Publishing's shark infested waters

Authors need to find a dolphin in shark infested waters

By David Zelder

When I decided to retire early from the pressure-cooker world of senior management I decided to increase the effort of bringing my writing to a wider audience. Throughout my business career I had, of necessity, undertaken many writing tasks. This would range from board reports, magazine articles and internal newsletters to advertising blurb and other marketing material.

Fiction, however, is another thing, but at least I had the experience of taking a piece of white paper and expressing my thoughts in the characters that I began to write on there. However, whilst beavering away at my PC and often my laptop, a quotation kept clouding my thoughts. It went something like, “Any moderately intelligent person can write a book, but it takes a genius to sell one.”

So, as early as 2008, I started investigating the market, looking at agents, publishers and reading such publications as “Writing magazine”.  I started sending off for brochures, both hard copy and electronic to find the route I would need to pursue to get my work out into the public domain.

When I was in business, I would never countenance fiddling, dishonesty, lying or cheating.  My last fulltime role was CEO of a large plc and I had to move out a number of people who indulged in such practices, including filling their wives cars up on the company credit card or taking a bunch of mates to a Twickenham rugby international and sending the £1500 to the company.

Thus I soon began to view the information contained in the brochures with an enquiring mind, some might say suspicious mind (yes, I’ve got the song by Elvis, thank you). I bought a copy of The Writer’s Handbook and started writing to agents and publishers listed in there.

All this time the words in the novel were creeping up to my target level of around 90,000 and I was still fishing in the dark looking to get it published.  Then I read a copy of Writers and Artists Yearbook and my attitude changed, I became more focussed and realised that I needed to look for the dolphin swimming against the tide in a sea full of sharks.  I read the exposé on vanity publishing by journalist Johnathon Clifford, who won the Daily Mirror good service award for exposing the sharks in the industry.  Go to and have a look for your selves.

By the time I had got to this point I had already received several  4 page letters from the many sharks who pretended to help those authors who wished to self publish.  The letters were usually 3 pages of fulsome praise for my work, and then the 4th page requested a cheque for amounts ranging from £6,800 to £3,000.  Up front payments for work of unspecified quality and you end up with a truck load of books with no marketing support and no means of order fulfilment.

I had also attended a talk by the NWUK member David P Elliot which was an eye opener as he too had been swimming with sharks and had decided he needed to be in control of his own destiny.  That sounded like it was where I should focus my energies.

I met many authors and talked to them about their publishing experiences.  It was like reading a horror story by Edgar Allan Poe.  Some I spoke with were earning 20-30 pence for each book sold.  Others had books that were produced in a fashion that they looked home made, and yet had cost the author a fortune.  In most cases, the company who had printed the book kept most of the money from book sales, despite receiving £000’s from the writer up front.  Yet the naïve author believed they had self published.  How wrong they were.

So my mind was made up, as I did in my business career, so too as a writer I would have no truck with crooked publishing firms. I would be in total control and maximise the earning potential.  So here in summary is the route I took:-

·         I sought out a publishing services firm that did not ask for up front fees
·         I only signed an agreement on the basis that I was the publisher
·         I own every book that is printed and keep the £8.99 retail price
·         The only time I may give some of that away is to suppliers like Askews for library supplies, or a trade price for a retailer.  But for all direct sales I got 100% of the revenue
·         I insisted on visiting the premises and meeting all the key staff.  I looked at printing presses, guillotines, packing, and storage capability.  I did a search on the company at Companies House to see if they were clean. I refused to deal with American companies who, as soon as you made an enquiry, hassled you day and night, and would not take “no” for an answer
·         Many so called publishing companies are brass platers, so I dismissed those from my negotiations.  If they said they were a printer and publisher I went to see what they actually were.  If all they had was brass plate on the notice board outside a business centre (no lease, easy in easy out) then that meant they were sub-contracting the printing and everything else.  Which means you would be paying 2 margins.  No thank you.

So after a year searching I found what I was looking for :-

  • No up front fees.  I pay when the work is done
  • First class book design and formatting by the company’s own in house department
  • No pressure to order 10,000 books, or 1,000 or 500.  Honest discussion and advice on a reasonable quantity to order.
  • In house production with modern equipment, quality presses etc
  • Long established and well respected in the industry
  • Professional in house order fulfilment directly linked to the “bookshop” button on my website. The client clicks through, they pay the full retail and the P&P with a credit card and the book is despatched immediately.  Each month-end I receive payment at full retail for all books sold that month.  They, of course keep the P&P and I pay a small fee for 6 month’s storage and handling.
  • Whatever professional marketing support you need is provided on a menu basis.  You choose and pay for whatever elements you need.

My final subject to bring to the reader’s attention is the margin achieved. Many writers I have spoken with, including NWUK members believe that they only need to sell 166-200 books to break even.  They are basing this on having paid for, say, a POD company to print the books for £1500.  So, £1500 divided by £8.99 is 167 books to break even.


The cost of the books is but a small part of the outlay.  The writer needs to factor everything into the price tag for publishing, including:-

  • Expenditure on all your ink cartridges
  • Paper for your proofs and any other stationery
  • Cover design
  • Copy editing
  • Proof reading
  • All the travel costs associated with the book, including NWUK meetings etc using 40p per mile and any meal costs as well
  • Any promotional cost, roller banners, postcards, posters, bookmarks, printed pens etc
  • All the postage to send the MS to agents publishers etc
  • Investment in  your website, design and hosting; see mine at
  • Any subscription costs for memberships, e.g. NWUK
  • If you are  a real self publisher then you need to add in the cost of your block of ten ISBN numbers
  • Only when you have added all these costs together and then the production costs can you then divide that final total by £8.99 and even then that is assuming  that YOU are the publisher.  If you are not the publisher then the book will remain an expensive hobby and you will never recover your investment.

My book is now selling and each time it goes out I receive the full £8.99.  This is because my research over the last 3 years uncovered the following gems:-

It breaks my heart so many talented writers are still swimming with sharks.  You do not need to, just do your homework.  I did, and love seeing the cheques and cash amounts of  £8.99 coming in. That way I will recover my investment and can afford to pay part of my revenue to The Royal Marines Charitable Trust Fund.

Thank you for listening.  You can have a go at me if you want, just be aware I’m merely trying to help. 

Feedback welcome to

David Zelder


New Anthology by NWUK members

Just £5.99 Click here to purchase.
 OUT NOW. Twenty Short Stories from NWUK authors: Evangeline Egg, Roger Thompson, Peter St. John, John Barnes, Andrew Dobell, Daniel D Longdon, Barry Pullen, Morgan Maelor Jones, John Baird, Richard Denning, Steve Taylor, Rosemary Palmer, Nick Thom, Janet Kimmons, Philip Baker, D Michelle Gent, Michael J Smedley, Elizabeth Folgate, David Zelder, R H Stewart.

Word of Mouth: A Night of Horror

Word of Mouth: A Night of Horror
The Broadway Cinema bar, 14–18 Broad Street, Nottingham, NG1 3AL

7.30pm, 31 October 2011, entrance free

Word of Mouth, Nottingham Writers' Studio's live literature night, brings a night of horror to the Broadway Cinema bar in association with the Mayhem Festival.

A coven of writers stir up a stew of fiction, storytelling, drama, film, and history from the spooky side.
Nicola Valentine will be hosting the night and reading from her hew novel The Haunted. She'll be joined by writers Megan Taylor (The Dawning) and Charlotte Thompson, who'll be reading the grim and the gothic, and storyteller Pete Davis, who'll be sending shivers down our spines.

Rachael Pennell will be performing in Andy Cattanach's new SMS ghost script, in which text messaging turns out to be the only means of communicating between slipped time streams.
What have bicycles, Mary Shelley, and the 'year without a summer' got to do with one another? Graphic novelist Brick (Depresso) reveals all in his talk 'The Godforsaken Year', featuring frames from his forthcoming book Leonardo's Bicycle.

Plus three cult classics on screen, courtesy of Mayhem: Tom Baker reading 'The Emissary' by Ray Bradbury from Late Night Stories; 'The Mezzotint' read by Robert Powell from Classic Ghost Stories by M.R.James; and from Christopher Lee’s Ghost Stories for Christmas, 'The Ash Tree'.

Entrance is free, and it's al happening in the Broadway cafe/bar from 7.30pm on Monday 31 October.

Book Festival Images

County Hall, Nottingham
Council Chamber
Q&A Panel
Assembly Hall
Chairman of Notts County Council and his wife Inga
with a couple of hangers-on.

Awards Time
More images are available on the NWUK website.


The Great Fire of Mansfield Woodhouse, 1304

Mansfield Woodhouse in 1304 was a small village of 20 or 30 houses clustered around the Church. The houses were built of wood and straw mixed with mud and manure, thatched with straw, bracken and reed. Each house was home to a family of several generations, all living together in one or at most probably two rooms. In the middle of the main room was a fire, the smoke from which rose to the rafters. Not only were parents, children and grandparents living in these rooms, but the people will have shared their space with pigs, possibly a cow or two, ducks and hens, and any other animals the families kept.  One end of the cottage will have had a rough ladder leading to a space where the family will have slept. On winter nights, they will have been kept warm by the animals stalled beneath them.

In 1304, most of what a family needed came from its own resources, meat from its animals, wool for clothing from its sheep, the cottage’s garden produced vegetables, and grain for bread came from the family’s lands in the open fields. There is little to buy that does not come from within the village itself; the people are largely self sufficient and reliant on each other.  By the end of August, most of the garden produce has been eaten, or is being salted or dried for winter use. The autumn slaughter of all but a few animals is underway, and hams, sausages and black puddings are being smoked above the family fire. The wheat is bagged and stored, and everything that the family needs for the long cold winter is stored in and around the cottage.

In villages where the houses are made on materials that can easily catch fire, everyone looks out for his own family and his neighbours. A fire that starts in one house can quickly spread to another.  Caught quickly enough, people can work together to limit damage to just one or two cottages, passing bucketfuls of water from hand to hand. What happens one windy autumn day, vegetation dry after a long and droughty summer, when a few sparks are caught from a bonfire and land on the thatched roofs of not one but two or three cottages? That is exactly what happened around 13th September 1304 in Mansfield Woodhouse.  The people inside their cottages, working or playing and used to the smoke of their own hearth, do not notice what is happening until suddenly a neighbour’s voice is heard yelling “fire!” Several roofs are already well alight, the sky has blackened with smoke, and lumps of burning thatch are flying through the air, catching in people’s hair and clothing as they hurry to get children, animals, and aged relatives to shelter.

The village burnt down. Even the Church steeple, made of wood, was destroyed, and the church bells lost.  We have no idea how many people were killed. We can only guess at how the survivors managed.  Most of their food for the coming months will have been destroyed; there were no welfare services to provide food or shelter. One can only imagine how the survivors felt the morning of 14th September, with the village still smouldering, bodies to bury, and the ruins to sift to see what, if anything, of their belongings could be salvaged, and a long cold winter ahead.