How To Find Out Everything You Need To Know About Self-Publishing


Last week I was in Orlando, and I met up with the lovely Duolit girls, Shannon and Toni, in Downtown Disney for lunch and a laugh. I love meeting my self-publishing friends in real life because we can gossip and commiserate and joke in a way we can’t on our blogs, in public tweets or via e-mail. It’s like finally getting a chance to get out of the cubicle and go to the water cooler or coffee machine and whisper to our colleagues, “Oh my god. Did you see that this morning?!” and “Really? That’s exactly what I thought! That was my reaction too…” and “I’m so glad you said that. I thought I was the only one! I was like, am I crazy pills here or what?”


The aforementioned lovely Duolit girls

One of the things we talked about was The Dreaded E-mails. Every day—sometimes several times a day—e-mails arrive in our inbox from writers far behind us on the long path to self-publishing, asking us for help, advice or the answer to a specific (or sometimes, infuriatingly vague) question.

Reading over that last sentence, it sounds innocent enough. Right? Someone can’t figure out how to set their royalty rate to 70%, they know my royalty rate is already 70% and I have a blog about self-publishing, so they e-mail me. Seems like no big deal.

But imagine that you are so busy with your own self-publishing and writing career (remembering, it’s how you make a living) that it’s a struggle for you to find time to write your next book. (Or sleep even, at the moment.) And that you have already spent hours upon hours of your life writing a 120,000-word book about everything you know about self-publishing, which is available from just $4.99. And that even if you can’t afford to invest a pocket of change in your self-publishing research, there’s this blog, which has several times that word count worth of self-publishing info, all neatly arranged and organized both chronologically and by topic, all available for free, on demand, whenever you need it. And that these e-mails come in all the time, constantly, and range from things that can be answered in a minute to things that couldn’t be answered in a week (e.g. “How do I get people to buy my book? I mean, do people really buy books they just come upon on Amazon? That seems crazy to me…”), and that they come in on top of the usual internet fare of spam, review requests (even though I don’t review books!), link exchange proposals, and messages from readers that you actually want to respond to but struggle to find the time. And that despite trying various deterrents on your Contact page and even, recently, offering an “Ask Catherine” service where questions can be submitted to be answered publicly on this blog, people still e-mail, only now they add that they’d like me to answer the question privately, so I waste all my time just benefitting them.


Can I please go back here? I promise I’ll bring my laptop… 

Just to give you an idea of how little time I have to spare, generally, take the last two weeks and the next fortnight. Two weeks ago, almost, I flew to London to do a workshop. Then I spent five days in Florida which, while supposed to be a vacation, wasn’t entirely, because I took an hour here and there to answer the most urgent e-mails and keep up with my social media commitments, which includes my own and other things I get paid by other people to do. Then I flew through the night back to Ireland, and spent half a day getting back to my house where I quickly changed out my bags, updated my presentation and went traveling again the next morning, up to Dublin, to do another workshop, and come back that night. We’re up to last Saturday now. The following day I crashed, zombie-like, because I was so tired, and on Monday it was back up to Dublin again to film a spot about self-publishing for TV3. Today is my first full day back at work, I’ve a To-Do list pages long, I’m two weeks behind e-mails, working on three different writing projects, organising something for Mousetrapped’s 3rd (THIRD!) anniversary at the end of the month and preparing for another weekend away at a writer’s festival in a fortnight’s time. I love it, because I enjoy my work and it’s how I make the money I spend on other people’s books, The Killing DVDs, Nespresso capsules, trips to Walt Disney World, etc. but you can see how, in the midst of all this, answering e-mails about how to get your ISBN from CreateSpace when I’ve already written a book about it, posted numerous blog posts about it and the CS website tells you how, can get a little annoying.

I have never in my life e-mailed a stranger to ask them a specific self-publishing question. This is partly because I read the information they have readily provided, on their blog, and then didn’t need to. But it’s also because I think their time is valuable. I recognize that their time is how they make a living. And so I don’t expect them to give it to me for free. I love helping out friends and if you’ve been hanging around their blog for a year or more and you still have a question, by all means, ask it. I owe my blog readers everything. But happen upon my blog and head straight for the Contact page? That’s just laziness, and I can tell. And your message is headed straight for the Trash folder.

On good days, I find all this mildly annoying.

On bad days, I find it downright rude.

So I was talking about this with Shannon and Toni, and I joked that I often think self-published/self-publishing bloggers should join forces to give themselves a Self-Published Bloggers Day Off, where we’d all publish a post with the header “How I Found Out Everything I Know About Self-Publishing” and nothing but an image of the Google search box in the body of it.

Because that’s how I found out everything I know about self-publishing.

I googled it.


I googled it, I did it, I googled some more, I did it again and, abrakedabra, that’s how I found out everything I know about self-publishing.

But I get that nowadays, there’s a lot more stuff online than there was when I was doing my initial googling. With the ever-growing number of services and options, it can be more difficult now to decide on what’s right for you. And I know that for someone who’s new to this, the sheer amount of information, opinions, etc. out there can be overwhelming. But you can still find out everything you need to know about self-publishing without sending e-mails.

Here’s how.

Self-Published Presentation View front only

Step 1: Read a guide to get an overview

Full disclosure: I have one of these, for sale at $15.95 in paperback and $4.99 in e-book. But there are others, some much cheaper than mine. Mine is Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing. Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran is another good one. Read one of these to get an overview of the entire process, from start to finish. That’s the one thing that was missing from my own self-publishing experience: having someone sit me down and tell me, okay, this is what you do first, this is what comes next, this is how long it’ll take, you need to do this here because if you don’t it’ll come back to bite you in the arse later on, etc. etc.

If you don’t want to pay $15 finding out how to self-publish yet you plan to self-publish, I have some choice words for you which don’t belong on this blog.

(But the clean version is give me a [BEEEEEEP] BREAK.)


Step 2: Read self-publishing blogs

Read self-publishing blogs. Thoroughly. Take your time. Make notes. Learn from other people’s first hand experiences. And keep away from the Contact page because if you do find yourself with a question, you can find the answer using Step 3.

There’s this one, The Creative Penn, Duolit Self-Publishing Team, The Book Designer… the list goes on and on and on. Each one will lead you to another. Take the time to actually read them.

Step 3: Type your questions into Google

If you do find yourself with a question, type the question into the Google search box. Literally. This is what I did. If I was wondering how long it would take my CreateSpace proof copy to arrive, I typed “How long will it take my proof copy to arrive from CreateSpace?” into the search box, and nine times out of ten got my answer in the first page of results.


Step 4: Just do it

The first time I saw what I CreateSpace paperback looked like was the moment I opened the package they sent to my house with my first proof copy in it. You can only plan ahead so much. Then there comes a point where the best way to learn is by doing. So just do it. When a self-publisher wants to know how to use Goodreads as an author when they haven’t even picked a POD service yet—or even decided if they’re going to do a paperback at all—something’s off. Take it step by step and if you can actually do that step, then make like Nike and just do it! I’ve always said, the first proof copy that you order should not be your last. It’s not a waste of money; it’s an investment in the final product.

Step 5: If you want help, pay for it

If you genuinely need help self-publishing, hire someone to help you. Please don’t expect them to help you for free.

And so ends my personal Self-Publishing Blogger’s Day Out public service announcement. [*waves to Shannon and Toni*]

So what do you think? How did you find out everything you needed to know about self-publishing? Do you love that there’s so much info online, or do you feel overwhelmed by it? Have you read a guide? If not, why not? And has Google helped or hindered your search for information? Tell me in the comments below… 

49 thoughts on “How To Find Out Everything You Need To Know About Self-Publishing

  1. Ellen M. Gregg says:

    You go, girl. Well and, apparently, necessarily said. I used your same method: Google, self-publishing blogs (including yours), and the actual process. Thanks so much for the wealth of information and assistance you provide, and so generously.

  2. KW says:

    First, the DuoLit girls are fantastic! I’ve been one of their Indie Ninjas and highly recommend them. Second, right on, Catherine! Your blog and book are full of fantastic info. People should stop being so lazy and just read what’s out there!

    • Toni @Duolit says:

      Aww, thank you! We’re so appreciate of our Ninjas and the other folks who see the value in what we do. You’re exactly right — 90% of what we know is out there for free…you just have to be willing to poke around a bit 🙂

  3. eBook Partnership (@ebookpartners) says:

    All power to you Catherine, you provide the most excellent resource, and your time is valuable. People do happen upon your site, and think ‘Ahah! This woman is my saviour and she seems so nice’ and then I can quite see how that leads to spontaneous bouts of help me emails. But, RTFB, is a completely reasonable response, and you have phrased it much more politely than I might have done in your shoes.

  4. Debbie Young says:

    Ha ha, good on you, Catherine!

    Of course, the irony is that if these enquirers do consult Google for advice on self-publishing, there is a good chance that some of your blog posts (and Duolit’s) will come up on the Google search!

  5. Toni @ Duoliti says:

    LOL — I was so tickled to see our conversation turn into such a lovely post. This is one of the things we re-started our podcast to help with — all of those emails we get everyday that we can’t find time to answer (ahhh so busy!). And, it’s funny, I don’t mind answering a question if someone’s really stumped, but it’s the people that don’t ask nicely who really get to me. In Shannon’s words, “if your email is 90% rude and 10% asking for help, you can be 100% sure I’m not going to help you out.”

  6. Frankie Valente says:

    Everything I have ever needed to know about self-publishing I got from you Catherine, and as a last resort I googled it. Now that I am often asked the same kinds of questions that you are frequently asked, I tell people to buy your book or look at your blog. And they always come back to me and say how brilliant it was. I hope they tell you that too!

    Looking forward to your next travel book/novel!

  7. Linda Acaster says:

    Feel better after your rant, Catherine? Less like cutting your wrists? Good. Let me rant again on your behalf – Roooaaaarrr!!!

    I get… ‘I can’t format for Smashwords!’ [of course you can; read Mark Coker’s FREE bible and follow the steps]. ‘Oh I can’t read all that! Couldn’t you just explain it to me?’

    Let’s step back here. This is a writer supposedly authoring a novel. Does that person never do any research for their Fantasy/Historical/Crime/Romance so as to make the story sing on the page? Have they never studied writing manuals to help improve their skills level and so produce the best fiction they can?

    Unfortunately the answer is NO, because that would be *work* and it is far, faaaarrrr easier to send a two-line email venting their problem and waiting until a fairy godmother called Catherine, or [fill in your name], spend ooodles of their time and creative energy. Because, and let’s not forget this one, if it doesn’t work they have someone to blame.

    Can you tell I’ve had a bad day? Perhaps I should step off my soapbox. Power to you, Catherine. You are not alone, just more visible than most of us.

  8. David Penny says:

    Many people who write, or want to write, or think they want to write, have a totally unrealistic expectation of what writing is. There is a romantic myth that writers sit in their beautiful book lined studies crafting perfect prose and then perhaps rollicking with the other aritsts in the pubs and clubs. And that’s ALL they do. Marketing, formatting, actually working is something they ask someone else about in the hope they’ll be told “Hey, it’s OK, just write. They rest will fall into place.”

    When they don’t get that answer they just keep asking over and over again until they finally believe… that you don’t like them, and that you’re keeping the secret to success to yourself.

    Which you are. Which we all are.

    Because the secret is – there is no f**ing secret! Just hard work. Oh, and talent. Damn, did I forget talent?

  9. Widdershins says:

    Bravo! Writing IS a profession – always has been, but especially so in the 21st century! – and there are so many people out there who don’t get that.

  10. Paula says:

    As I started reading this post (laughing the whole way, mind you) I was SO tempted to send you a “nightmare” email full of stupid questions and annoying demands, just as a joke. Then it occurred to me that you wouldn’t know it was a joke, and that would probably just annoy you further.

    I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be to be bombarded by idiocy like that on a regular basis. I learned what I know about self publishing the old fashioned way. I googled. And when I found a blog I liked I read everything I could find there. Then I looked at who that person was interacting with and recommending, and I went to those blogs and read everything THEY had written. And at no point in the process did I feel the urge to personally contact ANYONE with a question, stupid or otherwise.

    I think one of the biggest dangers of trying to get direct answers from “experts” without doing even the most fundamental research is how much you WON’T find out. When I first started, I was a complete novice. Not only did I not know how little I knew, I didn’t know how much I needed to know! Taking the time to read, to learn, was the only way I filled in the gaps. If I’d tried looking for shortcut answers … well I’m horrified to consider how sad and pathetic the results might have been.

    So having said all that I’d like to say thanks. There are those of us out here who really appreciate your help and are trying our best not to bug you!

  11. Averill Buchanan says:

    I get this all the time, only it’s people asking me how to become a proofreader or editor. They get my email address from the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, which is where I usually direct them back to when I reply.

    At first I was flattered that people thought I could give this kind of career advice. Now my heart sinks when I see one these emails coming in. Generally, the emails take an hour to compile, filled with useful links and advice depending on the way the question was phrased, and some people don’t even bother to say thanks (that really winds me up!)

    I’ve now got a stock answer that I copy and paste into emails, and am planning to put it all up on a website too so I can just point them there. But I’m not encouraged by your experience – so people still want to hear it all in a personal email? Aaaaagghhhhhhhhh!

  12. Will Overby says:

    Awesome! I actually laughed out loud when I got to the picture of Google. I have a relative who’s new to the self-pubbing field and she asks me EVERYTHING and when I politely steer her to Google or other online resources (which is how I learned it all), she seems to get her feelings hurt because I won’t drop everything and do it all for her. Very frustrating, so I feel your pain!!!

  13. Books & Art - Spirit & Soul - Lesley Fletcher says:

    I think you know have a perfect response to pesky emails right here. The learning curve is so steep, it is impossible to give the proper information anyway. I have had many people ask me to read their manuscripts and provide proper feedback – not a good idea at all! I finally realised they needed to hear the less than honest truth.

  14. Danielle says:

    I’m nowhere near self publishing yet, but if the time comes I know I will find everything here and elsewhere. That’s why I prefer to send you compliments, and cyber kudos, and today, delectable virtual coffee

    Just ignore the questions. Or send them a link to this post 😀

  15. Michelle Proulx says:

    I don’t understand this post. Please take time out of your busy day to send me an email explaining exactly what you’re trying to say, with supporting examples, and also please send me free copies of all your ebooks because I would rather buy an over-priced latte from Starbucks than support a hard-working author like. My email address is: totallycluelessjerkface@idon’ Heads up: I will respond to your email, no matter how lengthy and in-depth your advice is, with a “k thx”.

  16. catherinelumb says:

    I throughly enjoyed this post – and I’m not even currently attempting to self-publish. You *should* point out how valuable your time is and that you don’t run a free hand-holding service. You’ve already left a pretty compelling crumb trail to lead people out of the maze and this post is the whole damn cake. What more can they ask for?
    Love it. x

  17. A Writer Inspired says:

    Love this! I am one behind you a bit on the path and I find google to be a great resource which is why I still haven’t purchased a book on it yet. I think in self publishing there are many roads to the same end. So why limit oneself to one way?

  18. The Irish Wench says:

    Excellent post! I have been doing research on self-publishing for awhile and am looking forward to reading your Self-Printed book, I am sure it will shine a brighter light on many things!

  19. marilynslagel says:

    Overwhelming to say the least – but doable if one really wants to self-publish. My first expense was a subscription to Writers Digest magazine. From there, I started following blogs like yours, read books on writing, took an online class and went to a writers conference. Step by step until finally I no longer felt like an idiot!

  20. Techno-Dunce says:

    Catherine, I’ve wanted to contact you several times in the past just to say ‘thanks’ – but I already had the distinct impression from your contact page that your inbox is awash with stuff from the School of Duh, and I didn’t want to add to the backlog! Anyway, thanks. Really. I’m about to publish my first novel and have used ‘Self-Printed’ and this site to navigate my way through the entire process. I’ve recommended your self-publishing info and your books to other writers in person and via links on my blog. I won’t say it’s been entirely painless, but you’ve held my hand and made me laugh throughout – and without your advice (generously given, for FREE, people), I’d still be stumbling around blindly with a double-spaced manuscript. Oh yeah, and guess what? I found you through Google …

  21. What The Traveler Saw says:

    I love reading your blogs. I am going to self publish one day…I’m so caught up with my store…what the traveler saw, that having a long period of quiet time to settle in and write another chapter is like finding a pearl on a beach…but I occasionally find it and manage to put all my bits of notes into another chapter. Another problem is getting one book done while I’m needing to sometimes write another chapter for the second book that is kicking and pushing against my already rattled brain…oh for a year off, just one year!

  22. chicken wings for the soul says:

    I think Jamie Oliver had a great solution to this prob. People buy his cookbooks and because he has managed to get them onside by writing great books (a positive thing!) he inevitably has hundreds of people with thousands of questions every week (cooking is a lot like self-publishing!) and he set up his website so it’s more like a ‘forum’ where his fans chat and help each other out with their cooking queries. I doubt he has ever replied directly. Now and again, he posts himself and it’s all very exciting! At least, that’s how his website used to be (my time spent cooking was greatly reduced when I started self-pubishig…hmmm)
    Might be an option for you?? Just a thought….

  23. karenprince0 says:

    Catherine, as always you crack me up. I have got all the info I need, easily, right here on your website. Hardly had to Google at all. And now I find myself running around doing stuff for people who are too lazy to do the research. I am always worried that if I don’t field their demands with just the right touch of compassion for their self inflicted computer illiteracy they may suddenly find they are computerly clever enough to get on to Amazon and write me a horrible 1* review or something.

  24. Karen says:

    Great post! I’ve found out everything I’ve needed to know about writing, publishing, marketing etc. from good old Google, or by reading ‘how-to’ books, and cringe at the thought of asking for MORE free advice when there’s so much out there already – I just don’t get why anyone would need to!

  25. Michael Mardel says:

    I was directed to your blog over payment for overseas publishers. Then I saw your Self-printed book advertised. I bought it and followed all the steps. Unfortunately I’d already paid for someone to do the interior of my book for CreateSpace and I did pay 99designs to do the cover, as you suggested. (I tried at CS but it didn’t work for me:(
    So thanks Catherine for your help through your blogs and book.

  26. Ernie Zelinski says:

    Great post.

    I will now just give most people the link to this post when they contact me for information on how to be a successful self-published author.

    I too have many people contacting me wanting free information and advice.

    The other day a friend came into one the Starbucks where I work on my laptop and asked, “How can I find which topics really sell well as books?” I replied, “Jeff, let me answer that this way. Experts Academy founder Brendon Burchard charges $3,500 an hour for his one-on-one consulting, but I am going to give you a little better deal than that.” The conversation went unto something else after that.

    One of the irritating things to me is people who know that I have been extremely successful selling foreign rights to my self-published books e-mailing me to ask for direction on how they can do the same with their books. Of course, avoiding spending time giving away free consulting is one of the keys to my having sold over 750,000 copies of my books worldwide and to have had my books published in 22 languages in 29 countries. Major publishers get a foreign rights sale on about 1 in 10 books whereas each of my 15 books have an average of 7.7 foreign rights sales. That means I am 77 times as successful as major publishers in selling foreign rights to my books and I don’t use an American foreign rights agent. I have now made close to $200,000 from foreign rights sales. The point is that I would not have made that amount if I spent a lot of time giving others help and sharing my strategies.

    Another key to my success in the book writing and marketing business is to do what no one else is doing. Often, I do just the oppposite of what the so-called “book experts” say you should do. For example, I know that I can bring out two books that will each sell over 100,000 copies without my using social media for marketing or even bringing out ebook editions of the two books. (Book experts who say “print is dead” are either lying or brain dead!) Why would I waste my time giving other people my ideas for free knowing that if I do that, my creative strategies will become so much more ineffective when others are using them too for their books?

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    International Best-Selling Author
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 175,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

  27. Valerie W Stasik says:

    Create an autoresponder email suggesting that answers to questions about self-publishing will likely be found in Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch’s book APE: AUTHOR, PUBLISHER, ENTREPRENEUR–HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK. (I get nothing for recommending this book; I just found it a wealth of information I wish I’d had before I self-published.)

  28. rickbennette says:

    I concur with you. I’ve been honing my skills over the years, not only in writing and publishing, but in video production. I actually get several people a week calling to ask what programs do I use to edit, how to I load my video into my computer, where do I buy my blank disks, what machine do I use to copy tapes to disks? I always try to get them to commit to a time when they can come into my studio for lessons on how to do this. If they’re going to bypass my services and do it themselves, they at least owe me the courtesy of paying for my hard earned knowledge. Yet, they become offended of I refuse to honor the three dollars a superstore will charge them. Forget that three dollar charge is per item in quantities of 100 with no label and no artwork. Yet, they think they’re doing me a favor paying me three bucks to copy a tape to a disk, layout the artwork for the label, print the label, put it in a box and have it ready for shipping in an hour. Please, I want whatever they must be smoking. Unless you’re my family or my long time friend, my services are for hire, not for free.

  29. Pam Stucky (@pamstucky) says:

    Yup, that’s how I learned – a combination of my dear mentor, “Google,” while also running a lot of things by my good friends “Trial” and “Error.” I just got the proof copy of the third book of my series this weekend. I lay the trilogy side by side by side on my table and thought about how much I learned from book one to book three. I learned in part by googling, in part by following smart writerly people on twitter and voraciously reading the brilliant posts they linked to (such as this one), and a huge part by just diving in and giving it a try. I tell people over and over that the writing is the easy part of self-publishing; that if they want to be an indie author they have to understand that as glamorous as being a self-published author may look (haha) it is never-ending tedious discouraging frustrating work and that there are no shortcuts. I love it, but it is work! If a person is looking for shortcuts (which includes getting someone to just tell them how to do it so they can avoid all that pesky “thinking”), they may perhaps want to move along.

  30. froze8 says:

    So true! There are so many great resources out there, authors just need to look!
    I could make a whole list just from the top of my head and I’m not even a writer 😉


  31. SeanR says:

    I did have a bit of a giggle reading this Catherine and I really feel your frustration about these nitwit email queries.In another context, when I used to tutor in college, I’d get something similar from students who were, basically, lazy… endless questions and time given-up and then I’d find my advice was just ignored. You even see similar social behaviours to those you describe in other websites like, where people just ask the most inane questions without any sense of initiative or inquisitiveness to go and search more coherently for guidance. I’d agree that there is something about how some folk ask ‘unfiltered’ or ‘unthinking’ questions and do not seem to think about manners, social boundaries or such. Well done for calling out all these idiots for clogging your email but also well done for making us laugh about never trying to **** you off with idiot emails! Brava!

  32. mandilynnwrites says:

    When I first learned about self-publishing it was through your book because learning off the Internet was too overwhelming. Ow that most of the process has been explained to me finding answers to specific questions are so much easier and I have more faith in my “game plan.”

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