A review of The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, fifth edition by Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, fifth edition
By Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier
Writers Digest Books
Paperback: 576 pages, August 9, 2010, ISBN-13: 978-1582977188

Are you considering self-publishing your book? According to self-publishing gurus Marilyn and Tom Ross, some 8,000 to 11,000 new publishers enter the field every year, most of whom are self-publishers. While self-publishing isn’t new, the explosion in self-publishing numbers represents a trend that is only likely to grow. There are a number of reasons for this – some of which are directly related to the difficulties inherent in obtaining a traditional publisher and to the low royalties on offer, while others are around the increasing ease and significantly lower entry costs for publishing. Many traditional publishers use print on demand (POD) methods, and many more use readily available distribution channels and inexpensive online promotional venues, which means that the differences between traditional and self-published books are shrinking.

One thing that hasn’t changed, and won’t change, is the value of high quality words and serious, significant, and learned editing. Without those a book won’t be of value to readers regardless of the publication medium. However, beyond that, many authors are getting their books together themselves and taking them on the road. If you’re one of those people, you need a decent guide. While the number of resources available to self-publishers is growing rapidly, the Rosses have long been known as the most knowledgeable of self-publishing mavens. The first edition came out long before self-publishing became the household process it is today and the latest version has completely revised it, bringing in dynamic self-publishing consultant Sue Collier to give the book a facelift and add much needed freshness.

The book covers the many aspects of self-publishing from the benefits and stumbling blocks, goal setting, publishing e-books, book clubs, subsidy publishing, print on demand printing (and how it varies from POD publishers), choosing a marketable subject, creating a platform, writing tips (especially for nonfiction), editing, design and typesetting, cover design, choosing paper and illustrations, proofreading, printing, creating a publicity campaign and marketing plan, getting reviews, stage managing a book signing, and much much more.

The revised version also contains references to new technologies such as the Expresso Book Machine, co-publishing (a very tricky situation that the authors cover well), the latest in e-books including readers and distribution, creating a website “magnet”, search engine optimisation, ecent trends as Seth Godin’s use of free books to generate buzz (and why you might want to try something similar), using Amazon, Web 2.0, social networking, podcasting, the use of videos, virtual book tours, and using the web to not only research but create content and creative use of emails for promotional campaigns. The book now has a very clear sense of the rapid pace of online change, and what that change means for writers and publishers:

Unquestionably, this digital terrain is moving under our feet. It’s unbridled. Exciting. Unpredictable. What we say here is written in sand, not carved in stone. What you choose to do with it will infinitely shape your future.(47)

The book goes beyond simply the publication and provides a one stop shop for setting up a publishing company (which, of course, you do, even if it’s just one book), including things like generating or raising working capital, setting up proper operating procedures, bookkeeping, filling orders, invoicing, and inventory control. If you thought that self-publishing was all about writing a book, you’ll learn that writing is only a small proportion of the self-publishing role – that it’s a business like any other and has to be run properly. There are chapters on printing, EANs, barcodes, ISBNs, cataloguing, trade announcements, phew. I particularly like the chapter titled “Provocative Promotional Strategies” where ideas like working niches, tying your book to current news topics, writing articles and letters to the editor, working the bookstores, obtaining inteviews, reader testimonials, making use of other activities in your life, using networks, selling subsidiary rights, and so on. This 575 page book has an awful lot of information and just about all of it is absolutely necessary if you want to self-publish a book and most of it necessary even if you are traditionally published.

The book is written in simple, easily readable prose with plenty of anecdotes, quotations, and examples. Some of the book contains truisms such as “Good, readable works sell much more readily than disorganized garble or lofty dissertations” and there is a definite US focus, particularly when it comes to business matters. However, much of the book has global applicability and there are a number of really useful templates like press releases, postcards, and media sheets, along with a large number of links, free resources, and such a wide number of ideas, resources, suggestions for writing that the smart reader will come back to this book repeatedly. The book also provides additional tools like a detailed self-publishing timetable, a complete (and customisable) sample market plan, a list of organisations, manufacturers, review sources, point of purchase suppliers, printers, recommended reading, a guide to acronyms,

Even if you aren’t self-publishing, there is a huge amount of information on garnering publicity, with some quite original ideas that all writers can make use of. For example, being a literary writer, I like the idea of thinking of specific market niches or writing nonfiction like cookbooks as a ‘fundraiser’. Ideas for obtaining blurbs or creating publicity for the book are equally innovative and will be of use to all writers, regardless of the route to publication: “all authors should realize it’s a publicize or perish game, and get behind their own books..” The chapter on book signings also has universal appeal, with excellent ideas for livening up and making the most of the event, and there are many other sections such as developing advertising copy that will help any author make the most of his or her book. If you are serious about going the whole hog and self-publishing one, or many books, then you are going to become a publisher and trying to do it without this guide could be a big mistake. The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing is one of the most seminal, practical and valuable books on the topic on the market and it belongs on every self-publisher’s shelf.

About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader. She is the author of the poetry book Repulsion Thrust, the novel Sleep Before Evening, a nonfiction book, The Art of Assessment, Quark Soup, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Cherished Pulse , She Wore Emerald Then , and Imagining the Future. She runs a monthly radio program podcast The Compulsive Reader Talks.

Review first published as Book Review: The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, Fifth Edition by Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier on Blogcritics.