Writers’ & Artists’ Guide to Self-Publishing: How to edit, produce and sell your book

(Bloomsbury, 2020), 224pp, £16.99
ISBN 978 1 47 297029 9

Reviewed by Jenny Warren

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When I first read this book, I confess I was a little underwhelmed. However, when I skimmed it to write this review, I thought I was being unfair. It is more useful than I gave it credit for, which I’m now putting down to the 2020 effect!

There is an interesting introduction by Jane Davis, a self-published author. She had previously experienced and rejected traditional publishing and she says ‘2014 was when self-publishing really came of age’. I can’t say whether that is true, but it feels about right. Perhaps that’s why the book feels a bit dated. But it is supportive of freelancers and professional services, so that’s a big plus.

A brief summary of the contents:

Publishing: A useful overview of the main stages in traditional publishing. It also reports some statistics from a W&A survey of indie authors. Some interesting if not surprising insights here, such as most respondents choosing to self-publish because they want their book out there fast, and that 41% did not intend to use any professional services.

Editing: Makes the case for professional editing and summarises the different types. There are useful tips in ‘How to get the best out of the editing stage’ and a checklist of copyediting vs proofreading. It also covers indexing, which I wouldn’t lump in with editing, but with a book covering so many topics there are inevitable compromises.

Design: Comprehensive and practical, encompassing cover design, typography and layout, and imagery and illustration. It has a strong focus on briefing design professionals properly and trusting their judgement when collaborating.

Production: A summary of printing options including print on demand, ebook formatting and good advice about working with self-publishing companies or separate professional services.

Distribution and sales: Covers wholesale and full-service distribution and includes breakdowns of costs and cover price vs author returns on various options. It also touches on metadata and ISBNs.

Marketing: A guide to finding your readers, branding, networking, advertising and building an author platform. To me, this seems like one of the most objectively tricky things about self-publishing, so it was good to see a section explaining why marketing does not mean being ‘salesy’, it’s all about focusing on what your ideal reader wants.

Case studies: Advice from self-published authors, including their experiences of commissioning an illustrator, print vs ebook, the cost of self-publishing and how to get your book into libraries. They are all very short, but the contributors provide contact details, so if something grabs your interest at least you can follow it up and delve deeper.

Resources: A self-publishing checklist, which is handy if you like that kind of thing. It is very long, and a bit daunting if you don’t read the introduction and understand that some tickboxes won’t apply, depending on your route to publishing. There is also a not-very-comprehensive list of books, some useful websites and a good glossary.

My main issue is that if you know where to look, this information is available and often more comprehensive on self-publishing advice sites and some editor/author sites. There is a danger that a book like this will date quickly, as the service providers and publishing routes mentioned may well disappear or become superseded. Of course, that also applies to advice found on the internet.

The good thing about this book is that although it can’t do more than skim the surface of the topics, it does provide the vocabulary for an indie author to seek out the professional help they need or the terms to use when looking for advice on the internet or for more in-depth books about specific aspects of self-publishing.

Overall, then, it’s a book I would recommend to someone who is keen to self-publish but knows little about publishing terminology and processes.

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