One of our goals at Jera Publishing is to help educate authors who are interested in self-publishing. There is a lot of confusing and conflicting information out there and it is easy to get lost or overwhelmed. We hope the information you will find on our website will answer your questions and help you make the right decisions for your book.
In addition to the self-publishing guide provided on this page, we also post articles on our self-publishing blog and offer personalized consulting sessions. If you are in the Roswell, Georgia area, we also have self-publishing classes every month.
The 5 Steps to Self-Publishing
The 5 steps to self-publishing are:
- Learn... about what self-publishing is and what your goals are
- Edit... your book's content for spelling, grammar, and other issues
- Design... and format your book's interior, cover and eBook
- Publish... your book using your selected printing and distribution method
- Market... to your target audience using all opportunities available to you within your budget
While Marketing is listed as the last step, you should think of this as an ongoing process and begin marketing even you are finished writing your book.
1. LearnWhat is self-publishing?
In essence, self-publishing is when an author creates their own publishing company and uses that company to publish their own book. They take responsibility for all aspects of publishing their book, including proofreading, editing, formatting, cover design, printing, distributing, and promotion. They receive all profits from the sale of their book and will need to pay taxes on these profits.
A self-publisher can either do everything needed to get their book ready for print on their own or hire someone to do this for them.
There are many reasons an author may choose to self-publish their book. Some of these reasons are:
- More control
You have control of your book. This includes the layout of the interior, cover design, how it is edited, price, and how it is promoted.
- More profit
You retain more of the money made when a book is sold. Instead of receiving royalties from a publisher who takes a large cut of the profits, you are the publisher and will receive the profits when a book is sold.
- Book is time sensitive and needs to be published quickly
It can take a long time to have a book published using a typical publishing method. If your book is relevant to something happening now, you can get it on the market a lot quicker by choosing to self-publish.
- No interest in book from traditional publishers
It is not easy for new authors to be picked up by a publishing company. In today’s economy, it has become even harder as a lot of publishing companies are looking for ways to cut costs and do not want to take a risk investing in unknown authors. Self-publishing is sometimes used as a means to demonstrate to a publishing company that your book has market appeal.
A subsidy or vanity publisher is a publishing company that will offer to publish your book but instead of them paying you, they want you to pay them. Their fees can be expensive and they will often publish any book that is submitted to them. These types of publishers sometimes refer to themselves as a “self-publishing” company and target self-publishing authors in their marketing efforts.
When you use a subsidy or vanity publisher, you are not self-publishing as they become the publisher of your book, not you. They will assign an ISBN to your book that belongs to them and identifies them as the publisher. If you wish to take your book to another publisher or decide to self-publish the book in the future, you will not be able to keep the same ISBN as it does not belong to you.
In addition to charging you fees for publishing your book, they will also take a percentage of each sale of the book and pay you royalties. These royalties in some cases can be quite small and you will need to sell a large number of books to see a profit.
If they formatted your book or created the cover design and you later wish to take your book somewhere else, you may need to have the book reformatted and a new cover made as they could claim rights to the design of the book. If they provided any custom illustrations for the book, they could also claim the rights to those illustrations even if you paid them to have them done. While you may be able to get them to release the rights and files to you, it is not uncommon for them to charge you additional fees to release the files.
In summary, if you decide to use a subsidy or vanity publisher, be aware of what that means, read over the contract very carefully, and calculate how much you will earn for each book sold. Be sure to research the company and see what other people’s experience with them has been.
In order to be a self-publisher, you will need to have at least one ISBN assigned to your publishing company. ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number and a different ISBN is needed for each version of your book. A paperback and hardcover version of the same book will each need a different ISBN.
Part of the ISBN identifies the publisher of the book. If you are using a subsidy publisher or any company that offers to assign an ISBN to your book, that publisher or company is listed as the publisher of the book, not you, and if you wish to take the book to another company, you will not be able to use the same ISBN. To be a self-publisher, you need to obtain and use your own ISBNs.
eBooks and ISBNs
Each eBook version should technically have its own ISBN. However, you do not have to obtain an ISBN for an eBook if you are submitting your book directly to Kindle, Barnes and Noble, or the iPad’s iBookstore as they will assign their own unique identifier. You only need an eBook ISBN if you will be distributing to eBook retailers other than those three or if you are using a third-party eBook distributor.
Where to get your ISBNs
ISBNs can be purchased through Bowker. You can find a link to Bowker's website on our Self-Publishing Resource page.
You can purchase a single ISBN or a block of multiple ISBNs. Unless you plan on only writing a single book and not distributing it as an eBook outside of the Kindle or Nook, you should purchase the block of 10 ISBNs (or more if you plan on writing a large number of books).
They will try to upsell you on other products and services such as a barcode. You do not need to purchase any other item except the ISBNs from them. Barcodes are provided free of charge if you use Lightning Source or CreateSpace. We also provide them for free with our cover design services.
- The current cost of a single ISBN is $125 and a block of 10 ISBNs is $250.
2. EditThe editing process
The editing process is an important step that is often overlooked or rushed by self-publishing authors. The editing process can take a long time so I do not recommend scheduling any events or marketing efforts until the editing is done as it often takes longer than expected.
You should never be the only one who proofreads your book. If at all possible, you should consider hiring a professional editor. At the very least have friends and family help you with the proofreading process.
If you hire an editor, be sure you understand what type of editing they will be performing on your book. They may only look for basic things such as grammar and spelling or they may also look at the story line and plot. Decide how much editing you are comfortable with and be prepared to hear things about your beloved book that you may not like. Remember your editor is hired to find the flaws in your manuscript, and they will find some! Be prepared to listen to their suggestions with an open-mind. In the end, it is your choice which suggested changes you incorporate into your book.
3. DesignInterior layout and cover design
Before you start the process of formatting your book:
- Have your book edited and proofread.
- Choose a printer so the layout is setup to their specifications
- Choose book size and binding method (make sure your printer supports your choices)
We strongly suggest that you hire a professional to properly format the interior of your book. One of the reasons self-published books are often shunned is because they are poorly formatted. While you may save money by doing it yourself, it may not sell well if it is poorly formatted.
If you do decide to format your book yourself, be sure you take the time to research what makes a good layout and what things you should avoid doing. What fonts should you use? What should the line spacing be? When do you indent or not indent paragraphs?
If you use Microsoft Word, you will need to be familiar with styles, section breaks, headers and footers, page numbers, and table of contents. You will also need to be able to convert your book into a print-ready PDF when done with the formatting. There are some free options for creating a PDF but beware that not all of them do the best job. Many printers will ask (or even require) that your PDF be made using Adobe Acrobat and set to certain standards. The cost of purchasing Adobe Acrobat alone may be more than you would have to spend to hire someone to format your book.
Keep in mind there are certain things that can increase the cost of formatting your book such as:
- Submitting a Word document with problems such as one that has been converted from a PDF
- Having elements in your book such as images, block quotes, lists, text boxes, graphics, lists, tables, charts, etc.
- Drop caps and/or Ornamentation
- Custom illustrations
- Large number of pages
- Unusual design
Unfortunately people really do judge a book by its cover. When someone is browsing the shelves at a bookstore or searching for a book at an online book seller, the first thing they will see is the cover of your book. If it does not attract them, they will not bother taking a closer look. Make sure your cover grabs their attention and is suitable for its genre and target audience.
Before you start the cover design process you need to select a printer and decide what size your book will be so the cover design is setup correctly.
Printers will require your cover is created as a full spread that includes the front, back, and spine of the book. They will have specifications for the size, width of the spine, bleeds, resolution, and color mode. You will need to send the final cover file to them as a print-ready PDF.
The spine will need to be an exact measurement determined by the number of pages in your book and the type of paper stock you are printing on. Each printer will have a different method of calculating the spine width so you will need to get that information from them. You should not have the spine designed completely or layout the full cover spread of your book until you know the final page count of your book. This means the interior formatting of the book needs to be done before the final cover is made. Even if your page count changes by a couple of pages, it may require a new spine width for your cover spread to be calculated.
The cover needs to be setup to your book’s size, plus the width of the spine, plus the bleed. A typical bleed is 1/8th of an inch on all sides. A bleed allows the printer to trim your book to size without leaving white area on the edges of the cover. Make sure your cover design is created with the bleed in mind and you do not have any important areas near the edges.
The cover will need to be of high resolution, usually 300ppi. You cannot take a small, low resolution image and convert it into a high resolution image. The images will print out poorly and will likely be rejected by the printer.
Most printers require your cover to be in the CMWK color mode. Lightning Source also limits the color saturation on your images to no more than 240%.
You will need to supply the printer with a print-ready PDF of the cover created using their specifications which typically requires Adobe Acrobat.
If you are not sure that you can properly setup a cover as described, you will need a professional cover designer!
What Makes A Good Cover Design?
A good cover design will cause someone browsing the shelves (virtual or physical) to stop and take a closer look at your book. It needs to grab their attention and relate to the subject matter and theme of the book.
Many books today are purchased online where only the front cover is displayed at a small size. The cover must look good and have the impact needed at a small size and the title of the book needs to be easily readable.
An eBook is an “electronic” version of a book. Sometimes it is also referred to as a digital version of a book. There are different eBook “readers” or “devices” on the market that allow people to easily purchase and read eBooks. Some of these devices are:
- Kindle (Amazon)
- Nook (Barnes and Noble)
- iPad (Apple's iBooks app)
- Kobo, Sony eReader, other generic eReaders
Do I really need an eBook?
If you want to reach the large and growing market of eBook readers, yes you really need an eBook. eBooks are quickly growing in popularity and are starting to outsell their print counterparts.
Can I skip the print version and just publish an eBook
Yes but for best returns, you should make your book available in print and eBook formats. Not everyone uses an eBook device . . . yet.
Different eBook File Types
There are many different types of eBooks. The two main ones used today are the .mobi the .ePub. The .mobi file is the file type accepted by Kindle and the .ePub file type is accepted by just about any other eBook device such as the Nook and iPad. Make sure you receive both file types when you have your book converted into an eBook.
6. PublishPrinting Methods
The two most common printing methods are:
Offset Printing - a printing method where you have a large number of copies of your book printed at one time. The cost to print each book goes down based on the number of books you print in one run. You will often need to print thousands of copies to get a decent per book printing price.
You will need to have the books shipped to you (unless you print locally) and store them. Books are heavy, are expensive to ship, and can take up a lot of room. The initial investment for choosing this printing method can be too much for authors just starting out. However, this printing method does have some benefits as most offset printers can setup your book to any size needed and can handle a variety of binding types.
Print On Demand (POD) printing - a printing method where you can have a single copy (or more) of your book printed at a time. This allows you to only have a copy printed when you have need for one, such as when one is ordered by a customer. You can also order multiple copies of your book at once and have them shipped to you. With the POD method, your initial investment is very low. However, you are often restricted to specific book sizes and binding methods.
Your printing method affects how you will be able to distribute your book to retailers such as Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com.
When a books seller wishes to buy a book, they will look to their distribution channels. For books, this is Ingram. Ingram has a catalogue of millions of book titles that it makes available to book sellers. Books sellers use this catalogue to order books. Ingram ships the ordered books to the book seller. Large publishing houses have working relationships with distributors such as Ingram. As a self-publisher, your options for getting your book in the Ingram distribution channel are limited.
If you choose POD as your printing method, you can choose a printer that can also distribute your books through Ingram. Luckily there are companies that can do that which are used by self-publishing authors. The two popular companies are Lightning Source and CreateSpace. While there are other companies that can offer these services, we will focus on those two.
Lightning Source is a POD printer that is owned by Ingram. If you use Lightning Source to print your book, they can also distribute your book through Ingram which will make it available at all major online book sellers such as Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com and will also make it possible for booksellers to carry your book on their shelves if they desire.
CreateSpace is another POD printer that is part of Amazon. They will also print your book and make it available on either just Amazon.com or you can choose (for an additional fee) to have your book distributed through Ingram which will make it available to all book sellers.
When you select the offset printing method, your options are very limited. An offset printer will only print your book, not distribute it. Once they deliver the copies of your book to you it is up to you to find a way to get them into the book stores.
If you choose the offset printing method, you can use Amazon Advantage to get your book listed for sale on Amazon.com. You can find a link to this program on our Self-Publishing Resource page. A summary of the plan is below.
- $29.95 Annual program membership fee
- Amazon takes 55% of list price (set by you) - you get 45% of list price.
- You pay for the cost of shipping your books to Amazon
- Amazon will order books from you when their stock runs low. You must ship the books to them in a timely matter.
- Books must have ISBNs printed in them and have a printed, scannable barcode on the back cover.
5. MarketMarketing basics
Below are some ideas for how to market your book as a self-publisher.
Find your niche!
Think about the subject matter of your book and what your target market is. How old are they, are they male or female, what things do they like to do, what is their education level, where do they live? Understanding your target market on a more personal level will make it easier for you to know how to reach them.
Look for local events, newspapers, radio stations, groups, etc., that might be interested in you book. Send them a marketing kit, attend their events, make contact with them and talk about your book. However, never be pushy!
Your book should have a website as a home base. All marketing and social media efforts should direct people to your main website. Social media is best used as a way to communicate with your fans on a more personal level so they feel connected to you in some way, not to simply make posts that can be summarized as “Buy my book please.”
You may have some trouble getting book signings at major bookstores. Look for smaller, independent bookstores in your area and approach them about the possibility of having a book signing. Show up in person and ask to speak to the manager or who is responsible for event planning. Bring a marketing kit and a copy of your book. You need to sell them on the idea that hosting a book signing for you will be profitable for them.
Trade shows/ book fairs
Attend trade shows that relate to your book or book fairs. Booths and tables can be expensive so consider splitting the costs with another author.
Amazon Look Inside
Participate in Amazon’s Look Inside program so potential buyers can glimpse inside your book on Amazon, just like they would do if the book was on a shelf in a bookstore. You will need a special PDF of your book that includes the print PDF of the interior plus the front, back and spine images of your cover with specific bookmarks. You will also need to sign up for an account and be able to FTP your PDF to them. If this is not something you feel you can do on your own, we can create and submit the needed PDF for you. Before you can submit this PDF, your book must already be listed for sale on Amazon.
Author: Kimberly Martin