[She Self-Publishes] Self-Publishing 101
Written by
Emily Suess
November 2012
Written by
Emily Suess
November 2012

As a writer, you've probably heard lots of buzz about the self-publishing industry. But what is it exactly, and is it right for you? In She Self-Publishes we'll take a look at the needs and struggles of self-published writers from finding inspiration and writing to editing and publishing your works. We'll also get tips and personal stories from She Writes members and other pros who want to share their stories and tips.

However, before we dive deeper into the topic, I thought it would be a good idea to go over the basics of what it means to be a self-published author.


What is Self-Publishing?

If you're at all confused about what qualifies as self-publishing, you're not alone. The truth is that not everyone agrees on a nice and tidy definition. That makes navigating the waters a bit complicated; but by understanding the different ways companies, writers, and independent publishing professionals talk about self-publishing you can decide which self-pub options are best for you.

In an interview earlier this year Erin Lale, the Editor and Publisher of the Time Yarns anthologies and Acquisitions Editor at Eternal Press and Damnation Books, gave the following definition:

"Self-publishing means the author contracts book designers and artists, buys her own ISBN blocks and edits the story. In short she’s a one-woman professional publishing company. Self-publishing means the author does it herself, and it means she owns the press that publishes the work."

This is a pretty strict definition, and a view that many purists hold. But you've no doubt seen companies large and small—some good and some bad—describe themselves as self-publishing companies. Their customers describe themselves as self-published authors. These businesses offer packages that help writers publish and distribute their works as hard copy works and e-books for platforms like Nook, Kindle, and other mobile readers.

Basic packages for these kinds of services start around $1,000 and run up to the tens of thousands of dollars. In addition to helping you layout your book, design a cover, copy edit and proofread the manuscript, many of these companies offer help marketing your book and building your author platform for an additional fee. Is it worth it? Well, that's a question that you as an author can decide. Some companies have excellent reputations for working with authors, and others? Well, not so much. (Don't worry, we'll talk more about how to find the great self-pub companies in future posts!)

Of course, when it comes to self-publishing you're not stuck with one option or the other. As the woman in charge, you can piecemeal work to whomever you like. For authors who want to keep a tight watch on the editorial and design processes, hiring freelancer editors, designers, and publicists is another viable option. It also allows you to make sure the costs of self-publishing stay within your budget. By using independent professionals, you can, to some extent, hold off on the next phase of publishing until your wallet is ready.


Why is Self-Publishing So Popular?

Nick Armstrong, a writer and the brains of WTF Marketing, says that self-publishing is "Giving yourself permission to write whatever the hell you want without having to ask permission from a big publishing house or wait for someone to discover you." And in a nutshell, that's what has so many writers excited about self-publishing their fiction and non-fiction works. By sidestepping the publishing industry's "gatekeepers," you can write about what you want, when you want. Plus, you set the deadlines.

Beyond that, the media has made self-publishing a more popular choice, and the stigma (though still a very real hurdle for writers to overcome) is diminishing. With the financial success of works like Fifty Shades, more and more writers are wondering if they have what it takes to make a living from self-publishing. It doesn't hurt that competition among service providers is bringing writers more options.


What are the Drawbacks of Self-Publishing?

Nothing in this life is perfect for every person in every situation, and self-publishing certainly has its detractors. Last month, Melissa Foster of indiereader.com wrote:

"Self-published authors have created a devaluing of the written word, and, some of them are scrambling to see how low they can go to get noticed.

Let us list the ways: 99-cent price point for ebooks. Free ebooks via KDP Select program. Unedited work. Kindle giveaways to get attention and bulk up sales. And lastly, nasty reviews from other authors with the sole purpose of driving down customer ratings."

Foster is not alone, as many critics have pointed out that self-published works are notoriously typo-ridden and lack that certain marketability that it takes to make a work successful. In coming posts, we'll explore more deeply the pros and cons of self-publishing.


So, what do you think about self-publishing?


Emily Suess is a freelance copywriter in Indianapolis. She writes about self-publishing and freelancing on her blog, Suess’s Pieces. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.

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  • Toi Thomas

    I just wanted to say wow. What a great discussion.

  • Janet Singer

    I now know a bit more about self-publishing than I did before. Thank you! Looking forward to more posts.

  • Pamela Olson

    By the way, for anyone interested in publishing an eBook without spending a fortune getting it formatted (or, like me, spending weeks with various bloated free guides and stripped-down Help pages trying to figure out how to format it yourself), I put together a simple guide for formatting a simple eBook -- it's less than the price of a latte, and so far it's gotten pretty good reviews. Hope it's helpful:


  • Geena Bean

    Thank you Emily for paving a way for us self-published authors (as well as those thinking about self-publishing) to connect and exchange our experiences with each other.  I am currently self-publishing my 1st children's picture book with the help from Amazon's Createspace.  I also have a blog that I just started which is a meeting place for woman of all ages.  There, we can share our experiences and daily inspirations to empower one another in reaching complete happiness and success.  I wanted to self-publish my children's story first and foremost because it brings our youth back to an appreciation of the world around them.  After researching numerous self-publishing companies, I found Createspace to be the most affordable out of all of them, and their customer service proved to be quite informative and reliable.  Plus they offer a Kirkus Indie Review, as well as a Clarion Review, and hands on marketing tips throughout the entire publishing process.  You maintain all of the control over how your work is published and can connect with your team at any time.  HOWEVER, self-published authors MUST realize that they are the core promoters of their work.  There are no red carpets rolling out in front of you, and if you think that publishing houses and agents are going to come knocking down your door, you will have a rude awakening.  The chances of that happening are slim to none; just like picking the winning numbers of a lottery.  But if you dedicate the time and effort and put your passion to work, you can and will become a success.  That means taking the time to network and establish an audience who will be interested in your book once it comes out.  With that being said, I would hope that your writing is impeccable and that your heart and soul are expressed clearly within your work.  Again, thank you so much Emily for this wonderful article.  Great way to start a discussion for the endless inquiries when it comes to self-publishing! 

  • Jennifer Boire

    in reply to Paulette, "Because I will be publishing an ebook on Kindle and POD with Createspace, my novel won't be stocked in bookstores and librarians can't order it -- so that is a disappointment." I think librarians can order it, but as it is Amazon based, some chain bookstores won't stock it (competition). Find out who the distributor is - on my contract with Createspace there was a choice for expanded distribution which included libraries and other stores.


  • Emily Suess

    Wow! Thank you all for sharing your thoughts and experiences with self-publishing. To those of you who have some experience publishing this way and want to share more details about why and how you self-published, please feel free to message me. It might be great to feature some of your tips (and book links!) in upcoming editions. To those of you looking for more information, I think you'll want to keep your eyes peeled. We're just getting warmed up!

  • Suzy Turner

    I've just launched my fourth self published novel for teens and already it is receiving rave reviews, with one reviewer going so far as to say it could be the next Harry Potter (cue Happy Dance!). Although it's tough to get started with a self published book, as long as the work has been edited properly and has a professionally-looking cover, you can't go wrong. I would highly recommend going down this route. I've literally sold thousands and thousands of copies and my readers keep coming back for more... a sure sign that I'm doing something right!

  • Rasana Atreya

    The unpublished manuscript of my novel was shortlisted for an award, I had a publishing contract in hand and yet I chose to self-publish. But not before I'd hired an editor to clean up my text, a cover designer to create my book cover, and a print book formatter (ebook formatting for a novel is very easy. Really).

    Would I do it again? Absolutely! I'm happy not to have to be told what I can write, or not write, which cover my book will have, the permissible word count etc. And now that my book has been in the #1/2 positions in my category, I know it is my hard work that has brought me to this point.

    Is self-publishing the best option? I wouldn't say that - I think we - the self-publishers and those published traditionally - need to learn to co-exist peacefully. I love what Toi Thomas says in the comments section: People are all the time making snap judgments about people who shop at Wal-mart. "People who shop at Wal-mart are to poor, dumb, and lazy to realize that they aren't getting quality, just quantity."

    A word of caution about 'self-publishing' companies. If *you* upload your book to Amazon/B&N/Smashwords/Kobo etc (for free, let me add), you get to control the pricing, see how many books you're selling - and you're the publisher on record. If someone else does it for you and controls your royalties, that isn't self-publishing. There are a lot of companies out there who exploit writers. Be wary. Before you go with someone, google them, and also check out "Preditors and Editors."

  • Rev. LaWaughn Rouse

    Thank you for this forum and it has come at the right time for me. I'm at the end stages of my first fictional novel. I'm a novice and would like to continue to write in my vintage years now that I'm retired and can put time to it. I have always looked at self-publishing and I really want to do this right. So I will follow the information that you have here and I so appreciate all of the input from the other ladies. This being my first baby I'm trying to learn all I can before I send her out into the world.

  • Paulette Bates Alden

    Thank you, Emily, for hosting this forum. I'm in the midst of self-publishing my novel, after publishing two books with traditional publishers.  I must say I'm finding it somewhat of a mental adjustment.  Because I will be publishing an ebook on Kindle and POD with Createspace, my novel won't be stocked in bookstores and librarians can't order it -- so that is a disappointment.  But I see that that is "old school" think, not part of how things work with self-publishing. It has it's own pluses.  I've found the process to be more complicated than I anticipated, and expensive: I've spent $770 on copy editing, which is the best money I ever spent, $710 having 52novels format the manuscript for ebook and POD (there are cheaper ways to do it but I didn't want to tackle it myself), a cover designer, and I have yet to get very far into publicity.  I want my book to look as good as a regularly published book--but I find I have to have a shiny cover with Createspace, and I'd prefer a matte cover.  Oh well.  It's actually kind of fun and definitely interesting to learn all this new stuff, though I feel overwhelmed at times.  And it finally came down to the only way to get my book to readers. I'm posting about my experience as The Reluctant Self-publisher on my blog, at www.paulettealden.com.  I have found other writers' posts on their self-publishing experiences invaluable as I go down this path.   

  • Toi Thomas

    Whenever there's been a long period of time when something has been so far out of reach to some many, and then suddenly it becomes readily available, hordes of people will take advantage of it. Those hordes of people may or may not care how they go about it, but you can’t clump them all into one group.

    People are all the time making snap judgments about people who shop at Wal-mart. "People who shop at Wal-mart are to poor, dumb, and lazy to realize that they aren't getting quality, just quantity." There's no point in me stating the name of the person who said this, because it's just someone I know. What's important is that we all should know that this is a horribly over-generalized statement that is unfair to a large amount Wal-mart shoppers.

    In terms of self-publishing, while there are thousands upon thousands of people poorly taking advantage of the new opportunities and advancements in technology, there are some who see the "self-publishing" opportunity for what it really is.  It’s a chance to work hard and prove themselves in an industry that normally wouldn't give them a second thought.

    The debate has, and will, go on and on about the devaluing of books because of the self-publishing movement, but most of these arguments are relative. As for free ebooks and $0.99 sales, I've seen these conducted by big publishing houses, not just self-publishers. I think something like this is ok as long as it’s a temporary promotion, but I do agree that setting the regular of a published work, that's actually of any worth, does devalue books.

    I think $0.99 for a 50-page short story is reasonable, but $0.99 for a 300-page epic installment of a four part series is rude, wrong, and a little crazy. That author is practically giving their work away just so people will buy it, with no regard for the fact that other authors might want to make a profit and pay their bills. A $0.99 price on a book like that basically means that the author is selling the price and no the book; so of course it doesn't have to actually be any good.

    Ok, I’m through ranting.

    I'm a self-publisher and I traverse the ups and downs of that as they come.

  • suzi banks baum

    Dear Emily, I am so glad for this forum and all the comments. I am working on self-publishing an anthology to accompany an event I produce for the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers. I have assembled 28 blog posts that will become the pieces in the book, along with an introduction and forward and a few other pages. I think I will use CreateSpace after an initial run of books to be sold at my March 1 event. This anthology contains some really good writing and it is my passion to have the book look, feel and be the best book I can make. I have a graphic designer and editing support. I will be following this discussion and look forward to more of your posts. Thank you, Suzi

  • Jennifer Boire

    I recently self-published with Create space and can attest to the fatigue and exhaustion of self-promotion. but at a recent Writers Union workshop on how to be your own publicist, the two presenters, both of whom had publishers, outlined all the work they had to do themselves, and the creative approaches they took, to sell their books. Having a publisher doesn't preclude the networking, speaking, bookstore visiting, facebooking, twittering and getting out there to meet readers that any author needs to do. I like the idea of 'indie' publishing, much cooler to compare myself to indie filmmakers and musicians. I love the control I had over this book - a friend of mine painted the artwork for the cover. I did pay for a Kirkus Review, out in September. Not sure it has contributed to sales. I paid for a copy editor (which I think is essential and so worth the $500 I paid her). I paid Createspace to do layout and book design, and had choices to approve. Lots of proofreading, and extra months to get it perfect. I had recently paid for a new website and postcards to promote my retreats, classes and now books. So now I can just hope to be lucky enough to run into an agent who wants to promote my book to a 'real' publisher to get wider attention, and meanwhile I keep on slogging away at my list of contacts, magazines, websites and others in my related area. The Tao of Turning Fifty is targeted at mid-life women living the turmoil of lack of sleep, need to get away and be alone, who need the courage to speak their truth, and take that menopausal journey to go down and in, so they can come up and out!

  • Suzanne McKenna Link

    I have downloaded some of the above-mentioned Kindle "Giveaways" and have seen evidence of the terrible "devaluing" of writing."  I feel embarrassed when I find typos and/or stories that just haven't been edited properly - I don't want to waste my time reading something that is sloppily put together. It's an obvious sign that the author wasn't willing to shell out a bit extra to have it professionally edited.

    As I am come close to considering my publishing options for my first novel, people often ask me what genre it is. I hesitate to answer. It doesn't fall easily into any publisher's pre-labeled category (And I highly suspect neither did "Fifty Shades").  Noting the common pitfalls and doing my best to carefully avoid them, I believe self-publishing is a definitely a viable option for me.

  • Jennifer Manlowe

    Great to see your take on self-publishing, Emily. I've written a book to help people decide on whether or not to use the various methods online publishing or whether to seek an agent and/or traditional publishing house. Because I've been published a few times by bigger publishing firms and have experience with self-publishing myself (five times), I've learned a ton about how to work with your manuscript before and after it's published. My favorite writers to work with are women wanting to use their life as a lens with which to "read" their world. I hope to hear from women who have already published their manuscript or want to do so. It's easier than you think, I promise.

    If I can do it, so can you! And it's more fun with an ally!

    "Find your inner writer and share your voice with the world." ~ JM
    Jennifer Manlowe, PhD, CPC
    Your Writing Mentor & Book Publishing Coach


  • Flora Morris Brown

    Self-publishing is a fantastic opportunity for the amateur writer to finally get published on her own terms, but it is critical to do your research and get informed before plunking down any money.

    Most writing and publishing advice is aimed at the would-be professional writer, while the average aspiring author has no desire to make writing her profession. As a matter of fact, while they want to sell books, they don't want to do the marketing required to rise to bestseller status. This is especially true for coaches, entrepreneurs and speakers who create books to bolster credibility and increase visibility, not to start a new career. Their niched books attract clients and gigs and are not directed at the general reading public.

    Self-publishing done well is not solo publishing. I insist that my clients produce the best work they can by gathering a team made up of an editor, proofreader, cover designer, layout/graphic designer and an affordable printing and distribution option. Their published books will range from ho hum to amazing, just like all the other books penned by authors of varying talent throughout history.

    What worries me most are the number of "respectable" companies and scandalous services who are taking advantage of the eager-to-be-published writer by offering over-priced packages and failing to deliver on their promises. While you will have to foot your own expenses when you go the self-publishing route, it's criminal for companies to charge anything over $4,000 to provide services which in some cases are available free if the writer does it herself.

    One big red flag is anyone offering to do all your marketing for you. Whether you go with traditional or self-publishing you are your own best advocate and must be prepared to do toot your own horn via blogging, social media, as well as online and offline appearances. Your sales will be proportionate to your efforts. Ask any bestselling author.

    We are fortunate  to have services, websites and groups like www.shewrites.com, which offer free and affordable services, information and resources. Best of all they provide a forum where we can learn from each other and be able to make informed decisions.

    Thank you.

  • Elisabeth Zguta Publishing

    I agree anyone who self publishes should know it takes a lot of work, and sometimes a lot of money if you need to hire editors etc. I have noticed a few people made comments about freebies being junk, etc. While some may be, I would just like to point out that my first read of Hunger Games was in a free ebook, and that story was not only well written, but edited properly etc. So my point is, in this self-publish mayhem there is no one set. Also, everyone should realize there is #1 self-publishing #2 self-marketing #3 self-publicizing ALL different jobs.

  • Pamela Olson

    I self-published using CreateSpace for my paperback (sold about 1,700 copies), KDP for my eBook (sold about the same number of copies), and Smashwords for the other eBook distributors (sold very few through these). It was an incredible amount of work, and some money for cover design and interior design (about $1,000 total), plus two book tours (funded by book sales and honoraria) and endless use of kind contacts and friends of friends, my blog, my email list, and Facebook to get the word out.

    About a year after I self-published, my book was lucky enough to get picked up by a traditional publisher (story is here: http://fasttimesinpalestine.wordpress.com/2012/06/08/just-signed-a-publishing-contract ), and the book's out (again) in March. I'll let you know how it goes!

  • Emily Suess

    Marcia, I've met lots of people who'd love to get rid of the term "self-publishing" and I get what you're saying, unfortunately I don't think it's a phrase that's going to go away quickly or quietly. I do love your enthusiasm and totally agree that the goal is to make sure our voices are heard.

  • Marcia Fine

    After 3 agents, 4 publishers and a lot of wasted time in slush piles, I ventured into INDEPENDENT PUBLISHING. Ban the words "self-published" from your vocabulary! The connotation is one of "hat in hand." We are all smart, educated women who make our own decisions. I have 5 independently published books, 4 have won literary contests, including the covers. Get out there, promote and market with enthusiasm! Let our voices be heard!

  • Pat Silver-Lasky

     I previously had a separate blog address, but now have put my blog into my website: www.pat silver-lasky.com Is this a mistake?

  • Kathryn Meyer Griffith

    For the first time in 40 years of writing; published 30 of those years with traditional publishers, I went the self-publishing route for my 16th SF/horror novel DINOSAUR LAKE. I was sure I could self-edit after all I'd learned (especially with my ebooks published the last five years where I could actually see every mistake I was making and learned from them)- and I had a great cover artist. A writer friend who'd already published with Amazon Kindle helped me format and place the book on Amazon Kindle Direct on August 29. I had blogs and review sites that already knew of me and didn't blink an eye when I asked them to post or review my new book. I've always done a lot of self-promoting. So far I haven't made a great deal of money but more for the one book in 2 and a half months than on any other one of my previous 15 novels for the same time period. 70% instead of 18% (what you usually get after the sellers take their cut off the top and then you split the remainder with your small publisher) is the difference. I plan on self-publishing my 17th novel the same way. Kathryn Meyer Griffith

  • Laurie Garrison

    As a reader and blogger I notice self-publishing is growing at stagnating rate. Some readers can careless for the grammar mistakes while others complaining about it. As a blogger I see other authors complaining more than the readers. I notice grammar mistake in all self-published, NY & small press books. Authors need to know what indie publishing entails, that way they know if it’s right for them or not. 

    As a blogger I notice my indie author were being passed up on a lot of things out there like cons etc. I wanted to do something for them. I created the Indie Romance Convention a couple months ago. I hope this will helps romance authors grow in indie press work. Now please don’t judge me for my grammar, I’m just a reader and blogger that want’s to help in any way I can. I’m not an editor.

    Pat Silver question. Yes, authors can. I know several that do this every day. I am in awe at what some authors can do, again this is another reason I wanted to help authors. 

    I believe as indie publishing grows the more help they will get. 

  • Thank you for your post. I self-publish. I use an editor and a copy-editor to make sure my work is the best it can possibly be. My book is available in ebook format and softcover. Marketing can be very time consuming, but I am happy with how my book is being received. I look forward to reading your next post.

  • Pat Silver-Lasky

    Assuming that the lady has been a published author and can do all the 'bits' to edit, size, make a flash cover, ISBN number, etc. the big questions still remain: Getting reviewed by key reviewers and marketing the book. How do you let readers discover your work? Is it worth hiring so-called marketing experts? Can you do it all yourself? Can you do it without an agent? What answers can you offer to the pro who wants the freedom of self-publishing?