UCLAN launches the UK’s first ever Masters in self-publishing

Debbie Williams

Debbie Williams - Credit: Archant

There are many eager to take cash from aspiring authors. A unique course in Lancashire will show writers how to avoid the pitfalls, writes Roger Borrell

Wayne Noble

Wayne Noble - Credit: Archant

Some say everyone has a book inside them while others express the firm hope that is where they remain. Locked inside.

Helen Ashton

Helen Ashton - Credit: Archant

Most of us don’t have the time, talent or inclination to write but that doesn’t seem to stop the torrent of self-published work arriving on the desks of book reviewers.

Among the dross are some gems and a growing number are niche publications, such as local history, which might not sell in millions, but turn out to be nice little earners.

There was a time when it was called vanity publishing, a phrase normally delivered with a curled lip. Today, this is the only route onto the bookshelf for all but a tiny proportion because publishers can’t or won’t cope with the volume of manuscripts sent to them.

Sadly, while there are aspiring authors prepared to hand over hard cash to get their work printed, there will always be people ready to take advantage.

That’s where the University of Central Lancashire can help. In September, it launches the UK’s first ever MA in self-publishing and course leader Debbie Williams is adamant this is not about vanity publishing.

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It is designed to help writers succeed as a self-published authors, concentrating not on literary skills, but finances and sales, digital publishing, marketing, editing, production, layout, distribution and design. In other words, the grunt of the book world.

Debbie spent 15 years as a senior member of the team at Waterstone’s. Her early days were as a buyer for children’s books in an era when no one was much interested in the sector.

‘My career really started when the Harry Potter books arrived,’ she said. Suddenly, the book world went mad and Debbie found herself in the middle of Potter mania, organising worldwide launch events which saw midnight queues of eager readers snaking around bookshops.

She decided on a career change and moved back to her native Lancashire to launch the course. ‘Part of the reason for doing it is because there are those taking advantage of authors,’ she says.

‘These aren’t legitimate publishing houses but people who will buy you an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) and a barcode and charge a couple of thousands for something that costs a few pounds. Others will charge £5,000 for manuscript appraisal. You can easily be ripped off.’

Debbie, whose family come from Bamber Bridge, will be marshalling experts in various publishing field to share their advice with students and her colleague, Wayne Noble, will be looking after the digital publishing side.

It has already attracted considerable interest from students of all ages eager, no doubt, to emulate the success of UCLan journalism graduate Kerry Wilkinson.

He started by self-publishing his bestselling Jessica Daniel crime series and he became Amazon UK’s top-selling author in late 2011. He and he has since sold more than 650,000 books following a publishing deal with Pan. But he continues to self-publish.

I’ll be published, by George

One of Debbie’s first students will be Lytham photographer Helen Ashton, whose ambition is to publish children’s books - especially the ones she has written.

There are seven of a ten book series about a spider called George, who loses a leg in an encounter with a sneezing dog. The stories follow George through a series of adventures, his challenge to be accepted and his struggle to make friends.

It has been illustrated by family friend Mark Nelson, who is the director of rugby at Fylde as well as being a talented artist. ‘I wrote to various publishers and toured around book shops but I didn’t get very far,’ said Helen, who is married to Brian Ashton, the former England World Cup rugby coach.

‘Then a friend told me about the course at UCLan. It sounded just what I needed. I’m hoping that it won’t just help me to get published but it can equip me to help others. It would be the biggest achievement of my life.’

Helen is already gearing up for success. She has had a prototype George soft toy made and she hopes these will be sold with the book and they may lead to further spin-offs.