A Guide to Self-Publishing a Book

Recently, a friend reached out asking me for some tips and information on self-publishing. So I figured I might as well write a blog about it and send that to him.

Warning: this is the longest blog post I have written, but self-publishing has a lot of moving parts and I wanted to cover them all.


Supporting Help

Self-publishing is not for the faint of heart. After all, you are assuming the financial risk instead of the publisher, and you are in charge of all. the. steps.

However, you don’t have to go it alone. You can use hybrid publishing services, self-publishing education services, and/or author services.

Hybrid publishers do the publishing for you—much like traditional publishers—however, you cover the cost of publishing, so you’re still assuming the financial risk, not the publisher. And as such, it is still considered self-publishing. 

With all that goes into publishing, it may be worth it to you to pay someone to do the publication work for you. 

Just like a traditional publisher, they take care of quality control. Since you most likely aren’t experienced in publishing, you may not be able to recognize quality editing, cover design, interior formatting, etc. 

With a good hybrid publisher, you get professional quality. But unlike traditional publishing, you still get to maintain some control. Because you are paying them and they aren’t assuming the financial risk, you get the final say; of course, a good hybrid publisher will advise against anything they think will damage your marketability, but in the end, you get the say. So you are in control of the published product and don’t give up any creative rights.

The control you may be giving up is who works on your book. If they do the editing, formatting, designing, etc., you use their staff. If you have found a good one, they should have highly qualified professionals, but still, you do not get a say on who they use. 

If you decide to go this route, research the company and make sure they are not a vanity press or a scam. A vanity press is only useful if your book is intended for a limited audience (maybe only your family) and you aren’t attempting to make money from the sales of your book. If you are hoping to reach a wider audience and sell enough copies to break even or make a profit, stay away from vanity publishing.

A vanity publisher will publish any book they receive and outsource the publication process—editing, cover design, etc.—to freelancers with the lowest prices. Quality isn’t the concern; price is. They want to keep their costs as low as possible, so they get a huge profit. And because they have already been paid, they have no vested interest in helping to market your book. 

A hybrid publisher on the other hand will only publish a few quality submissions. Because they are offering high-quality work, they can’t take every book. And with fewer published titles a year, they can help more with marketing your book.

Make sure to research any company you’re considering. Way too many authors have been scammed into high fees for little to no return. Check out Writer Beware, whose “mission is to track, expose, and raise awareness of scams.” Search their site for any company you’re considering to see if they are listed, and if they are, run, don’t walk, away. 

Since self-publishing can be a steep learning curve, you can find several companies that teach you how to publish your book. They provide you with mentorship, a writing community, resources, and often a Rolodex of curated author service providers.

Companies like this save you time spent researching how to do each step and from relying on trial and error. You pay for this, of course. So keep in mind that you’re now paying for the education and the publishing.

But time is money, so if the learning curve is steep for you and time is a rare commodity, this isn’t a bad route to go.

Just like with hybrid publishers, you’re going to find good education companies and not-so-good ones, so make sure you research any learning company you’re considering. 

Since I am on the Rolodex of curated editors for Self-Publishing School, I can vouch that they aren’t a scam. I don’t necessarily agree with everything they say to and teach their authors, but I do know they provide good-quality help and my clients have been happy with them.

If you go the hybrid publishing route, you may not need any additional author services if they do it all. But not all hybrids offer all the publishing services, especially the optional ones that you may or may not need.

If you are going it alone or if you went the educational route, you will need to hire people for the various publishing steps (listed in the next section)

You can use companies that provide multiple author services (editing, formatting, designing, etc.), you can hire freelancers (like me) for each step, or you can do a combination: a company for most of it, a freelancer for one or two of the steps.

Make sure you research each freelancer or company you use. Check out their reviews, portfolio, and credentials. If they don’t have these listed on their website, ask them.

When it comes to checking their credentials, make sure they have some form of training. They do not necessarily need a university certification or degree, but they should have some form of training: taken online courses, received accredited certificates, read professional development books, received on-the-job training, etc.

Freelancing is huge right now, so many hang their shingle when they have no business offering professional services. Some are well-meaning and just don’t know what they don’t know. Others are well aware they aren’t fully qualified but know they can find work if their rates are cheap enough.

You know the saying “Good, fast, cheap. You can’t have all three.” Remember that. 

You can find freelancers and companies that offer very low rates (may or may not be good quality), but for the most part, these services aren’t cheap. 

Do note that a low rate doesn’t always mean they aren’t a professional and are poor quality (though it often does) and a high rate doesn’t always mean they offer high-quality work.  So do your homework!


Publishing Steps

Self-publishing is expensive because you are covering the costs of every step in the publication process. Of course, you’re in charge and can decide to cut corners, but just know you’re taking a risk when you do that.

  • Skip the editing or just have a friend edit it? Your book may get a lot of poor reviews. And reviewers can be harsh. You also miss out on an opportunity to improve your craft and learn from professional editors.
  • DIY the book cover? Your book may not get any sales because the cover looks too amateurish or isn’t enticing enough. And, again, reviewers can be harsh.
  • DIY the formatting/interior design? E-book users may complain that the book is unreadable, printed books may need to be reprinted, and publishing platforms may reject the book for improper design, causing you to have to redo and resubmit.

Some famous self-publishing authors have skipped steps with their first book, then used the sales from that book to pay for professional services for their subsequent book and to redo their first book. That is a risk, as it depends on your ability to sell your first book well and for you to have a fairly professional product without professionals helping you. But this is an option.

If you’re just writing a book for your friends or family and you aren’t looking for readership, then it wouldn’t be worth paying for all these steps. 

This goes without saying: you have to write the book. If you’ve never written a book or have never taken a writing course, you may want to study the craft of writing first or simultaneously.

Whether you’re writing a nonfiction book or a novel, you can find a lot of amazing craft books that teach you how and/or online courses.

You can also use a ghostwriter or a book coach to help you do this.

Some self-publishing education companies help you with the actual writing by pairing you with a mentor or book coach.

You can also join a critique group to get feedback on each chapter and to learn from other authors. 

Once your book is written, do not send it off to an editor. Never give your first draft to an editor. You need to edit it first. 

While I called this “self” editing, you can and should use others to help. You can self-edit first and use others for draft two, or you can use others on draft one to help you create draft two.

However, your friend, spouse, or mom isn’t going to be the best help. It’s best to seek help from other writers, whether in book form, online, or in person.

If you didn’t

  • read any craft books
  • use a book coach
  • work with a critique group before or while writing your first draft

now may be a good time to do that. Craft books are relatively inexpensive, critique groups are often free, and alpha and beta readers are free as well.

You can save so much time and money on editing if you first take the self-editing step seriously. Of course, don’t fall into the trap of perpetually editing. At some point, you have to call it good enough to submit to a hybrid publisher, an author service company, or a freelance editor.

But this could be your third draft or your tenth.

Since I work as a freelance editor, this is the step I know the most about. To save room here, I am just going to direct you to other blogs I have written that discuss the editing step. 

I will say this here: in traditional publishing, a book has no fewer than three professional editors editing the book. So be aware that you may need to pay for multiple editors and/or multiple rounds of editing.

Of course, you can only afford what you can afford. Some editors, like me, offer a package deal to combine editing types, though doing so does reduce the quality. But that way you get multiple types and if the editor is good, you will get good quality, just not the best they could give if doing it separately.

Read my blog “4 Levels of Editing and Their Pricing Explained” or watch my webinar “What to Expect from the Editing Process.”

I also have other blogs on this topic that may interest you: 

The metadata is important for marketing your book. This includes

  • Title and subtitle
  • Genre and subgenre
  • Price
  • Author’s name and bio
  • Book description
  • Book type

You, of course, can write your own metadata, so this is one step you may not need to pay for. If you do write your own, at the very least, get your editor to edit your bio and book description. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to look at a book I’ve edited and cringed at the poorly written book description.

If your book description is riddled with errors and awkward sentences, the reader is going to assume the book is too. So please get these edited.

You can also pay someone to write your author bio and book description. This is a service I offer my clients, as some writers struggle with this. 

Writing a bio and book description requires a different skill set than writing a book. Of course, I have seen many authors write brilliant book descriptions and bios (better than I would have done), so I’m not saying don’t write your own. Just consider whether you feel good about writing it yourself or would rather pay for it. 

For your cover design, you will want a professional graphic artist with experience in covers. Not all graphic designers/artists know how to make good covers. It is a specialty within the graphic design world. So, again, check their credentials.

Book designing includes interior book design and formatting. You can find a book designer who does both, or you may pay for a formatter and book designer separately. 

A book designer will design a pleasing, balanced layout for your book and will expertly set the type, resulting in an attractive and much more readable file than your Word document. 

A formatter is someone who prepares a Word file so that it flows easily into the page layout software (usually InDesign) and can be converted to an e-book. 

If you are only producing an e-book, you may do fine by having a good formatter and skipping the interior book designer. For print, both steps are needed, but this can be done by the same person. The book designer will also have to coordinate the cover design for a print book, even if you have a graphic designer create the front cover. 

Designers are independent businesspeople, and they vary in how they structure their charges, so be sure you understand clearly what services you are paying for and what they will cost.

In traditional publishing, proofreading comes after the book designing stage and is done on the actual proofs. This is so the proofreader can check for errors in design, not just in the content.

In self-publishing, proofreading often comes after editing and before the book design and is done in Word, just like the editing. This is because it is quite expensive to do the proofreading after, as you pay the proofreader to proofread the PDF or proofs, then you have to pay either the proofreader or the interior book designer to implement the proofread changes into the formatted book file.

So more often than not, indie authors have their book proofread before it is designed. Just know you’re risking errors in the design if there weren’t any professional eyes on the book after the design. However, readers are more forgiving of errors in design than they are of errors in the content.

Regardless of the order you do it, proofreading is not the same thing as editing. Any proofreader worth their salt will not proofread a manuscript that hasn’t been professionally edited first. 

Research cites the best an editor can do is a 95-percent error detection rate (this is just errors, not subjective changes. This means if the original draft had 1,000 errors, there could be 50 or so remaining). If your editor did multiple types of editing in their passes, then the detection rate goes down even more. 

So it is in your best interest to get a proofreader because you will have errors remaining after your editor finishes. And, most likely, errors will remain even after your proofreader. It is really hard to achieve perfection.

You are not a good proofreader for your own work, and neither is your editor, as you are both too close to the manuscript and could be blind to remaining errors.

Do not trust your editor if they tell you they can also proofread your book. While it’s ideal to have different editors for the different editing rounds, this is often not financially feasible, but at the very least, your proofreader should be a different person. 

The publishing step was written by author Cat Russell, as I don’t know a lot about the actual publishing step.

Congratulations! Statistically, only 2 percent of individuals who dream of writing a book arrive at this point in the process. This is a big accomplishment, and now it’s time to get your book out there so others can read and enjoy the fruit of your labor. 

Once you have your polished manuscript PDF and book cover image, you’re ready to publish. 

ISBN and Bar Code

To sell your book online in the United States, you must purchase an ISBN code for your book. While many online sites sell ISBN codes, only one platform is legitimate: Bowker Identifier Services

On the Bowker platform, you will be asked to register your account to purchase and assign ISBNs. They offer ISBNs in bundles of one, ten, a hundred, and a thousand. If you plan to offer your book in different formats, such as paperback, hardcover, and e-book, you will need a different ISBN for each format. Thus, for a single book, it’s best to purchase a bundle of ten.

Once you have registered your Bowker account and purchased your ISBNs, you can then assign an ISBN to each book format and purchase a bar code from the same registered account. 

Amazon versus Ingram Spark

To understand the difference between the two publishing platforms, Amazon and Ingram Spark, remember Amazon sells books at retail price to individual consumers while Ingram Spark distributes to libraries and store outlets at a reduced or wholesale price. Each platform has global reach, and both print and ship books in various formats. 

It is up to you to decide which platform (using both is an option) best serves your marketing strategy. As a children’s book author, I print and globally distribute my books in paperback and hardcover format through Ingram Spark and market to individual consumers on the Amazon platform in paperback and e-book formats. In my case, Amazon also includes the option to purchase my book in hardcover, in addition to paperback and e-book, because Ingram Spark distributes the hardcover format of my book to Amazon.

Both Amazon and Ingram Spark have a similar process for submitting book material for publication on their platforms. Both require you to register an author account to submit and manage your books and both walk you through the submission process, requiring you to load your book details, content, and pricing. 

While their process is similar, their content format requirements differ. A professional book formatter and cover designer will be very familiar with these differences and the calculations necessary to account for the correct spine width for the number of pages and format of your book. I highly recommend using their expertise so that the upload and approval process of your book content goes smoothly on these platforms.

After these steps, it’s simply a matter of pushing the publish button for final approval and going live.

Pushing the publish button is quite a feat and is worth celebrating. Just realize that this colossal achievement is just the beginning of the life of your book. The journey begins in earnest once your book is live online. Now the real work begins, and it is a marathon, not a sprint. 

Register Your Book with the Library of Congress

Here’s a fun consideration to grace the copyright page of your book. Consider registering it with the Library of Congress! It’s a simple process that adds credibility to you as an author. You can create an account, then register your book and request an LCCN for your title. Approval should only take a few days. When your book is published with the LCCN and included on your copyright page, they request you send a copy to them for their archives. That’s a feather in anyone’s cap to be a published author and archived at the United States Library of Congress.

Depending on your needs, you may also need to find or DIY these other optional publishing steps:

  • Illustrations (picture book, a nonfiction book with needed illustrations, etc.)
  • Audiobook narration
  • Author website (may need to hire a website designer)
  • Marketing (may need to hire a marketing consultant—there are a lot of scammers in this industry, so again, do your homework)

A quick note on marketing: it’s an unfortunate truth that an indie author has to be a good marketer, not just a good writer. You can write the most amazing book in the world, but if you don’t know how to market it, no one is going to buy it.


Conclusion

Whew! You made it through my longest blog. But like I said self-publishing is not for the faint of heart. It is not easy. It is not cheap. It is not quick! It is a labor of love. 

Of course, you can make money as a self-published author—many are quite successful.

But if

  • this is just a hobby for you, not a business
  • you plan on writing just one book
  • you aren’t going to work the marketing hard

then the reality is, it will likely take years for you to see an ROI (if at all) if you paid for professionals to help with all or most the steps.

But you have your name on a professionally published book, your story and message are bringing joy or education to readers, you learned a lot, and you accomplished something hard.

If I have one piece of advice, it is this: Do not race against some arbitrary deadline for publishing your book. Doing it well is better than doing it fast. With that said, you also have to call it good enough at some point and hit the publish button. A book can always be made better. Always!

For those of you thinking of self-publishing, expect it to be more time-consuming and involved than you thought. But don’t let that deter you. If your goal is to self-publish a book, you can do it, and you have a lot of resources—more than ever—to help you along the way!

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About Me

With a passion for words, collecting quotes, and reading books, I love all things writing related. I will admit to having a love-hate relationship with writing as I am constantly critical, but I feel a grand sense of accomplishment spending hours editing my own writing.

Lest you think I don’t have much of a life, I should add I also enjoy dancing, singing, acting, eating out, and spending quality time with my husband and adorable kids.

I’m pretty cool. And you may want to be my friend. But in order for that to happen, you will need to know more about me than this tiny box allows.

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