The trials and tribulations of self publishing

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Saturday 4th June 2011

Self publishing gets a terrible press. SoI’m always pleased to hear of a writer who’s self-published a book and sold heaps of copies. The latest success story is Dan Holloway, whose thriller, The Company of Fellows, sold a magnificent 1,766 copies last month in the UK alone. Not only that, it’s just topped a Blackwell’s Bookshop online poll to find readers’ favourite Oxford novel – no mean feat when it was up against the likes of Evelyn Waugh, Philip Pullman and Colin Dexter.

But there’s no doubt that self publishing is a risky business. I speak with authority because I self-published a children’s book five years ago. A fast-moving, fun read for nine to 12 year old fans of The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent!, The Rise and Shine Saturday Show follows the fortunes of five children from very different backgrounds who are all desperate to be stars. The competition takes place in a rambling mansion in the wilds of the Lake District, where the five finalists embark on intensive tuition in singing and dancing.

My self-publishing venture began when having devoured everything by Meg Cabot, Celia Rees and Jacqueline Wilson, my daughter complained she couldn’t find anything she wanted to read. “Why don’t you write a book for me?” she asked. So that’s what I did.

Once I’d finished the book, I (madly) hit on the idea of taking charge of the publishing process myself – from choosing the typeface to commissioning a jacket design. So despite knowing next to nothing about how to get an ISBN number or the importance of printing a barcode on the back I plunged in.

Finding an artist to design the cover was the biggest challenge but I eventually found Meng-Chia Lai, a fabulously talented artist who was a student prize-winner at the V & A Illustration Awards. Our meeting was a bit like something out of Brief Encounter. Meng-Chia was about to fly home to Taiwan so we met for a cup of tea at Marylebone Station. There, surrounded by harassed commuters, Meng-Chia showed me the ideas she’d sketched out for my book. Painted in soft hues of purple and pink, her designs were gorgeous. She did my book proud.

Next I had to find a printer prepared to do a short print-run. Cox & Wyman agreed to print 2,000 books, a scary number, but the minimum they’d do. Even so, it was a shock when the consignment was delivered to my house. As the middle-aged courier staggered down our wonky basement steps and stacked them in a daunting pile by the back door, he said witheringly: “I usually deliver to publishers’ warehouses. Then every so often I get one of these.”

The mountain of books was so huge that it certainly got me cracking. I was immediately on the phone to wholesalers, booksellers and journalists, offering my sales pitch at break-neck speed. My daughter designed me an ultra-professional despatch note and my son trotted endlessly back and forth to the post office with parcels of books to send to the wholesalers.

I got a fair bit of publicity (the book even made it on to Radio 4) but the hardest part of all was actually getting a self-published book into bookshops. Local shops were keen to help and I sold quite a few on Amazon but I didn’t have any luck further afield. In the end I sold around half of my books and broke even. My foray into self publishing was fun, creative and very hard work. But no, I wouldn’t do it again.

If you’d like to buy a copy of The Rise and Shine Saturday Show, go to Amazon or

One comment so far

  • I’ve just read that writer John Locke has become the first self-published author to sell more than one million e-books through Amazon. So it can be done.

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