Self-publishing is taking the book world by storm… so what is self-publishing exactly?
If you're a writer researching how to publish a book, you're taking the right step by weighing all of your publishing options.
Self-publishing has become a household term for writers and authors all around the world, thanks to technology.
Being a writer in today’s digital age means you have more options than ever on how to become a published author—self-publishing being among the best for those that want full creative control over their book.
What's the big deal, you ask? Well, until recently, writers didn’t have much of an option outside of traditional publishing if they wanted to write a book.
The problem with traditional publishing is that it's insanely competitive, and there are a lot of hoops to jump through to even have a chance at getting your book accepted by a traditional publishing house.
But now, the game is changing, and it’s never been easier for writers to self-publish their book.
In this comprehensive beginner's guide, we’ll walk you through the major points you need to know about publishing a book on your own and how to get started.
Here's everything you need to know about self-publishing:
- What is self-publishing?
- The history of publishing
- Self-publishing a book today
- Traditional publishing vs self-publishing
- How much does it cost to self-publish a book?
- How to self-publish a book
- What are self-publishing companies?
- Where to self-publish your book
- Self-publishing industry trends
What is self-publishing?
Self-publishing is the act of publishing media, especially a creative work of art, as the author or artist, without the use of a publishing house or company. Self-publishing is commonly referred to in the author and book publishing industry, but people can self-publish other works of art, such as music and visual art. In terms of self-publishing a book, an author writes a book and complete the entire publishing process themselves, such as editing, designing, and formatting the book without the aid of a traditional publishing company.
An author that publishes a book on their own typically has complete creative control, higher book royalty rates, and full autonomy over the publishing process. To self-publish, an author will publish a book at their own expense using a self-publishing platform, such as KDP Amazon, and typically maintains full rights to the book.
In short: As a self-published author, you will oversee the entire book writing and production process, from start to finish, at your own expense, and with full ownership of your book rights.
Here are the steps on how to self-publish a book:
- Write the book
- Self-edit the book
- Professionally edit the book
- Format the book
- Get illustrations (if you're writing a children's book)
- Get a book cover design
- Market the book
- Keep up with book maintenance
- Work with a (self) publishing company if you so choose
However, the steps to self-publish don't actually mean that you will do all of those tasks yourself, but rather that you will oversee and fund the entire process.
Because the entire book writing and production process is your responsibility as a self-published author, it's important to make room in your publishing budget to hire professionals for the services you need, such as book editing and cover design.
The history of publishing
Now that you know what is self-publishing, it's important to realize that authors weren't always able to publish a book on their own.
Let’s embark on a quick journey through the history of publishing, which can help you understand how self-publishing is revolutionizing the modern author’s journey.
To start, think about the role of storytelling and writing books in our society, and it’s importance in human culture and history.
The earliest humans used storytelling as a means of sharing information – and we continue to do this today! The importance of storytelling hasn’t changed, but the way we share these stories has.
First, early humans inscribed text and symbols on ancient clay tablets to share information. In fact, the oldest known published story dates back to 18th century BCE!
Then, humans began writing, and people copied stories down by hand to preserve and share them.
The birth of traditional publishing
Next, the printing press was created in 1440, which was a breakthrough technology in making books widely distributed. Thus, the traditional publishing industry as we know it came to be.
In the past and even still today, traditional publishers buy certain rights from the author in order to publish the work.
However, this took the power away from the storyteller, since the traditional publishers served as a “gatekeeper” – ultimately deciding which books would be widely shared, and which would not.
But along came the digital revolution. As with many aspects of our society, the internet revolutionized many industries, including publishing.
The rise of self-publishing
So, what does it mean to publish a book yourself and how has it changed?
Well, it has evolved throughout the years, and there are a few important events that led to its rise in popularity today.
Here are the three phases of self-publishing:
- Step 1.0: This phase began in the 1990s, when eBooks began to be sold online. During this time, desktop publishing and print-on-demand technology came to be.
- Step 2.0: In 2007, Amazon launched the Kindle eReader and Apple released the iPhone. These two devices changed how people read books.
- Step 3.0: The industry is headed towards this third wave, which is characterized by direct sales from author to reader. We’ll cover more about this in a later section.
Self-publishing a book today
Today, writers can use powerful technology and the internet to self-publish a book and share their stories with a global readership.
Traditional publishers no longer control the storyteller’s narrative.
The only one that decides when to write and publish a story is the author themselves.
In fact, the $1 billion self-publishing market is evidence that it’s become the first choice for many authors.
With today’s growing industry, the road to being a self-published author has widened considerably.
Traditional publishing vs self-publishing
It’s important to understand the differences between self-publishing versus traditional publishing as you determine how to navigate your own author career.
In order to see the big picture and decide which route you will pursue for your own author career, taking an in-depth look at what exactly each publishing type entails, as well as the pros and cons of each, is crucial.
What is traditional publishing?
In traditional publishing, you first need to land an agent, which can be a very competitive and time-consuming process, with no guarantees. Once you have an agent, you need to find a publisher to accept your manuscript, which is also a very competitive and lengthy process (and again, no guarantees). Then, the publisher will offer you a contract that essentially buys the rights to your book.
The publisher will take care of the publishing process from editing, formatting, and designing. You earn royalties based on how many books sell.
Here are the steps to traditionally publish a book:
- Secure an agent with a query letter.
- Secure a publisher with your manuscript.
- Agree to the publishing contract (if offered).
- Publisher buys the rights to your book and publishes your book at no upfront expense to you (the author).
These are some pros of traditional publishing:
- Less upfront costs for the author. Since the publisher handles the production expenses, the author doesn’t worry about paying directly out-of-pocket so the cost to publish a book is less.
- Social prestige. Having publishing connections means your book will be easier to get into major bookstores. It can also be validating for some authors.
- Less responsibilities. You write the book, and let the publisher deal with the rest (ideally).
These are some cons of traditional publishing:
- Extremely competitive. The chances of being traditionally published are very slim, and it’s very challenging to be accepted by a publisher.
- Less earnings. Royalty rates are often significantly less for authors in traditional publishing.
- A ton of rejection. To even be considered by an agent or publisher nowadays, writers often must have a social following or fan base.
- Not much marketing support. The publishers handle the actual book publishing, but marketing is often left up to the author.
- Less creative control. Authors typically don’t have any say-so in the final product. So, your book may be edited and designed without your input.
Publishing a book on your own
To recap self-publishing, it goes something like this: You learn how to write a book, you write it, then have the book edited, formatted, and designed.
Then, you have a printer or publishing platform publish your book, while you market the book and do book maintenance.
As with anything, there are some advantages and disadvantages to consider, which we’ll cover in the next section.
Pros and cons of self-publishing
When you choose to publish a book on your own, it can be rewarding for a number of reasons. In fact, many self-published authors chose this route simply because of its many benefits.
However, there are also some cons to publishing a book on your own, which we highlight in this section. It's important to be mindful of the possible advantages and disadvantages as you decide where or not to self-publish your book.
Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing Breakdown:
|Pros to self-publishing||Cons to self-publishing|
|No gatekeeper||Less support|
|Your own timeline||No one is pushing you|
|Complete creative control||More upfront costs|
|Greater earning potential||Stigma|
|Higher royalty rates||More responsibilities|
Here are the pros of self-publishing:
- No gatekeeper. There isn’t anyone standing in your way of getting your book published. The only person that can stop you from sharing your book with the world is YOU!
- Your own timeline. Authors that publish on their own can get their book to market quicker than the traditional publishing process.
- Complete creative control. You have the final say in how you want your book to be edited, formatted, and designed.
- Opportunity for greater earning potential. Royalty rates on publishing platforms like Amazon are significantly higher than traditional publishing rates.
For some authors, publishing on your own can have its downsides. Be sure to consider your own needs and preferences as you weigh the possible cons.
Cons of self-publishing are:
- Less support. It’s all in your hands, which can be very scary for some authors. It can also be lonely without a supportive community.
- No one is pushing you. It’s up to you to set your own deadlines, make realistic writing goals and get the ball rolling on your published book.
- More upfront costs. Self-published authors hire professionals for publishing services like editing and designing.
- Some stigma. Because traditional publishing has been the standard for so long, self-published authors are sometimes considered the underdog. But the tide is changing. We're seeing waves of successful authors who were traditionally published switch over to self-publishing, like Michael Hyatt, Ruth Soukup, and more. They're realizing they can invest in professional services to produce high quality books and they can leverage their own platforms to sell more books at a higher royalty rate.
If you're curious to know whether traditional publishing or self-publishing has greater earning potential, try using our Book Royalties Calculator!
Book Royalties Calculator
1. My book will be published by a...
2. My book will be an:
3. My royalty rate will be:
*Please note that this royalty rate is based on the market averages for paperback books. Actual royalty rates for traditional and indie publishing can vary by author depending on several factors.
4. My book's retail price:
5. The # of books sold:
Your Profit per Book Sold
For books sold, you earn:
For 1,000 books sold, you earn:
For 10,000 books sold, you earn:
Royalties Comparisons for 10,000 books sold
How much does it cost to self-publish a book?
Since the author oversees all aspects of the process, the costs to self-publish a book will vary. You can self-publish a book for as little, or as much money as you can afford. On average, the costs to self-publish a quality book will be about $1,500 – $5,000 depending on the professional services you use during the publishing process.
Many platforms to self-publish are actually free to publish your book, but where the costs accrue is during the editing, illustrating, designing, and marketing phases.
Several factors affect how much it costs to self-publish and it really depends on each author’s needs.
This means that you can determine the budget when publishing a book on your own. Just remember – don’t cut too many corners as this could negatively affect your book’s quality!
The actual cost to publish a book yourself is free on self-publishing platforms like Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).
But at the minimum, authors need to hire a professional editor and cover designer.
For example, the table below covers the average cost of common professional services used to self-publish a book.
|Professional Publishing Service||Average Cost|
|Book Editing||$300 to $5000 |
(depending on word count)
|Book Formatting||$50 to $500|
|Book Interior Design||$100 to $1,000|
|Cover Design||$250 to $1,000|
|Marketing Promotion||$0 to $1,000|
Again, it all falls back on you as the author, and what your motive is for publishing your book.
Are you looking to build a career? Then you’ll want to invest in hiring experienced professionals that can provide the best quality, this may include investing in a self-publishing company, like Self-Publishing School, to help you do it right.
There will often be more expenses to cover, but it depends on the program or company. Self-Publishing School and our services pay for an ISBN for you, but if you use another company, you might need to learn how to get an ISBN number for a self-published book, which is required if you want to get your book in libraries and bookstores.
Other services you may need to budget for as you consider how much it costs to self-publish are marketing tools and promotional sites to promote your book.
You can use this Book Profit Calculator to determine how much you can make off your book based on your book price and royalty fees.
How to self-publish a book
Successfully publishing a book on your own can be a time-consuming process, but it’s usually a lot quicker than the traditional publishing route.
While it does require time and effort, the good news is that the self-publishing method can be pretty clear cut.
Here are the basic steps for how to self-publish a book:
- Write a book
- Choose a title for your book
- Hire a book editor
- Finalize your manuscript
- Hire a book cover designer
- Decide where to self-publish your book
- Format & publish your book on the platform
- Plan and launch your book marketing campaign
- Price your book
- Continue to promote, market, and & distribute your book.
Remember, this is a condensed process on how to publish a book yourself. You'll want to educate yourself on the best process for each step to avoid making certain publishing mistakes.
And you'll notice that many of the steps involved can be tailored to your specific situation.
It’s important to dive in deep to each step when you are working through the self-publishing process.
What are self-publishing companies?
A self-publishing company helps authors self-publish books through the use of technology, services, education, and other means. There are three main types of self-publishing companies on the market today, such as: publishing platforms, author services, and self-publishing education companies. These companies are mostly for-profit, and depending on the type of services offered, can assist authors and writers in using a publishing platform, helping with editing and other publication services, and assistance with navigating the publishing process and industry.
These are the main types of self-publishing companies:
- Self-publishing platform: This is the actual medium that you will publish your book on, which we’ll explain more about in the next section.
- Author services: These are companies that provide author services such as editing, formatting, and designing. They’re like a one-stop shop for book publishing services, such as Reedsy. It can also include tools, like Publisher Rocket. Please do your research before using these types of services since many can lack transparency and quality.
- Self-publishing education: These are companies that teach authors how to self-publish a book. Since successful self-publishing can be tricky to navigate, these companies exist to provide authors with learning resources and mentorship. Self-Publishing School, Self-Publishing 101, and Your First 10K Readers all offer guidance if you want to do it yourself, but need a bit of hand-holding.
|Self-Publishing Platform||Publishes & prints books||KDP, |
|Editing, designing, |
|Self-Publish Education |
(now with author services too)
|Teach authors to self-publish||Self-Publishing |
Where to self-publish your book
Because there are many platforms to publish your book available, it can be confusing deciding which self-publishing company to actually choose.
However, there are some self-publishing platforms that offer services that you may or not may need. Not every platform is the same, so once you have a solid understanding of the type of services you seek from your publishing company, the easier it will be to narrow down the options and decide where to publish your book.
First off, you’ll need to know the two different types of platforms: retailers and aggregators, which have some overlap in services they offer, but there are some fundamental differences as well, which we'll cover below.
Tips on where to self-publish your book:
- Decide between a retailer or aggregator company
- Determine your publishing budget
- Choose the type of book you want to publish
- Select the best publishing platform based on your region
- Figure out which markets you want to reach
- Decide your end goal for publishing
- Research company reviews
- Determine your technical skills and if you will need more assistance
Book retailers are platforms that host and sell your book directly. With a retailer, you will upload your book and it will sell directly to readers on the platform. Examples are Amazon’s KDP, Apple’s iBooks, and Kobo.
Here are the most popular self-publishing book retailers:
- First, Amazon’s KDP has the most retail power. It dominates the self-publishing market with over 80% of the eBook market. When considering where to self-publish, KDP is a must. You will get paid 35% or 70% royalty rates, depending on which you choose.
- Next, Apple’s iBooks is steadily gaining more traction for self-publishing. It’s reported to have 10% of the market. If you use a Mac, this could be an option on where to self-publish. You will be paid 70% royalty rates.
- Then, there’s Kobo which holds a small but powerful percentage. But it has access to an international market, so don’t pass it up! To have your book available in Canada and over 190 countries, consider Kobo when figuring out where to publish. Royalty rates depend on the price of your book.
Book aggregators are mediums that you submit your book to, and they send it to retailers and libraries all at once. While it may be more convenient so you don’t have to figure out where to self-publish, the cost to use these companies may be higher.
These are examples of self-publishing book aggregators:
Decide where to self-publish your book after assessing which markets you want to reach, as well as your budget and needs. Some authors even use a combination of retailers and aggregators to publish a book on their own.
Self-publishing industry trends in 2023 and beyond
All this talk about the past and the present, but what about the future?
In fact, the industry is now entering Self-Publishing 3.0. This phase will be direct sales from author to reader by way of subscription models, crowdsourced funding, and other income streams.
Some forecasted industry trends for self-publishing in 2023 and beyond are:
- Direct author to reader without any middleman
- The rise of the “authorpreneur” and indie authors
- Blockchain technology
- Decline of major publishers
- Expanded eBook subscriptions
- Less stigma
- Voice marketing as a new avenue for authors
- Increase in self-published books in the retail world
A clear best choice for aspiring authors
The key takeaway is that self-publishing allows authors to publish their writing and share their stories with the world.
If you can make time for writing, execute on a publishing strategy, and invest in the quality of your book, you can create a legacy from your book.
In fact, you don’t even have to pass through the traditional publishing gatekeeper to become an author.
Today, writers and storytellers are more empowered than they ever have been in history.