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Mousehand

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

about self-publishing

What is it exactly?

Why do it?

What are the pros and cons?

Has it made anyone rich and famous?

We’ll investigate these questions and more here.

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Self-development fundi Justice Mandhla chats about his self-publishing experience …

Justice Mandhla is the author of four books and he spends a great deal of his full-time writing days researching and writing about marketing and advertising strategies. See more at www.businesslearning4life.com

- What title/s have you published?

1.     What They Didn’t Teach You in School: Life Long Learning Tips to Land  a Job Straight out of School (Careers : Job Search Guide)

2.     Business Prep Guide (Small Business Start ups)

3.      Boost Your Sales and Attract New Customers (Marketing)

4.     The Complete Building Blocks Guide to Successful Business Marathon (Business and Marketing)

- Why did you self-publish?
I self published because I was a novice who had a burning desire to write and share my knowledge particularly in job search and interview skills where my strongest skills lie. I did not have the financial means to go the traditional way.

- Did you use a publishing service (which one) or publish on your own?
All my books were published by Mousehand

- What were the most difficult parts of the whole process e.g. just writing the book, a production aspect you didn’t really understand, getting sales…?
The challenges that I encountered were:

  • Researching the topic I wanted to write about. It is time consuming as you have a lot of information at your disposal from various sources some contradicting one another and you have to sift, select and arrange the most relevant information that will be in line with your topic. The information overload can sometimes overwhelm you.
  • Writing and rewriting the manuscript several times.
  • Once the manuscript is finished, I was never ever satisfied, I always wanted to add something or delete something. Eight months passed doing the same thing with my first book.
  • Once the book was ready, marketing the book was not a challenge but making sales. For an unknown writer making sales is a daunting task, unless you know how to aggressively market your book

- What were the best parts of the whole process?

  • Seeing your book advertised in hundreds of websites including reputable and large online bookstores was a pleasant thing that could happen to a novice writer.
  • My online teaser pages have been viewed by thousands of readers all over the world, and the positive feedback I get pushes me to continue writing.
  • Receiving messages from long and forgotten friends and school colleagues who want to read my book was the best part of this journey.
  • In a few short months I acquired credibility and authority in my specialty field I would never have acquired had it not been for my books.

- In hindsight, did you have any unrealistic expectations? How would you wish these addressed for an author considering self-publishing, or going forward for yourself?
Yes, I had unrealistic expectations that the youth for whom my books are written would love my books and buy them in large numbers.

- How would you wish these addressed for an author considering self-publishing, or going forward for yourself?
Do research and surveys and identify your niche market then find a problem that you can solve for your market. Do not write the book then research who can benefit or who will love to read about what you are writing about. My mistake was I did it the other way round.(Of course not all genres land themselves to this approach).

- If you could change one thing in the book publishing/retail industry, what would it be?
Allowing and accepting all books based on the reviews and benefit a book provides to a specific niche market. Let the readers decide what they like and what they don’t. If the book does not sell after a certain agreed timeframe the book can then be sent back to the writer. I believe if this can happen, the playing field will have been levelled.

- Has it been worth it – and how do you define that worth?
For me I think it was worth all the effort. From writing my own book I acquired a lot of skills- not only the art of honing my writing skills but also marketing.

I love marketing, particularly marketing that can be tracked and pin pointed to a specific marketing medium.  Knowing where your sales come from is critical because one can up-sell and cross-sell within the same niche market.

Find out more about Justice’s books here, and more about Justice here.

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More self-published authors talk about their experience …

Michael Gastrow, Erik Norgaard and Floris Brown … a novel, a biography and poetry

Michael Gastrow grew up in Durban and Cape Town, and also lived in London and Washington DC. He studied Economics and Philosophy at UCT, followed by an Honours degree in Philosophy and an MA in Creative Writing. He currently works at the Human Sciences Research Council, where he conducts research into the impact of technological change and innovation on economic and social development.

- What title/s have you published?
The Road to Absalom (fiction)

- Why did you self-publish?
After three years of being kept on ice at a large South African publisher, I had still not been published. Every time I carried out their requested edits, they found new reasons not to publish the book. I realised that ideological differences with my publishers would indefinitely delay publication, or even worse, result in the publication of compromised work. In my opinion their literary focus was too backward looking and was not grounded in the present or engaged with important changes currently transforming society. In their opinion my book was too financially risky as it deviated too far from what they considered safe literary turf. At that point it became clear that taking a risk through self-publication was the best option for me.

- Did you use a publishing service (which one) or publish on your own?
I published only through Mousehand.

- What were the most difficult parts of the whole process e.g. just writing the book, a production aspect you didn’t really understand, getting sales…?
Writing the book.

- What were the best parts of the whole process?
Getting positive feedback from reviewers and people who have read the book, and engaging with people about the core issues in the book.

- In hindsight, did you have any unrealistic expectations? How would you wish these addressed for an author considering self-publishing, or going forward for yourself?
No, my expectations were low, and have been exceeded.

- If you could change one thing in the book publishing/retail industry, what would it be?
I wish that South African publishers did not have political or corporate agendas and were more open to change and experimentation.

- Has it been worth it – and how do you define that worth?
Yes. I have grown as a person through the process of writing, and am proud to have opened up the areas of debate that have emerged from the book.

- Any other thoughts/comments?
Do not be intimidated by large publishing houses: it is they who are facing diminishing competitiveness, falling profits, mergers and acquisitions, and an ideological dislocation from their publics, particularly younger readers. Authors have power in their independence. Contemporary self-publishing, because of its low cost, has reduced the barriers to entry into the literary world, in much the same way that independent recording studios led to the rise of Indie music and low-cost digital video recording led to an explosion in independent film-makers. It is exciting to be a part of this change.

Find out more about Michael’s book, The Road to Absalom, here and here.

***

Erik Norgaard is a modern-day Viking who followed his calling to conquer the world with his talents. He studied journalism, graduated as a civil engineer, and with boundless energy built up his own consulting firm. His distinguished career came to its conclusion as chief advisor to the European Commission, and as a sceptical witness to the evolution of the new Europe.

- What title/s have you published?
The Way it Was (biography)

- Why did you self-publish?
Best solution

- Did you use a publishing service (which one) or publish on your own?
Mousehand

- What were the most difficult parts of the whole process e.g. just writing the book, a production aspect you didn’t really understand, getting sales…?
The sales

- What were the best parts of the whole process?
Writing

- In hindsight, did you have any unrealistic expectations? How would you wish these addressed for an author considering self-publishing, or going forward for yourself?
Need more assistance with promotion, sales

- Has it been worth it – and how do you define that worth?
Yes, definately.

Find out more about Erik’s book, The Way it Was, here.

***

Floris Brown is digter, skaakspeler, uitgetrede onderwyser sowel as bekroonde komponis en musikant. Hy is betrokke by die aanbieding van skaaktoernooie; musiek en poësiewerkwinkels en het reeds sy buiging op SAUK-TV3; Stellenbosch se Woordfees; KKNK; Suidoosterfees en die Passaatwindefees gemaak.

- What title/s have you published?
Afrikaans poetry books e.g. Gloei, Waar aasvoëls draai, Phoenix, Die woudmaker, Skadukinders, Die koei stort ’n traan, Grysvos, Klank van die byl, Roep van die maanwolf, Die dans van die skoenlapper, Rot-t…, Blokhuis, Altyd die liefde, Moerbeiboomblare-haikoe, Ankerland-khoisanland, Woedende jy, Jy het nooit huis toe gekom nie, Roggel, Ek soek jou

- Why did you self-publish?
My passion for writing poetry.

- Did you use a publishing service (which one) or publish on your own?
I publish on my own.

- What were the most difficult parts of the whole process e.g. just writing the book, a production aspect you didn’t really understand, getting sales…?
The most difficult part is to get your books in bookstores.

- What were the best parts of the whole process?
For me the best part is knowing you’re writing for your family and leaving somethng behind for future generations – does not matter whether my books are sold or not.

- In hindsight, did you have any unrealistic expectations? How would you wish these addressed for an author considering self-publishing, or going forward for yourself?
I do not have unrealistic expectations. Afrikaans Poetry does not sell

- If you could change one thing in the book publishing/retail industry, what would it be?
Bookstores that will support and accommodate independent publishers.

- Has it been worth it – and how do you define that worth?
For me it’s worth it. I’m not writing to make money. I’m writing for the joy and my passion.

***

Self-published authors talk about their experience …

Expect regular updates under this heading! Today, we have Catriona Ross and Van der Spuy Brink.

Catriona Ross, a freelancer based in the Cape Winelands, has been writing professionally for 14 years. She’s a former features editor on Cosmopolitan and O, The Oprah Magazine, and is the author of The Love Book and Writing for Magazines: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know.

- What title/s have you published?
1. The Love Book, a novel.
2. Writing for Magazines: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know, a handbook for aspirant journalists

– Why did you self-publish?
I wanted to retain greater control over my product, my writing career, and my royalties! Writers have traditionally handed their books – and most of their potential earnings – over to publishers. While I see the value a publisher plays in marketing an author’s books, I’m at heart an entrepreneur so I’m always looking for a better deal.

– Did you use a publishing service (which one) or publish on your own?
My firt book, a novel entitled The Love Book, was published by Oshun, Struik’s fiction imprint. I decided to self-publish my second book, Writing for Magazines: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know, through Crink, then sign up with Mousehand in order to sell it worldwide.

- What were the most difficult parts of the whole process e.g. just writing the book, a production aspect you didn’t really understand, getting sales…?
In general, self-publishing Writing for Magazines has been a pleasure from start to finish. The only potential downside is that self-published books tend to take longer to start selling. Whereas traditional publishers create hype and excitement when a book is launched, and sales spike early on before tailing off, self-published books tend to build up sales momentum gradually. You have to be patient and wait for word of your book to get around before sales pick up.

- What were the best parts of the whole process?
Writing the book! Dealing with self-publishing staff who are as passionate about books as I am. And getting my first large order – from the University of Cape Town, who now use Writing for Magazines as a set book for their print media course.

- In hindsight, did you have any unrealistic expectations? How would you wish these addressed for an author considering self-publishing, or going forward for yourself?
I underestimated how long the self-publishing process would take. My book required complex design features, so the design and layout phase was longer than normal. Perhaps self-publishers could provide a customised schedule for each author, showing realistic time frames for each stage in the publishing process.

- If you could change one thing in the book publishing/retail industry, what would it be?
The huge discounts book stores expect as a matter of course from all suppliers. Often, even in self-publishing, the author ends up with very little profit.

- Has it been worth it – and how do you define that worth?
Absolutely. The process of self-publishing is relatively simple and extremely rewarding. My book looks beautiful, is being read locally by those who want to write freelance magazine articles, and will soon be available around the world. It’s been fulfilling to pass on my years of experience in journalism in one accessible, easy-to-read, professionally produced book.

Find out more about Catriona here, here, and her self-published book here.

***

Van der Spuy Brink studied as a scientist and worked for a mining company as an IT specialist, later for 10 years in offshore business development in 15 countries, managed all sorts of departments and part-time lectured Strategy and Innovation for Unisa’s MBAs for almost a decade.

Since 2005, I work for myself as a strategy facilitator and public speaker on business topics and is a shareholder and co-creator in 4 start-up companies.

When my children were toddlers, I told them endless self-created stories, then participated in De Kat’s love story competition, wrote a full-length play that was performed and discovered that deep inside there is a writer urging to create words. In 2008 I organized a storytelling event with SABC radio involving the Truth and Reconciliation commission.

Being a participant of the nuts and bolts in life, there are stories to be told than might change this world for the better. My first attempt with a topic on weddings combined with the harsh realities of life was a delight to execute.

– What title/s have you published?
I=MC2 How to be a Brilliant Master of Ceremonies at a Wedding.

- Why did you self-publish?
I spoke to several mainstream publishers and understood the impossibility to make a break. Being involved as a proofreader for an IT book and joining the authors as self-publishers gave insight and confidence to do it myself. Self-publishing is an adventurous journey and I will do it again and again.

- Did you use a publishing service (which one) or publish on your own?
I worked with Mousehand from the beginning.

- What were the most difficult parts of the whole process e.g. just writing the book, a production aspect you didn’t really understand, getting sales…?
Everything is under control except sales. That was and still is the biggest challenge.

- What were the best parts of the whole process?
Five wedding MCs (all engineers!), an artist and a writer joined forces. To lead them and steer towards the final result was heaven on earth.

- In hindsight, did you have any unrealistic expectations? How would you wish these addressed for an author considering self-publishing, or going forward for yourself? Again sales. We have a unique offering combing group theory and war stories for a huge market. The competition is all about cracking cheap jokes. Yet we still did not make a mark. I would spend 40% more time understanding market and the myths of e-marketing.

- If you could change one thing in the book publishing/retail industry, what would it be?
Little comment. My road with Mousehand and another company on the IT book was flawless and a pleasure. There are however many fly-by-night street corner “publishers” misleading naive writers. I wish we can weed them out.

- Has it been worth it – and how do you define that worth?
To create a book, see it through, show it to friends and enemies is priceless beyond words. It’s one of the greatest things to do!

If you have any other thoughts/comments, please add them too!
Each of us experiences life, the sweet and the sour. A writer is one of a selected few to capture this in a story or as nonfiction. Self-publishing opens the doors to get it done, get it read and to change this world for the better.

Find out more about Van der Spuy’s book here.

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Successful self-publishing

Soon, we’ll interview some South Africans who self-published and ask them about their reasons, experience and success. Meanwhile, you can check out these links to find out about self-published books/authors that made it big:

http://www.bookmarket.com/selfpublish-a.htm/

and

http://jimhines.livejournal.com/313073.html?thread=2728689#t2728689/

The latter is presents what seems to be a more well-researched investigation into successful self-publishing, and also provides some good tips. Just note, it’s not particular to SA. A comment at the bottom of the page mentions that sales of 2000 are considered fairly hopeless in New York. However, in South Africa, sales of 2000-3000 are generally considered a best-seller.

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How can self-publishing help you get your story out there?

If you’ve written a book, you’ve already proven your mettle. You can use your determination to self-publish your book and get the design, printing, distribution and marketing you want, all while retaining all copyright and profits.

The easiest way to self-publish is to find a company that offers the best range of publishing services.

You chose what you want, they do all the hard work …

You get books on the shelves.

So what publishing services will you need? In a nutshell:

Editing of your manuscript

  • Get a professional. It’s worth it. Spelling mistakes and bad grammar really spoil a good story.

Good book design and typesetting

  • Typesetting happens usually in Adobe Indesign. If done properly, your book looks professional, is easy on the eye, conveys the sense of your book, and fits your budget.

Good cover design

  • People do judge a book by its cover. Get someone creative to make your vision eye-catching

Proofreading

  • Whether your friend, husband or a professional editor edited your book, you should still get it proofread. Errors happen. Proofreading makes sure your book is the best it can be

Printing

  • Unless you do an e-book, you’ll need to pay for printing. Printing a neat, good-looking book affordably is a balancing act that takes time, a good eye, and know-how.
  • If you’re an individual, you’ll probably want print-on-demand (POD publishing) – which means you can do small print runs and keep less stock = less risk.

Distribution

  • Most book stores won’t deal with individuals. Plus, you may need to store your stock, and delivery can be expensive. Book distribution is a tricky aspect of the industry and it pays to get the pros to help you.

Marketing

  • So you’ve done your book production and got your beautiful book edited, designed and typeset, proofread, printed and distributed. It’s in stores. Why isn’t it selling? Because no-one knows about it. Book marketing is very important.

Sound overwhelming?

It can be, especially when you’re paying for it all yourself! Shop around and meet with self-publishing service providers face-to-face. This means, if you want your books to be in stores in South Africa, use South African business that knows the local book publishing, distribution and marketing industry.

Some questions you might ask:

“But they all offer design and typesetting, and print-on-demand. How do I choose who to go with?”

If you’re going to publish and print a book, spending all that money, make sure you get:
• good book distribution
• help with book marketing
• international book distribution.

How do you ensure this?

• Look at the self-publishing company’s list of books they’ve done.
• Visit stores. Can you find the books in stores?
• On Google?
• Any reviews?
You’ll want a company that doesn’t just make your book blindly, pocket your money, and then ignore you.

“How can I sell my book internationally?”

Again, here is the benefit of print-on-demand. Unless you’re a big publishing house doing a print run of 10 000 and with departments dedicated to marketing and selling your book, you need a simple, affordable book distribution system.

• It should get your book into major e-retailers and book catalogues.
• It should be able to accommodate your book design.
• It should use print-on-demand so you don’t have to worry about stock.
• It should link in with your local book distribution systems.

Is there an easier … and cheaper … way to tell my story?

Consider e-books. You’ll still need good design and typesetting, but you won’t have to print. Your distribution and marketing system is also more targeted. South Africa is slowly catching on – be on the cutting edge!

Remember, if you self-publish, you are the publisher. Put in the work to find the best self-publishing company to partner with you.
Check out www.publishsa.co.za for a list of publishers in South Africa.

 

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