Self publishing a book

We self published "Lewis Carroll In His Own Account" and a number of people have asked about the details of doing this. I hope these notes will be helpful.

First you need to decide on your book's format. If you have a novel or something else that you would like to appear in conventional trade paperback format, I have heard that "Lulu" is well recommended. However, our book was of specialist interest, needed to be in A4 format, and the largest section of the book consisted of rows of figures, so we decided to publish entirely independently.


We obtained a quote from Antony Rowe, printers. Since we envisaged that the book would only be of limited interest, we had hoped that we could do about fifty copies, and print on demand to meet any further enquiries, but it turned out that this was not economic. Rowe wanted to do a certain number of books, and then extra copies would involve setting up the press all over again, at some expense.

We therefore decided to risk printing 250 copies of the regular edition. Since there are many collectors of Carroll-related books, we thought we would also do 50 copies of a collector's edition, which was on different paper, with each of the fifty copies numbered.

In the end, this turned out to be a good idea - except that actually we didn't print ENOUGH copies! The book was more popular than we had anticipated, and we did sell all the copies we had printed and still receive frequent requests to buy. So we may reprint someday, but meanwhile wish we had printed more.

We had total control over the appearance of the book. Rowe offered us all kinds of paper and card in all kinds of colours. There was a strong temptation to create the book in pink with green pages, or something similarly outlandish, but in the end we chose for the cover a pleasant buttermilk card, almost the heaviest in the range, since we wanted our book to have a certain "presence" and not seem as though it had been done on the cheap. We chose regular standard white paper for the interior of the regular copy, and a cream paper for the collector's version. Before making the final decision, we made up dummies with the an inkjet print of the cover and copier paper to make the right thickness for the book body, to see what the finished version would look and feel like.

Design and layout

book cover It wouldn't have made economic sense to buy software especially for the project, and we couldn't afford the the time required to learn how to use new software properly, so we made do with what we had. For the the cover design (back, front and spine all in one) we used Paint Shop Pro 7.0 for the images, and finished it with an old version of Microsoft Publisher, as this gave good control over the text. We blended two Carrollian images, plus an image of the ledger kindly provided by Barclay's, and added a facsimile of Carroll's signature and the lettering.

The simple publishing program we used for the cover was no use for the book, as it wouldn't have coped with the main bank account section - a table of about 3600 rows spanning nearly 100 pages. In the end Tony did the typesetting using Microsoft Word 2000. This was not ideal. For a start, MS Word has a bug which occasionally puts footnotes on the wrong page. This was supposed to be cured in our version but we didn't find it so! (Amazingly enough, OpenOfficeOrg Writer had a very similar bug so that would not have been any better.)

It would obviously have been much easier to use a proper publishing program. We would definitely recommend this to anyone who has text in columns, as a word processor simply does not have the tools to get them properly justified for length. However, there was a certain satisfaction in getting on top of it using slightly inadequate tools, Tony said. It meant that he was fully aware of everything that might possibly go wrong. As a result of all his care and perfectionism, the book is handsome - at least many people have told us so.

The text and the cover were then converted to separate pdf files (using one of the many free pdf generating programs for MS Windows) and sent to the printer, who did us a proof of the cover and a couple of sample pages. Then, with some nervousness, we gave the OK for the print run. Despite having the proofs there was a little frisson of fear when we received the boxes of finished books. Would it look all right when properly printed? The proofs had only been done on an inkjet printer, albeit a professional one. And worse, had we missed some small but vital error in the text? But luckily there were only a couple of minor misprints that had somehow got past all our repeated checking (of course we saw them immediately in the finished book) and the art work looked, if anything, better than the inkjet version.

ISBN and selling the book

We were obliged to deposit copies with the British Library and other major UK libraries, and we also had to obtain a block of 10 ISBN numbers from Nielsen. So far we have used just one of the ISBN numbers, and now have nine left, so if we want to publish anything in the future we will be able to do so without having to buy more. Having an ISBN number means that the book will get onto Amazon and into major catalogues, and it is really almost essential. The printer generated the ISBN barcode at a small extra cost, and inserted it in the blank space we had left for it on the cover.

We priced the book very reasonably: more than would have been economic for a novel, but at a very cheap price for original and significant academic research. We did not wish anyone to have to do without the book if they really needed it, so our intention had not been to make money, but only to cover our costs.

We sold the book by post through our web site, and through Amazon. Marketing was done in various ways. We had mentioned the book in the various Lewis Carroll groups and it appeared on their sites, although not always in a very prominent position. That meant that all the many people who collect almost anything to do with Carroll, had the chance to buy copies. And luckily the Times Literary Supplement ran an article, and I was able to do a programme on BBC Radio 4, both of which probably helped with sales.

We contacted librarians of relevant libraries, and museums and organisations here and abroad with Carroll collections. One of the best generators of sales was a letter I wrote to The American Library Association's magazine, CHOICE. This is read by librarians of US university libraries. It resulted in a flood of sales from many US universities.

My own website was started to get links from other sites and a steady trickle of orders came through that. The Amazon listing also generated a steady trickle of orders. I also have an Abebooks website, and I listed the book there, so that also generated a few more orders.

Prices have changed now, but we did make a profit of several thousand pounds after paying off Rowe. If we had paid anyone, or charged for our time, I am sure we would have made a considerable loss! Since the book was a labour of love, which we would have done anyway, we feel very happy with the result and the unexpected windfall.

We found an excellent book about self publishing. At time of writing only the 1997 edition is available, but hopefully a new edition will be out soon. It's called HOW TO PUBLISH YOURSELF by Peter Finch, and it's published by Allison & Busby. Copies are also available on AbeBooks and Amazon: ISBN-10: 0749003014.