SJ Duncan

The Tipping Point Blog


How do you self-publish a book?



You want to know. I want to tell you. Let’s do this.


First, let’s break successful self-publishing into three constituent parts.


  1. Your Product
  2. Your Platform
  3. Your Angle of Approach


In this post (part 1 of 3), we'll focus on the first aspect: Your product.


If you're like me (a true ar-teest) you may cringe when you first hear your book described as a product. I mean, a book is a work of art. A product is like. . . toothpaste.


This was my reaction until I came to realize one key truth; while writing is indeed an artform, publishing is a business. And to operate a successful business, you need a great product.


Which leads to step 1. 


Step 1: Create Your Product

(Write the book)




Seems like a no-brainer, but a staggering number of potential writers overwhelm themselves with publishing and marketing before they’ve even finished a book.


I was one of them. For years.  


It wasn’t until my brother-in-law pointed out that my book was my product (and that I couldn’t sell an unfinished product) that I found my direction.


After reading a stack of poems and short stories I had written, he told me in no uncertain terms to go home and finish a book. Completely finish it.




From beginning to end.


This was the directive I needed, and that’s what I did. I went home with my stack of poems and stories, and worked on nothing else until I had a finished manuscript. That book was The Long Dark Lonesome. It was also the beginning of my self-publishing career.




You can think of your finished book as consisting of two elements: The interior file, and the cover file.



Your Formatted Manuscript + Your Book Cover = A Finished Product



The formatting of your interior file will depend on the print size of your book. Most self-publishing sites will have downloadable templates and clear instructions for formatting, so you'll want to choose your publisher before you spend hours on margins, line spacing, and the like. I currently publish through CreateSpace. There are other options, and choosing a self-publishing site can require some research.


Cover design is a trickier. Unless you're somewhat gifted in design and capable in Photoshop (or something comparable), you'll want to hire a book cover designer. No one likes to spend the money on their book cover (usually $200 or more) but a good (or, at the least, not noticeably bad) cover is critical. Although we're told to not judge a book by its cover, people typically do.


Once you've chosen your publisher, and have a formatted interior file and good looking cover file, you're ready to upload your work.


The entire process looks something like this:


  1. Write the interior of the book
  2. Choose a publishing site
  3. Purchase an ISBN from the site, or through Bowker
  4. Format the interior for publication according to the publisher's recommendations
  5. Design (or hire someone to design) a cover
  6. Upload interior and cover files
  7. Order proof copy
  8. Make corrections
  9. Upload corrected files
  10. Repeat steps 6 through 8 until you're satisfied with your product
  11. Publish your book



Notes on the Process:


Cover Design: Although we think of book covers as consisting of a front and back separated by a spine, your cover file will actually consist of a single image, such as this one for my novel, Bash. The size of the cover, especially the width, will be dependent on the page count of your book, which is why finishing and formatting your interior file comes first.



ISBNs: You'll need an ISBN (International Standard Book Number). CreateSpace (and presumably most other publishers) offers ISBNs. There is a free option, but this will list CreateSpace as the publisher of your book. If you want to list yourself, or your own publishing house (as I do with Ink Ribbon Press) as the publisher, you'll need to purchase a custom ISBN, which currently costs $99 through CreateSpace. You can also buy ISBN's in bulk through Bowker, which is more expensive upfront, but significantly lowers the cost per ISBN, although I only recommend this option if you're sure you'll eventually publish multiple titles.



Proof Copy: A proof copy is a printing of your book for the purposes of further editing and checking for formatting issues. The price of a proof depends on the size of your book, but an average novel will cost around $4 or $5 (rough estimate) plus shipping. Avoid the desire to rush through the proofing process, or to skip it entirely. Having a physical copy in your hands is critical for catching formatting errors or cover design issues which may not be apparent when viewing your book online.  






Helpful Skills:


Writing (obviously)

Basic understanding of your word processor (for formatting your interior file)

An eye for good covers (whether you design your own or hire a professional)

The ability to stay on task and see each step through to completion


Pro Tip:

Gather a few professionally published books to use as guides. Study the layout, font size, line spacing, margins, chapter breaks, title page, copyright page, etc. A big part of looking professional is avoiding small mistakes which look unprofessional. 

Congrats! Your book is now available for purchase. So, how do we sell it?


You need a platform. And next week I'll tell you how to build one.


Next Week:

Building Your Platform


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