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Self-Publishing Potpourri

introduction to self-publishing your book

Many of my ghostwriting clients are aware of self-publishing but aren’t sure how it works. So here’s a brief look at self-publishing, made up of some of the questions people commonly ask me.

How do you turn a manuscript into a finished book people can buy?

There is no strict “recipe” for the transformation, but it generally involves these steps:

  • Cleaning – Editing and proofreading the finished manuscript to ensure the writing is entertaining and/or enlightening, as well as error-free.
  • Designing – Creating attractive and informative front and back covers, and arranging the interior of the book with the appropriate font style and size, placement of pictures and other images, and otherwise making the book attractive and easy to read.
  • Printing – Printing physical copies of the book and/or making digital files that people can read or listen to (in the case of an audio version).
  • Placing – Making the book available for purchase or as a giveaway via brick-and-mortar bookstores, online stores, libraries, and other venues.
  • Marketing – Creating awareness of the book through marketing and/or advertising.

These steps can be embellished or added to, but that’s publishing in a nutshell.

How do you “do” self-publishing?

There are a couple of approaches:

  1. DIY – You can literally do all the steps yourself, including designing your own cover, printing the book at a local copy shop, delivering copies to bookstores, and so on.
  2. Hire individual experts – You can hire a proofreader, cover designer, marketer, and other experts to handle their pieces of the publishing process. You are responsible for directing and paying them, as well as coordinating their activities.
  3. All-in-one – You can pay for the services of a “turnkey” self-publishing company that does everything for you, such as Xlibris or Lulu.
  4. A combination of the above – You might, for example, use a self-publishing company to edit your manuscript, design the cover and interior, and list it on Amazon, but handle the rest of the distribution and all of the marketing on your own.

If I use a self-publishing company, does it become the publisher of my book?

You can hire firms such as Outskirts Press and Archway Publishing to edit your book, design the cover, print and sell it, and send you royalties as the book sells. Given all this work, it may seem as if they’re the publisher. But that’s not the case.

If you’re paying, you’re the publisher. The self-publishing company is simply handling a “bundle of chores” for you.

A standard publisher such as Simon & Schuster covers the cost of turning your manuscript into a polished and printed book, distributing it to physical and online book stores and other sales outlets, and marketing it in their catalog and in other ways. It may also give you an advance payment as an inducement to let them publish and profit from your book. (This of this as a down payment on future royalties.)  

A self-publishing company won’t pay for any of these things; that’s your responsibility. The company may provide you with valuable services, but since you are footing the bill, they are not the publisher.

Ask yourself who is paying and you’ll know who is publishing.

What about those books I see on Amazon published by Xlibris and other self-publishing firms?

Self-publishing companies can become the “publisher of record” if they give the author a free ISBN (international standard book number). Or the author may allow the company to call itself the publisher for other reasons, such as having use of a “publisher’s name” on the spine of the book, rather than her own name.

But just being “publisher of record” is not the same thing as being the actual publisher, the one who pays the bills.

Is Amazon a publisher?

No. You can publish your book through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program, but Amazon acts as a retailer that offers assistance with publication.

Do I need to print and send copies of my book to Amazon for distribution?

You can, but you don’t have to. There are several ways to sell your book on Amazon:

  1. You print and send for storage – You hire a printer to print copies of your book and send them to an Amazon warehouse, where they are stored. Amazon displays your book on their website and takes orders, shipping books to customers as orders come in. You pay Amazon a fee for the space rental and another for each book they pack and send.
  2. You fulfill orders – Amazon displays your book on their website and takes orders, which are passed on to you. You pack and ship the books yourself. Amazon may charge you a monthly fee for its services, depending on the seller’s program you select, and also takes a fee from each of your orders. But you don’t pay a storage fee, because you have the books.
  3. Have someone else fulfill orders – You hire a “turnkey” self-publisher, such as Author House, to print and receive orders for your book. Amazon displays your book on their website and takes orders, passing the orders on to your self-publisher, which prints, packs, and ships your books. The self-publisher deducts the costs and its fee from your royalty.
  4. Use the POD method – POD stands for Print on Demand, which means that books aren’t printed until they are ordered. You upload your manuscript and book cover files to Amazon, and they handle it from there, taking orders then printing, packing, and shipping your book. Since no books are stored, you don’t need to rent warehouse space.

Is Amazon’s POD service any good?

It’s quite good for many books, but not good enough for others.

With standard printing, you can choose from a wide variety of paper sizes, types, and colors, and opt for one of many types of book covers and other options. You can get almost anything you are willing to pay for.

With Amazon’s POD, your choices are limited. For example, there are only a few paper colors to choose from, and you cannot insert pages of glossy paper in the book for photographs. If you like to have a lot of options or need specialty paper, rough-cut edges, a certain kind of book cover, or other embellishments, POD can be too limited for your needs.

Until recently (May, 2021), Amazon offered POD for paperback books only. They would not create a hardcover copy of your book on-demand. But they are currently beta-testing POD hardcovers. The options are limited. There’s only one type of hardcover, laminated case wrapping, a smooth, glossy cover that is perfect for some books. However, there are no dust jackets, embossed covers, or other fancy treatments that might be more appropriate for your book.

Is Amazon the only game in town?

Amazon is by far the largest online book marketplace, but it has competition.

There are other sites displaying and selling books, including Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Kobo. There are other sites such as Smashwords that will distribute your book to quite a long list of book retailers. And there are sites like Shopify where you can create your own online store.

How important is marketing when self-publishing?

It’s incredibly important!

Simply listing your book on Amazon and waiting for it to sell a million copies isn’t good enough. Amazon does not market your book for you; it’s just an online store where people browse and buy. And since your book is thrown in with a million other books, the odds that anyone will find it on their own and purchase it are extremely low.

In short: if you don’t market your book, it’s highly likely that it will die.

Some of my author-clients don’t care if their books sell. One wrote a book for his family and friends, then put it up on Amazon in case future descendants wanted to find it. Another wrote his book only to burnish his reputation within his field. This was fine because these books had very specific, limited purposes, and it didn’t matter if they sold a single copy.

But if you want to sell, you have to market. There’s truly no way around it.


Barry Fox, Nadine Taylor, ghostwriters, memoirs, business books, art books, history books, health books

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