Monday, July 23, 2012


With his novel The Pirates of Maryland Point soon to launch, Dot Gumbi shares his experiences of self-publishing.

Let’s start at the beginning…why self-publish? Isn’t that just what writers do when they can’t bag an agent or publisher? In my case, no. My decision to self-publish was based solely on timing and the need to get my book to market fast. Self-publishing was the quickest way to do this as within forty-eight hours I accomplished what would’ve taken an agent and publisher months.
I didn’t want to self-publish. I wanted an agent. A publisher. A string of industry types throwing advances at me, hounding me day and night to sign a deal. But that didn’t happen because I ran out of time.
In the winter of 2011 I found myself working with a moderately successful children’s author. I told him about my novel and asked for some advice on how best to approach publishers and agents, thinking he might hand me a golden ticket. But all he gave me was bad news.
When I told him my novel was about Cockneys and pirates trying to find the Holy Grail beneath the Olympic stadium in Stratford, he laughed at me. And not because of the plot, but because of the timeframe. Even though the Olympics were still eight months away, he said it would be highly unlikely that the book could be turned around in that time by an agent/publisher and that I was best to go it alone.
I thought he was talking tripe. After all, hadn’t I seen books about William and Kate’s wedding in The Works just days after the event? Surely a publisher could turn a book round quickly if needed.
Not fiction, it seems.
He cited his own experiences saying that from submission to publication it had taken two years for his first novel to see daylight. And that his second one had taken longer. Admittedly, this was due to the fact he required an illustrator, but still, I didn’t like the sound of this slow process. And rather than miss the deadline and put three years of work on the shelf, I decided to take the plunge and self-publish.
I did some research and decided to use as my self-publishing base.
Lulu will take your novel no matter what you’ve written and will produce it in a wide range of formats. You can have colour covers, interiors, hardback, paperback, you name it, they pretty much do it all. And the site is relatively easy to navigate too. Following their online guides I quickly obtained information on books sizes and layouts and then formatted my Word document accordingly.
The cover designer is a little bit trickier. You can either use their online step-by-step tool to create one, or supply your own. I supplied my own (I’m a graphic designer by day) so I had an advantage there. However, even if you’re relatively inexperienced the instructions are clear and Lulu even calculate how wide your spine will be so you can supply one wrap around cover if you wish.
Lulu also offer ISBN numbers and provide you with the barcode to download and add to your cover and copyright page. You should write your own copyright page. Knowing nothing about copyright I basically looked at some recent novels on my shelf and copied the broad strokes from there.

So, I had a cover designed. A novel formatted. And, rather excitingly, an actual barcode. I took the plunge and placed an order for a proof copy. All novels must be proofed before you ‘release’ them to the world. This is a small bit of quality control on Lulu’s part. They don’t care what you’ve written, they just want you to be happy with it. My order arrived within 3 days.

It was full of errors.

My errors – small things like typos here and there. I immediately set to work and got a team of friends and a copywriter chum to go through it. This took about a month, but it was worth it. When they’d finished with their red pens, I made the changes to my Word document, re-uploaded, ordered another proof copy, checked it – and everything was perfect.

I then ‘approved’ the book, set my price, and told Lulu that, yes, I was more than happy for them to promote my novel for me. (They offer a free package whereby your work is available on a host of sites, sadly all of them American. You get listed on but not

And that was it. Easy. Published. No need for agents. No need for publishers. Just me. Feet up. Job done.

But you don’t just want a hard copy of your book, do you?
Kindles are big business. On the train to work everyday I see hundreds of them. And if you are self-publishing it makes sense to have a digital version of your work. The problem is, it’s not that easy to create one.

Take the Kindle for example. You can only upload your work onto that through the KDP website. Lulu only offer digital copies for formats such as iPad. If you want to offer your work on a wide range of platforms, beware. You’ll need more than one site to do this. KDP don’t want you to put your work on other formats. They’ll try and lock you into a 90 days exclusivity contract in which your work is available for Kindle only. I leave it to you to weigh up the pros and cons of that. I don’t have 90 days to wait, so I’m not locking into it.

As someone who works in design and knows a thing or two about computers I thought I’d be able to waltz through the digital bit with ease. Wrong. In fact, if anything, I overcomplicated it.
For the most part you don’t need all the bells and whistles and technical knowledge of Clive Sinclair. All you need is Microsoft Word. And a tidy document.

A tidy document is one that is formatted to meet the strict guidelines. You’ll need to read the websites for the full guides (and try not to fall asleep) but basically it means having your chapter headings in one style and your bodycopy in another. Doing this makes the document easier to digest and turn into a digital format. It’s absolutely essential that you format properly, otherwise the computer will reject the file when you upload it. After several attempts and a bit of swearing I managed to get mine through on the Kindle Direct Publishing website. Within twelve hours it was listed worldwide on all Amazon platforms.

And that was that. Now I just wait for an email confirming 40,000 orders.


Programs such as Calibre are an invaluable tool for converting books into different formats. A little tricky to use at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy. See it as a big stereo converting vinyl to tape, or reel-to-reel to CD. It’s the same principal. You select your format and its conversion stuff will do the rest.

Cheap proof copies of your novel?

I ordered a proof copy through Lulu for just £7.19 (including shipping). That is nothing short of amazing. It would cost me over £10 to get it printed on bog-standard A4 from a copy shop in Chelmsford, when for less money I could have it bound! You don’t have to list your project publicly, so it’s a great way to get a proof copy, if like me, you find it easier to make corrections in print rather than on screen. 


Good luck with hitting the 40,000 orders Dot!


  1. I sat next to you at Chelmsford Writers' earlier this year and listened to you read; I thought the story was brilliant and yes, I'll be one of your 40,000! Am off to download it now - keep writing and publishing, it's a brilliant adventure in itself! Kate

  2. Thanks Kate, hope you enjoy it. Self publishing really is an adventure - every day is a learning day. Congrats again on being signed up!