Starting your own publishing house.

Starting your own publishing house.

The last post concerned the problem of getting published and turning to self-publishing. (Suggest you read that first)
Here I am telling the story of how Magpies Nest Publishing was set up as a channel to get my books into the market place. Plus various problems to do with marketing your book.

Magpies Nest Publishing (www.magpiesnestpublishing.co.uk) was set up by my son. This is completely different to using the ‘ready to use’ blogs that are simple to set up but restrict in other ways. Magpies Nest Publishing is not a blog, but a showcase and a means to order books over the web. I have no knowledge of computer language and my son does all the changes needed from time to time. I can’t even get at the programme to do any changes because it is on my son’s computer, not mine. He does not want me to fiddle with it anyway — can’t blame him as I would only mess things up. (Being an old biddie, relatively new to computers, that is one thing that I really am good at!) PayPal, complete with shopping basket, is really needed but I have to wait until it can be done. Hopefully by the time most people read this it will be set up.

I did not set out with the intention of starting a publishing house. But I had already written a number of novels, and submitting to agents or publishers that objected to the author submitting to other firms at the same time, was indeed tedious, especially when a reply could take months. Knowing that agents only take on one or two new authors a year (and those not necessarily from submissions) out of the thousands of hopefuls, was not encouraging. But, as you may have gathered from my last post, I continued as I looked into alternatives. The false agent was a huge blow. I’m just thankful I did not broadcast the mythical coming contract. The showcase venture collapsing was also a blow as all this meant that I had not submitted my work to genuine firms for quite a while. Back to square one!

But even before then, I received a letter from a friend’s son who was climbing Kilimanjaro along with a group of students from Durham University. He was looking for sponsorship. Having very little cash at the time I offered to write a small book about my childhood. I had been encouraged to write a book by someone who enjoyed the occasional funny references to my youth. Here was an opportunity. I had no great plans, just thought a booklet something like a Church Magazine — printed, put together and stapled by myself, at a place where I knew it could be done. However, it grew. Someone offered to sell it on their website, the man who did my Manuscript Appraisals offered to proofread it, and so I just had to do a decent job of printing it. I enlisted a cartoonist to help with illustrations to go with my line drawings. and I began looking up local printers. The local printer could not do perfect binding I required and suggested a firm in Kendal. A good quality book was produced by the traditional method. Someone suggested 1,000 copies as being the cheapest way to buy them, I already thought 500 would be far too many. But I decided on 750 and wondered where on earth I was going to sell them! However, my son said we should get an ISBN and bar code, or they could not be sold in shops. (You have to get a minimum of ten ISBNs All this information can be found on the Internet) He saw to all that, and he formatted the book. Quite a job with having to fit in so many drawings — some having to be shrunk or adjusted, and occasionally the text wrapped around an illustration.

We got a lot of publicity from the local paper because of the Kilimanjaro expedition as well as the uniqueness of the book. This carried on to illustrate an article about wartime labeling — Utility! Photos of my young friend actually standing on the mountain also gave another occasion for the book’s mention. My son’s firm sold many books through their on site gift shop and fellow employees bought the book. A visiting rep for the Lakeland glossy magazine read the book and put a brief review in the next publication. A reviewer for Westmorland Gazette wrote a nice piece too. Some people bought multiple copies for Christmas and birthday presents too. I was stopped in the street and supermarket to be complimented on the memoirs and was told how much it brought back memories. Buyers passed it around family and friends — some abroad. I even got letters saying how much it was enjoyed. Delightful, amusing, hilarious, entertaining — praise abounded! Even so, sales were mostly local. I sold a good batch to a book warehouse but at 50% discount not much left for charity. Others took 30% 35% or 40% but quite a few were sold with every penny profit given to the cause. Hence we eventually handed over all profit plus a few donations to the charity — over £1,500. (Some through the sponsoring but most afterwards direct to the charity). Recently, due to requests we could not fulfill, we produced a second edition with 40 extra pages and more illustrations. I could not risk another traditional plates production as I did not expect to repeat previous sales, so I went Print On Demand. Their new site is in preparation but I am very pleased with the service I get from them:
http://www.bookprinting.uk.com
Another new site, which appears to be excellent for fulfillment services and generally helpful for self-publishers is
http://www.authorcraft.co.uk
Apart from getting a free copy of ’10 Big Mistakes that cost Authors Money’ it claims to be a creative community of writers, authors, journalists, bloggers,designers, illustrators, editors, proofreaders, programmers, web designers… visit there to find what else. I have joined the community, it might well raise my enthusiasm, and who knows — sales?

Having successfully formatted Red Boxes (When Phones were Immobile and Lived in Red Boxes) and got it registered (which puts the book into a catalogue and onto Amazon etc. and also requires six books to be deposited in British deposit Libraries) my son suggested we use up the spare ISBNs on publishing my novels.

A novel is much larger than my memoirs. To buy more than 200 maximum seemed risky (as well as requiring storage space) and traditional printing would be far too expensive so I turned to digital POD. I looked on the Internet and received a variety of estimates. I chose a firm in Derby and they did my first two novels. But they closed their book printing side of the business – or sold it. If the above fulfillment company, with its connection to the above mentioned POD printer had been around then I would likely have enlisted their services. As it turned out, I found novels incredibly difficult to sell. Even after getting awards and local newspaper publicity. There are so many cheap books around and this is an area of low population. And I guess , being an oldie who had to give up driving years ago, it difficult to get around and get my talents known. Posting books to book warehouses got me nowhere (except the more local one, which is not taking more due to present financial restrictions.) Posting books elsewhere just meant loss of books with seldom a confirmation of receipt. Same with trying for reviews in nationals. I had it confirmed by the Telegraph that they only review books freely available to purchase in any bookstore. Of course, bookstores won’t buy books unless they are certain of selling them.

However, after the first two novels, we published a delightful poetry book called The Primrose Path. The poet is an ex-Yorkshire miner, Bob Taylor. We met through a group formed after the false agent debacle. I loved his poetry and persuaded him to let us publish it. I illustrated it for him. But he, like me, had written a few short stories. So I invited submissions from other members of the group with a Northern connection and we published an illustrated book called Northern Lights. All the contributors bought copies at the cost of printing and could sell or give them away as they wished. 50 copies were bought by a warehouse bookseller. I had a second print run done and we are now out of stock again. Of course, we would do another run if needed. Unlikely, since our sales are almost entirely local with only a few Internet orders, as with novels.

Having had short stories printed in Internet journals, two years ago I decided to publish my own anthology — Still Waters Run Deep, stories of hidden depths. (Mainly stories — humour, mystery, crime, semi-erotic, with a local setting.) It went in the local paper and the next day customers were queuing outside the bookshop waiting for it to open! I had tried to get it published but the publisher who enjoyed reading the submission said it was not what they published (they only published regional) and suggested where I might try. It did not suit them either but they sent information on what they do publish. Why go on trying when we can do it ourselves?
But no matter what kind of books, readers have to be really keen to pay more than the cheapest books on the market. We live in a small market town in Cumbria. When I asked a market bookstall if he would like 10 of my books at a promotional price of 10 for £5, he would not even look at them. He waved his hand over the stall and said, ‘This is what people buy. This is what they want. Known authors and known books.’ Then he turned away and ignored me. However I have given copies to the local Oxfam and they sell out there. Again, books are cheap! At least the money goes to charity so that is okay.

I have set up an account with Gardner’s so I can sell through Waterstone’s. BUT I have to contact each manager personally to ask if he will take a copy. The local, Barrow branch, of Waterstone’s (ten miles away) will take orders but will not stock. (Daft really! All that postage – me to Gardner’s, Gardners’ to Waterstone’s when I could just deliver it myself, but they have their reasons). I either break even or lose on every book. Waterstone’s in Barrow used to be Ottakar’s. That manager was great. He not only took my books (sold 30 of Red Boxes) but actually read my When Angels Lie and said it was good. He was moved to Kendal and bought some books there too. All these helpful bookstores have been swept away by big business. The local bookstore (keen to help local authors) closed one of its shops then sold the other. The new owner gave up but it has been opened by a new owner who is quite friendly. He has accepted some of each of my trilogy.

The trilogy, like my other novels, is also published in the USA and will shortly be published in India. Also as an ebook in Australia for worldwide distribution.

I do not pay to have my books published anywhere, but I have paid a great deal for editing, proofreading and appraising by professionals. Even the books of top authors get many edits before books are released. Recently, one best selling author got the wrong draft of his book printed in thousands by mistake, and they all had to be pulped! I managed about four typos in one of my books and worse in another — a small paragraph got left in that should have been taken out. But no one seems to have noticed. Most books on sale manage to get a few typos but unedited books give a bad impression of an author’s work.

However, without great marketing skills, it is difficult to get books into stores countrywide. But to get books cheap enough you need to print in thousands. Some regional publishers get grants, but not publishers like Magpies Nest. But without expensive promotion and publicity a publisher can be left with a load of books destined for pulping. A rather small book publisher (Snowbooks) states it takes them £10,000 and six months of their time just to launch a book, and that is without the publicity big publishing houses use. But Snowbooks have the experience of which books sell and the know-how to get them into the shops. Quite possibly my books, as they are, would not sell even if published by Random House! Well, I guess I will never know the answer to that.

It only takes something extraordinary about a book to attract a grapevine of twitters and it does occasionally happen. Word of mouth does sell books but they have to be in the market place attractively on display to get noticed. Otherwise why do publishers pay out huge sums to get even top authors’ books in windows and on display, complete with posters, leaflets and special offers, and in glossy magazines, and on posters on station platforms and so on?

Having one’s own publishing label is really little different from other forms of self-publishing. Unless you have a firm doing fulfillment for you it is just more hard work. Even so, it can get books into big stores if there is a will to do so. An ISBN and barcode is essential. Your own label gives you complete control over your book but you may have more work to do. But then, all publishers, large and small, demand a lot from their authors. Likely, if you pay someone to self-publish for you it could cost far more and the results be less satisfactory. Those who provide services are the ones most likely to make money out of your book. But then, DIY publishing without the necessary skills, can produce very poor books. I could not run Magpies Nest Publishing alone, but younger people with the necessary skills certainly could. And of course, you can get books printed cheaper, even if you have to buy in batches rather than singly. But there is always the option of fulfilment services.

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