Self Publishing – You Can Do It!

I’ve spent the time, I’ve given my energy and heart, and I’ve written a book.  Now how do I get it published?  These are the very words I said to myself after staring at the computer screen just past midnight almost two years since I had started typing all 356 pages of my book. I knew nothing about the publishing industry, agents, or distributors.  I had a book I thought was good and wanted to release it to the world.  With my eyes bloodshot and tired, and my alarm clock waiting to go off at 6am, I knew I had two options: spend my time trying to find a publisher or agent willing to take on my book, or spend the time publishing it myself. 

If I had already done the hard part of writing the book, then why couldn’t I research how to make it available to everyone?  By the time my alarm clock went off the next morning, I knew which path I wanted to take.

If publishing your own book sounds like a difficult task, take it from me, writing is much harder.  Further, all the tools and knowledge are available to you and the only requirement is that you have a computer and high-speed Internet connection.  Here’s my notes that will help you easily and successfully publish your own book and make it available to retailers such as Amazon, Barnes N Noble, etc.

1. Edit, Edit, Edit
After editing my entire book four times, I knew I needed a professional editor to catch all the things I had forgotten since college English.  Just a quick google search brought me multiple companies and sites that could edit and guarantee my book.  After looking through their web sites, I decided I wanted to work with someone face-to-face and have direct conversations with them about my book.  I didn’t just want someone to look after misplaced commas and missed periods. I wanted someone who could give me tips on character development and understood what I was trying to achieve.  I didn’t know anyone but I figured someone I knew would.  I contacted everyone in my email list (only about 50 people) and in an email told everyone that I needed a local editor and would appreciate their recommendation.  Within a day I had three recommendations for professional editors.  A week later I had picked the one I thought had the most experience and was willing to spend time with me going over their ideas.  The editor I worked with made my book monumentally better.  In short, hire an editor; work your contacts to find someone local, or go to one of the many available on-line companies.

2. Find the right partner
There are multiple web sites and companies that can help you publish a book.  When I was ready to pick a partner it came down to who had the best help center, the most tools, and the easiest web-site to navigate.  For me I chose but was a close second.  If you have around $1,500 and a month, they can take care of lay-out, cover design, and distribution.  All you have to do is give them your final manuscript and they will do the rest.  They also have tips and tools to do it yourself, which is the route I wanted to go because I am cheap and did not want to spend $1,500.

3. Lay-out
Who would have known so many industry standards exist for books?  I’ve read hundreds of books and never paid attention to the lay-out.  Luckily I still have some of the books I read.  When it comes to lay-out, the best place to start is with the books on your shelves.  Take note of the placement of title pages, copyright pages, and dedication pages.  Next go to or another publishing site and download a template that has the page margins and gutters already set.  Then copy and paste your manuscript.  Self publishing sites will also give you all the information on industry standards for publishing but here are the highlights:

  • 6 x 9 is the typical book size that will make your book eligible to be distributed to major chains like Amazon (yes there are certain book sizes they will not allow)
  • Title page first, copyright page next
  • Make a header or footer for every page (look through your books to pick out a style you like).
  • Drop caps for the first letter of every chapter
  • Total page count should be divisible by four (you can have multiple blank pages)
  • Leave the last page blank.

What is an ISBN?  A lot of other tips for self publishers don’t mention this so I thought I would touch on it really quick.  An ISBN is a number code your book has to have if you want to sell it with large distributors.  You can buy your own here:
Or all self-publishing sites like lulu, smashwords, or createspace will give you an ISBN.

5. Cover Design
If there is any part of your book you should spend money, this is the place.  I personally thought designing the cover would be easy.  I assumed I would just give my money to a local designer, upload it to a program, and presto my book would be ready to go.  It’s simple but not that simple.  To have a professional cover you need to consider the front, back, and spine.  The spine’s size is dependent on the page count and needs to be sized correctly.  I outsourced this.  You can find many people on the internet to do it.  I went with lulu’s cover design and thought it turned out OK.

6. Distribution
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a publisher to make your book available in major retailers.  Publishers can help get your books prime location on the shelves, but unless you’ve already been selling thousands of books for years, don’t count on it.  For electronic books, you can publish directly to Amazon (Kindle) and use Smashwords to make it available on iPad, Sony e-reader, etc.  For hard copies or paper back copies, you can purchase a distribution service for under $100 at Lulu or CreateSpace, which will make it available at major retailers.

Now go sell your book!

Ryan Adam Smith is a writer, publisher, and author of the fiction novel, Below Sunlight.


  1. says

    I enjoyed your article on self-publishing, Ryan. Having recently gone through the process myself (with CreateSpace), I’m finding distribution to be the biggest hurdle. The only distribution I’ve found on CreateSpace is if you make CreateSpace the publisher. (I started my own imprint, which made the book ineligible for their distribution.)

    So I’ve since gone with Lightning Source, and paid the fee for distribution. I honestly believe that with the high cuts brick-and-mortar stores demand that they will soon be out the door, as Amazon takes over.

    Thanks again for the insightful article.

  2. Ryan Adam Smith says

    Thanks Cathy. I totally agree with your comment about bricks and mortar stores. I just contacted lighting source yesterday because I am trying to set up some book signing at Border’s Books. In order to get my book on their shelves, they have to be able to order it from Ingrid or Baker and Taylor, which they can, but they have steep requirements in terms of discounts and returns which I’m not sure I can meet. Any suggestions would be great?