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A beginners guide to self-publishing

If you’ve successfully (or nearly) finished writing your book, then of course the next step is to get it off your hard drive and turn it into a proper paperback publication.


There are quite a few options for you at this stage;

  1. Use a publisher
  2. Self-publish -> using author services like Lulu or Create Space
  3. Self-publishing -> doing it all on your own or…
  4. Self-publish -> using an author solution company which allows total flexibility, whilst retaining professional layout and cover design.

Each one of these has its pros and cons and there is lots of information about all of these options on the internet, so I’ve condensed it down and written a brief description of each service.

Getting a publisher is usually not an option for most, as it requires finding a literary agent, writing a proposal and then getting the book accepted by a publishing house. It can take months, if not years for this to happen, and at the end of the day, the amount of money you make in royalties can be pennies in the pound.

Most (if not all) author services like ‘Lulu’ and Amazon’s ‘Create Space’ can be a quick solution, and many authors have found this type of self publishing easy and flexible. However it’s a ‘print on demand’ service resulting in a higher per copy price and can cause issues with getting your book into book stores. You also have to upload a fully formatted PDF (no hand holding on what your book layout should look like) and relatively little quality control. Your book is then published by this company (their name splashed all over your publication) and you could be judged on badly produced books which have preceded you!

Going it alone of course can seem daunting, but it does have its advantages. You can cherry pick each element of your publishing process, make sure that your book is designed by a proper typesetter, and have the book copy edited and proofread so that it’s ready to be published.

If this is something you feel is right for your project, then I’ve created a quick check list for you, to make sure that everything is in place before you publish and even if you do decide to use an author service company, you might find some useful tips to implement before your embark on that option:

Step 1: Proofreading and copy editing.
There’s no point going to all the expense of getting your book professionally printed if it’s full of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. So, once you’ve written the draft, your book will need to be proofread and copy edited before it goes to be typeset, (explained in a moment.) The important thing to realise is that you know your subject matter better than anyone, but your readers may not. That’s why they bought your book of course — to learn more about the subject.

So, whilst the book you’ve written makes perfect sense to you, the author, it may be very difficult for your readers to comprehend. You may have inadvertently used phrases, words and jargon that only long-standing industry insiders like yourself would be familiar with.

A professional copy editor should be able to clarify your document, and rewrite chunks, so your target audience doesn’t get lost in a sea of jargon!

Sourcing good copy editors can be tricky, but there are hundreds of them on places like Elance (www.elance.com) and LinkedIN. We also have professional proof readers and copy editors available to look at your document – just click onto our ‘ proof reading and copy editing page‘ to find out more.

No matter which option you choose for publishing your book, this step must not be skipped – so get your book edited first.

Step 2: Typesetting.
Trying to format a Microsoft Word document, so it looks like a proper book is possible, contrary to what some people will tell you. However it can be quite restrictive in terms of design capability, and also very frustrating. You won’t have the flexibility or control that a professional desktop publishing programme like Quark or InDesign would give you. Plus, if you don’t know what you’re doing, then it will look really unprofessional and ‘self-published’.

Of course you could try and teach yourself how to design a book in one of these latter software packages, but that can be a very time-consuming process, and definitely a “low value” use of your time as a progressive business owner. Not to mention the cost of the software – which is usually in the many hundreds of pounds!

If you’re serious about becoming an expert author, the only sensible option is to outsource the typesetting to a professional. Even if you’re using an author service like Lulu, getting your book formatted by a professional will produce a much more professional looking book. I’ve seen some really badly designed books being printed and it’s because they forgot or thought this step wasn’t important, but it is!

Things to consider when choosing a typesetter include;

  • Are they specialists in business book design?
  • Do they have a hands on or cookie cutter approach to your book?
  • Are you able to access them whenever you need, or is it a get in line – they will answer your emails when it suits them?

When you have a quote, make sure you are very clear with what that includes. How many rounds of amends do you have? Do you get the original files when the design is finished? Do they require their details to be in the book? Is the quote an estimate or a finished quote? Also, do they include a book cover as well?

Most typesetters’ only do the interior layout, and the book jacket is another job, outsourced to another company. The Book Refinery does both, and your typesetting quote includes the cover! (See below for more details)

Step 3: Apply for an ISBN number.
While your book is at the typesetters you’ll need to apply for an ISBN number.

You can do this several ways;
Buy ISBN numbers direct from Nielsens.

  1. You will need to give the dimensions of your book, including the total page count and you will have to supply the ‘Title Verso’ page – ask your typesetter for this.
    NOTE: You have to buy a minimum of 10, so if you are not planning on writing another book, I suggest you go to one of the suggestions below.
  2. Buy from a broker. For example The Book Refinery are ISBN brokers – we provide our clients with ISBN numbers as required, just click here, or…
  3. Your book cover designer might provide an ISBN number for you. (Ask if this is included when you’re sourcing a book cover designer – see below for more details.)

One thing to remember – once you have purchased your ISBN number (if not supplied by your cover designer) you will have to download or convert your ISBN number into a graphic. Search the term ‘ISBN converter’ in Google to do this.

Step 4: Design the cover.
The company you choose to typeset your book may also offer to design the cover. If not then you will need to source a professional cover designer, and provide them with the copy (text) for the front and back of the cover, including the price and ISBN number.

If you’re using images on the cover, then you will need to make sure that the cover designer you choose includes the image within their quote.

Step 5: Getting it all together.
So once you have all of the above sorted – and if you are managing the project yourself, you will need to collate the finished files from your typesetter and cover designer, and then upload them all to the printers.

You’ll also need to make sure that you have access to your typesetter and cover designer, just in case there are any issues when you upload your files. (If they are not available, this could seriously delay your project being finished.)

If all of this is starting to sound very complicated, like a lot of effort and with a great deal of risk that something could go wrong… you’re absolutely right! Finding decent suppliers can be a nightmare.

Using an author solution company then could be a much better option. Somewhere where self-publish authors can come and get their project published, without having to outsource each individual component as they manage all of the above for you, whilst resulting in a highly professional finished product.

It won’t cost as much as you may think, (in fact it could save you a fortune) and best of all, you won’t need to worry about any of these details.

The Book Refinery offers one on one advice, bespoke layout of your book, feedback for readability (remember what I said at the beginning about speaking in business jargon) and can save you lots of time and effort.

So if you have a book sitting on your hard drive and you’re unsure which of the options are right for you, why not give me a call 01795 428850, or simply email me at alexa@thebookrefinery.com with your details. I will be happy to go into more detail about each of these solutions, and we can find the one that fits your project best. (Using a publisher or author services could be the best option for you.) So get in touch, and let’s get that book off your hard drive and into print!


  • Becca Chopra

    Good rundown of what it takes to get the book ready. With my first book, I used my own editor and proofreader and cover designers, but had CreateSpace both do the interior design and print the book and format it for Kindle. They did a good job but it was quite expensive. With my next book, I’m using a great cover designer and interior layout artist who is more responsive than CreateSpace’s design team could be – they used several different freelancers for each set of corrections/changes.
    Happy publishing!
    Becca Chopra, author of The Chakra Diaries

    • Alexa_Whitten

      Thank you Becca for your comments – and good to know that you have had good experiences with CreateSpace with Kindle – I think self published authors don’t realise there are other options for them out there – and it’s good to hear of people success.

  • David D Carroll

    One would hope the self-published author does not overlook the need for self-promotion. Hiring others to create promotional materials can be as expensive or more expensive than the services hired to get a book published in the first place. What’s more, simply making it available on Amazon does not guarantee sales of any kind. I knew one author who published three books and hasn’t sold a single copy.

    • Alexa_Whitten

      Hi David, no not at all – although book promotion is a massive subject on it’s own. I am a fan of seperate landing pages (with a similar book title url) which you then advertise in trade magazines (or wherever your target audience is) offerering a free copy (charging a small P&P amount) and then letting the book convert (hopefully) to your back end services. Of course this is designed for business books, rather than fiction – which is a totally different kettle of fish!