the cover had started peeling off before I had read it.

Exploring alternatives

So I did some research on self-publishing and spoke to a local consultant who specialises in this area. One of the most valuable things she told me was: “If you know there is a market for your book, you should self-publish it.” She then told me she would handle the production process, including the printing, and would charge me R150 a copy.

As this was a 107 page book that needed to be affordable to as many people as possible and I was planning on making a profit myself, this did not appeal to me. Plus I would still have to handle the distribution and marketing of the book myself, at additional cost.

I paid the consultant for her time and walked away with some good tips about what can go wrong during the production process. Confident that there was a market for my book and having looked at my finances I decided to tackle the publishing process myself.

The self-publishing process

The first step was to get an ISBN number for the book from the South African National Library, where I found a really helpful lady, Margaret Kabido, who issued me with this on the spot. I then approached my old Business Day surveys editor Gordon Amos, who is now a freelancer, to handle the editing of the book because I knew he would suggest improvements instead of being prescriptive and was always open to debate.

A marketing strategist friend then introduced me to the idDigital design and DTP studio, which had previous experience with books and its prices were reasonable. She also introduced me to her printer consultant Mike Eiserman of Taringa Press, who finds the best printer to do the job at the best price without costing you any more and manages the process – what a win!

For 1000 copies of the book it cost me less than R30 a copy (ex VAT), bearing in mind that half the quantity would have cost almost double that price per copy, and the more copies printed in a run the cheaper it gets. My total set up cost was about R50,000, including the printing of the first batch of 1000 books.

Potential production pitfalls

During the editing process, formatting problems can occur when the author is using a different version of a word processing application to the editor. So it is best to create the copy in plain text. Formatting problems can also happen during production, and the content needs to be checked each time the DTP studio produces another proof to ensure no gremlins have crept in – like missing copy, pages or page numbers. I must have checked the content of A Perfect Press Release – or Not? 20 times or more.

Then when the PDF file of the book goes to the printer, proofs have to be checked again. Being a bit of a control freak, I insisted on checking a proof after the final print run of the 1000 books, but before they went for binding. It is a good job I did, because the first few pages were fine, but the ink became fainter and fainter with every page after that.

On investigation, it appeared someone had forgotten to top up the ink before the run and the printer had to do the print run again at its own expense – all organised by the print consultant. If I had signed off the previous proof, I would have footed the bill for this.

The fact that the cover design and the DTP was done by the same team turned out to be a major win because, as I had been warned by the self-publishing consultant, the fitting of the content into the cover is one of the areas that is prone to error.

Another potential pitfall is not to forget to get the design studio to produce a barcode containing the ISBN number of the book, which needs to be included on the back cover for the bookstores to scan when they sell the book.

Distribution

I initially decided to sell the book off my website and only later get it into the shops. So I set up a website, applied for an online merchants account with Standard Bank and set up a payment gateway through MWEB SafeShop, with an automated link to the Internet Express courier service. But I discovered that many people don’t like to pay online with a credit card and kept getting requests to pay by electronic transfer, which could not be handled by the payment gateway, and others wanted to collect the book and pay cash.

Getting the book into the shops was the only answer, although easier said than done. With Exclusive Books, each store makes its own decisions about which books to order and the managers don’t like talking directly to authors, as I soon found out. So I spoke to someone in the distribution department at Exclusive head office, who told me I needed a distributor and sent me a list of names.

I approached the one that had the best website, PSD Promotions, which turned out to be a good choice because A Perfect Press Release – or Not? is now available in about 40 bookstores around the country. PSD carries stock, takes 60% of the selling price of the book, which includes the bookstores’ mark up and delivery to the stores.

The distributor also put me onto a good book publicist, Helen Holyoake of Helco Promotions, who sent out a press release offering review copies of the book to selected publications, radio stations and TV programmes and arranged several interviews for me. This cost me about R8,000.

I also discovered that Exclusive Books was willing to do an e-mailing to a target sample of its Fanatics club members to promote book titles, at a cost of R2,600 and am now pursuing this.
Useful contacts mentioned above:

Helen Holyoake-Helco Promotions: +27-11-4622302
Gordon Amos: gordonamos@mweb.co.za
Mike Eiserman – Taringa Press: +27-083-602-0987

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