Ask Tania: Taking Self-Published Books to a Worldwide Audience

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Dear Tania, 

I am an Australian, based in Singapore. I have self-published two picture books in a series and the third one will be out in the next few months. I have been through the typical highs and lows of most people on the self-publishing journey and have worked really hard. I have a following here in Singapore but have only sold a few hundred in Australia to family and friends.  

I would like to now try to sell more books internationally (particularly in Australia, because we will move back in the next few years). I have not attempted to push any sales internationally yet, however I do not want to print large quantities and pay big shipping and storage costs so would therefore like to print to order.  

Can you recommend a good printer in Australia and do you have advice on how I can expand my self-publishing journey internationally?

Sarah Mounsey

Hi Sarah, and congrats on your self-publishing success so far!

I had a similar experience in China, where a good following and small distribution circle meant good exposure and sales. Taking on another country (even your home country)--or indeed, the world--is certainly daunting, and is a whole other kettle of fish.

I believe you've embarked on your SP journey the right way so far--starting out small. As you expand your market, it's important to keep focus and keep things similarly tight and 'small'--you are only one person, after all, and a mum with young kids on top of that. There's absolutely no point in burning yourself out or running yourself ragged and still manage to make only the teensiest ripple in an immense publishing pond.

In your email, you also spoke of getting your books on The Book Depository. When people put their books on The Book Depository or Amazon, I feel they're throwing their work into an ocean with so many other books, it almost seems pointless (I would rather sell them from my own website via Big Cartel--free!). For online stores, the effort, upkeep, costs and dismal return on woeful sales (remembering they also sell your books lower than RRP)--it's something I've never even bothered with when it comes to my own SP titles. Even if my titles were accepted by The Book Depository, the cost of sending the books to the UK or the US would end up costing me money, even before any titles sold.

Building your brand and marketing your books locally, with gradual expansion is how you want to do it--least of all because word-of-mouth is the most powerful and effective tool on earth, and putting your books on The Book Depository or Amazon--well, you have more chance of winning the lottery than you do having your book become a worldwide phenomenon just because it's on Amazon.

I would suggest you start with Australia. It would be easier if your books were published in Australia but you can also bring O/S-published books home with you. I presume you would want to pursue this when you're physically back in the country, as shipping books to Australia from Singapore would eclipse all profits and bringing large quantities of books through Customs would be problematic/costly.

If you were keen to have books printed in Australia, the traditional way, you could contact Ligare Publishing in Sydney. I used them for three of my books and they were great--and very affordable. You could also use Print On Demand. I can't recommend anyone for this, as I have never used them--but this is an option you could pursue from Singapore, printing small lots.

Then it would be a matter of securing a book distributor, as, unlike Singapore! Australia is, of course, physically large and achieving the saturation you desire would not be possible on your own. As you're aware, even though distributors take a large cut, it's worth it for saturation alone. You can supplement this by also selling directly through your website and at schools/events, just as I do. I recommend Dennis Jones for distribution.

It's a must to have your books listed under Global Books in Print, which means your books will be listed internationally. My self-published books, for example, all appear on The Book Depository because they are listed internationally, even though they are unavailable for Depository customers to buy.

You should also remember to register your books for both the Public (PLR) and Educational Lending Rights (ELR) schemes, though I would check if this is possible if your books are published in Singapore. You can register as both publisher and creator--and this will net you neat little sums of money whenever your books are bought or borrowed by libraries, schools and other organisations.

Starting your expansion within Australia is wise, and be sure to keep your links to Asia strong, too. You could then start looking ahead to something more global, by exploring overseas rights (that is, if you don't want to seek a traditional publisher for your books, who can take care of all that for you). If you are keen to do it on your own, I recommend joining the Australian Society of Authors, who offer a wealth of information and support on such matters.

I also recommend joining the Society of Book Writers and Illustrators in Australia--as again, they are a priceless source of information and support, not to mention networking. The Australian children's book industry is a wonderfully inclusive and supportive one. Getting to know its members is one of the greatest investments you'll make in achieving book success here.

I hope this helps you on your incredible journey, Sarah. Best of luck!

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