IATEFL 2015: The Why and How of Self-Publishing – Johanna Stirling

And time for another talk on the topic of materials development!

Johanna is going to talk about the nuts and bolts of self-publishing. It’s really the why, what and how, but it just didn’t fit! We are looking specifically at print books.

We’re going to look at why you might want to self-publish to start with and Johanna starts by telling us about the experience of holding her published book for the first time!

Johanna's baby! ;-)

Johanna’s baby! 😉

She used print-on-demand, which means she did almost everything herself except for the cover (an ex-student graphic designer did that!).

Why did she self-publish?

  • She had complete autonomy – no compromises had to be made. She was able to avoid publisher requirements (e.g. for a series – she had 70 activities, they wanted it if she could produce 300!)
  • Also for a bigger share of the profit. 70-75% of royalties is what you can get.
  • The biggest thing was SATISFACTION!

Why did other people self-publish?

Nicky Hockly

  • traditional publisher wouldn’t take it because the audience would be too small
  • wanted the speed of getting the book out which isn’t possible with a publisher
  • she feels much more sense of ownership with this one than ones she has traditionally published.

Jamie Keddie

  • no need to fit into a series (which methodology books usually need to do)
  • no need to wait to be commissioned (which usually is the case)
  • can make reference to “taboo” topics (not possible with publishers!)

Rod Bolitho

  • a deal with a publisher fell through and they couldn’t find another
  • wanted editorial control
  • wanted to retain the integrity of the book

But it’s not for everybody…not for you if…

  • you don’t know what to do. (If you just want to get into writing, better to start with a publisher…)
  • if you need deadlines (or you need to be incredibly disciplined!)
  • think you want to write another Grammar in Use book. (you need a niche!)
  • want to write a coursebook
  • haven’t been published before (previous experience with publishers is invaluable)
  • are technophobic (or you’re going to have real problems because you have to rely on technology for a lot of things and use a lot of different tools)
  • need money NOW from it!

If it is for you, then how?

You need The Big Idea. The ones that work best:

  • fill a niche: where there isn’t much else; focusing on a small area, really specific e.g. Nicky Hockly’s webinar book.
  • meet a need: something that teachers need.
  • are new or different in some way
  • are something that you know a lot about and are passionate about!

What about writing?

The most important thing is the content, everything else is peripheral. (Plug: From September, NILE will be doing a materials development course)

Something that Johanna found quite hard was finding her writer’s voice for this. How formal should it be? How academic should it be? Even down to things like to contract or not contract. She wanted to be consistent. It took a long time.

Organisation (of chapters, units, parts) also took a long time.

Saving and storing what you write is very important. But you can get confused about which version is which. So every day, Johanna saved her book as a new day, with the date in the title. After three days, old versions were deleted unless there was a particular reason to keep it. This made it easier to be able to find the latest version more quickly!

Johanna wrote in Word, no fancy packages. She sat down one weekend and went through all the menus and learnt what it did. E.g. it will do your indexing for you. (Link to Sandy’s friend’s Word tutorials)

For the cover design, if you are not a designer it is hard to get it right – worth paying for. As is a proof reader. When it came to the layout, Johanna looked at other books and looked for a layout that she liked. She liked the Dummies (yellow and black) book layout, so she copied that but for e.g. logos in the margins, Word couldn’t do. For layout, she recommends  The Non-Designer’s Design Book by Robin Williams.

In terms of editing, her one real regret is not using an editor. She could have saved a lot of money by spending it. She took three years rewriting it, but if she had someone look at it and make suggestions, she could have taken on other work at that time, paid work! Information on prices can be found on a website called Joanna Penn, The Creative Penn e.g. novel £7.50/1000 words. For Johanna’s book that would be £500. (Plug: Karen White, White Ink Limited, get  in touch in order to find out about costs, which are often by the hour for this kind of project)

Regards printing and production, there are 3 main companies that print on demand: Lulu.com, createspace by Amazon and IngramSpark (a relatively new kid on the block). With Lulu, Johanna wrote her book in word, converted it to a PDF and then uploaded it to Lulu.com and the cover as well, as a pdf. As simple as that. As it is print on demand, you can order one book and they will print one book. You pay what one book costs. You don’t have to buy a fixed number of books, just the number you want. You can get your one copy to be photographed with it. Then you find all the mistakes, you can correct it, re-upload it and there you are! You can keep doing it till you are happy. It’s the writing that is difficult…

If you want to sell it in bookshops or on Amazon, you need an ISBN. You can either buy your own or get a free one. There are various advantages and disadvantages to both – look into it when you get this far! For pricing, look at similar books and set your price somewhere in the middle of them. Distribution can be online, or bricks and mortar (even if they just order it in on demand)

The work does not stop here. Marketing is important. E.g. blogging (Johanna has the Spelling Blog), social media – the more connections you have the better, word of mouth, flyers (sent out to people – electronic and paper – to libraries), award nominations (e.g. ELTons), talks e.g. at conferences (Johanna has done talks on spelling), articles for teachers associations newsletters or journals. The more work you do on this, the more you sell and vice versa…

Good luck! says Johanna. 🙂  It’s not just an alternative to traditional publishers. There are many other reasons to do it!

Johanna’s blog (handout available) here.

6 thoughts on “IATEFL 2015: The Why and How of Self-Publishing – Johanna Stirling

  1. Pingback: IATEFL 2015: The Why and How of Self-Publishing...

  2. Pingback: IATEFL 2015: All my posts indexed! | Reflections of an English Language Teacher

  3. I found these authors’ explanations for choosing self-publishing to be most interesting. With as many resources as there are out there these days for self-publishing authors, it just seems like a no-brainer to go that route.

  4. Thanks for the information! Very helpful! I have posted some samples of my upcoming ebook on my blog http://www.eslmadeeasy.ca. Hoping it will fill a niche with ELT teachers – ideally for multi-level and one on one classes. It will have a student centred approach and gets students talking on various topics (one page readings with vocabulary and conversation questions). Please feel free to comment on them too. The sample worksheets can be found in some May postings (Let’s Talk About……Dancing Makes You Smarter, Sleep, Florence Nightingale and the History of Mother’s Day). Hope some of you will find them useful!

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