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Book Review: The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, Fifth Edition by Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier

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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, regardless of the medium 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 been 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 very novel 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, recent 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.

About Magdalena Ball

Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at
  • Sue Collier

    Thanks so much for the review, Maggie!!

  • Adam

    Hi Maggie. Really insightful and interesting article. Thanks for posting. Will check out marilyn and sues’ book.

    All the best

    Adam Charles