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**Unfortunately about 2 days after I requested this review the publishers I used went belly up - damned recessive times - but since my request got accepted I thought I might as well upload the review anyway as it may help people wanting to self publish with an idea of what potentially to expect / look out for so here goes...**
My granddad was the best granddad in the world. Sure, he was rude, opinionated and a complete bigot, but he was also one of the most generous and larger than life characters I've ever had the fortune to know. He was constantly active throughout his whole retirement dabbling in all kinds of hobbies from wine tasting, walking with wolves, playing the French horn to amateur dramatics but his greatest passion was creative writing and he'd produced dozens of wonderful poems and stories over the years. Sadly, he died at Christmas last year (he did always like to do things on a grand scale) leaving behind a big void, but with all his friends and family gathered to remember him one of the biggest things I came away with was that everyone really adored his stories so my sister and I felt the best way to keep his memory alive would be to publish his works in a book for everyone that had the privilege of knowing him (and hopefully future generations) to enjoy. Please excuse this little bit of irrelevant self-indulgence in this review.
So, this then lead to a tricky search for a suitable self-publisher as there are a surprisingly large number to choose from and with zero expertise in this area we obviously didn't want to get diddled on the price and quality. Quite a lot of them were very professional looking offering editorial, design and marketing services, but we didn't really want to spare the expense for these unnecessary services since we could do the editing and design ourselves. The hunt lead us to several simpler outfits, and despite getting a cheaper quote from one publisher, their instructions were a little convoluted and we were worried about hidden costs, so we finally settled on the next cheapest, a company named "Self Publishing Direct" (http://www.selfpublishingdirect.co.uk) aka Bookbinding Direct, which had the most straightforward procedures we'd come across, competitive prices and the selling point "No longer is there the need to produce printed books in the thousands to justify the long set-up times associated with traditional book printing methods".
==Stage 1: The Estimate==
We had drafted out the book already in Microsoft Word so already had a rough idea of how many pages this book would be which is essential for getting an estimate. On the website there is already an outline of the price guide for the different quantity brackets of 25, 50, 100, 150, 200, 250 and 300 against page number brackets of 52, 100, 152, 200, 252 and 300 for both small and large books so we already had an idea of what to expect. Getting the estimate is easy - on the website is a quick form to fill out with basic information like your contact details and the book setup details such as number of pages, binding style, book size and format, and cover designs (whether it is done in-house professionally or by yourself).
The website promises that you will receive your estimate within 24 hours and in our case we most certainly did. The estimate on the website suggested that the cost for 50 books with between 52 and 100 pages would total £170.00 and with the specifications we entered our final cost was £166.00 with no hidden costs so we were more than happy with this and agreed to go ahead. The email came from an actual human being rather than an automated reply and we were able to reply to this person to confirm our desire to continue and we got a reply within two days from this person with clear instructions on how to proceed and so it began.
==Stage 2: Proof Copy==
To get your free proof copy you need to follow the instructions on the website for the correct file formats for your pages which pretty much is to turn the main contents and a separate front cover (if you are designing it yourself) into PDF files. The style of the main contents is quite easy to manage by simply setting margins to a minimum of 2cm and setting the type size to 12pt for A4 and 14pt or more if the book size will be less than A4 and also making sure the resolution is a minimum of 300dpi so a program similar to Microsoft Word is probably the ideal software to use. I can't imagine too many people having issues with these instructions. We also wanted to include some blurb on the back of the book but there were no instructions on the website as to how this should be done, but this question was quickly answered via email revealing that it could be done by sending them a Word document with the design.
Since we were only making this book for a select group of people and not for profit purposes our book did not require an ISBN, but there is a nice guide on the website which explains it all if your book does require it including how to apply for an ISBN and having it added to your own book. If you are allowing an in-house design for your cover you can select royalty free images from a library at fotolia.com or send in your own high resolution images with a description of what you want and for a fee starting from £95.00 they will design it for you.
One thing to note is you only get one free proof copy and Self Publishing Direct do not offer an editing or proofing service so checking, double checking and triple checking your work before sending it off will save you unnecessary expenditure on more proof copies if there are epic mistakes made. So, after we had quadruple checked our work and sent off the files via email (maybe not the securest of file transfers but I can't see any MI5 agents particularly wanting to steal my files) we amazingly received our proof copy within 3 days. There is also the option of mailing a CD with the files on them. We were impressed with the quality of the outer laminated cover which included a photo of my granddad with excellent resolution in sharp, defined colour, as well as the inner pages, set at 100GSM white offset, and again we were impressed with how well the text had come out with a clear resolution. The binding of the book, using a perfect bound (glue) technique over the other option of sewing, also felt very secure with my vigorous page turning and book bending experiment coming up trumps with the spine and book shape remaining intact.
==Stage 3: The Final Product==
So very happy with the proof copy we decided no changes were necessary and filled out the order form (with a duplicate copy for ourselves to keep) which required half the money up front as a deposit which I paid by cheque (£83) - postage and packaging was free. Within 2 weeks our 50 copies had arrived safely in a sturdy cardboard box. The quality had come out exactly the same as the proof copy so we were extremely happy with the overall service from start to finish. Job done.
Of course we then had to pay the final half of the payment...but there was no invoice in with the books as we were expecting. So we waited a couple of weeks and still having received no invoice we decided to get them on the blower. Having been passed from department to department it was finally realised that no invoice had been sent out yet, but it would be on its way shortly and we had just been impatient. As with most invoices you have 30 days to settle the bill once you've received it before heavy handed, knuckle-duster wearing debt collectors come your way. So that little invoice miscommunication aside it was a very smooth procedure.
The speed and quality of the work were very impressive and the customer service was also very pleasing with prompt replies to (including some probably very stupid) questions, although it's worth noting after sales care was seemingly non-existent. As with most bulk buying the increasing economies of scale rule applies so the more books you buy the cheaper it becomes so depending on your requirements it is naturally worth shopping around for the best prices for your publications, but in my experience for the quantity of 50 books at less than 100 pages we were looking for, Self Publishing Direct were very competitive at roughly £3.30 a book and no hidden costs.
For books such as novels, publishers such as Self Publishing Direct may be a little simplistic with the services they provide given that they do not offer any editing or proofing themselves, so if you're looking to hit the big time on the fiction charts these probably aren't the right type of publishers for you, but after my experience they are perfect for those with little knowledge in the art of book publishing that are looking to only publish a small number of books. So, if you're, for example, the head of your local Pond Life Appreciation Society and wish to publish an introductory membership guide then this is the type of publisher you may well want.