Self-Publishing: Do It Your Way

‘Tis the season of hand-picked guest posts that will hopefully keep you entertained while I sand down my fingerprints finishing my novel at a clip of 3,000 words per day when it’s going good and 3,000 extra calories consumed when it’s not. There was a fantastic reaction to Pat Fitzpatrick’s guest post last week on the 3 things he wishes he’d known before he self-published, so I hope there’ll be just as much enthusiasm for today’s: Dan Holloway’s Do It Your Way. (I’m sure there will be.) Take it away, Dan… 

“Do it yourself. That’s what self-publishing is all about. Isn’t it? I don’t mean that you literally have to stand over the press as your printed pages speed off it, or that you should be frantically coding away as your Word document morphs into something fir for Kindle. Or even that those artistic ignorami among us should slave away with paints and Photoshop to create our own covers. What I mean is that, like a ghost in the machine, a puppet master pulling the leavers, a legion of tired metaphors searching for somewhere to lay their head, in control of the whole thing is you.

And yet the more I look around a self-publishing universe expanding faster than the Hubble constant should permit the less I see it.


It’s something symptomatic of our age. The three key letters in all of this are “you” – the three letters I don’t think I’ve seen really properly considered on more posts than I could count on a pair of mittens. We live in a society that is focused more than ever before on the individual. And yet we have less of a concept of individuality than, well, than is sufficient to satisfy me in any way, shape or form at any rate.

Let me explain.

As a digital society, we are bombarded with ways to be unique, to express ourselves, to be quirky and individual – Instagram being the paradigm. And we are bombarded with websites like Buzzfeed that extol the virtue of individuality. It is no surprise that self-publishing, especially digital self-publishing, is booming at a time when other forms of self-expression are frotting each other so vigorously in the cultural air.

But the closer you look, the more you see that the “self” involved in all this, the “you”, the “individual” doesn’t actually mean anything. It stands simply for “agency”, a force as impersonal as gravity or electromagnetism (perhaps the third force in any twenty first century’s Grand Unified Theory). It means simply the process of pressing the relevant button. We live in a world that has created a myriad ways for us to proclaim our individuality by performing an action a million other people are also performing.

The “you” of “do it yourself” has been lost to the extent that the “you” who self-publishes, if you believe many of the blogs and articles and media coverage, is simply the action of pulling together a set of discrete tasks (editing, design, formatting, distribution) and pressing buttons. In other words the “you” who self-publishes is so much a completely different entity from the “you” who writes, it would be a category error to compare the two.

We still see lip service paid to the wonder of a writer’s voice, to the thing that makes their words unique, gives their vision a singular power to move readers in ways nothing else can do. And yet this ocean of dazzling difference is, we are told, to be delivered with utter homogeneity.

We have lost a beautiful truth – that there are as many ways to make a book as there are to tell a story. Of course I know that if we write a certain kind of thriller people will expect a certain kind of cover, and that if we write a certain kind of poetry people will expect a certain kind of mysterious use of line breaks. I’m not suggesting you write the 17th edition in your erotica series in alphabetti spaghetti on the floor of the local bus station (though now I’ve said that I really want to). I know there are practicalities to think about.


But those practicalities shouldn’t close your mind off to your wonderful creative individuality. Even if you absolutely, positively have to present your book in a certain way (say, it’s the 6th in a very successful series about what goes on behind closed doors at a cupcake store) – there’s nothing to stop you baking cupcakes for your book launch, and putting a picture of your cover on the bottom of the casings. Likewise I have a friend who knits and sells characters from her stories ( Or you can make special editions. Richard Pierce recently created a limited edition of five beautiful artisan bound copies of his erotica novel The Failed Assassin, thus enabling himself to fulfil genre expectations with the ebook and let his creativity fly with the limited edition.

Perhaps the most exciting form of expressive self-publishing is when form and content collide in a perfect storm. Two wonderful examples of this are Rohan Quine’s The Imagination Thief, an ebook that links to video and audio material, not only immersing us in the surreal trance-like world of the novel but fully utilising Rohan’s skills as a professional actor, and Lucy Furlong’s Amniotic City, a psychogeographical poetry map of hidden feminine imagery in the heart of London.


Even a very cursory search of Amazon will reveal a whole plethora of books about making books – books about binding, about folding, about decoupage and collage. There are numerous ways to learn the crafts that will then allow you to create books that express what it is that makes you you, and that is one of the most truly exciting things about self-publishing. Most of all, always remember the three most important letters in do it yourself – “you” and never let people tell you “that’s a silly way to make a book.” There are so few writers who stand out in the self-publishing world, and the sad fact is that this is by and large because so many of them try to blend in – what kind of way is that to stick in a reader’s mind?

About Dan:

Dan Holloway‘s Self-publish With Integrity: Define Success in Your Own Terms and then Achieve it is now available for Kindle. The book, which includes chapters on community building, handling self-doubt and never being afraid to be yourself, is intended as a guide to help self-publishing writers discover, and then stay true to, their fundamental writing goals, helping them steer a path through the maze of how to guides, helpful advice, and other obstacles that beset them at every stage of their writing life so that achieve long-term happiness and success on the only terms that count: their own.

26 thoughts on “Self-Publishing: Do It Your Way

  1. danholloway says:

    Catherine, thank you so much for having me and I look forward to answering any and all comments. If anyone is wondering who did the work on Richard’s beautifull-bound limited editions, they are from Immaginacija (, run by Lucie Forejtova, who hand binds journals and limited editions in our local bookstore.

    • bountifulbaroness says:

      Thank you for taking the time to re-encourage the individual. We do live in a media driven world that often creates a facade of individuality under the guise of continual re-creation. New to the blogging world and publishing, I find myself at a crossroads in terms of what to publish and how. With myriad avenues and roads to travel, sometimes I find myself at a loss for direction … and in turn, end up losing what I really want to say and do. This brief encouragement was a great start to my day, cheers!

      • danholloway says:

        Knowing exactly what it is you want to say, and keeping that right at the forefront of everything you do is the key. The world of blogging and self-publishing is full of so many beautiful shiny distractions it’s so easy to become a magpie and try a bit of this and a bit of that because it’s great fun and everyone’s telling you to – but the key to being happy as a writer is to stick to what mattered to you when you first set out.

  2. aliveatnight says:

    I’m currently working on my first book, and while I’ve been writing it I’ve been trying to learn different publishing methods for the future. This was an interesting article. Thank you for writing it!

  3. Rohan Quine says:

    I’m grateful to Catherine for writing two posts in particular, of which I’ve been carrying a very analogue and well-thumbed print-out in my bag for the last few months, namely (which is reassuringly practical) and (which is full of great advice about marketing and therefore fills me with UTTER horror but is of course morally most improving…).

    And I continue to be both floored and warmed by the unique presence and voice of Dan in the land: quite aside from his mysterious ubiquity and own rich literary output (whose unusual variety can be seen at, I believe his tireless drive to return our attentions to the artistic and self-expressive heart of this brave new publishing world has conferred on him the weighty crown of Nascent National Treasure, which he wears with flair and aplomb. And he’s dead-right that that heart of that endeavour is you, in all your messy and beautiful glory!

  4. sessha batto says:

    I have toyed with the idea of special editions . . . but hesitate to devote the time necessary as it would come from the time I spend writing. Such a conundrum! That and the utter lack of interest by the public would make it even more self-indulgent than my writing already is. One day, perhaps 😉

  5. Kathy Steinemann says:

    Thanks, Dan.

    “We have lost a beautiful truth – that there are as many ways to make a book as there are to tell a story.”

    I agree. Sometimes “show” doesn’t fit the situation and we have to “tell”. Sometimes an adverb is necessary. We need to unshackle our imaginations and write what is right for our unique voice.

    • danholloway says:

      it’s so easy to let our imaginations get shackled though by looking at what everyone else is doing – which is so important in order for us to learn, but we need to be so careful

  6. Katy Gilmore says:

    Thank you for this guest post to both Dan Holloway and Catherine! So enjoyable to read the discussion of handmade books and their ability to reflect content in some imaginative way – not something usually found in the same paragraph as self-published – but of course those books are both self-published and ever so individual. The ideas here really suggest possibilities – thank you! And good luck Catherine with your 3K words a day!

    • danholloway says:

      It’s funny, isn’t it, that we don’t think of self-publishing and handmade books together when they were the original form of self-publishing, and even in modern times the world of zines has produced some of the most brilliant and original literature we have

  7. Michelle MillerAllen says:

    I love your article, Dan. I believe your point is a seriously important one and something we need to keep in mind in our ad-ventures into self publishing, ebooks, kindle, etc. There is a lot that got lost along the way in mainstream/traditional publishing…which self-publishing would seek to rectify…let us not let the cure become just another poison…I will keep a copy of this article to reread from time to time, it is a true courage source and very wise. Best wishes everyone!

  8. barryknister says:

    Thanks for this useful post. The best take-away for me is the suggestion about reading in Kindle. That really would be a great way to bring sanity to rewrites.

  9. Kristen Steele says:

    Because of the ease of entry there are so many self-published authors today that you do need to go the extra mile to stand out. When you self-publish everything is up to you. If you want to stand out you need to work your creativity in a different way than when you wrote the book.

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