[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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  • Mina Lobo

    @Emily - thanks so much! :-)

  • Mary T. Wagner

    I've been "self-publishing" for the past several years through iUniverse, with three award-winning essay collections that would have taken YEARS to see the light of day if I held out for finding a "traditional" publisher--Running with Stilettos, Heck on Heels and Fabulous in Flats. It's a sad fact, though, that the real money makers for these kinds of companies comes not from selling your book but in selling "marketing services." I always passed on those packages, but know of folks who have spend oodles of money. Just recently, I've become emboldened to take back my e-book versions and publish them directly through Kindle Direct Publishing. At some point, I may get brave enough to create a business model and my own imprint, and handle the print versions myself. One bridge at a time! In the meantime, this is what my listing through Kindle Direct Publishing looks like for Running with Stilettos. Enjoy the preview!

  • Joan Z. Rough

    I self-published a small instruction book back in 1980 before it was the cool thing to do. I did every bit of it myself.  I was successful with it because I knew who my audiance was and how to get to them.  It was a huge amount work and after reprinting it three times, I got very tired of being a bookseller with little time for the creative work that keeps me sane.  After looking for a publisher without any luck, I finally let it go.

    I'm in a quandry now as to what I will do with the memoir I'm working on.  I don't mind the putting it together so much as the part about being a book seller again.  However, with the internet to help, maybe it is easier now than it was years ago.

    I agree that it has to be done right:  No typos, no sloppiness. Good design. It only helps ruin one's reputation.


  • Emily Suess

    Glad for the feedback, Mina. I'll definitely work on developing some reference posts that adress these issues. My aim is to give as much information as I possible can. In the meantime, I can offer some suggested reading:

    Self-Publishing Services Directory - I created this ever-evolving list to help connect writers with professionals that can help them self-pub. (She Writes Press has a listing there!)

    Mark Levine's book: The Fine Print of Self-Publishing

  • Victoria Adams

    I'm an indie pubbed author. For a multitude of reasons I decided to forgo traditional publishers. The biggest reason being I wanted to epub. I believe this market is growing faster than traditional paper books and the Big Six aren't there yet.
    Yes there is a stigmatism against indie authors - new things are often seen as a threat to the old ways. And yes, there is good and bad out there. But the same thing happened when there was a switch from hard cover books to paper backs. Paperbacks were thought to be lower-class books. Only real people read real books which were hardcovers. Now a days, people don't think twice about purchasing and being seen reading a paperback.
    There is a major revolution going on in the publishing world but in a few years what seems radical now will be the norm.

  • Augie

    Emily, thank you so much for this post. I'm apprehensive about going this route, I think its the fear of not developing the best product and looking like an illiterate fool. I want to do the best job, but I can't afford to make mistakes. I'm looking forward to your next post.


  • Mina Lobo

    I'm seriously headed in the self-publishing direction, but find the level of what I *don't* know, or don't know how to best access (a cover artist whose work I enjoy and feel fits with my writing, the same for a copy editor), daunting. I'd LOVE a bulleted list running down all the basics of self-publishing process, and then points of reference for every step of the way (online, professional periodicals, etc.). I have picked up a book and read some other online articles but still find the info to be fuzzy.

    Looking forward to more on the subject!

  • Emily Suess

    You're right about that, Bridget. As a former reviewer of self-published books I can say that a few poorly edited works don't just reflect badly on the industry as a whole, they can totally mar an author's reputation. If I could tell a writer considering self-publishing one thing it would be this:

    Self-publishing is an alternative way to publish a book. It is NOT a shortcut.

  • C J McKinney

    I think that last point is the key -- typo ridden and lacking in marketability.  In some ways, today's self-publishing has unsavory echoes of yesterday's vanity publishing. That does devalue what is a very legitimate and liberating avenue for taking control of one's own work rather than waiting for that big publishing house to deign to take an interest.  I wonder if maybe there is another way to label work done by professional writers who want control of their own creative output -- as opposed to the easy freebie stuff that looks and reads like crap and tarnishes the image of quality, independent work.

  • Bridget Straub

    I'm with Melissa on this one. As a self-published author you have to put out a well edited book and you have to value it before anyone else will.

  • Daphne Q

    A good pro and con here. Thanks for posting.