How to Self-Publish: The Basics

How to Self-Publish: The Basics

The question we get most often from aspiring authors: "how did you do it?"

As I said in our first post, there are a million ways to do this, and while we can ping a ton of authors to find out how they did it, we ultimately have to figure out what works best for us personally.

Yes, this means there is some level of trial and error, being flexible, and tweaking our process as needed. We are always evaluating what worked with the last book, what didn't... and deciding if the next project requires a shift in some area of the process.

A lot of authors will claim "none of us know what we're doing". I disagree. It can often feel like we're stumbling blindly, especially if we are changing up our approach and trying something new. But, there are some basic steps that have to be done in order to publish, and most authors understand these enough to at least get their book out into the world.

This is NOT an exhaustive list, because I'm trying not to overwhelm you (and likely failing), but these are the high-level decision points and tasks you'll likely need to tackle when bringing your story to market.

NOTE: These are not necessarily in order of when they need to be done, because much of these will be done at the same time.

Book Formats

You'll want to decide if you plan to do ebooks only or do paperbacks as well. What about hardcovers? Audiobooks? These latter two can often be considered later after your book is out, but this is the first step to deciding who you'll want to publish through.

Publishing Routes

We won't talk about B&N Press, because I have heard NOTHING but bad experiences from friends who have used them, so I only recommend Ingram Spark or Amazon KDP. If you want to do hardcovers with dust jackets, you'll need to go through Ingram (as of right now, KDP doesn't offer jacketed hardcovers). You can publish your paperbacks through KDP (and many authors publish from both Ingram and KDP to avoid stock issues when Amazon doesn't want to order Ingram copies). The biggest reason to publish through Ingram (outside the HC availability) is if you want to be available to bookstores and libraries.

Who you publish through and what formats you choose will also impact your trim size (i.e. the dimensions of your physical books), as Ingram and KDP have different sizes they offer. (Also, hardcover sizes may be limited compared to paperback sizes--important to note if you want them to be the same size.)

Note: Ingram does charge setup and change fees, but planning ahead and budgeting these can make these easier to swallow.

Hire Your People

Some authors are able to get by without hiring professionals (i.e. using a lot of betas in lieu of an editor or designing their own covers), but I personally encourage everyone to find affordable options and find professionals within your budget to help. (Note: Expensive does not always mean better, and you can find high quality professionals within any budget, and most will work with you if you need to do payment plans, etc.)

  • Editors
    There are several different types of edits you can get (i.e. developmental, copy, line, proofreading, etc). Not everyone needs all of them, so you really have to decide what level you think you're at. Developmental editors help ensure your story flows well, so if you aren't sure about your story structure as a whole, consider hiring one. They can be extremely helpful! NOTE: All editors should offer a sample edit, and it's important to find an editor who respects your writing style and provides feedback in a way that works for you. This is a partnership, and not every editor is for every author.
    ALSO NOTE: Editors often book out far in advance, so you'll want to start looking for one early on. Their availability will likely determine your launch date.
  • Cover designers
    These can range from a couple hundred dollars for an ebook+paperback bundle to several thousand dollars depending on what you're looking for. Key here is to find someone who knows your genre and fits your budget. Your cover is one of THE MOST important parts of your book, because it is the first impression readers have. You need it to look professional and fit your genre perfectly.
  • Cartographer (optional)
    Definitely not a must, and there are ways to create a map yourself if you want one. But there are also affordable artists out there who specialize in fantasy maps. My cartographer also did the artwork for my chapter headings to match the map style.
  • Character artwork (optional)
    For authors on a budget, I always recommend waiting on commissioning artwork. It is a fun thing to have, but it should be viewed as an extra nice to have if you're pinching your pennies.

How do you find these people? Yes, you can slide into DMs and emails and ask authors, but that's not recommended (in my opinion, unless you know the author personally). Instead, check out the copyright pages for books... easily done by looking at the look inside feature on Amazon. Authors often list their cover designer, editor, and artists on these pages.


If you live in the United States and plan to publish physical copies, you'll want to purchase your own ISBNs. Yes, you can use ISBNs supplied by Ingram, etc, but if you want to look as professional as possible, plan to spend this money. Just remember every physical format of your book will need its own ISBN.

This is where we might want to talk about creating your publishing imprint, i.e. deciding what name you want to publish under. Some authors publish under their own name. Others create a business, either a sole proprietorship or an LLC typically. You'll want to check business requirements in your state of residence if you go with the latter. (I, personally, started Crab Apple Books as a sole proprietorship to publish under.)


Before you can publish your book, you'll need to create the necessary files (epub for your ebook, pdfs for your physical). For this you'll want to either do it yourself or hire someone, and there are pros and cons to both.

Doing it yourself means investing time and money in doing the formatting and getting any software you'll need, but you'll have the ability to edit your files whenever you need to without asking your formatter to.

Hiring someone saves you the time, but it can get expensive and become a hassle if you need to fix typos or something later on.

You do have a lot of options for formatting, though:

  • Vellum - probably one of the most popular, but it is expensive and requires a mac (though you can pay to use a virtual mac, I believe -- I've never looked into that personally, though)
  • Atticus - a relatively new alternative to vellum developed by the folks over at Kindlepreneur. It is more affordable and provides a bit more customization than Vellum, but I've heard it still is a bit glitchy. They do offer a very nice money-back guarantee, though, so you can test it out for free and see if you like it.
  • Reedsy - a FREE formatting tool that is great if you are on a tight budget and don't need a lot of customization. Super easy to use without the bells and whistles
  • Word - not the easiest to use simply because this isn't what Word was designed for. It is a cheap option if you already have a license, but it can cost you in time and sanity. Still doable, though.
  • Adobe InDesign - an expensive ($25ish/month) tool with a rather steep learning curve, but it is highly customizable

Assembling your team

And by team I mean your betas, ARC readers, etc. These are readers who volunteer (typically, though I have heard of some people charging for these services...) their time to help read early copies of your book to make sure it's ready for market.

My betas read my second draft right before it goes to my editor. I send ARCs out after my first round with my editor, but before my proofread.

Because I use an editor, I ask my early readers (both betas and ARCs) to ignore grammar and typos and focus instead on their overall reactions to the story. These folks are great at letting you know what works, what doesn't, what was confusing, what made them swoon/laugh/cry/etc.

For betas I recommend staying away from family and friends, EXCEPT for friends in the bookish community who are your target audience. You want people who will give you honest feedback, not kiss your ass, and also respect your writing style.

For ARCs, usually requesting these in your newsletter or social media accounts and having a google form to help screen them can help a lot. ARC readers aren't necessary, but they can help provide early reviews on launch day or during launch week.


Every author's schedule will differ and may differ from book to book. As I said earlier, it's often dependent on your editor/cover designer availability, so I always recommend starting with that date and then building your schedule around it. Things to keep in mind when creating your schedule:

  • You'll want to give yourself 2-4 weeks between launch day and when your files are ready to go. If you choose to offer preorders, you need to have your files uploaded by a specific time, and I always recommend adding a couple weeks onto that buffer to avoid having preorders canceled and upsetting readers.
  • Highly recommend giving betas and ARC readers at least one month to read and letting them know when they can expect to receive their copy and what you expect from them feedback-wise.
  • Consider building in buffer time to account for life, emergencies, hiccups, etc. This can also be good to help manage stress and overwhelm that is common with launching a book.

Keywords, categories, and blurbs

Ugh. The bane of most indie author's existence. Amazon KDP will want seven keywords and three categories when you setup your book. Ingram uses BISAC codes, basically high level categories for where your book fits. I highly recommend investing in Publisher Rocket (yes that's an affiliate link, just so you know), because it makes keyword and category research much easier.

Your blurb, or book description, is what readers will see when they're browsing online. There are a variety of approaches for writing blurbs, and these can be frustrating and more difficult than writing the actual book. I recommend reading a LOT of book blurbs in your genre to get a feel for structure and information other authors include. Whether you go with the longer paragraph-style descriptions or the shorter choppy-sentence style blurb, you'll need a good hook at the beginning and a nice call to action/summary at the end. I might write more on this topic in the future...

I'm probably missing something...

There are so many other little steps and decisions that I'm probably forgetting. We didn't even touch on the marketing side of things, and I know this is still pretty high-level, but I hope it at least gives you an idea of what you'll need to think about and consider.

Yes, it's overwhelming. Yes, it's a lot. Yes, it's doable, if you are determined and dedicated and persistent.

Like always if you have questions or other topics you want me to touch on, please head over to this form here and submit!

Next up: How to use a street team effectively... 

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