How to Self-Publish Your Books

August 12, 2013 | By | Reply More

self-publishDo you have great ideas on how to do things? Maybe you know how to get rid of stage fright and begin earning from public speaking, or you have plenty of tips on how to keep a marriage solid through the years. You may be a novelist, or short story writer, who has written fiction works but is not getting a reaction out of the major publishing houses. You know that you have enough material, resources and knowledge to fill up a book, even a series of books.

However, you need to ask yourself the question: How are you going to publish your book?

Writing, they say, is easy. Getting the manuscript published is the hard part. While you may consider your manuscript a gem of a material, getting big name publishing houses interested in your book is not easy at all. In fact, it is extremely difficult for a new writer to get their book published. The high costs of publishing and the risks involved have forced the publishers to focus on sure-fire blockbusters or books that can easily sell 100,000 copies in hard cover. Hence, they focus mainly on established authors with track records of selling huge volumes of books.

Where does that leave start-up writers? If you persist in attracting book publishers to give your manuscript the light of day, be prepared to see multiple numbers rejection letters. Some persist and do well like Richard Bach who survived more than fifteen rejections before getting “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” published. Many others simply give up.

The Option of Self Publishing

The best alternative for new writers to get a book out there for others to see is through self-publishing. If you are convinced of the quality of your material, and you have already received a collection of rejection letters that could fill a dozen shoeboxes, you can try publishing the book yourself. With self-publishing, you can now publish any works from 50 to 1,000 pages on your own!

There are many self-published books that have become successful, an example of which are “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations,” a standard reference book, and the writer’s bible, “The Elements of Style”. Spencer Johnson, author of the best-selling Who Moved My Cheese? began by self-publishing The One-Minute Manager with coauthor Ken Blanchard. What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Nelson Bolles is another well-known book that began life as a self-published title. These books sold well, and publishers bought the rights to publish them in greater quantity.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Self-Publishing

Self-publishing offers several advantages. Having a book published, even if self-published, can establish your reputation as a writer serious about your work and as an expert in your field. Having a book published raises up your ante: it could bring more paid lectures, consultancy clients, seminar programs, and tenure application success. If things work well, it can even lead to publishers sitting up and taking notice of your future manuscripts more closely.

It may allow you to earn money wholesale and even more when you sell it direct (mail order, book fairs, etc.). There is also the chance that you may receive more profit per book than if a traditional publisher gave you a flat percentage of the cover price, depending on the cost to produce the book and the number of copies printed.

In addition, self-publishing allows you to retain creative control over your manuscript, cover design, etc. You have the final say about how the end product will be and look like. This shortens the time it takes to go from manuscript form to the finished book. It is possible to have your book in your hands (and in bookstores) in about six or eight weeks, whereas with a traditional publisher it could be a year or more before it is on the shelves.

Other advantages of self-publishing include:

  • Low Start Up Costs
  • Proprietary Product Protected By Copyright
  • Established Channels Of Sales And Distribution Are Available: Amazon, etc.
  • Can Benefit From Free Publicity More So Than Other Products
  • Easily Marketed Over The Internet
  • Friendly Publishing Community Willing To Help New Self-Publishers

The drawback, of course, is that you will do everything yourself. Or pay others to do some tasks for you. One thing is clear: self-publishing is hard work. As a self-publisher, you will be all of the following: writer, editor, designer/artist, typesetter/compositor, printer, marketer and drumbeater, distribution expert, and shipper/warehouser. At times, you will even act as your own legal adviser, financial underwriter, financier/accountant, and business manager.

Below are the disadvantages to self-publishing:

  • Competitive Marketplace: 50,000+ Books Published Annually. Difficult to get titles onto bookstore shelves.
  • Profit Per Book Sale Is Usually Rather Low: $3-$4
  • Distribution Costs Are High. Many Wholesalers expect a 55% discount from the retail price.

Advances in Technology

The advances made in digital technology have allowed many writers to fulfill their dreams of getting their book published. Nowadays, anyone who feels he or she has the knowledge to author materials that will be of interest to others, regardless of how small the market might be, could self-publish.

One such technology is print-on-demand (POD). POD is a technology that allows a complete book to be printed and bound in a matter of minutes. Books can therefore be produced as ordered or in small lots (rather than in runs of several thousand, as in traditional printing). For smaller independent and self-publishers, it is a more economical publishing model. However, POD books cost more per unit to produce than books produced by means of a traditional print run.

There is also a growing number of fee-based digital printing services that self-publishers can use. You can design your own book using the software of your choice, including Microsoft Word, Microsoft Publisher, Quark Express, Adobe Indesign, Wordperfect or almost any other software program you can imagine. You format your document for a standard 8.5×11 page size and create a postscript file that the digital printing services use to create your book. By using this service, you can get your book in print without making an investment in inventory. However, if your orders exceed a couple of thousand or more, then it is time to use a service that allows you to print in bulk at lower costs.

Steps to Self-Publishing

If you decide to go ahead with self-publishing your book, you will have to be prepared to make an investment. It isn’t cheap to publish, but you can save on costs by doing as much work ahead of the printer as possible.

Prepare for production.

Self-publishing entail cash outlays. You must therefore devise a system that would allow you to identify and cost-out every single process that you need to produce your own book. In this regard, you need to create two important reports: the production schedule and checklist. These reports are essential in giving you a degree of assurance that you’ve got everything under control.

A production schedule tracks the flow of your manuscript from the time it is completed to the time it leaves the printer. It tells you what you need to do – from the design of text and jacket or cover; the digitization of photographs you will use; the actual printing and binding – so you can budget your cash flow realistically.

A production checklist is simply a list of every part of the book to ensure that all the copy and elements needed for the book are in and accounted for. This includes your title page (must contain the title, author’s name and publisher’s imprint); copyright page (CIP information, ISBN information, copyright date and copyright holders, edition numbers); cover, particularly all the elements in the front, spine and back covers, etc. You do not want your book printed and ready to go but with missing the information (ISBN barcode, Library of Congress Catalog Number, etc.) that would prevent the book to be sold in larger bookstores.

Shop around for price and quality before printing.

Prices and quality can vary greatly from printer to printer. Ask for quotes from a minimum of five printers. Your Request for Quote form must include the specifications for your job, including the title and month that it will arrive to the printer. In particular, you need to provide the following information:

  • the size of print run;
  • trim size;
  • number of pages;
  • format (hardcover or paperback);
  • type, weight, and bulking of paper required for text, endpapers, and jacket/cover;
  • type of ink (black; or four color);
  • proofs desired;
  • type of binding;
  • packing requirements (including carton specification, labeling, etc.);
  • shipping and freight costs;
  • special requirements; and
  • payment terms

Note that the lowest price is not necessarily the best. To get the price that you want for printing, Thomas Woll in his book “Publishing for Profit: Successful Bottom-Line Management for Book Publishers” advises to “take time in finding the vendor whose equipment is best suited to your job, who has the time to do it, and who offers you the most suitable payment terms.”

Get your manuscript ready.

Publishing skills, such as editing and cover design, can be outsourced to freelancers. Or, you can do-it-yourself and learn publishing skills relatively easily. You can use Adobe InDesign and Quark Xpress to layout your books.

After finishing the writing and editing process, you can now begin to think of cover designs. A book’s cover can help push a book, so make sure that you dedicate enough resources to getting this done as professionally as possible. If you do not have the aesthetic and technical capabilities to create a good cover design, work with a graphic artist. Also look for a good photographer to get your picture for the back cover copy of your book, should you decide to put it.

Set the price of your book.

Much depends on the market and your own costs in printing the book. Go down to your local bookstore and see what the range of prices is on books of your size and style (soft cover). If the average price is $12.95, this will tell you what a competitive charge would be. Now, contrast that with the unit cost of your book which is the total printing, typesetting and graphic arts charges for your books divided by the number of copies. If your unit cost is, say, $3.50 per book, you’d like to ideally charge about three or four times the cost on the open market, which would be around $10.50 to $14.00, for which the $12.95 average price fits quite nicely.

Protect your assets.

A copyright protects a publisher’s work from plagiarism and other forms of infringement. It’s a one-page form that costs about $20-25 dollars and the copyright is good for a period of 50 years from date of the author’s death. In the United States, you will be required to send a copy of your book (manuscript) to Register of Copyrights at the Library of Congress. You can contact the copyrights office at: Register of Copyrights Copyrights Office Library of Congress Washington, DC 20599.

Ask for the copyright registration forms and the booklet entitled “Copyright Basics”. This will give you explicit instructions on copyrighting your material.

You can also obtain a Library of Congress catalog card and number for your book. Libraries around the country often use this number to identify books and order them. You can obtain information about this process by writing to: The Registrar CIP Division Library of Congress Washington, DC 20540

International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN) is another type of classification system for a book. Libraries, bookstores and wholesalers all use this number system for ordering books. As a self-publisher, you will be assigned a number prefix that is part of the ISBN. Thereafter, for future publications, you will assign your own ISBN based on the pre-assigned codes you’ll receive. To get more information about getting a U.S. ISBN, write to: ISBN Agency, R.R. Bowker LLC, 630 Central Avenue, New Providence, New Jersey 07974. Or visit their web site at to apply of your ISBN online.

To get ISBN in Canada, contact the Canadian ISBN Agency, National Library of Canada, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa ON, K1A 0N4 Canada.

All of this work, including copyrighting, ISBNs and Library of Congress cataloguing is crucial in establishing your book as a professional entry. You have a far better chance of having your work noticed if it is officially filed. Just because it’s a self-published work doesn’t mean it isn’t a good book and worthy of attention. This work enhances your image and your potential as a serious writer.

As a self-publisher, you may also want to trademark your logos, symbols, a readily identifiable image that you actually use, or a series title that you want to protect (think Chicken Soup for the Souls books).

Plan your delivery and fulfillment.

Many self-publishers initially pack and ship their own books. However, as a publishing company grows, it’s often desirable to outsource fulfillment, meaning another company is hired to pack and ship book orders. Outsourcing fulfillment allows a small home-based publishing company to sell tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of books a year. Without outsourcing fulfillment, it would be difficult to pack and ship 100,000 books per year from home.

Self-publishers must establish relationships with book wholesalers, distributors, and major bookstores. Finally, successful self-publishers spend much time promoting and marketing their books. Many of the most popular books come from authors who are popular speakers or seminar presenters.

Recommended Books on How to Self-Publish:


Jenny Fulbright

Jenny Fulbright

Jenny Fulbright is a writer for

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