From hobbyist to published author: A guide to self-publishing for non-professional writers

  • Self-publishing has propelled numerous books to success, such as "Wool" and "The Martian," both of which were adapted into major films.
  • Self-publishing allows authors complete control over every aspect of their book's publication, from the editing and formatting to cover design and distribution.
  • Key advantages include creative control, faster time-to-market, higher royalties, direct connection with readers, and pricing flexibility.
  • The cost of self-publishing can vary, and authors need to budget for editing, design, formatting, printing, and marketing, with options available at various price points.

The world of self-publishing has become a hotbed for creative talent, with many bestselling e-books being picked up by Hollywood and TV producers. 

Think "Fifty Shades of Grey", which started as an indie novel and went on to gross over $560m at the box office worldwide. Or consider "The Martian" by Andy Weir, which was self-published in 2011 before being adapted into a critically acclaimed film starring Matt Damon. And more recently "Wool" by Hugh Howey, which became a surprise hit on Apple TV under the name “Silo”. You get the idea, more and more self-published books are picked up by big studios!

A no-bull definition of self-publishing 

So, what is self-publishing? Simply put, it's the process of publishing a book without the involvement of a traditional publisher. This means you, as the author, have complete control over every aspect of the publication process, from editing and formatting to cover design and distribution.

In contrast, traditional publishing involves working with an established publishing house to produce, market, and distribute your work. While this path holds great value for many authors, self-publishing has become a viable alternative offering unique benefits and opportunities.

The self-publishing industry has evolved dramatically over the past decade. Once considered a niche for hobbyists or entrepreneurs, it's now a significant player in the global publishing market. According to the Association of American Publishers, self-published books accounted for 31% of all adult fiction sold in the United States in 2020. Also, according to the Independent Author Income Survey, over half of the respondents had published more than 10 books, and 20% had published over 30. With the rise of e-books and online publishing platforms, the barriers to entry have never been lower. This is your chance to share your story with the world – without needing a traditional publishing deal.

The many benefits of self-publishing

Self-publishing: because who needs a boss (or a literary agent, or a publisher) telling you what to do? Here are some of the pros that our clients often mention when we work with them:

  • Creative control: Self-publishing allows authors to maintain complete control over the editing, formatting, cover design, and overall content of their book. You can even try different design ideas using AI.
  • Faster time-to-market: With traditional publishing, books often take 6-18 months or more from manuscript submission to publication. Self-publishing enables authors to publish their work quickly, sometimes in as little as a few weeks.
  • Higher royalties: Self-pub authors typically earn 350% to 70% of the book's cover price for each book sale, compared to traditional publishing royalties (usually around 10-15%).
  • Flexibility and adaptability: Self-publishing allows authors to make changes or corrections to their work at any time without needing to go through a traditional publisher.
  • Pricing flexibility: Self-published authors can set the price of their books themselves, allowing them to experiment with different pricing strategies to find what works best for their target audience.
  • Direct connection with readers: Independent writers can connect directly with readers and fans, fostering a more personal relationship and greater control over marketing efforts.
  • No agent or publisher interference: Self-publishers are not beholden to agents or publishers who may have differing opinions about their work or its commercial potential.
  • More opportunities for debut authors: Self-publishing has levelled the playing field for debut authors, allowing them to publish their first book and establish a readership without needing to find a traditional publisher.
  • Easier revisions and updates: With self-publishing, it's easier to make revisions or updates to a book after its initial release, as there are no third-party approvals required.
  • Increased visibility for niche genres: Self-publishing has opened up opportunities for authors writing in niche genres that may not be well-represented by traditional publishers.
  • More opportunities for established authors: Self-publishing has allowed established authors to publish their own work, bypassing traditional publishing routes and maintaining greater creative control. A prime example is Brandon Sanderson and his Secret Projects which were crowd funded and self published. 
This image shows a well-worn book lying open, displaying text on both visible pages, next to a classic fountain pen with a gold nib and black and gold barrel. A cup of coffee with a rich crema on top sits near the book, all resting on a textured, brown leather surface. The scene suggests a moment of reflective reading or writing, perhaps in a study or a coffee shop.

The self-publishing process

As you embark on the journey of self-publishing, it's essential to understand the various stages involved in bringing your book to market. From writing and editing to designing and publishing, each step requires attention to detail and a clear understanding of what's required.

An overview of the main steps in the process:

  1. Writing the manuscript: The first step in self-publishing is to write your manuscript. This involves developing your idea, outlining your story, writing your draft, revising, and proofreading. Consider using tools like outlines, character profiles, and scene lists to help you stay organised and focused. Make sure to edit your work carefully to ensure it meets the highest standards of quality.

  2. Book editing and proofreading for quality assurance: Once you've written your manuscript, it's crucial to edit and proofread it to ensure it meets the highest quality standards. This involves checking for grammar, punctuation, spelling, and consistency errors. You may want to hire a professional editor or get feedback from beta readers to help you identify areas for improvement.

  3. Designing the cover and formatting the Interior: Your high quality book cover is the first thing potential readers will see, so it's essential to design a cover that grabs their attention. Since you have full control over your creative decisions, consider hiring a professional book cover designer or using design tools like Canva to create a cover that accurately reflects your book's content. Additionally, you'll need to format your interior pages, including font sizes, margins, and line spacing, to ensure they are visually appealing and easy to read.

  4. Acquiring ISBNs and handling copyright: As a self-published author, you're responsible for acquiring an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) for your book. Most online retailers require this, which helps readers find your book when searching for similar titles. In the UK you don’t have to register your work for copyright by may need to ensure your work is properly registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.
  5. Selecting a self-publishing company and understanding their terms: With so many self-publishing platforms available, it's vital to research and choose the one that best suits your needs. Consider factors like royalty rates, distribution channels, formatting requirements, and customer support when making this decision. Ensure you understand each platform's terms and conditions before committing to a particular service.

There are some challenges to overcome

Okay, let's get real – self-publishing isn't always a walk in the park! As an indie author the entire publishing process is in your hands, and you might encounter some obstacles along the way. But don't worry, we've got your back! Let's dive in…

Quality concerns: The importance of professional editing and design

One of indie authors' most significant hurdles is maintaining quality in their work. Without the traditional publishing process, cutting corners on editing, formatting, or design can be tempting. However, this approach can lead to a subpar product that might not resonate with readers.

To overcome these challenges, consider investing in professional editing and design services. These experts will help you refine your manuscript, improve its readability, and create an eye-catching cover that captures the essence of your story. By prioritising quality, you'll be able to present your work in the best possible light and increase the chances of attracting readers.

Limited distribution channels

In the traditional publishing world, authors rely on distributors like Ingram or Baker & Taylor to get their books into physical stores. As an independent publisher, you might not have access to these channels, making it more difficult to reach a wider audience.

To overcome this challenge, consider leveraging print-on-demand services like CreateSpace (Amazon) or IngramSpark. These platforms allow you to distribute your book to a global network of retailers and online sellers without needing physical inventory. You'll also be able to track sales and royalty payments in real time, making it easier to monitor your progress.

Market visibility: Building your author platform

Another significant challenge indie authors face is building their author platform. In today's digital age, having a strong online presence is crucial for attracting readers and promoting your work.

To overcome this challenge, focus on developing a consistent social media presence through platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Share updates about your writing journey, behind-the-scenes insights into your creative process, and engaging content that resonates with your target audience.

Digital marketing: A key to success

In addition to building your author platform, consider investing in digital marketing strategies like email newsletters, paid advertising, or influencer partnerships. These tactics can help you reach a wider audience, drive traffic to your website, and increase sales.

To get started, identify your target audience and develop a plan that aligns with their interests and preferences. Focus on building relationships with readers, sharing valuable content, and promoting your work through targeted campaigns.

This image shows a bird's-eye view of numerous open and closed books scattered randomly across a lush green grassy field. The books vary in size, color, and thickness, suggesting a diverse collection of literature. The scene conveys a sense of the tranquility of reading in nature, with a creative and somewhat whimsical touch.

Cost considerations

As you prepare to self-publish your book, it's essential to consider the costs involved in each stage of the process. In this section, I'll break down the typical costs associated with self-publishing and offer budgeting tips to help you achieve your publishing goals.

Editing, design, formatting, printing, and marketing: A cost breakdown

  1. Editing: Professional editing services can range from £250 to £2,500 or more per manuscript, depending on the level of editing required (developmental, line, or copy). You may also need to budget for proofreading and formatting.
  2. Design: Book cover design costs typically range from £300 to more than £2,000, with custom illustrations or complex designs pushing prices higher. A cover designer will guide you through the process.
  3. Formatting: E-book formatting can cost anywhere from £50 to £250, depending on the complexity of your manuscript and the level of formatting required.
  4. Printing: Print-on-demand services like CreateSpace (Amazon) or IngramSpark charge per unit printed, with costs ranging from £2 to £10 per book, depending on size, colour, and other factors.
  5. Marketing: Marketing expenses can vary widely, from social media advertising (to make an impact at least £25 to £950 per month) to email marketing campaigns (£50 to £500 per month depending on email platform or freelancer). Consider hiring a publicist or participating in online promotions.

Free self-publishing platforms: What's the catch?

Some self-publishing platforms offer free services, but it's essential to understand what "free" really means:

  • Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP): Amazon offers free e-book publishing and 70% royalty rates for books priced between £1.99 and £7.99. More info here.
  • Smashwords: Smashwords provides a free self-publishing platform, but you'll need to pay for formatting, cover design, or marketing services separately. The cost of these services can range from £50 to £500.
  • Lulu: Lulu offers a basic plan with limited features for free, but most authors will need to upgrade to a paid plan for more comprehensive services. Their premium plans range from £20 to £100 per month.

Budgeting tips and strategies

  1. Set a budget: Determine how much you're willing to spend on self-publishing and allocate funds accordingly.
  2. Prioritise: Focus on the most critical areas (e.g., editing, cover design) and scale back on less essential services.
  3. DIY when possible: Save money by handling tasks like formatting or social media marketing yourself.
  4. Invest in quality: While cheaper options may seem appealing, investing in high-quality services can pay dividends in the long run.
  5. Research and compare: Shop around for services, comparing prices and services to find the best value for your budget.

Next steps

Self-publishing can be a thrilling adventure, filled with opportunities to share your unique voice and connect with readers worldwide. By understanding the pros and cons of self-publishing, you'll be better equipped to navigate the process and achieve success.

As you embark on this exciting journey, remember that having an eye-catching cover is crucial in grabbing readers' attention. That's where Book Beaver comes in – our team of expert designers can help you create a stunning cover that reflects your book's unique tone and style.

Ready to take the next step? Read more advice on how to self-publish like a pro, or get a quote for a custom book cover design from Book Beaver today!

Advice from a published writer
This article is always evolving and being updated regularly by our expert writers. Information featured in it has been fact-checked and verified.
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