Are you interested in self-publishing a book? Here's what you need to know about the mechanics of making it happen.
Several years ago, I self-published a book (you can get the second edition, released in 2022, on Amazon). It was my third book, and my first attempt at self-publishing a book. Overall, I enjoyed the process and I learned a lot about the mechanics of making it happen.
I also learned that, thanks to technology and the tools we have available to us now, it's easier than you think.
Where Should You Go to Self-Publish Your Book?
After you finish writing your book, it's time to publish it. For decades, the only way to publish on your own was to approach a printer specializing in self-publishing and order a minimum number of copies. That done (and often requiring between $5,000 and $10,000 upfront), you needed to try to sell the books on your own.
Today, there is no need to go through these so-called “vanity” publishers. Instead, you can take advantage of print-on-demand technology. The most well-known print-on-demand location is Amazon, via Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). You can arrange a softcover book to be sold through Amazon — and you can keep more of the royalties — and Amazon will just print it off. There's no need for you to order any books at all. Plus, author copies are relatively inexpensive, so if you do order books for an event or for some other reason, it won't cost you much.
When you publish through KDP, the print-on-demand service doesn't include hardcovers. There are additional upfront fees with this option. You can also work with IngramSpark (Lightning Source). They have a distribution that includes Amazon, and you don't need to pay an upfront fee if you want to publish a hardcover.
I recently helped a client publish his memoir. He insisted on a hardcover, so we went through IngramSpark. But the book will also be available as a softcover on Amazon through KDP.
My experience with KDP has been smoother than my experience with IngramSpark. In fact, next time I provide publishing services for a client or publish my own book, I'm going to try to stick with the softcover and Kindle options. It's much easier, even though my friends Kyle Prevost and Justin Bouchard insist that IngramSpark is great for Canadians, and they enjoyed using it for their book, More Money for Beer and Textbooks.
A Note About Publishing Your Book on Amazon
When publishing on Amazon, it's important to understand your options. There are different royalty options, based on various factors. On top of that, if you want your Kindle version available on Kindle Unlimited, you have to make sure that it's exclusive to Amazon.
Unfortunately, Amazon is one of the easiest and most-known places to use print-on-demand for your book. However, if you want to try elsewhere, there are other options. Pay attention to various start-up costs, though. IngramSpark was ok for me to work with, but you'll pay a setup fee. Some other options available, although I haven't tried them, include:
- Draft2Digital: This one appears to use Ingram for distribution, but you don't have to deal with the setup fee and trying to set up the book on the Spark side of things.
- BookBaby: Offers very good print qualify and Ingram for distribution. Comes with a hefty setup fee, but if you're focused on print, this could be a good choice because of the high-quality product. If you use this, definitely get a book designer for your formatting and hire someone to create a cover.
- Blurb: A decent alternative to Amazon and uses Ingram for distribution. The author cost for books is relatively high, but the print quality appears to be good and it looks fairly easy to use.
- Barnes & Noble: You can also use this bookseller for its print-on-demand services. It's a little more expensive, and the distribution isn't as wide, although you can sell the book on BN.com. They have a calculator that can help you figure out how much it will cost to produce.
Professional Formatting and Design
Thanks to print-on-demand tools that make it inexpensive to get your book published and out there, the most expensive part of self-publishing a book might be the professional editing, formatting, and design.
Even though I'm a writer, and I edit others' work, I still wanted a fresh set of eyes on my book. I hired someone to edit my book. I also work with a professional designer whose specialty is preparing books for self-publication. For one price, it's possible to get different formats of your book, including softcover, hardcover, Kindle, PDF, and EPUB. Understand that the layout for each type is likely to be slightly different. Additionally, your cover will need to meet different specifications depending on whether or not you want a hardcover version or a softcover version (or both).
Nothing can beat a crisp, professional design. When self-publishing a book, going that extra mile to get the sleek look can pay off because you immediately seem more credible when you have a great-looking product. Plus, you save hours of frustration when you let a professional handle it. Amazon also offers various design services. They can help you format and design your book, and get help with the cover. However, it might not be formatted for hardback or EPUB when you go this route. If you know you'll just stick with Amazon, their services can be reasonably priced.
A professional can format your book properly much faster than you can, and it might cost less than you think. I raised money on Indiegogo to help fund my book (basically secure pre-sales). I reached my goal, and the money that came from it was enough to cover the costs of publishing my book, including professional editing, formatting, and cover design. It also included the costs of registering ISBNs and buying barcodes. I stayed away from the hardcover and just went with Kindle and print-on-demand softcover through Amazon.
There are other services that can help you format your book and create a cover design for you. When you find a designer you like, sticking with them for future projects can be smart. You can also find book designers at sites like Reedsy and 99designs.
This is essentially the size of your book. Realize, though, that words that go on the page don't take up all that space. So you need to understand that your page won't be quite that size. You also need room for “bleed.”
When you use a self-publishing platform, it will usually help you choose a trim size and have its own requirements for format type. For example, you might need to submit your files as a PDF or a Word document. Kindle offers its own page designer so you can format your Kindle version using their own tool.
Carefully read the requirements for the size of book you want. Pay attention to your font size as well. A clean, sans-serif font of 11 or 12 is easy to read for most trim sizes. Some common book formatting tools you can use — and then convert the output to PDF or Word — include:
I have Scrivener and find it useful for formatting, staying organized, and making sure I include what's needful. Reedsy looks like a good tool as well, and I am considering giving it a try for my next book.
Self-Publishing a Book: A Little Housekeeping
There's more to self-publishing a book than formatting and design (once it's written) and getting it uploaded to Amazon. Before you get too far, you need to do a little housekeeping. Here are the essentials:
The International Standard Book Number is an identifier that you need for each version of your book. You will need to purchase ISBNs from an authorized provider. In the United States, the official source is Bowker. I found it more cost-efficient to purchase 10 ISBNs at a time than to purchase one for each of the four versions of my own book. You need an ISBN for each variation you choose, including:
If you have another variation, you need an ISBN. In my case, I chose four, since I didn't go with a hardcover. My most recent client just wants a Kindle, softcover, and hardcover version, so he only needed three. Because I had six ISBNs left over from my own book, I assigned three of those to my client. For my second edition of Confessions of a Professional Blogger, I just used an ISBN assigned by Amazon. In the past, Amazon didn't assign them, but these days, you can streamline the process by getting an ISBN from Amazon as part of the setup.
When you know that you will publish more books later, or that you will need multiple ISBNs, it's a good idea to buy them in bulk. Just like buying food in bulk costs less per unit, you'll pay less per unit for your ISBNs.
It's also worth noting that Amazon has its own numbering system, so if you publish exclusively on Amazon, you might not need the ISBN. Instead, you'll have an Amazon number. As I mentioned above, Amazon does assign you an ISBN in some cases.
Check to see if other self-publishing portals provide ISBNs. Find out ahead of time, since you'll need to them if the publishing portal doesn't offer the service.
Once you've determined your official pricing, you need to assign a barcode to your book versions. Fortunately, you probably only need them for hardcover and softcover versions. The barcode is useful if you want to sell your books in brick-and-mortar stores. These stores order out of a catalog and the barcode helps them keep track, as well as allows them to scan prices.
Again, Amazon can help with barcodes if all you do is sell on Amazon. However, if you want to be able to print books through other publishing portals, or you want to sell the books yourself, having a barcode can be useful. Bowker can also help you buy a barcode for use on your book.
It makes sense to have an information page in your book. You should include your ISBN, and your copyright notice. My book designer has a pretty standard notice that he uses, and I like that he just puts it in there. One of the advantages of using a professional who knows his stuff is that he just knows the standard, and gets it done. There's no reason to reinvent the wheel when you can just pay someone who already has a much nicer wheel.
Book Front Matter
- Blank page: Usually the first page is blank and to the left as you open the book.
- Title page: Book title and subtitle, author, name and location of the publisher. This page is on the right side of the blank page when the book is open.
- Copyright page: ISBN, copyright notice, publication date, disclaimers, credits for book design and formatting.
- Dedication: If applicable.
- Table of contents: This can help readers find their place.
- Preface: If applicable.
Book Back Matter
- Acknowledgments: If you have people you want to thank or a backstory you want to tell, this is a good place for it.
- Appendix: If applicable.
- Author profile: If applicable.
- Other books: If applicable.
Don't forget about your pricing. This can be tricky, but you know that, when setting your pricing, your Kindle book might cost less, while your softcover costs more, and your hardcover is the most expensive. Figure out what makes sense for you. Also, realize that Amazon will change the price of your book according to demand. It's called dynamic pricing, and if your book isn't selling, Amazon will sell it for less than your list price. If it's popular, Amazon will sell it closer to your list price.
*Note: your designer will need ALL of the housekeeping items to finish your book.*
When you get into self-publishing, you're on the hook for marketing. You can pay for help getting on podcasts or other media appearances, but you're footing the bill. When you go the traditional route, you often get help with this aspect of book publishing and marketing. Be ready with a plan to market your book, especially if you want it to sell well.
*It's worth noting that not every traditional publisher helps market anymore. They might do some marketing, but many won't foot the bill for book tours.*
Self-publishing a book can be one way to make money, but in order for it to work, you have to put in the legwork to market the hell out of it. When I released the first edition of my book in 2013, I made more money in the first month it was out than I have ever made in royalties for my more traditional book.
Kindle Vella: A New Approach to Self-Publishing a Book
Another interesting option for self-publishing is Kindle Vella. I've been playing around with this a bit for some of my shorter ideas. Kindle Vella basically allows you to serialize your work. You release your book one chapter at a time. It seems to be doing especially well for the romance and fantasy genres. However, I've had some success with non-fiction. I have one completed Vella, with little stories of being single, and my current project, which focuses on solo travel as a woman.
With this approach, you don't need to worry about trim sizes, cover design, or anything else that can make self-publishing a book feel daunting. It's very quick and easy. Readers can unlock episodes using tokens, which they can buy, starting at $1.99 for 200 tokens.
So far, I've not marketed these Vellas but still made more than $500 from the first one. I'm hoping to focus a little more on the Vellas and see if I can improve on that income. I like Kindle Vella because it offers a way to quickly publish and monetize. Actually bringing in substantial income would require more effort than I currently put in, but I see its potential.
If you're looking for a quick and easy way to get your stuff out there, Kindle Vella can be a good choice. There are other serialized publishing choices, however. Wattpad and Radish also provide platforms for serialization. I haven't tried them, but they look like they might be interesting options, depending on your goals.
Bottom Line: Self-Publishing a Book
I find self-publishing rewarding and profitable. It's a good way for me to cultivate additional income streams by doing something I find interesting and fun. Plus, I don't have to worry about some of the issues that come with traditional publishing. There's no need for me to try to find an agent and then go through the long production process. I don't have to worry about gate-keepers. On top of that, I keep more of the money.
Traditional publishing can work well if your goal is prestige. However, for most people, if you want to make money — and do so at a quicker pace — self-publishing a book can be the way to go.