Hints and Comments on Self-Publishing

ISBNBarcodeCoversExample 1999Example 2002List of booksAcrobatPrint on DemandUsing Amazon to publish Electronic BooksLinks

Hear me talking

See my 'webinar' talk on 'Self Publishing' given to the Society of Women Writers and Journalists in November 2020

See my talk on 'Publishing on demand from digital files' given to the Hampshire Archives Trust in October 2021

Curent Advice

I use KDP, an Amazon company, which fulfils most of my requirements for Print on Demand at little or no cost. Try for yourself and see if it works for you.

An additional major benefit of this route is that all your books are automatically offered for sale worldwide on Amazon sites and they send you monthly royalties for what they've sold on your behalf.

My Route to Self-Publishing:—

Self (critical)-publishing

You never stop learning in the self-publishing business.

I suppose we all come from different backgrounds and have different things to learn, but learn we will – and must. And not only about the changing technology which can make life easier and cheaper if properly applied, but also about the old skills that those in the print trade have known since time began.
I had already self-published half a dozen books on local history, and was about to embark on my seventh. What could I learn that was new? Well, a great deal as it happens . . .

For one thing, I read Ann Kritzinger’s ‘Bring it to Book’ [ISBN 0-9513766-8-3 Scriptmate Editions – recommended], and learned that there are standard sizes in paperback books, called A (180x110mm), B (198x128mm) and C (210x135mm) sizes – not to be confused with paper sizes. Also Demy octavo (216x138mm).
Look on your bookshelf and see for yourself – Penguins tend to be the smaller A size, with other publishers choosing between the other slightly larger standards – and not much mainstream paperback publishing comes out in anything other than these three sizes, all of which have the same ‘aspect-ratio’ (page length/page width). [Since then I've started to use 234x156mm for reference-type books – still much the same aspect-ratio]

And in particular, no mainstream publisher uses an A5 page size. I can see for myself now that an A5 book immediately marks you as an amateur in the book trade. It makes, as Ann says, an ugly book whereas the Penguins of this world have a relatively slim page width which is more pleasing to the eye. Something to do with ‘golden rectangles’ I suppose (ratio about 8:5), which the ancient Greeks knew about when they designed the Acropolis.

So no more A5 for me, unless it’s just the programme for the local amateur dramatic society. And no need to feel restricted any longer by that A4 printer of mine either, because I also discovered how to 'print' to disk.

In fact I'd known for a long time how to print to disk – but I’d never known what to do with it when I got it there. Then I discovered how, thanks to a booklet called ‘The Antony Rowe Guide to Postscript,’ published, not surprisingly, by Antony Rowe Ltd (now part of CPI) of Chippenham, Wiltshire, UK. In this, their technical man Ashley Stopforth unraveled the mysteries of why and how to use Postscript files when transferring information to modern print machines from your computer.

Basically, it means they can’t mess it up. So long as you use a standard Postscript print driver on your machine when you format your document, what you see on your screen really is what you’ll get in the finished book. No more and no less – and no possibility of pagination changing, for example, as can sometimes happen if you send an original document file rather than a print file. (But note problems below.) [Now I use Adobe Acrobat, but for the same reason]

Added to this, I bought myself a flatbed scanner — so now I can input and edit my own pictures. Expensive? Well I bought a very reasonable one for under £300 [in 1997, it would be less now!], and even if you include the price of a CD writer to store and transfer the large image files, the whole lot came in at less than £500 [of course there are other and cheaper options now, including USB memory sticks and cheap external hard drives]. And the last time I published a book, I'd been charged £700 by an outside agency to scan and impose my illustrations into the text. So for less than that, I had independence for the rest of my book-publishing career. (But note limitations below.)

And of the five quotes I received for printing my book (On the Trail of Flora Thompson), I was able to choose the cheapest knowing that I wasn’t compromising on quality. It came out in 1997– Demy octavo format size of 144 pages, including both text and over 30 monochrome illustrations, and a 3-colour cover, at a cost price of under £1.80 per book for an average print run of 750. (Initially I printed 500 to test the market, then another 1,000 when these were successful – which also allowed me to correct a couple of errors on the 'reprint') [but see how Print on Demand changes this decision process now]

Retail price £7.95 (trade price £5.50) and still selling well – I broke even well within 6 months of publication, and a year later I was nearly £1,000 into profit. And I recovered the cost of the scanner in doing a couple of other jobs for people in the neighbourhood.

The subject of the book? The Hampshire connections of the author of Lark Rise to Candleford, best known for writing about her childhood in north Oxfordshire. As an assistant postmistress at the age of 21 in Grayshott, she wrote out telegrams for Arthur Conan Doyle and George Bernard Shaw – and then burnt her own work in despair! I’m sure you’ll want to know more . . . .

On the Trail of Flora Thompson – ISBN 978-1-873855-24-9

For further information contact me or see my Bookshop pages

To see what other self-publishers do in the UK, have a look at www.cityscapebooks.co.uk and www.broad-brush.com and 'UK Book Publishing'

For latest information on how to use Print on Demand in the UK, contact Antony Rowe Ltd

For information on how to Self-Publish using CreateSpace, see their website

For more info on Self-Publishing, visit www.writersandartists.co.uk/self-publishing.


Some years ago, it was rather expensive to print full-colour covers. Then digital printing changed all that. Previous typical costs for printing 500 covers by litho method:— Comparable cost (1998) using Indigo digital printing method:—

Now I would go for Print on Demand, which is even cheaper.

Some limitations found when producing covers

I discovered some limitations when producing covers using the Indigo route.

Now with Print on Demand this second issue is no longer a problem.

And problems in printing text — Just when you thought it was safe to . . .

I'd had no problems outputting text from MS Word as a Postscript file for my previous three books, so I foresaw no problems looming for my latest.

But I noticed that my bureau was now recommending using the Linotronic 330 print driver, whereas they had previously recommended the Apple LaserWriter II NTX. Wanting to keep up with the times, I changed to using the Linotronic — bad move!

What happened was that the Linotronic created a slightly larger inter-word gap than the Apple driver had done, and therefore gave me a different pagination. What had been a 286 page book was now 292 pages. Worse, some hard page breaks which I had inserted in good faith were now in completely the wrong place. And I hate to think what would have been the outcome if the book had had an index or table of contents (fortunately it didn't).

Note from the above, that you should always check that the line and page breaks in your document remain the same when you select the final output printer type (eg. Postscript or Acrobat) compared with any proofs you may have made on your local printer using its own driver.

I changed to using Adobe Acrobat instead of Postscript, but it can still give a different pagination compared with the original Word document shown on my computer screen. Beware!

Example of publishing in 1999:—

The republishing in 1999 of Heatherley, by Flora Thompson with additional notes by John Owen Smith

Text and internal illustrations: Microsoft Word 7.0a running under Windows 95 Cover: Corel Ventura 8 running under Windows 95 Printing & Binding Costs — Estimation of Profit: Reprint of 1,000 copies arrived on 1st April 1999, just as I had sold the last of my initial 500 copies – a success in timing rarely achieved before! – I also took the opportunity of correcting a couple of typos on the reprint.

I then published Headley's Past in Pictures (December 1999) using much the same techniques, but this time using a non-standard 'squarer' page size (192x170mm) to accommodate both 'portrait' and 'landscape' photographs better – initial print run was 750 which had sold out by the end of January 2000 – reprinted another 750 for future sales. Since then I have republished this title in a POD format (2003).

Example of publishing in 2002:—

The republishing in 2002 of One Monday in November

Text and internal illustrations: Microsoft Word 2000 running under Windows 98

Cover: Corel Ventura 8 running under Windows 98 Set-up and Printing costs — Estimation of Profit:


Three good reasons to put an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) on your publications:
  1. It makes it look more professional
  2. It opens up some markets which require an ISBN
  3. It's easy

It used to be free when I got my range of 100 numbers in 1991, but there is now a charge. I'm told that a minimum range of ten ISBNs are now issued at a cost of £94 (Aug 2006).
If you publish through KDP you get a free ISBN (Jan 2019)

The last digit of an ISBN is a 'check digit'. If you are given a range of numbers to use, you may have to generate this digit yourself. I have an Excel spreadsheet which can do this for you – click here to download (17Kb) if you need a copy of it. It also generates the 13-digit code – see below.


Once you have an ISBN, you may choose to show it also as a Barcode.
This allows bookshops to scan the book at point of sale.
The barcode is normally placed under the ISBN on the back cover.

Note that the barcode relates to a 13-digit code, and in 2007 this code replaced the previous 10-digit ISBN – because otherwise we would have run out of numbers!

I had previously used a shareware program which generates a barcode image from any ISBN – the image can then be pasted, for example into Microsoft Word, as a picture. Then I bought Corel Ventura, which includes ISBN barcode generation within the package. [Ventura is no longer available (2019), but I imagine there are other software packages around if you need to generate your own barcode]

Adobe Acrobat and .PDF

Adobe Acrobat is a proprietary package which generates .pdf files for use in the print/publication business. It cost me (September 2001) £168 excluding VAT.

It performs in a very similar way to Postscript, but has the big advantage that the package allows you to view the final result on your own computer before committing it to your bureau for printing. [Yes, I know there are products such as Ghostscript which let you view Postscript output in this way too, but .pdf files appear to be the expected standard in the industry now, so I went for Acrobat].

It is also one of the standard file formats used for generating electronic books – but more of that another day!

Print on Demand (POD) – what we've been waiting for

So there we were in September 2001, and I was ready to send my latest book to Antony Rowe for printing.
Back came two quotes—

Dear reader – did I have to think twice?

Well, yes I did, because there were some limitations to the POD method on offer.

First, you had no choice of paper grade for the text pages (it was 90gsm), and although it gave fairly good halftone reproduction of photographs, it wasn't 'coffee-table' quality. [There are other options now, at an increased price – also it's also possible to put a block of colour pages in, again at a price]

Second, the cover was not laminated – and perhaps it tended to curl slightly more than a 'conventional' cover? (though this seems to have been less of a problem in more recent deliveries). [As from March 2010 the covers are now laminated as standard from Antony Rowe Ltd]

But on the plus side, the cost for a full-colour cover was the same as for a single-colour one.

And the quality of print and binding seems as good as that for my litho-produced books.

So I went for POD, and the resulting book was A Parcel of Gold for Edith.

In fact the economics of POD also allowed me to indulge myself in publishing a book of my own short stories and other 'rhythmic writings', intriguingly titled Never Ripe.

If you want more information on POD from Antony Rowe Ltd (now part of CPI) , see their website. (but see also CreateSpace below)

PS. Be aware of some of the 'hidden' costs of using POD – annual fee to be paid per title retained on their system; high dispatch charges for small quantities; cost of printing increases sharply if you don't choose your page size carefully.

Other possible restrictions – minimum number of pages; page format. Ask your chosen print house about these!


In late 2014, I discovered CreateSpace, a subsidiary of Amazon. It seems to fulfil most requirements of Print on Demand at little or no cost to the author/publisher. Try for yourself and see if it works for you. I have transferred nearly all of my own titles to their system now. An additional major benefit of this route is that all your books are automatically offered for sale worldwide on Amazon sites and they send you monthly royalties for what they've sold on your behalf.
In Jan 2019, CreateSpace was taken over by another Amazon company KDP offering the same service, and making it easier to create electronic (Kindle) versions of your titles if you wish to.

At the moment the only problems I have with them is that they refuse to allow text on the spine of a book less than 100 pages in extent (don't ask me why; Antony Rowe seem to manage it perfectly well) and they can't handle including sections of colour pages within a monochrome book – it has to be either entirely in monochrome or entirely in colour.

Electronic Books – and some questions

About 25 years ago, when I worked for a British paper-making company, I was asked to give my thoughts on 'the future of paper'.

At the time, they were concerned about the threat of the much-heralded 'paperless office' – though most felt it was no more likely to arrive than the 'paperless toilet'!

I agreed, but said in my opinion this would change radically if someone ever came up with a truly portable reading device which was as convenient to use as a paperback book.

I also predicted that, come the day, suppliers would virtually give away the readers for free in order to reap the reward of selling content to the mass market of readers.

A quarter of a century later, I think that day may soon arrive. 'Electronic ink' and 'electronic paper' are already here (see bottom). I believe the electronic book will catch on, not as an out-and-out replacement to paper but as something offering an experience that paper cannot.

Let me explain.

… and I could go on, but I think you get the drift.

How do I see this challenge affecting us self-publishers?

In a number of ways – some to do with presentation and some with distribution.



These were my initial thoughts, well in advance of anything happening!

Do please share you ideas with me - you must have been thinking about it too.

From the website of E ink, September 2006 —

At the end of January 2010 the Apple iPad was released. I've been going on for a long time about electronic book readers on my weblog so is this it at last? Well, probably not yet, but we're getting there.

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