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Monday, June 27, 2016

Self-Publishing: What it is, Who it's For, And How it Works

I've talked about a lot of different things on here, but ironically, one thing I haven't actually really talked about is publishing and publishing options and quite a few of my readers don't actually know much about how the publishing process works. I will admit, I am not an expert, so if you are a published author and have your own opinions and advice, please leave it in the comments for others.

For the next few weeks, I'll be blogging about the publishing process. I also have a few guests who will tell us about their experiences publishing. Today, I'm going to talk about some bare basics. So, if you already know all this stuff, feel free to browse around my older posts. Here are some you may not have seen: Playing with Foils, The Value of Shock, Your Writing Eye.

Publishing Options

If you've written a novel and want to pursue publication, you really have two main options. You can self-publish or you can publish traditionally. Self-publishing is where you publish the book instead of a publishing house. Traditional publishing is where a publishing house does it. I can't fit the basics of each in this post (heck, I can hardly fit one into one post), so I'm going to focus on self-publication first.


In self-publishing (also known as "independent publishing"), you are the one in charge of publishing your book, so everything that has to do with your book is your responsibility.

What the general public doesn't realize is that in traditional publishing, authors have next to no say over things like their book covers and the advertisements and marketing done by the publisher. In self-publishing, you get to be in control of all that. You also get to upload your manuscript (novel) as an ebook straight up onto places like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo. Sounds pretty great, right?

But this also leads to some pitfalls, and unfortunately, stigmas in the self-publishing route. If you don't know how to properly format your document into an ebook, or your abilities of cover design come from Paint, or you're not a very good editor (or you didn't edit at all), you can end up publishing something perfectly crappy. Because anyone who knows how to use the internet can "self-publish," you see a lot of "books" that need . . . help. This is why there is a stigma. Luckily, as more time goes on, the stigma gets weaker, and today you'll no longer get (as many) people looking down their noses at you for self-publishing as you did in years ago.

There are some fantastic books out there that are self-published, from authors who have worked extremely hard at getting them right. Self-publishing may be readily accessible, but that doesn't mean that being a successful self-published author is easy. In fact, in some ways it's harder than getting traditionally publish. Your book's success depends on your marketing and business abilities, and you don't have a marketer to back you up.

Many wise self-published authors take advantage of professional services. After they revise and edit their story themselves, they hire a professional editor to edit their manuscripts. If they don't know how to do cover designs (and a good cover takes more than just knowing how to make things look pretty in Photoshop), they hire someone to make a cover. Same with formatting. Keep in mind that these are all expenses that must come out of the writer's own pocket (different than traditional publishing).

Here are some examples of successful books that have been self-published.

Some genres lend themselves better to self-publishing than others. If you write romance for adults, you'll probably make more as a self-published author. Self-published picture books for kids are harder to sell, because it's harder for them to reach their intended audience, since self-published picture books are unlikely to be in the library or local bookstore or classroom where most kids are exposed to books. It doesn't mean it can't be done, it's just very, very difficult. Most all the books you see in those places are traditionally published. You may find the three example above in your local bookstore, but two of those three were later picked up by a traditional publisher. You should be aware that if your dream is to hit all the brick-and-mortar bookstores and end up on their bestseller shelf, self-publishing probably won't get you there. If your dream is to climb up a bestselling ebook list on Amazon, self-publishing is an option.

Consider Self-Publishing if . . .

- You are writing a novel that has a very narrow audience. 

A traditional publishing house can't make money on an audience that is too narrow, so they probably won't pick up your novel. Also, you'll make more money by hitting your narrow audience hard yourself, since there will be less book sales, self-publishing will give you a higher percentage of each sale.

- You are writing a very unique novel that doesn't fit into a typical genre.

Traditional publishers want books that can be categorized, otherwise they won't know how to market them or who to market them to, and they are a business and need to make money. If you love your novel that doesn't seem to fit a traditional genre or audience, you might want to self-publish.

- You want absolute, complete control over your novel. 

In traditional publishing, your publisher will be in charge of the book cover, advertisements, and marketing, which can be a good thing if they have a team of people who know what they are doing and they want to push your book. But on the other hand, your book might end up with a terrible cover you hate, and there is nothing you can do about it. The description of your ebook may have an atrocious first line. And people think you wrote it. If you self-publish, you can get exactly what you want.

- You are writing a novella

Novellas can be hard to sell to a publishing house and harder to market through one. They are an awkward length. Self-publishing might be for you.

- The genre you are writing in finds more success in self-publication

Like I mentioned with writing adult romance earlier.

- You want a higher percentage of income from each book sold.

Because you don't need to give the publishing house, editor, and your agent a cut of the book's price tag, you get more money for each book sold than a traditionally published author. Sometimes that means you make more than a traditionally published author, sometimes it doesn't. If an author is published and pushed by a big publishing house, it will reach a bigger readership, which means more book sales.

Some Cons:

- The money must come out of your own pocket.

- You don't have anyone helping you. It's all on you and anyone you hire.

- You have to deal with some people in the writing world treating you as inferior

- It may be harder to reach your audience (depending on your target audience)

- You may need to work very, very hard at marketing, and unless you have "ins" with places and have studied how to market self-published books, you might be stuck sharing your book with your 100 Facebook friends.

But a lot of these things have to do with what your goals are. If you could care less about how many books you sell or how many readers you reach, and publishing a book is purely something you want to do in and of itself, you don't have to market at all. Whatever your goals, please, please consider only self-publishing genuinely good novels on sites like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo. If you are uploading poor novels, you are adding to the sludge and stigma of self-publishing.

If you are strictly a hobbyist writer and are doing all this writing just for fun and haven't really studied the craft, I suggest self-publishing on social writing sites like Wattpad, FictionPress, and Storywrite.

Whatever you decide, make sure you've thought it through. Ultimately, it's up to you whether or not you self-publish, how you self-publish, and where you self-publish.

How to Self-Publish

Here is the basic process of self-publishing, at least from my experience working with those who have self-published.

1. Write the book (obvious, right?)

2. Edit and revise and do everything you can to get it to the best of your abilities (often this includes getting feedback and beta-readers)

3. Hire a professional editor to go through it.

4. Go through and incorporate (or reject) the edits.

5. Format the book. There are two basic ebook formats: epub and mobi. Most self-publishing platforms will convert the document into epub or mobi for you, so you don't have to have any fancy program. You can actually do it on Word, but you need to make sure you format the Word document correctly so it can be converted all right. (Or if you use Scrivener, you can use that.) You can either hire someone to do this, or you can learn how to do it yourself. Places like Amazon have guides you can look at. (P.S. don't forget to include the front matter and the back matter of your book.)

6. Are you creating a print version of your book? Some self-published authors do and others don't. If so, you need to format your story for that. Depending on how you approach this, you may or may not need to format the print version differently than the ebook version. Most people use CreateSpace. It's a print-on-demand site (it only prints the book when it's ordered, saving on costs, unlike traditional printing). Createspace actually gives you the option of automatically turning your print book into ebook format, so if you want to use Createspace, you may just want to format the print book first and let it convert it to ebook. Again, you can learn how to format it correctly online. If you are printing your book, you might want to purchase your own ISBN, or you can get one on Createspace for free (but it will have their name attached to it). Either way, you need an ISBN.

7. Get a book cover. If you are hiring someone to do your ebook cover, you may want to start on this earlier so it's done on time. If you are printing your book, you'll likely need to finishing formatting it to get the right dimensions (thickness of spine, etc.) and make sure you have a complete cover that includes a back cover blurb. Either way, make sure your file is big enough with a nice resolution so it's not pixelated. If you are printing your book, make sure the edges of the cover bleed beyond its size so it looks okay when it's trimmed to size. Also, don't forget to design the spine with your name and the book's title. Leave a space on the back for the barcode. (You can get a template of your cover to work off on CreateSpace if you want.)

8. On most self-publishing sites, you'll fill out the basic info of your book before uploading it. So of course you'll need a title and description. I shouldn't have to say this, but make sure you put some thought into those beforehand. It's a good idea to get feedback on your description and do several edits of it before putting it up. You'll also need to pick your book's genre or category and put in keywords/search terms. 

Just so you know, the self-publishing platform of Amazon is called Kindle Direct Publishing, the self-publishing platform of Barnes and Noble is called Nook Press, and the Kobo self-publishing platform is Writing Life. (If you are from the U.S. you may have never heard of Kobo, but it's big in international countries, so you probably shouldn't skip it. Also, keep in mind that Barnes and Noble is big in the U.S. but not outside it.)

9. Upload and then preview your book. You can usually preview it right on the site, but you might want to actually get the eReader and see how it looks on it. (Although, if you are from the U.S., you probably don't have a Kobo eReader.) If you are uploading your print book, you'll probably order a proof. Some sites, like CreateSpace, let you look at a digital proof, but I highly recommend ordering a printed proof, so you can see how the book actually looks. Sometimes the cover in the digital proof doesn't show how the cover actually turns out accurately. 

10. Set your price. This is pretty straightforward. Just type it in. You'll usually see what percentage you get of each book sale. You might want to do some research to help you choose a good price point.

11. Hit the publish button.

12. Audiobook (optional). You can actually start on your audiobook earlier, but most people don't, at least that's what I've noticed. You don't have to be a voice actor or know anything about audio files to make an audiobook. Just go to ACX, and set up an account. Upload a portion of your book. Voice actors will audition to be your reader, and you can select who you want. The process isn't too hard, and you can learn about it on their site. Your audiobook will be available on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes.

13. Market. Marketing is really its own topic, but whether you just want to tell your Facebook friends or try to reach the whole world, you start marketing. Share it at least somewhere online.

14. Party. You just self-published a book. Go celebrate.

Note: I used a novel as an example, but you can self-publish nonfiction books, short stories, books of poems, anthologies, and novellas too, of course.

Next week I have a guest, Lucinda Whitney, who is a self-published writer and will tell us why she chose self-publishing. The week after that, I'll talk about how to traditionally publish novels, short stories, poems, and articles. See you guys next time.

Also, if you have advice for other writers, please leave it in the comments. :)


  1. This is a very good and comprehensive introduction to self-publishing. You've covered all the main points. Nicely done, September!

  2. thank you for these tips, i know many noob writers from and they will love your post


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