I am frequently asked similar questions about self-publishing options in the UK, and this page – which is kept updated – offers an overview of the common options and key considerations.
(Updated 4th November 2022)
I’m always wary of presenting self-publishing as a golden ticket, but the authors who thrive in my experience are those who treat their work in some sense as a business; clearly your profile and healthy social media following are key aspects which will help. In many ways, the promotional side is where the real work is (not to denigrate the writing and other work involved!).
For authors in the UK, there are three main options in terms of getting your book to market, other than seeking a traditional publisher or using a full publishing services provider (such as Matador). The first two are commonly referred to as print on demand or POD:
1. Amazon KDP. The chief advantage is the speed of availability through Amazon itself, i.e. with fast Prime delivery available to buyers of your book; and printing costs are competitive. Amazon takes a 40% retail cut and your revenue is the 60% of the cover price minus the print cost (the latter depends on whether your book will be black and white or full colour).
2. IngramSpark. Ingram are more expensive for printing (and generally a bit slower in my experience) but very useful for the US market as they are part of the biggest, US-based global distributor – but availability of books through UK channels (including Amazon) has often been fraught, with ‘available in 7 days’ (or even weeks) common in online stores, including Waterstones, Blackwells and WHSmith. In theory using Ingram means your book is available to physical bookstores too – in practice, it’s very unlikely that they would actually stock your book (unless you can persuade them directly for particular reasons, e.g. local to you or a specialist outlet relating to your niche), but if a customer comes in asking for your book, the shop can order it for you.
Amazon also offers ‘expanded distribution’, which actually uses Ingram’s network anyway; for this Amazon’s retail cut is 60% instead of 40%. With Ingram directly, this retail cut can be as low as 35% in the UK/EU and there’s little evidence that setting it higher makes much difference (although in theory it would be more appealing to physical bookshops), so the low rate can help with margins (although Ingram’s higher print costs also work against that somewhat).
Whatever happens, you’ll want your book available to Amazon customers – this will happen either way, but going directly to Amazon optimises this. Many authors choose to ‘go wide’ and use both, which is fine as long as you have your own ISBN and use the same one at each platform. Your choice will depend on various things: what sort of book it is, and how much you mind having to maintain accounts at more than one platform in particular (Amazon’s system is easier to use, though both are perfectly fine if you don’t mind filling in online forms). Amazon is free; Ingram has setup fees of around £50, but they can often be waived through discount codes.)
The landscape does change over time, though: only recently (October 2022) Ingram has launched its own UK-based distribution setup. In theory this should make books quicker to get in the hands of buyers via non-Amazon channels, but at this point only time will tell (I’m keeping an eye on it!).
At the moment the non-Amazon market in the UK is really in the grip of Gardners, the leading British book distributor, who supply Waterstones and most other retailers – when a customer goes into a bookshop to order a book, it’s Gardners’ catalogue they’ll typically use. If it’s a book published through Ingram, usually (in the UK at least) the bookshop will order it from Gardners, who in turn place a ‘special order’ from Ingram, which is partly why it takes so long. But Ingram’s direct UK distribution is intended to change this.
There is another option…
3. Clays (see https://www.clays.co.uk/market
(Based on info Clays gave me earlier this year) Gardners buy the books from Clays at 50% of the RRP, and Clays take a 6% fee, so you as author get 44% – but again the print costs would come out of that. Warehousing (from prices given to mea year ago, which may have gone up now) is c.£5.50 a week ‘per pallet’ but 100 copies will be stored for free. 100 is the minimum print run.
Every book/author will have different needs but this hopefully gives you a picture of the landscape. Of course, there is always the 4th option, too: direct sales. You can use a printing firm to print X copies of your book, which you can then sell through your own website, at events or through other marketing channels such as your email list. This of course obliges you to handle the posting and ensure you have stock.