My Experience Of Traditional vs. Self Publishing By Mel Menzies

Traditional publishing versus self-publishing is a big issue. I have experience with both. My first book was taken up by a mainstream publisher in 1983 and was swiftly followed by others. Within ten years I was “head-hunted” by Hodder and was commissioned to write several books. One of these, The Last Mountain, became a Sunday Times No. 4 bestseller.


Later, circumstances forced me to give up writing in pursuit of a steadier income. When I got back to it, ten years later, I was, in effect, starting again. The editors who had known me had departed; I was no longer a “golden girl”.

Nevertheless, Hodder were interested in my new proposal. My middle daughter had conquered a 13-year heroin habit, graduated from college, settled down happily and had a baby when, suddenly, she died of suspicious circumstances. Naturally, I felt I had worthwhile lessons to share and, as my aim in writing was always to ëbring hope to the hurting’, I couldn’t wait to do so.


I had two criteria: 1) The story had to protect my grandchild from the drug industry so it had to be written as a novel. 2) The theme was to be ‘grief and loss’ – primarily bereavement, but also the loss experienced by parents of wayward children. This did not suit Hodder’s, which wanted a ëtrue story’ so, rightly or wrongly, I went ahead with self-publishing.


One of the prime criticisms of self-published work is the poor quality of editing. However, my manuscript had been read by a friend, a successful novelist, and he expressed disappointment when it was rejected. Believing it should be published he put me in touch with a POD publisher.

This is quite distinct from vanity publishing (where you pay a huge sum for one book) and from self-publishing (where you pay a huge sum and end up with a garage full of books). POD means Print On Demand, which can greatly reduce the up-front costs.

The initial outlay varies from company to company but BookLocker, the firm my friend recommended, has been brilliant. Their costs are far lower than other POD companies, there’s no ëupselling’ of additional items, and product quality is on a par with traditional publishers.

You deal, throughout, with one person (Angela – nicknamed “Hugs” by my husband because that’s how she signs off). All queries are answered instantly and concisely. Angela’s husband, Richard, has vast experience with Internet marketing and, because he and Angela are interested not simply in publishing books but in helping them sell, they have produced information for authors on how to promote their work.

Although American, they also use UK printers, thus reducing shipping costs. Your book is sold on their website (and your own if you have one) plus Amazon, Barnes & Noble etc. Through them, my book may be found on booksellers’ websites throughout the world. If you wish (I didn’t bother because BookLocker provides one of theirs at no extra charge) you may purchase your own ISBN and thus appear as the publisher.


I’m not a businesswoman, but my experience of POD has been a good one. I Tweet, Facebook, blog and promote my book every way I can. Sales have not matched my traditionally published books but royalties are higher and I have sent hundreds of pounds to the charities I support. In addition to press releases, I’ve had some very good reviews from eminent readers (like Canon Michael Saward, retired Treasurer at St Paul’s Cathedral) and the book has been adopted by the Bereaved Parents’ Network.

My website and monthly newsletter have been highly effective, bringing me radio work with the BBC, plus bookings as Keynote Speaker at conferences. At 9.a.m. Pacific Standard Time on 18th March 2010 I shall be speaking on internet radio:

Any book sinks or swims on its own merit, and marketing. Unless you’re a ëceleb’, traditional publishers, these days, often lack the finance or will to do much in the way of promotion. At least with POD, you sink or swim by your own effort. And who else is going to believe in your book like you?

Mel Menzies is the author of a number of books, one a Sunday Times No 4 Bestseller. She is also an experienced Speaker at live events, as well as on Radio and TV. Her blog, An Author’s Look At Life, offers resources to inform, inspire and encourage – particularly in the realms of creative writing, writing and publishing a book, relationships, and stepfamilies. It also features a Free Personality Test. All Royalties from Mel’s latest novel, A Painful Post Mortem, are for charities benefiting children worldwide. Buy a copy here and help raise cash for children like Rachel, who, at 13 is mother to 6 kids orphaned by AIDS, or this project, drug-proofing teenagers in the UK.