Note: I originally wrote this article for this post. I’m republishing here because I should have my best articles on my own site, and this particular article summarizes each resource I’ve found helpful in my rediscovery of my self-publishing journey since 2016. If you’re reading this, I hope you get a lot of useful information out of it:
Please note that this presentation is not extensive. Consider this a starting point for additional research.
If you want a one-stop shop for setting up a self-publishing business (and by business, I mean setting up a brand that you might apply to future books), I find The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing quite useful, though the most recent edition is going on ten years old now. There are newer and perhaps more relevant resources available, but this is the only book I know of that combines just about everything that’s important in self-publishing into one source. It’s a dense book, though. I still haven’t read all of it, and I’ve had a copy of it for years.
If you want free information and don’t mind going down the rabbit hole (and possibly into a black hole) a bit, I’d recommend subscribing to or at least bookmarking a website called The Book Designer. It posts topical articles about book design or marketing on Mondays and Thursdays and links to other resources for design, marketing, and writing craft on Sundays. If you have the time to dig into the last few months’ worth of posts (and all of the ones they link to), you’ll get a sense of where the trends are today, but even then, there are some gems dating back several years that are worth looking at. Get a mug of coffee and plan to spend a lot of time scouring the site for information if you choose to dive in.
-Interior and Cover Design-
The Book Designer also has its own paperback called The Book Blueprint, which covers much of the technical elements behind crafting a print book. It’s especially useful for showing you what to include in the front and back matters of a book, as well as what you should consider putting on the cover. Important resource if you care about how professional your book appears to readers.
Register Your Book: The Essential Guide to ISBNs, Barcodes, Copyright, and LCCNs is about what the title says. It’s a short book that includes updated registration information for 2019, as well as tips for launching your brand effectively the first time. I think The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing covers a good chunk of this, too, so it may be redundant to get this book if you get that one. However, this book is entirely about registrations, whereas the former book is about everything self-publishing, with registration being a small part of the content. It’s worth using the “Look Inside” feature to see which one you like better. But I can say that this one is more accessible given its focus, hence why I’m adding it to the list. The author has another book about creating your own imprint if you find that’s useful (The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing also provides information for that if I remember correctly).
Regarding ISBNs, everyone agrees that it’s better to buy your own ISBNs from Bowker than it is to use the freebies supplied by the distributors, as the ones you buy will have your imprint’s name as the publisher, whereas the freebies will have the distributor’s name as the publisher. Register Your Book talks more about that, but it’s important enough to reiterate it here. Likewise, no one thinks buying a single ISBN is worth the money. You should get, at the very least, a pack of ten. I plan to get a pack of 100 if I can ever manage to save up for it.
Note: You don’t need an ISBN if you plan to release your book on Amazon only. Amazon uses its own identification system called ASIN. But you should get an ISBN if you plan to release it anywhere else, and if you plan to produce it in more than one format (the rule is that every edition and every format has its own ISBN).
Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook is an essential book for the bookshelf, in my opinion. It reminds you of all of the ways you can violate copyright law if you aren’t careful. I wouldn’t publish anything until you’ve read through it. It wouldn’t hurt to retain a literary lawyer while you’re at it, though I think you’ll find that they’re more important when you’re writing nonfiction. The book also covers topics like working with freelancers and the legal advantages of forming your own LLC. It’s a must-own.
-E-book Formatting and Distribution-
Amazon KDP and Smashwords both have onsite guides that can show you how to format your books for e-readers. If you plan to use either of their services (and you probably should), you’ll want to take the time to read their guides or watch YouTube videos that can show you how to format e-books for each service properly. In my experience, I’ve found Amazon much easier to use overall, but Smashwords is more flexible with fixing mistakes on the fly.
It’s worth noting that a third site, Draft2Digital, has better formatting options than Smashwords, can reach many of the same stores as Smashwords (Barnes & Noble, Apple, Rakuten Kobo), and has a sister service called Books2Read that you can use to populate all of your storefronts into a single landing page. I’d recommend using both services, as both can reach certain stores and wholesalers that the other can’t. But for the shops that both distributors can reach, you’d likely be happier linking them through Draft2Digital given Smashwords’s limited formatting options (or, if you want to maximize your royalty potential, then uploading them direct to each shop might be the best option). Check the royalty rates at each shop before committing, though.
It should be noted, however, that you don’t have to use Draft2Digital to use Books2Read. In fact, it’s not technically designed for authors but for readers who want to populate shortcuts to their favorite storefronts where they can buy e-books. Authors use it, however, to make it easier for readers to purchase their books from whichever retailer they prefer. It certainly makes it easier to manage your links if you use it.
Distribution Note: If you decide to use both Smashwords and Draft2Digital, make sure you check only the boxes that you want each distributor to ship to. In other words, if you want Draft2Digital to be your e-book distributor to Barnes & Noble, then do not tick the Barnes & Noble box at Smashwords. Only one distributor should ship to a particular storefront at a time.
Formatting Tip: E-books are called “websites in a box.” You can technically format an .epub3 file using HTML if you really want tight control of your book’s presentation. Here’s an article that shows you how to do that. You don’t have to do it this way, though. Amazon, Smashwords, and Draft2Digital all allow you to upload simpler documents straight out of Microsoft Word if you want. That’s how I create all of my e-books. But, of the three, Smashwords is the only one that makes people angry. (It’s easy to use once you know what you’re doing though.)
Important Note: Amazon KDP has a service called KDP Select. DO NOT enroll your e-book in that program if you plan to go wide (as in selling it on Barnes & Noble, Apple, Hamster Republic, etc.). It requires a 90-day worldwide exclusivity on your selected e-book title, and obligates you to the platform until the term expires (assuming you back out before it enrolls you in a new term). Its page-reads system works similar to Wattpad but, unlike Wattpad, pays you according to page reads and sales. And, while I believe the payment on actual sales is the same as it is on regular KDP, I’ve heard that it pays authors by the page a little worse each year. Payment comes out of a shared annual fund, so if J.K. Rowling ever decides to write a new Harry Potter book and makes it exclusive on KDP Select, everyone else is screwed. That said, it’s fine if you plan to keep the e-book on Amazon only (and no one pirates it and posts it elsewhere). Really, though, it’s better not to enroll any of your books in KDP Select, not anymore. Too much can and has gone wrong for authors, and some authors have even discovered that Amazon can become a bit like Henry VIII if they don’t play exactly by their draconian rules when enrolling in the program. Fortunately, if you do enroll, KDP Select doesn’t affect your paperbacks or hardcovers. Only your e-books, and only the ones that you specifically enroll. But given how Amazon changes its rules and algorithms constantly, I can’t say for sure that this will always be true. Just do your research before making a firm decision to enroll or not to enroll.
The online guides will reiterate this, but you’ll want to use KDP for paperbacks sold at Amazon, and IngramSpark for paperbacks sold everywhere else. Amazon has great pricing on its own site and terrible pricing for its extended distribution. IngramSpark has better pricing systems for non-Amazon book sellers and is the standard for outside-Amazon distribution. It also costs money to use, including charging fees for uploading fixes, so you’ll want to make sure your book is set in stone the first time you upload. NaNoWriMo participants get some of those fees waived if they take advantage of the discount by March, however.
You should know that IngramSpark is your only option for getting paperbacks into brick and mortar stores. But that’s its own can of worms, too complicated to talk about here.
Books, websites, and YouTube AuthorTube channels all agree that you should never put a book on the market until your manuscript is solid (complete with beta reads, editor fixes, and proofreader fixes), has a genre-appropriate, eye-catching cover (front, back, and spine if you plan to do a paperback or hardcover), strong copy, and a tribe of followers wanting to read it.
You’ll want to hire professional editors and cover designers (and maybe interior designers if you don’t have the time to learn it yourself) who know what they’re doing if you want the book to get into stellar shape. Neither is cheap, but both should at least be cost-effective. Good editing will likely cost between $1,000 and $2,000, depending on the size of your book (60,000 words will probably land you around $1,500). But you can drive that cost down if you give the editor a manuscript that’s already in great shape. Good genre-appropriate cover design will likely cost no less than $300. Anything less and you may want to see samples or a portfolio to be sure you’re not getting scammed.
There are a number of sites you could check out for these professionals, but Reedsy has some of the best for the price. Nevertheless, I’d do extensive research on any designer or editor you’re considering before pressing the big green button on them. They say the biggest editing and design costs are the ones where the editor or designer gets it wrong.
Regarding the true cost of self-publishing, I like this video’s breakdown of the numbers the most.
Regarding store page setup and discoverability, if you want a good Amazon keyword checker for marketing purposes, or for deciding how to categorize your book, I’d recommend checking out Kindlepreneur and its flagship software, Publisher Rocket. The software helps with determining which of your book’s keywords are the most-searched and comes with the lowest competition. It also tells you how much each of your competitors’ books makes a month. The website has some great resource articles, too.
I could post a lengthy thread on crafting tips, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll say this. Writers Helping Writers has a wealth of helpful articles, thesauri, and resources worth looking into, including its flagship service, One Stop for Writers, which really should be explored if you have some time.
You may also want to look into self-editing resource, ProWritingAid, and crafting aid, Master Writer, if your budget isn’t too tight.
At some point, I’d like to write up a separate post about the topic of writing craft and development and list my favorite resources on the topic. Craft is the one thing above all else that really needs the most attention. But, this post is already too long to start listing my favorites here. Stay tuned.
-Online Courses, Marketing, Self-Editing, etc.-
I’ve spent a good chunk of 2016 and 2017 attending free webinars and receiving email blasts about “premium courses” for marketing and craft, usually priced at $#97. I actually bought two of these courses for $497 and $197 respectively a few years ago (on monthly payment plans which actually cost me closer to $800 ultimately) and thought they were fine. However, just about everything I learned in these premium courses can also be learned in a book called Sell Your Book Like Wildfire, and that’s true of nearly any premium course you might get solicited if you go down the rabbit hole. In short, unless you’re getting advice from a titan in the industry (like James Patterson, Lee Child, or George R.R. Martin), you won’t need to spend more than $75 on any one course (or $90 if you’re a user of Master Class). Anything more and you’re probably throwing your money away.
Possible Exception: Sometimes Writer’s Digest may offer a decent course taught by a reputable author/instructor for the price and format of a college class. I haven’t taken any of these classes, so I can’t vouch for their quality, but I know of at least one Writer’s Digest author whose book is very good who also teaches for Writer’s Digest University. The same author who wrote Sell Your Book Like Wildfire. Might be worth it if you have the money to spare. Let me know if you check any of them out.
Marketing is its own beast, and it really deserves some time to research, but the common response to effective marketing is to build trust, create high-quality material, and play the long game (meaning, write more books). I particularly like this book on that topic. I actually like the author of the book quite a bit, too. Here’s her website. Side Note: I watched one of her on-demand crafting courses over the Christmas break and learned stuff I hadn’t learned anywhere else. I don’t typically advise paying for information you can likely find on YouTube, but I do recommend checking out her classes (if her other courses are anything like the one I watched). Her style is casual but thorough and includes props. Take lots of notes.
Regarding self-editing, I like The Story Grid a lot. The book is a brick, but it gets you thinking about things you probably didn’t know you needed to consider. It’s another one for the bookshelf.
If anyone calls you about representing your manuscript, hang up and run away. It’s probably a scam. Writer Beware is a watchdog service that reports publishing scams, and you should really consult them before agreeing to anything you didn’t seek out yourself. I’ve had one of these scam publishers contact me about Superheroes Anonymous: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year Two a couple of years ago, telling me they wanted to represent it in their catalogue (for a small fee). I kept asking them why they wanted that one and not Cannonball City: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year One instead. They never gave me an answer. They just really wanted the second book (for a small fee). Anyway, they made Writer Beware’s list a few months later, and I haven’t heard from them since (though the woman who called me, under one name, called me again a few months later, with a different name and for a new company). Just hang up if they call. And, no, I don’t know how they got my house phone number.
I could keep going, but the most essential thing here is to make sure you have a product that readers want to buy (and read). So, if you’re lacking in any crafting considerations (structure, genre expectations, narrative weight, proper scene development, etc.) or presentation (appropriate cover and title design, copy, author bio and photo, etc.), then I would keep working at it until the whole package is sufficient. I spent the better part of a year self-publishing old stories as new e-books in 2015 and 2016 (after some general edits) and had a shockingly lackluster reader response to them. In short, I’ve made about $10 across all of my titles. You’ll really want to take the time to get it right before you publish any of your books. It’s a pain to go back and fix things after they’ve gone public, including your author brand. My goal for the next couple of years is to reset and launch my books properly. You should do the same before you find yourself having to reset.
Let me know if you have any questions.
Cover Image: Pixabay