Why publishing a book is like having a baby

close-up of adorable baby in glasses lying on an old book and light background

Books are like babies. They start with the seed of an idea, germinated and implanted, and we nurture that seed and help it grow. Some seeds don’t make it to maturity – we have to let them die along the way, but others have healthy bones, and so we flesh them out and infuse them with colour and shape and texture until the day comes when we’re ready to deliver them to the world. And what an exciting time that is! But how?

If you’re (very) lucky, you’ll be able to go what I call the ‘private hospital’ route: you’ll get a publishing contract with a publishing house – a ‘traditional publisher’ – and they’ll take you in, make you comfortable, and deliver the baby for you. (Yes, I realise there’s more to it than luck, but these days, finding a publisher who will help deliver your book does require a healthy dose of luck.) Going the ‘private hospital’ route will mean that all your editing, proofreading, cover design and other production issues will be taken care of. You just sit back and give them the rights to your first born.

If your baby isn’t displaying the equivalent of the prospects of a supermodel, but perhaps will only appeal to a more select group of people (think A History of Concreting in Sweden), then you’ll have a hard time getting the doors of that private hospital open. Which leaves you with one of two self-publishing options:

1. You can go the true DIY option where you give your book a ‘home birth’. You engage the services of Dr Google and find out all you need to know about formatting, layout, editing and proofreading, margins and bleed, crop marks, CMYK and RGB, paper weights, spine widths, distribution, ebook conversion, ISBNs, barcodes, legal deposit … (the list goes on) …


2. You can ‘call the midwife’ and engage a self publishing facilitator such as IndieMosh to help you do all the stuff you don’t know or don’t want to learn, leaving you to focus on what you’re best at.

Your book will be with you for a long time – if you let it – and so if you are following the home birth or midwife route, it behoves you to nurture it as well as you can with lots of revisions, beta readers, editing, proofreading and professional cover design – whatever your budget will stretch to, before letting it out.

And when your baby is delivered, should you choose to have a book launch, think of it as a naming day party, a christening or a debutant ball, where you present your baby to the world, announce its name and set it free. Don’t think of it as a place where your baby is going to find a spouse or lots of other families to go live with. While people do buy books at book launches, these events are very rarely profitable, so don’t have a book launch for sales prospects, have it simply to share your happiness with those closest to you (and anyone else you care to invite).

Whichever delivery option you choose (or are forced to choose), the end result should be the same: delivery of a book which you’re proud of, and proud to promote, to introduce to people; a book which has taken your blood, sweat and tears to produce, and a book which bears your name (or pseudonym, if you happen to be, say, a kindergarten teacher who likes to write violent crime novels!).

And when you reach that point, I offer you congratulations and send my best wishes to your baby for a long and influential time here in this big old world of ours.