self-publishing : how to self-publish

How to self-publish - Introduction

“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.

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.

At CompletelyNovel, we like to do things a little differently, and offer professional print-on-demand publishing for low, monthly subscriptions. You can find out more about publishing with CompletelyNovel at any time, by clicking on the ‘Publish’ tab above.

Why self-publish 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 do people self-publish?

There are often a number of reasons, but here are the ones we hear the most on CompletelyNovel:

  • I want to earn more royalties from my book sales
  • I want more control over the way my book looks and is edited
  • I want to test my book with readers before I send it out to agents
  • I want to use self-publishing as a way to attract the attention of a ‘traditional’ publisher


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 ‘traditional’ publishing contract.

Publishers’ margins on books have 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. Some relatively unknown authors have found that they have very little marketing assistance from their traditional publishers, leading many authors to seek out self-publishing options so they can keep a higher percentage of royalties for their efforts.

You can find out more about how the traditional publishing industry operates on our book publishing page.

Can I self-publish and ‘traditionally’ publish?

Yes! In fact, more and more authors are now doing both. These are sometimes refereed to as ‘Hybrid’ authors, and they are authors who might have landed a traditional contract after self-publishing, or have self-published books alongside their traditionally published books.

CompletelyNovel sends its top books to Greene & Heaton literary agency each month, as part of a recent partnership. We found that a few CompletelyNovel authors were continuing to look for representation whilst self-publishing, and Greene & Heaton are always on the look out for the next big thing. You can find out more about this partnership in our news room., for example)


Whatever option you choose, it’s 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. We have some tips for doing this, below.

What is your aim?

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.

Research your options - how exactly should you self-publish?

“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, distribution and marketing 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 and 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 a publishing platform

You can also use an online, low-cost self-publishing service such as CompletelyNovel.com to cut out a lot of the technical skills, time and money needed to self-publish, but ensure that you still have the freedom to make your book look as you want it to. You may want to source editing and design services yourself alongside this, or you can use online tools to create your book yourself. 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 shouldn’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, and will handle the registering and distribution of the book on your behalf.


Main advantage: usually very little upfront cost and a more flexible option.

Main disadvantage: you may want to source expert editorial and design services yourself.

CompletelyNovel are a publishing platform – learn more about the process of publishing, here.


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 may still be largely down to you to sort out all the marketing and promotion of the book.

Main advantage: not much of your time is 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.

If you’re worried about stumbling across a publisher like this, just google the company name and read what reviews have been posted on independent websites.

Create a unique title and author name

“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.

How to design your book cover

“The only way the reader will discover
your book is if the cover explains, at a
subconscious level, what the words
are about.”

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 name, and nothing else stands out, then you should look at increasing those font sizes and bringing up the contrast with stronger colours or bolder text!

More advice for self-publishers on how to design your cover.

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.

How to make a printable cover?

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.

Click here to watch a video on the CompletelyNovel cover creator.

Typesetting your manuscript

“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.

We also give plenty of tips on this alongside literary agents and editors, in the Get Your Book FIT course on Udemy.

Editing your book

“Using online communities such
as CompletelyNovel to get feedback
on your book from others can be
really useful.”

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 also need an outside opinion before you publish it.

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. Take all advice from friends and family with a pinch of salt, unless they happen to be a major editor!

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. Check out the CompletelyNovel community.

Writing groups
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. Reading your work aloud is also a proven way to test for clunky sentences, or missed typos.

Here are some tips on proofreading, if you’re doing it yourself.

Should I use professional editing services?

You want to make sure that your book looks professional. We’ve heard from a number of writers who have said that professional editing services have helped them enormously, and that it was exactly the kind of independent, informed feedback they needed to get their manuscript in good shape.

To get the most from an edit of this kind, 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

In order to find a good quality, good value 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.

How to print your book

“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 books in bulk, the individual price of a book will generally be cheaper. However, you will have to carry a larger risk of them not selling, and often incur storage fees (unless you have a large house!). Print-on-demand prices are now 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.

We have more information on print-on-demand and a print-on-demand price comparison chart.

Hardbacks vs. 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 companies, and you’ll find it difficult to be able to sell the book for a viable price (and still make a profit). For this reason, self-published books nearly always use paperback.

POD paperbacks are much more affordable. But be aware that, as with all other printers, the quality can vary. Different 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.

Find out more about the printers CompletelyNovel use for POD paperback printing.

How to go about Digital Publishing (eBooks)

“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 for a low cost 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.

Do you need an ISBN?

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 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.

Click here to learn about the CompletelyNovel a Plus Plan, which gives you two ISBNs.

Distribution of self-published books

“Self-publishing is a
great opportunity to take your
destiny into your own hands”

Physical distribution

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. For example, CompletelyNovel allows readers to buy books direct from us, as well as with third-party retailers such as Amazon.

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. On CompletelyNovel, this is 30%, and as we don’t take any commission from your book sales, you can keep 100% of the remaining royalties.

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 bookshops will accept a limited number of your books on a sale or return basis, so if they don’t sell, then you will have to pick the books up at a later stage and issue a credit note. 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!

Digital distribution

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.

Distribution channels available on CompletelyNovel.

Marketing your self-published book

“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 it, 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!

The best advice we can give about book marketing is to throw the same creative energy you used to write the book, into marketing it. Think outside the box, keep reading and learning, and don’t give up until you really have to.

It’s useful to start building up a network of contacts before you publish, or consider crowdfunding your book. 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 networks 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.

More advice on promoting your book,

Remember, even a great book needs someone to sell it!

It’s important to be realistic and remember that even if your book could be a masterpiece, there is a lot of noise and competition in the current book market, 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! It’s such an exciting time for writers, and we are so pleased to be working in such an exciting industry.

How much does self-publishing cost?

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 such as CompletelyNovel, 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: No upfront fees
  • 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 balance this alongside your book royalties coming in.)

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.

Good luck!


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What makes us CompletelyNovel?

  1. We use technology to make things simpler: We provide simple tools so you can create professional books and distribute them all over the world within days.
  2. We believe that long-term contracts and large upfront fees are rubbish: There are no long-term lock-ins when you’re using CompletelyNovel: if you sign up for a service, you can cancel at any time.
  3. Our publishing subscriptions: We’ve pioneered a different way to self-publish, using low-cost subscriptions that allow authors to keep 100% of book royalties.
  4. Over-the-top service: If you’ve got a problem, we’ll solve it. In fact we’ll solve it and then some.
  5. We actively hunt for opportunities for our authors: Behind the scenes, we meet with partners, literary agents and traditional publishers, and organise unique opportunities and events for CompletelyNovel authors.