How to Self-Publish a Book

Self-publishing is a viable and increasingly affordable option for writers of various kinds. This article presents options, tips and two case studies.

The most common reason for self-publishing a book, is probably still that the author is unable to find a traditional publishing house willing to accept it. Finding a publisher takes time and effort without any guarantee that one will eventually be found. Millions of manuscripts around the world provide sustenance for silverfish and collect dust. The main reason why publishers reject manuscripts is, of course, that they judge that they can't make money from it. Occasionally they are wrong.

Publishers are not always right

J.K. Rowling, for instance was rejected by at least one literary agent before she was taken on by the Christopher Little Literary Agency. Twelve publishers rejected her first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Another author, Eoin Colfer, author of the Artemis Fowl books, had one of his first books rejected. Ten years later he tried again, this time with success. G.P. Taylor, author of Shadowmancer and Wormwood decided to self-publish because of rejections and an aversion to vanity publishing. His books turned out to be international successes.

It is very rare for a new unproven writer to be accepted immediately.

Vanity publishing

Vanity publishing is another route to having your book published. This kind of publisher requires someone else (usually the author) to pay the cost of publishing. This is how they make their money, not from book sales, so they are not highly motivated to market the book. The term ‘vanity publishing’ is nearly always regarded as derogatory. The Australian Society of Authors, for example, advises against them.

The main advantage of self-publishing is that you can actually get your manuscript into print. You also have full control over the process. The chief difficulty, if you intend to sell your book, is distribution and marketing. That is the bottom line: selling and making money from your work. This requires a strategy that should be developed well before taking delivery of your cartons of books. For your book to be even considered seriously in the marketplace, you should have an ISBN and a bar code, so that needs to be arranged while the book is being laid out by a desktop publisher and embedded into your cover.

Case study

A friend that wanted to publish some of his poetry initiated a self-publishing project, with which I was personally involved. He formed a group comprising an editor, graphic designer, marketer, production manager and several visual artists who would produce visual responses to accompany the poems. All were friends, relatives, acquaintances and colleagues that were willing to participate for no monetary recompense. A book launch with an exhibition of the art works was planned at the end.

  • Very briefly, the process was as follows
  • Preliminary meeting of participants to discuss the concept, format of publication, clarify roles and map out strategy and timeline
  • Artists' work on their assigned portfolio. Graphic designer produces layout and typesetting
  • A number of progress meetings scheduled
  • Art works collected and scanned or photographed for layout in book
  • Bar code and ISBN procured
  • Cover design developed
  • Refinements and proofreading/editing
  • Final pdf (portable document format – the pre print digital version of the book) approved
  • Quotes sought from three or four printers. Discuss your requirements with the printers; who should be more than willing to explain and recommend certain options

The winning quote looked like this

Quote Title: FRAME OF MIND



Size: 20*20CM

Binding Type: NOTCH BOUND

Artwork by: CUSTOMER

Quantity: Price:Inc Tax

1000 $7898.01

300 $6792.50

500 $7106.00

This is in Australian dollars and at 2007 prices in Perth, Western Australia. Prices will vary according to your location and the inflation rate. Also, printing technology is advancing so should be getting cheaper and better.

Binding is an important decision. Notch binding or perfect binding, as it is sometimes called, is the most satisfactory solution for soft cover, of which I am aware. It looks professional and is robust. Cover lamination is also desirable for durability.

1000 copies were ordered, which worked out to $7.90 per copy. The books were to be priced at $25. The author pledged to donate any revenue from sales to a charity, once he had recouped the printing costs.

The book launch was held at a small gallery where a number of books were sold and all artists sold some of their works. A sponsor that the production manager had found had donated wine. It was a very pleasant finale to a nine-month project and everyone involved benefited from the experience.

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Very small printing runs

If you are one of the growing number of people who want to publish for limited distribution, for example, a family genealogical history or, like a recent client of mine, publish memoirs, poetry or other writings by a family member to distribute to other members of the family as an enduring document, then this can be a very worthwhile project.

The book with which I was involved as a graphic designer and visual artist, was a collection of poems and other writings by the sister of my client. The writer had written about her life in Teignmouth, a town in the English county of Devon, and surrounding villages. My client wanted a small number of copies to distribute to family members as well as surprise her sister. She finally decided on 30 copies, which cost her less than $19 per copy (2011) for printing. My wife and I, who are friends of the client, produced all the graphic design work plus illustrations and artwork for a minimal fee.

If you need graphic design work or illustrations, quality, styles and prices vary – so get quotes. One useful site for finding graphic designers is a freelancer site, such as There are many talented designers from all over the world keen to bid on such jobs. Many are from places such as India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, etc. that have emerging economies and charge comparatively little for their work. Check out their portfolios and discuss your project via online messaging to get a feel for their suitability. Basic desktop publishing is not usually a major issue but if there are cultural sensibilities required in the design and illustrations, then you need to consider freelancers with appropriate cultural backgrounds. You don’t necessarily want manga style drawings to illustrate your genealogical book.

Good luck!

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