Self Publishing, the basics

This is how I published my books, so it isn't a one-size-fits-all model. There are a lot of companies out there willing to help you along the way. I did a lot of things wrong and learned some important lessons about the process, so hopefully I can help you avoid some of the pitfalls in the process.

So you wrote your amazing book and you are ready to publish! Awesome! Here is a general rundown of what you're going to need. Let's start with a little general philosophy about what you want to achieve.

Do you want to spend any money? If the answer is no, then here is what you're going to need:

  • Amazon account
  • Kindle Previewer (Optional)
  • Microsoft Word (or any other file software)
  • Adobe Photoshop (or any other cover creation software)

Make your amazon account if you don't have one, then build a KDP account and a Createspace account. Download Kindle Previewer. When you are building your files, I recommend downloading a template from Createspace and formatting your book inside of it. A few notes:

  • 6 x 9 is an awesome size. You don't need to use it, but it looks really good
  • Start chapters on odd pages (it looks tacky to start a chapter on the left page)
  • Mirror margins and make page numbers on the outside
  • Createspace has a cover builder. If you have a cool image you can make your cover there

The same word file is fine for Amazon and Kindle. Put some back matter in. Make a CALL to ACTION page that says something like: "Thanks for reading! If you want to check out my other books or follow me on social media, you can do so here:" and then include links to anything and everything. If you are really creative, you can get images to put that people can click. You can also include links to take people directly to your amazon page to write a review, which can help get reviews, which are the lifeblood of an author.

Save the file as a PDF for Createspace, and save it as a HTML file filtered for KDP. Then, open the cool little kindle previewer, click to open a book, and open the html file. It will build you a mobi file, and it's going to look a lot nicer on KDP than using either the html file or the docx file. It'll take some playing around to do this right, but it's worth learning how to do this.

The mobi file is what you'll load onto Amazon. The pdf is the interior for your Createspace book. If you want to create an awesome cover, use photoshop or hire someone, or make friends with someone who can help. Otherwise, Createspace will help you build a cover (front and back) to use with your book. Load your file, fill in the details, and submit. You'll want to preview it well to make sure you did it right, but if you mess up Createspace will let you change the files at no cost, just time. After about a day, your book will be approved, and in like 2 days it'll be on Amazon and ready to go! 

Similarly, for KDP, you just create a new title, fill in the details, and voila in like 2 days your book will be for sale.

This is when you claim your author central account and associate your books. It will take no time at all to do this, and it gives you huge and important customization. You can add editorial reviews, information about the book, etc. Note, an editorial review is a paid review or from an established company or service (Kirkus, Self-Published Review, Reader's Favorite) whereas actual reviews are unpaid reviews people post on Amazon. Big reviews can sell books, but they won't be allowed to be posted on Amazon as a customer review. So this section is built for your editorial reviews.

If you're willing to spend a little money, then the entire process above can be a lot friendlier. I would recommend an editor and a cover designer as your top purchases. An editor can build up your credibility as an author, and a good cover is the first (and sometimes only) impression your book gets to make.

Aside from that, you might want to work with Ingram.

So, Amazon is a huge company and they sell tons of books. You have to use Amazon, and you should use Createspace even if you decide to use Ingram, because Createspace is Amazon's preferred supplier. What this means is your book will always show up as 'IN STOCK' and ship immediately, which makes it look and feel like this isn't a PoD book. This is huge, because people will often decline products if it takes extra time to deliver it out (and sometimes Ingram books will say 2-4 weeks).

Createspace also offers free (or cheap) ISBN numbers, and it has this cool thing called expanded distribution to make your book available everywhere.

Which is great if you just want to do things as easy and cheap as possible and accept that there are flaws in the system. This is fine for a lot of people, and having the Createspace Imprint means nothing for selling your books on Amazon.

However, if you want to sell your books somewhere else, and especially if you want to sell to bookstores, this is a death sentence. Let's say you want a bookstore to carry your book. They make a decision to buy books based on its ratings, reviews, and other information, but the biggest two decisions are cost and availability of returns.

Let's say your book is 10 dollars. Ideally, a bookstore would be able to purchase at a 55% discount, so they pay 4.50 for your book and they make 5.50 in profit. But, let's say they want to try your book, but if it doesn't sell, they want to send it back. So, they want it to be returnable as well. Less risk for them.

They might be willing to take your book and stock it for as low as a 40% discount (and still make a good profit) but returnable is still really important. Why buy books that don't have insurance when you can get the ones that do?

The scary secret with Createspace Expanded Distribution is they sell your book at about a 35% discount to booksellers (and charge you as if it's a 60% discount for your royalties) and the books are non-returnable. Worse, even the books that you paid 10 bucks for with your own imprint can be spotted as part of Createspace Distribution, and bookstores don't like Amazon and Amazon companies very much. They might not carry it just out of spite, and added to the fact that it's already a terrible deal, this can kill any chance you have of them carrying it.

In comes IngramSpark.

It costs 49 bucks to set up a title on IngramSpark. You can use the same files you have for your Createspace books and then pay an initial setup fee. But, you also get to choose your discount percent and if the book is returnable and how. It also means your books can be printed all around the world through Ingram Distribution and will be available in a lot of places. Createspace actually uses Ingram if you use Expanded Distribution, so the only difference is you are taking control of your own system.

The way to set this up is to go directly to Bowker and buy ISBNs. They aren't cheap, but it's usually worth having your own anyway. Then, you build the same book (trim, cover, etc) on both Createspace and Ingram and let them both distribute. Amazon will source from Createspace, always keeping your book in stock, and everyone else will get their books from Ingram. The added benefit is, since you can set your discount as low as 30% on Ingram, you actually can get more money per copy with books sold through Ingram than through Createspace.

You also have the ability to sell to bookstores more effectively, but it could be dangerous. The problem with returns is that you might get 2 dollars royalty for a book, but it costs 4 dollars to print, so if a bookstore returns your book you actually owe 2 dollars for the cost of the original print. It might not be worth selling to bookstores until you get some credibility, or at least not allow returns and just offer a huge discount.

Or, another option is to set up your book on Createspace, but offer a hardcover version from Ingram. It's nice having multiple formats for a book so readers can choose their preference, and the Ingram hard copies are amazing. They look and feel beautiful and if you get a professional cover designed for the sleeve you will be incredibly impressed.

This was a super long depiction of how to get a book self-published, as well as a little bit of help on what kind of decisions you will need to make. When I did things, I started off with Createspace and was thrilled, and then with a second edition I released my books through both Ingram and Createspace. I love the control and resources they offer, and I can't complain in the slightest about working with either.

You just have to decide what is right for you and go from there. If you're only willing to spend money on one thing, make it the cover. It's often the primary thing people use to decide whether to buy a book or not.

I hope this helps, and if you have any questions you can contact me directly through the site!