It has been suggested to me I should write a piece on my Blog re self-publishing a book. The success, the mistakes and the tearing your hair out moments !!
So here is my story – It might help those of you who have thought of or want to self publish a book.
In the spring of 2008 I took up beekeeping, over lunch one day I jokingly said to my beekeeping mentors, Terry and Lorraine, that I should write a book to go with the photos of my bees I was taking. They didn’t laugh as I expected and said it was a good idea. A book for beginners written by a beginner. I therefore started writing Beekeeping: A Novice’s Guide, going through all the steps I had taken to get started. I knew nothing really about publishing other that for many years I had sold my photos www.dw-photography.co.uk to numerous magazines, books and newspapers. I knew I would need a publisher so I started contacting publishing houses with my idea. Surprisingly I found 3 publishers who showed interest, I think because bees and bee decline was very much in the media. Naturally they wanted to see the text first. Having printed digital portfolio photo books before, I produced 6 copies of the draft book using the digital templates of Blurb. www.blurb.com. Though not perfect, due to the restricted templates of the software, I had hard copies of the book which I sent to these publishers. Doing it this way, gave the publisher a hardcopy to view and discuss. Each publisher asked me what I thought the book should retail at and I suggested £16.99 a copy. (A price that I have kept to) They agreed the price was about right, I then learnt that my margin having written and done the photography would be about £0.70p per copy. Yes !! you can guess how I felt, I do the work they make the money !! I appreciated they had costs ( printing, distribution etc. ) but I thought the margin was too stacked in their favour. They all suggested a print run of 3000 - now ”I knew the book was not the next Harry Potter”, but with 3000 copies printed I could roughly work out their margin compared to mine.
At this point I didn’t think the book was going to happen. Then in a conversation with a Photo Library I sell images through, they were proposing doing a series of books: keeping bees, keeping chickens, keeping pigs etc. My book on beekeeping could fit into the series perfectly. I was asked to send some photos so their book designer, could do some mock covers. Excited a few days later an email arrived with some suggested covers. Disappointment does not express how I felt when I opened the files. Later that day I asked my wife to view the mock covers and give me her views. “They look like 1970′s school text books” was her comment and I was relieved as I had also had similar thoughts. I called the designer, who told me quiet aggressively “that he had been designing books for many years for all the biggest publishers – blah ! blah ! and what did I know ?” – “Fair enough” I said ” But who’s paying you to design this book” – ME !! That was the end of the conversation until he sent me an enormous bill for his work. I emailed him saying, that looking at the 4 covers and as a photographer myself, I think I could knock those up in about 10 minutes. Each cover was the same except he had dropped a different photo into each one. I eventually agreed to send him £150 instead of the £800 he had invoiced. This was still too much for the work done, but I had learnt a lesson. So beware get firm quotes first !!
At this point I think I was near giving up – I then did a search in Google for ” Book Designers ” – and plenty of those appeared. However, one I clicked on looked good and I liked what the website said. So I clicked on contact. ” Well &%$ me !! ” He was based in King’s Lynn, 10 miles up the road. I called Chandler Book Design www.chandlerbookdesign.co.uk and John Chandler seemed a nice guy, was interested in the project, so we arranged to meet. An hour with John and I was impressed, but the main point for me was that he was keen and enthusiastic. He answered all my questions. I left knowing how much the book to design and print was going to cost me. ( confirmed with written quotes) I was getting somewhere at last !! Nervously I decided I was going to go down the self-publishing route – Write/Photograph and Distribute. I therefore gave John the go ahead to start, he said he would do the first couple of chapters and see if I liked the design and layout. I can honestly say, he got it spot on first time. Our next meeting of course we did some tweaking, I suggested things and he counter suggested ideas and together in about 2 hours we had the book as we wanted it to look. I left him to continue the rest of the book and all I needed to do was to get the last few photographs to fill in a few gaps. Finally John needed an ISBN number for the book.
Nielson Book Data www.nielsenbookdata.co.uk issue the ISBN numbers in the UK and they were a pleasure to deal with. If only all Help desks could be this easy. Within two weeks I had the book as a low res PDF for me to print off. This next part for me was perhaps the most difficult. I had the book as an inkjet print and I needed to proof read it. I read it over and over again, changing sentences, spelling etc. My wife Helen read it over and over. I got two friends who are keen readers to read it and they marked any errors. I read it again, Helen read it again and final I thought I was happy and passed it to John to make the final changes his end. DONE !! Ready to print. The high res. file was sent to Ashford Colour Press www.ashford-colour-press.co.uk book printers in the south of England who John Chandler had used many times. Within a few days the colour proofs had arrived and John and I went through them. We made a couple of minor changes and the go ahead was given to print.
As a professional photographer I knew that the quality of paper was important to make the photos stand out. So I opted for 170 gsm satin art paper and 240 gsm art card with a gloss laminate for the cover. I was so pleased when the pallet with 1000 copies of my book arrived. This was October 2010, so now the hard bit of marketing started. The website www.beekeeping-book.com was set up with a Paypal system to enable buyers to purchase and pay for the book. Adverts in beekeeping magazines were working, I managed to get a number of reviews published in the same magazines and emailed every beekeeping association in the country with many writing about the book in their monthly newsletters. I sent copies to beekeeping equipment suppliers and offered them a £5 margin on each book they sold. The book was selling well. I had one or two constructive critisms from the beekeeping world, however most comments and reviews were excellent. Perhaps the biggest market I needed to get into was Amazon. If a company could make it any more difficult for a self publisher then this is the champion. Hours spent speaking to the sellers help desk, most on the desk don’t speak English very well and due to being located in some far distant place, it felt like I was trying to hold a conversation with someone down a drain pipe. Eventually I got the book on Amazon, but felt and still feel that most of the time I am banging my head against a wall with them. I appreciate they are not interested in me with my one book and really only want the big publishers and the celebrity author. As with many large companies it is STACK’EM HIGH AND KNOCK’EM OUT CHEAP !!
By August 2011 I had sold 800 copies mostly direct through the website, quiet a few through beekeeping wholesalers, sold many at the BBKA convention and about 60 via Amazon plus I had started re-writing the book. Even though Helen and I had read it over and over, little errors kept popping up. Unfortunately as an author you go blind to the text. You know what you wrote and your eyes skip over the text missing things which you would think are obvious. I was determined with the 2nd edition that I was not going to make this mistake again. I re-wrote the book adding more detail to some chapters plus adding 2 new chapters and a colour pollen guide. Through a previous photographic job, I knew of a professional proof reader, so got in touch with Elaine Swift www.elaineswift.co.uk asking if she would proof read the book. Emailing the text, I suggested to Elaine she should translate the book from Norfolk to English and she did a great job tidying up my sentence structure and spelling. I added new photographs and once John Chandler had re-laid it out, the book had grown from 128 pages to 152 pages. Coloured proofed again, I gave Ashford Colour Press the go ahead to print, but this time to reduce printing costs per copy opted for 2000 copies. My budget being to sell 1000 copies a year over the next 2 years. This saved me £1.24 per copy in printing costs. (£2480) Difference between quote for 1000 or 2000 copies.
The 2nd edition was published 5th November 2011. I am still knocking my head against the wall with Amazon, but certain I will eventaully get there with them. I have the 2nd edition listed with them, but I cannot get them to put me in all the same categories as the books I compete with.
Everywhere I read I was informed all books will be ebooks one day, so next step was to look into an ebook version of the book. I found it very difficult trying to find companies which produced ebooks, even Google led me down blind alleys. Fortunately Elaine Swift put me in touch with Tom Evans www.tomevans.co Tom is an marketing expert and knows how ebooks work re converting the printed book file into an ebook format. As I discovered the layout for print and ebook are different. If seems you cannot take the print file and just transfer it to a digital ebook. First you cannot have columns of text, only some fonts are recognised and the Kindle, iTune and Android formats all have their differences. The printed version of the book has a PDF file size for the printers of over 250mb but for ebooks the size has to be greatly reduced to under 20mb, thus many of the 150 photographs in the printed book cannot be in the ebook version. I believe if your book is just text, like a novel, so without photographs the process is far simpler. Unfortunately though the ebook version looks good, I feel it has lost much of the feel, quality and impact of the printed version. Tom also told me that I had to go the Amazon Kindle route as iTunes will not except an ebook from single book publisher. The same thing with large companies – BIG is only BEAUTIFUL. However I have just found out that through a company I have dealt with before, I can get the book on iTunes, not the Kindle version as is available now for iPads and iPhones. But the full printed version, with all 150 photos looking exactly like the printed book. I am awaiting some detail and if this is true I will reveal how it’s done. The best thing though it costs hardly anything to do. The whole 152 page book on iTunes for about £25.
I hope that having read this, this blog will have given you an insight into self-publishing. I am certain I made mistakes and perhaps there were simpler routes, but some how I got there.
I would think it is very easy to get carried away with the dream of seeing your own book in print. I did both editions as a business project. So costed everything in detail.
The costs for the 2nd edition were: Design Layout / ISBN / Printing / Website / Proof Reading / Ebook design and upload to Kindle Store – 2000 copies printed: Total cost £8000/£4.00 a copy.
Retail price is £16.99 excl. post and eBook £4.99. Of course Amazon take a cut of sales ( £2.93 a book ) and sales via my website incurr a Paypal charge of £0.88p per sale.
I am happy with these charges as my margin is far greater than the £0.70p per copy I was offered by the 3 Publishing Houses.
Just had a lovely long weekend in Florence. Lot colder than we were expecting and in some places frightingly expensive. €8 for a coffee ahhhhhhhhhhh!! Saw plenty of local honey in the market, plus some unusual mixes. Honey and Balsamic vinegar, Honey and Chillies and Honey and Truffles. Had a taste of each, but honestly I felt why would you want to ruin the taste of honey, balsamic and truffles by mixing them together. All taste good on their own.
DANGER !! BEES COULD STARVE – I’m Not Joking !!
Usually I give my bees a present of Fondant at Christmas time and this year it is going to be even more vital. We have had a very warm autumn and my bees were still bringing in pollen up til last week.
This means the Queen has still been laying and there is brood in the hive. Foraging bees eat more than when clustered together for winter. Though they have also been bringing in nectar, this supply is not enough to replace their stores and they have probably been eating more than they have brought in. Weekly hefting of your hives is very important, to check the weight of stores. Feed them fondant if you feel the hive is light. As with all feeding it is better to give them it than not to. They will only feed off it if they require it.
Another problem with late foraging and with brood in the hive, is that any varroe mite will have the larvae to lay in. I treated my hives for varroa during September, so it has been some weeks for the surviving varroa to expand. It is too late now to treat with Apiguard or similar thymol-based treatment. Probably good idea if we get a dry week, to put mite boards under the hives for a few days, so you can see for dead mite drop. If you see plenty of dead mite you may well need to treat with Oxalic acid around Christmas time/early January – You can only treat with Oxalic acid when there is no brood in the hive. If you want or need to treat earlier you can with “Hive Clean” which you can get from beekeeping suppliers.
BEEKEEPING: A Novices Guide 2nd Edition is now available as an eBook via the Amazon Kindle Store.
In colour for iPads and Andriod tablets and phones, in greyscale for Kindle tablets. Though when the new Kindle Fire is released in early 2012 ( already out in USA ) the book will also be available in colour in this form to.
eBook price £4.99 To download eBook go to the website www.beekeeping-book.com
Within the book is a special offer to eBook buyers to also get the printed version for a reduced price.