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How To: Turn your passion into cash

Self-publishing is an avenue more and more authors are taking. Here's how to make the self-publishing route work for you.

Committed surfie and pro photographer Tim Rainger loves the waves, whether he's in them or taking photos of them. After he was made redundant from his corporate PR job and decided he wanted to spend less time on motorways and in meetings talking 'marketing womble speak', Rainger seized the day and produced his own beautifully designed beach guide, The New Zealand Good Beach Guide- North Island. Here's how he did it.

The New Zealand Beach GuideWhat traits do you need to have to self-publish?
Making good looking books is a relatively simple process, but it takes an extreme eye for detail and good raw material, as well as determination and perseverance. But making a book is only one half of the equation – selling books is the tricky part. They’re a low-margin product and the book trade is very conservative and dominated by a few big players.

Given the market dominance, how do you break through?
The key to the success is to have an alternative market you can sell to, and let the book trade run its course. I’ve had the surf trade with a wide retail network that’s kept me in business. The key to doing trade in it is getting out and meeting retailers face to face and recognising their needs, while building a pricing structure that works for both. We offer better margins by incentivising orders above 10 units where retailers pay COD or pro forma, which is the complete opposite of the book trade, where retailers order in small numbers and sell on sale or return.

What about the margins?
Margins in the book trade are traditionally only 35 percent for smaller book retailers, but at the prices we offer to the surf and tourist trade, it’s usually 50 percent, which makes a big difference. It’s all about getting numbers up, as unit costs on production are far less as you produce more.

How have you gone about distribution?
I have a book trade distributor, and manage my own network of retailers in the surf/ fishing/tourist and specialty retail sector. I also sell direct from my website. I keep costs down by warehousing monthly supplies out of my son’s bedroom! He dispatches my stock after school for a fee per unit. This keeps him in skateboards and puts petrol in his car. Cracking the book trade is tricky, though there are some good publishing companies who can act as distributors only, taking a margin for fulfilment of orders into the trade. I use David Bateman and find them friendly and efficient.

What’s the secret sauce to success here?
The success of something like this is about recognising a need or a gap in the market and then thinking from the consumer’s point of view, using all the best design models available to produce something that is saleable. As far as profit is concerned, efficiency is the key. Niche markets are the easiest for self-publishers, especially if there is a possibility of selling yourself to a separate market to the book trade. PR is important to get the message out, again

So self-publishing isn’t for the lazy, or the comfortable ...
I think it all comes back to determination and bloody mindedness, though this is only useful if the actual product is useful or beautiful and hopefully both. I sold my house in Auckland to finance the project, and spent two summers and a winter in my campervan travelling to every beach in the north island, researching and shooting pics. I keep costs down by living simply.

The process was actually really hard work, and I only had a few days off during that period of nearly two years, but it took me to a lot of amazing places. I met a lot of fantastic people along the way. Looking back it seems a bit crazy, doing what I did, but the sense of pride and relief when you finally get a book in your hands that you’re proud of is worth gold! It feels a bit like having a baby – a long gestation period. A lot of pain and blood at the end, then a massive sense of relief and a flood of good feelings after the birth.

Tim Rainger runs Clean Media and is planning to publish the South Island version of his beach guide – once he finishes surfing all the breaks for quality control, that is.