1. Brief history of self-publishing
For most of publishing history, if an author wanted to publish himself, he had to invest thousands of dollars in so-called “vanity” presses or become an independent small publisher.
That all changed in the late 1990s with the advent of print-on-demand (POD) technology, which allows you to print books one at a time. As a result, many POD publishing services have sprung up that provide authors with low-cost self-publishing packages. They could be low-cost because—without print runs, inventory, and warehousing—there was only one cost involved in creating and designing the product itself: the book. How to self-publish a book?
What’s Changed: The shift to online retail and e-books (namely, the rise of Amazon)
Just as traditional publishing has changed with the rise of e-books, today’s self-publishing market has also changed. Most article publishing authors make most of their money selling e-books. What’s more, more than 80 percent of all e-book sales in the US come from a single Amazon online store. Anyone can make their e-book and print book available for sale on the most important marketplace, Amazon, without paying a single cent upfront.
This means that full-service POD firms (like AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Xlibris, etc.) that used to be killers are now largely out of touch with most self-publishing successes, even if you find their ads in Google search results for “I am a publisher.” Don’t be tempted; deal with your options below first.
2. The most common self-publishing methods today. How to self-publish a book?
In today’s market, there are several ways to self-publish.
Publish your book yourself, hiring only the freelance help you need, and work directly with retailers and distributors to sell your book.
Self-publishing by paying a service company for help.
Working with a “hybrid” publisher.
This post details how to self-publish content while maintaining 100% publisher control and profit. Before I explore this process in detail, here is an explanation of the other options you have. (You can also watch the 20-minute video below that shows these choices and more).
Self-publishing by hiring a service company
This is what I call the “write a check and get rid of the headache” self-publishing method. If you have more money than time and are not interested in writing full time, this may best suit your needs. How to self-publish a book?
Service packages and publishing arrangements are extremely varied, but the best services charge you up front, take no rights to your work, and go for 100% net sales to the author. They make their money by charging authors for the services they provide (editorial, design, marketing, etc.) and not by selling copies. Such books will almost never be sold in regular retail bookstores, although in some rare cases this may happen. Most publishing support services come in different packages or service levels, while others offer custom pricing based on the specific needs of your project.
The advantage is that you get a published book without having to dig into the details of the publishing industry or find freelance professionals you can trust. The best and most expensive services (which can easily exceed $20,000) offer quality comparable to working with a traditional publisher. You should avoid companies that take advantage of authors’ inexperience and use high-pressure sales tactics such as AuthorSolutions (AuthorHouse, iUniverse, WestBow, Archway) imprints.
Publication through a “hybrid” company
Some self-publishing (or assisted publishing) services have started calling themselves “hybrid publishers” because it sounds more innovative or desirable. The fees vary greatly, and the quality changes dramatically. You must research carefully.
As with self-publishing service companies, you will finance the publication of the book in exchange for the experience and help of the publisher; the cost is often in the thousands of dollars. You may receive higher royalties than with a traditional publishing contract, but you will earn less than with self-publishing. Each hybrid publisher has its own distinctive costs and business model; always make a clear contract with an explanation of all fees.
3. Self-Publishing: The DIY Approach I Recommend
One day, anyone can access the same level of online retail distribution as a traditional publisher, for both print and e-books, through services such as Amazon KDP, Draft2Digital and IngramSpark. In this post, I will explain how and when to use these services.
You don’t “pay” for these services until your books start selling. Every time a copy of your book is sold, the retailer takes a cut, and if you use a distributor, they get a cut too.
You, as the author, manage the publishing process and hire the right people or services to edit, design, publish, and distribute your book. At each stage of the journey, you decide which distributors or retailers you prefer to deal with. You retain full control over all artistic and business decisions; you retain all profits and rights.
Self-publishing means making decisions about the editorial, design, and production quality of your book.
What follows is an explanation of how to self-publish when you have a final, polished manuscript and/or files ready for printing. How to self-publish a book?
Some distributors offer paid editing, design, and marketing services. These packaged services may suit your needs, but I think it’s best to hire your own freelancers and always know who you’re working with. Alternatively, you can take a look at Joel Friedlander’s book template system, which offers newbies the ability to prepare e-books and printable book files that are ready for distribution and sale.
Creation of an official publishing company
You don’t have to set up a formal business (for example, in the United States, you can use your Social Security number for tax purposes), but serious publishers will, at the very least, usually form an LLC. How to self-publish a book?
4. How eBook Self Publishing Services Work
The first and most important thing to understand about e-book retailers and distributors is that they are not publishers. This means that they are not responsible for the quality of your work, but they do not take any rights to your work. Here are the characteristics of the main services:
Play for free. You rarely pay up front. When you pay upfront, usually in the case of a distributor, you must earn 100% net. If you don’t pay up front, expect a percentage of your sales to be kept. How to self-publish a book?
Arbitrary and non-exclusive. You can upload your work at any time and put it up for sale; you can also withdraw it at any time. You can download new versions; change the price, cover and description; and you can sell your work through several services or through your own website.
Little technical experience required. The core services offer automated tools for converting your files, uploading files, and listing your work for sale, as well as free guides and tutorials to help ensure that your files are properly formatted.
Again, it is important to emphasize that by using these services, you do not lose any rights to the work. If a traditional publisher or agent contacts you after your eBook goes on sale, you can sell the rights without any obligation to the services you used.
Most e-publishing services fall into one of the following categories:
Retailers of e-books. Nearly all e-book retailers offer to distribute and sell self-published e-books through their storefronts or devices and then receive a sales rebate. The largest and most important of these is Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. E-book retailers offer no practical assistance in preparing e-book files, although they may accept a wide variety of file types for download or conversion. How to self-publish a book?
Electronic Book Distributors. These services primarily act as intermediaries and market your work to a variety of retailers and distributors. This helps reduce the amount of work the author has to do; instead of dealing with many different single-channel services, you are dealing with only one service. The most popular e-book distributors in the US are Draft2Digital and Smashwords.
Book builders and distributors. These are tools that allow you to create and distribute your work from a single interface. They are most commonly used for children’s and well-illustrated books such as Kindle Kids’ Book Creator or Blurb.
One popular indie approach is to sell and distribute directly through Amazon KDP and then use a distributor to whom like Draft2Digital, to reach everyone else. Since none of these services require exclusivity, it is possible.
A note about ISBNs: Although an ISBN is not required for basic eBook distribution through most retailers, some distributors and services require one. Therefore, for maximum distribution, you will need an ISBN for your e-book. Some self-publishing services will provide you with an ISBN, or you can get your own ISBN.
How much do e-book retailers pay. How to self-publish a book?
The fee is determined by the price you set for the eBook. Amazon offers the least favorable terms and penalizes you for exceeding prices outside of the $2.99 to $9.99 range. B&N (Nook) and Apple pay 70 percent across the board. Kobo has the best discount up to $2.99.
How to independently publish a book?
5. Create e-book files. How to self-publish a book?
Most major e-book retailers and distributors will accept a Word document and automatically convert it to e-book format, but for the best results, you’ll still have to go through the “unformatting” process. All major services offer step-by-step instructions for formatting Word documents before uploading them for conversion.
The main e-book formats you will hear about are:
EPUB. This is considered the global standard format for e-books and works seamlessly on most devices. You can use it on Amazon and almost any seller or distributor.
MOBI. This used to be the standard file format for the Kindle, but they have dropped it as the preferred format. No more preparation.
PDF. PDF files can be difficult to convert to standard e-book formats. This is not a recommended starting point for converting eBooks.
There is a difference between formatting and converting book files. Conversion refers to the automatic process of converting files from one format to another without editing or styling. Often files are easy to convert, but the resulting file can look unprofessional – or even unreadable – if not properly formatted.
Useful tools for formatting and converting eBooks include:
Caliber: Free software that converts and helps format e-book files from over a dozen different file types.
Vellum: popular e-book formatting software for Mac users
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the idea of converting and formatting your own ebook files, then you can use a distributor or a customer service oriented service for that matter like Draft2Digital. If your eBook has specific layout requirements, heavy illustrations, or multimedia components, you should probably hire an independent company to help you (eBookPartnership is one option).
But if your book is mostly plain text, such as novels and narratives, then you can easily go through the conversion and formatting process if you start with a Word document.
Create a cover for an e-book. How to self-publish a book?
There are a number of special considerations when it comes to ebook cover design. People can see your cover in black and white, grayscale, color, high resolution, low resolution, reduced size, or full size. It should be readable at any size and look good on low-quality or mobile devices. For these reasons (and many more), it’s best to hire a professional to design your ebook cover.
E-books are not suitable for some categories
While eBooks are the best-selling format for self-publishing authors (especially fiction), ask the following questions before you get started:
Is your book well illustrated? Is color needed? If this is the case, you may run into serious problems when creating and distributing your e-book on multiple platforms.
Your book for children? The adoption of e-books in the children’s market is in single digits, in contrast to the adult market. E-book-only work will struggle to catch on.