Mainstream or Not?
One of the questions I’m often asked is, “How can I get my book published by a traditional publishing house?”
Signing a book deal with a traditional publisher is first prize in many ways, but it requires time and patience and a very thick skin. Publishers are businesses. Ultimately, they exist to make money. They receive hundreds, if not thousands, of solicited and unsolicited manuscripts every month, so they have the luxury of cherry-picking what they feel will raise their bottom line the fastest. If your book is topical and relevant (or offers a unique approach to a particular subject) and there’s nothing else out there like it, there’s every possibility they’ll snap it up. If not, brace yourself for a long wait and the very real possibility of a deluge of rejection letters. It happens to the best of us.
What is it that makes so many people believe that the only way to be truly recognised as a successful author is to be signed with a mainstream publisher? Yes, of course there is a certain amount of glamour attached to being published with a mainstream publisher – and that’s if anybody is taking the time to ask or notice – but it doesn’t necessarily have to be your only port of call.
I must, however, be completely honest with you. Nobody really cares who published your book. All that matters is that you have a printed, published book with your name on the front, and pages and pages of well-written, beautifully constructed content in between.
TYPES OF PUBLISHING
Approaching a Traditional Publisher
You’ve made your mind up that you’re going to submit your manuscript to a mainstream publisher. Now what?
As a first-time writer, getting published through a traditional publisher can takes years of perseverance before your book is accepted for publication. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter manuscript was rejected by twelve different mainstream publishers before Bloomsbury Publishing finally sat down to read it. The rest, as you know, is history.
If you’re planning on going the mainstream route, you will need to ensure that you have certain information ready before you make your submission.
The traditional publishing houses will ask you to submit a book proposal to them, and your manuscript forms part of the proposal. You would submit this to them directly, as yourself, or, if you prefer, you can use a literary agent.
If you want to submit to a large mainstream publisher in the UK or the USA, you cannot submit your book proposal directly. Instead, you are required to employ the services of a literary agent, but in South Africa you have the option of doing it yourself, or using the experience of a literary agent.
Most traditional publishers have specific window periods that they will open up during the year for manuscript submissions. Sometimes it is for as short a period as a week, so my advice is to go and check out each publisher’s web site (the publishers that you would like to publish with) and determine when their window periods are. Once you have these dates, diarise them in Outlook. or wherever you are most likely to remember to take action.
Have a look at their submission guidelines, as each publisher will have different requirements. Some will only require your full manuscript, while others may ask for a synopsis and your full manuscript. Others might only want a synopsis and the first three chapters of your book. Include this information in your calendar reminder, as well as a link to the submissions page so that you don’t have to go hunting for it months later.
Most publishers will accept electronic copies of your manuscript, but there are some that still prefer a printed hard copy to be sent to them.
Besides your manuscript, ensure that you attach as much supporting evidence about you and your book as possible. You only have one chance to sell yourself, so make sure that you do it well. This will give you the credibility you need to be noticed by a prospective publisher.
Most publishers will require a synopsis to be submitted with your manuscript. A synopsis is basically a rundown of what your book is about, chapter by chapter. If you’ve never written a synopsis before, basically what you are required to do is to sum up each chapter in a few lines from the beginning of your book through to the end. A SYNOPSIS IS NOT YOUR BLURB! State the facts and make sure that the story line flows.
The publisher is not interested in suspense or guessing – that is for the reader – they will be looking at your book as a product that they can make money out of, and if they like your concept, there is a good chance that they will contact you for more information.
The synopsis is important and it would be a good idea to take your time writing it, ensuring that there are no grammatical, spelling or punctuation errors.
Your synopsis should not be longer than two typed pages.
The Cover Letter
It is important that you attach a cover letter to your book proposal. Introduce yourself (write a short biography about yourself, including any notable career highlights, and anything else that might attract a publisher’s attention). Take some time to explain why you wrote your book, and why you feel that it would be suited to that particular publisher’s audience. Include a professional photograph of yourself in your cover letter.
I would suggest including a couple of lines indicating that you are willing and able to attend book launches across the country (and internationally, if required), media interviews (and if you are familiar with media interviews, mention this), and anything that the publisher might deem necessary in terms of giving your book as much exposure as possible.
I think it must be a publisher’s worst nightmare to sign a new author, only to discover that they are unavailable to attend media events and sign books for their fans, or to be interviewed about their book.
The Submissions Process
In South Africa, when submitting directly to a publisher, you will generally submit your book proposal through the publisher’s web site, or by email. Your manuscript must be submitted in either in Microsoft Word or PDF format (depending on what they require).
After that, it’s a matter of sitting back and waiting (and praying) for a couple of months while they decide if they like your book, or not. Publishers will generally email you a thumbs down, and they will either call or email you if it’s a thumbs up.
SELF-PUBLISHING & INDEPENDENT PUBLISHING
Writers can get published through a self-publishing house, or, if they’re extremely brave (and I think you’re all extremely brave) they can experiment with independent publishing through companies like Amazon.com and IngramSpark.
Everybody has a choice in terms of where they begin, and whether you want to become a bestselling author, or you simply want to use your book as a business card, it doesn’t matter where you begin. The most important thing is that you take that first step, and remove the ego from it wherever possible.
There are many famous authors who started out as indie authors, for example Stephen King and EL James (Fifty Shades of Grey).
What is the difference between self-publishing and independent publishing?
Companies that offer self-publishing services (and there are a few in South Africa such as Book Lingo, Reach Publishers, Quickfox, and Porcupine Press) will offer different publishing packages (usually upwards of R15k, depending on what you want).
These packages will include things like editing, proofreading, formatting, cover design, ISBN allocation, printing, e-book production, marketing, distribution into the book trade, and listing your book on various online and electronic distribution platforms.
You will usually receive about five copies of your printed book as part of the package that you purchase, and if you want any more, you will have to pay for them.
You will receive a percentage of your book sales in the form of royalties, and this varies from one self-publishing house to another. You can expect your royalty payment to be in the region of 10% of the retail price of every book sold.
I would like to point out that self-publishing houses are not the greatest marketers. They will likely ensure that your book gets into bookstores once it is published, but that is pretty much it. Most of the marketing work is left to the author.
If you’re a novice and you don’t want to invest the time in going the indie (independent) publishing route, and you just want to get your book out there as painlessly as possibly, then I would suggest going this route.
If, on the other hand, you’re more adventurous, and you’d like to receive a greater share of the profits and have more control over what happens to your book, then I will invite you to step up on to the stage of indie publishing.
Indie (Independent) Publishing
If you’d like to work with me directly to independently publish your book rather than doing it yourself, click on the bright purple button below. Otherwise, read on.
Independent publishing (often confused with self-publishing) is an exciting and growing trend both worldwide and in South Africa.
The best part about being an indie author is that you have full control over your book, from your original manuscript to cover design to typesetting, to production to printing to distribution. And you’ll make money from the get-go. You get to choose who edits your book, who designs your cover, whether you want a glossy or matt cover, whether you want cream or white paper, and in what thickness; you get to choose exactly what goes on the copyright page of your book, the price of the book, the size and format of your book, which distribution channels you want to use, and you can make changes to the content within minutes at no cost to yourself.
And, if you’re actually planning on making money out of your book, you will receive higher royalties of about 20% of the selling price of your print book (and more if you publish your book as an e-book), as opposed to the 5%-10% that you receive through the mainstream and self-publishing channels.
So, how do you become an indie author?
If you’ve never ventured down this road before, it may sound daunting and you may already be trembling slightly at the thought of where to begin. Remember, you’re going to take on all the roles of a traditional publishing house, and it is hard work. But speak to any indie author out there and they will tell you how rewarding it is.
There are many companies that you can use to create and print your book, for example IngramSpark and Smashwords. Both are based in the USA, their services are all online, and they are all highly geared for the independent publishing market.
Publishing your Book as an e-book
Every published author should make sure that they have both an e-book version of their book and a print version, but, if you’ve written a book and you want to get it out to market as quickly as possible while you wait for your printed copies to arrive (or while you raise money to cover the printing costs themselves), you may want to consider publishing an e-book version of your book in the meantime. It’s quick and easy, and soon you’ll be doing it with your eyes closed.
Publishing your book with Amazon KDP as a Kindle e-book
Amazon is the largest online e-tailer of e-books (followed by other platforms like the Apple iStore, Barnes and Noble, and many others) but because size does matter, my suggestion would be to start by publishing your book on Amazon first. You can either upload your manuscript (which should be in ePub format) directly into the Kindle publishing platform (it’s also referred to as Kindle Direct Publishing – or KDP), or you can use their Kindle Create app to do it. The Kindle Create app is brilliant. You upload your manuscript into it from Word and it formats your manuscript so that it can be read on any electronic reading device.
Once you’ve published your book as an e-book on the Amazon Kindle platform, you can consider expanding your reach to other digital bookstores using Draft2Digital.
I will go into a little more detail in terms of the actual publishing process a little later…
Publishing your book as an e-book through Draft2Digital
Setting up your account is very similar to setting your account up with Amazon, the only two major differences are that you get to choose which of the different vendor platforms you want to sell your e-book on, for example on the Apple Books Store, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and so on; and you get to choose from a wider range of e-book formats which include decals at the beginning of each chapter, and different styles of headings and fonts, depending on the type of book that you’re publishing.
I will go into a little more detail in terms of the actual publishing process a little later…
Publishing Your Book in Paperback (Print-on-Demand)
When publishing your book in paperback, it is important that it is available on all leading book retail platforms across the world. Not only must it be available to the general public but also to bookshops that might wish to purchase copies, no matter where they are in the world. This can be achieved through the print-on-demand services offered by Amazon and IngramSpark.
What is “print-on-demand”?
Print-on-demand is exactly what it says it is. As an author, you no longer have to print thousands of copies of your book and ship them off to a big warehouse in the middle of nowhere, hoping they’ll be sold, and if not, that they’ll be returned to you in mint condition. Amazon and IngramSpark both have on-site print-on-demand (POD) facilities, which allows them to print a copy of your book as an order comes in from a customer.
Selling into the book trade
Interestingly, many authors are unaware that by only making their book available on online retail platforms like Amazon, they’re cutting themselves off from potential sales into bookshops.
Coming from a bookselling background, I know that bookshops do not like buying independently published books from Amazon because it adds all sorts of problems into the mix. For one, they have to pay for the books upfront (whereas mainstream publishers and distributors offer all sorts of credit facilities); for another, there are the shipping fees; then there is the issue with returns (Amazon is a one-way street); and finally, Amazon doesn’t offer bookshops the magical trade discount that publishers offer them, which means they have to inflate the book’s price before selling it onto the consumer. Essentially, if your book is not available to a bookshop via a publisher, wholesaler, or distributor, it’s not in their catalogue, and you can forget about them placing a special order for any customer who might want a copy of your book. It’s just too much hard work.
IngramSpark is the print-on-demand arm of the world’s largest book wholesaler, Ingram. Publishing your paperback via IngramSpark means that your book will immediately be available in Ingram’s wholesale catalogue, making it quick and easy for any bookshop anywhere in the world to find and order your book.
Publishing your book in paperback with Amazon KDP
Amazon’s print-on-demand solution allows authors to sell their books to fans across the world at the click of a mouse. All you have to do is upload your book’s files (cover and typeset interior), and when a customer comes along and buys a copy of your book, Amazon hits the print button on their fancy shplancy printer, and voila, your book pops out the other side. Amazon then ships the book off to the customer.
Publishing your book in paperback with IngramSpark
IngramSpark’s print-on-demand solution is pretty much the same as what Amazon offers, the only difference being that they sell to the book trade and not individual customers. Their setup process is intricate and demands a lot more information than what Amazon does, but it will ensure that your book is accurately listed on Books in Print, the world’s largest book catalogue, so that bookshops know exactly where to find your book. While they no longer charge their once-off $49 set-up fee (as at 1 May 2023), they will charge for any file revisions submitted within 60 days of publishing, so just bear this in mind when taking the plunge with them.
In summary, you have three ways of getting your book out into the local and international market as indie author:
First of all, you can publish a paperback copy of your book through Amazon KDP and IngramSpark, which will give you international reach across all of the major online and bricks and mortar bookstores, including South African bookstores.
Secondly you can publish a digital version of your book as an e-book through Kindle Direct Publishing and your book will be instantly available across Amazon stores worldwide.
And, finally, you can publish your e-book on the Draft2Digital platform and have your e-book available on all the other online digital platforms that are not related to Amazon, such as the Apple Books store.
Before you take the plunge and start uploading your manuscript to all of these platforms, I have some publishing secrets that I would like to share with you. If you follow these guidelines, you’re already halfway there in terms of successfully publishing your book.
Publishing your book in large print format
Publishing a large print edition of your book in addition to your standard paperback edition offers numerous benefits, particularly when it comes to reaching a wider audience. Many authors are unaware, for example, that public libraries are often desperate for large print editions (and often have an entire section of their library dedicated to large print), yet so few are being published.
But what on earth is large print, I hear you ask? Large print is when a book is printed with its text set in a larger font size than the standard 11 or 12 points used in regular books. The font in large print books is typically 16 points or larger. This format is designed to make reading more accessible and comfortable for individuals with visual impairments, age-related vision loss, dyslexia, or those who simply prefer a larger text for ease of reading and reduced eye strain. By providing an accessible format, you can make your work more readily available to a broader range of readers, thus increasing potential readership and sales.
In addition to expanding your target audience, large print editions can also be beneficial in terms of helping your book stand out in a crowded market. With countless independently published books available to readers, it can be challenging for authors to differentiate themselves and capture the attention of potential buyers. By offering a large print option, authors can cater to a niche market, setting themselves apart from competitors who may not have considered this format. This differentiation can lead to increased visibility and, in turn, more sales opportunities, which is crucial for independent authors seeking to establish their presence in the literary world.
Moreover, publishing a book in large print format can enhance the overall reading experience for a variety of readers, not just those with visual impairments. Many individuals prefer large print for the ease of reading and reduced eye strain it offers, particularly for extended reading sessions or in low-light conditions. This improved reading experience can lead to positive reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations, further increasing an author’s credibility and potential for success. By recognising the benefits of large print editions and incorporating them into their independent publishing strategy, authors can effectively reach a wider audience, stand out in a competitive market, and enhance the reading experience for their readers.
Important things to remember when designing a large print edition
To design a large print edition of your book, you’ll need to take the following into consideration:
- Your cover designer will need to create a different cover so that readers can easily differentiate between your regular paperback and your large print edition.
- You will need a separate ISBN for this edition.
- Your typesetter will need to set the font at 16 points (or larger).
Are there cost implications when it comes to printing a large print edition of my book?
From a printing perspective, large print editions often require more pages to accommodate the increased font size, which can result in a thicker and heavier book. This may lead to higher production costs, as the increased page count requires more paper and ink, and potentially different binding options to accommodate the larger size. However, advancements in digital printing and print-on-demand services have made it more affordable for independent authors to offer large print editions of their books without incurring substantial upfront costs.
IngramSpark will charge a separate setup fee for a large print edition, but it will not be more than their setup fee to publish a regular paperback edition. There are no additional charges on Amazon’s side. You will need to mark this edition as “large print” during the publishing process so that Nielsen’s Books in Print catalogues your book correctly.
It is important to weigh the potential benefits of reaching a wider audience and catering to a niche market against the increased production costs associated with large print editions. In many cases, the potential for expanded readership and sales can offset the higher costs involved in producing and distributing large print books.
Some important guidelines when publishing your book, whether as an e-book, a paperback, or both
- Choose your title carefully. People should be able to remember it so that they can look for it later. Avoid using words that are difficult to spell or pronounce, unless you’re publishing a technical work of non-fiction.Ideally the title should match the contents of the book, especially with non-fiction. Imagine you’re searching Amazon for books on designing vegetable gardens. If your book’s title is “Designing your First Vegetable Garden”, you’ll probably come up at the top of the search results.
- If your book has not been edited or proofread, don’t publish it. Hire a professional editor and proofreader to go through your book with a fine tooth comb. There is nothing worse than printing hundreds of copies of a book and then finding a few glaring grammatical, spelling or punctuation errors.
- Hire a professional book cover designer to design your book cover for you. Unless you’re a graphic designer, don’t try to do this yourself. Amazon KDP can create a cover for your book (at a cost, in the region of $399), otherwise you will be required to upload your own professionally designed book cover. I cannot emphasise the words “professionally designed” enough. Your book cover is what sells your book, so don’t skimp on this part of the publishing process. Too many authors do, and then wonder why their books don’t sell, especially in bricks and mortar bookstores. First prize would be to have a professional book cover designer create a unique cover for you. Always ask the designer for samples of their work before you hand over any of your cold, hard cash. There are plenty of sites online where you can purchase a “budget” predesigned template cover for upwards of $100, but I personally wouldn’t recommend going this route because you are very limited in terms of your image choices and layout. Premade covers can be purchased in South Africa for roughly R350 upwards, but bear in mind that these are not original designs specific to your book. Professional book cover designers who start the process from scratch can charge anything upwards of $300. For originally designed covers in South Africa you can expect to pay anything from R1500 to R4500 upwards.I have worked closely with Gregg Davies from Gregg Davies Media for many years and he understands book cover design in its entirety. He’s also super-creative and has excellent turnaround times. He can be reached at www.greggdavies.com. Alternatively you can email him at email@example.com
- When writing the blurb for your back cover, don’t rush this process. It’s usually the last thing authors think about, but, like the cover, it could be a deal breaker in terms of whether a potential reader buys your book or not.
- Make sure that your book is correctly formatted. Amazon KDP has dozens of free templates in Microsoft Word that you can download and literally copy and paste your manuscript into chapter by chapter, and the formatting happens by itself.If you’re using a Amazon KDP template and you don’t mess with the alignment and tabs, you will be safe. Otherwise, use one of the following paid software options: Scrivener (available for Microsoft and Mac), or Vellum (Mac only). If you’re publishing a textbook or anything using bullet points, tables and drawings, be extra careful, especially when publishing your e-book, because the formatting is often thrown out when your file is being converted, especially if you upload from programs like Microsoft Word. My personal advice (based on my own experience in this field) is to align everything to the left, especially the bullet points. Don’t have bullet points starting in the middle of the page, it looks awful when it converts to the digital ePub format.
- When listing your book on any publishing platform, make sure that your book’s description, keywords and categories are reflected correctly. Your book description can be the same as the blurb on the back of your book, or you can write something different. Whatever you type into your book’s description, remember that this is what is going to sell your book, especially in the digital environment where there is no back cover. After the title and the book cover, the description is going to be the third factor that a reader is going to take into consideration before choosing to purchase your book. Make sure your book description is simple, compelling and professional. In terms of keywords, Amazon allows you to enter up to seven different keywords (and these can be phrases and don’t necessarily need to be single words). Draft2Digital allows you significantly more. Your keywords must be specific to your book because readers, when searching for books on specific topics, will search using keywords relevant to the topic. If you’re unsure, have a look at similar books to yours on Amazon for keyword ideas. Make sure that your keywords are relevant to the category your book falls under (BISAC), as well as the subcategory. For works of non-fiction, you would, for example, list a book on Trusts under Law and then under Estate Planning. Amazon KDP allows three categories, and Draft2Digital several more.
- When choosing the price for your book, take a look at other books in the same category as yours and choose your price accordingly. If there are many other books on the same subject and you are a first time author, choose your e-book price carefully.Anything between $4.99 and $9.99 for the e-book version of your book is a safe space to play in, but you can go much higher if there are only a few books dealing with your particular subject matter. Amazon KDP will provide guidelines on the price of a printed copy, based on the printing costs. When pricing for the South African market (for your printed copies), bear in mind that the major bookstores will require at least 40-45% off the recommended retail price of your book, and then there are the distribution costs. If you are using a local distributor to get your books into the bookstores, you can expect to pay in the region of 24-26% of the retail price of your book to your distributor. If you are not registered for VAT, the distributors will be adding VAT to your price as well.
- When publishing online, and especially with Amazon, don’t rush the process and publish your book just so that it’s out there. Before you release your book to the world, send your manuscript out to a selection of friends, family, and colleagues and ask them to post an (honest) review of your book on both Amazon and Goodreads on the day of its release. This will quickly drive up your book’s ranking on Amazon. Reviews are gold for authors, so the more reviews you have on your book on publication date, the better. It is trickier to post a review on Amazon than it is on Goodreads, especially if your readers are not regular Amazon shoppers. Amazon will only allow a reader to review your book on their web site if they have spent over $50 in the past, so ideally look for readers and reviewers who have purchased from Amazon in the past.To short circuit the process and get some of your Goodreads reviews up on to Amazon, you can shorten some of your best reviews on Goodreads and paste them into the Editorial Reviews section of your book on your Author Central page on Amazon.Setting up your Author page on Amazon is something you will do when you publish your first book on Amazon KDP. To get to the Editorial Reviews section, click through to your Author Central control panel, click on the Books Tab, and then edit the Editorial Reviews section. You will see that the reviews you paste into this section will appear before the book’s description on your book’s page on Amazon, which is rather nifty.You can do the same with reviews and endorsements from celebrities, magazines and newspapers.
How do I get paid when I sell my book through the Amazon KDP, IngramSpark and Draft2Digital Platforms?
The quickest and easiest way to make sure that you receive regular once-a-month royalty payments is to set up a Payoneer account. Payoneer will set up a bank account in the USA for you at no cost (it will likely be through First Century Bank), and link it to your local bank account. You can even order a bank card, which will arrive with your name embossed on it.
To link your Payoneer account to Amazon, Draft2Digital and IngramSpark, simply provide the banking details of the account that Payoneer has created for you, and your royalty payments will be transferred into that account on a monthly basis.
You can instruct Payoneer to transfer payments into your local account at any time.
It’s really easy to set a Payoneer account up, and Indie authors worldwide make use of their services. Go to www.payoneer.com for more information.
If you don’t have a Payoneer account, you can expect to receive your royalty payments by cheque, in the mail, if you are not in a qualifying country to receive your royalty payments by wire transfer. Amazon KDP has recently given the nod to South Africa and enabled wire transfers, but just bear in mind that Amazon pays out royalties monthly and, if you have a slow sales month, a $25 royalty payment may be sucked up by your local bank’s service fees for the international transaction. I prefer Payoneer because you can stash your US$ for as long as you like before cashing them out.
Getting your Book into Bookstores (with a focus on South African Bookstores for my local peeps)
Being a bookseller by trade, I know that when a client asks me to source a book for them, I will want to go through the quickest, least painful channel to get that book into their hands.
Booksellers usually buy directly from the publishers, or they will purchase from the publisher’s distributor, or, one better, a wholesaler. If a customer asks for your book and the bookshop doesn’t stock it, the first thing the bookseller is going to do is check where they can purchase your book. Ideally they would want to purchase from a source that they deal with regularly. If your book is readily available from a wholesaler, the chances of a bookstore ordering copies of your book are high.
One of the largest book wholesalers in the USA, Ingram, stocks all books published through Amazon KDP (I believe that books are actually printed “on demand” on their premises).
Publishing through IngramSpark (the indie publishing division of Ingram) means that any bookshop anywhere in the world can order copies of your book from Ingram. As a bookseller, I order from Ingram regularly, and their service and turnaround times are excellent. If you’re planning on going the indie publishing route, IngramSpark, from a bookseller’s perspective, is hugely in your favour.
But wait, there’s more … over and above this, Ingram supplies digital feeds of their book catalogue to pretty much every online bookshop WORLDWIDE, and because they house the full IngramSpark catalogue, it means that your book will be fed through to the entire planet of booksellers without you having to lift a finger. If you’re based in South Africa, expect to see your book pop up on sites such as Loot, Takealot and Exclusive Books within a few weeks of it being published with IngramSpark.
My biggest nugget of advice when it comes to marketing your book to readers is that you should ensure that you have a reliable supply chain in place in terms of order fulfilment. You shouldn’t ever leave a bookseller hunting through pages and pages on Google to find you and your book; trust me when I say that it’s a schlep and it won’t invite future business. It is only the specialist bookshops that will really take the time and trouble to find an author, so don’t expect the big bookstores to do this.
In terms of getting your book into bricks and mortar bookshops in South Africa, it can be a costly exercise, so I would advise that you approach this area with caution.
When pricing for the South African market (for your printed copies), bear in mind that the major bookstores will require at least 40-55% off the recommended retail price of your book, and then there are the distribution costs. If you are using a local distributor to get your books into bookstores, you can expect to pay in the region of 24-26% of the retail price of your book to your distributor.
My advice (when you’re starting out) is to save on distribution costs and begin by selling your books through the independent bookshops in South Africa. This is something that you will do directly, and it is fairly simple to accomplish because there are only a few independent bookstores in the country. Aim to visit the manager of the bookshop in person if possible. Launching your book at one of the independent bookshops is also a great way of getting your book onto their shelves and selling large volumes. Some of my favourite independent bookshops to work with are Love Books (Bamboo Centre, Melville) and The Book Lounge in Cape Town.
Most bookshops will only order books on consignment, i.e. you can only expect to be paid once the bookshop sells a copy of your book, and bookshops generally only pay after 90 days from date of sale. The onus is on you to send the bookshop a statement at the end of every month so that they can reconcile their accounts and pay you for what they have sold. I would suggest that you state clearly on your invoice “Sale or Return: 90 days”. Make sure that you collect your unsold stock after this 90 day period.
When you’re ready to sell into the larger book chains, such as Exclusive Books, make sure that your printing costs are as low as possible (without compromising on quality) so that you don’t end up sitting at break-even, or below break-even point. Remember, with the large book chains, you have the added costs of paying a distributor to get the books into the individual stores. These distributors charge their 24-26% to cover warehousing costs, packaging costs, delivery costs, and the costs of getting their representatives to visit each of the branches with a copy of your book so that they can generate sales.
I must admit that there is nothing more disheartening than realising that the only people making money out of your book are the booksellers. Being a bookseller myself, this is something that really hit home for me when I started selling my own book into the larger book chains. This is why, when starting out, I would really recommend focussing on online sales, and then on selling through the independent bookstores.
So, to sum everything up, if you’ve scrolled down this far and you have a book inside you, you really have no excuse in terms of getting it out there.
If you’re a better speaker than you are a writer, hire yourself a ghostwriter. And if you are not hitting it big with a mainstream publisher, take a step to the side and consider going either the self-publishing route, or, like me, become an indie author.
There are some great resources out there for indie authors, for example Joanna Penn who has a fantastic web site called The Creative Penn. If you enjoy podcasts, I would suggest that you sign up to hers immediately. I cannot tell you how much I have learned and how motivated I am about being an indie author since I started listening to her podcasts. You can find her at https://www.thecreativepenn.com/
Once your book is published and you’re holding it in your hands, brace yourself to watch in amazement as the recipient of your book buckles at the knees and stares at you with a glazed-over star-struck look in their eyes. Within seconds, you will witness yourself suddenly rising in stature from a regular Joe (or Josephine) Soap to something of a demi-god.
So, whether you want to be a bestselling author, or you simply want to make a statement and use your book as the best business card that you’ve ever handed out, isn’t it about time that you claim your role as the legend that you were always meant to be?
When I wrote and published my first book, I released it one chapter at a time on two serial publishing platforms (Wattpad and Jukepop – now called Serial Box) and gained a nice following. Readers can read your chapters as you post them, and they can vote and comment too.
Both are web and app-based plaforms, Wattpad being the larger of the two, and both platforms service both the reader and the author.
Serial publishing was a great way of gauging the success of my book before I actually published it with readers voting for each chapter as it was posted. In June 2015, Four in the Morning won #1 position on Jukepop, one month before I published it on Amazon.
Just be careful of goimg the serial publishing route if you’re planning on publishing mainstream as many publishers won’t accept your manuscript for publication if the content is already “out there”.
Step-by-Step Guides to Publishing your Book on Amazon Kindle (KDP) and Draft2Digital
To publish your manuscript on Amazon KDP you will need to complete the following steps:
- Sign on to Amazon KDP at kdp.amazon.com
- Create an account for yourself
- Create a new title and enter all the fields (Title, author, edition, language, publication date).
- Provide an ISBN for your book (if you have one and there are no copyright restrictions), or let Amazon KDP assign an ISBN to your book. An ISBN is the unique identifier for each version of your book. You will need one for your print book and one for your e-book. You can use this for the barcode on the back of your book. There is no charge if Amazon assigns an ISBN to your book and your book will automatically be registered on BooksinPrint.com. Just remember that if you decide to use an Amazon ISBN, you will be locked into selling your book through Amazon only. I always recommend that authors obtain their own ISBN from an ISBN agency in their country.Each country has a single approved and designated agency that issues ISBNs for publishers and self-publishers located in that country. Bowker is the official ISBN agency for the US; Nielsen is the official ISBN agency for the UK and Ireland; Thorpe-Bowker is the official ISBN agency for Australia. To find the approved ISBN agency for your country click here. There is no need to purchase a barcode if your cover designer is going to do this for you.In South Africa, the ISBN agency is the National Library (in Pretoria), and applying for an ISBN is free.
- Select your interior type (black and white, or full colour if you have images or illustrations) and your interior paper colour (white or cream – I would recommend cream for everything that’s not a textbook because it’s easier on the eyes.)
- Upload your professionally typeset, print-ready book file (manuscript) in PDF format. Amazon KDP has numerous free pre-formatted templates on their website that you can simply download and copy and paste your manuscript into, if you’re low on dough.By pasting your manuscript into one of their templates (6″ x 9″ being the most common for any book with more than 200 pages), your book will be typeset and formatted, but be sure to go through it page by page once it is ready for viewing to make sure that you’re happy.
- Remember that if you decide to publish a large print format of your book (which is popular in both the library market and for readers who are visually impaired) that you will need to publish a completely separate book with its own ISBN, and a cover with a wider spine.
Before you upload your manuscript, make sure that you have completed the following checks:
- Ensure that all your pages are numbered and that you have correctly formatted and typeset your manuscript with the correct margins and page breaks in the right places. This will be a seamless process if you’ve had your book professionally typeset.
- A font size of 11 or 12 is recommended for a trade paperback, and 16 if you are publishing your book in large print format. The most popular font used for books is Garamond.
- Remember to include a copyright page to protect yourself and your IP. You can download and modify a copyright page from one of the free templates here. You can also download the one that I used for one of my books here, and just overwrite the information with your book’s details. Remember to pay it forward by acknowledging your editor and your cover designer.
- Upload your professionally designed print-ready book cover. Remember that you will need a front cover, a spine, and a back cover for the hardcopy version, and a front cover only for the Kindle version. Amazon KDP can create a cover for your book (at a cost, in the region of $399), otherwise you will be required to upload your own professionally designed book cover I cannot emphasise the words “professionally designed” enough. Your book cover is what sells your book, so don’t skimp on this part of the publishing process. Too many authors do, and then wonder why their books don’t sell, especially in bricks and mortar bookstores.
- Choose your retail price for your book and which territories you would like to sell it in. Amazon KDP will recommend a minimum price based on the size of your book, the number of pages of your book, whether its interior is black and white or full colour, and the type of cover the book has. Your book is only printed when a customer places an order. Your account will be credited with a royalty payment every time a customer purchases your book on Amazon, and a book is printed to fulfil that order.On average you can expect to receive approximately 20% in royalties. Amazon KDP takes a percentage of every book sold to cover their costs. A sales channel percentage of roughly 40% is deducted from your book’s list price, depending on which sales channel the book is sold through. Amazon KDP then deducts a fixed charge per sale which will vary depending on your book’s page count, and whether your book’s interior is black and white or full-colour. There is then a final deduction which is based on the number of pages of your book. After all these deductions, the balance is yours.For a full breakdown of these costs, click here: https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G201834330
- Wait 24 hours for Amazon KDP to approve your book. You will receive an email from them, and they will let you know if there are formatting issues, spelling errors or font problems, and you will have the opportunity to correct these issues before you go live using their Interior Reviewer. This allows you to flick through the pages of your book in a cool 3D environment on your screen, and make sure that everything is in the right place and that nothing is missing. If you notice anything strange, go back, correct your manuscript, and upload it again.It takes at least 24 hours after resubmitting to receive a new digital proof, so take your time and make sure that you’ve double checked everything.
- Before your book goes live on Amazon, you have the option of having a draft copy of your book mailed to you from the USA. It’s worth doing this as, in my experience, I discovered plenty of errors that I would not have picked up had I simply been checking through the digital version.
Besides all of that, it’s rather cool to be able to physically hold a draft copy of your book in your hands.
Take your time, and don’t rush the process. Make sure that your book is as close to perfect as possible before it goes live. I cannot emphasise this enough.
Should you want a few printed copies of your book from Amazon KDP for yourself and you’re happy to focus only on international sales and not print any copies locally, you will be required to cover the printing costs. At the time of publishing this page, Amazon KDP was charging in the region of $5 to print a 350 page book with a full-colour paperback cover. This excludes shipping charges.
If you’re based in South Africa and you are looking for a local printing house, I would highly recommend Mike White from Inside Data in Cape Town. He’s been printing books since the year dot and specialises in printing not only for Indie authors but for large publishers too. His quality is excellent, his turnaround times are usually 4-5 days, and he delivers across South Africa.
His pricing is also reasonable and much cheaper than Amazon KDP and IngramSpark. At the time of publishing this page, a short print run of 100 books cost me R75/book. He will do shorter print runs of approximately 20 books, but this can become expensive. Rather opt for a minimum of 50 copies and spend some time marketing your book.
Mike can be contacted on 010 541 2109, or by email at Michael.White@xmdbooks.co.za.
Publishing your Book as an eBook using the Kindle Create App
The no-cost DIY version (but you may need to pack some pain meds and practice deep breathing for this):
To format your manuscript as a Kindle e-book, you can either upload your manuscript directly into the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform, or you can use their Kindle Create app to create a Kindle-friendly version of your book yourself.
The Kindle KDP app is downloadable for both Mac and PC. You simply upload your manuscript from Word into the Kindle Create app, and the app will convert it into ePub format and make sure that it is correctly formatted for reading on a Kindle device or tablet/ smartphone.
To publish your book in Kindle eBook format so that it can be downloaded from Amazon sites worldwide, you would need to complete the following steps:
- Create an account for yourself with Kindle Direct Publishing here.
- Download the Kindle Create app here.
- Upload your published manuscript into Kindle Create and save it somewhere on your laptop where you can find it (scroll down for a step-by-step guide). If the upload to Kindle Create fails, you can upload directly into the KDP web site from the program you published in. KDP and Kindle Create are both happy with Microsoft Word.
- Just a word of advice: Sometimes the Kindle Create app will reject your manuscript, particularly if there are drawings and tables, in which case you will have to upload your manuscript directly into Amazon’s KDP web site. It’s a painless process, but sometimes strange things happen when your manuscript is pulled through their software and converted into Kindle format. You might discover (with horror) that all your careful formatting has flown out of the window. Chapter headings may appear misaligned, or you may find that there are large gaps between paragraphs, or blank pages, and all sorts of other things that shouldn’t be there.If this happens, you will need to go back to your manuscript and reformat the offending sections and re-upload your manuscript until it reads perfectly online.
- On the KDP web site, type the title of your book and complete all the bibliographic information (language, title, edition, author, book description, publishing rights, keywords, categories, age and grade ranges).
- Determine when your eBook will be released (i.e. live) on Amazon, or whether you would like to pre-launch it and accept pre-orders.
- Upload the cover. Remember this is just the front cover.
- Select your markets and pricing. If you set your book price between $2.99 and $9.99, you can expect to receive 70% in royalties. Anything above this price break will qualify for a 35% royalty payment. IMPORTANT: Amazon charges an international surcharge of $2 on orders received from outside the USA, and this will be deducted before your royalty payment is calculated.
- When ticking the DRM (Digital Rights Management) box, opt to NOT use DRM. Kindle’s default setting is NOT to use DRM, so just make sure that you don’t fiddle with that checkbox, because it cannot be changed once you have selected it.
- Wait for Kindle KDP to give you the thumbs up by email. This usually takes between 6-24 hours.
- Hit the publish button.
- Readers will be able to download your book to their devices as soon as it is live on Amazon.
- Amazon KDP will also give you the option of converting your book into paperback.
- Once your book is live on Amazon, you will be able to monitor your sales (right down to on a daily basis) on your custom author dashboard.
- I would also recommend that you create an author page for yourself on Amazon. That way, your readers can connect to you directly from your books, read more about you, and they can be notified when you post new content on your blog, or when you are hosting a book launch. Click through to the Author Central page to create your personal author page: https://author.amazon.com/
- In terms of advertising and marketing your e-book to Amazon customers, the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program provides some great marketing programs at minimal cost. You can find out more about their marketing programs on the KDP website at https://kdp.amazon.com/
More on the Kindle Create App
If you’ve prepared a book in Microsoft Word, Kindle Create (Beta) helps you convert it so it’s ready to publish to Kindle devices and apps. Kindle Create (Beta) makes it easier to go through the file conversion process, preventing the kinds of errors that can slow down publishing.
Please note that Kindle Create (Beta) is ONLY for books without images, tables or illustrations. If your book contains images (etc.) then you can download Kindle Textbook Creator here. This app will ensure that all your formatting is preserved. Remember to save your manuscript in PDF format before you upload it. Kindle Textbook Creator does not accept documents in Word format.
But back to Kindle Create…
Kindle Create (Beta) helps you
- Preview and edit your book as it will appear in Kindle format–before you publish
- Create and edit your table of contents while styling your book.
- Add professionally-designed themes to make your eBook better-looking and easier to read.
When you upload your manuscript, Kindle Create (Beta) automatically converts the file into a Kindle-compatible file. Then it will help you format it.
Table of Contents
Kindle Create (Beta) automatically scans your file for chapter headings, and builds a table of contents for you. Building a TOC manually can be time-consuming.
You can define the parts of the book (title, subtitle, chapter title, first paragraph of a chapter, and so on) as you go through the file.
As you go, you can stop and spot-check how the page you’re working on will look when it’s published to Kindle.
Once you’re satisfied with your book’s appearance, you can upload and publish your output file (.kpf) directly to KDP. eBooks published using Kindle Create (Beta) automatically support Enhanced Typesetting (ETS) and Page Flip.
If you don’t have a new book ready to publish, you can still help us review the workflow for improved formatting of your Kindle book by working with an offering from the public domain. You may also update an existing book that you’ve previously published.
Publishing your e-book through Draft2Digital
Draft2Digital gives you a fast, easy way to self-publish. It’s a great “next point” after publishing your book on Amazon Kindle, and expands your reach to other online bookstores, including the Apple iStore.
Draft2Digital handles the formatting. You set the price of your books, get monthly payments, and see daily reports of your book sales. They make it all work with 24-hour support and dedicated customer service. They keep 10% of the sales price, and authors keep 100% of their rights.
If you’ve already published your book through another distributor, you can still use Draft2Digital to expand your reach and simplify your project maintenance for all other sales channels.
STEP 1: SET UP YOUR ACCOUNT
Log on to www.draft2digital.com and sign up for a free account. There’s no upfront cost and no risk to you. When you sign up for an account, they will need a couple of basic pieces of information:
- Sales categories
- Search terms
The Draft2Digital interface is easy to use, so getting set up only takes a couple of minutes.
STEP 2: UPLOAD YOUR MANUSCRIPT
All you need to get started is a Word document (.doc or .docx format), RTF, or any other file type Word can read. Draft2Digital does not have a style guide or any special formatting requirements.
- Unless you already have one you like, skip the title page and copyright page. Just give them the story, and Draft2Digital will make them for you.
- Mark your chapter breaks with something distinctive, and be consistent. Make it centered and bold, or larger font, or use a Heading style. Set apart your chapter titles.
- If you have cover art, upload that too. A 1600×2400 JPEG works best, but any tall rectangle will do. Draft2Digital will resize whatever you send to meet the requirements of your chosen sales channels.
That’s it! From there, Draft2Digital will make sure your book gets a working Table of Contents and page breaks between chapters. They also generate custom endmatter like About the Author and Teaser pages. They guarantee that anything they produce will pass Epubcheck, meaning it meets the technical standards for all of their digital stores.
The Draft2Digital conversion process creates a beautiful epub and you’ll be able to download a mobi file for Kindle reading too.
Your ebook may look a little different from the original document you uploaded. Their goal is to make your story look as good as possible on the devices readers use.
If you have an expertly-formatted epub of your own, that’s cool too. They won’t make any changes, but they will gladly distribute it to all their digital stores for you.
STEP 3: CHOOSE YOUR VENDORS
Draft2Digital will get your book listed just as fast as going direct, and they support some of the largest sales channels:
- Barnes & Noble
- Apple Books
- Everand (formerly Scribd)
Instead of maintaining author profiles, sales descriptions, book versions, and series titles on all of those different accounts, they give you one easy place to maintain the information and make updates. Turning any of the sales channels on or off is as easy as clicking a checkbox.
Draft2Digital will automatically assign an ISBN to any book published through their system unless you provide one of your own. It’s a free service they provide because ISBNs allow them to distribute your book to more channels, and you don’t have to forfeit any of your rights.
If you already have the sales details ready for your next release (most importantly a firm release date), you can even set up preorders through Draft2Digital for all of Draft2Digital’s most popular sales channels. It’s a great way to build interest and boost your sales rank on release day.
Draft2Digital, like Amazon, can also create paperbacks for any books generated through our conversion service (that is, everything except pre-formatted epub uploads). You can use these files for distribution through CreateSpace or any other print-on-demand service you choose.
STEP 4: SET YOUR LIST PRICE
When you publish a book, you’ll enter a Digital Book Price (in US dollars). The list price is up to you!
Draft2Digital will direct their digital stores to sell your book at the list price you provided.
Want to list your book for free? No problem. Choose a list price of $0.00 on the publishing page, and they will make it happen.
If you decide to change your book’s price at any time (either temporarily or for good), just go back into their portal and make your adjustment. They will ensure that information gets updated with all of your vendors.
STEP 5: MANAGE AND TRACK
Draft2Digital’s goal is to take the headache out of publishing your book and managing it once it’s out there. They give you one easy place to take care of business and track your success.
- Manage changes. If you need to make any changes—whether it’s to the body text, the product description, or just tweaking the price for a weekend promotion—Draft2Digital will push the changes through immediately at no charge to you.
- See reports. They provide constant access to up-to-date sales reports for all of your vendors. they always post your sales numbers as soon as they’re available. And they make analysis easy by providing you all of your sales data in dynamic charts instead of in long, complicated spreadsheets.
- Get paid. Draft2Digital pays monthly, with a minimum payment threshold ($25 for cheques, $20 for Payoneer, $10 for international direct deposit, and $0 for all other digital payments). Once they receive your royalty payment – usually 30-90 days after sales occur – they subtract their 10% and send the rest on to you.