The Lakeland Book of the Year and Self-Publishing

Just as well that I love books! The submissions for the 2010 Lakeland Book of the Year awards have just arrived - three boxes of fiction, non-fiction, travel, cookery, children’s literature, poetry and memoir, all piled up on my dining table. So that’s my reading taken care of for the next month or so.
There aren’t many regional book awards in the UK - the Yorkshire Post is, I think, the only other prize like this. Hunter Davies (who is married to that other famous Cumbrian writer Margaret Forster) founded the prize just over 25 years ago to give a higher profile to Lake District authors. The third judge is television presenter and author Fiona Armstrong. It’s great fun to be one of the judging panel; the sheer diversity is a challenge. I read everything - from military history to books on sheep breeding and mining technology.
I’ve noticed, over the past six or seven years, that there is an increasing proportion of self-published books. This seems to be a trend and I think, with the parlous state of publishing at the moment, that this is going to increase. Self-publishing is a good thing - someone described it as the ‘democratisation’ of publishing and I agree. But many self-published books are so shoddily produced it gives the whole process a bad name. It makes my heart sink when I take a book from the box that looks and feels thoroughly ‘amateur’. However good the content, if the book doesn’t look right and isn’t easy to read, no one is going to pick it up.
If you’re self-publishing you need to get a book designer to design a beautiful jacket AND the inside pages. Many self-published books are printed out as cheaply as possible, with the maximum number of words that can be squeezed on the page - narrow margins and tightly crammed lines. They don’t look right and they’re difficult to read. You need plenty of space around and between the text and a font that is easy on the eye. Book designers know how to do it. If you can’t afford one, take a page from one of your favourite books and show it to the printer, telling him/her that you want your book to look like that.
But however beautifully produced, if the content isn’t right you’ve wasted your money. Every author - even the most famous - needs an editor. I despair when I read book after self-published book full of typos and grammatical errors. You can’t copy-edit your own work - your eye sees what it expects to see and you won’t pick up your own errors. And it’s not just the copy-editing that’s been omitted. A good editor will challenge what you’ve written on every page - do you need this sentence? Couldn’t this have been worded better? They will pick up the continuity errors - characters sometimes have blue eyes on p.1 and brown eyes on p.178. They will also tell you that sections of the narrative don’t work and need to be re-drafted.
It’s this process of critical analysis that is most obviously lacking in self-published books (particularly fiction). It doesn’t cost much to use one of the available editorial services (a quick google supplies a list), and it’s money well spent.
If your book is worth publishing at all, it’s worth publishing properly.


  1. Dear Kathleen
    My experience reflects yours. However with attention to editorial and design detail - not rocket science. - I'm sure high quality self- publishing is possible. I've just been re-reading Jill Paton Walsh's Knowledge of Angels (short-listed for the 1994 Booker Prize) which I believe was originally self-published.
    As publishing - particularly of novels - is becoming more corporate, derivative, trend-following and flashy, then I think self publishing can be a useful conduit for new, good quality fiction. Properly done, of course.wxx

  2. As usual a well thought out post. Thank you Kathleen.

    Your advice is something I have taken to heart.

    I have done a lot myself such as layout and cover design. But editing is something that is not my strength, especially on my own work.

    As to the quality of the work, well time will tell.

  3. HI Wendy - I agree with you and yes, Jill Paton Walsh couldn't find a publisher when she begn writing novels, so she self-published. Her next book was the award winning A Desert in Bohemia, which I love. I think self-publishing is definitely the future, but just worry about the quality control
    Al has nothing to worry about - you 're one of the most thought-through self-publishers I've come across! I'm sure your book will be beautifully produced.


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