How to self-publish your book: an easy guide

Guest author and blogger David Gaughran offers an all-you-need-to-know compilation about self-publishing. Obviously, there’s more to say about the subject than will fit into a single post, but there are links to everything else you will need.

1. Basics of self-publishing

First up, I recommend you check these basics: a quick 3,500 word primer on everything you need to know. You can read it on my blog, or download it as a PDF and print it out. Feel free to share.

I wrote the above a little while ago, but the only things particularly out of date are that Amazon no longer charges anything to do print editions, and there is a much easier way to sort out your tax status with the IRS, outlined in this post.

So far, so easy.

Solve your self-pub problems

With these free resources

2. Network and discover podcasts on self-publishing

It’s important to get out there and connect with self-publishers. The community is wonderfully supportive and there are a huge number of free resources, blogs, etc., which you should check out. You’ll have your own favourites soon enough, but these should get you started: Writers’ Cafe: this is the main self-publisher hangout (actually, it’s a sub-forum specifically for writers, but part of a much bigger reader site). Most members are based in the US, but there are lots of writers from all over, especially the UK. Great place to get referrals on editors, formatters, and cover designers and to hear the latest marketing strategies, which ad sites are worth the money etc. It seems very chaotic at first, but it’s very friendly and you’ll get the swing of it soon enough.

And here are some different blogs and podcasts I recommend checking out.

3. Turn your manuscript into a self-published ebook (and paperback)

As I said in the basics, there are three main tasks a writer must undertake: writing, publishing, and marketing. Publishing is by far the easiest out of those three, so don’t be afraid of this step! And absolutely don’t hire a middleman service to do this part for you. There’s a reason why no successful self-publisher uses these services. You will end up in the wrong categories on Amazon, you won’t be able to do quick price changes, you won’t get near live sales reports (crucial for knowing what bits of your marketing are working), and you will get paid slower, and less, too. And those are the good ones. The predatory services, like Author Solutions (who own Author House, Trafford, iUniverse, Xlibris and many more), will do far worse than that.

For now, the steps to turn your manuscript into a perfectly formatted ebook are covered in the free PDF of Let’s Get Digital (scroll to the bottom for the free version).

Steps 1 through 5 in Let’s Get Digital will talk you through what’s needed to turn your manuscript into a perfectly formatted e-book. If you need a referral for an editor, cover designer, or formatter, is great for that. You may want an editor with experience working with UK English, perhaps with US English, but check. Jericho Writers’ editors know their stuff inside out.

4. Learn marketing tricks as a self-published writer

The marketing sections in the free PDF edition of Let’s Get Digital are out of date. You need to do very different things to reach readers now than in 2011, and we have better tools today.

This post will give you the basics on how to approach marketing, and what you should focus on (and what to avoid).

This post will give you the basic template of that marketing approach I spoke about. If you have a good book, produce new work as regularly as you can, start a mailing list asap, and follow this template, you have a real chance of building a career out of this.

All this stuff might sound tricky, but it’s like riding a bike. You can read all the theory in the world about bike-riding, but it won’t make a huge amount of sense until you are in the saddle yourself.

As for advertising sites, these are the only ones I recommend checking out. BookBub is the big dog (with prices to match). I recommend subscribing there as a reader just to see how they do things (and because they recommend great books for free or cheaply every day). These are listed more-or-less in size. BookBub’s ads are expensive (normally you make that back in a day or two), but the rest are either very cheap or free.

5. Avoid the scammers

When you are starting out you are particularly vulnerable to scammers, as well as the incompetent or unscrupulous making grandiose claims they can’t deliver upon. There are all sorts of scams a writer can get caught up in, involving literary agents, editors, contests, and awards. The number one place to learn about all of these is Writer Beware.

Writer Beware is an excellent free service provided by the SFWA, which, among other things, warns against scam agents, unscrupulous publishers, and inexperienced or unprofessional editors.

The main scams targeting self-publishers tend to involve things like publicists who claim to be able to get you onto the New York Times bestseller list, advertising sites which claim to have giant audiences, but which in fact have none, and vanity presses. As for the latter, you need to particularly avoid a company called Author Solutions.

Remember this: there are no shortcuts, and that goes for publishing books as well as selling them. If someone is offering you an easy way to publish, or simple trick for selling more books, you should be automatically sceptical.

Lottery winners aside, success usually requires hard work. If someone claims to be an expert who can put together a social media campaign that will lead to hundreds or thousands of sales, be automatically sceptical. If a company offers you a hassle-free way of publishing your book, where they will take care of everything, be automatically sceptical. And if the company is owned by a traditional publisher, be very sceptical.

I wish I was joking about the last part, but Penguin Random House owns Author Solutions, and HarperCollins, Harlequin, Simon & Schuster (and many more) all have their own vanity presses now run by Author Solutions, too.

Watch out for these guys.

Solve your self-pub problems

With these free resources

6. Resources for self-publishing

Here are a bunch of resources not listed above.

Self-publishing advice

The Naked Truth About Self-Publishing by Jana DeLeon, Tina Folsom, Coleen Gleason, Jane Graves, Liliana Hart, Debra Holland, Dorien Kelly, Theresa Ragan, Denise Grover Swank and Jasinda Wilder

Write.Publish.Repeat by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant

The Indie Author Survival Guide by Susan Kaye Quinn

Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran

Books on writing

On Writing by Stephen King

Write. Publish. Repeat by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant

Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King

How to write by Harry Bingham

Literary agent blogs

Free Formatting Software

HTML Editor (PC)

HTML Editor (Mac)

E-book Converter (PC and Mac)

Marketing advice

Let’s Get Visible by David Gaughran

How To Market A Book by Joanna Penn

Reading ebooks

Free Kindle Apps (to read MOBI files)

Free Nook Apps (to read EPUB files)


If you insist on paying for your formatting, these services are consistently recommended.

Heather Adkins

Guido Henkel

Rob Siders

Ebook formatting

Guido Henkel’s peerless guide

My guide

Zen of eBook Formatting by Guido Henkel

Blurb-writing advice

And that’s it.

If you get through all of that and still have questions on anything I haven’t covered, please feel free to contact me in the comments below or via my blog.

And best of luck with your journey to publication and beyond.

With these free resources

Solve your self-pub problems

With these free resources