6 mins

How to self-publish a travel book

Reckon you could write a novel or a guidebook? Here's how to get it self-published – and start making some money from your travels

Woman with laptop, Norway (Shutterstock: see credit below)
Only a decade ago, most people who’d written a manuscript and fancied themselves as the next Bill Bryson had to get past the gatekeepers at publishing houses first. Cue countless rejections. Now, however, being a published author isn’t that difficult, provided you have words on a page and the gumption to do it by yourself. Thanks to the rise of self-publishing platforms and e-readers there are hundreds of self-published writers who have seen success. So, perhaps it’s time to give it a go?

If this article inspires you, check out our seminars at the Adventure Travel Show 2016 – including Travel writing tips, Pitching advice, How to make money from your travels & more... Tickets here!

Pros & cons

Why self publish? “It’s easy, relatively cheap – and Shakespeare did it, so why not me?” says Paul Bondsfield, who has just released his first book, Acacia: Secrets of an African Painting, using an independent publishing platform called CreateSpace. Paul adds: “If you want anyone else to see your work, this is the only way to go.” He’s right, of course – thousands of writers are trying to make it, which means the book market is inundated and your chances of getting picked up by an agent or publisher are slim.

Getting your manuscript out there isn’t the only plus of self-publishing; you get more control too. You choose your own deadlines, are the master of your own creativity and take home a higher proportion of any profits.

“On the downside, it’s just as competitive as traditional publishing,” reckons William Gray, Wanderlust contributing editor and the author of many an e-book, most recently WILD Life Stories: 20 Years of Wildlife Travel Writing. “To make it work you need to treat it with the same care and professionalism as you would if you were pitching to the editorial director of a publishing house.”

You may also lose out on the mark of quality that comes with having a publisher says Debbie Chapman, Senior Assistant Editor for independent publisher Summersdale. “Publishing houses act as a kind of gateway, which, some would argue, is more important than ever now that e-books are prolific.” With self-publishing you’ll also lose out on the expertise publishing houses provide as well as in-house designers, editors, PR departments and sales teams.

Where to start

Having an idea and putting pen to paper is crucial of course, but be sure to research your market too. “Find out what’s out there before you commit yourself,” advises William. “My first self-published e-book was The Northern Lights Travel Guide – there wasn’t anything else like it at the time and it has sold well. Other titles, like my Safari Travel Guide, haven’t worked so well; it’s not niche enough in the saturated travel market.”

When you think your copy is good to go, think again. Consider paying an editor, a proof reader and a designer to look it over. “My sub-editor made some plot suggestions and spotted grammatical errors,” says Paul. “No matter how good you are on grammar and punctuation, you will make mistakes.” Paul also hired a designer to help him create the cover: “The worst thing in the world is a great book hidden behind a shoddy cover.”

Reading on a lake dock (Shutterstock)
Reading on a lake dock (Shutterstock)

Publishing platforms

There are several self-publishing platforms. CreateSpace allows you to make paperbacks using a series of online tools while KDP is exclusively for e-books; both are run by Amazon. Creating a book is free, but you pay a commission on each sale; royalties vary from 35% to 75%. Smashwords also publishes e-books; it charges less commission than Amazon, but doesn’t have the same level of brand recognition. Once you’ve picked a platform it’s easy: each one has a step-by-step guide.

Self-publishing a book is just the start. Once you’ve created your magnum opus, you need to commit to self-marketing and publicity. “You’ll need to use social media and inbound links from other websites in an attempt to drive traffic to the sites where your books are for sale,” says William. Utilise Facebook and Twitter, contact local papers and magazines to see if they’ll plug your work, and set up a blog.

“It [blogging] is a great way to promote your book,” says Debbie. “I love stumbling on a fantastic travel blog that has the potential to become a great book.”

Making a profit

The odds are against your book becoming the next 50 Shades of Grey, so don’t give up your day job just yet. “It’s a numbers game; you need to sell a lot of e-books at £1.99 each to generate significant money,” says William. Don’t be deterred though – if you’re passionate about writing, self-publishing is still a great way to do what you love and build an audience.

There’s always a chance that your book may get picked up by a publisher. “We often get submissions from authors who have self-published their books,” says Debbie. “Having lots of sales on Amazon can help influence our decision.” However, if the book has sold well and is on a niche topic, that could be a problem. Debbie explains: “You may have already exhausted your ready-made audience! It doesn’t leave a large audience for us to target.”

Paul 'Mungo' Mungeam: "How I self-published my book"

British TV cameraman Paul ‘Mungo’ Mungeam has just self-published his book, MUNGO: Living the Dream

Tell us about the book

This year marks my 20th year as a cameraman. In that time I’ve compiled a collection of stories from behind the scenes of entertainment, sport, travel and adventure TV. My first book, MUNGO the Cameraman, covers the first ten years of my career; the new book covers the last ten. If you liked Planet Earth: Diaries you’ll find these books fascinating and amusing – enjoy!

Why did you self-publish?
Unless you are a big name, most publishers will not touch you. Self-publishing is now relatively easy and allows everyone the opportunity to share their work.

What are the pros and cons?
Pros: the ability to publish at all! Plus full control of how your book looks, and great percentages on return. The big con is that you will have to pay the initial outlay; the quality of the end product determines how much money you’ll have to find.

Will you make money?
Once your initial outlays are repaid from sales, yes you can make profit. The margins are better when self-publishing as opposed to being with some big conglomerate.

What advice would you give to potential self-publishers?
Go for it! I was hopeless at English at school and never dreamed that one day I would have written two books (that sold) and could call myself a published author. That still makes me smile. Also, show those big publishing corporations that even though you may not be a big name, you have something very worthwhile to share. After all, it’s not all about money.

If this article inspires you, check out our seminars at the Adventure Travel Show 2016 – including Travel writing tips, Pitching advice, How to make money from your travels & more... Tickets here!

Main image: Woman with laptop, Norway (Shutterstock)

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