Self-Publishing – The Complete Guide

Self-publishing: The complete guide

Writing a great book is only the beginning of your self-publishing journey. After typing “The End” on the last page of your manuscript, there are still many things to consider. In the world of self-publishing, authors must wear many hats. In addition to “author,” self-published authors must also be editors, formatters, cover designers, book distributors, and marketing specialists. Self-publishing your novel has many benefits. Self-publishing your books can be a rewarding experience, but it comes with steep learning curve. This self-publishing complete guide will introduce you to the world of self-publishing. It will also give you an idea of what to expect as you embark upon your journey.

What is self-publishing?

Self-publishing means that the author assumes all of the roles normally carried out by publishing companies. You can do this one of two ways. You can find a printer who will print a run of your books (100, 1,000, or more). Alternately, you can use a print-on-demand (POD) service like Amazon, Draft2Digital, or Ingram-Spark, to name a few.

Here’s an overview of the process of self-publishing in brief.

When you self-publish, you get 100% of all royalties earned from book sales. As the author, you also take on all of the expenses and tasks needed to get the book printed and sold. When self-publishing, you have more control over your books. This means you can make immediate changes to the content, formatting, cover, and advertising copy as needed. If you are not a jack of all trades, find some good freelancers to help with the process. Good editors, formatters, and cover creators can ensure your book is up to publication standards.

Though you might earn more royalties when self-publishing, you might not sell as many books as traditional publishers. This is because independents lack the brand power and advertising budget of the “Big 5” publishing companies.  

Not sure if you should self-publish? Read more about the pros and cons of self- and indie-publishing.

The importance of editing when self-publishing

Don’t underestimate the importance of a well-edited book, especially when self-publishing. No manuscript will ever be 100% perfect. However, you can do your best to come close by hiring an editor. An editor will do a close read of your book and make suggestions to improve your writing before publishing. Not only will a good editor find typos in your work, but they will also correct punctuation, spelling, and grammar. They will also search for inconsistencies in the story, blocking, and character descriptions and make suggestions for improvement.

To get the most out of hiring an editor, read and self-edit prior to sending out your work. Your editor should have the best possible version of your story to work on. Avoid sending out your first, second, or even fifth version of your manuscript.

When editing your own work, be on the lookout for inconsistencies in verb tense, point of view, and narrative tone. Let some time elapse before reading your manuscript a second time, and then again between the second and third times. This will ensure that you come to it with fresh eyes each time. Consider asking a family member or friend to read the manuscript for you. Search social media to build a “street team,” a group of people willing to beta read your manuscript. Don’t forget to include a list of questions you would like your beta readers to address when reading. Ask questions like “Is the ending satisfying?” “Is the main character likeble?” “Was the plot believable?” This will help focus your beta readers’ attention and provide more meaningful feedback.

Formatting and layout when self-publishing

Paperback books

Before formatting your self-published paperback , take a look at the books on your bookshelf. Make notes as to how other publishing companies format their work. Consider design elements such as

  1. Where to place the author’s name, the book title, and page numbers.
  2. How chapter headers are formatted.
  3. The space between lines.
  4. The size of top, bottom, and side margins.
  5. How section breaks are indicated.
  6. The size of paragraph indentations.
  7. The use of drop caps and/or how the first line of each chapter or section is formatted.

Once you have decided on what your interior will look like, it is time to format your book. Microsoft Word is the obvious and most common choice of software to use. Don’t forget to insert page breaks at the end of every chapter. This will ensure that each new chapter will start at the top of the next page. Use headers for chapter titles, which will help when it comes to inserting your table of contents later.

Adobe InDesign is another great choice for book formatting. InDesign allows you to build templates for your pages to ensure uniform and consistent design throughout. InDesign also treats images and spacing differently than Word. It gives you more control when it comes to the spacing between words and lines and placing images just so.


When it comes to eBook design, there are several options, including Amazon KDP, Smashwords, and Draft2Digital, to name a few. Each platform has its own specifications, so do some research to know how to format for each specific platform.

One great workaround for this is to use Amazon’s Kindle Create software, designed with independent publishers in mind. Kindle Create allows you to create and format an eBook right in the software. There is also a built-in previewer. This lets you see how your book will display on all of your devices. The latest version allows you to create a KPF file (to upload to KDP) and an ePub, suitable for sites like Draft2Digital.

The options for formatting eBook text size, font, and line breaks are limited. All of these elements—along with the page size—are determined by how the user views the file. The current version of the software makes it difficult to display tables just so. It also doesn’t allow you to edit tables and lists. You also cannot include footnotes, but you can have endnotes, as long as endnotes are in the original document.

Hardcover books

More and more venues are becoming available for authors to self-publish hardcover books. Be sure to investigate the technical requirements for each platform, as they will differ. For example, KDP uses RGB colours, while Ingram-Spark prefers CMYK. The interior margins, bleeds (the part of your page that gets cut off in the production process), and gutters (margin near the binding) might differ, as will cover requirements.

Cover creation for self-publishers

It is important to have an attractive cover that tells the reader something about the book. Your images should be high-resolution (300 dots per inch (dpi)), royalty-free images. This means that you can use a free image site like Pexels, the Adobe free image catalogue, or Pixabay. You can also purchase images from sites like DepositPhotos, Dreamstime, Adobe Images, or Shutterstock. The advantage to purchasing an image from a well-known site is that you can be sure the creator has posted the image. This means that you do, indeed, hold the rights to use the image.

Before creating your cover,

  1. Do some research to figure out the current trends in your genre.
  2. Do a Google search. Check out the images tab. Study the covers you find to figure out what they have in common.
  3. Be sure to use similar elements—including colours, layout, and fonts—on your cover.

Most of the time, your readers’ first glance at your cover is a thumbnail-sized in the store listings. It is, therefore, essential that the image is clear and the font is legible, especially as a thumbnail.

Back cover blurb

Write an exciting and engaging back cover blurb that hints at what the story is about without unleashing any spoilers. Again, research before writing this to figure out the common elements behind some of the best back cover blurbs. There are some great sites online and templates you can use to help with this.

You can use Canva to design your covers, but all Canva users have access to the same templates. This means that you may inadvertently have a cover that is the same or similar to someone else’s cover. KDP also has a cover creator that you can use to streamline the design process.

Photoshop is probably the best program to use when creating book covers. Visit your distribution platform of choice to download a cover template. This way, you can be sure that your bleed and spine are correctly placed. Open the template in Photoshop and use the guidelines to create your cover.

Regardless of how you create your cover, you must be convert it to a PDF before uploading for publishing and distribution.  

Publishing platforms for self-publishers

There are many self-publishing platforms out there for you to choose from. When deciding which platform(s) to use, consider their distribution channels. Each additional platform you use will keep a piece of your royalty pie, so choosing a platform with the most direct distribution channels is best. For example, if you choose Draft2Digital as your publishing platform and select Amazon as one of your channels, you will lose some of your royalties to Draft2Digital as well as Amazon. If you publish directly to Amazon, you will keep more of your royalties.

Here are a few of the more popular publishing platforms:

Amazon KDP

This is, by far, the most popular platform out there. In addition to posting your book on Amazon, KDP has an extended distribution network that will reach a wider audience. You can also enrol your book in KDP Select, which has many advantages. This includes getting paid for each page read by a reader in the program. The disadvantage is that your book must be exclusive to the program for some time. On the other hand, KDP makes it easy to publish on the platform. Its previewer even identifies which pages have errors and suggests how to fix them before publishing. If you need help with what it tells you, their customer service is really obliging. The best reason to use KDP is that it is free to create and publish your books!


Draft2Digital is a great platform to reach a wider distribution for your eBooks. They have recently begun paperback publishing as well. Use Draft2Digital to get your books into the RakutenKobo, Barnes & Noble, and Apple iBooks catalogues. D2D will also list your book in many other small eBook distributors. Overdrive, an eBook rental service, is also a good option. With Overdrive, you will be paid every time your book is “checked out” one of your books. Draft2Digital has a fantastic eBook formatter with several opportunities to spruce up your text. It also allows you to download ePubs and mobis for further distribution. Like KDP, Draft2Digital is free to use!


Ingram-Spark is a print-on-demand distributor that caters primarily to publishers. They do, however, accept self-published works for a one-time $50 fee. Publishing with Ingram-Spark will get you into many brick-and-mortar book store catalogues (such as Chapters/Indigo), but it won’t get you on their shelves. They also make nice hardcover books. Each book you upload will cost $50 for each version of the same book (paperback, eBook, hardcover). Updating some of your files may come with an additional fee. It also costs more to order author copies at Ingram-Spark than at Amazon.

Self-publishing conclusion

The publishing industry has undergone a significant overhaul in the days since the inception of the Internet. There are more options for self-publishers to take advantage of now than ever. Authors can be their own publishing houses with a little know-how and the right tools. In addition, there is a whole network of small business entrepreneurs dedicated to helping other authors get published. These businesses offer editing and formatting services, allowing even the least tech-savvy authors an outlet for publishing.

Whether you jump in feet-first as your own independent publishing company or to hire someone to polish your manuscript and make it publication-ready, the information in this self-publishing guide should be enough to get you started in the right direction. Best of luck on your journey!

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I be sure an editor is right for me?

Ask for a list of previous projects the editor has worked on. Feel free to request a sample edit of 1,000 – 2,000 words to get a feel for the editor’s style.

I don’t have access to Photoshop–how can I format my cover?

Use a free, online photo editor like Canva to create the layout of your front cover and use KDP’s cover creator software for the final layout.

Do I have to download KDP’s Kindle Create to format my eBook interiors?

Word will work just fine, but be sure to read Kindle Create’s style guide to know how to correctly format elements like chapter and section breaks.

Do I have to credit the images I use in my book?

Not always. Different sites have different requirements. It might, however, be a good idea to include which license each image was used under to be safe. Also, it’s a nice gesture to give credit to your image’s creator. Also, to give credit where credit is due, be sure to cite the fonts you use.

How do I know which platform to use for distribution?

The platform you choose will depend on where you want your book to wind up. Choose a platform that will provide you with the widest distribution channels. Try to aim for all of the main sellers (Amazon, Rakuten Kobo, iBooks, B & N) as well as a few others.