Specialists in print and digital publications for . . .

Our services

We provide a comprehensive range of services for print and digital media (websites, eBooks, eMags, flipbooks, CDs and DVDs):

  • Design
  • Layout
  • Typesetting
  • eBooks (ePub and Kindle)
  • Technical illustration
  • Editing and proofreading
  • Website development
  • Prepress
  • Print management
  • Multimedia management

The Seven Deadly Sins

Ask ten proofreaders or editors their seven pet hates, and no doubt you’ll end up with seventy rather than seven examples. In fact, we had quite an argument here at Sunset as we tried to narrow the list down to just seven! Here’s what we ended up with:

1. Lead/led

2. Everyday/Every day

3. It’s/Its

4. Alright/All right

5. Stationery/Stationary

6. Foreword/Forward

7. Separate/Seperate

Through the minefield: a guide for the self-publisher

Author: The Sunset Team        Part One: Print publishing

Self-publishing has always had its challenges, but never before have there been so many scam-merchants lying in wait for the unwary – and unfortunately, if our research is anything to go by, they’ve found no shortage of victims.

So why should you listen to us any more than any other company you might find on the Web? After all, aren’t we in the book business too? And like any other business, aren’t we out to make a profit? There’s a simple answer to that: if you browse through the rest of our site, you’ll find that we place great emphasis on our reputation and the quality of our work. What’s more, unlike those who have jumped on the bandwagon recently, we’ve had a long history in book work at the professional end of the market. We have achieved our credibility the hard way – by many years of servicing the big names in publishing. In fact, our client list reads like a ‘who’s who’ of book publishing: Macmillan, McGraw-Hill, Oxford University Press, Penguin, Pearson, LexisNexis . . . these companies value the service we provide, and with good reason.

That relationship with the publishing industry also gives us a certain amount of ‘inside’ knowledge, so let’s be blunt: if you’re a first-time author, you’re not going to find an easy path to the best-seller list; and if you expect to see your book on bookshop shelves any time soon, you’re going to have an uphill struggle. If anybody gives you a ‘guarantee’ that states otherwise, they are almost certainly lying to you. By no means should you abandon your dreams, but be aware that there are plenty of unscrupulous operators just waiting for you to knock on the door. To protect yourself, it is essential that you understand how the publishing industry works – and how easily you can be conned with false promises.

Mainstream publishers

A good proportion of those reading this will already have been through the frustrating experience of submitting a manuscript to every book publisher they can find, and receiving rejection after rejection or, worse still, no reply at all. The reasons are simple enough, though hardly reassuring. Let’s look at what happens when your manuscript arrives at a publisher’s office. In an ideal world it would immediately go to an experienced person who would read it from beginning to end and make a judgement on its literary worth. That’s a nice idea, but unfortunately the truth is very different.

Consider how many thousands of manuscripts publishers receive every year, particularly works of fiction, and then think how much it would cost to pay teams of experienced assessors to read every word of every single one. Publishing is a risky, low-profit business, and the most likely fate for any unsolicited manuscript is consignment to the paper shredder. If no stamped, self-addressed envelope is included, chances are also good that the would-be author will never receive even an acknowledgement of receipt. This has nothing to do with rudeness or contempt for would-be authors; the publisher simply can’t afford to do otherwise.

So what about literary agents? It’s true that most published books these days have been through the hands of an agent, so there’s no doubt that going down this route (rather than directly to a publisher) will improve your chances of success. Remember, however, that agents don’t have a great deal of time to spend reading unsolicited manuscripts either. Most manuscripts that do get looked at will have come via referrals, so if you have contacts, use them!

Let’s assume that an agent actually agrees to look at your manuscript. Is he or she going to read every word? Not at all. If the first couple of pages don’t impress, the manuscript will almost certainly be rejected immediately, so spend some time making sure you can capture and hold the reader’s attention from the outset. That doesn’t mean you should include an ‘Indiana Jones’ spectacular on the first page; just be aware that your opening paragraphs will most likely be the key to success or failure, so treat them with care.

If your manuscript is recommended by an agent and then accepted by a major publisher, you will receive an advance, the size of which will be determined by the number of copies of your book the publisher hopes to sell (of course, the printed books will be the publisher’s property, not yours). This advance is not some kind of free gift; it is quite literally an advance payment on the royalties you will receive if the book does well. It follows, of course, that if the book does not sell enough copies to cover your advance, you will not receive a cent more. Not surprisingly, paying an advance to an unknown author is a major risk for any publisher. After all, publishing a book is not a cheap process; there are editors, proofreaders, designers and typesetters to pay, not to mention printing, distribution and marketing costs, and there’s a fair chance it will be money down the drain. A surprising number of books do not end up selling well enough to cover the advance royalty payments to the author.

Of course, if you’re a well-known, popular author, the publisher is not taking much risk at all; however, joining the elite ranks of the best-selling authors is no easy task.

Vanity publishers

Now there’s a pejorative term if ever there was one! Vanity publishing has a bad name for some very good reasons, but it should be remembered that not everyone operating a business of this type is a crook. Before we go any further, however, we should explain the term for those who aren’t familiar with it.

Let’s say you’re sick of trying to get your book published through traditional channels, i.e. the mainstream publishers. You’ve probably put a lot of time into the book; it’s taken months or even years of hard work to get it to this point, but the publishers aren’t interested. Meanwhile, your friends and relatives have read your book and are telling you how well you write and what a great piece of work it is. It’s at this point that the ‘vanity’ factor comes into play: ‘To the devil with the publishers,’ you think. ‘I know how good my book is [you may or may not be right], and one way or another it’s going to be published.’ At this point you won’t have to look too hard to find a vanity publisher who will be more than willing to take your money. Unlike mainstream publishing, you will be charged for every stage of the process. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this. A mainstream publisher doesn’t charge you to publish your book, but that’s fine, because in that case it’s the publisher who is taking the risk. If the mainstream publisher isn’t interested and you choose to use the services of a vanity publisher, it’s your money and your risk if the books don’t sell. The vanity publisher is simply charging you for work performed. Johnathon Clifford, who coined the phrase ‘vanity publishing’, provides much useful information on the subject on his website at www.vanitypublishing.info. We thoroughly agree with his advice:

If you cannot find a mainstream publisher to publish your work at their expense, you must look on the whole process of publishing not as money invested to make you a return, but as money spent on a pleasurable hobby which you have enjoyed and which has provided you with well-manufactured copies of your book. If you do also manage to make a small profit, then that should be looked upon as an unforeseen and unexpected bonus!

Now, this is fair enough as long as you are indeed given a quality product at a fair price, but some vanity publishers do the exact opposite. Their malpractices are many and varied, but here are a few of the most common:

  • Not producing the number of books paid for.
  • Charging a bogus ‘setup’ fee.
  • Supplying a substandard product (design, typesetting, printing and/or binding).
  • Charging ‘marketing’ fees for fictitious services.

A Google search will produce many other examples of unscrupulous actions on the part of vanity publishers, but remember that scam artists have particularly fertile imaginations and continually come up with fresh ideas to separate you from your money, so always thoroughly check out the details of that particularly attractive package or ‘special’ deal. If you receive evasive replies, go elsewhere. Even if you believe everything is above board, ask for references and then check them out. At the same time, try to remember that there are plenty of honest businesses in the ‘vanity’ category. Just don’t expect to see anybody advertising themselves under a ‘vanity’ banner. Nobody would willingly use the term, which should be warning enough in itself!

Subsidy publishers

Right, while we’re talking about vanity publishers under another name, let’s turn to subsidy publishing. While a vanity publisher charges for services rendered (and sometimes services not rendered!), in theory a subsidy publisher is a kind of hybrid who still bills you for production but ‘subsidises’ part of the cost and/or provides editing, distribution, marketing and warehousing services at their own expense. In practice, however, the ‘subsidy publisher’ is often just another vanity publisher, most or all of whose ‘subsidy’ is a sham. As with mainstream publishing, the books are the property of the subsidy publisher and you receive royalties on sales. In theory, having invested money in the project, subsidy publishers are just as selective about what they publish as their mainstream counterparts, but in practice they are much less so (tales abound of very poor writers being given glowing reports on their manuscripts, together with imaginative sales projections). Again, there are honest subsidy publishers out there, but be warned: they are few and far between.

Print on demand (POD)

Print on demand is a recent development which owes its existence to dramatic improvements in digital printing technology. The quality gap between digital and offset printing has narrowed significantly, and for many types of printing the results are virtually indistinguishable. Just as important, however, are the economies of scale. While offset printing remains cheaper for long runs (on a per-unit basis), initial setup costs make it a far less attractive proposition for the short runs that self-publishers sometimes request. Setup time is minimal for digital printing, so POD printers are therefore able to offer a fixed price per unit, regardless of the size of the order; hence the print on demand (POD) title. This makes the service particularly attractive to self-publishers. You want just one copy of your book? Fine. Bear in mind, however, that your one copy will not be cheap!


And so to self-publishing itself . . .

In our opinion, the term ‘self-publisher’ should be reserved strictly for you, the writers who have decided, through choice or necessity, to publish your own books (or other publications). The waters have been muddied, however, by – you guessed it – vanity publishers who will latch on to any word they can to avoid that ‘vanity’ title. When we use the term ‘self-publisher’ we’re referring to you, the self-publishing author.

Of course, unless you have a very rare mix of skills, it’s unlikely that you will be able to do everything yourself. What is far more likely is that you will engage one or more contractors to perform specialist tasks. If you wish to keep costs to a minimum, you could set your book up in Microsoft Word and take it along to a POD printer who will happily print and bind it for you as is. There are, however, very good reasons to spend somewhat more – which is where Sunset Publishing Services comes in.

We provide services to many self-publishers, and the vast majority want a product that can proudly share a shelf with books from mainstream publishers. In fact, while it is difficult enough to persuade a bookshop to stock a self-published book, you will find that no bookseller will give your book a second’s glance unless it is professionally designed and typeset. Because of our background in the publishing industry, Sunset Publishing Services can provide editing, proofreading, page and cover design, as well as page layout services to professional standards. The staff working on your project will be the same as those who work on books for the big-name publishers, and we will apply the same strict quality control measures to your work as we do to theirs. One thing we won’t do is oblige you to accept a package deal – you can choose one or all of our services, and at all times your book will remain under your own control. If desired, we can arrange digital or, if appropriate, offset printing of your book, or we can provide you with a press-ready PDF if you prefer to handle that end of the process yourself. While our prices are competitive at the quality end of the market, we do not pretend to be the cheapest around – but bear in mind that your book will receive the same care and attention that we give to equivalent work from our commercial book publishing clients.

The eBook option

As we’ve implied, marketing and selling a self-published book can be a difficult task. This may not be an issue for some self-publishers; your book could be a family history which is intended for distribution only to family members, or the subject matter could fall into a special-interest category, in which case you might well have a ready-made market in a network of clubs or associations of like-minded people. Nevertheless, it’s a fact that many self-publishers will be left with a stack of boxes full of books that will never be sold.

If you do worry about this possibility – and you’re not too wedded to the look/feel/smell of the printed article – perhaps you should consider the option of producing your book in digital form only (of course, you can have both if you wish!). All sorts of documents never see a printing press these days, but that doesn’t stop them reaching their intended audience – and, of course, there are substantial savings in production and marketing. In Part Two of this article, we’ll examine the eBook option in greater detail.

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