Tag Archives: Self Publishing

Writer, build your book!

“Get out your favourite books and see how they are formatted.”

ONCE the decision to independently publish has been made, it’s time to enter the more technical phase of publishing. You’re about to transform a manuscript into a book that will endure, a process traditional publishers employ teams of experts to execute. These are the roles you need to manage as you put your book together, and the choices you have.

Will you print or not?

A few years ago, many were predicting the end of the printed book because the stats for eBook sales were rising exponentially; but between 2013 and 2015 they levelled off. Many readers still want to hold a printed book in their hands, but some writers don’t want the extra hassle of formatting and distributing a paperback, and are happy to publish eBooks only. Do your research and know why you’re deciding on one course or the other. I went into profit on the basis of one paperback order from one bibliographic company servicing one major city’s libraries. That cheque paid for all the set up, publishing and launch fees of four titles. Publishing a printed title paid off for me.

Your print is my command!

Not too long ago, independent publishers were faced with a tough choice when having their books printed affordably: Should I print 500, or 1000? Either meant having plenty of spare books around in the garage and giving them away as presents for years, when sales didn’t deplete the printed stock. The good news is those days are over, with print on demand (POD) services. Basically, when a customer orders your book, the system prints one for them. No waste, no storage, no need to give them away. Large tracts of books, both traditionally and independently-published, are now sold POD, especially when ordered online.

Your favourite book

One of the best ways I found to get my head around putting a book together was to analyse my favourite titles, then emulate them. Printed books have a traditional style, with pagination, running headers, and chapter divisions of all kinds based on a standard format with odd numbers on the right-hand page and even numbers on the left. Readers will expect to see your printed book in this format, which applies to fiction and non-fiction, so it’s wise to have very good reasons for deviating from it. Here’s a handy guide to the sections of a book.

How strong is your platform?

Independent publishers need to select an online publishing platform. Some recommend publishing on all of them. I stick with one, which gives me print on demand and international distribution for eBooks and printed books across the full spectrum of sites. I also get access to the largest domestic booksellers in my country. Do your research and find a publishing platform that suits you.

Feeling your fringe benefits

As independent publishing became more accessible, writers’ and publishers’ associations began to form strategic business relationships with online publishing platforms to offer incentives to authors publishing our own work. There are an increasing number of options out there for writers to benefit from significant discounts in exchange for annual membership. The option I chose gives me free uploads on all my eBook and paperback corrections, of which there are always plenty. This has saved me hundreds of dollars, far in excess of the membership fee. The best of these associations also distribute great material about the changing face of independent publishing.

Decoding your ISBN

Used throughout the global book trade, from bibliographic services to high-street bookshops and online book sellers, the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a unique identifier for every published book. Generally, they appear in the ‘front matter’ of a book, near the copyright statement, and in the barcode on the back cover. They can be purchased from ISBN services in all major publishing territories; but shop around a little – they are generally more expensive to purchase individually, so think about buying a batch. Remember, no publisher in the world produces just one title, and your eBook and printed editions of the same title will require different ISBNs.

Asserting your copyright 

Many writers worry a lot about copyright, fearing their ideas will be ripped off and plagiarised. Yes, it’s essential to use the copyright symbol in your book’s front matter, but ensure you also assert your moral rights over your work in a separate, one-line statement, then move on. There are several sites that claim to be providing free downloads of eBooks, and yours might make an appearance, but these sites come and go, and they rarely lead people to free downloads, often spreading viruses and malware to the cheapskates who fall for them.

Scanning your barcodes

Barcodes are nifty shortcut allowing sales people to scan your book and instantly calculate its price, with all information linked to the title’s ISBN. Many publishing platforms supply barcodes for free with your cover template, but they can also be sourced from online suppliers within your country. They’ll ask for your ISBN in order to create a barcode, and like ISBNs they can be purchased more affordably in batches. Some retail sellers, such as supermarkets, require unique in-store barcodes in order to stock your books, which you’ll need to arrange if you want to sell through that channel. You’ll generally pay quite a premium for this service.

Your entitled book


I have a basic message when it comes to book titles: keep it simple. Titles follow standard patterns, particularly non-fiction, which uses main titles and straplines. For example, Questionable Deeds: Making a stand for equal love has a main title that is lyrical, while the strapline (sometimes called the subheading) is descriptive. Be aware that overly long titles can be prohibitive in catalogues and listings, four to six words maximum is a good standard. There is no copyright on titles. You could, for example, call your book Star Wars, but that name has been Trade Marked for the purposes of creating generations of memorabilia, preventing its use without permission.

Your cover story

The most contentious part of independent publishing is getting the cover right. It’s an incredibly subjective field and unless you’re visually gifted and can operate design software, like Photoshop, it’s best to engage a cover designer. If you’re confident doing it yourself, sites like Canva are very user-friendly and allow you to create a simple eBook cover for free or low cost, following a template. A good rule of thumb is to use one strong image as opposed to multiple, competing images. Check with your publishing platform on what dimensions and resolution they need the cover uploaded at, and work within their thresholds. Very often they’ll ask you to use your title’s ISBN as the file name. When sold online, your book’s cover will appear at thumbnail size, so ensure the title is legible, and the image works in that tiny scale.

Their cover story


Covers for printed books are best created using a template that your publishing platform will send you, which will be generated for you based on the number of pages in your book (to gauge the thickness of the spine). Printed covers are achieved using a back-to-front format with the front cover on the right-hand side of the file, ‘wrapping around’ the book right-to-left and printed on one sheet of cardboard stock. Publishing platforms usually require you to provide an ISBN to generate a template, although some platforms will provide you with an ISBN. The same goes for barcodes – don’t buy one until you know if your publishing platform provides them with templates.

Getting your head around word processing

One of the most important considerations when preparing to create a book is to check your word processing software can manage to format and export printed book and eBook files. Generally, two files are needed for every book: (1) An exterior, full-colour cover file; and (2) An interior, black and white file of the pages. For printed books, exterior and interior files are generally both PDFs (‘Portable Document Format’) in which all information is locked into place on each page throughout the document. For eBooks, exterior files are generally PDFs and the interior files are generally ePub files (‘Electronic Publication’) in which all information is fluid depending on what device it’s read on. Printed book files are fixed. EBook files are fluid. Get your head around that difference and you’ll be way ahead.

You’ve been warned about disclaimers!

For decades, published books have borne legal disclaimers protecting the author and publisher from litigation. Generally, fiction and non-fiction need to be identified as such, and this is where writers are wise to ensure privacy is afforded anyone whose story they have written about by changing names, locations etc. For educational books, a disclaimer might be appropriate to protect you from reader expectation about learning outcomes from your work. Disclaimers should not replace a thorough analysis of the legal ramifications of what you publish.

Does your book size matter?

There are several traditional sizes for books offered by publishing platforms – there is no standard and no rules, but making a larger book generally means it will be thin unless your word length can fill it. Some publishers deal with this by using a larger font size to pad the book out. Refer back to your favourite books and use your publishing platform’s printed cover template generator as it will indicate what width the book will be with the font size you have chosen. There’s a bit of guesswork involved initially, but experiment with dimensions and font sizes long before you decide on the final book size. That way, you won’t have to reformat everything from scratch if you change your mind.

Your local bookshop

“You’re the boss, launch when you are ready!”

Is your best friend. Go in and introduce yourself and ask if they stock independently-published titles. They may ask you to manage the ordering and delivery of your titles, or they may be happy to arrange that for themselves, using your book’s ISBN. Work with and support your local bookshop. Think about hosting your book launch there, it can be a win-win for author and bookseller.

Don’t let deadlines kill you

Books take weeks and months to format, proofread, print and distribute. Give yourself plenty of time to achieve this monumental process. Don’t, for example, set your book launch date in stone until you’re 100 per cent sure you can deliver, and so can all the players you’re relying on in the publishing chain. You’re the boss, launch when you are ready!

Back up your files

Start getting into the habit of religiously backing up all your publishing files. Once you’ve done the work on your books, you don’t want to lose it all if your computer fails. I still use a USB memory stick and it works very well.



Putting a book together is a major challenge. These basics are just the start of each process, and they’re designed to get you across the major elements to publishing before Write, Regardless! starts on the specifics. Take time to ensure you have the right computer software for creating printed books and eBooks. Research publishing platforms available in your country and if they access the distribution sites you want to sell your books into. Set gentle deadlines for yourself, as this will be a steep learning curve. Get out your favourite books and see how they are formatted. Chances are, you can emulate them.

An extract from Write, Regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Writer, are you ready to publish?

“Is that quiet, ‘nice’ person who writes like an angel ready to become a marketing demon?”

FOR the first time, a Write, Regardless! article has a question in the title not an exclamation mark. If you’ve done the work on your manuscript, sent it off to publishers for a minimum of six months and heard nothing back, you don’t need a call to action, you need to give some serious thought about where to from here. Here are some of the major questions to ask yourself before leaping into independent publishing.

Can you meet your own expectations?

So your manuscript has been rejected by multiple publishers. As Julia Child said in Nora Ephron’s screenplay, Julie & Julia: “Boo-hoo…” (spoken with Julia Child-like hooting). Don’t let anyone tell you your hurt is invalid. Rejection sucks. When you’ve come out of your shell, it’s time to ask yourself if your writing journey is over, or if it’s only just beginning? If you envisaged your book would be published one day, it’s now up to you to see it done.

Can you be a publisher?

Although it creates books, publishing is not a particularly creative process, it’s a form of business. I suggest you read the Wikipedia entry on publishing and come to terms with the industry’s two-pronged nature: production and distribution. One process does not stand separately from the other. It doesn’t need to be a book-trade behemoth, but if you want to publish your book, you’re going to need to start, and operate, an independent publishing business.

haters-nounCan you meet reader expectations?

Publishing is a business because millions of readers consume books. Standing on the brink of a publishing venture, ask yourself whether you can meet their needs. This means researching publishing genres and finding where your titles fit in, which requires the ability to be objective about your work. Publishing your own books will bring you face to face with hungry, experienced, critical, opinionated, readers across the world. Are you ready to meet their energy with confidence in your quality books, books and more books? Many of them will hate you for having the courage to self publish, are you ready for that?

Can you meet buyer expectations?

Books are a consumable commodity, sold in units. It sounds obvious, but people part with money to get them. Publishers, and all the operators in the book trade, from publishing platforms to book distributors and bookshops (online and bricks-and-mortar shops on the high street) all deservedly take a cut of the ever-changing unit price of books. Positioning yourself at one end of this competitive chain requires meeting the expectation of the buying public and booksellers. It means providing high-quality book elements: great covers, memorable titles, sensible use of word length and serialisation, and providing books in what publishers call ‘lines’ – that is, a range of titles on an annual basis. No publisher in the world publishes just one book.

Can you work the marketing machine?

I’m really going to cut the crap and ask if you’re prepared to be a pushy arsehole at times? Marketing your books will take persistence, guts, working the room, pressure, stress and being annoying. It will keep you awake at night and take time away from your writing and your family. There are millions of books out there. You are going to have to grab and hold peoples’ attention through an ongoing marketing campaign that, for as long as you want readers for your brainchildren, will never end. Is that quiet, ‘nice’ person who writes like an angel ready to become a marketing demon?

Can you take it up to booksellers?

The book trade is enormous, a place where the agenda is dominated by the need to make money. How will you react when a bookshop hasn’t paid you for those copies of your book a year after they’ve been sold? How will you respond when a bookseller calls for in-store publicity materials, and they want them yesterday or your book won’t be in the shop window? When your publishing platform is tardy in passing on your royalties, who do you talk to, and what do you say? Booksellers are businesspeople, some are jaded as all get out, and others are too enthusiastic for words. Are you ready?

Can you meet media expectations?

The media, as we knew it, is gone. Social media is where the bulk of communication is happening, with the average Facebook account holder operating as a free distributor for the mainstream (or ‘traditional’) media’s stories. In this frenetic, limitless arena, publishers are promoting and selling books in ways that evolve every week. For independent publishers, savvy use of the social media in not an option, it’s a necessity. If you choose to become a publisher, you need to be presentable, professional, and immune to a certain degree of negative feedback about what you’re doing. Lucky you’ve already built that social media platform, right? (Or are you still thinking it’s not necessary? LOL!).

Can you work the system?

Independent publishing requires the use of multiple online platforms to produce printed books and eBooks. Many of these do not differentiate between established book publishers and independent operators. The systems are often complicated and frustrating for beginners, but they are designed to publish and distribute quality books that would not look out of place on a high-street bookshop shelf. Are you ready for episodes of tearing your hair out and throwing things at the computer when it says no?

Are you up for joint-venture publishing?

“Readers are not easily fooled by bad product.”

For many writers, the answers to many of these questions is no. Lack of time and skills means a better option is to seek out a joint-venture publisher, one of the fastest-growing arms of the book trade. Many large and small publishing houses have joint-venture imprints, providing publishing and marketing services to writers, for a fee, often with a spirit of ‘sharing the risk’. As with all products and services, working with a joint-venture publisher means negotiating a sound contract with all parameters agreed before setting out. There is currently no standard of fees, but if you’re seeking to hand the entire process over to someone else, you’re looking at thousands of dollars.

Is a joint-venture all that?

Many joint-venture publishers provide individual services (proofreading, for example), while others seek to stream writers into buying their entire suite of services. If joint-venture publishing is more your thing, there’s plenty of choice out there, but be aware that independent publishers have exactly the same access to the global publishing industry as joint-venture publishers. While it can be a great relief to benefit from the support on the nitty-gritty of publishing processes, don’t be under the impression that a joint-venture publisher can deliver anything independent publishing can’t in terms of getting your book in front of readers.

Are you up for vanity publishing?

Many writers seek only to publish a book for friends and family, not a role in the international book trade. This process is called vanity publishing and has been around for decades, delivering quality books for happy customers. Don’t conflate vanity publishing and joint-venture publishing. Vanity publishers have garnered a questionable reputation for high fees, sometimes very high, so be cautious when negotiating the details of your contract. Never hand over money before agreeing on all the terms of the process, and certainly don’t pay the entire fee before seeing results – part payments are best when working with vanity publishers.



The publishing industry, from the largest publishing houses to the smallest independent presses, uses the same publishing platforms as self publishers, and it’s become harder to tell the difference when you see books on shop shelves. This increase in access only works for consumers when the highest standard of publishing is pursued – readers are not easily fooled by bad product. If you want to become an independent publisher, be ready for a journey that demands the highest quality work, attention to detail, and marketing energy. There are no more publishing secrets in the book trade – they’re all freely available to everyone who wants to produce a book and find readers, but they must be used wisely and well.

An extract from Write, Regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Keeping Marriage Equality off the record

WHEN the South Australian government was caught out by the world’s media for its lax approach to recognising overseas same-sex marriages on death certificates, the justifiable outrage about Marco Bulmer-Rizzi being documented as “never married” to husband David resonated with many readers.

One small voice of disagreement came from Marriage Alliance, a grassroots anti-marriage equality movement with a presence in Australia, in the form of a tweet defining the Bulmer-Rizzi disenfranchisement as “unusual” and criticising Australian Marriage Equality for politicising the issue.

This was news to me. From where I sit, the negative treatment of same-sex spouses at the crucial and highly-sensitive time of death certification is so commonplace it’s time Australia admitted this kind of homophobia is the norm.

I should know, because it happened to me.

When my name was removed from my partner Jono’s death certificate in NSW in 2004, it was the result of illegal and underhand action by his blood relatives.

Long after his funeral, I was left to work out for myself what had taken place when Jono’s death certificate was not issued to me but to his mother. My name and any reference to our relationship was missing, and the offensive phrase “never married” inserted.

It hurt deeply to be coldly cut off from my own life. Legally it made wrapping up Jono’s affairs impossible. Meanwhile, his mother was busy collecting assets in her son’s name that were legally mine.

“It felt like a cold label for what was a beautiful love affair.”

Since my name was not on the document, I couldn’t apply for one independently. I sought help from a lawyer and she too was unable to extract the certificate from the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.  The funeral company sided with Jono’s mother’s version of our relationship and challenged me to “do my worst” in fixing the miscarriage of justice.

But I was in shock and grief, the kind it takes years to recover from, the kind I still feel when I see the same thing happen to others.

I heard anecdotal evidence about incorrectly-created death certificates in NSW, from the pre-1999 era, before the state’s de-facto laws were amended to recognise same-sex spousal rights. The majority of these stories were about community warriors of the HIV-AIDS crisis, when deceased long-term spouses were routinely listed as “never married” on death certificates.

DISENFRANCHISED IN DEATH Michael Burge and Jonathan Rosten.

Almost two years after his death, I managed to get Jono’s death certificate re-issued and our relationship acknowledged. In order to ensure the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages ceased to operate in contravention of the state de-facto laws, I wrote to the NSW Attorney-General, the ALP’s Bob Debus, but I never received more than a staffer’s reply that the matter was being looked into.

That wall of political denial is what ultimately assisted me in making a submission to the Human Rights Commission in 2006 when it was investigating its Same Sex, Same Entitlements report.

Years later, when what happened to me eventually happened to someone else, I felt a terrible mix of validation and guilt. Having a potential ally was great, but for the worst of reasons.

Australian academic and LGBTI activist Dennis Altman’s partner Anthony died in 2012. The couple lived in Victoria at the time of death, and Altman wrote:“There was no provision on the death certificate to list Anthony as my de-facto partner.”

In his heartfelt account of life after his partner’s death, Altman outlined several of the challenges all surviving spouses face, although I didn’t realise at the time what an opponent of marriage equality Dennis Altman was, whereas since my disenfranchisement, access to our strongest, most legally-binding, irrefutable symbol of relationship became one of my driving forces.

By 2013, although five successive governments had enacted a range of laws since Jono’s death, recognising same-sex attracted relationships after the death of a spouse in everything from equal superannuation access to social security benefits, only Kevin Rudd had publicly acknowledged the need for marriage equality. His reason: to end “such unnecessary angst in the gay and lesbian community, it just shouldn’t be the case”.

I recognised that word, ‘angst’. It spoke loudly to the dreadful mix of apprehension and fear that I’d endured. Rudd never publicly named the LGBTI staffer who’d communicated so effectively to him the need for marriage equality, but if anyone else was feeling the angst of disenfranchisement, it wasn’t apparent.

FEELING THE ANGST Dennis Altman on the ABC’s QandA.

That was until Dennis Altman appeared on a special episode of the ABC’s Q&ABetween a frock and a hard place.

When the Reverend Fred Nile made the point that marriage equality was not necessary, he said: “All the laws were changed a couple of years ago to give de-facto, homosexual couples exactly the same rights as married couples in Australia.”

“But you are wrong,” Altman said. “You are wrong and I will tell you why you are wrong and it happens in a very important area. When my partner died, the death certificate could not record that he’d been in a relationship.”

“And I’m happy to change a death certificate arrangement if that’s what happened to you,” Nile casually replied.

Altman said: “Good. Go talk to the Government of Victoria.”

At that point I threw a tea towel at the television. Obviously, Altman knew the angst but had kept it under wraps. A month later, he begrudgingly declared a shift in his thinking and came out in support of marriage equality.

The issue of de-facto laws vs marriage equality came into sharp focus in the wake of another tragedy, the sudden death of Tasmanian Ben Jago’s partner Nathan in January, 2015.

Journalist Tracey Spicer reported on the case for Fairfax Media in November. “There’s a misconception that same-sex couples and married heterosexuals have equal legal rights,” she wrote. “It’s an urban myth.”

Removed from his position as Nathan’s next of kin almost instantly, and replaced by his partner’s mother, Ben’s story had strong resonance with mine, although he was made to endure the added indignity of having to sit at the back of the gathering at his partner’s funeral, with no public mention of the relationship during the service.


Jago had trouble with the Tasmanian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, who gave him conflicting information about what he could do about his situation. His case will come before Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Tribunal this year.

I read that news with a sense of camaraderie for Ben. Good on him for having the courage to seek some kind of recourse.

Another Fairfax journalist, Monique Farmer, reported in December on the difficulty in creating a correct death certificate for her Aunt Julia, who’d lived for thirty years with her partner Annie, already dead by the time of Julia’s death.

“They were married, or at least they seemed that way to me. Their lives were as inter-mingled as my parents’ were, perhaps even more so,” Farmer wrote.

“Had they been de-factos for those 30 years? Well, legally yes – they lived together in a sexual relationship, their finances were combined, they owned property together. But it felt like a cold label for what was a beautiful love affair.”

Faced with what Farmer later described in a tweet to me as “a daze of grief”, she ultimately selected the descriptor ‘never married’.

And she felt the angst, also: “With a heavy heart I ticked that box. This meant that the next section of the death registration, asking for her partner’s name and other details, was left sadly blank. As if she’d never loved or been loved.”

I tweeted Farmer to let her know I’d been able to amend Jono’s death certificate some time after he died. She replied: “Since writing the story I’ve been thinking the same.”

The legal trap that David and Marco Bulmer-Rizzi entered when they chose to honeymoon in Adelaide in January was set long before they arrived. Why would any Australian citizen assume their relationship – particularly a marriage – was not enshrined by every law of the land?

SURVIVING SPOUSE British citizen Marco Bulmer-Rizzi.

In his grief-stricken interview, I got the sense that Marco Bulmer-Rizzi felt duped by a terrible system that compounded his shock with its inability to be real about what love between any two people means. That system has been supported by plenty of mixed messages and slow realisations within the LGBTI community, but it will take well-formulated, national marriage equality legislation to sweep away the mess our unequal state laws are currently creating.

Marco Bulmer-Rizzi left Australia hoping what happened to him would never happen again. What denial and obfuscation has this country indulged in that my case – twelve years prior – was not enough to change any laws or draw an apology from Bob Carr, NSW state premier at the time Jono and I were labelled “never married”?

Marriage Alliance is way off the mark. Australia has been caught out with homophobic anomalies in our relationship legislation at least five times. The Bulmer-Rizzi story is bringing more disenfranchised same-sex spouses out of the woodwork.


The question Australian politicians need to ask themselves is how many more painful miscarriages of justice they require before allowing a marriage equality free vote on the floor of parliament?

Michael Burge’s book ‘Questionable Deeds: Making a stand for equal love’ is out now.

This article was first published on No Fibs.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Keeping #MarriageEquality off the record: @burgewords comments on #NeverMarried

Michael Burge

Michael Burge

Journalist at No Fibs
Michael is a writer, editor and journalist who lives on the beautiful island of Coochiemudlo. He is passionate about LGBTI equality and emergent forms of online publishing, marketing and access for writers and artists.
Michael Burge
Michael Burge
Michael Burge

David and Marco Bulmer-Rizzi on their wedding day.

David and Marco Bulmer-Rizzi on their wedding day.

It felt like a cold label for what was a beautiful love affair.

WHEN the South Australian government was caught out by the world’s media for its lax approach to recognising overseas same-sex marriages on death certificates, the justifiable outrage about Marco Bulmer-Rizzi being documented as “never married” to husband David resonated with many readers.

One small voice of disagreement came from Marriage Alliance, a grassroots anti-marriage equality movement with a presence in Australia, in the form of a tweet defining the Bulmer-Rizzi disenfranchisement as “unusual” and criticising Australian Marriage Equality for politicising the issue.

This was news to me. From where I sit, the negative treatment of same-sex spouses at the crucial and highly-sensitive time of death certification is so commonplace it’s time Australia admitted this kind of homophobia is the norm.

I should know, because it happened to me.

When my name was removed from my partner Jono’s death certificate in NSW in 2004, it was the result of illegal and underhand action by his blood relatives.


Michael Burge and Jonathan Rosten.