How to publish your own books on a shoestring

Ever wanted to design and publish your own books? We certainly have. Leading designers Tony Brook and Adrian Shaughnessy thought the same too. So, five years ago, frustrated at mainstream publishers, they launched Unit Editions.

Since then the progressive independent publishing venture has gone from strength to strength, proving with its high-quality books on graphic design that print is far from dead. (Check out Computer Arts' latest Designer Series episode with Brook and Shaughnessy.)

The success of Unit Editions also shows that, despite the market for free ebooks, you don't have to be in the money to tackle the print sphere and publish your own books.

Here, as part of our learn a new skill in 2015 campaign, Shaughnessy explains how he and Brook ventured into the world of self-publishing without loosing money, and how, with a bit of self-promo savvy, you could design and publish your own books too.

So whether you're into logo design, digital media or branding – whatever your day job – read on for Shaughnessy's expert advice for publishing your first book.

01. Bypass the book trade

Publish your own books

Manuals 2: Design and Identity Guidelines follows hot on the heels of Unit Editions' sell-out success, Manuals 1

We couldn't have done what we've done without the internet. Our books are only available through our website. We have a relationship with a few bookshops around the world but it's almost a personal relationship – they ring us up and we send them books.

Some 90 per cent of our books are sold directly through the internet. If we couldn't do that, we wouldn't be here, or we'd have to borrow half a million pounds to set up a publishing company. But because of the way the internet has blown away so many barriers, we can do it.

We bypass [the book trade] completely and deal directly with the people who are interested in our books. So if we produce a book on, say, Total Design, the Dutch group, there's probably only 2,000 people in the world that are interested. We can find those people, through social media and the internet. If we had to use conventional media channels it would be prohibitively expensive.

02. Pool your resources if you can

Publish your own book Type Plus

Unit Editions' Type Plus investigates the practice of combining typography with images to increase effectiveness and impact

We've had to increase the team, so we've now got a permanent staff purely working on Unit Editions of three: a designer, an editorial coordinator and a communications person who's using social media to talk to our audience.

We piggyback off the Spin team when we need extra muscle, so at any one time there might be five or six people working on Unit Editions.

Somebody once said a really good thing to me: nothing succeeds without the right number of people. I think you can muddle along for a while with just a few hands, but at some point you need the right number of people and I think we're moving towards that.

03. Think global

Publish your own book Supergraphics

Unit Editions' Supernew Supergraphics is a collection of the best architectural, environmental and interior graphic design

In the early days, because we were doing this on a shoestring, we went to China. Chinese printing is fantastic, and very sad to say, substantially cheaper than printing in the UK and Europe.

We have actually started now printing in Europe, and we've just done our first UK print. I would love to print locally, but it does push the price up. We'll still print in China for certain things, but where possible we'll print in the UK or Europe, simply because we get it quicker.

04. Be your own client

Publish your own book Herb Lubalin

The compact edition of Unit Editions' wildly successful deluxe version of Herb Lubalin: American Graphic Designer (1918-81)

We don't have anybody breathing down our necks. We don't have anybody telling us how our covers should look or we've used the wrong colours.

It goes back to our frustrations with mainstream publishers who will tell you things like: "Oh you can't do that cover because it needs a photograph on it." Or: "I want to see what a manual looks like." We know designers don't need that kind of signposting, so we can just go ahead and do it, but it's having the confidence to do it.

You have to be very confident about what you're doing and also you have to be respectful of your audience. You have to know what people want and what they feel and what they think. And if you make a mistake, it's your fault – it's your problem.

05. Be prepared to put in the hours

Publish your own book Type Only

Type Only, published by Unit Editions

Mostly I just say: do it yourself. Because you can. You really, really can. The internet, social media, allows you to tell everybody that you've done this and I would just urge people to realise that they can do it themselves.

It requires lots of work: hours and hours of work. I did four hours on Christmas day. I can't step off the treadmill at all. It's constant, constant work. But it's what I want to do, so I don't find it a strain. So I would say to people: just do it yourself, if you can!

Watch our interview with Unit Edition's Adrian Shaughnessy below:

Words: Julia Sagar
Image: Unit Editions' Manuals 2: Design and Identity Guidelines

Check out what else Adrian Shaughnessy and Tony Brook had to say in Computer Arts' Spin and Unit Editions Designer Series, over on the CA YouTube channel. And you can read the full interview inside the Computer Arts issue 237, right here.

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