Colin Dunbar

Self Publish a Book: The Snap-Shot Guide



Millions of writers take the plunge to self-publish a book every year and while most people will not skyrocket to literary fame, success stories like E.L. James and her wildly successful 50 Shades of Grey and the crazy-popular Elf on the Shelf empire prove that it can be done and it can be done right.

So first, the good news: Self-publishing your book will likely be one of the easiest things you have ever done. The bad news? Getting your book out there, visible and successful can be quite the challenge.

Self-Publishing a Book Can be Done

It IS a journey… but it is a journey worth taking if you know your manuscript is really special and you have had no success with traditional publishers – certainly nothing to be ashamed of in a competitive market. Rejection, after all, just comes with the territory.

Maybe you’ve just started your research online, or perhaps you’re quite a way with your research. There certainly is a load of information available on how to self-publish a book.

For various reasons, I’m an advocate for self-publishing online. And in this chapter that is mainly what I talk about.

To help you save time and hassles, grab a free copy of The Ultimate Self-Publishing Checklist.

Whether you are absolutely sure you are ready to self publish a book or you are just considering your options, this helpful checklist will get you on your way to knowing what to expect, how to produce a product you can be happy with and how to become your own marketing advocate for your work. Ready? Ok… Let’s get started.

Where to Begin

Have a clear goal for your book. This will help dictate what service you go with. For instance, if your objective is to create a book for posterity’s sake (so your friends and family can read it for all eternity), you won’t have to invest a lot of time or money to produce something that’s quite acceptable.

David Carnoy [11]

Your first decision is whether you want to self-publish your book offline or online. Either way, do your homework and familiarize yourself of how each of these work, and what the pros and cons are.

A good thing begins with research. Finding a self-publishing company or service is no different. Do your homework, paying careful attention to what the publisher provides, how the book is created, what some of their final results have looked like and what the total cost will be. If you get a great deal and your book lands in your basement… it does you no good. From here you will need to make a decision based on all of these factors. This is perhaps the most difficult step in self-publishing – deciding who is best for you and your book. With so many options, taking the time to really do your research can save you a world of hurt in the long run.

Avoiding Scams

One of the drawbacks of having a low barrier of entry into a suddenly hot market is that now everybody and their brother and sister is an author. That means you’re dealing with a ton of competition, some of which is made up of hustlers, charlatans, and a bunch of people in between.

David Carnoy [11]

Unfortunately, vanity publishing houses have gotten a bad rap over the years due to a few bad seeds. There will always be these kinds of institutions in publishing where scammers prey on writers who are eager to get published. This is where the BBB can be your friend as well as other writers with experience with the publisher you are looking into. Predators and Editors is a great place to see what houses have gained a lackluster reputation and so are online writer’s circles who can help you to know a house behind the scenes… not just what they portray on their web page.

Online VS Offline Publishing

Self-publishing offline can be expensive. On the other hand, online self-publishing is almost free and much more lucrative for self-published authors in many instances. Not only do sites and apps like Amazon place your book closer to your audience but the convenience associated with this option is also unmatched – it is cheaper, more current and more readily available to a mass audience. You can actually order your books online, and then distribute these offline (keep in mind that this will have extra cost and time associated with going this route).

What You Need to Self-Publish Offline

First and foremost, you will need funds. This is usually anywhere from $500 to $5,000 depending on your publishing package. After this, you will need to order physical copies of your book. A graphic designer is also something you will want to consider. Some self-publishing companies have one on staff… but you are almost always better off hiring one of your own. This allows you to pick someone whose style and work you admire instead of being stuck with designs you hate in the future.

What You Need to Self-Publish Online

As David Carnoy says, “The key to these companies is that books are printed only when someone orders a copy; neither author nor publisher is forced into buying a bunch of books and to hawk them.” [11]

You can get away with spending a lot less money when you publish online. You will not be shelling out large sums of cash for a self-publishing package in this case but you should definitely invest in editing and cover design which can set your book apart. You also do not want to become that unfortunate self-published author whose funny typo of the word “shift” makes it to the front pages of the Huffington Post. Considering that uploading Word and PDF files to Kindle, Smashwords and KDP Print are free… this makes ponying up the funds for these professional services much easier. Other online publishers are available at the end of this article.

Prepping Your Book for Press

When you choose to self-publish a book, one of the benefits you don’t have is that of having an in-house editor. The most likely scenario is that you will be your own editor. If you do not plan on hiring someone to look over your book for errors, you need to. If this is not an option, you will need to weed through the book with a fine toothed comb yourself. Some writers find reading the book backwards helps them to stop seeing their book as their own words and more like a grammar assignment that needs correcting. If you cannot afford an editor, consider hiring a student or an English teacher to do the task. You should also re-examine the book even after your editor is finished to ensure you are happy with any changes.

Interior Book Design or Formatting

This is another benefit you won’t have when you self publish your book. But, the good news is that it’s nothing to panic about. You can do everything yourself. With your book written and edited, you will need to format your manuscript according to the requirements of the online publishers. This is really nothing complex, and you can format your Word file, and submit it to Kindle, Smashwords or KDP Print. The requirements for these online publishers are available on their sites (links are available at the end of this article).

The Non-Negotiables of Self Publishing

To self-publish a book, it’s obvious to first and foremost have a QUALITY book.

A tiny fraction become monster success stories, but every few months, you’ll hear about someone hitting it big (for those who don’t know already the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy was initially self-published.

David Carnoy [11]

Simply put, the non-negotiables are … A good manuscript, an edited book, professional book cover design and interior layout. If you have these four things you can conquer the world – or at least the process of creating a great book. You will want to be sure your format is on point and that you present a book you would read without being annoyed by lackluster designs and bogus, faulty edits. Even today, the quality of self-published books is not of the highest standard.

Helpful Hint: No crazy fonts or formats please. Study books by Thomas Nelson, Random House and other large traditional publishers and you will see how truly simplistic a good book is in this instance. Keep it simple. Over complicated fonts and interior formats come across amateur. You can also find a self-publishing checklist here to be sure you are ready for uploading.

There are a number of special considerations for e-book covers, not least of which is how little control you have over how the cover displays. People may see your cover in black and white, grayscale, color, high-resolution, low-resolution, thumbnail size, or full size. It needs to be readable at all sizes and look good on low-quality or mobile devices. For these reasons (and many more), it’s best to hire a professional to create an e-book cover for you.


Marketing, Platform and Visibility

To self-publish a book (or even publish a book following the traditional route) is not only the writing, formatting and uploading. That’s actually the easy stuff. I would be lying to you if I didn’t tell you that the promotion and selling of your book is where the hard work begins (and continues).

Heed this advice from author Heather Shumaker, “I tried to do everything when I first started. That resulted in feeling that promotion was a big, black hole. No matter how much of my life and time I poured in, there was always more that could be done. I wasn’t writing. Promotion drained me.” [13]

Obscurity is what most writers think they are signing up for when they write their first book and in the days of classic literature, this may have been true but today’s writer must be visible, present and always growing their platform. No excuses. This is especially imperative if you decide to self-publish.

You’ve no doubt heard or read about an author platform. A platform, in a nutshell, is your visibility to your audience, tribe, and fans. If you don’t have people who know you and your book, you won’t sell a single copy. Urgh. You may sell a copy to your mom. Someone once said that the biggest threat for an author is not piracy, but obscurity.

Some ideas to build your author platform are:

The author platform is almost as important to a self-publisher as writing a flawless manuscript. Without a platform in a highly competitive industry, even a great book idea and an amazing manuscript can end up in the junk pile.

Seth Godin, when asked how soon and author should start promoting their book, said “never too soon” (paraphrased).

The importance of building your platform if you decide to self-publish is even more imperative than if you went with a traditional publishing house. Without a marketing team behind you or an imprint’s name, you are your own advocate and while this can be incredibly scary, it can also be liberating. These hints can help you to build your platform and grow your audience…

Join Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram

Free marketing never got more effective than this trifecta of social media magic. Every author should use at least one of these platforms and they should use it well. The key to making these platforms work for you is in remembering your marketing is all about your audience. Post information that matters to them. Too much can be too spammy and too little can lessen your visibility.

When you do set up an author account, you should always keep separate accounts for your personal and professional use. Remember, you are building a brand and everything you post should be in line with what you stand for and what you want people to associate you with as an author.

This also comes in handy later down the road… if you do eventually see substantial success, you may then be uncomfortable sharing too much about your family with the world but by then, it may be too late to go back. So it is always important to start your small beginnings out the way you want them down the road.

Join Goodreads

Start a GoodReads author account which can help readers find your books, connect with you and review your work. This platform connects you directly to an audience who are looking for exactly what you create… good reads. If you are not a published author, it is still well worth connecting with a general account where you can mingle with both readers and authors, a great preliminary to growing into a published author account later down the road.

Blogging and Guest Blogging

A blog can help you to ease into the world of guest posts which can be even more beneficial in some cases than posting to your own blog. When you appear on blogs of those with like-minded followers, you can double your readership and following in just one day if they like what they see. Just like with your social media accounts, keep your content relevant to your brand.

Scheduling Book Signings

Book signings are an important part of your author journey. They are also a lot of fun and help you to create local buzz. While getting into book stores at a national level for signings may be difficult if your book is self-published and yet to show significant sales, however, local book stores are usually more than happy to host local authors that help to boost their sales and draw in visitors to their store. Host a giveaway or give out small brand appropriate goodies to draw the crowds. Remember to leave signed copies for the book store to sell once you leave. Snap a photo of you and the book store staff for the wall and your personal website to build credibility.

Magazine and Website Work

Your bio can help you to gain even more readers and getting your articles in magazines and on websites (or landing the elusive author interview) can get your bio in some of the most coveted medias in the world. This is where your other writing skills can really work for you. Write a well-researched piece that is perfectly suited for a magazine or website’s guidelines and demographic. This builds your visibility so be sure, when you do have acceptances, that your bio is polished, your website, book and/or social medias are listed. This can help make the most of your published pieces.

Your Own Website

Having a space that is all your own increases authenticity and gives off an air of professionalism. This is why it is so important to create a website that is polished, crisp and professional. Hiring a web designer is not as expensive as you might think and, if you have a creative eye, some companies can help you to build your own site in a way that is both pulled together and affordable, allowing you to be in charge of how your space looks down to the last detail.

Don’t forget to make full use of your Amazon Author page.


Nonfiction books with a well-defined topic and a nice hook to them can do well, especially if they have a target audience that you can focus on.

David Carnoy [11]

The journey to becoming a published author is never easy… and that is what makes it an adventure. During this time you will learn so much not only about the industry but about yourself and your writing. Above all, even when you are busy marketing – never be too busy to get back to writing. If you take nothing else away from this guide – let it be this… you can do this. Hurdle after hurdle and lap after lap… Because a lucrative publishing career is a marathon – not a sprint and when you pair your talent and heart with research and hard work, you can self-publish a book successfully and be darn proud of yourself for doing so. To learn even more about self-publishing your book, check out this article that can help get you on your way to understanding the process and how to make it work for you.

To self-publish a book is not like having wisdom teeth extracted. Following a step-by-step process, you CAN do it. With persistence and perseverance it is possible, and you can enjoy the exhilaration of having your own self-published book to show the world.

Remember, to help you save time, grab your free copy of The Self-Publishing Checklist.


[1] Self-Publishing a book: 25 things you need to know.

[2] Start Here: How to Self-Publish Your Book.

[3] How smart book marketing got me a second publishing contract

David Moratto.

List of Book Designers.

The Book Designers.


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