Interview – Michael Hanrahan on self-publishing
Have you ever thought about writing a non-fiction book about your area of expertise? Perhaps you have built up knowledge in your career? Perhaps you are an expert in teaching kids to play soccer, after coaching for years on weekends? Maybe you run seminars for colleagues on health issues or people management or interior design? Maybe you already have notes and notes and notes on how to run a not-for-profit organisation or how to encourage children to eat their greens?
Let me introduce you to Michael Hanrahan, who is the director of Michael Hanrahan Publishing. I met Michael when we both worked for John Wiley and Sons – Michael was the managing editor for Wrightbooks. Now Michael helps many, many authors publish their own books, and takes them through the process from initial idea to tangible product. He is knowledgeable, scrupulously detailed and a great communicator. His own book, Stand out, outlines the ‘7 steps to self-publishing a book that will build your profile, promote your business and make you stand out from the crowd’. Michael has kindly answered my questions about self-publishing. If you know someone who has always wanted to write a non-fiction book, please pass on Michael’s details!
KC: What sort of books do you publish?
MH: We work predominantly with authors who are self-publishing a book to help promote themselves and their business. We’ve helped these authors publish books on investment, business management, real estate, share trading, health and fitness, marketing – all sorts of subjects.
KC: What is a typical day for you?
MH: My primary role is project management. I spend a lot of time on the phone to authors, editors, printers and designers. It’s my job to coordinate between everybody and keep the project on track. I check everything that comes in, and then send it where it needs to go. So, when a manuscript comes in from an author, I check it and then send it to the editor. When a cover comes in from a designer, I check it and send it to the author. I also do some editing and layout and a little bit of everything else when needed.
KC: Are your authors people who have always dreamt of writing a book?
MH: Some of them are and some not. For some it’s mostly a business decision. For others it’s a business decision but also something they have wanted to do for years.
KC: What are your three top tips for people who would like to self-publish their book?
- Always use experienced people to help you with your book. Every month or two we receive a call from an author whose book has run aground and they need help. It’s almost always because they used inexperienced people. Your web person might do great websites, but that doesn’t mean she can design a good book cover. The person who edits your school newsletter does not automatically know how to edit a book. These people always have good intentions but they quickly get in over their heads.
- Produce a high-quality book. A few years ago, calling a book ‘self-published’ implied that it was poorly produced. That’s not the case these days. There are all sorts of people who can help you produce a top-quality book that will be just as good as a book published by Penguin. Yes, it will cost a little more, but you won’t regret it when you hold your printed book in your hand.
- Plan your project. Publishing a book is complicated, so make sure you plan the project start to finish.
KC: In your book, you discuss the seven steps to self-publishing. Can you tell us briefly about these seven steps?
MH: Step 1: planning
If you’re going to manage your publishing project yourself, you’ll usually require:
- an editor
- a proofreader
- a designer: for your cover and your interior layout
- a printer: obviously!
- a bookshop and ebook distributor
- an ebook converter (or your designer might be able to help with this).
The other option, rather than finding the members of your self-publishing team yourself, is using a self-publishing company to help you. This means that, rather than having to locate and manage five or six people to help on your book, you’ll have (usually) just one person coordinating the whole project for you. You’ll still be involved in all the decisions, but the job of managing all of these service providers will be taken off your hands.
At the planning stage you’ll also need to consider:
- the schedule for your book
- the budget for your book.
Step 2: Editing
It’s a good idea to talk to at least two or three editors or self-publishing providers about your book before selecting somebody, and even meet with them if you can.
A good editor will be very involved with both you and your book, and will be just as enthusiastic about it as you are. Far from just ‘correcting’ your work, an editor will improve it in many ways small and large, while working with you to ensure you are producing the book that you want. Your editor will fix up spelling mistakes, inconsistencies, incorrect grammar and other errors, but a good editor will do much more than this. A good editor will:
- suggest additions where more information is required
- suggest deletions where you’ve included something unnecessary or repeated something
- assist you with any possible copyright concerns
- discuss with you changes that will improve your writing.
Step 3: Design
Designers have websites with portfolios on them, so these are a great place to start looking for a designer if you’re handling the publishing process yourself. Look around a number of sites and browse through a number of portfolios. Once you’ve found, say, three portfolios you like, get in touch with the designers and have a chat. Another way to find a good designer is to find a book cover you like – the name of the designer will be inside the book.
If you’re using a self-publishing company to help you with your book, cover design will usually be part of the package.
Step 4: Proofreading and indexing
Proofreading is the final quality-control step in the production of your book. One or two minor errors in your book aren’t the end of the world, but if you don’t have it proofread there will probably be more than that. Even the best editors won’t pick up every single problem and error in your book, so proofreading is important. And by the end of the editing process, you’re the last person who will find any mistakes. You may have spent three to six months writing it, and another month or two – or three – on the editing, layout and cover. By this point you (and your editor) will be so close to your book that some of the pages could be upside down and you might not notice. You need fresh eyes.
An index is a useful tool to help readers find what they want in your book. An index goes at the very back of your book, and lists all the major topics in your book in considerable detail. Not all books include an index. You can discuss with your editor whether you think your book needs one.
Step 5: Printing
Ask printers or self-publishing companies you are considering to send you a sample copy of a book they have recently printed – make sure it’s a book, not a brochure, poster or anything else. Any quality company will do this without hesitation. If the company is reluctant to do so, they’ve made your decision easy: don’t use them.
If you’re using a self-publishing company, you won’t be as involved in the details of the print management.
Step 6: The ebook
The most common ebook format is EPUB, and you’ll also need a MOBI file for Amazon. ‘EPUB’ – not surprisingly – stands for ‘electronic publication’. Most ebook conversion services will supply you with an EPUB file and a MOBI file as part of their standard service.
If you’re going to do it yourself, you can set up accounts on each individual ebook store you wish to sell on and upload your files yourself. Setting up the accounts can be a bit fiddly, but isn’t difficult. You provide the information you’d expect, such as price, an author bio and ISBN, and then upload your files.
Keep in mind one major drawback of doing it all yourself is that for some US-based sites you will need a US tax ID to receive your payments.
The other DIY option is to use what’s known as an ‘ebook aggregator’. This is where you upload to just one site and they upload your book to a large range of ebook stores – for a fee, of course.
If you are using a self-publishing company, the ebook conversion and upload will most likely be included in your package.
Step 7: Distribution
You may consider trying to get your book into bookstores. This can be tough as a self-published author. Understandably, bookshops are often reluctant to deal with individual self-publishers who have only published one book and are managing the distribution themselves.
There are two methods of distribution: DIY and using a distributor. The DIY route involves contacting bookshops yourself (or advertising to them) and asking them to stock your book, then supplying the books ordered, invoicing for them and taking any returns.
A number of excellent book distributors are available in Australia, both small and large, and this may be the better option. The distributor will take the whole thing off your hands, dealing with bookshops, invoicing and sending out books. The cost of using a distributor is usually around 60 to 70 per cent of the RRP, but most of this actually goes to the bookshop.
Some self-publishing providers offer bookshop distribution, some don’t. If you use one that doesn’t, this is something you will have to arrange yourself.
KC: How long is the process of self-publishing from beginning to end?
MH: It usually takes about three months for a book of about 40,000 words. It’s about a month for editing, a month for layout, a few weeks for proofreading and wrapping up, and then a couple of weeks for printing.
KC: Do any of your authors ever regret the decision to self-publish their book?
MH: Never. Sometimes half-way through it weighs them down a bit, because even with a company like us helping them there’s still a lot of effort involved. But, when the book is printed and they have been able to produce it exactly as they wanted, they are always happy with their choice.
Michael, thank you so much for your knowledge. I know December is probably not the time to be thinking of a new project – but January certainly is!