• Kamy Wicoff
  • I'm Thinking of Self-Publishing. Whaddya Think? (And Help!)
This blog was featured on 07/20/2016
I'm Thinking of Self-Publishing. Whaddya Think? (And Help!)

At this year's BEA conference, the talk was all e.  Ebooks, epub, e-everything. And it got me to thinking.  She Writes has an amazingly engaged, talented community, an authentic voice, and an audience.  Maybe we should think about doing some publishing ourselves.

However when I began to look at all the available tools I felt like my head was going to explode.  Create Space? Lulu? iUniverse? Scribd? Kindle Direct? Smashwords?  Which one is the best?  What are the pros and cons?  How important is it to have a universal ISBN number?  How do you set price?  Is it enough to have just an ebook, or do you need a print version, too?

I and one of stellar summer interns, ISABEL FARHI, set out to do some research into these questions, and we have managed to sort out some of the basics.  But as we dug in further, I realized we were underutilizing the best tool we have: YOU.

The whole reason I started She Writes was so none of us had to reinvent the wheel alone -- together we are the smartest kid in the room.  So I am asking for you to share your expertise.  If you have self-published, what tool did you use?  How did you decide?  What might be best for short publications, like, say, "The Best of She Writes"?

I've created discussion threads for each of the tools I'm aware of:

Create Space





Kindle Direct


Lightning Source (though that's a little bit more for independent publishers)

If you have knowledge or information to share about any of these tools, please share it!  And if you are a "self-publishing" expert or coach, feel free to reach out to me about potentially providing some guidance to me and She Writes as we explore this area.

Let's be friends

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  • Michael N. Marcus

    After wasting significant time and energy experimenting with several e-book services, I tried eBookIt.com and have been extremely pleased. The company is good, fast, reasonably priced and responsive. Its website is very friendly. My money comes in every month. The report of my e-book odyssey is at http://bookmakingblog.blogspot.com/2011/04/more-details-about-my-ebook-odyssey.html


    -- http://www.GoodBadAndUglyBooks.com (reviews of books for writers)
    -- Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series: CTRL + Click to follow link"">http://www.silversandsbooks.com/booksaboutpublishing.html
    -- "Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults)," CTRL + Click to follow link"">http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661750
  • Would someone care to define 'serious author'? Those two words are bandied about a lot. If by serious author you mean you wish to tag your work as literary fiction and produce 300,000 word novels that are dead serious, to be brutally honest, self-publishing is probably not for you. Size of file does have cost implications. Also, if you are planning on producing a 1200 page novel, some printers will not be available to you. But more seriously, you must decide what you want to do with your work. Who is your audience? Are you looking for praise, prizes and plaudits from the literary community, or do you want to reach out to people. Would you rather sell fifty copies of your book and have ordinary people enjoy it? I take my writing very seriously indeed, and I wanted to be published; but eighteen months on Authonomy changed my mind irrevocably about the mainstream publishing houses. The concept of endlessly submitting to agents and gathering a massive pile of rejection letters while my manuscript gathers dust and accummulates postage fees seemed bizarre to me. Say you find an agent. They take 15%, the publishing house wants its cut for taking a chance on you, you may wind up with royalties of 15% of sales. You may wind up with a book that is unrecognisable from what you originally wrote. I know someone picked up by Harper Collins. The title of her book was changed, presumably to make it more bland for the paying public, her book cover was in keeping with the other books in that genre that they produced - there was definitely a house style - honestly, the new title was nice and bland and pretty meaningless, it lacked charm; her new cover fit the house style, but lacked the romance of her own design. Homogenised, packaged, and bland. We are all serious authors here, I imagine everyone wants to get into print, it all rather depends on what 'serious author' means to you. It is also not true that self-published work will not get reviews. It will. Please also bear in mind that the web is growing in power and influence, people are more inclined to trust peer review now, especially as they can interact with it, leave their own personal stamp. To say that this or that reviewer won't review your work, is only relevant if you allow it to be. As I said, I want people to enjoy themselves reading my stuff, I would rather make pennies than give my work to a mainstream publisher to be endlessly rejected, then homogenised and 'made safe', agents and publishers have only become the gatekeepers because we have allowed them to be. Since their bottom line is profit, they seize upon what they believe will be the most profitable, and try to force it into a package. How many times have you seen the sign 'if you loved 'X' you will love this'? Art and literature should not be predictable, safe and pre-packaged. I firmly believe that the longer we continue to embrace the concept of agent, publisher, mainstream, the tighter these restrictions will become until the mainstream publishing houses become the literary equivalent of cloners.

  • Love Babz

    This is so divinely timely as I contemplate self-publishing and ebooks etc. This will be of such help to...I won't feel so overwhelmed trying to sift and sort through all the options weighing pros and cons.

  • Julie Achterhoff

    I had my first two books published by a small publishing house. When I had just finished my third book I met someone on Facebook who had self-published a book. He convinced me that it was a good way to go for many reasons. He had some people who would do the cover, inner workings (fonts, etc.), publish it with CreateSpace, plus format it properly for smashwords and get it on amazon and B&N. I sent him my manuscript, got back a pdf to approve, sent that back with the OK, and Earthwalker was published within a week, available in print form or e-book form. Everything went so smoothly that I asked my publisher for the rights to my first two books and have self-published one of them plus a novella. It's been a great experience. I like CreateSpace because it has a dashboard where I can navigate to all the information about my books, such as sales, charts, info on other avenues for sales, etc. And of course I get a much bigger percentage of the royalties than with the publisher. I like the feeling of being in control of my own work.

  • Rebecca Elswick

    I was thrilled to see your post and read all the information pouring in because I have a self-publishing story to share. I recently won the Pitch2Win Contest held by Writer's Digest and Abbott Press. I entered the contest after a year of querying agents. Even though I had amassed some "nice encouraging" rejections, they were rejections all the same. My novel was gathering dust.

    Then I saw the contest. Never expecting to win, I entered.

    After being notified I was one of 50 finalists, I went on to part two of the contest - submit a synopsis and a bio. Long story short, I won a publishing contract with Abbott Press.

    I freely admit I was thrilled and terrified. After all those rejections, somebody was saying this is a great book and we want to publish it. BUT... Did I really want to let an independent press publish my book? If they wanted it, wouldn't an agent want it and therefore, a publisher?

    I read everything I could find about self-publishing. There are success stories out there - more than you might think. But what I discovered is bottom line, if you want your book to be successful, you have to WORK - no matter how it gets published! The author has to be willing to promote her book.

    I finally decided to publish with Abbott Press, and I am getting ready to submit my manuscript. They will first take me through the editing process. Stay tuned and I will let you know how it goes.

  • Anna Solomon

    Definitely check out Steve Almond's series of pieces in Poets & Writers on his experiences. Both concrete - and funny - advice.

  • Jane Galer

    Lightning Source is the printer that the other ones use to print the books. they are owned by Ingram. They are a print on demand as well as offset printer. They require complete ready to go files. They are for indie publishers. One fun thing they do have is a book making machine. I think there's one in the Harvard book store. You walk up with your file, load it in and stand there and watch your book get printed! Great for proofs.

    Self published books don't get reviewed or taken seriously, sad but true. Kirkus Reviews won't even review POD books. Now that's old fashioned! If you want to have a real chance, keep working at finding a real  publisher, why not a micro publisher, or coop with your friends to start your own. Let Bloomsbury live on! Yes, you have to have ISBNs and bar codes, no stores will take them without it. Amazon's CreateSpace might be the better of the self publishers because of it's control.  The bottom line for me is that I completely disagree with Sherrie's comment below about how great vanity publishers are. Money makers for the publishers but a dead end for serious authors.

  • Lynn Jaussi

    Wow..you must have been reading my mind!!  I have finished my book too and I am looking for answers on the same thing! I did my layout with booksmart/blurb.com..but they dont work with amazon or anyone else. They have their own bookstore which is great, but the price of the book is a little high. I am in the position that I would have to now pay a publishing company to do all that I already did..and I love my layout as is...so if anyone has any information that would be great!! There is also a group on FB called savvy book marketer they have alot of folks who are kind enough to help.


  • Laura J. W. Ryan

    Sherrie Wilkolaski is right, an author who wants to self-publish really has to do it properly, or they're shooting themselves in the foot putting out a book that is desperate need of editing, proper formatting and design...I understand wanting to get it out there, but it's really worth it to do it right the first time. My mantra through the whole process has been: Practice, Patience, Persistence. It's an investment to spend the money to hire out, or to invest in the software and learn how to do the work on your own. I've been printing paperback copies using Createspace, I bought my own block of ISBN's from Bowker so I have my own imprint name (Field Stone Press), my husband also publishes his novels and a book of poetry, and we just published our first art book featuring our paintings (we went with Blurb.com to print that, it's a really beautiful book!) I have used PubIt to make my two novels available for the NOOK, I'm planning for Kindle editions next...in the meantime, I'm working on the final rounds of edits for novel #3. I've been pretty pleased with the experience, so far so good, the books sell, they're being read and reviewed.

  • Stacy Green

    What a great discussion. I'm just finishing my WIP and trying to decide which route to go after however many rounds of editing it takes.  I've always told myself I will query for at least six months if only for the experience, but self-publishing is sounding more and more appealing. It's just the idea of the marketing/networking/doing everything myself that's daunting, because I'm pretty green in that area.

  • Sherrie Wilkolaski

    Hi Kamy,

    I will be happy to give you my two cents on the matter.  As a successful self-published author, publishing consultant and book publicist...I am a HUGE fan of self-publishing, if you do it properly.  When you self-publish, you in essence are the publisher.  You must treat your work with the scrutiny that any traditional publishing house would.  She Writes also has what many new authors do not have…a solid fan base.

    To make it work, you must be willing to invest the time and effort, commit to working with the best publishing professionals (i.e. editors, formatters, graphic designers, distributors, book publicists, etc.) and be realistic enough to know book sales do not happen overnight.  Developing a solid product that could be put on a bookstore shelf is your goal.  If you do it right, you might just end up with a book that a publisher will consider taking a look at. 

    It is a great idea for She Writes to publish books Print-on-Demand (POD) format (i.e. paperback or hardcover), ePub and eBook (PDF) as your starting point.  It is a great way to brand your incredible female-centric site and you’ll have the added benefit of driving revenue.

    In looking at your list of self-publishing venues they all have a value. Here is the skinny on each…


    I’m starting off with this POD option first because, well…they were my part of my success story and I ran the Publishing Services Division before taking my position at AME, so I have a soft spot for them.  Lulu offers the ability to publish your book for FREE.  You can upload your manuscript in PDF format, they’ll give you a FREE ISBN number for your book, you set your retail pricing and your book is available to the world. Your retail pricing will be higher at Lulu than at its competitor, Createspace and YOUR wholesale cost per book will generally be more.  This is for paperback and hardcover.  eBooks, no charge!  No phone support. 6-8 weeks to get your book on Amazon once you approve it.

    Create Space

    This arm of Amazon is a self-publishing, POD powerhouse!  They have the same abilities as you would find at Lulu.  Your retail pricing will be better here than at Lulu and many other places.  Print quality of the book will be just slightly lower if you put the book side-by-side next to a Lulu product, but the difference in cost is worth it.  Only you will know.  If you’re printing a book in color, Createspace is a much better option.  Your book will be on Amazon almost immediately and they have phone support.  For SheWrites, this would be my recommendation for your paperback edition.


    Great option if you want to publish an ebook!  They will convert your manuscript to an ePub file for free, but the caveat is that you must have it in the right format.  It can be done, but if you’re not technology savvy…pay someone.


    iUniverse is a solid POD option.  They do charge to publish and offer a variety of packages which start at $599.  They have phone support! You will be able to get your book on Amazon and my experience it takes 2-4 weeks.


    I like to use Scribd as a tool to market my books.  You can upload your content to their site for FREE.  Use them to market an excerpt of your book as a teaser and then link to your online storefront to sell the book.  Using Scribd you will increase your online exposure and SEO (search engine optimization).   

    Kindle Direct

    This is Amazon’s FREE option to publish your eBook to kindle!  Very simple to use and your book will be available almost instantly.


    This is Barnes and Nobles great new tool if you want to publish in ebook format!  You can publish for FREE. Their online software will walk you through the process.  This tool I find is best for “text” only formats.  You can include images, but limited is better. A book full of photos will be tedious to create in this software. 

    Lightning Source

    Lightning Source is used by publishers, but more and more self-publishers are going direct.  You will save on your cost to print your books. It is going to be more labor intensive to work with them.  Using a Lulu or Createspace it can be done with a few uploads of your files.  If you are super-serious about your book and are in need of also printing in bulk, this is a great option.  Better option for color and you may find you have more book size options than with the competition.  Yes, to phone support! Getting on Amazon 2-4 weeks.

    Once you’re published you’ll need to focus on your marketing and that includes everything from online to offline.  I would use your books for back of the room sales at any speaking engagements you’re doing, as free eBook giveaways in your newsletter, there are so many opporutnities.  As you need more volume, then print a short-run.

    Even if you are picked up by a publisher (YOU have a great shot, I would contact Jeff Rivera at GalleyCat and have him write your query letter…he is a genius) you will STILL have to invest in your own marketing.  So why not take full control early in the game!

  • Paula Hendricks

    sorry, here's the link: thebookdesigner.com


  • Paula Hendricks

    i've been involved with the self publishing community for years (past president of bay area independent publishers association, series at commonwealth club, etc.)... 


    there are lots of great resources out there, but one of the best is joel friedlander's blog thebookdesigner.com... just excellent.


    if you are willing to do or manage all the pieces of the publishing puzzle -- from writing the book, to designing the book (in various formats) to creating all the marketing materials (from author blurbs to various length descriptions of the book and postcards, letters, ads, trailers, etc.) plus all the other business decisions about distribution, sales and social media, then self publishing is for you. even if you don't want to do all the work, you will have to delegate (not abdicate) to be successful.


    for many however, they really just want a publisher, one who understands them and involves them in the process as much as they want to be involved.


    publishing is exciting and rewarding and it is a complex process with many moving parts.


    i'm afraid asking which platform is a decision that needs to come after you decide if you really want to be the publisher and/ or which tasks you want to take on.... 


    iUniverse is not a self publishing platform (they own the ISBN and they are the publisher)...


    LIghtning Source is absolutely an option for serious self-publishers (after all they are owned by Ingram, largest distributor)... and if you are a self-publisher you are also an independent publisher.


    be sure you know what you are willing to take on. it can be an exciting or an exhausting journey depending on your strengths, skills, and goals.


    i hope this helps.



  • Dianne

    Hi Kamy,

    If you plan to sell books at the back of the room when you speak, a more profitable solution is to print a short run of your book. I have done this with local printers and online with instantpublisher.com. You can print for a few dollars apiece and set your own selling price.

  • I've heard numerous ideas on this subject, but what I always got out of it was this: If you are new to writing, try to get published through a publishing house before self-publishing. I've heard this a few times from people with experience dealing with both. I keep going back and forth between attempting to deal with the mainstream for my book and it published through a publishing company, or self publish. My creative writing professor is one of those who had published a couple books through an agent and company, but had poor luck with it. Now he self publishes through Create Space. (He was using the company back when it was Book Surge.) My professor is not the only one I've met who have gone this route. I'm currently still in the writing and editing process, so thats all I can really say about the subject since I have yet to throw myself out there.

  • Self-published is better for non-fiction, isn't it?

  • R. Ann Siracusa

    Hi Kamy, I'd say which options you should consider will depend a great deal on your expectations and goals as a writer. Too often we make these choices without a career plan and goals, or even without giving consideration to long term consequences (both negative and positive). It also depends to some extent on what you write (although not as much as it did a few years ago), who your target audience is, if you are already published, and how well-versed you are in marketing, etc. There are a lot of us out there who will be happy to share our experiences and give advice.  (Writers love to give advice.) I have self-published in print format and am e-published through Sapphire Blue Publishing. I'd be glad to share.       

  • Self publishing? There are a number of thoughts on this subject. However, ask yourself this… do you really want to share nearly all the profits of your hard work with other people? Do you want to lose creative control? If you become a moderately successful mainstream middle list author you will clear less into your bank account than the average office junior. In fact a junior shop assistant will make more than you do. Marketing I hear you cry… well, yes, you have to do your own marketing. Newsflash, if you are in the mainstream, you will have to do your own marketing, you will have to work just as hard, and honestly, these days there are so many tools available for free you can do all this without the dubious help of the mainstream.


    Being self-published is not for the faint hearted. You have to work hard. Your book must stand up to scrutiny. If you are using self-publishing to gallop into print without due care and attention, you are doomed to fail. You have to find yourself an editor you can work with. You need artwork for your cover. You need a good blurb for your back cover. Before you even think of going to print you should be on the net, get yourself a facebook page, twitter, and a blog. Talk to people. Engage. Build yourself a following.


    Places to go to really learn about the independents, and find out that there is a world out there that sidesteps the mainstream and reaches out to the audience direct - may I recommend the following:


     The Company of Fellows is the work of English author and blogger, and experimental literary artist, Dan Holloway. Dan is also responsible for the book Agnieszka's Shoes, which is arguably the first book to be written on facebook, where the readership could interact with the author and affect the course of the story.


    Publetariat is the place to go for all things independent, run by self-published author and independent literary artist April Hamilton, it is the online resource for self-publishing.


    Ali Cooper is a self published author who has particular experience of Kindle, her books The Girl On The Swing, and the newly published Cave are available on Kindle, and via Smashwords. Ali is on facebook and is usually happy to offer her experiences to people who ask.


    Have you considered Fastpencil? This is a website that offers several self-publishing packages.

  • Jan Marquart

    Hi Kamy,

    I've been self-publishing for 20 years. Usually, I hire private book designers, editors and printers. This is expensive but I always liked the one on one interaction so last fall when a friend told me about CreateSpace.com I said affirmatively, NO. She kept insisting but I hate doing something so detailed and important as my manuscripts through emails and sites. But I agreed to look into it. Surprisingly, I now have three books on the pro plan with create space and three which I had already self-published after I did all the work editing, designing, yada yada on their site too. That did not cost a cent.

    The Mindful Writer, Still the Mind, Free the Pen www.createspace.com/3546101

    The Breath of Dawn, a Journey of Everyday Blessings www.createspace.com/3546000

    Echoes from the Womb, a Book for Daughters www.createspace.com/3546083

    I must say, the staff at Create Space is wonderful. There is no machine you have to talk to while hoping it doesn't hang up on you. Their site is easy to use and the job they did on my three pro plan books were phenomenal.

    check out the three books they edited, designed and print:

    The Basket Weaver www.createspace.com/3553668

    Kate's Way www.createspace.com/3498926

    Voices from the Land www.createspace.com/3552509

    I truly cannot say enough wonderful things about them. I've heard nightmares stories from other writers about LuLu.

    Jan Marquart 

  • In response to Rochelle's comment about self-publishing as a bad thing, I have the sense this is changing as more and more artists and musicians self-promote online, etc.  My novel is targeted to a niche audience, and I plan to pepper this audience with CreateSpace postcards (the books cover and blurb), as well as sending the book itself to reviewers in this community.

  • Debbie Dillon

    Hello there!  

    I'm the author of "Walking in Son-Light," a Christian devotional-type gift book that I self-published through Lulu.  The whole process was pretty painless, but I have learned some things along the way:

    1. Have a very clear marketing plan WHILE you're writing.  Think of exactly who will read your book.  Are you writing for men or women?  Will you feel comfortable walking into a local book store, gift or consignment shop and promote your book as well as yourself as an author?  
    2. When going the self-publishing route, the file you upload is the exact file that prints.  When creating your manuscript (if you're using Word), go into your Page Set-up function and format your page lay out to the dimensions you plan to print it as.  For example:  my book is printed in the 6"x9" Reader's Digest size, so I used those dimensions during the writing process.  You are also responsible for writing up your own Copyright page, the page numbering, etc.  Self-publishers only print and assemble, but the formatting is up to you (unless you hire out).  They do not make any changes or corrections to your manuscript.
    3. Self-publishing through Lulu is free - although, you are required to order a proof copy to either approve it or reject it.  As an author, you'll want to order several copies, though.  I have learned to NEVER be without my book, so I try to always have several copies on hand.  I actually learned that lesson the hard way; I could have sold 2 copies the other day at the bank, but didn't have any with me.  There's so much to share, and I'm really just learning the whole process.  I have my very first book signing event tomorrow, and I'm SO excited!  My book is selling in 2 shops here in town, and 1 of them is having a grand re-opening tomorrow.  I just published my book this past April, and I already have 3 book signings confirmed between now and October, and I've been selling through the LuLu site, as well.  
  • I am near the it's-a-book! stage with CreateSpace.  I chose them because of their affiliation with Amazon and Kindle, and the price seemed reasonable.  My biggest regret, however, is paying $600 for copy editing.  The results were not appropriate for fiction, and I had the sense that my copy editor was relying on the Word grammar check function.  My novel uses heightened language very carefully, and I had to undo a lot of needless changes.  I should add here that the first copy you get back from the copy editor will ask you to accept or not accept the changes, but since this also includes formatting changes on every paragraph, etc., it seemed easier to (1) run a copy with the redlining and comment notes, (2) accept all the changes in order to get the formatting locked in, and (3) reading the text with changes against the printed out version and, change things back.  The great advantage for me in self-publishing was that (after the copy-editing phase), I was able to spend 6 months really fine-tuning my novel, without a deadline.  Knowing that my novel was actually going out into the world was a tremendous incentive to focus and really do what was needed.  I will check in with you again when my book is done.  At this point, I am looking at the early galleys to finalize issues like font size and right-justified or not.   My publication date should be in July or August.

  • I thought that self-publishing was the death to the career of a serious writer. I was in a self-published anthology and no one valid would review it. I was advised to leave it off my bio. Is this changing?