Publishing a book

Publishing a book is rather like the old cliche: “how do you make a small fortune from the internet? start with a large fortune” The publishing industry is fraught with pitfalls and unexpected crises along the way and one has to be aware of these and have an action plan in place to deal with them.

Before you start with any publishing project, one has to establish the viability of the product. Will there be any interest in the publication? Is the subject well enough known to evoke the urge to buy the publication? How will you sell it? In what format? – as there are many available and will it be economically viable enough to warrant the effort and Capex required to mount the project?

Many people say: “i’m going to write a book” and it ends up either as a file of a galleys or a file on the hard drive of their laptop because they hadn’t researched the complexity of the project.

In most cases the author is an autobiographer, someone who has never written a book, or anything else for that matter, but has a story that they want to tell. My advice to that person, is hire a biographer and let that person endure the hardship.

If you write your own biography and then send it to a publisher, odds are, the publisher will send it straight back with a “thanks but no thanks” attachment. It’s rather like writing a song and trying to get a record label to release it. Rejection after rejection! That is why a clever subject will hire a biographer to tell their story.

Choosing the right biographer is never easy, you need someone who has done it before, sold books and has a track record of success, that way you know that stage one will be covered. You have to choose someone that you are comfortable with as you are going to reveal your most intimate and  innermost secrets to that person with the trust that those details will be handled with tact, good taste and even compassion as you do not want to come away looking bad, even if you were

Once you have chosen the biographer, that person may have an established track record with a publisher, so he will sell the concept to the publisher and get a contract to write the book. If he cannot find a publisher who is interested then you either end there, or look at alternate methods of publication but I will address that another day. For purposes of expedience let us assume that the biographer has come back with a contract.

Be prepared for long arduous sessions with your biographer as that person has to almost become you, in order to express your feelings on paper. It may take three months, it may take two years, it all depends on the rapport that you develope and how detailed you want your biography to be.

It is important to establish a timeline. Find a suitable time in your life where you want to begin your story and then travel through time up until the point where you want to end the story. Do not jump back and forth in time, this will avoid having to repeat yourself, to make sense of the timeline.

Once the manuscript has been completed by the biographer/author. the subject needs to verify the content and sign it off. Don’t forget, the subject has spent hours, sometimes hundreds of hours, in session with the biographer and his interpretation of your story, may not be the way you remember it. So it is vital, that the subject go through every page of the manuscript, making written notes regarding any changes necessary and signing off each page.

The biographer will then get the manuscript back and effect the changes, or debate them with the subject but remember the subject has the final say.

There is a difference between a good storyteller and a good writer and having told your story now comes the arduous task of having the manuscript edited. Here you need the services of a professional editor from the Editor’s Guild. This often results in more headaches than the writing process as the editor could hack the manuscript to pieces, while retaining both the story and the timeline but ensuring that the manuscript is factually correct, written in acceptable language, without spelling, grammar and syntax errors.

Once the editor has completed the task of editing the manuscript, he returns it to the biographer who will read the edited version and then either accept the edits or debate them. Remember you are paying for a professional editing service and that person usually knows better.

Between yourself, the biographer and the publisher, you now have to decide on the correct title and cover for the book. That is usually another complicated process as the cover can either sell or fail a book regardless of the content. It has to be an eyecatcher and it has to make you stop and take notice.

You now have the completed manuscript ready for printing but you still have to decide on the format and size of the book. Are you going with a hard cover first edition or a softcover and what size of page, which font to sue and the line spacing, all of which add to the readability of the book. Some books have print so small that you hurt your eyes trying to read it. It needs to be easy to read, especially if your target readership is on the wrong side of 50.

Once the publisher has the galleys, which has the manuscript laid out in the final print format, the publisher has to apply for an ISBN number or code for the book.

The next step is choosing the paper quality and then the printer. In South Africa we have a number of quality printers but they are not cheap and there is a two month lead time. Some are reliable, some you take it or leave it and they build in a clause that allows for a percentage shortfall in the delivery numbers.

Some publishers use foreign printers in China or India or elsewhere. The problem there is that some are excellent, while some supply books that fall apart after the first read. I have just finished a book printed in Natal that is coming apart after one read. Aso you cannot guarantee the paper quality from foreign printers. They may show a sample which you like but then use an inferior paper.

Foreign printing may often be considerably cheaper but then you have to take into account the shipping costs and 40% import duty if you intend to retail here. If you intend to retail overseas then you will save handsomely.

The next thing is to decide with he publisher, is how you are going to retail the book. Leading book retailers here take 65% of the cover price so you have to see a lot of books to make any money. Once the biographer/author has been paid, the printer and allied costs, there may not be anything left for you from the publisher.

Next time i’ll tell you about self publishing and internet publishing

David Blood UniMedia Production




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