What Is Involved in Self-Publishing?

involved-in-self-publishingSelf-publishing involves an extensive list of tasks. Before you embark on a self-publishing project, be sure that you’re willing to take on the following:

  • Edit or obtain editing for your manuscript
  • Proofread or obtain proofreading for your manuscript
  • Obtain any artwork or illustrations you wish to include
  • Take any necessary steps to establish yourself as a legal retail business (see below), including choosing and registering the name of your “press.”
  • Obtain ISBN, Library of Congress “Cataloging in Publication” number, Bookland EAN/UPC code, etc.
Publication Process:
  • Format manuscript (design interior layout, including appropriate margins, headers/footers, typeface, interior art/graphics, etc.)
  • Provide “front matter” (e.g., table of contents, copyright page, etc.) and back matter, if any.
  • Provide or obtain cover art; design front and back covers (including “cover blurbs” or reviews) and spine.
  • Obtain printing quotes (including trim size, number of pages, binding, paper quality, etc.) for print books
  • Determine how manuscript must be delivered to printer (often in a specific electronic format).
  • Arrange/pay for printing and delivery of finished books.
  • Continue with ongoing market campaign.
  • Send books to reviewers.
  • Receive and store finished books, if print. (Clear out your garage!)
  • Handle order fulfillment: Receive orders, process payments, invoice customers for amounts due, package and ship books.
  • For electronic books: Handle order fulfillment: Receive orders, process payments, invoice customers for amounts due, ship or transmit books.
Marketing (Ongoing):
  • Prepare press releases and PR package for reviewers, press
  • Determine list of relevant reviewers; mail or transmit books
  • Determine whether to pursue print/”space” advertising in appropriate magazines (especially for targeted niche markets)
  • Develop website from which to market and sell books
  • Develop Internet promotion campaign (e.g., chats, e-mail, groups, reciprocal links, etc.)
  • Develop direct mail campaign: Locate appropriate mailing lists, develop mailer and associated materials, stuff envelopes, etc.
  • Promote book through online bookstores. (If your book is listed in Books in Print and available in tangible form, e.g., print or disk, it will generally be listed automatically by online bookstores; however, you can add to the listing by providing summaries, table of contents, review excerpts, etc.) Consider joining Amazon’s “Advantage” program for small presses.
  • Take steps to place book in bookstores and libraries, and/or to obtain outside distribution.
Bookkeeping (Ongoing):
  • Develop a system of tracking expenses and income related to your press. Keep these records separate from personal finances and any other “business” finances (such as freelance writing).
  • Open a separate business bank account. (You may have to obtain a business license and other forms, in order to process payments that are made out to your business name rather than your own name; see below.)
  • Find a means of accepting credit card purchases. (PayPal is one option, but offers limited access for international customers.)
  • Develop an invoicing system. If you are selling print books to bookstores, libraries, etc., you will need to sell “on credit,” and be able to invoice those markets professionally.
  • Know what will be required for income-tax reporting.

Do I Have to Do This All Myself?

The good news is that you don’t have to do everything yourself — and you probably shouldn’t. One key to running a successful business is knowing what you can do effectively yourself — and what you should delegate to others. Many writers, for example, are not skilled at graphic design or artwork. Many prefer to hire an editor or proofreader for the final stages of manuscript development. You can also hire a fulfillment service to warehouse and ship your books (and, in some cases, accept credit card orders). You may be able to hire an 800-number service to accept telephone orders. And since self-publishing involves some complex bookkeeping tasks, using an accountant to prepare your taxes is always a good idea.

The bad news is that professional help increases your costs. When you calculate the per-book cost of printing a book, be sure to include any costs incurred in hiring a graphic designer, illustrator, or cover artist. Even though these services add to your costs, however, they also add to the overall quality of your product — making it much more marketable. Otherwise, you may save money but end up with a book that no one wants to buy.


Will I Have to Get a Business License?

If you plan to self-publish your book in print form, the answer is usually “yes.” You are entering the business of selling a tangible product — and that makes you a retailer. (If you are selling your book electronically, and issuing it only via downloads rather than in disk form, you may be able to bypass some of these requirements.) “Doing business” as a publisher generally means:

  • Obtaining a business license from your city clerk or licensing office. This will also mean checking zoning regulations for your area — and, if necessary, convincing your city that your “business” does not violate residential zoning laws. (If you have no employees and no customer traffic, you may have no problems — but laws vary from state to state and even city to city.) This will also mean paying local fees and business taxes on your revenue.
  • Filing a “doing business as” (dba) statement with a local paper to establish your business identity (the name you’ve chosen for your publishing “house”).
  • Setting up a separate bank account for your business, so that you can deposit checks made out to your business name. (Generally you will need a business license and dba statement to do this.)
  • Filing business taxes as a retail business on your Schedule C.

Moira Allen is the editor of Writing-World.com and the author of more than 300 published articles. Her books on writing include Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer’s Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals (Second Edition), and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests.