Self-Publishing Basics

Everyone who has met me knows I am a big champion of doing-it-yourself, and I get asked about self-publishing a lot. This section covers the basics. And just the basics.

For more detailed information I suggest starting with David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Digital and Let’s Get Visible, and everything Joanna Penn at the Creative Penn has written on the subject (also follow her podcasts). Their books are more than worth the money.

The word ‘self-publishing’ is a little misleading. Professional self-publishers don’t do it alone. We need a whole team behind us, just like the traditional guys, but first:

Giant flashing warning:

There are a lot of sharks in the self-publishing waters, and they all pretend to be legit. They’ll promise you the moon, but they just want your money. Make sure you research any service before handing over hard-earned cash. The Writer Beware website is a great place to keep an eye on the latest scams.

And if any of your research indicates that the company is related to Author Solutions:


Where to publish: ebooks

Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) is the obvious big one. Amazon has the biggest market share and that’s unlikely to go away any time soon. Publishing on Amazon can be as simple as uploading a Word doc and a jpeg cover and clicking ‘publish’

Amazon encourages authors to opt in to their Select program. By opting in to this, you agree to publish exclusively with Amazon for 90 days (renewable). In return, you get the option to price your book for free for 5 days (a handy marketing strategy), do an Amazon Countdown deal, and allow readers to borrow the book. It does mean though that readers can only buy via Amazon, and you’re missing out on all those readers who prefer to buy through Kobo, Barnes & Noble or Apple or where ever. The general wisdom is that Select is handy in the beginning for new writers who don’t have a lot of books out, but is probably not worth it in the long term.

The easiest way for writers to get their books into other online stores is to publish via a distributor like Smashwords or Draft2Digital. I’m with Smashwords and am very happy to recommend them, but D2D has a good reputation too.

Someone asked me how much they all charge to publish. They don’t. You publish, set your price, and they pay royalties.

Where to publish physical copies:

I use Createspace for my physical copies, but there’s also Lulu, Blurb, Ingram Spark and Lightning Source.

Karen Inglis has put together a handy post on the pros and cons for each here.

Royalties and Pricing:

I get asked about pricing quite a bit and it’s a complicated question. The ‘right’ price depends on your motives. A low price (or free) is a great way to get eyeballs on your book, but you won’t make much money and lower prices are associated with lower quality. A high price attracts higher royalties but you won’t sell nearly so many.

Mark Coker over at Smashwords put together a great post on pricing (graphs!) showing effectiveness. It’s a couple of years old but still relevant.

Royalties depend on where you’re publishing and what price you set. Amazon pays 70% for books priced between $2.99 and $9.99, and 35% for books priced lower or higher. More detail on that here.  The other distributors pay 40% to 85% dependent. Have a look at Smashwords or Draft2Digital for more detail.

Writing Communities

An excellent resource is the Writer’s Cafe forum over on Kindleboards. If you’ve had a question about self-publishing, someone has almost certainly asked it there. It’s a great place for newbies.

Goodreads also has a lively writing community. Some indie authors will tell you to be careful of Goodreads because of trolls, but I haven’t found it to be a problem. It is, however, primarily a site for readers rather than writers, and if you butt into conversations and promote yourself, people will (rightly, I think) get annoyed. There are plenty of writers groups where people swap tips and chat self-pubbing. Keep your writer-y chat in there and you won’t have any problems.

If you want to make a career out of self-publishing and do it professionally, I strongly recommend joining ALLi  (the Alliance of Independent Authors). Benefits to joining ALLi include access to discounts, legal and contracts advice and all sorts of things, but the biggest is simply the great community. They are a friendly lot and have a lively members-only Facebook page where you can ask questions about almost anything to do with self-publishing and someone will have an answer.


There are times a writer can get away with skimping. This is not it. Good editing is essential. And no, you can’t do it yourself or get your friend or your mother to do it for you.  If said friend or mother is a professional editor, then maybe you can get away with it.  And I’m being pretty generous with the ‘maybe’.  A good editor will be constructive with their feedback, but they’ll also be honest. A mother or a best friend isn’t going to want to hurt anyone’s feelings, and no matter how much they try to be neutral, that is going to come through. Forget the ‘maybe’.  Hire a professional.

As always, do your homework. Always ask for a sample edit first, and take a look at the books they’ve edited. If they’ve only edited two, and those have a bunch of typos on the first page… well, you get the idea.

SWF’s Editor Recommendations:

If you’re looking for an editor, my recommendation is the wonderful Joann Dominik who worked with me on both The Secret Dead and A Murder of Crones. You can see more about the services she offers here.

Red Adept Editing are a professional and friendly outfit who offer a wide range of services from Developmental Edits to Proofreading, in pretty much any combination you can think of.

Alex Roddie at Pinnacle Editorial edited No Way Home and was a pleasure to work with.

Robynn at Studio Miranda has copy-edited everything from newspapers to PHD theses. You can find her here.


This is the first thing a potential buyer sees. Unless you are a professional graphic designer (and preferably a professional book designer) don’t skimp here either. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be expensive.

Go On Write offers some great pre-made covers. I’ve bought from him a few times, and not only is he really nice, but I’ve also recently got a good deal on one of his sales, so sign up to his newsletter to be notified the next time there is one. You might get lucky.

Selfpub Covers is another useful resource. In this one, artists upload covers to the site and you pick and choose. The covers are slightly customisable, and watch out for stock images. Each uses a minimum of two, I think, so it should be unique, but there’s nothing to stop someone coming up with something similar.

I haven’t personally used The Cover Collection but browsing their stuff is a guilty pleasure so it’s only a matter of time.

Most of the pre-made covers are for ebooks only, but for the most part the designer will also offer to do a physical cover version for you for a little extra.


Formatting can be time-consuming and daunting, and there are plenty of legit services for anyone too nervous to do it themselves. (Take a look at the Writer’s Cafe Yellow Pages)

However, unless you are the type of person who gets really confused by that all that dang darn it modern technology, this is something that really isn’t that hard to learn.

Start by having a look at Smashword’s Style Guide. I haven’t needed anything other than this, and google.

Createspace feels daunting, but isn’t that bad once you’ve had a rummage around. Their interior templates are super handy.


As far as I am concerned, marketing is the devil. I have better things to do. However, it is necessary.  My experience is that the best marketing tools for ebooks at the moment are the various email promo sites — some paid, some not. Here is a handy link to a bunch of them.

Where to find Beta readers

Beta readers are readers who will read a manuscript at the pre-editing stages and point out raging plot holes, pacing issues, and character development problems.

Local writing groups are a good source of beta readers, and will often organise ‘critique nights’ where you can have face-to-face sessions to discuss your (and usually their) work. Personally, I have never done this. The thought of having to do this in real life is very scary, and, frankly, the quality of the critique can vary.

A far better option (in my opinion) is to find an online group. There are plenty of these. I started out at Critters, and recommend it for scifi/fantasy writers. Critique Circle covers most genres, and I’ve heard good things about them, although haven’t used them myself.  Alternatively, there are plenty of Goodreads groups offering beta reading.

Keep in mind that for most online critique groups, you will need to give as well as receive.  This is a good thing. Critiquing other writing is a great way to improve your own. Just remember to play nice. The key element here is to provide helpful feedback.

You can also try a paid for beta-reading service. As with anything, the quality can vary, so always make sure you get a sample first.  One of my beta readers, John Darr, offers this professionally.  His feedback was very helpful on both my books, and I’m happy to recommend him.

Other FAQs:

Will Amazon promote me? Nope. They’ll do promotions for the really big names but that’s it.

How do I get reviews? Ha! With blood, sweat, and tears. And that’s only a minor exaggeration. Librarything and Goodreads giveaways can attract reviews. There are review groups on Goodreads (again with GR, only ask for reviews in the appropriate groups otherwise you risk annoying people). I got a couple through There are also plenty of book bloggers out there. In this case, Google is your friend. Just make sure you only submit to sites that accept your genre and follow the submission guidelines. Finally, ask for them! Put a polite note in the back matter of your book asking for reviews. This has shown to increase reviews.




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