Publish or be Damned

Today's blog comes from authonomist and HarperCollins author Steven Dunne. (Check out his first post for us here.) Before signing with HC imprint Avon, Steven had successfully self published his book, then called Reaper.

After beating your head against a brick wall trying to find an agent or publisher to take on your manuscript you have to make a decision. Having no contacts in the industry and not being a celebrity, I decided fairly quickly that to get noticed I would have to try and break the traditional mould. There’s an episode of the original Star Trek which sums up the position nicely. Spock, Bones and Scottie are in a small shuttle with only an hour’s fuel left before they crash onto the planet below. The Enterprise is light years away trying to find and rescue them but they’re looking for a needle in a haystack. Spock jettisons their remaining fuel and ignites it leaving them with only minutes to live. “A flare?” asks Scottie. A flare indeed. Of course the Enterprise spots the flare and rescues them in the nick of time. Spock’s flare was my inspiration - how to get noticed in such a crowded marketplace in the days before Authonomy. The traditional route had failed me as it has failed countless others. Fortunately the internet provides a forum for everyone and I began to lay the groundwork for my flare with friend and marketing expert, Jeff Fountain. A website was essential. Its presence would serve as marketing tool and checkout, allowing customers to find and read about the book and make a purchase all in a one stop shop. Long before the book was ready the site’s name was reserved – – to avoid disappointment nearer the time. All that remained was to polish the manuscript until it gleamed and find a reputable publisher to print the novel. Oh, and the small matter of raising the finance to pay for publication.

The first question – when? – became clearer when I suggested to my partner that I cut a particular scene. When she protested that it was one of the strongest and most disturbing episodes in the novel, I came to realise that I’d taken the script as far as I could and further tinkering might cause me to consider cutting material that was strong, purely on the grounds that I’d read it a hundred times before and was over familiar with it. It was time to go to market.

The next stage was to identify a suitable designer to give the book its unique identity, a task ill served by a publisher-for-hire’s collection of generic covers. Jeff brought Corin Page ( into the project whose startling cover design gave the book a face. Suddenly it began to feel that this was actually going to happen and the excitement began to build. (One of the big regrets of the campaign was that Corin inadvertently left his name off the final cover design sent to my publishers and didn’t get a credit on the book jacket.)

Having acquired the cover for Reaper, I also commissioned a couple of hundred extremely well produced posters so that when I approached independent bookstores to stock Reaper I could also supply professional looking publicity material to promote it. I believed the look of the book and the poster should be more than enough to convince stores that the Reaper campaign was not just a vanity project. Aside from the actual publication, the extra cost of the cover and posters totalled just over £1000 and though not a small amount of money it seemed to me to be the difference between being taken seriously and being ignored. At this stage I hadn’t even considered getting stock into a large retail outlet like Waterstone’s.

The next stage was perhaps the most problematic – finding a suitable publisher to take your precious manuscript and shape into a serious looking volume. Anyone who has ever researched this knows that there are hundreds of advertisements on the internet from publishers offering their services and espousing their ability to not only create your novel but market it for you as well – all for a price. Some are ridiculously cheap and should be avoided – these truly are vanity publishers and shouldn’t be trusted to take care of anything other than your cheque. Be aware of any company that offers to print small numbers. Real publishers print in large runs and benefit from subsequent economies of scale. If you’re serious about selling your book you need to think about an order for no less than 500 copies. I wanted 1000. The only reason I ordered 2000 was that to double my order would be relatively inexpensive and would bring down the unit cost overall. At this stage, before you part with serious money, you need to ask yourself if you are really willing to devote all your waking hours to promoting your book. It will take time and energy, and an unshakeable belief in the merit of your work.


  1. This is very helpful. Thanks for this. It seemed unfinished though. I would've loved to have a bit more. Which publisher did you go with? What happened next? What did you say to convince the indie book stores to stock your book? Or are these all secrets not meant for us to know?

    Thanks for sharing the information you did.

  2. Thanks for an interesting post.

    I was surprised to see an article on self-publishing in my monthly 'Costco Connections' magazine. For those of you who don't live in the U.S., Costco is a membership warehouse club that sells everything from lettuce to laptops. Something tells me Costco might even get in the POD business. They already offer bestsellers at a discount and they have an online store.

    Janet S. Colley

  3. Thank you for this information. As I'm considering the self-publishing route myself, it has been helpful and inspiring.

    Like Anne Lyken-Garner, I would love more though.

  4. Thanks for this. I hope there will be a sequel - we want to hear how you managed the marketing, and then how HC stumbled across you and catapulted you into Avon.
    The very best of luck - you've obviously worked so very hard, and deserve your current success.

  5. Already have a couple books on AMAZON's KINDLE system. It's working fine for me. I recommend it.

  6. I had Daddy's Little Spy - Isabella rose's amazing survival against witchcraft during WW2 published by local firm.
    Jude Morgan gave it a brilliant blurb for the back cover.
    I now have a book signing on April 18th 2009 at 10.a.m. everyone welcome at Buy the Book, 64 High Street, Stamford Lincolnshire.
    See my funny video

  7. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  8. One of my very favorite blog posts so far. Looking forward to your next installment!

  9. Ah man ... you hit it. If I might add, there is a company in Michigan, USA that specializes in "book consultation." They can create a contract price for the services of editor, illustrator, cover designer and more. They assist in obtaining necessary registrations, as well as, the selection of text, paper thickness, hard/soft cover design, print pricing/packaging and shipping. They offer marketing solutions if you so desire. By using them you become your own publisher, you have all the risk and all the glory! I would say the book business is a very difficult process overall and that is why the big boys are so careful. Damn those big boys ...

  10. I too would like to know more details.
    One other thing: Geoff Thorne mentions Kindle, but you appear to need a US address and a US bank account to publish with them. How irritating!

  11. Thomas Sharkey.28 July 2010 at 16:13

    I would not self-publish even if I were a millionaire, I write because I love to write, I don't write to become rich.
    If fame and fortune go hand in hand, then let me be poor and unbothered.


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