BACKPACKED WEEK: How Much Work is Self-Publishing?


Welcome to Day #4 of Backpacked Week! To celebrate/constantly remind you about the fact that my new travel memoir, Backpacked, is out now until you buy a copy of it, I’m posting every weekday this fine week about aspects of this most recent self-publishing headache– I mean, um, process…

First, a reminder (or, another one): Backpacked: A Reluctant Trip Across Central America is out now! It’s the story of the three months I spent backpacking across Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, despite me not wanting to. If you read Mousetrapped, this is what happened next. If you didn’t read Mousetrapped because you’re not into Disney or NASA, rest assured this new book features neither of them. And you can buy it for your Kindle for just $2.99, or for your shelf for $14.95. Visit the Backpacked website for more information, or just hang around here, where I will be CONSTANTLY REMINDING YOU ABOUT THIS AT REGULAR INTERVALS until Friday.

Then I’ll stop.


Today I’m going to talk about how much work self-publishing is.

I think people get the wrong idea because we – self-publishers – tell them things like, “You can publish a book on CreateSpace in half an hour” and “It only takes a few minutes to upload an e-book.” I’m as guilty of this as anyone, because I like to encourage people to self-publish (good books). I want people to understand that it’s achievable. But self-publishing – even self-publishing like this, just POD paperbacks and e-books – is a whole hell of hard work if you do it properly, or try to.

This time around and to help demonstrate this, I decided to keep a list of everything I had to do to self-publish Backpacked in POD paperback with CreateSpace and e-books with Amazon KDP and Smashwords, or to get to the point I am with it today.

So what have I had to do to get Backpacked out into the world?

  1. (February 2011) Decide to write and release the book
  2. Decide on a release month (not enough information for release date yet)
  3. Register a new free WordPress blog to act as Backpacked‘s dedicated book site
  4. Upgrade free blog URL to “”
  5. Set site to “private” while it’s under construction
  6. Take “scrapbook” picture to go on the cover
  7. Start new “scrapbox” for Backpacked; I use one of these for each book
  8. Mock up front cover design in MS Word
  9. E-mail cover designer mock up and ask for quote
  10. E-mail copyeditor and ask for quote
  11. Blog about decision to write and self-publish it
  12. Update Twitter profile, etc. with news of Backpacked
  13. Write a synopsis
  14. Blog the synopsis
  15. Get e-book (front) cover from designer to use for promotion
  16. Construct and set it to public
  17. Rearrange to make room for links, etc. about Backpacked
  18. Share cover design with blog readers and Facebook fans
  19. Write the book (Um yeah, that only comes now…)
  20. Edit first draft
  21. Send book to Sarah, my copyeditor
  22. Send book to Sheelagh, my best friend who’s in the book, so she can okay it
  23. Mock-up rough interior to get page count
  24. With page count, determine manufacturing cost using CreateSpace’s calculators
  25. Use manufacturing costs to determine list price
  26. Get cover designer to build an online bookstore* so readers can pre-order signed copies
  27. Mock-up design, liaise with designer to perfect online bookstore
  28. Set online bookstore to live and start to advertise it
  29. Download full cover template from CreateSpace
  30. Send template to cover designer along with instructions for back cover
  31. Send update to Mousetrapped page Facebook fans re: pre-ordering Backpacked
  32. … and to everyone in my e-mail contacts list…
  33. … and to everyone who ordered a copy of Mousetrapped from me…
  34. … and to everyone the More Mousetrapped mailing list…
  35. … and blog a reminder too, just for good measure.
  36. Answer interview questions for Alyssa Martino’s blog.
  37. Close online bookstore.
  38. Make a list of books ordered and print out receipts from PayPal.
  39. Upload 70+ photos to to make slideshow and…
  40. … write captions for every single one of them while watching Outnumbered.
  41. Ok Backpacked‘s paperback cover design.
  42. Work out remaining timeline and set release date.
  43. Set up new title on CreateSpace.
  44. Upload finished PDF cover file to CreateSpace.
  45. Work through copyeditor’s suggestions, accepting/rejecting changes.
  46. Create two copies of MS – one destined to be e-book, one a paperback.
  47. Download CreateSpace interior MS Word template.
  48. Copy and paste in edited text and format interior.
  49. Insert free ISBN provided by CS onto copyright page.
  50. Go through interior again, fixing errors.
  51. Upload interior file to CreateSpace and submit for review.
  52. Order a proof copy so I can see for first time what cover, font, etc. looks like.
  53. Create a PDF version of Backpacked to send to blogger friends.
  54. Make this video about editing.
  55. Go through proof copy looking for errors and adjust interior file with corrections.
  56. Send interior file to copyeditor for proofreading.
  57. Buy envelopes for sending pre-orders.
  58. Take e-book MS and prepare it for upload – one for Kindle, one for Smashwords.
  59. Smashwords version won’t convert properly; try again.
  60. Smashwords version won’t convert properly; try again.
  61. Figure out only way to make it work is to “go nuclear”, i.e. strip out all formatting then go back and put it in.
  62. Upload/publish this new file to Smashwords.
  63. Upload/publish this new file to Amazon KDP too, so they match.
  64. Upload proofread interior file to CreateSpace.
  65. Order proof copies of this final version.
  66. Download .mobi version from Smashwords and send to friends/reviewers.
  67. Purchase royalty free music for book trailer.
  68. Use JING to record video for book trailer.
  69. Make book trailer using iMovie.
  70. Upload book trailer to YouTube and Vimeo.
  71. Check second – and final – proof copy.
  72. Click “Approve Proof” on CreateSpace (i.e. publish).
  73. Pay for ProPlan upgrade on CreateSpace.
  74. Order enough stock to cover pre-orders.
  75. Send “Out now!” message to everyone on my mailing list and the More Mousetrapped mailing list with MailChimp.
  76. Post “Out now!” status updates on Mousetrapped‘s Facebook page.
  77. Add book trailer to Smashwords listing.
  78. Add book trailer to Goodreads Author Profile.
  79. Set up new Google Alert for “Backpacked” + my name
  80. Add new section for Backpacked to my sales data spreadsheet
  81. Add Backpacked to bibliography in Amazon Author Central.
  82. E-mail Amazon to get them to link paperback to Kindle edition.
  83. Update Mousetrapped e-books with links to Backpacked’s e-book.
  84. Update Mousetrapped paperback interior with Backpacked in the “Also By…”
  85. Update Self-Printed e-books with links to Backpacked’s e-book.
  86. Update Self-Printed paperback interior with Backpacked in the “Also By…”
  87. Update blog, booksite etc. changing “Coming soon” to “Out now!” and links to buy.
  88. Update Goodreads author profile.
  89. Write 5 x launch day blog posts (including this one); schedule them for posting
  90. (Today) Keel over.

And as the stock to cover the pre-orders is somewhere between North Carolina and here right now, I have yet to:

  • Sign and pack stock orders; send them out.
  • Print out all invoices and update cost/profit spreadsheet
  • Sell stock to family and friends.

And by the way, I haven’t really done a major publicity push with this book. If I had, we’d have to add things like finding reviewers, e-mailing them, creating and printed an information sheet, sending review copies, etc. and maybe try to organize a blog tour and a giveaway. The book trailer and blogging about it are all I’m doing. Nor have I had a launch, which would mean organizing a venue, ordering in stock, creating and ordering printed materials (posters, bookmarks, etc.) and contacting the local press in the hope they’d cover it. The list above, in other words, is the least amount of work I could possibly do for one of my self-published books.

It’s self-publishing on a quiet day.

*You can’t conduct commerce of any kind from free WordPress blogs, so I had to “hide” another self-hosted site inside my free one to act as the bookstore. 

Visit to find out more.

22 thoughts on “BACKPACKED WEEK: How Much Work is Self-Publishing?

  1. Christopher Wills says:

    Great post and a really useful checklist. I’ll use this to help remind me for my second book launch in about a month’s time. If I’d known I only had to do these few tasks I might have self pubbed a couple of years ago :).

  2. Sarah Elisabeth says:

    Catherine, thanks for taking the time to outline your steps. Yep, that’s the simple list. So much you already had in place from your first book, and still look at all it took. A friend’s aunt called me because she wanted some info on how to do an e-book. I emphasized how much time and work she was in for.

    I found one of the most hair pulling experiences to be formatting an html version to convert using Calibre for upload to Amazon and B&N. Started on the Smashwords MS Word version, but stopped about a third of the way through the Style Guide. Call me a wimp, but that looked like a headache and a half, especially since I knew in the end, the conversion would likely fail, leaving me to start from scratch and work out all the bugs.

    I recommend authors use instead of .com. Is it okay if a leave a link? I wrote a post explaining the pros and cons of the blogging platforms here:

    Thanks again for the info, I’m saving this post for future reference!

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Hi Sarah,

      I use Word docs for both Amazon KDP and Smashwords (I can’t use B&N directly because I don’t live in the States) and although the formatting takes patience, it works really well. I have another post from a few days before this explaining exactly what I do, and it’s worked every time.

      I might move to in the future but I like to advise self-publishers to keep things simple until they have to do something else, and this free WordPress blog works fine for me. Honestly both occasions I’ve sold directly online have just been a headache anyway so if I’d my time over again, I wouldn’t bother! 🙂

      • Sarah Elisabeth says:

        Sounds good, I’ll check out your other post!

        I try to encourage new bloggers to just go with what works for them and not stress. can be amazing, but it shouldn’t become overwhelming.

  3. Sandy says:

    Thanks for the list.

    Is your copyeditor looking for more work?

    Would you be willing to pass on her contact info?

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Well as I said I didn’t really put too much into publicizing this one so even if you get traditionally published you’re going to have to do just as much work, it’s just going to be different things on your To Do list. Whatever way you do it, getting a book into the world isn’t easy!

  4. Rahma Krambo says:

    Greetings Catherine: First of all, congratulations on the publishing of your latest book and thanks for taking the time to write this great post.

    I just published a book this summer and kept a daily journal of everything I did. My entries look just like this (except they’re not all typed up so neatly). I knew when it came time to publish again that I’d need to remember all the steps I took. Little did I know, when I started the journal, how complex the publishing process would be. Each day I wrote down what I needed to accomplish, and checked off what I actually achieved. It was both fun (only because I love to be challenged) and exhausting.

    There’s a lot of reasons to self-publish, especially if a writer believes she has a book worth getting out there and is sort of a control freak, like me. It’s worth it, but it takes dogged determination to keep plugging away at it every day.

    Rahma Krambo | Author
    Guardian Cats and the Lost Books of Alexandria

  5. Pink Ninjabi says:

    Absolutely awesome. You definitely demystify it with the detail oriented craze that I nest in to understand the TRUE process from A-Z. I’m sooooo thankful to have come across your blog. 😀


  6. HopeForBinati says:

    Thank you so much for this post! It’s super helpful for a newbie. I’ll be using this list as a sort of checklist for everything that needs to be done.

    Thanks and congrats! You’ve put in a lot of work!


  7. Don Harold says:

    Informative, detailed and long checklist!. Well, that’s why it’s called self-publishing. I really wish you had the book publicized like PR release or a radio interview.

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