How Self-Published Books Are Made: Start To Finish (PART I)

oldpost

To mark the occasion of my 601st blog post (and I wonder why The Novel isn’t finished yet…), and after seeing that a number of people regularly land on this blog by googling ‘how self-published books are made start to finish’, I’ve decided to do something I’ve been meaning to do for a while: outline a basic master plan for self-publishing.

The internet is awash with posts about specific topics like formatting your e-book or maximizing your Amazon listing or using KDP Select, but there’s very few ‘this is everything that needs to happen and in this order’ posts—and I include my own blog in this. So let’s do it, starting today with Part I.

I should say: this isn’t how I did it (certainly not the first time!), but it’s how I’d do it now were I to get the chance to do it over. It’s how I’d do it now knowing everything I learned through trial and error over the last few years. Please let me what you’d do differently, add/subtract, etc. in the comments below.

drafts26

What You Need To Self-Publish A Book

  • A book that’s ready for the world in a MS Word document
  • Money to invest in said book. I wouldn’t start this without $1,500 in the bank marked ‘I can lose this’
  • An editor/proofreader (a MUST) and a cover designer (optional but preferred) to spend that money on
  • An EIN or an ITIN if you are self-publishing using the companies I mention and living outside the US
  • A thick skin (for the inevitable baaaad reviews)
  • A plan for how you’re going to sell copies of this book, and an idea of who you’ll try to sell it to
  • The professional attitude, energy and drive of a entrepreneur
  • A dose of reality
  • An antidote to anxiety
  • As much coffee as Guatemala produces in a year.

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E-book & Paperback or Just E-book or Just Paperback?

I think there is no point self-publishing these days without self-publishing an e-book, and I think there is no point self-publishing an e-book unless you do it on Amazon’s Kindle store. (Assuming that your goal is to get as many readers as possible and perhaps afford to buy a few ink cartridges or something.) So for my money, not publishing an e-book is not an option.

As for paperbacks, it really depends on the book and the author. I like having a paperback available, and I especially like getting the proof copy of that paperback in the mail. Seeing your book on your Kindle just doesn’t have the same kick. (And what will you put on your shelves?! See photo below.) I waver from this stance from time to time, but if I was pushed, I’d say go paperback. It’s not that much extra work or money, and although e-books are now a very significant part of book sales and increasing all the time, a lot of people (most people?) still don’t read them. Paperbacks are also good for giveaways, review copies, etc. (You can’t giveaway an e-book on Goodreads.) If you’re just starting out and already feeling a little daunted though, try e-book only first and see how you go.

The best advice I can give you on this though is be creative. Think of the e-book like the hardcover: publish it first, then bring the paperback later. (This is a good way to take advantage of KDP Select’s only remaining benefit: compensation for borrows. Release a Kindle only e-book for 90 days, then after that go full distribution and bring out your paperback.) Or release the book in e-book only installments (like I’m doing this year with Travelled) before a full-length paperback. Or make the physical copy a special edition.

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The Clue is in the Term ‘Self-Publishing’

You can’t self-publish by yourself. You need an editor and a cover designer, and you may need some other help at various points along the way. But there shouldn’t be, in my opinion, any middle man between you and that editor, or you and that cover designer. A self-publisher should be the project manager of their own book. You shouldn’t have to pay someone else to do that for you.

‘But I can barely e-mail!’ is something that comes up a lot when I talk to self-publishers. I understand that all this stuff may seem like rocket science to some of you, and an abacus to others. But don’t pay someone else thousands to do the whole shebang for you. Find someone who can e-mail—a family member, a fellow writer, a friend—and get them to help you. That way, you remain in total control and keep costs down. (And it’s really not rocket science. All these services are designed to be used by everyone, and there is plenty of help out there for the tricky bits.)

Read more: Why You Need Some ‘Self’ In Your Self-Publishing

Before We Begin

If you live outside the US, you’re going to need to sort your tax situation out first. You can do it yourself or go to someone like TaxBack.com.

And spare me the groans about red tape and bureaucracy: you’re allowed to sell whatever you damn well want on the largest bookstore in the world. A few forms is a TINY price to pay.

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Who Does What When

I would recommend that you publish your e-books with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and Smashwords, and your POD paperback with CreateSpace, which is also owned by Amazon. This will get your e-books available on every major e-book retailer (Amazon’s Kindle store, Apple’s iBooks, Kobo, Barnes and Noble’s Nook Store, etc.) and your paperback on the US and European Amazon sites, among others. You’ll also be able to download copies of your own e-books which you can e-mail as attachments, if you like, and order copies of your paperback at cost.

All these services are completely free to sign up for. When books are sold, they take a cut and you keep the rest. KDP will give you 70% of your list price if you price your book between $2.99 and $9.99, 35% otherwise. There’s some terms and conditions to this (to say the least!) but that’s generally what you’ll end up with. Smashwords varies, but it’s around 60-80%. If you publish a 220-ish page 5.5 x 8.5 paperback with CreateSpace, it’ll cost you around $3.50 to order a copy of it, and if you sell it for $15 on Amazon.com, you’ll keep around $5 once manufacturing and the retailer’s cut are taken out. (NB: These are all massive generalizations. For specifics, go to the service’s websites.)

Presuming you have both the interior file (i.e. the inside pages) and your cover file (we’ll get to that) ready, between signing up for CreateSpace and seeing your book for sale on Amazon should take about a fortnight, presuming you order a proof copy. (There’s an option to skip the proof copy: please don’t.) Smashwords will publish your book on their website and make it available to buy from there almost immediately, but their ‘Premium Catalogue’ (i.e. other retailers like iBooks and B&N) distribution can take a while. Amazon KDP is twelve hours from pressing the ‘Publish’ button to being for sale in the Kindle store, but in my experience it usually takes less than that.

Impressive, no?

Can People Pre-Order My Book?

Do you know what you just did? You murdered a fairy. MURDERED!*

(And no, they can’t.)

nespresso

Every self-publisher should have one of these

The Process

For e-books, you need:

  • Your book in a MS Word document, formatted a very specific way so that when KDP or Smashwords runs it through their automated conversion software and turns it into an ePub or Mobi file (i.e. actual e-books) it doesn’t read like gobbledegook
  • A front cover image, i.e.a JPEG. Both KDP and Smashwords will give you exact dimensions to adhere to, but the bottom line is make it a big one
  • A blurb, i.e. the text that would normally appear on the back cover of a paperback.

You have some options here. First, you don’t have to commission a cover. I think it’d be better if you did, but if money is tight, you could possibly save some here — but only if you do it right, and don’t turn into one of those parents who thinks their baby is the most beautiful baby that was ever born. And don’t be getting any fanciful ideas. Those cookie cutter covers? Crime black with silver text and a sinister picture? Chick-lit in pink pastels with girly type and shoes? Bodice-rippers with, well, ripped bodices? They’re like that for a reason: so readers can easily identify books that are similar to books they’ve already enjoyed. Study the competition and stick with what works.

KDP recently launched Cover Creator for e-books, which I haven’t used yet myself but if it’s anything like CreateSpace’s Cover Creator, I’d stay clear. (Have you used it?) Template covers are easily identifiable and never cut the mustard. The other downside is that you won’t be able to use it on your Smashwords edition (I’m presuming).

You don’t need an ISBN to publish on KDP and Smashwords will give you a free one. Take it.

Read more: A New, Even Easier Way To Format Your E-book

For POD paperbacks, you need:

  • Your book in a MS Word document, sized to exactly match the dimensions of your chosen trim size (i.e. the length and width of the pages of your book) and formatted to reflect how you want it printed. (You can collect a correctly sized template from CreateSpace before you start.)
  • A full paperback cover. CreateSpace will generate a cover template for you once you plug in your trim size and page count that you can send off to your cover designer. Alternatively you can use their Cover Creator software but for the love of fudge, please don’t. None of them resemble real books.
  • A blurb to pop in your product description.

A few things here: you need to create your MS Word interior document BEFORE you start thinking about the cover, even if it’s just a quick mock-up. The reason is that the cover designer needs the template, and the template needs to include the spine, and the spine size is calculated based on how many pages you plan on using. Trust me when I say that a guesstimate is not sufficient. You must mock-up the interior of your book. Remember you’ll have front matter, end matter and start each new chapter or section on a right-hand/odd-numbered page. When you add this, and add headers and footers, change your font size, change your paragraph settings, etc., it changes the page count. And if you end up with 10 or more pages more than you planned on, in my experience, your insides won’t fit your outsides. The cover will be rejected by CreateSpace for being the wrong size. So FIRST, mock-up your interior document to get the page count. THEN start work on the cover.

CreateSpace will give you a free ISBN. (Say it with me now…) Take it. If there’s a free ISBN on offer, put your paws on it and say ‘Thank you.’ You lose nothing by doing this but you gain cash, i.e. what you would’ve spent buying your own ISBN. So WHAT if CreateSpace (or Smashwords) are the publisher of record of your book? Do you think readers pay a tack of attention to who published a book? Don’t even worry about it.

They will also put a barcode on your book. Neither you nor your cover designer needs to worry about that. (It goes on during the publishing process and the template will have a space marked off for it.)

Yes, shipping books to yourself from CreateSpace gets really expensive outside the US. But why are you thinking about this? Aside from maybe one box of books for yourself, friends, family and perhaps even a little party you’re throwing yourself, why would you need books? We’re doing this so people can buy our books online while we sit back and relax. If you do need a lot of stock (because you’re braving bookstores, or you do seminars or something) publish your paperback with CreateSpace for online sales and then find a book printer in your area or city or region who’ll print physical copies for you to sell.

Read more: How To Make a Real BookProofing Your CreateSpace paperback.

No Humans Were Used In The Self-Publishing Of This E-book

A while back I read a blog post (written by someone who I thought would know better—he was a journalist, and had been traditionally published) that detailed one newbie self-publisher’s many phone calls to CreateSpace as he published his book. And all I could think was, ‘What the fudge are you calling CreateSpace for?!’

That, and how it reminded me of a situation I was in a few years back, when I was working for someone who, having spotted a Facebook status written by a college student that said something nasty (but utterly true) about our company, got me to type and print and send a letter threatening the sending of a solicitor’s letter to Facebook HQ.

This entire process is automated. Humans may be involved from time to time, but only in the shadowy background, or perhaps through a support e-mail if all comes to all. You don’t submit your manuscript to Amazon, you just upload a file. And Amazon don’t accept your book for publication, their software program publishes it. It’s like booking a flight online versus walking into your travel agent and taking a seat at his or her desk. This is the first one. No humans involved.

And they don’t need to be involved. Smashwords has an entire e-book you can download for free that tells you everything you need to know. CreateSpace is one of the simplest websites to use, KDP comes a close second and they both have extensive help and support pages, and community forums. Plus, there’s this:

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It’s taught me everything I know.

(If you really need help though, eBookPartnership are great for all things e-books, and The Book Designer has a great and affordable range of POD interior templates.)

Join me next week for Part II…

Also, I wrote this.

*Every time a self-published author wonders aloud if readers will be able to pre-order their book, a fairy dies. FACT. 

***READ PART II OF THIS POST HERE***

76 thoughts on “How Self-Published Books Are Made: Start To Finish (PART I)

  1. Ellie Stevenson says:

    Lovely post, Catherine, very useful! Although I think if I’d read this before I started, I might have been overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks involved…

    I did get my own ISBNs and I’m glad I did. It didn’t cost that much, and for me it was part of the branding. It also meant the books were registered with Nielsen Book Data.

  2. The Irish Wench says:

    WOW! So helpful! Publishing my first book in July and thankfully I got a lot of these steps kinda sorta in order. It’s great to see someone actually write it up this way as sort of a checklist. Going to make sure I go over this a few more times and save it for future reference! Thank you for sharing!

  3. Ellie Stevenson says:

    Lovely post, Catherine, very useful! Although I think if I’d read this before I started, I might have been overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks involved… I did get my own ISBNs and I’m glad I did. For me it was part of the branding and it didn’t cost very much. It also meant the books were registered with Nielsen Book Data.

  4. lizjasper says:

    Great post. I’m sending it to my author friends who are newer to the self-pub business. This is a great summary of what I tell them. So great to be able to say, “Here, make sure you read this. It will answer 80% of your questions.” Thanks for doing this for others. 🙂

  5. glitterwriter says:

    I’m bookmarking this post for future reference when I’m ready to publish my book. Thanks for compiling this useful self-publishing information.
    I’m also tweeting this.
    I love your blog!
    MJ

  6. maggisummerhill says:

    Catherine,
    What a fab post, I think you have covered everything about the self publishing and managed to make it sound utterly doable while admitting it takes some organizing for the not so tech savvy.
    Wish you had published it three weeks ago! I was getting ready to self-publish for the first time and already at reading the instructions for formatting on Amazon Kindle direct publishing I was almost in tears. I somehow go through it and The Girl From Limerick is now available on Kindle and it is part of the KDP program. As you said I have planned to publish on smashwords after the exclusive with Amazon ends. I thought Mark Coker’s free guide called Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success was a good follow on from your post; dealing more with achieving sales than the actual publishing?
    Thanks again for a great post 🙂

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Mark’s guide is great and I would definitely recommend a good thorough read of it with a notebook and a pen to hand!

      I will be doing more parts to this post as well and one of them will cover selling.

  7. mojitomaven says:

    This is AWESOME! My question is, how much self-promotion (blog tours, giveaways, etc.) do you do? This is the part that seems the most daunting–> getting people to review your book without making yourself crazy.

  8. barry knister says:

    Catherine–
    What a wonderfully useful AND generous post! From your realism about having money set aside, to urging release of an ebook before a print edition, everything here is a must-read for writers. Thank you.
    Barry Knister

  9. A Writer Inspired says:

    Impeccable timing Catherine! This information is so often referred to but no one talks about it in explicit terms. I like that you just put it out there and were honest about the money involved. It costs money to sell your art. I don’t think enough people think about what that means. I will be linking to this post. It’s something that anyone who’s still in the beginning stages should print out and tape on the wall or leave on your desktop.

  10. John Pearce says:

    LightningSource now prints in Europe and Australia as well as in the United States, all from the same account, thus reducing the international postage costs to the tolerable level. I used it for my novel Treasure of Saint-Lazare and found the paper quality to be a touch higher than the CreateSpace books I’ve seen. Your mileage may vary.

  11. Parlor of Horror says:

    I know people are not going to take the book cover designer part too serious, or wait until the last minute and throw something together. I forgot where I read it but they did a study and even people that claim, “they do not judge a book by its cover,” do just that!

  12. katemsparkes says:

    Great post, I look forward to reading the rest of the series! I’m off now to see what you have to say about the publishing-from-outside-the-States thing (I’m in Canada). So glad I found your blog. 🙂

  13. Elle Knowles says:

    Yes, this is good stuff and like you, if I could get to writing on the sequel to Crossing The Line, I could finish it! Your posts are always so interesting though and full of good advice! lol

  14. Lene says:

    Great tips and all so very, very true. I published my e-book first and the paperback three months later and was thinking of doing the next one with the two versions simultaneously. You’ve given me some food for thought, though.

    One note re: ISBNs. if you’re in Canada, the Canadian ISBN Service System will give you ISBNs for free. It’s a really easy system — once you’ve completed the sign-up process, you manage everything yourself. And did I mention it’s free?

  15. butimbeautiful says:

    That’s really comprehensive. I wish I’d thought of all that. Mind you, I’m tight – I didn’t spend anything on my e-book, and it shows! Well done, anyway – it’s all very good advice!

  16. rosedandrea says:

    Reblogged this on Rose's Road and commented:
    It’s been a busy day, and my brain is fried. So I thought I would give you guys a reprieve from my ramblings and reblog something from one of my favorite self-publishing gurus.
    Enjoy! 🙂

  17. Jean Gill says:

    Great post! I’ve self-published 11 books and previously been published every-which-way but bestselling (yet) and I agree with everything you say but do a couple of things differently.

    A fellow-writer publishes e-book first then print as he can then make any small changes (not the big edit!) so print is perfect. I like the idea but for me, print is the shop window so I do print first, goodreads launch, on the shelf at local bookshop etc etc I didn’t know that KDP ‘borrows’ were affected by a print version being out so I might re-think for the next book (depending on the system)

    I use lulu rather than CreateSpace and am happy with the service – amazingly quick turn-around on printing and delivering books to North America/UK or France (where I live) They offer free ISBN (which I use – and I agree with you about the name lulu not mattering) and they market books on amazon. Free to create, they take their cut on purchase.

    You mention a budget for producing the book but a more open-ended question is what budget (money AND time) you put aside for marketing the book. On this, I still have no idea and am experimenting with as little as possible for money and time where I enjoy spending it most!

  18. barry knister says:

    Catherine–
    When you publish the second installment of this really valuable discussion, I hope you’ll bring your real-world approach to online marketing. In the end, there’s just so much time, both for learning how to use it, and then using it. When my second novel (Just Bill) was published, I blogged away, but no one visited the site. I used Onlywire.com but still no one visited. I’ve come to think Twitter–if I knew how to use it–might be the most likely to deliver results. I’ve just released a new mystery–The Anything Goes Girl–and will “sit at your knee” on any topic you choose to take up. Thanks again.

  19. laurie27wsmith says:

    Thanks for a great post Catherine, it cuts right to the chase on formatting. Also thank you for your generosity in supplying a pdf download.
    Laurie.

  20. SJ Griffin says:

    Reblogged this on adventures with the vanguard and commented:
    This is really, really useful and so well put I’m just going to reblog it. I read Catherine’s book on self-printing and would really, really recommend anyone interested in getting published, however you want to do it, to do the same. I’ll reblog part 2 in a moment.

  21. radford46 says:

    HELP! The buggers at Amazon are demanding an ITIN number when I’ve already supplied them with an EIN. Surely I don’t need both.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Judging by all these other comments, an EIN should do. I did know someone who submitted it and they never received the W8, so they were still looking for it from her, so maybe you need to resend. As we’ve established above, the only practical difference is than while an EIN is perfect for going forward, you need an ITIN if you’re looking for a refund of money withheld already, but you’d get that back from the IRS…?

  22. daveynorthcott says:

    Great post, thanks. Having just self-published my first ebook I understand the enormity of the task. Huge task, but hugely satisfying too! It’s good to see that you recommend submitting the ebook directly in word. That was my final decision, too, though only after I had painstakingly converted the whole thing to HTML first! Rookie mistake! DON’T DO THIS, 1st TIME SELF PUBLISHERS, it’s not necessary! :S I designed my own cover, too, which has got a lot of good feedback. I did it using hand drawn images and text, scanned in and reworked on photoshop. Another touch that, though it is more work, if done with continual consultation (via facebook and other social media where many helpful folk voted and left comments on countless drafts) is well worth the work. You can see the cover here: smarturl.it/daveynorthcott
    Thanks for the helpful post, anyway 🙂

  23. Sharyn says:

    Hey Catherine, this is deadly! I am nearing the end of my self-publishing-my-first-book journey and I am horsing your book AND your site into me!! If you have time, can you please explain how to do this bit?! I’m not sure how to do the ole mock-up!

    A few things here: you need to create your MS Word interior document BEFORE you start thinking about the cover, even if it’s just a quick mock-up. The reason is that the cover designer needs the template, and the template needs to include the spine, and the spine size is calculated based on how many pages you plan on using. Trust me when I say that a guesstimate is not sufficient. You must mock-up the interior of your book. Remember you’ll have front matter, end matter and start each new chapter or section on a right-hand/odd-numbered page. When you add this, and add headers and footers, change your font size, change your paragraph settings, etc., it changes the page count. And if you end up with 10 or more pages more than you planned on, in my experience, your insides won’t fit your outsides. The cover will be rejected by CreateSpace for being the wrong size. So FIRST, mock-up your interior document to get the page count. THEN start work on the cover.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      All this means is to make a messy version of the inside of your book so you’ll know how many pages the finished product will be. Download a MS Word template from CreateSpace in your chosen trim size, chuck all your manuscript text into it, start each chapter on a new page, add a few pages to the start (for title, about the author, etc.) and a few to the end, and then see how many pages you have to get a rough estimate of how many pages you’ll have when you’ve formatting everything nicely. Alternatively you can make the interior at this stage and then you’ll know exactly how many pages will be in your book.

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