Self-Publishing: The Most Important Thing You Need to Know

The #1 Most Important Thing You Should Know Before Self-Publishing Your Book

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You’ve decided to go the self-publishing route for your book. Self-pub gives you control over the publishing process, allows you to set the timeline for your book, and you don’t deal with the rigamarole of the traditional publishing industry. Self-pub is a preferred option for many professional writers from a purely commercial perspective.

But for anyone new to self-publishing, there are some pitfalls and a pretty steep learning curve. We’ve self-published books and helped other people self-publish, and there really is quite a bit to figure out. ISBN- what?

Watch out for publishing predators


One thing to look out for the first time wading into self-publishing waters is the sharks. There are companies out there that prey on new self-publishing authors. Not that they don’t offer legitimate services and deliver some kind of results, but they allow writers to think it’s impossible on their own and it should cost an arm and a leg. Check out this excellent resource, Writers Beware, curated by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, that gives a great overview of who to avoid and the red flags you should know about.

They tell you it’s going to cost thousands or tens of thousands to publish your book.
 Once you see a number like that (or any number more outrageous) it’s time to run. If you’ve got a manuscript you just want to publish, maybe to get some print copies or put it on Amazon, you can do that for a couple hundred bucks at most. As long as you can figure out how to upload the documents and order a box of books, the only cost is shipping and the price of the books themselves (a few dollars per copy).

The reason people keep paying ridiculous amounts to self-publish books is because the company makes the whole thing seem daunting, like people couldn’t possibly do it on their own. They prey on inexperience.

Watch out for the bluff and bluster.

 Any company that promises you riches and fame is trying to bamboozle you. What you want is to see that the money you spend to self-publish is creating real quality (and thus real value) in your book. Lots of new self-publishing authors who fall for some of these big companies end up not even getting what they expected after paying so much money.

Look closely at the details.

Make sure you know exactly what you’ll get for your money. Note the differences between the service packages they offer. Do they include copyediting and proofreading? Do they include cover design? Exactly how are they going to help you market and distribute your book? What platforms will they publish your book on? If they’re simply offering to publish your book on Amazon, you can easily do that yourself for free. Look at these details and ask lots of questions.

Look for legitimate self-publishing services

This is not to say there aren’t great companies out there working with self-pub authors. And depending on your goals, you may want to engage services for beta reading, developmental editing, copyediting, proofreading, cover design, or marketing.

If you work with skilled professionals, it’s going to cost some money. There are ways to get some of these services for cheap (Fiverr), but working with skilled professionals can add real value to your book. One nice thing about self-publishing is you get to decide how the publishing process goes, so think about where you’d like to invest in your book or which services might make the most sense.

Work with real people.

 You want to be able to reach out to the people you’re working with on your self-publishing project. Avoid companies that can’t or don’t identify who you will work with one-on-one. Sometimes companies have a “farm” of workers or outsource work you contracted them to do.

Give it a try on your own.

 Sometimes the best way to learn something new is to try it out with a test-run. Take some text (not your book, maybe some other side project or writings) and work through a self-publishing trial, just to give it a try. See where you run into snags, then learn what you need to solve any problems.

By learning some Microsoft Word formatting basics, the different ebook file types and which to upload to online retailers, and how to convert a Word file into an ebook (we use the open source program Calibre)—these skills can be a long-term investment if you know you’ll be self-publishing many books. If you’re only interested in using print-on-demand services like Amazon or Lulu to print copies of your book for family and friends, look for professional editors and book coaches to help you through the process.

Also, check out Erika’s Self-Publishing Resources for Writers for a great overview of tools to help you on your writing and publishing journey.


— 6 of the Best Books on Writing for Writers
— How to Start a Consistent Writing Practice
What is Creative Cross-Training?

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