Here’s What You Need to Know About Self-Publishing

It’s easier than ever to get that story of yours into the hands of readers with self-publishing.

There is a wealth of information online that shows you how you can get your name in front of an audience and sell more books. There are also ways for new authors to access professional services without breaking the bank.

And I’m going to outline how you can do this in the article below. First, we’re going to dive into a brief look at the history of self-publishing.

The Self-Publishing Industry

Contrary to popular belief, the self-publishing industry has been around for a long time. Self-publishing, along with novels and traditional publishing, was born in 1439 when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press.

The printing press allowed publishers to produce mass quantities of books, making it easy to reach more people than ever. While most authors remained with established publishing houses, some chose to go a different route.

self-publishing author Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892)

Take Walt Whitman, for example. His poetry collection, Leaves of Grass, was not “publishable” material for the time, so he published it himself. He thought his poetry was terrific and made sure he could share it with the world.

The Modern Era of Self-Publishing

Self-publishing didn’t become “a thing” until desktop publishing lowered the barriers of entry in 1979. Desktop publishing allowed writers to format their books on the computer before sending them to manufacturers for printing.

According to the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi):

Some authors jumped in, printing consignment runs, and selling by mail-order, or driving around to bookshops, with a car-load of books. But the most important development was print-on-demand (POD) as digital printing processes made it economically viable to print single copies or small batches, to order.

Self-publishing author Louise L. Hay
Louise Hay (1926 – 2017)

Louise Hay started Hay House Publishing in 1984 to publish her two books: You Can Heal Your Life and Heal Your Body. She couldn’t find a traditional publisher to pick either book up because they didn’t think this type of book would sell.

The rise of the internet gave self-publishing its next boost. Ebooks started to become popular after Sony released its ebook reader in 2004, which was swiftly followed by Amazon’s Kindle in 2007.

Amazon changed the self-publishing world with the release of the Kindle and its attached store. We’re now seeing a move away from the Amazon model of self-publishing as more authors explore marketing to readers directly, instead of going through a third-party service.

Why You Should Consider Self-Publishing

As I said in my traditional publishing post, there are pros and cons to every publishing option, and self-publishing is no different.

Self-publishing is a lot of work. You, and only you, are in charge of your success, which means that you have to be both a writer and an editor, book designer, publisher, and marketer.

Writers have the chance to be an entrepreneur and part of a rapidly changing industry. You also have the opportunity to control the entire process from start to finish, which will make your inner perfectionist happy.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Self-Publishing

Before we dive into how you can self-publish your novel, I did want to go over the benefits and drawbacks of self-publishing. Why don’t we start with the bad news first?

The Drawbacks

  • You do it all by yourself. And by doing it all yourself, I mean by yourself. You need to decide if you are okay with being both a creative and a business person. If not, you might want to hire someone to help you out.
  • There’s no prestige, kudos, or acknowledgment from the industry. Things are getting better, but there is still a bit of a stigma attached to self-publishing.
  • Most literary prizes don’t accept self-published books. To cap things off, most literary critics won’t read self-published books. So if your dream is to win a Pulitzer Prize, then this might not be for you.
  • It’s difficult to get print distribution in bookstores. Traditional publishers have this down to a science. Without the know-how of a traditional publisher, you might have some issues getting physical copies of your book into a store.
  • You’re going to need a budget. If you want help from an editor, graphic designer, or your book formatted, you’re going to need to hire someone to work for you.

The Benefits

  • Total control. You don’t give up your rights or message and get to decide what happens every step of the way.
  • Faster publishing time. You get to publish when you want and in whatever format that you choose. The faster you publish, the quicker you make money.
  • Higher royalties. You get to keep the bulk of the money you make for the sale of your book. However, you won’t get rich overnight.
  • You can sell your story worldwide because you have the right to do so. English is a universally accepted language, which means you can publish your book in numerous countries.
  • You can use self-publishing to land a traditional publisher. This is an exception to the rule. It will not always mean that you can traditionally publish your novel. That being said, it can get you a foot in the door and demonstrates that you have an audience.

How to Self-Publish Your Novel

As with any publishing method, you’ll want to research the three options available to you and ask yourself six questions to determine which path you want to go down.

If that’s traditional publishing, then good for you; if it’s self-publishing, that’s cool too.

But if you do decide to go with self-publishing, you’ll want to decide what you’re comfortable with doing because you have three avenues that you can take when you self-publish.

Your Self-Publishing Options

There are three ways that you can self-publish your novel:

  1. You can use a hybrid publisher. Hybrid publishers combine traditional publishing and self-publishing. You can learn more about hybrid publishing here.
  2. You can hire others to help you out. Service packages and publishing arrangements can vary, but the best services charge an upfront fee, take absolutely no rights to your work, and pass on 100 percent net sales to the author. They make money on charging authors for the services provided (editorial, design, marketing, and so on), not on copies sold.
  3. DIY. The DIY option means that you control the entire process and only hire professionals, such as an editor, when you need to. You will also have to work directly with retailers and distributors to get your product out there.

Jane Friedman has a fabulous article explaining each publishing pathway if you want to learn more about the three ways to self-publish.

Beware of Scams

As with most things, there are always people out there that are looking to profit on the uniformed. This article by Reedsy outlines some of the scams and publishing companies that you want to avoid. And make sure that you check out the fine print on any contract that you sign with freelancers, retailers, and distributors.

Hiring the Help You Need

Don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you know next to nothing about designing book covers or formatting your ebook, you might want to hire an expert to do it for you.

Here are some good places to look for some help:

  • Books. Every book cover was designed by someone else, so look at the copyright page to find out who and then contact to see if they’re able to create yours. The same goes for editors.
  • Freelance websites. You can typically find freelance artists, editors, book formatters, graphic designers, etc. on a freelance job posting site, like UpWork.
  • Friends or family. If you have a wickedly-talented artist friend or family member, ask them to design your book cover or do the illustrations for your children’s book. They’ll most likely be happy to do it and for a low price or a mention in your acknowledgment section.
  • Writer’s guilds. These institutions usually have a resources page where writers can find local resources to help them with anything writing-related.
  • Your network. You’re bound to know someone who can help you market, sell, and format your book.

If you have the time and patience, you can teach yourself how to do all of this yourself, which can save you a lot of money. But professionals are professionals for a reason, and asking for help is a good thing.

What Format Should You Publish In?

There are a lot of options for formatting your book. There’s print, audio, and ebook, or you could post it to your blog or website too.

And in all honesty, there’s no right way to things.

But you should keep the following information in mind. For instance, you will always have a die-hard print book fan (like me) who wants to hold it in their hands and take in that unique book smell. So you should look into incorporating print books into your strategy.

You also have people, like my partner, who solely read ebooks. Ebooks are a favorite for those who do not want to clutter up their home with physical copies. They are also easy to take with us everywhere we go.

The third option is audiobooks, which have been gaining popularity in recent years, along with the rise of podcasts. Like ebooks, they’re easily portable and don’t clutter up the home.

Which is the Best Option?

In my opinion, you should offer all of them.

If you want your book to appeal to as many readers as possible, then you’re going to want to offer all three options. If you find that your readers like a particular format better, then get rid of the least favorite option.

Just know that you may be turning away a reader by not offering their preferred format.

The Cost

You’re also going to want to consider the cost. It’s going to cost you more money to print physical copies or set up an audiobook than an ebook.

With physical copies, for example, you will either want to go with a print on demand option or offset printing, where you pay for a specified number of books upfront. Print on demand can be pricey but pays for itself in time to print and then to customers.

Offset printing, on the other hand, is cheaper to print, but you need to order your book in bulk. Most printers will cut you a deal based on how many copies you purchase, but then you need to figure out where you’re going to keep all those books and how to distribute them.

As for audiobooks, you’ll either need to invest in some recording equipment or hire a service and voice actor to record your story.

Pro tip: you can always offer one format early on, and once you are making enough money from your book sales, release other formats.

Distributing Your Story

Anyone can get access to the same level of online retail distribution as a traditional publisher, through services such as Amazon KDPDraft2Digital, and IngramSpark.

The first thing you need to understand about these services is that they are not publishers, so they don’t take the rights to your book. Additionally, you rarely have to “pay” these services until your books start to sell. Your retailer or distributor only takes a cut once you’re making sales.

According to Jane Friedman, here are the characteristics of the major services:

  • Free to play. You rarely pay an upfront fee. When you do pay upfront, usually in the case of a distributor, you should earn a 100 percent net. If you don’t pay an upfront fee, expect a percentage of your sales to be kept.
  • At-will and nonexclusive. You can upload your work at any time and make it available for sale or take it down. You can upload new versions; change the price, cover, and description; you can then sell your work through multiple services or your site.
  • Little technical expertise is required. Major services offer automated tools for converting your files, uploading files, and listing your work for sale, as well as free guides and tutorials to help ensure your files are formatted appropriately.

A popular way to sell and distribute your novel is to go through Amazon KDP directly and then use a distributor like Draft2Digital to reach everyone else. You can do this easily because none of these services demand exclusivity.

Publishing a book is always a great accomplishment – no matter what route you take. But self-publishing adds another layer of satisfaction to the mix. To say that you were able to finish a book from the writing to the publishing stage is beyond words.

Even better, self-publishing provides authors with another avenue to get their stories out to the world.

Sure, there are some pitfalls and a learning curve for most authors, but the rewards at the end are worth it.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about how to self publish a book? Drop a comment below, and I’ll be more than happy to answer it for you.

Until next week!



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Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams is a writer and editor for a local marketing agency. She has formerly worked as a writer for the Investing News Network and as an editor for Whetstone, a bi-annually published literary magazine. Aside from writing, Danielle has an unabiding love for all marine life and the outdoors. She loves taking long hikes with her husband and cooking delicious meals in the kitchen.


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