A Guide to Self-Publishing

self-publishing-booksYou’ve made the decision to self-publish your manuscript as it nears completion. You recognize that it will require far more effort than simply turning your manuscript over to a POD house, but you also realize that the financial return can be far greater. However, it does require an outlay of money up front.

Self-publishing is growing in popularity among experienced authors and even some wanna-bes. The sense of satisfaction you receive from having overseen and accomplished the entire process by yourself is an additional bonus that many authors cherish.

There is an important transition you have to make if you’re going to be a successful self-publisher. You must doff your artist’s cap and become a businessperson, for you will be dealing with financial decisions and a variety of chores that must be completed. You can tackle these on your own or hire and direct someone else to do them. In either case, you and you alone are solely responsible for every aspect of producing your book

None of these tasks is terribly difficult, and professional book coaches stand ready to assist you on the two chores that really demand specialized talent: designing your book’s cover and formatting the interior text. Although it is possible to use templates for the cover and to learn to format, I strongly recommend that you hire professionals for these.

The appearance of your book, both inside and out, is a key factor in attracting sales. Far too many self-published books are amateurishly designed, and that’s the primary reason top reviewers and booksellers are often leery about reviewing or stocking them. However, if your book stands out because of its professional design, you can overcome that stigma.

Pre-pub Requirements
Self-publishing may be done either digitally or with offset printing. The choice depends upon the length of the press run you require. But in all cases, the pre-publication work today is essentially the same.

The first decision you must make is to determine the actual size and shape you want your book to be. The most popular sizes are 5.5 inches by 8.5 inches or 6 by 9. This is referred to in the industry as “trim size.” Most book printers can handle either size. Other sizes are available, but they are used principally for specialty books.

Your next consideration is the cover. The quality of your cover will strongly influence the number of books you sell. There are three segments of a good cover, and each one has a specific function. The spine is the first element a shopper sees when perusing the books on the store shelf. It contains the name of the book in large letters, followed by the author’s name and that of the publisher.

The front cover represents the first “stop” the potential buyer makes. That’s only a three second stop to examine the title, author’s name and if you have done your job obtaining endorsements, a very brief blurb from a recognized person. If that quick look intrigues the customer, he/she will turn to the back cover. This is your selling tool, but again you have only a few seconds to convince the customer to read further.

The several sections of the back cover should include a brief précis of the book, excerpts from reviews, endorsements from worthy sources, a short bio of the author, plus the required ISBN, barcode and the category listing in the top left corner. If the back cover functions well, the person will next flip to the table of contents and glance through the text. The $300 to $600 price for a cover design is perhaps the best investment you will ever make in your book.

Visit the library or your local bookstore. Study the covers on books similar to the one you plan. Next, search the Internet under “Book Cover Designers.” Most of these web sites will offer a gallery of cover designs the artist has created. Review them carefully, and narrow down your selection to three or four. Interview each designer before your make your final decision.

Your next concern is to format the interior text of the book in a style that is easy and comfortable to read. This means selecting a pleasant and inviting type font, spacing out between the lines (called leading) and shaping the computer text to the book’s page. It also involves creating interesting chapter headings and page footers (the page numbers and chapter identification found at the bottom of the page). Professional formatters are expensive, but very valuable. Formatting a book of approximately 300 pages will run between $800 and $1,200.

Smaller But Vital Tasks
Every book that is to be sold to a library or a bookstore must have an ISBN. This international identification number should be placed on the back cover along with a complementary bar code. These are easily obtained from the R.R. Bowker company by clicking onto its web site www.bowker.com.

Library of Congress Cataloguing is another necessity. (You will find this in the front section of a book.) It can be obtained directly from the Library of Congress, but is not always available if you have written only a single book. The alternative is to click on the Donohue Group, and they will prepare it for you. You can find the company at www.dgiinc.com and click on PCIP.

It would be very wise to officially copyright your book. Although your words are technically covered by copyright as soon as you place them on paper, that designation will not stand up in court. Obtain a complete copyright from the government to protect yourself from any piracy or plagiarism. It is easy to obtain by clicking on “Copyright” in your favorite search engine. Simple instructions and an official application will appear. It is very inexpensive.

You have the option of creating a Table of Contents yourself for your nonfiction book or you can use one of the available software programs on the Internet. Whichever path you take, enter the chapter heading and then highlight some of the important issues discussed in the chapters beneath the heading. Of course, you can’t add the actual page numbers until you have completed all revisions of your text.

If your book is nonfiction, you may want to include an Index and/or an Appendix. These are easy enough to develop yourself. For the Appendix, list references to any material that you think will help your reader by supplementing the information you included in your text.

The Index is a bit more time-consuming to assemble, although not terribly hard. As you do the final edit of the book, each time you come to a subject that should be included in the Index, jot it down. When you have completed all chapters, categorize each of these entries by subject. List them under the appropriate subject heading using a one or two-word designation and the page number. Many authors feel this is too time-consuming and prefer to farm the job out to a freelance indexer. These can be found on the Internet.

Next steps are, of course, the printing of your book and its distribution. It will be your task to select a quality printer and to arrange distribution through a wholesaler and/or distributor. Those topics we’ll leave for future articles.

This column is an excerpt from the blog of Charles Jacobs, book coach and author of “The Writer Within You,” named a Best Book of the Year seven times and winner of both gold and bronze medals. The book can be ordered at www.retireandwrite.com. For coaching, Charles can be reached at carosbooks@gmail.com.


  1. michaelnmarcus says

    Charles said: “Library of Congress Cataloguing is another necessity… but is not always available if you have written only a single book.”

    That’s not quite right.

    It’s nice, but not a necessity — especially for books that are not likely to be bought by libraries. However, one of my books that lacks an LOC number has been bought by at least one library.

    Any author or publisher can get an LCCN (Library of Congress Catalog Number.

    If you’ve published only books by one auther (which could be yourself), you can get a Preassigned Control Number (PCN).

    If you’ve pubished books written by at least three people, you can get Cataloging in Publication (CIP).

    Either system will provide the LCCN.

    Michael N. Marcus
    author of “Become a Real Self-Publisher,” due soon