Self-publishing Q&A with Sue Liu, Accidental Aid Worker – Part One

I’m pleased to welcome to the Digireado blog Sue Liu. Sue Liu is  a first time author and self-publisher. At the end of 2015, Sue self-published her memoir Accidental Aid Worker.

Accidental Aid Worker ArrivesWe first met at NSW Writers’ Centre when Sue attended Crowdfunding for Writers course that I ran in 2013. After confidently telling me that she was intending to write the book in a matter of months, life, travel, and an operation extended that to more like three years. In nice point of serendipity, Sue handed me my copy in the same room as we’d originally met – of course, we took lots of photos of the moment!

If you’d like to meet Sue Liu and hear about her book, described by one Goodreads reviewer as “It is a fast-moving account of adventure, human spirit, grief, and love and laughter as well as the importance of community.

  • Sue is about to do nine author talks in seven days, launching at Leichhardt Library on 2 June 2016 moving on to a four day tour of NSW Riverina Regional libraries and finishing in Albury  6-9 June  2016. see details here.
  • $5 from every copy of Accidental Aid Worker purchased on her book tour will go toward supporting young people in Cambodia.

AAW book

Why self-publish?

“I chose to self-publish early on. Well, actually, I realised it was my only option as a new, untested writer and unknown personality. No publishing house was going to take a risk on me, and my unwritten story. I had to have the belief in my story and the confidence to know I could achieve the physical aspects of publication and back myself.”

Sue Liu reflected it took three years in total from deciding to write a memoir and attending a workshop, to holding her book in her hand.

The tangibility of print

“The printed book was my primary focus. Personally, I like the tangibility of a printed book, and I had always planned that Accidental Aid Worker book be a beautifully produced memento – a piece of art – that would stand out in bookstores and libraries as well as on the digital bookshelves.”

Why produce the printed book with a double-sided cover?

Inside front cover image (1)Inside back cover AWW

“I printed a double colour cover with the inside filled with beautiful photos and the outside, a matt cello coating. It feels and looks like quality and people love and appreciate this. The quality of the production is a reflection of my personal brand and builds expectation and anticipation about the words inside.”

Not everyone would choose the extra expense of a double-sided four colour cover – there is no doubt it is not the most economic decision, but it has added a real sense of luxury and interest to the book. Once people hold it in their hands they can see the love that has gone into it the production.

What did you outsource, and how did you find those suppliers?

“I relied very much on recommendations from people in the industry to find experts and suppliers. I’m a marketing professional myself, so comfortable and familiar with sourcing, briefing and contracting professionals. I am a production manager and work with the design and printing process – but not for this kind of production. I was therefore learning a whole new industry!

I wanted the best professional help that I could afford and happy to pay for the advice and service. The quality of the book was so important to me and I worked with an editorial consultant, editor, graphic designer and printer. I also contracted a publicist when I launched. The designer and publicist were not connected to the book or publishing world.

  • My talented graphic designer (friend/gratis) did all of the external cover designs as well as produced bookmarks and promotional cards for me.
  • I contracted publicists (professional/paid) to assist with fresh eyes on the media release and seek publicity for the launch of the book in November and December.
  • For the internal layout of the book I used Pressbooks and did this all myself – including choosing the styling, consistency and processing the endless rounds of edits and corrections. It was easy at the end of for the extraction of the files for print and ebook variations. My experiences in using Pressbooks as part of my writing process is a whole other interview!”

What kind of editing did you do? Structural, copyediting, proofing or all three?

“During the writing process – I had one key beta reader (friend/gratis) who was reading for support and story interest (no editing). Once I had a number of chapters drafted, enough to establish some kind of style and flow, I sought connection with an editor (professional/paid) who provided me some much needed, hard-to-digest assessment and feedback.

This set me on the path to writing, writing, writing and at a point where I had a substantial part of the story down, I had another beta reader (acquaintance/paid) who was to help with some pre-editing and the manuscript read for an editor. She was not experienced or confident in the editing process and in the end, I ended that arrangement. It was not a waste, though, as she was part of the creative process and feedback loop that helped me achieve my first ‘readable’ draft.

I went back to the first editor, who ended up ‘match-making’ me with another editor who was a) available b) more affordable and c) had a better ‘touch’ on the project. I had come to a point where I needed someone to help me to the end. This is not standard editing work – but it’s what I needed.

She read the 120,000 word first ‘readable’ draft to assess whether she could and would work with me on my book. I let her know that I needed her guidance, direction and support on the story and style before we got into the ‘real’ editing. I understand this is not a ‘standard’ or normal approach between an author and editor, yet for my deeply complex story, this is what I needed.

My editor worked in a very structured and systematic way through the structural and copy-editing process. At the completion of this, I had finished writing all I needed to and the result was an approx. 150,000 word first draft manuscript. We then took a breath and started another round of processes.

I had another close friend (friend/gratis) proof read and between the three of us, me in the middle processing edits, rewriting and formatting – we did a total of 8 full passes, with the final done by the editor. Even after this process, between three of us – there were the inevitable errors.

Over the first few months I collected and corrected the electronic files as best as I could and prior to reprinting, (Accidental Aid Worker Edition 2 – April 2016) I went back to my editorial consultant and asked her to ‘match-make’ again – this time with a very astute proof reader (professional/paid). This was a worthy investment in fresh, professional eyes. I hope and pray that we have nailed all the errors now!”

Whoa, this is certainly not the normal process, and it would be recommended to start with a completed manuscript first. Sue has been upfront about the way she approached the book was her way, and with such a personal project, delving into many difficult periods of her life, this was the approach that worked for her. If you want to know more about the various kinds of editing, I always direct writers to Abigail Nathan’s site – Bothersome Words has a page that clearly outlines this.

Sales and distribution for the printed books?

“I had my book printed by a trade publisher in Sydney. I independently sold/distributed half of the print run in two months (presale and over Christmas) and then nervously hit the road and phone and started calling bookstores and libraries to introduce the book. I was accepted in 8 bookstores in key locations in Sydney and Australia, who took my book on consignment (outside of their usual processes). Most of those have sold within the three months. Five libraries purchased in the first five weeks. As time went on, I found that most Ebook- digital (1)bookstores and libraries needed to work within their supply arrangements. I had no choice but to find distribution, and accepted by Dennis Jones and Associates and Port Campbell Press immediately. This arrangement enabled libraries and bookstores to more easily order and receive my book and took the remainder of the first print-run.

The best sale is a direct sale by the author – as you get 100% of your retail price. I am working now with libraries and community groups on author talks where I hope to sell a few books. I also sell directly from my own website. There is work in that – however I can then know who has bought a book and also will sign it and send other gifts.”

It’s important to note here that Sue also has her book available in ebook format. Although she initially set up her own ebook distribution, she now manages that through Port Cambell Press.

This is part one of my interview with Sue Liu, first-time author of Accidental Aid Worker. I can’t wait to share part two because Sue took an interesting approach to engaging others in the lead up to producing her book.

Sue is currently embarking on a speaking tour and all details are here

AAW Sue Liu Author small (1)

Follow the Sue Liu and Accidental Aid Worker news, facebook or twitter for more insights.

I’ll be on my way to Vietnam within the week, so my next post may be from the beach near Hoi An!


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