• 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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  • kiana davenport

    AMEN to all you sisters who responded to Kamy with helpful advice.  In my response   I forgot to stress the most important thing:  the writing.  You must revise and revise until you want to  scream.  Then put the work aside for a while, and come back to it cold,  and then revise and revise again.  Writing is all about rewriting.  My next novel coming out from Penguin,  THE CHINESE SOLDIER' DAUGHTER,  has been thru 26 revisions. And I'm not sure its finished yet!  Each story in the ebook collection HOUSE OF SKIN,  PRIZE-WINNING STORIES  was revised at least 15-20 times  before they won any prizes.  Then I revised them several times again before uploading them as an ebook.  Colette said,  "In truth,  a book is never finished.  When I see my books in published form all I am aware of are my 'flawed intentions.' "  But still.  Rewrite and rewrite, until its as good as we can make it.  Something to be proud of.   Write on!  Kiana Davenport in Hawaii.


  • Marcia Mayne

    Once your book is published - in whatever format you decide on - please, don't forget to factor in the marketing and publicity portions, finding and reaching your audience. Keep in mind that you should start as early as possible -- even a year before -- and continue actively promoting it up to a year or two after.

    I'm doing research for a client who wants to do the same thing, so I'll share my findings with you. Thanks for thinking of it.

    I applaud you for considering this route. It's a great way of getting your book out there and controlling your product from beginning to end. It's a ton of work but also a (or two) of reward!

    Good luck!

  • I'm dying to read the results. Don't have much to offer except if you are considering self-pubbing you MUST read Joel Friedlander's blog, "The Book Designer". Since apparently we who are considering self-pubbing will have to become not only expert writers but also everything else in the pipeline.

  • Averill Buchanan

    When I'm advising authors about self-publishing I point them to Irish author Catherine Ryan Howard's book/ebook Self-Printed (http://amzn.to/kI1RaM) and to her blog, where she has been charting her adventures in self-publishing (http://bit.ly/lcNLMx). Perhaps some of you on the other side of the Atlantic might find this useful too.

  • MJ Pullen

    Just today, I experimentally uploaded my first novel to Amazon's Kindle format. For me, it's kind of a toe in the water. I found the process relatively easy, and the primary hangups were more related to my own technological ineptitude than the process itself. I'm waiting for the Amazon system to review and publish the book. In the meantime, I did post this blog about the experience: http://dollhairdoesntgrowback.blogspot.com/2011/06/eat-tuna-bagel-publish-book-take-nap.html

  • Amen Zetta!

  • Zetta Brown

    Personally, I recommend that SW create their own publishing house and offer titles in both print and e. There are people who refuse to buy ebooks and people who may never buy print again now that ebooks are a mainstream option. So why alienate either group???

    We've been publishing ebooks since 2003, and our company JimandZetta.com (plug!) offers ebook conversion services.

    As for print, I recommend using Lightning Source (LSI). We've been very happy with their service and the cost and people are impressed with the quality of final product.

    Purchase your block of ISBNs. It's an expense, but some distributors may require you to have an ISBN. There's been debate as to whether or not there should be an ISBN for each ebook format for a title, but me and the other publishers I know believe that idea to be bunk and merely a way for Bowker (or whomever it is) to shakedown more money out of publishers (houses and self pubbed alike).

    I'd also like to add that although there are many success stories out there about people who've made big money with ebooks, some of the cheerleaders are authors who already had a large following and/or publishing history from a major publishing house. People like Konrath et al already had a devoted fan base so it's no wonder that many of them were willing to follow him where ever he went.

    I think authors forget that the reading public DO NOT CARE who publishes a book--they only want to know how/where they can GET the book.

    Think about it. Is your average reader going to enter a bookstore or shop online and look for books ONLY published by Publisher A or ONLY books that are self published? No. They are going to search for what they want/need, or buy on impulse something that grabs their attention. 

    If you're just starting out and don't have an audience or following (yet), you may get discouraged when you realize you're not making the big bucks like some of the big names out there claim is so easy to do.

    Another thing I believe is that these success stories underplay the importance for the author to do the work and 1) produce the best book they can and 2) self promote the hell out of the book AND themselves.

    It's important for anyone who wants to get into publishing to understand that it's a business, and like anything else, if you want to be a success at it (and YOU must define what you consider to be a "success") you gotta work at it

    Well, that's my advice in a nutshell! LOL 

    Go, Kamy, go!

  • Amen Kiana.....while many often get dazzled by the proposed prestige of being published, the truth is the written media is changing. Parallels can be drawn to other mediums, [TV] [more reality shows then fiction dramas etc].....Not necessarily a good thing, [in fact as an actor I hate it.]

    As a writer I have watched fellow writers dealing with the publishing entities, some have had success others well, not so much.

    Self publishing is not just a means to a financial end, it is also a way to publish what may not meet mainstream publishers criteria, yet may very well be just as viable a product given the chance to see the light of day, or in this case the eye of the reader, whether that be in print format or kindled.

    It is also much easier now to self publish with low overhead costs. You can print from home if you choose too, for limited runs, local distribution etc, and as previously mentioned, there is Amazon and a bevy of other sites that will accept your works for print on demand.

    The taboos that used to surround self publishing, have more power as word of mouth mythology than actual truth. 

    Does self publishing doom your book to obscurity? Not according to this list of famous self published authors. http://www.simonteakettle.com/famousauthors.htm 

    And just for added ommph this list also includes famous works that were initially rejected.


    As writers it is important to decide what your reasons for writing are. some simply write to write [the monetary does not factor in], yhey blog for the joy of it. Others use the medium of blogging [as is obvious], to network and get their works noticed. I write for a myriad of reasons, so all options appeal to me, though I believe more and more that in order to hold onto the integrity of what I write, [whether that turns out to be right or wrong], seems to now be more important to me than being big house published, where a lot of what you write then goes under the knife.

    Not so much by those who truly know good writing, but rather those who utilize the *formula* that can and often does relegate a book to that of just another book in the machine.....Drawing another parallel....the reason you see so many movies hit the DVD shelves as special directors cuts is because of that same rule. Especially where the editing was done for time and of course the *formula* not by the director himself, but some big film companies editing bay of drones].

    That said I go back to the point of choose why you are writing and how important is your written voice? Once you have determined those things and taken into account the reams of advice, opinion and anecdotes shared, I think the answer will come to you... which is pretty much the same as saying...trust your gut instinct where ever that leads you and good luck!


    Another cool site I was introduced to today, may appeal to the anthologists and poets out there.  http://www.blurb.com/ Enjoy!

  • kiana davenport

    PS...dear Kamy,  in answer to your question what is the best platform for  short publications like THE BEST OF SHE WRITES...if you only chose one platform it has to be KINDLE.  Amazon Kindle is still the "Godfather Supreme" of all ebook publishing.  They have the biggest sales,  of everyone.  They're easy and patient with writers.   PS...Even literary giants like John Edgar Wideman,  (A MacArthur Genius Grantee, and Pulitzer Prize recipient)  has just self-published his first collection of short stories.  Why?  Because 'print publishing is in chaos,  and it now takes one to two years to get your book published after they buy it."  Amen.

  • kiana davenport

    Dear Kamy and all She Writes sisters...I'm Kiana Davenport from Hawaii.  I've had 3 bestselling  novels published by Simon and Schuster and Random House.  A few yrs. ago as you know, the bottom fell out of publishing and the economy in general.  Sales on my novels went down.  Random house passed on my new novel but Riverhead/Penguin bought it. Alas!  The advance is less than half of what I used to get, and they are spreading payments out til 2013! Pub date won't be til 2012.  My writing has always been my only source of income.  I was feeling desperate and depressed and a friend told me to look at the blog site for Joe Konrath..."A Newbies Guide to Self-Publishing."  With print publishing in chaos, he advocates indie ebook publishing.  i.e,  do it yourself.

      I read his blogs for two days and felt the man had saved my life.   Within four weeks I had compiled all my prize-winning stories  into a collection, HOUSE OF SKIN,  PRIZE-WINNING STORIES by Kiana Davenport,  and learned how to upload it onto Amazon's Direct Publishing site.   Within two weeks it was for sale on Amazon's Kindle,  and within two months became a bestseller.  I priced it very low  $1.99  (the competitive price).  Sales now go up and down and I've just dropped the price for a month to .99 to see what happens.  I'm just finishing my second story collection.  Within two months I was already receiving little royalty checks from Amazon.  The more you sell,  the larger the checks.  The more books, the more sales.

    Do I sound like a sell-out?  A slut?  Forgive me.  I'm just a  divorced woman trying to make a living. If the gods are good maybe I can do both for a while,  print publish and self-publish ebooks.  But...

    Let me warn you all.  I had no idea what I was doing at first.  I knew  the ebook  had to  have a stunning cover becoz ebooks are tiny on the screen. You don't get to hold them in your hand.  I spent $300 on a professional cover designer and he gave me a cover I died over.  Very bright, very strong. And It matched the title story.   Then I learned you can't just upload your ms.  directly onto Kindle.  You need it to be formatted.  Its like translating words into  Arabic looking digitalese.  This was beyond me.  But there are thousands of formatters competing for your business now.  Just google  "formatters."  That cost me another $100.  So altogether I had spent about $400,  had a book uploaded in two weeks.  That was December, 2010.

    Things have changed drastically since then,  more and more "platforms" have appeared where you can publish your book and they're all competing:  Kindle, iPad, iPod, Android, Nook, Createspace, Pubit, etc. etc.


    What is recommended now is that you publish your ebook on ALL OF THEM!!!! so you do not miss out on sales.  So,  Kamy,  your question "which one to publish on,"  is the wrong approach.  What you need to ask is  "How do I get my book formatted FOR ALL OF THEM!"  As poor as I am,  I just hired a wonderful firm called TELEMACHUS PRESS  recommended by several bestselling authors,  they edit,  proofread, your work,  and then format them for all the "PLATFORMS "  you mention above.  They're a little steep,  $995, but the cover is included.  And they are a joy to work  with.  

    This comment is way too long,  I know you have more questions so I am going to go out on a limb and give you guys my email address because I think there must be some fantastic writers sitting at home  wondering how to get their books published when print publishing is shrinking every day. 


    Penguin will probably kill me for saying this,  but I think print publishing as we know it is dying.  Money is evaporating, Borders has closed.  Even my bestselling friends can no longer get their books sold.  Empower yourselves, sisters,  take a chance and see what happens if you self-publish one of your works.  Look at the thousands of writers already making a living that way.    I will always love real books, the touch, feel and smell of them,  but I need to make a living!  How many of you feel that way?  


    Women have always been warriors.  So maybe its time to abandon our comfort zones.   And leap!  And the net will appear.  Please email me with your questions about ebooks.  But please, first  take a look at my book HOUSE OF SKIN, PRIZE-WINNING STORIES on Amazon Kindle.  I'm so proud of it.  I chose the color, design, fonts...it was like giving birth again!  Most important, ladies,  do not stop writing.   YOU MUST WRITE ON!   With alohas from Hawaii...Kiana Davenport.    [email protected]    Don't be shy with your queries,  that is the purpose of this forum.  

  • There's plenty of room under my rock for crying guests!  Stacy- Everyone keeps saying authors should be planning their marketing long before they're done with their books- but I'm basically using your approach too.  If we let ourselves get too overwhelmed we won't even finish our books at all.

  • Stacy Green


    I know how you feel. Marketing is a tough subject for me, and I'm just trying to sort it all out. I'm trying to take it one day at time. Finish my book first, then start looking at marketing. We can all learn. Don't be discouraged!

  • Thank you for posting who can help with the process. I've only just learned to do a PDF. I'm forever catching up on tech-stuff, but as with algebra, I never have a full understanding. I just plod along being only able to do exactly what's been shown to me and not necessarily very well.

  • Rossandra White

    I am so very glad this subject has come up.  I'm with you Angelina, any room under that rock where at least I'll have company while I cry?  Unless one of my one million queries bears fruit in the next month or so, I will be self-publishing.  But with whom?  I signed up for daily emails from TheBookDesigner (through a Twitter connection).  As his name implies, he's available to help you through the entire process (I haven't asked for a price yet), meanwhile, his emails are filled with invaluable advice on the entire self-publishing process, all the pitfalls, etc.  So many options!  Now, I need to investigate each of the companies listed.  I'll let you know what I find out.

  • Thank you Catherine- I forget that there are people I can hire to help me with those things I am really poor at.  I feel better already.  So all I need to do is save my money while I'm finishing the book and I'll be covered!

  • Catherine Stine

    Don't fret, Angelina, you an always hire a good publicist!

  • I find the number of perspectives on this issue dizzying.  The bottom line for me is that I'm going to have a hard time no matter what avenue of publishing I pursue because marketing is my bete noir.  It seems that it doesn't matter which route you take you have to become aggressively good at self promotion and marketing.  I truly suck at it and I have been working on improving in this area for years.  I think I'll just go crawl back under my rock now and cry.

  • Jan Marquart

    Do you all know about Writer's Relief. www.writersrelief.com

    Please check it out. You send them 50 pages of your manuscript. Once the accept that they can sell your book they send your manuscript to 25 agents a month until they find one. Now, you will have to pay, and I don't remember all the details. They accepted Kate's Way but I decided to publish it with create space. So check them out. Also, you can type in agents on google for your genre and find a list of them.
    I've self-published for 20 years so I have a lot of information. Some of it is outdated but if I can make it easier for your I will. Jan

  • I have self-published my first three books using Lulu, Smashwords and Kindle Direct. I like the idea of providing readers with a choice of either purchasing the ebook or paperback because not everyone has devices that can read epublications. What I like about these three sites is that your books are distributed worldwide. Self-publishing has is advantages and disadvantages. You have to market and promote your books, but even if you go with a traditional book publisher, you still have to promote and market your book. I believe the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.


    Lulu offers great customer support and the tools to put out a great book.

  • I wish I was more techn-savy. Everything becomes such a major challenge to me.

  • Kimberly Caldwell

    I am in agent-search purgatory with a YA novel, having worked on revisions with an agent for almost two years, only to have her quit the business before sending it to editors. The comments of people who have succeeded at selling books via publishing houses AND through self-publishing companies is interesting. What kind of promotion do you do for a self-published book? For Marion Roach Smith, did your agent think that self-publishing The Memoir Project detracted from or enhanced his/her ability to sell the book to a mainstream publisher?

    For the record, I currently work as a copy editor for CreateSpace. Although I do not know any of the other editors since this is an e-business, I can say that the folks who manage projects try hard to match each author with an editor who has expertise in the subject matter or an affinity for the book's genre.

  • Laura Rae Amos

    I've only heard good things about Lightning Source, and it's what I plan to use for my print editions when I get that far.  I do hear it's a bit more complicated than the others, but not impossible to navigate on your own.  Last I researched, Lightning Source was the only POD that could get you listed with libraries (though that could have changed by now).  My second choice for print would be Create Space - people say great things about its ease of use, and the customer support.


    For ebooks, you want to be listed anywhere and everywhere you can.  List yourself on Amazon and B&N stores, because you can do that directly, and you might as well take your full cut ;)  Then Smashwords, which won't bring you in the most sales directly, but people can buy there globally, and they'll also distribute your ebook to other places like the iTunes store. 


    I've done FAR too much reading on this, and I don't even have my own book out yet, lol!


    Hope that helps! :)

  • Catherine Stine

    I've been compiling info for a while now. Smashwords is the best for eBooks because it is an "unlimited storage device". That means that your eBook will be available to anyone in the world.

  • Marion Roach Smith

    My first three books were published by mass market publishers -- Houghton Mifflin, Simon & Schuster and Bloomsbury -- but when it came time to write a small book on how to write memoir, I chose to self publish, for the most part because I saw the recession as a fine opportunity to try something different.

    Not wanting to accept the low advance that such a book in such a time would bring (this was late 2009), I made a plan, and began the book as a category on a blog, and then chose a local (to me) bookmaker, Troy Book Makers, who made me a gorgeous little book.

    Only after I'd published it in April 2010, promoted it online, and sold a good number of copies, did I show it to my agent. She freaked out -- in a good way, and took it out for auction.

    I have just re-released it with a new title, pages, and a fine mass-market publisher, Grand Central Publishing.

    Entitled The Memoir Project, A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life, you can see it here and then ask me any questions you have.


  • Michael N. Marcus

    Jane Galer said, "Lightning Source [has] a book making machine. I think there's one in the Harvard book store."

    The Espresso Book Machine was developed by On Demand Books and is distributed and serviced worldwide by Xerox. Publishers which use Lightning for POD can have their books available on the Espresso machines -- but the machines do not belong to Lightning.  


    -- 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