Self-Publishing: A Breakdown


Self-publishing can be really confusing and intimidating when you are trying to get started. There are lots of things to consider! Do you want a print copy of your book? How much money are you willing to spend? Can you edit, design, and market your book yourself, or do you need outside help? These decisions are big and complicated enough. But once you make them, the real fun starts—you have to decide where you want to get the services you need. There are dozens of online self-publishing retailers, and all of them come at the problem from a slightly different angle. Let’s try and make this a little simpler.

Basically, the world of self-publishing businesses can be broken down into three markets: print-on-demand, e-book publishing, and ancillary services for self-publishing authors. I will explain what these three different services entail, as well as what you should think about before you use them.


These websites allow authors to do what used to be considered “vanity publishing”—self-publish a small run of print books. This is a pricey option and definitely not for everyone. If you just want a single copy of a book for yourself or a family member, this is a nice option, but if you are thinking about seriously creating your own book, you need a serious chunk of change. For a 100-copy run of 100-page trade paperbacks, you’re looking at $300 out of your own pocket.

Before using print-on-demand

  • Consider where you want your book to end up. Who is going to get your book? Is it a small run for family and friends? Are you trying to get your book into actual bookstores? Each of these questions will influence how many copies you make and how much you pay for them.
  • Consider how many copies you want. If you want a large number of books, you’re going to need quite a bit of money, even for small paperbacks.
  • Consider what you want the final product to look like. Most print-on-demand services offer a gigantic selection of hardcover and paperback styles, varying in price. They can also offer different cover and binding styles, so you really need to think about what the final product should look like, as well as how much you can afford to spend.
  • Consider formatting, editing, and design.  Do you know how to use formatting programs like InDesign or Publisher? Are you willing to do that work yourself? Do you feel confident in your copyediting and proofing skills? Can you create attractive covers? Do you know anything about fonts? If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no,’ you might need to find a graphic designer and/or a freelance editor.


E-books are the new big thing in self-publishing. They offer almost no risk to the author and to the retailer, so it is a cheap, easy option for people who have an audience for their book but no desire to go through the traditional publishing process. However, the e-book market is highly saturated with badly designed, badly edited books, so potential authors really need to put time into their work and ensure it looks as good as possible before putting it online.

Before publishing an e-book

  • Consider formatting and editing.  Just like with print publishing, e-books have to be formatted and edited by someone. Many e-book retailers offer editing services, so if you do not feel confident taking care of these steps yourself, you can find someone to do it for you (for a price).
  • Consider design.  This one gets its own bullet point for e-books because an attractive cover is everything. People aren’t going to buy a book that looks like it was designed by a third-grader. Also, e-books offer their own special design challenges because of the file formats they use. Make sure to upload your potential book onto some kind of device and check it over before hitting that submit button, because the pagination can get screwed up in the file conversion process.
  • Consider your synopsis. People are only going to buy your book if it sounds interesting, so work really hard on your book’s summary to make sure you are putting your best foot forward.
  • Consider marketing. If you want your book to make any money, you have to advertise it somehow. Do your friends know about your book? Does your family? How are you going to get people outside of that circle to buy your book? Do you have a Facebook page? A Tumblr? A Twitter? Is the first book in your series cheap or free?

Ancillary Services

These are services that help self-publishing authors access resources offered at a traditional publishing house, like professional designers and editors. None of them are cheap, but if you are unsure how to do these things yourself or where to start, they are a big help. For examples, see Bibliocrunch and FastPencil.

Before using an ancillary service

  • Figure out how much you can do yourself. If you are a terrible proofer, a professional should definitely go over your work to avoid embarrassment. If you can’t use Photoshop or InDesign, you might need a designer to help you out.
  • Figure out how much you are willing to pay. Freelance editors and designers don’t come cheap. Packages through actual companies like FastPencil or Bibliocrunch are not cheap, but they can take a lot of the hassle and worry out of self-publishing.

In General

Think carefully before choosing any of the services listed above. Consider what you want to do with the final product and who the audience is. Remember to do what will please you as an author—after all, that is the main advantage of self-publishing. 

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