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The Do's and Don'ts of Self-Publishing

One of the primary aspects of a writing career people always ask me about is whether I self-publish or publish my work through traditional publishers. Over the past decade, we have seen the publishing industry wade through the rocky currents of a massive overhaul – many small publishers unfortunately went out of business due to declining scales or escalating scandal while, larger publishing houses restructured and rebranded into smaller imprints. Authors were left holding their manuscripts and wondering if their work would ever see the light of day.

Enter the world of self-publishing.

When “self-publishing” first truly gained footing as an option for many writers, both established and unknown, it was basically the literary equivalent of a season of Deadwood, i.e. the Wild West. Without any sort of guidance or structure authors launched themselves into the role of “publisher” through sites like CreateSpace and Lulu. In the beginning, many of these titles were looked down upon by both traditionally published authors and bookstores alike. This was, in large part, due to a lack of quality in two primary areas: editing and layout design.

You see, there’s a lot more that goes into publishing a book than simply making sure the chapters are numbered correctly. You may laugh at this and say to yourself, “Well, of course there is!” Yet, you might be surprised just how many authors who venture down this new path are entirely unprepared for the expense of hiring a professional copyeditor or graphic designer to ensure both the interior content and the exterior presentation were flawless. “How hard can this be?” they thought. “I can download a copy of MS Paint and submit my self-edited Word files to Lulu and all will be well.” However, a cover that looks like it was produced by your 8th grade nephew, and a manuscript riddled with typos and inconsistencies is the equivalent of spending years dreaming about your first tattoo only to have every word misspelled for all eternity – it’s hard to take it back once the readers gets ahold of it.

Sadly, this mass chaos of badly produced titles created a stigma in the publishing world that still, to this day, remains in certain segments of the literary world. While, over the past fifteen years or so, authors have taken greater strides to commit the time and money to the production of their self-published work, there are still those authors – and we all know of one – who seem determined to toss their work out into the wilds with a complete lack of a critical eye only to find themselves on the extreme defensive when reviewers destroy it and bookstores refuse to carry it.

Why bother writing a book if you’re setting yourself up for failure by not treating it with respect?

Now, it’s easy to get frustrated when you start down the self-publishing role and become overwhelmed by the amount of work it entails. I completely understand that. Not everyone is a graphic designer, layout designer, marketing person, professional editor, etc. That’s a lot of hats to wear when all you wanted to originally be was an author. However, if you follow a few simple guidelines you will increase the likelihood of literary success exponentially.

Never be intimidated by the process or work involved – where there is a will, there is always a way!

When planning your self-publishing strategy here are a few things to keep in mind:



  • Just because you are a writer, does not mean you’re an editor – even the greatest of writers need a fresh set of eyes on their work…

  • When searching for an editor:

  • Ask your fellow published authors for recommendations.

  • Do not skimp on your budget for this. If it means waiting a few months to release your book so you can save the money for a good editor, this could be the wisest thing you do.

  • Ask editors for examples of their previously edited work or an online writing portfolio. If they do not have one or cannot name anything they have previously worked on, it’s probably not the right fit.

  • Be sure to find an editor you can speak with frankly, but politely about revisions to your work. There will be times during the editing process where you may feel very emotionally about a suggested edit, but this should never be a reason to not hire an editor.

  • Carefully read through the edits when you receive them from your editor.

  • Always do a final-final read through after the last round of edits are received from the editor.


  • Once you’ve chosen your platform through which to publish (Lulu, CreateSpace, etc.) read through their guidelines for setting up your documents. Each printer will require specific document sizes, margin spacing, and more.

  • If you do not feel comfortable with setting up your interior layout on your own you can hire a production artist or graphic designer to assist you with this step of the process.

  • Unless your book absolutely calls for color images inside, keep your layout black and white to keep the overall cost per book down.

  • If you have never done this kind of production work you can take online informal classes in whatever software program you decide upon – I prefer InDesign, but Word is also good for many on a tight budget.

  • Take your time and make sure there are as few typos and other issues with your final manuscript, layout, and cover art. After you submit your work to your chosen printer, be sure to order a printed proof. When the proof arrives READ IT before publishing it – you’d be surprised just how many last little errors you can catch this way.


  • If you decide you are going to tackle the cover design by yourself:

  • Do NOT use any image you find off of the internet! This is a great way to get sued right away. Use a site like DreamsTime or Getty Images in order to obtain any photography you might want to include in your cover art.

  • Do NOT use low resolution images (anything under 180dpi). Make sure all of your photography is between 200 and 300 dpi at the final print size you need it to be for the best resolution.

  • DO your research. Look at titles in the genre you are writing in. Which ones catch your eye the most? Which titles are the most successful? Take time to really study what it is about these covers that draws you in and use this as your starting point for designing a great cover.

  • Do NOT copy anyone’s cover too closely. People will notice resulting in bad reviews.

  • Again, if you do not feel comfortable creating your own cover you can hire a graphic designer for this particular job.

  • As with your copy editor, be sure to ask for an online portfolio of past work for you to review to make sure the quality of the work you will be receiving from the designer is the best you can afford.


  • When deciding on a retail price for your book, research what other self-published books in your chosen genre are charging. Find a comfortable middle ground between the highest price and the lowest price where you will still make a decent profit while keeping the book accessible to the public.


  • You are the writer. You are now the publisher, and you will be the distributor for most of your sales.

  • Be sure to list your book and ebook on Amazon. This is done through the printer you have chosen. Amazon will take care of ordering any copies purchased through their site, which is one less thing for you to worry about.

  • List your book for sale on your website (you will need a website, b.t.w…). Here you can offer signed copies using a PayPal button, which you can mail the reader personally, or you can direct the reader to the bookstores and websites carrying your books such as Amazon, etc.

  • Once your book is published you will have the option to purchase copies through your chosen printer at the “wholesale” cost, which is generally a little less than half the retail price you’ve set for the public.

  • When you are doing public signings such as conventions and bookstore appearances, you will need to purchase your own copies.

  • Do not get upset when bookstores ask that you provide your own copies if they agree to a signing at their location. Generally, bookstores are still tentative about purchasing self-published books due to the “no returns” policies usually attached to this kind of investment.

  • Don’t overextend yourself in buying books for your events. 15 to 20 copies for book signings and double that for conventions is generous if you are a newly published author. After the first few signings you’ll have a better idea of how much stock you will need going forward.

  • Be sure to give yourself a two to three-week lead when ordering books for upcoming events.

Want to learn more about marketing your new book? Check out my workbook "Marketing 101 for First Time Authors"! This easy-to-digest workbook will give you everything a first-time author needs to know about setting up a winning marketing campaign before the release of your new novel. Download a free PDF today:

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