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Posted on Jan 17, 2019

How Making My Book Available in Print Landed It In "The Guardian"

When Katja Meier set out to write about the joys and challenges she encountered when running a refugee home in Tuscany, she had only planned to publish an ebook. Little did she know, her memoir had other (bigger) plans, that hinged on being available in print as well. This is how she found herself desperately searching for a typesetting solution in the middle of the night, with a launch date looming...

Last July, a book-loving Instagram acquaintance texted me to say that she’d just read about my memoir on The Guardian’s Best Summer Books 2018 list. I dropped everything, ran to my computer and Googled the article. She was right: not just had Across the Big Blue Sea: Good Intentions and Hard Lessons in an Italian Refugee Home made the prestigious list — it also turned out to be the only self-published book in most illustrious company.

Getting your book mentioned — let alone fervently recommended — in The Guardian is no easy feat for any author, but even more so for a self-published one. And to think that I nearly missed out on this chance because of my initial plan to publish an ebook only…

Why I decided to publish print books as well as ebooks

When I first sat down to write about the joys and challenges I encountered when running a refugee home in Tuscany, my only plan was to eventually publish my manuscript as an ebook. I was an early adopter of e-readers — mail delivery in the Tuscan outback is erratic at best and the terms “bookshop” and “library” must be among the least-used words in the local vocabulary. Downloading books in a fraction of a second changed my life for the better and I assumed my readers felt the same way.

It was only once the entire manuscript was edited, polished, and ready to go, that I started to properly dig into how I would market Across the Big Blue Sea — just in time to realize that my assumptions had been wrong. I needed a print copy and fast:

  • Several people I contacted for endorsements were interested to read the book but preferred to be sent a print copy.
  • I was counting on my longstanding Instagram followers to help spread the word. But when looking into the reading habits of young Instagrammers, I was surprised to see that most of the social media savvy book lovers like to read on paper.

I had just written an entire book in less than a year, so turning the manuscript into a print copy didn’t seem too daunting. Designer Michelle Grant had already come up with a cover design for the ebook that would look even better in print. All I had to do was figure out the interior design. Easy-peasy, right?

The rocky road of turning an ebook into a print book

Of course, that was when the going got tough. I had used now-defunct Pronoun for the ebook formatting, and since that had been an easy process I totally underestimated what it meant to typeset a print book. I was out of my depth and it was too late to hire a professional as most of my book-budget had already been spent on editing. (Every book needs a good editor — but for a memoir dealing with sensitive topics like migration, human trafficking, and sex work, hiring an outstanding non-fiction editor was an absolute must!)

So, I went back to trusty Google and searched “DIY book formatting,” eagerly followed the guidelines, and managed to somewhat format the manuscript for print. No doubt publishing the result would have gotten me on a Guardian list too — but quite a different one. (“Worst Typeset Books Ever.”)


Saved by the Reedsy Book Editor

I discovered the Reedsy Book Editor late one night when desperately raking the internet for a solution to my haphazard typesetting attempt. I signed up for a free account immediately, started to upload the 23 chapters of my manuscript at midnight, and by 2 AM, I downloaded the print-ready PDF.

It looked great but had one issue I couldn’t sort out myself: Across the Big Blue Sea includes an excerpt of a research article which focuses on little-known facts linked to human trafficking in Europe. I had the author’s permission to include the text but only if it was formatted differently from the rest of the book. Since the excerpt is several pages long, simply putting it in cursive wouldn’t do.

I sent Reedsy an email at 3 AM, trying hard to come across as a calm, seasoned professional (and not as the freaked-out, first-time author who had set herself the wrong launch date). In the morning, I woke up to a message from Matt Cobb (Reedsy co-founder and designer), who promised to investigate the issue. And that very same week, I received a new version of my manuscript with the excerpt beautifully set apart in a sans-serif font and the comforting knowledge that I’d be able to make my launch date.

From self-published memoir to Guardian “best summer book”

Some things you can plan, others you can’t. I had sent an email to The Guardian’s book-reviewing team a couple of months before the book was published. Not surprisingly, especially for an indie author, I never heard back.

Luckily, a few months earlier I had taken marketing advice from Jesse Finkelstein of and written to some of my favorite authors asking for endorsements. This is not an easy thing to do — it takes courage to ask time from authors who are probably already flooded with similar requests. But it's well worth asking, especially if you feel the author might be truly interested in the topic of your book.

By seeming-providence, at the same time that The Guardian wasn’t getting back to me, one of the writers I had contacted for endorsements wrote back and said she’d be happy to receive a copy (and four more followed suit!). Taiye Selasi, author of the wonderful Ghana Must Go, didn’t just write an insightful endorsement for me to use, she also remembered Across the Big Blue Sea when The Guardian asked her for her favorite books of the summer. And unknown to me, Taiye had already mentioned my book a few months before in The Guardian’sBooks That Made Me” series.

I got lucky twice, and I’m afraid I’ll have to contradict Louis Pasteur’s famous quote here: it turns out that chance doesn’t just favor the prepared mind, it also favors the well-prepared book and the courageous author. (Hell, it takes guts to contact your favorite writers for endorsements)!

From the day the book was first published in February 2017, I have been selling more print books than ebooks. I wouldn’t want to miss out on the ebook version — after all, I care about people who live in forlorn places without a reliable postal service. But my sales would look dire if it wasn’t for the print edition. Whatever retailer I look at, the paperback fares better.

And when I meet the American students whose universities use Across the Big Blue Sea as a textbook for their study abroad programs in Italy, I’m each time surprised and honored anew that they travel with a print copy in their backpacks.

Back to the Reedsy Book Editor once more

With Italian and German translations in the pipeline, I’ll be back for a few night-time dates with the Reedsy Book Editor early next year (beware Matt, more desperate 3 AM emails coming your way). But being able to easily update my book proved useful and necessary for the already-published English edition too. I already updated the manuscript once to add two pages of endorsements at the beginning of the book. And while we’re working on the film adaptation of Across the Big Blue Sea, I’m planning to keep readers à jour of the progress there too.

But being able to amend the manuscript doesn’t just mean I can shamelessly brag about film rights and cool reviews in The Guardian: more importantly, I can update the information on how to support the migrant women mentioned in my book. And that is, after all, why I sat down to write it in the first place.

How has publishing print copies of your book affected your publishing experience? Leave any thoughts or questions for Katja in the comments below!

1 response

Michele Gardiner says:

17/02/2019 – 22:07

That's great to hear.

Comments are currently closed.