How to self-publish – introduction
Why self-publish your book?
What is your aim?
Research your options – how exactly should you self-publish?
Create a unique title and author name
How to design your book cover
Should I hire a professional book cover designer?
Typesetting your manuscript
Editing your book
Should I use professional editing services?
How to print your book
How to go about digital publishing
Do you need an ISBN?
Distribution of self-published books
Marketing your self-published book
Remember, even a great book needs someone to sell it!
“Now, there is no gatekeeper.
You can get your writing in front of
the world by posting it. All you have
to be now is incredibly good and
interesting and readable, which is a
different challenge. But if I were a new
writer right now, I would love this. "
So, you’ve written your book and you want to get it out into the world – how do you publish your book?
Here is our guide on how to self-publish and the questions you will need to consider.
CompletelyNovel offers self-publishing tools and a community of readers, writers, agents, publishers and literature organisations.
The intention of this article is to give an overview of the different approaches that you can take so that you can find the one that is best for you and your book.
“With self-publishing you can become
an agent of your own success!”
The tools available for self-publishing are now better than ever. If you want to have complete freedom over the way your book looks then it has never been easier. More people are looking to self-publishing to get their book in front of readers, from novelists to textbook writers and everyone in between.
Why not get a publishing company to publish your book?
A number of changes in the publishing industry over the past ten years have meant that although more titles are being published, there are actually fewer opportunities for new authors to get a publishing contract.
Publishers’ margins on books having decreased considerably. There are now fewer major publishing houses in existence than there used to be. Those that do exist have focused more on publishing books which have a proven track record or have a celebrity name attached to them, so they can guarantee a certain number of sales.
This leaves new authors in a difficult position in relation to these ‘traditional publishers’ and, increasingly, self-publishing is becoming the best opportunity to get your books read. With self-publishing you can become an agent of your own success!
You can find out more about how the traditional publishing industry operates on our book publishing page.
Whichever path you choose (and there is no reason why you can’t start doing both and see how it goes) it is important to go in with your eyes wide open. Publishing and selling books are very competitive fields, and all of the potential avenues have advantages and disadvantages. Spend a good amount of time weighing up the options so you can find a route which is best for you.
This has a big influence on the right option for you. Did you write your book with a view to selling large numbers of copies commercially, or are you simply aiming to print copies for family and friends? Do you have a market already, or are you starting from scratch and so will need to build your market as you go?
Bear this in mind when you start reading through the next steps in this guide of how to self-publish.
Are you hoping to use self-publishing as a stepping stone to getting a publishing contract? If so, then you need to think about what publishers will be looking for, and how you can best deliver that.
“Low cost self-publishing services cut
out a lot of the technical skills and time
needed to self-publish, but ensure that you
still have your freedom.”
There are a number of different options. Broadly speaking, they will normally fall under one of the categories below.
1. Do everything yourself
One option is to go it totally alone and, effectively, be your own publishing company. This will mean that you will need to manage all stages of the book creation yourself. Starting your own publishing company has never been easier, but it’s still going to require a lot of time (and most likely a lot of money too). Bear in mind that you will need to take on (or find someone else to take on) designing, creating and producing a PDF of the cover (this requires a certain degree of manipulating PDFs and using design programs such as Adobe InDesign or Quark) and setting up all the relationships you need with printers (you’ll need to learn about book sizes, paper types, binding). You’ll then need to set up your links with distributors and retailers too. This is certainly easier than it used to be, but requires getting to know a number of different systems, interfaces and often costs money to set up.
Main advantage: Starting your own publishing company offers the most freedom in terms of how the finished product will look.
Main disadvantage: Self-publishing this way is likely to be more expensive in terms of time and in terms of the money you will need to spend upfront.
2. Self-publish using online tools
You can also use an online low-cost self-publishing service such as CompletelyNovel.com to cut out a lot of the technical skills and time needed to self-publish, but ensure that you still have the freedom to make your book look as you want it to. You may have to spend a little time formatting your manuscript in Word or a similar programme before you upload it, but you won’t need to buy any new software. These self-publishing services are generally linked to print-on-demand printers so there should always be an option to do this for free or at a low cost. Companies such as CompletelyNovel won’t take any rights to your work so you’ll still be able to pursue options for publication elsewhere.
This is generally the cheapest option because the companies will have automated the majority of the processes involved in publishing a book.
Main advantage: usually very little upfront cost and a more flexible option.
Main disadvantage: you may need to learn a few skills yourself.
3. Use a self-publishing house
There are other self-publishing services which will cater for people who have very little time and want to hand over as much of the technical aspects of producing their book as possible to someone else. You will usually liaise with the company directly and there will generally be ‘packages’ offered which may include editing, design and other services. These can cost from $1,000 up to $25,000 dollars for the most expensive ones. You should be aware that they will not necessarily include the actual printing of the books, and it will still be largely down to you to sort out all the marketing and promotion of the book.
Main advantage: Not much of your time needed to get the book produced to a decent standard.
Main disadvantage: You can often end up paying a lot for services you don’t need and it’s not normally very transparent as to who will be providing those services.
Keep your options open
There’s nothing to stop you approaching publishers and agents while pursuing the self-publishing option. If you can use self-publishing as a way to build up your profile, establish whether there is a market for your book and essentially build your ‘business case’ then you could seriously improve your chances.
N.B. Beware of Vanity Publishing
‘Vanity Publishers’ are ‘publishers’ who will tell you that you have a great book and offer to publish it for you but charge you thousands of pounds for what is actually very little value. They may tell you that your book is sure to sell many copies, insist that you pay for a print-run of thousands, and then expect you to take these books and sell them yourself. Many of these vanity publishers will take the publishing rights to your book. They very rarely offer any help with marketing or sales and should be avoided.
“Make sure that when someone searches
for your title on Google or Amazon,
they see your book first!”
If you decide to self-publish, don’t make the mistake of using a title or author name that has been used many times before. You need to make sure that when someone searches for your book either on Google or Amazon or similar, that they see your book, rather than another book with a very similar title or author name. Ideally, it should come up in the first couple of search results. So the first thing to do is to search online for the title of your book. If it’s coming up in lots of search results before you have even published it, you need to have a rethink!
If your name is a fairly common one, you might like to consider creating a pen name or at least adding an initial to distinguish yourself.
“The only way the reader will discover
your book is if the cover explains, at a
subconscious level, what the words
Look at the rest of the market
It’s important that your book looks professional and the downfall of many self-published books is that they look, well, self-published! At the very least it is worth taking a good, hard look at how the professionals do it. Study books that have been published in the same genre or subject area as yours – what do they have in common? Then go about making your book fit in.
Unless you are a very experienced designer, avoid a desire to produce something that looks radically different. A book cover needs to be unique, but help align the reader’s expectations to what the book will be about. Think how similar the covers of thrillers are – that’s no accident.
What will your cover look like as a thumbnail?
With online becoming increasingly important for bookselling, bear in mind that your book has to stand out as a thumbnail image because that’s how most people are going to come across it. Shrink your book cover down to about an eighth of its full size. If you can’t read the title or author, and nothing else stands out then you should look at increase those font sizes and bringing up the contrast with stronger colours or bolder text!
Should I hire a professional book cover designer?
It’s not essential to use a professional book designer but some professional input can make a big difference, especially when it comes to creating something both striking and able to fit in with the current trends. Many self-publishing services will offer cover design services as part of a ‘package’. Make sure you compare these prices with those on other services, and don’t be afraid to ask questions about the designers themselves (What experience do they have? How much time will they spend on your design?) It’s important to know what you will actually be getting for your money. Don’t go with the first offer you see without checking out other options. You can find out more about the cover design service that we offer here.
Printing companies tend to have very strict requirements on how the cover is formatted – amongst other things, you need to ensure that the bleed is correct, the right colour set is being used, the cover is a high enough resolution and the spine width has been calculated correctly.
Unless you have design experience of your own, if you opt to do everything yourself, you will probably need a designer (whether a book specialist or a general graphic designer) to produce a version of your cover which is printable.
Alternatively, online self-publishing services will often provide a ‘cover creator tool’. This is a tool where you design the cover yourself, and the cover creator ensures that the cover ticks all the right boxes when it comes to being printed. Basically, it sorts out all the complicated elements for you.
A cover creator will allow you to upload your own images, crop and move those images around the page and insert and edit text.
“Learning to use some of the more
advanced tools in Microsoft Word
such as page breaks and paragraph
styles is well worth your time.”
You can study professionally published books to find out the relevant standards for typesetting. Most novels, for example, look very similar on the inside, with only subtle differences or embellishments when it comes to chapter headings. We recommend that you take a look at these general tips on how to get your manuscript looking professional and, for further advice, at this advice from a professional typesetter.
Learning to use some of the more advanced tools in Microsoft Word such as page breaks and paragraph styles, as well as taking time to format the main body of your text is well worth your time. However, if you feel like you need a little extra help or reassurance, CompletelyNovel also offer a formatting service to help make your manuscript look as professional as possible.
“Using online communities such
as CompletelyNovel to get feedback
on your book from others can be
If you have spent a long time writing your book, it’s worth spending a decent amount of time editing it too. Of course, you will have been editing it as you go along but it’s notoriously difficult to edit your own work well, so you’ll need an outside opinion.
Feedback from friends and family
It’s definitely worth getting someone to read through your book, at the very least someone who you trust and who can spot the things that you missed.
Using online communities such as CompletelyNovel to get feedback on your book can also be really useful. You can use communities to connect with other readers and writers to get an independent view of your book. There is a wide variety of writers out there with similar interests to you. Why not ask if they wouldn’t mind having a look through your book and sharing their editorial comments in return for you doing the same for theirs? If a reader has started reading your book, ask them for feedback as they go along.
Take it offline and get some group critiques of your work. Writing groups can be very useful and offer a great opportunity to get some honest and knowledgeable feedback on your work. However, there are a few things to bear in mind in order to get the most out of a writing group.
Here are some helpful tips on writing groups.
The question of whether professional editing services are worth it is a very good one. We’ve heard from a number of writers who have said that it helped them enormously and that it was exactly the kind of independent, informed feedback they needed to get their manuscript in good shape.
You need to have the right attitude and be able to handle some constructive criticism – be prepared for editors advising you to ‘kill your darlings’. Remember that it is just one person’s opinion, but if they are a well respected editor, it’s certainly worth taking it seriously!
How to find a good editor for your book
Searching on google is probably not the best way to go in this case as there are quite a few unscrupulous people out there who will not give you value for money. To find an editor for your self-published book, it is best to go by recommendation if you can. Talking to other writers either through writing groups, writing courses or conferences and asking “who should I use to edit my book?” can be very helpful. Here at CompletelyNovel we can always offer a recommendation if you need one – just get in touch via the contact form.
“Print-on-demand is ideal
for anyone wanting to self-publish
at low cost. "
Bulk buying vs. print-on-demand (POD)
As you’d expect, if you buy more books, the individual price of a book will generally be cheaper but you will have to carry a larger risk of them not selling. POD prices have now got much lower so you can sell books at a reasonable price and still make a profit. Print-on-demand is ideal for anyone wanting to self-publish at low cost.
Hardbacks or paperbacks
The amount of information that you need to know about printing will depend on which self-publishing option you go for. In all cases you will probably need to decide between hardback and paperback. Be aware that hardbacks are generally very expensive to produce through print-on-demand (POD) companies and you’ll find it difficult to be able to sell the book for a viable price (and still make a profit).
POD paperbacks are much more affordable. But be aware that, as with all other printers, the quality can vary. Just because the books are printed digitally, it doesn’t mean that they will all be exactly the same. The printers might use different paper or cover thicknesses, and there may be a requirement to print a certain number of copies. Proof copies are essential – make sure you never order a big quantity of books without getting a proof first.
“There are now lots of opportunities
to make your books available more
widely by creating eBooks or using
an online reader.”
There are now lots of opportunities to publish in a very low cost way by creating eBooks or making your work available through an online reader such as the CompletelyNovel BookStreamer.
There are a variety of different eBook formats – ePub has now emerged as the favourite but you may also want your book to be available as a PDF (standard format) and a .AZW file as this is the proprietary format being used by Amazon.
You can pay people to convert your book into an eBook Format for you, or you can use some of the free services available on the web such as Calibre. Doing it yourself may take longer but it is another way of cutting down on the costs of self-publishing. We’d definitely recommend doing some online searches and looking for forum discussions on eBook conversions so you can get up to date with the latest tips from other publishers.
More information on eBooks and electronic readers.
You will need an ISBN if you want your book to be stocked in the traditional retail and mainstream online channels. ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. Each country has its own supplier of ISBNs who you will need to contact. In the UK it is Nielsen who is responsible for dishing out ISBNs.
If you self-publish completely on your own then you will need to buy a set of 10 ISBNs yourself. If you publish using a service like CompletelyNovel, then they will be able to supply individual ISBNs for you at a lower price.
“Self-publishing is a
great opportunity to take your
destiny into your own hands”
If you want your books to be available in a variety of book retail channels you need to consider how your book will be distributed.
Some print-on-demand companies handle distribution in-house and many will have a website from which customers can buy your book directly. If you sell through these platforms you will usually be able to keep a decent amount of the royalty.
If you want your book sold through retailers, many self-publishing companies can set this up for you. Retailers and distributors will require a cut of the sale price of the book so you will need to sell the book to them at what is known as a trade discount price. This is between 30% and 50% lower than the retail price, so it may mean that you need to put the price of your book quite a bit higher and have a much lower royalty.
In terms of physical printed copies of your book, if you distribute the book yourself, you’ll need to have the books shipped to you. You will then need to contact book chains about stocking your book. You may need to visit each book shop individually, and handle any mail orders on your own. Some book shops will accept a limited number of your books on a sale or return basis, so if they sell, you get paid but if they don’t then you pick them up at a later stage. It’s important to really weigh up the value of your book being in a physical bookshop. Unless your book will get a good spot at the front of the shop, it’s not likely to be worth your while!
If you have a digital edition, there are a number of different eBook channels that you can sell into. Many have tools for self-publishers to upload and sell their books through this. If you use a self-publishing service, they may offer distribution into these channels too. Check what’s on offer as this is an area which is growing quickly.
“New developments in social media
mean that it’s now much easier to be
your own marketing department.”
If you want to sell your book beyond your family and friends, you will need to market yourself and it is very wise to consider how are you going to do that before you self-publish. New developments in social media mean that it’s now much easier to be your own marketing department.
WARNING: Self-publishers underestimate the importance of marketing at their peril!
It’s probably useful to start building up a network of contacts. We’d recommend that you come up with several different avenues that you can pursue as you are likely to find that some of them work better for you than others.You should consider blogging (and which other blogs you should contact), marketing through other social network such as Facebook and Twitter, online communities and setting up a mailing list.
Consider new and traditional channels – from getting in touch with your local newspaper, to buying Facebook ads, there are lots of options. Don’t rule anything out, even if initially it takes you quite a way outside your comfort zone – it’s often worth playing around and seeing how you get on.
You have to be realistic and remember that even if your book could be a masterpiece, there is a lot of noise and competition in today’s world and it takes real perseverance to make your book successful. However, if you have self-published your book, success will taste all the sweeter when it comes! So, stay focused and positive but be prepared for hard work…and don’t quit your day job just yet!
Self-publishing is an industry which is changing all the time. There are lots of different players out there and printers themselves are developing their technology in a way that is opening up lots of new options. There are plenty of new opportunities emerging online and in terms of digital publishing too. Whatever the future holds for self-publishing, it’s sure to get bigger and better!
The variety of options available when it comes to self-publishing means that the amount of money it costs largely depends on how much you can afford to spend.
Just because you can self-publish at a low cost through online services, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should aim to do everything for as little money as possible. What it does mean is that you can focus your cash on the most important aspects for you.
For example, if you are on a fairly low budget, don’t have an audience ready-and-waiting to buy your book, but do want to give your book the best chance of succeeding you could be looking at something along the lines of the following:
Self-publish using online service: Free
Images to use on your book cover: £20
Order a few proof copies to send to friends to edit: £20
Order copies to give (free of charge) to readers you know who might be interested and can help you generate some buzz around your book: £100
Set-up distribution through retailers: £100 upfront (or a smaller monthly fee which lets you see if it is worth your while)
So, a total of under £250 should get you well on your way.
As the saying goes, you need to speculate to accumulate – hopefully you will earn this investment back (plus some extra) in royalties once your sales start picking up.
The rest of your investment will be in terms of your time spent getting into the social networking game, learning a thing or two about typesetting and cover design, and convincing your contacts to read/buy the book.