Self-Publishing – Where To Begin?

6 Dec
Photo by Owni

Photo by Owni

I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert on self-publishing.  I started this blog to do the same thing you’re here for — to learn.

So I’ve been doing a lot of research to provide you with a quick and dirty guide, along with some links that I found helpful during my own search that will expand on this basic info — a lot of which I learned from Sean Cranbury during the SIWC.

1. Preparation

You want your novel to be of the highest quality, to stand out amongst all the others who publish before their work is ready.  Take your time on this step, because this is the part that will make your book feel and read like a ‘real‘ book.  People want professional quality.  They know they’ll get that from a traditionally published book.  Show readers that they can get the same quality from your self-published novel.

The best way to find someone to help you develop your novel is by referral from other indie authors.  Google is your best friend, just make sure you contact an editor/designer/formatter’s past customers for a review of their work before you make your decision.


It doesn’t matter how skilled you are with a red pen; you cannot truly edit your own work.  If you go with traditional publishing, you will have an editor, but if you’re going indie, it’s highly recommended you hire one.  This is a critical step to ensuring your novel is as professional as those published traditionally.  This is a subjective experience, but there are some editors better than others.  It all depends how in depth you want the editing services to go.

Hiring an editor, whether it’s proofreading, copyediting, or substantive editing, can be expensive.  Make sure you do your research.  But whatever you do, don’t cheap out and don’t rely on family and friends to point out major plot holes or sentence structure no-nos.

Cover Design

I say it all the time — people judge books by their covers.  That’s just the way humans work.  Dreaming up the front cover of your physical book or ebook can be fun, but putting that dream into reality can be tough.  For those of you who lack those skills, hire someone to do it.  The best way to find a designer is by word of mouth.  Check out other indie authors and find the covers that grab your attention or that you think would be a good fit for your novel, then ask them who did their design.  I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to make the referral.

An attractive cover is equally as important for an ebook, but remember that when the potential reader’s view it on their computers, it will show up as a thumbnail.  So make sure that when you shrink down the cover, it still catches the eye.  Below are some websites I found while searching around.  I don’t have experience with them, but I happen to like their work.  The best way to find out if an artist is legit is to contact their past customers and ask for a reference.

This Goodreads page has ton of great suggestions by fellow authors in the comments section.


Najla Qamber Designs

Anna Dorfman

Okay Creations


How words and paragraphs are arranged on a page seems basic, but get it wrong and it will stick out like a sore thumb.  This goes for both your hard copy and the e-book.  Many self-published authors think that they’ll grab the reader’s attention by using fancy fonts and stylistic changes.  Grab them with your writing, not gimmicks.  It will seem amateurish.

Again, some people have this skill and others don’t.  Personally, I would hire someone to do this.  But if you’re familiar with your word processor such as Word or Scrivener, then have at it.

2. Digital vs POD

Some say, to test the waters, start with digital (e-books).  It’s cheaper, easier, and you’ll likely sell more of them than your physical copies.  However, I’m with the school of thought that encourages you to reach as many potential readers as possible by utilizing several formats.  Publishing hard copies can cost a little more, however they’re great for self promotions, doing book tours, and selling at conventions and book fairs.


Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) allows you to distribute your e-book on Amazon’s Kindle and Kindle applications.  Amazon is the world’s largest online retailer… enough said.  By signing up with their KDP select program, you can maximize your marketing potential.

Smashwords distributes your ebook to Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony Reader Store, Kobo, Flipkart, Oyster, the Diesel eBook Store, Baker & Taylor’s Blio, Axis360, and others.  Why don’t you just sign up with KDP and Smashwords and be done with it, you ask?  That’s an option (so long as you don’t sign up for KDP select, which stipulates that you don’t sign up with any other digital publisher).  You’d cover a lot of your bases.  However, with each separate format you sign up with, there are extra perks to take advantage of and to help promote and sell your book.

Kobo will distribute your ebook internationally through their website.

Nook Press is Barnes and Noble’s e-book publishing platform.

iBooks Author is for books on iPads, but it allows more creativity with galleries, videos, diagrams, and lots more to create an interactive reading experience.

BookbabyVookLulu, and Booktango are a few of the other epublishers that will distribute your ebook on your behalf to various online sources the same way Smashwords does.

Print On Demand (POD)

CreateSpace and Lightning Source are the two big hitters in the POD game.  Both of them have their various pros and cons.  For most, what it comes down to is the distribution:

Createspace is great because indie authors tend to sell most of their books on Amazon, but if you wish to see your novel on shelves, most bookstore owners refuse to carry books affiliated with Amazon.  That’s why many choose Lightning Source.  However, it’s tough to find a bookseller willing to carry self-published novels in the first place, so perhaps this is a moot point.

It’s up to you to determine what your short-term and long-term goals are.  Some suggest to choose BOTH CreateSpace and Lightning Source, that way you don’t limit your potential in the future, and are presented with a lot more options between the two.

The other popular options available that are worth looking into are LuluEspresso Book Machine, and Blurb.


An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is a special number that allows buyers to order your book, libraries to stock it, and for you to track your sales (which can be important if a traditional publisher picks you up and wants to know how many you’ve sold).  If you are truly publishing your novel on your own, then find your local ISBN agency on this website.

CreateSpace offers their own ISBN through their expanded services, but this is specific to them.  So if you decide to go with both CreateSpace and Lightning Source, it can get messy if you have a specific CreateSpace ISBN and a normal one.  It might make things easier to use CreateSpace for Amazon distribution only (forget their ISBN) and Lightning Source for expanded distribution with a traditional ISBN.

4. Copyright

Know your rights.  You worked hard on your novel, now make sure no one steals it.  Different countries, different laws.  I can’t cover them all.  But do your research and be familiar with them.

Speaking of doing your research…  I received some great info from a couple of readers that unveiled the truth about mailing yourself a copy of your manuscript to copyright.  It’s a common practice, and obviously commonly misunderstood.  While it might offer you a bit of backing if it came down to a court case, if that’s your only leg to stand on, prepare to fall.  If you’re going to spend the money on mailing a heavy package to yourself, put this towards a proper copyright.

You can learn more about it from Helen Sedwick: Keeping It Legal.  Thanks Helen!

Helpful Links:

Self Publishing A Book: 25 Things You Need To Know

How to Self-Publish a Bestseller: Publishing 3.0

DIY: How to Self-Publish an E-book

Self-Publishing Advice Blog

The Creative Penn

Catherine, Caffeinated – A list of self-printing posts

Sean Cranbury Slideshare Presentations

Your Turn!

Calling all self-published authors!!!  What are your experiences with digital and POD publishers?  How about editors or cover designers?  Have any good recommendations?  Please add your two cents in the comments below 🙂

6 Responses to “Self-Publishing – Where To Begin?”

  1. pdworkman December 6, 2013 at 9:42 am #

    I don’t think you can publish on both KDP and Smashwords, can you? Doesn’t KDP require that you don’t publish on any other ebook platforms?

    And mailing a copy of your manuscript to yourself does not provide the same protections as copyrighting it. In my opinion, you ought to shell out the money to register the copyright properly.

    • C H Griffin December 6, 2013 at 10:32 am #

      I believe you can sign up with both KDP and Smashwords as long as you don’t sign up for KDP select. Correct me if I’m wrong, though. Thanks for heads up. I should make that clearer.

      And you’re right. Copyrighting would provide you with much more protection. They call mailing it to yourself the ‘poor man’s copyright’. Do you copyright? How do you find the process? Easy? Cheap? Expensive?

      • Helen Sedwick December 6, 2013 at 11:39 am #

        The poor man’s copyright doesn’t work anymore. Every author should register their work with the U.S. Copyright office. It’s easy. If you do it on-line, the fee is $35, then you mail in two copies of your book to the Copyright Office. And registering provides a lot of international protection under various treaties.
        I wrote an article about copyright basics on my law blog.

      • C H Griffin December 6, 2013 at 11:42 am #

        Thank you! I will go back and include this in the post. I know it’s still a common practice among Canadian authors. I wonder if that’s the case here as well. I will definitely be delving into that and updating it. Thanks so much for the link!

      • pdworkman December 6, 2013 at 12:16 pm #

        Yes, KDP Select. That’s the one where you can’t also sign up with Smashwords.

        I’m in Canada, so I don’t know how easy it is to register copyright in the USA, but it is very simple here. And well worth the protection.

      • C H Griffin December 6, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

        Great! Thank you for the info!

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