How to Self Publish

This is a short guide to self-publishing, which covers much of what I teach in my "How to Self-Publish" class.

     These days, when writers talk about "self-publishing," a majority of the time they are talking about making their titles available as ebooks, or books read on an ereader, like the Kindle or Nook. Kindles are made by Amazon; Nooks are made by Barnes and Noble. Thus, the two major book-selling companies you want to utilize to distribute your books are Amazon and B&N.

     Before you can even begin the process of publishing your work, you need to have it ready. This means you have three things ready to go, at your fingertips:
1) Book
2) Description, or blurb
3) Cover
     Obviously, you need a book written if you want to be published. A lot of people (myself included—I'm not some special snowflake here) rush to get their book published without making sure a thousand times over there are absolutely no mistakes in their book. This includes spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes, incongruities with the plot, holes in the timeline, etc. I once had a story where the main protagonist ate breakfast six times in one day; I didn't catch that until the third reading. Find your mistakes, and fix them, before you publish.
     You'll need to have a description of your book written out, and you'll want to start working on that way before you publish. The description works a lot like a query letter: it must convince the reader to read on. If you've ever tried to send a query letter to an agent, you know how tricky it can be. Now is not the time to get lazy; if your description doesn't sizzle and beguile the reader into buying your book, you're not going to sell.
     The last thing you need is a cover. The cover for your book should POP. It should be the kind of cover that would make you want to buy your book. Most writers find that creating the cover for their book is the funnest part. There are lots of royalty-free sites to choose relatively cheap images from: shutterstock, istockphoto, and dreamstime, to name a few. There are also sites out there that offer artists a platform to sell their work directly to their customers online; deviantart comes to mind. However, know that these sites take no responsibility for stolen art work; if you use an image that ends up belonging to another artist, you might be in trouble.
     I do not make my own covers. I hire a cover artist to do mine for me. His name is Glendon Haddix, he works at If you want to check out his work, click on the link, or on his banner on the lower right.
     You may ask yourself how good the quality is, hiring a cover artist. Well, take a look at this:
     The one on the left is my cover. The one on the right belongs to Jennifer Brobst, New York Times Bestselling author. Same image, probably taken off the same royalty-free site. (Mine came out first, by the way.) I contacted Ms. Brobst about this, and she basically told me she has no control over her covers, that the publishing company handles it.
     The publishing companies, even with all their money, are also using royalty-free images. So bottom line is, (in my opinion) you can make your own covers, or hire someone to make them for you, and if you know what you're doing, you can still end up with covers just as good as traditionally published books.

     Once you have your "magic three"—book, blurb, and cover—you are ready to publish.

A: Log into your Amazon account. I would highly suggest creating a separate Amazon account just for your author profile, but this is up to you. Nobody will be able to get access to this account or see the info about it (as far as I know) except the people at Amazon.

B: Log into Amazon's KDP website.
     KDP stands for "kindle direct publishing." It's the site for writers to set up their books on the Amazon home page.
     Once you're on kdp, you're going to see some options: bookshelf, reports, community, etc. The button you want to click on is "Add a new title." Once you click it, some forms should pop up.

C: Start entering the information about your book.
     1. Enter Your Book Details. This is where you put in the title, edition, publisher, and most importantly, the description of your book. This is also where you add the contributors.
     The most important contributor, obviously, is you, the writer. This is where you put your author name, as you want it to appear to readers. If you're writing under a pseudonym (as I do), this is where you put it.
     2. Verify Your Publishing Rights. Do you have rights to this book, or does the whole world have rights to it? Probably, since you're the one who wrote the book, you want to keep the rights.
     3. Target Your Book to Customers. You need to enter categories and keywords, so people will be able to search for your book on the Amazon website. Picking categories will probably be easy: fiction, romance, etc. Keywords will be trickier. You want to put in keywords that both make it easy for people to find your book, and also, bring readers to it. For instance, if you book contains a lot of rope bondage, then by all means, add "rope bondage" as keywords. If there's blood play, add "blood play." But if you have a marvelous scene involving a cucumber and a hedgehog, I would not suggest adding "cucumber" or "hedgehog" as keywords, since they are both too narrow, and too ambiguous.
     4. Upload or Create a Book Cover. This is where you upload the cover of your book. Amazon has specific cover guidelines for this, which differ from Barnes and Noble. Follow the guidelines, or your cover will not be accepted. Amazon now has a "Cover Creator" option. I have personally never tried it; I hire a cover artist to make my covers for me. If you are interested in hiring my cover artist, Glendon Haddix at, his banner is to the right.
     5. Upload Your Book File. Amazon first wants you to decide whether or not to enable "Digital Rights Management," or DRM. DRM is used to prevent people from pirating, or copying, your book. If you do not enable DRM, you are making it easier for people to copy your book. This may be a fine option if you are offering the book for free, anyway; however, in most cases, you will want to enable DRM. Keep in mind, once you publish the book, you cannot change your mind about enabling DRM.
     6. Preview Your Book. Do it! Make sure it looks the way you want, the way you were expecting. Now is the time to see if there are any mistakes you missed the first, third, or twenty-third time you looked at it.
     7. Verify Your Publishing Territories. Amazon will only sell your book where you are allowed to sell it. If, for some reason, your book is banned in another country or region, or you only hold the rights in specific places, Amazon cannot make the book available there.
     8. Choose Your Royalty. Here's the rule about royalties: If you're going to charge at least $2.99 for your book, choose the 70% royalty option. If your book is going to cost less than $2.99, you're going to have to go with the 35% royalty option. This is how Amazon gets writers to charge a minimum amount for their books.
     Once you choose your "List Price" on Amazon, you can click on all the "set price automatically" for the other countries; or, if the amount is going to be a different value from what you set for the American Amazon site, put in your own amount. (I click on "set price automatically.")
     9. Kindle MatchBook. This is a relatively new option. If someone has already bought the print version of your book on Amazon, this box allows you to offer them the kindle version of your book for $2.99 or less. Obviously, this only applies if you're going to charge more than $2.99 on the digital version of your book, and if you're also going to make it available in print.
     10. Kindle Book Lending. Click this box if you want people to be able to share your book with their friends, and "borrow out" your book. (I don't.)

D: Click on Save and Publish, and voila! Your book will soon be available for purchase on the Amazon website! Keep in mind a couple things: one, that this process takes around 24 hours; and two, that while it's in process, you cannot make any changes to your book. If you suddenly realize you uploaded the wrong cover, or the wrong description, or I don't know, the wrong book, you are shit out of luck. So be careful!

A: Barnes and Noble's website for self-published manuscripts used to be PubIt; it has now become NookPress. Log into your Barnes and Noble account, or your NookPress account. Again, I would highly recommend creating a separate Barnes and Noble account for your author profile.

B: At the top of the page, you're going to see some options: projects, sales, support, etc. Click on "New Project." They will ask you to name your project, but the name you pick does not have to be the title of your book! Once you've put in the name, they'll take you through the process.

C: Begin the process of creating your book.
     Manuscript. This is where you upload the book. They have their own specifications, which differ from Amazon's. Follow the guidelines, or your book will not be accepted.
     Cover image. Upload the cover of your book. Again, their guidelines are different from Amazon's.
     Nook Book Details. Title, Publication Date, Publisher, Description, Contributors, Categories, Rights and Pricing. Everything here is the same as Amazon's kdp site. Again, the main contributor should be you as the author, and this is where you put in your pseudonym (if you're using one).
Pricing on B&N should be the same as Amazon. You do not want your book available for different prices on different sites.
     Other Information. Is it Public Domain? (Chances are, no.) Is this book part of a series? Is this book available in print?
     Editorial Reviews. NookPress gives you the option of showing your readers editorial reviews of your book. Unless a well-known person has reviewed your book, do not put anything here. This is not where you stick in your mother's review. People don't want to see that.

D: Once you're done, click "publish," and voila! Your book will soon be available for purchase on B&N. Keep in mind, the process takes about 24 hours (although usually shorter than Amazon does), and while they're processing your book, you will not be able to make any changes to it.

     Smashwords is a different kind of self-publishing site from kdp and Nookpress. It literally calls itself a "meat grinder." You can read up about Smashwords here.
     Basically, once you upload your book to Smashwords, they will then turn around and publish your book on different sites like Amazon, B&N, Apple, and others for you. They will deal with the formatting issues, imaging issues, etc. All you need is what I call the "magic three": the book written out, the cover, and the description.
     Smashwords seems like a good deal, and for a lot of people, it is. It's a one stop shop for getting your books digitally published; just give it to them and go. But there are some things to keep in mind.

     1. You only have to upload your book's information once, on one website. You do not have to visit multiple sites.
     2. Smashwords gives you all the information you need on your sales, purchases, etc., right on your dashboard. Again, you do not have to visit multiple sites to get this information.
     3. Smashwords will consolidate all your royalties into one payment, so you are not waiting for multiple checks.
     4. Smashwords offers authors free ISBN numbers for their books, and makes them available on sites they otherwise would not be able to reach, such as Apple and Library Direct.

However, there are some CONS:
     1. Smashwords takes a piece of your royalties as payment for using their services. It's not a lot, but it's some, and might be more than what you're willing to pay.
     2. Smashwords requires you to upload your book using a very specific formatting guide. If you have problems doing this, or just don't want to follow their requirements, you will not be allowed into their Premium Catalogue, which is what they use to send out books to multiple sites.
     3. Once you give control over to Smashwords, they have distribution power over your book. It sometimes takes them weeks to get your book on their Premium Catalogue sites.
     4. Smashwords pays quarterly, while Amazon and B&N pay monthly.

     I can tell you what I do, which is upload my books to Smashwords, but opt out of letting them publish to Amazon and B&N. I upload my books to those sites myself. That way, Smashwords makes my titles available on sites like Apple and Kobo for me, but I have control over the Amazon and B&N publications. Smashwords pays me quarterly, but I still get my checks from Amazon and B&N every month.

     There are a few websites out there you can use to make your book available in print. What "make it available in print" basically means is that you upload your book and jacket (including front cover, back cover, and spine) onto the website, and the website creates a print copy of your book for you.
This does not mean your book is magically available in retail stores. (God I wish it did.) It just means you can make your book look like a "real" book, to sell and distribute—yourself.

     The website I use is called Createspace. There are three main reasons why I use Createspace:
     1. It is owned by Amazon, so they make it simple for writers to make their print books available for purchase on Amazon, along with the digital format
     2. Createspace is, in my opinion, very user friendly (relatively speaking)
     3. My cover artist and formatter, Glendon Haddix, works with Createspace guidelines to give me a "print version" copy of my book and cover (which in this case, includes the back jacket)

     Here's the thing. Creating a print book is a whole different ballgame from creating an ebook. A print book needs a front cover, back cover, spine, jacket, a blurb to go on the back, an ISBN need to pick size, font, paper quality, paper color...everything has to line up perfectly, and everything has to be within their guidelines.
     Createspace knows this is not easy. They give you the option of hiring one of their own people to help you make your book perfect.
     I've never hired one of their peeps; like I said, I have my own. If you are computer savvy, and want to try to figure out the steps yourself, I say go for it; but if you can't make the book look perfect (and they will give you a chance to review, even buy a proof of the book before you start selling it), then for God's sake, hire someone. Don't let your book look like crap. If you're going to do it, do it right.
     One more thing about Createspace: they've started offering this new option of publishing a digital copy of your book when you create a print version. I have personally never opted into this; I use Createspace solely for publishing my prints, and use kdp to publish my ebooks on Amazon. If anyone ever decides to try out this option, I'd love to hear how it went.

     Amazon's kdp, B&N's Nookpress, and Smashwords all do a good job keeping you notified when someone buys one of your books. There's a "sales" button for all three sites; click on it and see your up-to-date reports. Smashwords will even tell you which sites your purchases are coming from.

     Of course, you want to see those sales number grow, and fast. How do you do that?
     Sadly, there is no magic answer.
     Write a good book, give it a good cover, tout it with a good blurb, and you're probably already ahead of the pack.
     If you're in this business of self-publishing for the long haul, and plan of writing a lot of books, you'll want to make a platform for yourself. This takes time and effort on your part, and unfortunately, the speed and spread of your platform depends a lot on luck.

     1. Get yourself out there on social media sites. Make a blog, and show up on others; create a FB page, a twitter account, even a tumblr account if you can; visit forums where readers talk about books, like the Amazon forums and Goodreads. Let people grow familiar with your name and brand.
     2. Be polite to people online. Always put your best "voice" forward; keep calm, and maintain your poise, even when it's hard. You can be silly, you can be sarcastic, you can take a stand when warranted, but don't be mean, don't turn pompous, and don't turn fake.
     3. Think of what your readers want. If you're getting a lot of requests for something specific, give some serious thought to delivering, even if you've never contemplated it before.
     4. Take your reviews seriously—to a point. A majority of the time, the reviews you're going to get are going to be from honest readers. If they found major issues with your book that kept them from enjoying it, take those critiques to heart, so you can improve your writing.
     Personally, after I read a book, I typically don't create and leave a review unless I can give that book at least three stars. However, twice I made exceptions to the rule: once, when the formatting of the ebook was so awful, I literally got a headache from it; and again, when I bought what I thought was a full-length ebook, only to discover on the last page that it was just the first installment of a book; the author had cut his novel into segments, and was charging for each one separately.
     In both cases, the authors read my reviews, and quickly made the necessary changes to their ebooks to make them more palatable to the reader. The first author uploaded a new version of her book, one with better formatting; the second author changed the title to include the words "Part One," and made clear in the description that buying his title would not mean buying a full-length book.
     This is one of the biggest advantages, and disadvantages, to self-publishing. You will make a lot of mistakes, but you will also be able to fix them yourself, without going through a huge rigamarole. You have the power.

     1. Leave your readers hanging. If you've promised you'll announce the next title of your book a week before it comes out, do it. Don't announce it after it's already hit the proverbial shelves, or worse, a week later. Don't make your readers mad.
     2. Become an angry commenter or a troll. People online are going to piss you off about your books. They're going to say bad things about it. It's part of the nature of the business. Don't respond, and for God's sakes, don't engage them in a flame war! This will only backfire on you. There are too many cases to count of this happening.
     3. Respond to negative reviews by getting vicious. See #2. If you think the reviewer has a valid point against your writing, change your writing; but if not, ignore, ignore, ignore. If you cannot take criticism against your book, do not publish it. Seriously. Keep it on your computer, where only your eyes get to admire its shining beauty.

I will state it again: the best thing, and worst thing, about self-publishing is that you have all the power. You get to decide on look, price, and quality of your book. 
Deliver to your readers a satisfying book, with an eye-catching cover, at an affordable price, and your book will sell. 
And that's what we all want. 

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