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This article is written to help you. Not judge you.

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My name is Dave 👋 Each day (and night) I receive excited messages or calls from eager first time authors asking how to get their book published. Some authors know exactly what they want. Most don’t. Some authors are ok with the costs to self-publish their books. Others need to choose between a cover design or their next meal. Most first time South African authors are unsure of what self-publishing a book actually means.

If this sounds like you, I hope my words help.

In no particular order, here are the most common questions I get from unsure authors.

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My Book is Handwritten!?

Once you are finished writing and the words are as good as you’ll ever get them, only then can your publishing process actually start. Any publishing-person, helping get your book ready for readers, will need your book, not written on paper, but rather typed out on a computer and then emailed to them. No exceptions.

  • How would you editor, fix your words if they were only written on paper?
  • How would your book designer prepare your paperback interior to be printed?

Before starting down the publishing path, your first step is to make sure your hand-written notes are typed out into a digital form or document. This digital file, known as your manuscript, can then be emailed to the people or business that you want to help you publish.

🛑 If this describes you, your number one goal should be to get your notes from paper and onto a computer. How? 👇

But I Don’t Own a Computer 😔

A quick search on TakeAlot shows new laptops starting from roughly R3000 upwards. I know this may be a little too much for you to spend right now. So, if your book is written by hand, what are your options to get your book typed out on a computer?

  • Can you ask a friend or family member to use their computer?
  • How about visiting your local internet café (and paying) to use theirs?
  • Does your local library or church have computer access?
  • Does a nearby school or university allow access to their computer labs?
  • Do you know of a student you could pay for their time to type?
  • Very worst case, perhaps you can use a smartphone to type your text. (I talk about this later on.)

Which of these options feels like the best fit for you?

I Want to Publish My Book for Free (Traditional Publishing)

For those looking to publish a book without needing to pay.

For those scared of marketing themselves and their new book.

For those after the prestige of having their book cover include the logo of a Penguin, the letters nb or the name Jonathan.

Publishing traditionally might be the best option for you. This is where a serious author, partners with a larger publishing house to publish their book. The author shouldn’t need to pay anything for a traditional publishing process. Money made from selling your book (called royalties) is then split a few ways before it finds its way to you. Here’s an example of how your book royalties are shared when publishing this way,

  • First book shops get their cut,
  • Then your book distributors,
  • Don’t forget the publishing house,
  • Finally, the author gets what’s left. (Obvs, it won’t be too much.)

For those needing to publish without opening your purse, I strongly suggest you visit the Publishers’ Association of South Africa website for more advice and options.

Most authors are unsuccessful when submitting to traditional publishers. South African book publishers receive 100’s of submissions each year (I received 151.) Here are a few of the possible reasons your request to be published might not be accepted. (The first time.)

  • What makes your book different from others? (Did you take the time to explain this in your submission?)
  • Manuscripts submitted by the newbie author often need a larger monetary investment before being ready for readers,
  • Timelines (just for feedback) can often take months.

A publisher looks at each new author, asking the same thing…Could they expect an investment made in your book (in both time + money) to pay off in the near future. Most authors are rejected. Cold, capitalism. I know.

My Thoughts: For those of you who strongly feel that publishing “traditionally” is the best (or only) option 👉 here is an online list of South African publishers from the PASA website. Visit each publisher’s website to read how (and when) they prefer being contacted by authors.

Choose Your “Book-Mechanic” Wisely (Self-Publishing)

For those who get rejected.

For those who can’t wait.

For those who want more control of the book process, self-publishing may be a better fit.

Self-publishing is (usually) where an author pays a person or business to assist them through a typical publishing process. The costs to self-publish should be once-off and upfront. How much it costs to self-publish depends heavily on the actual help you need. For example, an author who just needs an eBook, should be paying less than an author who needs both a paperback and eBook edition.

Self-publishing (like getting your car fixed) can range from cheap to seemingly expensive. It will never however be free.

🚗🚗🚗

Sticking to the car analogy, I once (years back) took my car to a certain mechanic, let’s call them Car Service City for now. Why them? Well, I was attracted to their super low prices, only R500-ish to give my mechanical-mistress the service she needed. (Yes, my car was most definitely a lady.)

Did my car get her service? Kinda.

She also had all my spare change stolen from the secret stash. (I know, I know.)

I then received (multiple) calls explaining how my car really needed the *insert confusing sounding thingamajig here* to be replaced.

See where I am going here? The “cheap” service really cost me a bit. Self-publishing is no different.

My Thoughts: Price is not the best (or only) indicator when choosing a publishing-partner. Googling them and browsing online reviews (both good and bad) is a tool I wished more writers used. Read my thoughts on South African publishing scams here.

Can We Meet???

Most publishers won’t want to meet in person. Instead, they will ask you to email the draft version your book to them. This may seem strange however, this is how much of the publishing industry works. Especially since level 5 lockdowns forced us to learn to work in our pyjamas during Covid.

Why? A BIG reason publishers want you to email first is that new authors simply want to hear their book is good enough. Depending on how you choose to publish your book (self vs traditional publishing) it may not matter exactly what the publisher feels. More important is how much you believe in your book.

Over the last 10 years of guiding 100’s of new authors to the shelves, I have seen self-published books I considered “sub-standard” achieve success on the shelves due the sheer determination from the author. Also known affectionately as “hustling.”

My Thoughts: You need to be ok with first emailing your book together with any (book-related) questions BEFORE asking to meet in person with a publisher.

Don’t Be a Doos

Most new writers looking to publish their first pages require one thing above all and in abundance. Advice. Particularly the free kind.

Typical questions from nervous authors are:

  • How do I publish my book?”,
  • Where should I publish my book?”,
  • Is my book good enough to be published?”,
  • Don’t forget… “Will you publish my book for free?” (See Traditional Publishing.)

Most of these questions unfortunately are casually thrown my way in the evening hours, over WhatsApp or even through Facebook or Instagram. Not a great start. Here’s my advice before you reach out to any potential publisher,

  • Go through their website in detail. Many of us have gone to great lengths to answer the common questions we know new authors have. We also take you more seriously when we can hear you have done your homework.
  • Are you looking for a traditional publishing or self-publishing business? Understand this difference upfront. I get too many midnight messages from authors needing free publishing services when a glance through our website would show we most definitely only offer (paid-for) self-publishing services.
  • Stick to standard business hours for calls and messages. (9am-5pm, or 10am-3pm if they are in Cape Town.)
  • Email is normally preferred to WhatsApp.
  • We can’t normally give specific book-advice until we have seen (at least a sample) of your writing.

Where an author continuously makes contact outside of business hours or is disrespectful in their communication, understand that the publisher will more than likely move you to the bottom of their list of priorities. Treat communication with a publisher more like you would with a professional business, and less like your next-door neighbour.

I Can’t Afford the Cost of Self-Publishing

I get this. Depending on the level publishing help you need, the quote for self-publishing your book-baby can feel out of reach for many. Here are a few ideas to help you reduce the costs of self-publishing your book,

  • How about getting businesses, friends, family or followers to sponsor the costs of publishing?
  • Could you sell advertising space within your book’s pages?
  • Ask a business to submit a sponsored chapter. (As long as it relates to your book’s topic.)
  • You could apply for an author grant from ANFASA. (Or even a grant from our National Library.)
  • Keep an eye out for any South African writing competitions. Enter them.
  • Using an online crowdfunding platform to source the funds from kindly donors. Websites such as backabuddy.co.za, thundafund.com or kickstarter.com (I actually had an author recently do this. Successfully.)  
  • How about setting aside monthly contributions into a “publishing fund” that is only accessed by you once your book is ready to be birthed?

I hope you find inspiration in my suggestions. Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments please 🙏

Never Go into Debt to Publish

I think the title says enough. If you disagree with me then this article was written for you.

How Do I Legally Protect My Book? (Copyright)

It makes sense for any author to be cautious when sharing your book with others. What happens should somebody else steal your words, pretending it’s theirs? I have good and bad news.

The good? There’s no need (for South Africans) to apply for any special protection to claim the book as your own IP or intellectual property. As South Africa is a signatory to the Berne Convention, the copyright to your text is automatic.

The bad? Realistically, it’s tricky to stop bad people from making illegal copies of your book.

The better your book, the more chance that you may find copies of your text in places you did not leave them. Some simple steps to better protect your text from word-bandits.

  • Avoid sharing editable (Word) versions of your manuscript with others. PDF is better.
  • Where you do share a PDF file, consider embedding a watermark across its pages?
  • Take it a step further and add a password to the PDF?
  • Could you rather share samples or chapters of your writing, where a full version may not be needed?
  • Although uncommon, if you are approaching publishers for help, you can ask if they have a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) you could sign.

Here is an example of an author NDA shared by our local Writers Guild of South Africa.

Does ALL the Info in the Book Belong to You?

This might sound strange but remember, just because you found a picture online, doesn’t mean you can (legally) use it in your book. Using without permission is known as “copyright infringement”. Here are examples where many authors make a boo-boo by using things they either needed permission (or to pay for),

  • Pictures, saved from Google,
  • Quotes from famous people, other books or from movies,
  • Even the lyrics from songs will need permissions from the artists who created them before you are legally allowed to use them in your book.

If you are using pictures you don’t have the permissions for, can they safely be removed from your book without negatively affecting your story?

  • Consider finding high-quality (paid for) pictures from Shutterstock?
  • Otherwise browse through a free image platform like Pixabay.

Should I Print My Book at My Neighbourhood Printer?

Once your book is ready to be printed, many authors stroll into their local Jetline or MinuteMan Press to have their paperback printed. These are just examples that come to mind.

Yes, they can help print your book. Remember, books are not normally their speciality. This means that the printed paperback you pay to print, although functional will not be as good quality as it possibly can be. For most new authors these smaller print shops may be “good enough”.

  • Remember that your book should ideally be printed from a PDF, not a Word document.
  • Ask the printers to do a sample copy first before giving approval for your main order of books. (This is to protect you again poor print-quality.)

My Thoughts: As soon as the sales from your first batch of books justifies ordering the next 👉 consider asking for a quote from a printer that specialises in printed paperbacks. I would love to refer you to trusted book printers near you. Pop me a comment down below and I can share details directly to your email 📧

What (Digital) Format Should My Book Be Written In?

Microsoft Word. (Not a PDF. Not a PowerPoint file.)

Word is the most common format used by most writers and publishing-people in general. Writing in a Word document ensures that the person helping you has the access needed. PDF files, although used by the printers, cannot be easily edited, changed or updated.

Microsoft Word is not (normally) free software. Naturally, you might be asking if there is other software (free) you can use to write your book? Of course. Any software capable of exporting the Word format should be ok. Here are few free alternatives to MS Word,

Can I Use My Smartphone to Write My Book?

Yip. There’s nothing wrong doing it this way. HOWEVER, whatever software or app you use to write, make sure it can export your text as a Word document before investing your time.

If you finish writing your entire book using a free app on your phone, only to find out that the file it saves or exports is not readable by others without the same app, you may have wasted your time. 😭

Can I Use Canva to Create My Book?

Canva.com is a free online platform used to make pretty (digital) things. From social media banners, to greeting cards, book covers and flyers for events. It really is an amazing platform for those with access a stable internet connection. It also has a paid for option for those needing extra oomph with their designs.

Canva can be used to create your book cover and even the interior. BUT, it also makes it extremely difficult for anyone else to help with your book. As Canva generally exports new designs as either images or a PDF. Both formats that are not easy (or cheap) to edit.

  • Only start designing in Canva once the editor is done with your words,
  • Remember that asking anyone else for help once your book is designed in Canva won’t be easy.

Verdict? A strong contender for those on a very low budget OR if you are a gifted designer with more time than money.

My Thoughts: Canva can be super useful to design examples of how you would like your book cover or interior to look. These examples can then be shared with your hired help to give them a head start.

Scary Publishing Words (and what they mean)

Manuscript = All the text that makes up your book. Ideally typed, not handwritten!

Draft = The version of your text or manuscript that is not yet completed or final.

Royalties = The money an author earns from selling books.

Traditional publishing = How most new authors think about publishing. Not needing to pay anything, then sharing or splitting the money made with others.

Self-publishing = An alternative to traditional publishing. Upfront costs to publish however, shorter waiting times and more control for the authors who need this.

Vanity press = We will take your money (commissions from book sales) and charge you upfront fees. Avoid avoid avoid.

Amazon(.com) = The biggest bookshop in the world. Now welcoming authors from South Africa. Get your book published there now!

KDP (Amazon) = Basically the same thing as Amazon KDP is the part of Amazon that an author uses to publish their book.

Kindle = This is Amazon’s own device it sells to readers. The Kindle device can then both buy + read eBooks purchased from Amazon.

A5 = This is South Africa’s most popular book size, (14.8 x 21 cm and 148 x 210 mm)

ANFASA = Academic and Non-Fiction Authors Association of South Africa. Organisation aimed at helping the SA author. It is a paid for membership. (Totally worth it.)

NLSA= Our National Library. The institution technically that issues new ISBN numbers to South African authors.

ISBN = A 13 digital number that can get placed on a books cover, as well as it’s Copyright page. Only needed where an author wants to be inside bookstores. Need an ISBN?

Genre = The category your book’s topic fall into. Said differently, what shelf does your book belong in the bookstore? Identify your genre here.

eBook = The digital edition of your book. Not a PDF. (Amazon will not want a PDF file from an author.)

Paperback = The physical edition of your book. Also known as softcover. The book is bendy.

Hardcover = Also a physical format of your book. However, the cover is thicker, and the boo costs more to print than the softcover. When you tap the book cover it should reply “knock knock.”

Doos = Impolite or rude.

Before I Go

This article is meant to help you understand your publishing options just a little better. I really hope they helped achieve that. If you have read through and still have questions about something I said, or perhaps didn’t say I would love to clarify for you.

Pop a message down below and I promise to do my best to answer as many as I can 👇🙏

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