Self-Publish? Think Quality not Quantity

by Helen Hollick

For a variety of reasons authors may decide to self-publish their books – be it to self-publish alone or with the aid of a publishing company engaged by the author. ‘Self-publish’ technically means doing all the work yourself, to include typesetting and distribution in either hard format or e-book. ‘Assisted Publishing’ can mean using an established company – often referred to by self-published authors as an ‘Indie Publisher’ – to do all the technical detail for you, and possibly include some marketing and distribution. Basically, whichever way you ‘self-publish’, if you pay towards having your book published then it is classed as an ‘Indie Book’, as opposed to one traditionally published where the publishing house absorbs all the costs.

Believe me – whichever form of assisted or self-publishing you choose, writing your novel is the easy part! With thousands of traditionally published historical fiction novels out there, what chance does a self-published author have of getting noticed, let alone recognised?

Most people would agree that good historical fiction should be promoted no matter how it is published. To a reader it should make no difference whether a novel is traditionally published (whether by a mainstream or independent publisher) or self-published in any way. What is important is the quality of the read.

Self-published authors are often not taken seriously as writers. Although ‘vanity publishing’ is an out-dated term, it continues to taint assisted and self-publishing. The perception of self-published books as somehow inferior to traditionally published books is not helped by the proliferation of badly edited, poorly designed books that have been cheaply produced by writers who have not taken enough care to ensure their work has reached the highest standard – either through ignorance, disinclination to seek professional assistance, or lack of funding. To be taken seriously, writers need to deliver a product to a professional standard.

Self-published authors tend to dream of selling thousands of copies of their books, of being picked up by a mainstream publisher and becoming an overnight bestseller. It is a nice dream, but the translation of that dream to reality is as remote as winning the lottery. There is, however, no reason why your book cannot sell well in its hundreds, provide you with great satisfaction, and your buyers with an entertaining and enjoyable read. And you never know, if the book is well written and well produced you just might hit the jackpot!

Although still disparaged in some quarters, self-publishing is gaining in respectability as more and more writers are realising that they can, given application and dedication, produce a book which is on a par with one that is traditionally published. The Historical Novel Society now has two teams – one in the US and one in the UK – established specifically to review self-published historical fiction and raise the standard of novels in this category. The teams will achieve this by applying quality checks. Anything we review from February 2012 must (in addition to being well written, with an engaging plot and characterisation) be produced to an acceptable standard – including having a well-designed cover, professional standard editing, and text correctly set with the font clear and readable, and the style consistent throughout the book. Sadly, too many novels have unnecessary double spacing, or the text has been set left justified (i.e. with a ragged right hand margin) or are just not edited. Typo after typo, and an avalanche of grammatical errors does not constitute an enjoyable read.

When asked what advice would I give to authors thinking of going the self-publishing route, I always say ‘get a professional editor and designer.’ Yes, that costs – but I look at it this way: Suppose you are invited to a high class event as Guest of Honour. Do you buy an off-the peg outfit from your local supermarket, or do you treat yourself to something rather special? Tesco own brand? Or Armani?

Apply the same principle to your book. Treat it like an unremarkable pebble on the beach – or a precious diamond.

The HNS will be providing an area at the London 2012 Conference where anyone considering self-publishing, whether previously published or unpublished, will be welcome to come and have a chat with my Self Publishing Team and I – we look forward to meeting you!

Self Publishing Team: 

Helen Hollick

Helen Hollick is the UK editor for the Historical Novel Society Online Review, with the ultimate aim of improving the standard of self-published historical fiction novels. She lives in NE London, close to Epping Forest.  First published by William Heinemann her backlist was not re-printed so she took her books to a small UK independent company as part of their even smaller mainstream imprint. The company recently closed, however, so rather than fall out of print she decided to republish with an assisted publishing company, SilverWood Books, based in Bristol.  Helen is also published mainstream with Sourcebooks Inc. in the US and was delighted to make the USA Today best seller list with The Forever Queen in the summer of 2011.  She is the author of : The Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy A Hollow Crown (UK title) / The Forever Queen (US title) Harold the King (UK title) / I am the Chosen King (US title) andThe Sea Witch Voyages: Pirate-based adventure with a touch of fantasy.


Helen Hart

Helen Hart has been a published author since 1999. Represented by London literary agency Pollinger Ltd, she has written a number of novels under pseudonyms for Scholastic, Oxford University Press, HarperCollins, Virgin Books and a range of overseas publishers. Her work has been translated into many languages including Swedish, Danish, Japanese and Greek.  One of her Young Adult novels, written as Maya Snow, was shortlisted for the Solihull Children’s Book Award 2010. Helen is one of the founding partners of publishing consultancy SilverWood Books which helps writers get their work into print – whether that’s by offering editorial appraisals and advice on submitting work to literary agents, or by helping authors self-publish to a high standard. She is the co-founder of the successful ‘Get Published Masterclass’ in Bristol and was a judge for the Bristol Short Story Prize in 2010 and 2011. She recently self-published a swashbuckling pirate adventure for young teens, The Black Banner.


Richard Denning

Richard is married with two children and works as a GP in the West Midlands. He has always been fascinated by historical settings as well as horror and fantasy.  In 2010 he set up Mercia Books to self-publish his novels written primarily for young adults and is receiving a widening and enthusiastic readership.  His writing includes: The Northern Crown series (Set in Anglo Saxon Northumbria), The Praesidium Series (Historical Fantasy in the 17th century), The Hourglass Institute Series (Time Travel adventures). Other than writing, his main interests are games of all types. He is the designer of a board game based on the Great Fire of London. He also runs the UKs largest table top hobby games convention, UK Games Expo every May in Birmingham.


Cathy Helms

Cathy grew up with a healthy interest in anything related to the Arthurian legends – thus the inspiration for naming her design business ‘Avalon Graphics’. She has always been fascinated with British history, the Dark Ages in particular. She regularly attends local Renaissance Festivals in North Carolina where she resides, and will be traveling to the UK for the first time in 2012. Cathy offers an array of design services and has particularly geared Avalon Graphics to suit self-published authors and small businesses in need of quality design while on a tight budget. She provide full book jacket layouts, marketing materials such as flyers, postcards, bookmarks, web graphics, book trailers for YouTube and portfolio websites for her clients including: Susan Higginbotham (website),Sun Jester and Lumina Music (website), Richard Denning /Mercia Publications (website, book covers, book trailers), Helen Hollick (website, book covers, book trailers, marketing material), SilverWood Books (book covers).


For details about submitting books for review, please visit this link:

2 Responsesso far.

  1. […] to discuss self-publishing to anyone interested. Here is her piece on the conference website: Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Published: March 1, 2012 Filed Under: […]

  2. […] to discuss self-publishing to anyone interested. Here is her piece on the conference website: Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Published: March 1, 2012 Filed Under: […]