How Do I Self-Publish a Book? (A List, With Resources)

Alethea-SimiI’ve been asked about self-publishing a lot recently, so I decided it was high time to write up a big, long answer with lots of fabulous and helpful links!

If you are asking yourself “Should I self-publish my book?” — the answer is NO. Self-publishing is a ridiculously hard amount of work (on top of writing your novel in the first place, which was already a ton of work, am I right?). And right now there is a glut of indie-published books out there, which means that once you DO get through the hard work of writing and the harder work of editing and publishing, there’s the virtually-impossible job of actually getting your book actually SEEN and READ by people.

But if self-publishing is so terrible, why are you doing it? Because I’m the stubborn brat who did terribly in English class, but never stopped writing. I got a Chemistry degree and immediately went to work at a bookstore. I moved across state lines and made really bad life choices (I once started a publishing company to impress a boy) and went into debt several times, all for the sake of writing because it is my soul. I was orphaned by two major publishers and still refused to stop writing.

If you are a crazy person like me–and I know you are out there (MY PEOPLE!)–keep reading.

Everyone else: submit your manuscript to an agent or shove it back under the couch, and then go see a movie and be glad I saved you from the really bad decision you were about to make.


Princess Alethea’s Self Publishing Basics

The Manuscript

When you have finished writing your novel (we’re going to talk about novels here, because picture books are ENTIRELY different horses), you need three different kinds of editors to look at it: a content editor, a copyeditor, and at least one proofreader.

The content editor’s job is to be sure your manuscript makes sense. Is the pacing right? Does it flow? Did you forget to describe a character? Did you leave a plot hole dangling? Did you write an adventure story when you meant to write a romance? (I’ve done this at least twice.) Did you realize you have an underlying theme of loss that you should really explore and carry out through the resolution?

The content editor will give you revision notes. Take a day to scream and cry about these notes, and then sit down and do the work to make your story better. (The content editor’s job is not to find typos, but she might mark a few.) When your revisions are completed satisfactorily, your manuscript goes to the copyeditor.

The copyeditor’s job is to go through the manuscript with a fine-tooth comb and catch all your typos and grammatical mistakes. They will sort out your hyphens and pry the commas from your cold, dead hands. They will catch inconsistencies or anachronisms. They will point out awkward sentences that should really be rephrased. They will catch that you used the word “small” five times in one paragraph. Once you have fixed all these silly mistakes, it’s time to send your manuscript to the proofreaders.

A proofreader’s job is to catch whatever tiny things the copyeditor didn’t see. In traditional publishing, this is the equivalent of the Advance Readers Copy. My ARCs go to my VIP Review Team and my Brute Squad. There are a couple of readers who I KNOW will catch things my eagle-eyed copyeditor missed, and I pay special attention to those comments.

In the course of my two-decades-plus in the publishing industry, I have professionally held all three of the above positions for major publishers. I am here to tell you that YOU NEED ALL THREE OF THEM. If you are the writer, do not do these jobs yourself. And if you are a writer who CAN do any of these jobs yourself, I bow to you because you are a God.

As in traditional publishing, you should always start with the cleanest version of the manuscript you can. If you are distracting any of these editors with a messy manuscript, it’s possible that they will be concentrating so hard on easily fixable mistakes that they miss something they SHOULD be paying attention to. (And that is often how typos end up in final manuscripts)

My editorial team is made up of my best friend (who happens to be an English professor at a big university), a dear author friend, my fan club, and my mom. It took me a long time to put these folks together, and we are AMAZING. You will find your team. But don’t get discouraged if it takes you a while. And be open to looking in un-obvious places.

Casey has papers to grade, Kat has books to write, and Mom’s not currently offering her proofing services on a professional basis, so I’ve compiled this short list of friends & acquaintances for you to research. Please, DO YOUR RESEARCH. Some of these folks only do one kind of editing, or for specific genres. Each will charge different amounts. Feel free to tell them I sent you, and BE KIND–these are friends of mine!

Renee Murphy
Shannon Page
Chris Kridler
Laura Anne Gilman
Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Spencer German Ellsworth
Literally Addicted to Detail (Chelle Olson)
Melissa Gilbert
Lyn Worthen
John Jarrold
Ashley Davis
Jenny Rae Rappaport
Eschler Editing (Sabine Berlin)
KH Koehler
Michael Kabongo
Laura Helseth
Venessa Glunta

The Cover

Even after all these years and thousands of idioms, readers still judge a book by its cover. Your cover is INCREDIBLY important. I spend a LOT of money on the cover art for my novels, and it it 100% worth it.

My cover artist is another amazing author (Rachel Marks) who is no longer taking new clients (because she also has books to write!). Luckily for you, there are a TON of new, great resources out there for covers–even places that provide pre-made covers!

(I do not have a list of resources for these yet.)


The Layout

I am a Mac user, so I have been blessed with the fabulous software that is Vellum. I have been known to tell PC indie authors that it is worth it to buy a Mac, just for the e-book software. And that was BEFORE it could do print layout!

Vellum is magic for e-books. And I suspect I will be doing quite a few print layouts there too, in the future. But outside of that, my go-to for print layout will always be Polgarus Studio. They have made all of my fairy tale books look amazing, and even helped me when I was having massive amount of trouble with Diary of a Mad Scientist Garden Gnome. Their rates are reasonable, communication is excellent, and they provide layout within a week. LOVE THEM.



There are websites where you can upload your e-book and they will get it out to all the various retailers…but really, it’s best if you do the Big Five on your own: Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iTunes, and Google Play. (Google Play is a bit problematic…do some research…but I’ve still got a few books there for now.)

You will need to set up accounts, link bank numbers, and fill out tax forms for each of these sites. It is not a short process. And every time you upload the book, you will need to input the metadata. Another not-short process–while all sites require a lot of the same information, every one is different.

Do you need ISBNs from Bowker? That’s up to you. I bought a bunch way back when they were on sale, and I use them mostly for my print books through Ingram…but if you’re only using e-books and Createspace, you don’t need them.

I use both CreateSpace and Ingram for my print books. I did a lot of research before I made this decision. Did I need Ingram? Probably not–they are expensive, and a hassle–but I did want hardcover books. I hear that Nook is now doing hardcovers. I haven’t looked into that yet. But CreateSpace can get you into most of the sales channels you need.

Affiliate Programs

Make sure you are set up on all the Affiliate programs: Amazon, Kobo, and iTunes. I admit, the only one I’ve really seen money back from is Amazon…but you never know. All those nickles and dimes add up eventually. And remember to use these links! I know it’s a pain in the butt, but it’s a good habit to train yourself to get into. DO NOT EVER BUY ANYTHING OFF AMAZON without clicking on a link from a fellow author’s site first. Even if you don’t buy their book, they still get a kickback. IT MAKES A DIFFERENCE. You have no idea how much!



The book advertising climate changes every five minutes. It’s true that you have to spend money to make money, but FB ads and newsletter ads and free sites are so prevalent now, it’s tough to make a list of reliable ones. I will say that BookBub ads are still great if you can get them (don’t stop applying!) and Hidden Gems is fabulously reliable for getting ARC reviews!

Also: Be sure to “claim” your books on BookBub and add them to your Amazon Author Profile (make sure you are set up on Author Central) as soon as the buy or pre-order links go live!

Author Central will be indispensable to you as an indie author. Their customer service is bar-none.



If you’re just starting out with self-publishing, you shouldn’t worry about audiobooks just yet. That said, make sure you also “claim” all your books and short stories on ACX. ACX has a ton of great video tutorials…I highly recommend them. And be prepared to spend a lot of money on your narrator–you get what you pay for. My audiobook narrators have blown me away…and brought me some of the greatest joy. Their exceptional performances remind me why I do what I do!


WHEW! Okay, I know that’s a LOT of material, but it really only scratches the surface. I just want to make sure I properly convey the scope of the GIANT HEADACHE you are about to have for the next two-five years.

And if you made it this far…I wish you all the best of luck in the world. Vaya con dios!


Princess Alethea


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Princess Adventures

It’s always an adventure in the land where Princess Alethea reigns. This week, The Fairy Godboyfriend and I are dogsitting (and so far haven’t slept through the night, as Ginger and Lucky get used to tenants coming and going from the apartment complex at all hours).

Last week, I had an adventure in self-publishing.

As I’d mentioned earlier, dear friend and fellow author J.T. Ellison took me to task and asked me why the heck I hadn’t gotten any of my substantial backlist of stories out in digital formats. It was certainly something I had considered, and looked into working on in my spare time, maybe on the weekends, between writing and editing and everything else I’m trying to juggle. The number of balls I had in the air was starting to stress me out…at which point FGB sat me down and helped me take stock of my priorities. He reiterated J.T’s points, essentially telling me I was “sitting on a gold mine” by letting all those stories lie dormant. So, I took all of last week, set myself a rigorous schedule, and taught myself how to digitally publish my own stories.

As many of you have asked, here are some tips from my adventures I’d thought I’d share with the world.

After realizing Kindle and Nook uploads needed to be in a certain format, FGB and I discovered that Smashwords was probably the way to go, as it ultimately outputs the story in pretty much every format imaginable. Of course, in order to get started on Smashwords, I had to sit down and go through the 73-page manual on how to format my document in Word.

Tips in a nutshell: Switch view to “Outline” so you can see all your tabs and paragraph breaks and spaces. Set all your formatting to “Normal”, and modify the style to be single-spaced, with a first-line indent of about 0.3″. Remove any and all tabs you have used. Take out all page breaks and never use more than one extra carriage return to separate pages or POV shifts. Just use *–*–* or similar to indicate a page break in your text. (Remember, digital users can change the look of their document to whatever they want–you need to hamper that user experience as little as possible.) Learn how to use bookmarks and hyperlink your Table of Contents to the Chapter Headings. Include Copyright information, and an “About the Author” section at the end.

Learning all of that took me about two solid hours, during which FGB asked me to please think quieter because he was trying to take a nap. Of course, once I learned all THAT, then I had to remember how to use Photoshop and come up with some covers.

I use a lot of my own artwork and photography, but I’m not afraid of snagging the occasional public domain photo here and there, so once I got a decent template for my stories I stuck with it. A reader is going to spend about two seconds looking at the title page–I just want to make sure they can clearly read the title and my name. I wanted the photo i used to reflect the story’s subject matter as best as I could.

Remember, too, that a lot of digital readers are still only in Black and White. Don’t go all color crazy, unless you’re putting one cover in the actual ePub edition and one cover on Amazon and B&N…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I formatted everything in Word and got covers done for a few stories. I decided upon this strategy: Do one anthology of five stories for $2.99. Then sell a bunch of other stories for $0.99 apiece — and with the single stories, you get a bonus essay on the origin of the idea for the story. Like a DVD bonus, if you will, for those superfans out there (because I know you’re out there). So I’m all ready to go…

…and I still don’t have access to my Smashwords author page.

See, when you’re an author and you have a publisher who sets up a book of yours on Smashwords, they create this kind of dummy page that works as your author page. Once you decide to sign up as an author, you have to petition to have them relinquish control over this phantom page to you. I asked, got permission from the publisher, and never heard back from Smashwords. Great.

But Murphy’s always on my side — while I’m in the middle of all this, Steven Saus (you remember my recent chat with him about digital publishing) advised me to steer clear of Smashwords. He didn’t like some things about the way they ran, or the software they used to churn out all those versions of your book. He said that if I had the ability, I should just try to create the ePub and upload it to Amazon and B&N on my own.

FGB already had this program on his computer called Calibre, a free e-book management program you can download for free. All I had to do was save my document as an html, add it to the library, and convert it into an ePub. Done and done, in about two minutes. After that, it was only a matter of uploading to both Nook and Kindle digital platforms, which they’ve really made quite simple.

Some more tips about Amazon & B&N uploading — if your cover is white (which does look nice on screens), Amazon will not place a border around it (B&N does) to distinuish your book form the background. Obviously it’s a book…but it looks kind of funky. Just go ahead and put a small border around it — it’s easy to do and isn’t THAT distracting from the cover’s aesthetics. Also, you will be asked to write a description of the book/story you are uploading. You need to sell this story in an elevator pitch. One or two lines only, if you can. If you have any extra content, put this in too! How else will the buyers know? I forgot this, and had to add it later. B&N approves their files a lot faster than Amazon, but both are very forgiving if you have to change a description, upload different cover art, or re-upload your entire e-book because you forgot to upload the right format the first time around. (Look, I was tired, okay?)

Amazon is nice and sends you an email with everything you’ve uploaded, and the direct links you can use to access them.

Here are the separate links to all the stories I have on Amazon:
The Unicorn Tree |
The Witch of Black Mountain |
Small Magics and Other Stories |
The Monster and Mrs. Blake |
A Poor Man’s Roses |
Small Magics |
The God of Last Moments |
Blue and Gray & Black and Green |
The Way of the Restless |

Don’t forget — if you’re part of the Amazon Associates program, stick your reference number at the end of those links so you can also get the kickback if people order them directly from your website. (I’ll leave the links visible here so you can see what ‘m talking about.)

B&N doesn’t send you a snazzy email, but if you go to the site and search by author, it gives you the option of looking at only the NOOK Books for that author. Mine are here. I’m also (slowly) getting all of those links live on my bibliography site as they each go live.

And I still don’t have access to Smashwords.

If you have a buck and a Nook or a Kindle, please click on a story that interests you and check me out. I’d love to hear what you think about both the stories and the essays I’ve written to go along with them.

I have one or two more stories I can upload once I’ve written essays for them — I have to say, after eight of them I did start to get burnt out…but it’s just so much FUN talking abut how I get ideas for things and when I was when I wrote something…because I can always remember. Stories are like little time capsules for me. I can tell you that I have another anthology planned for this October called PRINCESS ALETHEA’S SCARY TALES, for your Halloween enjoyment. I also have something super-super special planned for Christmas…but I don’t want to give that away quite yet. I’m still working on the artwork. Slowly. In my spare time. On the weekends.

Just don’t tell FGB.

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