Behind the Book: Part 4 – Publishing decisions

Continuing from previous parts, this series chronicles the journey of publishing my upcoming book.


For about one year, the book project was dormant: there was no movement from the typesetter, and my personal circumstances were also challenging – so I had little will to soldier on and make it a reality.

Back on track

Eventually, something in me sparked a new impetus, and I decided to push on. I realised that I was going to have to do it all on my own. I couldn’t rely on outside professionals for help. From what the experts say, with professional assistance at all stages, to produce a good, polished self-published book, it can cost R20,000 or more. In an ideal world – where I had tons of money to throw around – I would have hired such professionals to work on this, so that I could produce the book I dreamed of producing.

But the reality is that I didn’t have much budget at all, so I would have to learn as I went along, and do the best I could with the resources I had.

And this was actually fine, because as someone who works in the communications field, it wasn’t a stretch to attempt this myself. I already had the writing thing down, and editing is a part of my job, too. So producing the manuscript was never going to be the difficult part.

The challenges would come in the tasks that professional publishers usually take on:

  • Book layout, typography, and printing details (for a print version).
  • E-book formatting, upload, and distribution (for the electronic version).
  • Pre-and-post-launch marketing.

As for a cover, I had a particular visual concept in mind, but I couldn’t find (or afford) an artist or illustrator to produce that. So, I tried various mock-ups in an online graphics service and ended up producing the current cover – which I’m fairly happy with. Numerous people have given positive feedback on it, too – so I’m comfortable that it’s not totally amateur.

How to publish?

I did tons of reading and research on the different publishing methods: traditional, indie, and self-publishing.

And I learnt that in the last couple of decades, the publishing world has changed tremendously. Those gatekeepers – the publishing houses – have far less power nowadays. With the technology we now have, and the services available to anyone who wants to publish a book – everyone has a chance to make their publishing dreams a reality.

The default, old school approach would be to approach a traditional publisher and sell them the idea of taking on this project.

But I was strongly against this for several reasons:

  • Probability of success: It’s extremely difficult to get a book deal – especially if you aren’t a public figure, or have a big following. Added to that, you need to send query letters and manuscripts to publisher after publisher, hoping they’ll at least see your work – let alone read through it and consider publishing it. You’re at the mercy of others. And that’s never a good thing.

  • Creative control: I didn’t want anyone interfering with the creative vision I had for this book. This is a deeply personal body of material, and intuition has played a huge role in my journey of compiling, refining, and finalising the book. A traditional publisher’s primary concern is optimising the book to sell as many copies as possible. They have to do that, because they need to make a book economically feasible. But sales were never my driving force: neither the volume shipped nor the income. This was a passion project born out of my years of writing poetry and blogging. It comes from a desire to take what I feel have been my most significant pieces, package them beautifully, and offer them to the world to hopefully inspire or benefit readers in some small way. I felt that my vision could very easily take a back seat to the more commercially-driven decisions that a publisher would have to make.

  • Time: Even if you get a publisher, it’s a long road to release. And because others are driving the process, you can’t really dictate how and when things happen. You’re just a passenger – with some input into other people’s timelines.

  • Marketing: When it comes to raising awareness, the reality is also that no matter how you publish, the bulk of the marketing effort falls on the writer. Sure, with a traditional publisher, you get more opportunities and more resources to get your work out there. But the hard work is still mostly on you.

  • Earnings and ownership: Just like the entertainment industry (movies, music, etc), going with a publisher means you get only a very small piece of your book’s takings. Additionally, you often don’t retain full rights to your work. The publisher owns the rights – for at least a specified period. And they can do what they want. You can’t do what you want with your own work – unless you get permission.

All of this made it crystal clear that there was no way I would give over my book to a publisher.

So, self-publishing felt like not only the best route – but the only feasible route. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. If you just do the best you can with the resources you have, you don’t need to feel regret at missing out on something better.

Work within your means, and do your very best. Which is a good principle for any endeavour in life.

Image source

Other parts in this series:

  1. How it all began
  2. From blog to book
  3. Things fall apart
  4. Publishing decisions
  5. Making things happen
  6. Don’t dream it’s over
  7. Paper rules

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