How to Self-Publish

Recently several people have asked me about self-publishing, so I decided to write a blog post about it! For any of you writers who are thinking about traversing this route…here’s what has worked for me. Granted, it’s the only form of publishing I’ve ever known, but hopefully through sharing what’s worked for me, it can help you along your own journey. Here’s what I’ll be talking about:

  • Why I chose to self-publish
  • How I self-published
  • How I designed my books
  • How I advertised after self-publishing

First, why do I self-publish?

self_publish1_zps972d7c38While preparing to release my first book (in 2012), I talked with several people about publishing options. One contact in particular had published multiple books through major Christian publishers. He told me that he was getting out of all his contracts with those publishers and moving to self-publishing, because financially it made more sense for him to self-publish. This was mind-blowing to me, because I thought going through a major publisher would be the best way, but this man was a pastor, speaker, and songwriter, so he already had a platform from which to promote his books. I was speaking at some events, and a few months later started going on speaking tours (read more about these homemade tours here), so I thought perhaps self-publishing could be a good route for me as well. In addition, with the way the internet is continually changing industries like this, self-publishing seemed to be a really good option.

Here’s someone else’s experience with publishing: Jon Acuff is a blogger, speaker, and author, perhaps best known for his blog Stuff Christians Like and his work with Dave Ramsey‘s organization. In his book “Quitter,” Acuff writes this about publishing:

Many people assume authors are paid a tremendous amount of money when they publish a book… Thus far, not my experience. The truth is I got a $30,000 advance for my first book. After taxes, my literary agent’s fee and a 10 percent tithe, I got about $13,000. Right, but what about royalties? The reality is that 95 percent of authors never see a dime of royalties. You have to sell back your entire advance before you earn a dollar of your royalty. The first sales report I got from the publisher did not include a check. It was a statement that said I was $15,000 in the hole. I got a piece of paper that literally said my books had earned negative $15,000.

The more I thought about it, the more I was drawn toward self-publishing. In a nutshell, here’s why:

  • I don’t know much about the traditional publishing side of things, but this is what I’ve heard (and you’ll want to research this farther, since this depends on the publisher and the specific offer): If you get a major publishing contract, from what I understand, the publisher often keeps around 70% of the profits. When you self publish, you can keep around 70%. Financially, it made more sense for me to self-publish.
  • If you get a publishing contract, they promote you, but from what I’ve seen, being successful is more about the way you promote yourself. My dad likes to say that no one cares more about your dreams than you do. The publishers will put you on blog tours (which you can do for yourself), put your book in magazines (again, you can do for yourself, to some extent), and help book tours for you (once again, you can do for yourself). I have friends who have gone through publishers and yet have not sold nearly as many books as I have, and vise versa. So much of it has to do with the book and the time you can put into promoting it. I’m sure there are many strings publishers can pull that I don’t have the contacts to pull myself, but I think that with a lot of hard work, creativity, and the wisdom of others, you can do a lot of this promotion yourself.

Some important things to think about when deciding whether to pursue traditional publishing or self publishing are: If you have a platform from which to promote your book (for me, that’s speaking), and if you can put time and effort into promotion, you may have the tools you need. However, if you don’t have a platform or time to promote yourself, maybe a major publisher is a better option for you.

I had a publishing house interested in releasing my second book, but I didn’t even look into this option. For now, I’ve decided to stick with self-publishing, because it seems to be the best option at this point in time for my purposes. Would I switch in the future? I don’t know. I suppose it depends on the type of book I write (more academic books would perhaps need a publisher more than others), and the offer I received from a publisher. For now, I’m sticking with CreateSpace, and I’m loving it.

(Check out this blog post: Self Publishing a New York Times Bestseller)

So, how do I self-publish?

There are different routes you can take, but I’ve fallen in love with CreateSpace, which is a subsidiary of Amazon. They are easy to use and have wonderful customer service. It’s also FREE. Yes, free. As in, there are no up-front costs.

Now, if you want to, you can pay them to design, edit, or advertise your book, but if you already have people doing those things for you, there are no costs to self-publish through them.

How does that work financially?

When you order copies of your book from them, you pay for your copies and then resell them at the price you set. This enables me to keep approximately 70% of my book sale income, which helps fund the ministry I do, so I can keep speaking honorariums low. (Oh yeah, and it helps me pay my college loans. :))

When someone buys a book through Createspace, Amazon, or other online retailers, Createspace keeps a higher percentage of the profits, and I usually end up keeping about 30% of the online book sale income, depending on the retailer. But that depends on the list price you set.

And yes, going through Createspace puts your book in library databases, Barnes and Noble databases, etc. That doesn’t mean libraries or major book stores will stock your book in their stores; it would have to be requested frequently enough. However, they CAN stock it if they want to. Super cool.

How did I design my books?

I have friends and contacts who are editors and designers, so I pay them to do the artwork and editing. Createspace also has resources you can hire if you don’t have friends who can do it.

My new book, designed by my uber-talented friend Kirsten Reilly!

My new book, designed by my uber-talented friend Kirsten Reilly!

Once the book is laid out, you plug all your information into Createspace, upload your cover artwork and interior file (they give you templates so you have the right dimensions, etc.), and then…voila! They process it, you proof it digitally and/or with hard copies, and a few days after you approve the proof copy, you can order hard copies and watch it go live on Amazon!

You can also pay them to turn your book into an ebook and get it on Kindle, or you can do it yourself. (It takes some time, but they have great DIY tutorials, which is what I used to put my book on Kindle.)

CreateSpace is seriously so user-friendly.

How did I advertise after self-publishing?

This is where a ton of hard work and time comes in. The main piece of advice I have is this: Find your niche, and think outside the box to get your book to that niche/target audience.

First, find what makes your book stand out apart from all the others! Why would someone want your book? And then, think outside the box for how to embrace that niche and get the word out to people in your target audience. Here are a few ways that have worked for me:

  • Book Bloggers: Contact book bloggers in your genre and ask if they’ll either let you guest post on their blog, or if they’ll post about your book in exchange for you sending them a copy to read. Sometimes they’ll even do giveaways which brings in more advertising for you! I LOVE book bloggers, and some have become friends!
  • Write Articles: Find magazines in your niche, and submit articles to them. At the end of your article, include a little bit about your book, or see how you can mention it within the article in a way that isn’t too advertisey, but still gets the word out.
  • Speak on the Topic: If you’re writing on a topic that you can speak about, find places to speak. Think outside the box! I make most of my book sales after speaking engagements.
  • Network: Use social media, let friends know about the release, see if you can do an interview on radio shows, have a book release party, blog regularly, etc. — get the word out! Find that selling point — why people would care that you’ve released this book — and latch onto that. Make it news-worthy!

So there you have it. These are the things I’ve learned from my experience thus far (albeit limited experience). I hope these thoughts help some of you as well! 🙂


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