Self publishing Guide for Writers and Authors


Self-publishing is the process of a writer working directly with a press or online company to make a book available for others to read. In this process, the writer retains all control over every aspect of the production and marketing of the book, including the content, the editing, the cover design, marketing material, marketing plan, and more. In addition, the writer receives 100% of the net proceeds of the book (the money available after the retailer or distributor takes their cut).

There are several types of self-publishing:

  • Traditional print run (called offset lithography)
  • Print-on-demand
  • E-book

Traditional print run

In a traditional print run, the author pays a printer upfront to produce a fixed number of physical books using a traditional offset printing press.

  • The benefits include: Cheaper per unit price, highest quality.
  • The downsides are: Moderate to high upfront investment, no ability to modify books once they have been printed.
  • Traditional print runs are best for:
    • Writers who know they have a market and want to produce their books as inexpensively as possible (trade shows, speaking events).
    • Large print runs.
    • Writers who have a book with lots of pictures or graphics.


Using print-on-demand, a physical book is printed when it is ordered, eliminating inventory and any fixed costs. The retailer or the author orders as many books as are needed and they are printed.

  • The benefits include: No upfront investment needed, flexibility to modify books between orders.
  • The downsides are: Higher per unit price, lower quality, no ability to modify books once they have been printed.
  • Print-on-demand is best for:
    • Writers who don’t want to invest too much upfront and test the market with their book.
    • Books that are not picture heavy.


E-books are not physical books but electronic ones that must be read via a phone, tablet, computer, or dedicated reading device. The customer downloads or receives the e-book on their device after purchasing it.

  • The benefits include: Low cost to produce, flexibility to modify books between orders, quick production time, some customers prefer e-books, potentially higher royalty.
  • The downsides are: Some customers prefer physical books, threat of piracy, pressure to price lower than physical books.
  • E-book publishing is best for:
    • Writers who want the fastest, easiest way to bring their book to market.

Services offered by self-publishers

Self-publishing companies often provide all of the services of publishing a book or a writer can find professionals for each of these steps, or if capable, do them on their own. These services include:

  • Manuscript review and copyediting. Is your book ready to be read? Does the plot make sense? Does the reader fall in love with the characters? If non-fiction, are the points well-made? Are their typos? An editor will review your book and help you “clean it up” for sale.
  • Formatting. Preparing the book for formatting. This can be complicated and for paperbacks requires knowledge of Word, pdf creators, and e-book creation tools or html.
  • Publishing. If paperback, then this must be handled by a vendor. Ebook publishing requires the author to be familiar with the interfaces on Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, or any other e-book site. There are many e-book services that will handle E-book creation and publishing.
  • Marketing & PR. Getting the word out about your book on social media, via book tours, (real and online), speaking events, online advertising, and reviews.

The Cost of Self-publishing

The cost of self-publishing varies but it can be broken down approximately as follows:

Editing and proofreading: $2-5/page
Formatting: $100-$1,000 depending on book complexity.
Cover creation: $50-750
Print: POD and Ebook is $0. Traditional printing varies.
Marketing: $0 - unlimited.

Authors should budget a minimum of $500 to self-publish. Below that it becomes tough to afford a professional cover and some limited marketing.

How self-publishing differs from traditional publishing

Unlike self-publishers, traditional publishers must choose to publish your book. Often, they work with agents, although today many small and independent publishers work directly with authors. Once a traditional publisher chooses a book, it invests the money to edit, create a cover, publish (either print-on-demand or offset), and market the book. Depending on the publisher, this investment can be substantial, or it can be modest. The author is generally required to help market the book but has little involvement beyond that. Some publishers will run final edits and covers by the author and whether author approval is required depends on the contract.

Self-publishing versus Traditional Publishing

This chart further explains the difference between self and traditional publishing.

Self-publishing Traditional Publishing
Acceptance of book Anyone can self-publish regardless of the content of the book or its quality. There are no “gatekeepers.” Publishers must accept your book before they will publish it. Often, agents are also involved in this process. Both are “gatekeepers.”
Speed to market Self-publishing can happen as fast as 1-2 months once a book is written. Traditional publishing often takes over a year for a book to come to market.
Control The writer retains total control over the process. The publisher assumes control over the process..
Money or time required Substantial time or money may be required. No money required. The publisher may require the author to help market the book.
Economics The writer keeps 100% of the net proceeds of the book sale. The publisher and agent (if there is an agent) may take up to 75% of the net proceeds.

Success of Self-published books versus Traditional Published

In the last ten years, Amazon has changed the fortune of self-published authors. Once shut out from the bookstores, discount stores, and drugstores where most books were purchased, Amazon has put self-published authors on an equal footing distribution-wise with their traditionally published brethren. Scroll through Amazon’s books and you’ll be hard-pressed to tell which is a self-published or traditionally published book.

This has led to a number of self-published success stories, including:

  • Virginia Wolf’s final novel, Between the Acts (1941) was self-published.
  • Choose Yourself by James Alttucher sold 44,000 copies in its first month and was a WSJ Bestseller.
  • Any Heif self-published his science fiction novel The Martian (2011). It was later picked up by Crown Publishing and made into a move by the same name.
  • Fifty Shades of Gray by by E.L.James was originally self-published before the rights were acquired by Vintage Books.

Choosing a Self-publisher

Criteria we would recommend to use in choosing a self-publisher includes:

  • Is the self-publisher responsive, answers your questions before you publish, and doesn’t overly pressure you?
  • Does the self-publisher have a range of services that that meet your needs?
  • Are the self-publishers prices consistent with what was outlined above?

Select self-publishing providers

Some companies that we have worked with and like include:

Self-publishing author Q&A - Sherry V. Ostroff

Below we ask some writers from TheNextBigWriter who have self-published about their experience. First up is Sherry V. Ostroff, the author of The Lucky One.

author image Sherry V. Ostroff

1. What made you decide to self-publish?

Several reasons - This was my first book so I had no experience publishing.This book is a memoir based on my mother's handwritten story. It was a primary historical source, and thus important to keep it as it was written. I had heard about the many rejection letters one can receive from agents. I didn't want to go through the tedious process. I had already waited 28 years to get the book written.

2. What route did you go? E-book and paperback or just E-book?

It is available in a print version on Amazon and ebook at Kindle.

3. Do you sell more e-book or paperback?

It sell more paperback than e-books but that's mainly because of the way I market it.

4. Are you satisfied with the results? Please provide any results you are comfortable divulging.

As I said this is my first try at this. I don't know what I should expect. Would I like to have sold more? Sure. But I'm also surprised at how many I've sold and how many people who have told me they have lent the book to friends.

5. Did you use one self-publisher to do everything (copy editing, cover, layout, etc.) or did you find providers piecemeal?

I did everything myself (with the help of my much more tech savvy husband). Apparently, it went over well. I haven't had any reader tell me the book lacked a professional look. In fact, I get lots of compliments on the book.

6. How much time is required to create a self-published book?

It was a lot of work, but since the book was slightly less than 40,000 words, it was manageable. Even so it took us a couple of days.

7. How much money do you think someone has to dedicate to be successful self-publishing?

I spent zero dollars on publishing my first book. I know that will not be the case for the second - if I got that route. The only money put out was $25 to get the book a Library of Congress number. It is now part of the LOC collection. I’m very proud of that.

8. Are you happy with your decision to self-publish?

For the most part. Amazon was easy to work with, and I didn't have to put any money up front. The only negative remarks I've gotten was from one independent bookstore who refused to carry anything created by Amazon. I understand their frustration, but if I had never been able to publish, I would have been equally frustrated. My book was accepted by another independent bookstore, so they aren't all like that.


Sherry V. Ostroff is the author of the Lucky One. Her website can be found at, her FB page is Sherry V. Ostroff. You can purchase The Lucky One on Amazon.

Self Publishing Q&A - Janet Taylor-Perry

Author Janet Taylor-Perry, the author of a number of different books speaks to us about her experiences.

author image Janet Taylor-Perry

1. What made you decide to self-publish?

I got such conflicting response from agents/editors that I became frustrated. I think creative control played a huge role.

2. What route did you go? E-book and paperback or just E-book?


3. Do you do more e-book or paperback?

I promote both. I've had great response to my paperbacks. Both tend to drop off after the first 3 months.

4. Are you satisfied with the results?

Money wise, no. I don't have the contacts to get much further than my home state. The e-books do best in that regard. I've been pleased with the critique and reviews, but I won't get rich this way.

5. Did you use one self-publisher to do everything (copy editing, cover, layout, etc.) or did you find providers piecemeal?

No. I use CreateSpace for printing. I have a professional editor--a must for an indie author, and I have a cover designer, Christopher Chambers, who is a former student of mine. I don't particularly like the cover options CreateSpace offers. Some look "homemade." I format my own books to upload to CreateSpace and kindle.

6. How much time is required to create a self-published book?

A lot, if you want a good product. That's why I now have my own company, to help other indie authors who might not have the time or expertise to do their own books.

7. How much money do you think someone has to dedicate to be successful self-publishing?

The two largest expenses are an editor and a cover designer. And computer programs. Marketing then takes a good chunk of money. As an editor myself, I charge $1-$2/page (8.5 X 11, double spaced, 12 point font in Times New Roman, 1-inch margins), depending on the amount of work needed to get the book polished. I've been told I'm inexpensive by industry standards, but that's about what my editor costs me. My cover guy has charged me $210/cover, a discount since I was his journalism teacher. I try to put out a press release in local papers (prices vary) and I use social media up a storm, free when possible. I've paid for book trailers. So, to get a good product, I would guess a minimum of $500 per book.

8. Are there any other questions I should be asking?

Maybe if as writers, are we members of critique groups or other writers groups. Early feedback is of utmost importance. I am a member of two face-to-face critique groups and TheNextBigWriter, which has been invaluable. I am also a member of two other writers groups that offer workshops and monthly meetings. There is a lot to be learned before you put your work out there for sale. Poor preparation shows. I cringe when I read indie books that are riddled with mistakes.


Janet Taylor-Perry is the author of a number of seven self-published books including Lucky, Heartless, and Wilted Magnolias. She is also the founder of Dragon Breath Press.

General Self-publishing FAQs

Below are some general FAQs about the self-publishing process

Can anyone self-publish their book?

Yes. There are no gatekeepers to determine which books can be published and which cannot. Everyone is free to self-publish in the way they want.

I’m a pretty good writer. Do I need to get my book professionally edited?

Editing can be expensive but it’s advisable to have someone with editing qualifications look over your book before you publish. There are sites like TheNextBigWriter which provide group editing at a lower cost but require a time commitment from you. Someone qualified should provide you with feedback and a check for typos and other grammar problems before the book is released.

If I self-publish, can I still traditionally publish my book?

If you self-publish and the book does very well then traditional publishers will line up to put it under contract. Fifty Shades of Gray and The Martian both started as self-published books and were picked up by big publishers. If your book doesn’t sell well, then traditional publishers will stay away.

Can I make money self-publishing?

Yes, but with a caveat. Publishing, even traditional publishing is a cutthroat business. Approximately 335K print books and 1.1 MM e-books are estimated to be published in 2017. That’s a lot of competition. And the number of books sold has declined over the last 10 years. More books, declining sales, that makes for a pretty competitive market. It’s why your book needs to be well written and marketed to stand out.If it sells, you will make money.

But it can be done and self-published Indie authors are one of the most successful categories on Amazon. This great article on AuthorEarnings provides tons of data to back this up.

What’s the most thing a writer can do to be successful self-publishing?

Write a good book. Without a good book you are dead in the water.

What’s the second most important thing a writer can do?

Have a professionally designed cover. Do not go cheap with the cover. It’s the most important piece of marketing you’ll develop for your book.


About Booksie

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