Lessons from self-publishing the hardcover edition of Mountain Song

Holly Bobbins

I’ve always thought of myself as a writer. It’s just what I do — and what I’ve always done, really. I grew up sitting on my bedroom floor making magazines about animals of the world or writing stories on whatever my imagination had conjured up that day.

Despite feeling like a writer, I couldn’t help feeling the absence of something I’d always wanted to do: write a book of my own.

It was one of the few niggling things that I’d regret having not achieved if my time was suddenly up.

And making it a reality has been one of the most exciting, creative, fulfilling, and headache-inducing projects I’ve ever taken on.

Writing a book starts with deciding which book to write

In the year before publishing Mountain Song: A Journey to Finding Quiet in the Swiss Alpsin December 2020, I had a few other ideas for books.

I wanted to (and still want to) write a book about freedom, another about building businesses your way, and another about courage.

I also knew that I wanted to try publishing it myself. I wanted full control over writing, design, and production and to learn what the process involved. After turning Live Wildly into a limited company in June 2020, I could publish my first book through it.

Mountain Song was the book that made the most sense to start with. I wrote most of it while living in Meiringen, in my dream house by the mountains in Switzerland’s Berner Oberland.

The book is about the ups and downs of my time living there, during a time when so much changed: my relationship fell to pieces, I left my full-time job to go freelance, and I started building a life that was designed around what I really wanted.

COVID-19 gave me the unexpected time and push to move it further along, and most of the editing and polishing took place in the first part of 2020.

Mountain Song, photographed by Holly Bobbins

Writing a book is just the beginning. I knew there was going to be a lot of work ahead, but I don’t think I really expected the extent of it. It started with editing, then moved on to design, production, storage, and distribution.

Editing never really feels done

There are several different editing stages worth investing in when you write a book:

  • The developmental edit identifies plot holes, pacing issues, inconsistencies, timeline issues, chapter and scene lengths, overall tone, and any big things to fix.
  • Line editing identifies where you’re showing vs. telling, any awkward phrasing, voice and tone issues.
  • Copy editing looks at the smaller details — grammar, typos, etc — and checks everything matches your style guide.
  • Proofreading picks up the final pesky typos, and checks for consistency in the final design.

I found fantastic editors via Reedsy to help me with these four stages. Clem (Red Pen Vigilante) is especially wonderful, and she can give you a tonne of insights into market fit and positioning even beyond her eagle-eyed editing. I’ve hired her for my next book too — she makes my writing a million times better.

Spoiler: a few typos still appeared in my final version and it was entirely my fault. Don’t make final design tweaks just before sending to print. That said, read any mass market bestseller and you’ll feel better about your handful of typos.

A lot of my book expenses went on design

One of my favourite things about creating a book was deciding how it looked. I love working with designers, and the women who collaborated with me on Mountain Song are fantastic.

Alana Louise-Lyons created my beautiful cover illustration (based on the view of the Wetterhorn, Wellhorn, and Reichenbach Falls from my living room in Meiringen), which I’m so happy with.

Inside the book, there are five stunning pen and ink drawings at the start of sections by Louise Morgan. They’re all beautiful, but my favourite must be this eagle at the start of the book:

After writing the book, getting it edited, and finalising all of my illustrations, I worked with a lovely graphic designer called Collette (who I found on Reedsy) to put the book together.

I worked with Collette to create the book layout, choose fonts and colours, and position the 50+ photos I chose for the book around the text.

She also helped me finalise my cover with my publishing imprint logos on the spine and back, a blurb, and a barcode (in the UK, you buy these alongside ISBNs via Nielsen).

Both the cover PDF and manuscript PDF were then ready for me to pass on to the printers, who kickstarted their manufacturing process.

If print-on-demand doesn’t cut it, choose a short run instead

Print-on-demand is the easiest way to publish a book. With companies like Ingram Spark, you upload all your book materials, choose your distribution channels, and they print a copy whenever you sell one. It’s easy, but very limited if you want a high-quality book, especially a hardcover.

Instead, I decided on a short run of my book. I chose L.E.G.O. SPA to print my book, a fantastic Italian-based company for high-quality, beautiful books. I had no idea about bindings, paper weight, and card stock, but they helped me through all of it. It cost me about £4.50 to manufacture each full-colour book. There was a minimum print run of 1000, but I know other printers offer lower starting points.

To help you find a great printer, browse your bookshelves for your favourite books and check the imprint page for who printed them. You can then reach out to them with an enquiry. That’s what I did for L.E.G.O. SPA after seeing they’d published The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down by Haemin Sunim.

Once you’ve chosen a publisher, you can also tell them which books have the binding, paper, cover finish, etc that you want and they can find you a match.

I wish I knew more about storage and distribution beforehand

My biggest headaches were (and still are, haha) trying to work out storage and distribution.

Distribution

Most of my book sales have been via my Live Wildly website (good margins, hurray) that’s powered by Shopify, which I adore. Instagram ads in particular have been really great at driving traffic and Facebook has been decent, but I haven’t got Pinterest to work for me yet.

One of the best boosts for marketing my book has been investing in high-quality professional photos. Holly Bobbins is magical. Her photos have made promoting my book so much easier.

Despite direct sales going well, I’m still figuring out a more sustainable strategy for wider international distribution. Although the quality will be a big step down, I think I’ll publish a paperback via print-on-demand and make that available to international retailers as an easy solution for sales outside the UK.

Storage

After getting my first print-run manufactured, I needed somewhere to store them. Some boxes went to my Mum’s house, because I needed to make a decision like yesterday and she had some space under the guest room bed. But I needed something more scalable for the rest of them.

It’s much more cost-effective to ship books in bulk on pallets to a warehouse that can then be forklifted inside (or whatever they do) than couriered via DPD or the like. The shipping for the 20% of the print run that went to my Mum’s house with a courier cost more than the shipping for the remaining 80% on pallets.

After way too many emails and stressful moments, I decided to store most of my books with Fulfilment Crowd, which acts as a warehouse and distributor in the UK.

Fulfilment Crowd syncs with Shopify, so whenever someone buys a book through my website, they fulfill it faster than I ever could and invoice me every week for storage, postage, packaging, and manpower costs. It’s more expensive than I’d like, but it’s easily scalable and keeps things simple.

I also use Amazon Seller Central, which means I can sell my hardcovers directly on Amazon. To start with, these were fulfilled by my warehouse, but I recently sent boxes of inventory to Amazon for them to fulfill directly with Amazon FBA. That makes the hardcovers instantly eligible for Prime-fulfilled shipping.

To create your own book, just start. See where it takes you and what you end up bringing to life.

If you want a quiet escape to the Swiss Alps in the meantime, you can order your hardcover copy of Mountain Song directly from the Live Wildly Store for worldwide shipping.

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Lucy Fuggle
I'm Lucy – an adventurer, writer, author of Mountain Song: A Journey to Finding Quiet in the Swiss Alps, and creator of Live Wildly.