There are three main ways that you can self-publish your book:
- in print
- as an (electronic) e-book
- as an audio book
For now, this info blog focuses on how to self-publish in print or e-book format using the ‘DIY’ method based on my own experience.
Self-publishing involves quite a steep learning curve but with a wide range of free and low-cost tools and templates — along with generous communities willing to chip in with advice — it is perfectly possible to do most of the legwork yourself once your final manuscript has been written, professionally edited / illustrated and proofread. And if the tech side of things feels too much, there are some fabulous and reasonably priced freelancers out there who you can call on to check your files at the last minute if you run into trouble.
Self-publishing in print
In the early days of self-publishing (‘vanity publishing’) aspiring authors would pay a vanity publishing company to create and publish their work. This was not only costly, but would very often leave the author with a stock of books to try to sell once friends and family had been exhausted. Happily, for today’s authors there is another way — which is using ‘Print on demand’.
As its name suggests, with ‘print on demand’ your book gets printed after the customer places an order. This is made possible by digital printing, which has none of the set-up costs and high volume print-run requirements associated with traditional printing in order to make it economically viable.
Digital printing on demand is music to the self-publisher’s ears because orders as small as a single book can be fulfilled without affecting your retail price. You can read about the popular print on demand options here.
As well as, or instead of, self-publishing in print, you can choose to self-publish electronic books — formatted for the Kindle, Kobo and other e-readers. E-books can be downloaded instantly across all borders, which makes them an attractive proposition for both buyer and seller. In addition, the royalties that authors can earn on e-books are significantly higher when compared with a print equivalent. You can read about self-publishing to Kindle and other e-book formats here.
Audio books / podcasts (Mini update March 2022)
Audiobooks have seen huge growth in recent years, as I am sure you are aware! There are clearly enormous potential markets for audio books, including:
- those who are visually impaired
- walkers and runners
- commuters and holiday travellers
- unable to read due to illness
- anyone else too busy to find the time to sit down and read!
I created the audiobook of The Secret Lake in 2018, hiring out a studio and self-narrating. On balance I wouldn’t recommend this for fiction as it’s extremely time consuming and exhausting. I go into detail on this and all of the options for self-publishing audiobooks in How to Self-publish and Market a Children’s Book (Second Edition)
But if you’re after some instant info, the links below to Joanna Penn’s website offer a good overview of your options for self-publishing audiobooks using ACX (an Amazon company which limits your distribution to Amazon, Apple and Audible) and Findaway Voices (recently acquired by Spotify), which allows you to publish anywhere you like, including on your own site, and make your audiobooks available to libraries. I talk about these different options in my book above too, including the royalties you can expect and more.
- How to self-publish an audiobook (blog post on Joanna Penn’s website)
- Audio book marketing and distribution tips from Joanna Penn (blog post on Jo’s website)
- How to create a PodCast (by Joanna Penn – opens in new window)
An early recording of The Secret Lake on YouTube
Back in November 2012 I created a YouTube reading of the first three chapters of The Secret Lake using Garage Band and iMovie on my iMac. I definitely read too quickly and it’s a bit ‘hissy’ but it’s worth taking a listen to see just what you can do from your office at home! This really was really a case of playing around with Garage Band and iMovie until I worked it out. For a simple marketing tool it’s worth investigating. Here is the link – please do share with your children age 7/8-11!
Karen Inglis reading Chapters 1-3 of The Secret Lake
Thank you – that is indeed a great help! I think for the moment as, unfortunately, the budget is tight, the only option for me is to go the ACX route and try and find a narrator willing to royalty share. But my plan is to do this for the first book in the series only, so I can see what sales are like. If sales are encouraging, I will look at paying up front (using the same narrator if possible), and going wide with the rest of the series. As there are already seven Riverdale books and I am halfway through writing the eighth, this could potentially make it financially viable going forward. I also then have the option of putting three together at a time and producing box-sets, too.
Many of my readers are adults as I have discovered that grown-ups still like to read pony books! I’m not sure whether they would be interested in audio books, but they would hopefully be happy to buy them for their pony-mad children and grandchildren!
Anyway, thanks for your insights, they are very useful and much appreciated.
All the best,
That sounds like a sensible plan in the circumstances! Best of luck with it and let us know how you get on 🙂
Thank you! I will certainly keep you posted. And good luck with narrating The Secret Lake. I did think about narrating my own, but decided I didn’t have the patience (or the skills to edit it)!!
I hope you don’t mind me contacting you as one UK children’s author to another!
The New Year has given me the impetus to look at my backlist and, in Joanna Penn’s words, be a better publisher. The top item on my 2019 to do list is to look at audio books, specifically my Riverdale box set, which contains the first six books in the Riverdale Pony Stories. (Again, because Joanna says box sets offer good value to readers so are always more popular).
I’ve been doing a bit of research and, apart from David Walliams’ books, there really aren’t very many kids’ audio books out there, which I can’t decide is a good or bad thing!
I just wondered, is this something you have considered? I am minded at the moment to do a 50:50 royalty split with ACX because, with the best will in the world, I don’t have the money up front to pay a narrator and retain the royalty.
Anyway, I would be interested to hear your views. There’s lots of information in the SPF and 20 Books FB groups about adult books, but not specifically middle-grade audio books.
All the best,
No problem raising this question at all as it’s an important one, particularly as all the evidence points towards a huge growth in audiobook listening, including for children’s books. The short answer is that I have done just one audiobook to date and used an American actor friend who already narrates a lot of (adult) audiobooks. I decided to pay him up front as I couldn’t be sure when he’d get any income because I wasn’t sure how well the audiobook would sell. So far it’s sold a grand total of around 15 I think but I do have to confess to not having actively marketed it! Also it’s not my ‘bestseller’ as such — it’s Henry Haynes and the Great Escape btw… The other thing is that I have chosen not to make it exclusive to ACX as that would have locked me in for seven years which I didn’t fancy at all…
My goal for 2019 is to record The Secret Lake myself — and to outsource the recording of Eeek! But with a never-ending task list I’m not yet sure when I will get to it. What I have done though is to buy a mic and mixer that I hope will give me the sound quality I need; I now need to get some soundproofing 🙂 This was after reading around quite a bit. I’m not yet sure if that will work but it felt worth the trial given that studio hourly fees are pretty high. I have done some recording for my book apps previously, so it’s not completely alien to me. However, I’m under no illusion as to how much work will be involved and may end up outsourcing the editing (and indeed the recording) if I need to.
If you can find someone to royalty share then that may be the way to go if budget is tight. If it weren’t I’d definitely pay and keep the full royalties and go wide. But how many books you’ll sell I don’t know! Mind you, if yours is a pony series you could be onto a winner — I’d have devoured that as child, I’m sure, as I rode ponies in my youth!
I do know of one other indie children’s author who has produced an audio book — I’ve been meaning to ask her how that has gone. I’ll leave a message here later.
Hope that helps! Karen
You’re a wonder! I did not expect such an immediate reply. My computer has been down for 10 days so I just got your reply. I will investigate the above.
Thank you so much.
With kind wishes.
Kendra — I’m so sorry again. I came to this page to reply to someone else and saw that after returning from my holiday I failed to pick this up again. It was the lead up to World Book Day and I’m afraid I was swamped!
Did you manage to move forward with this? In answer to your question it sounds as if you did the right thing getting feedback from an ex-journalist English teacher — perfect. Beyond that it’s hard to advise as it depends whether/how much you want to spend. If you’re serious about wanting to sell online then I would recommend getting the view of someone like The Writers’ Advice Centre for Children’s Book — see the link below. They will tell you whether the ‘story’ works, which is a different matter from whether the English is okay.
However, what might make more sense to start with if you don’t want to spend anything at this point, would be to format it and upload to CreateSpace without actually making it live. Then order yourself a few proof copies and share those with a few children/teachers/librarians to see what they think then take things from there. That way you can hopefully get some honest feedback and know whether it’s worth spending money on further editing etc before trying to sell online. On this last point, selling online is tough with children’s books — discoverability is key –so do be prepared to put in some marketing effort. You may do better to drum up local press etc and try to organise local events to start with.
Anyway, I hope it has gone well and I’m so sorry if this information is too late.
With very best wishes,
(Quick update from October 2017)
Just to let you know, I have followed your advice and put the final work for my book out to someone else. It will be published using CreateSpace and then with Amazon US and European sites. I will also contract with Ingram immediately afterwards for retail distribution.
Since last writing to you I have been spending a lot of time making contacts for reviews for my book and also contacts for writing some articles. Some of my reviewers live in the US. This leads me to consider (1) the cheapest/best way to obtain small quantities of my book that I can use for review purposes (in the UK), and (2) the most economical method of getting a review copy to someone in the US. If I send a book to the US then I will have to pay the appropriate mailing costs from the UK. Do you know if it is possible to order copies from CreateSpace/Amazon at cost price and get them delivered direct?
Any information would be greatly appreciated.
With very best wishes once again.
Hi Bernard — for the States the simplest would probably be to order from Amazon.com as a customer once it’s up there (you can set up an account on Amazon.com linked to your UK credit card) and have them ship direct. Although you will pay the RRP you will get back royalty money into your account (and it will register as a sale in the rankings I think). Certainly for me that works out more cost effective than ordering personal copies to be delivered to me in the UK and then posting them to the USA. But you will need to do the maths and work that one out for yourself – as yours is a really big book it may differ. You can order ‘at cost’ copies for UK delivery but only to your home I think, so would need to post them on from there. Again, you could check how the price compares if you ordered from the main Amazon site for direct delivery — ie what royalty would you earn and how would that compare with postage?
By the way — CreateSpace is now encouraging people to move to KDP Print (another Amazon company which is the sister company of Kindle Direct Publishing) so you may want to consider using that rather than CS. They are parallel operations and I think that somewhere down the line everyone in CS will be moved over, though that may not be for a few years. I’ve not yet moved any of my books across but from what I gather the set up and everything is exactly the same as for CS — it just means that all of your sales reports (eBook and print book if you do both) are in one place. If in doubt google ‘CreateSpace or KDP Print’ and see what comes up.
The templates are all the same etc.
If you’re not sure then there’s nothing to lose by staying with CS though…
On the review side you could alternatively supply a PDF for review but I doubt in this case that would be suitable!
I hope that helps and best of luck with it.
Hi, sorry if I’ve missed it but how do you get an illustrator?
There are various options — check out my video here — I talk about the different options around 13 mins 19 seconds. Apologies this is rushed but happened to see your comment and thought I’d reply before I get sucked into my to-do list!https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_khVFdQUJo All the very best. Karen
One other thing — my video mentions Elance as one option — that is now called Upworks!
I came upon your site completely by accident. The information you have provided is fantastic – you are so helpful and constructive.
I am almost ready to publish a historical book after many, many years of research. It is about 90,000 words with maps, illustrations, appendices, bibliography, etc. Currently, everything is in MS Word (Normal A4 size), with the majority of illustrations in JPEG. Every chapter is a separate Word document.
How do I get from here to my preferred book size and final page format? Can I do most of this work myself?
(I realise that once my page size is altered from A4 it will increase the page count and I may have to reposition/alter/resize many of my illustrations. Unfortunately, this must be done before I can complete the final task of doing the index.)
Thank you Karen in advance for any help you can give.
What size book (page size) are you aiming for? And will this be paperback? K
My preferred size would be 155mm width x 232mm height (I have many history books here of that size). Printable area (if that is what it is called ) with these books range from 110mm – 118mm width and 176mm – 190mm height. Any of these sizes appear good to me.
I am probably going to aim for soft cover as first option but would like to consider the possibility of hardcover also.
If you have a Mac there is fantastic software called Vellum that you can use to do the layout yourself – the largest paper size they offer is 6 x 9 inches which I think is 15 wide x 23 high? You will need to buy the software though. (If you google it you should find you can get a free trial — I can’t quite recall. I use it for my books now but can’t vouch for how it would work for such a large book as yours!)
Otherwise you would need to work with someone who knows about layout and so on and can prep the file for you. If DIY with Vellum feels too daunting I’d suggest you contact Doug Heatherly at Lighthouse24.com — he is used to working on big print on demand projects like this. He’s in the States but it’s not a problem. He is a guru on layout and on preparing print on demand files for CreateSpace and Ingram Spark. etc Tell him I sent you if you contact him. firstname.lastname@example.org
Best of luck with it!
I stumbled over your wonderful website a few days ago. Thank you very much for all your advice.
The reason I’m writing to you is the following. I have written many short stories and two novels but not had the guts (I’m honest here ;-)) to do something with them. Having said that some of my poems have been published, but to me sending poems out seems much easier than self-publishing a short story or a novel. Anyway, I am very keen on self-publishing one of my short stories. I have found an artist who has now finished the watercolour drawings. I have also finished my short story (2.600 words) and I am thinking of getting it copy-edited or proof read.
1) Is it best to get it copy-edited or proof read? And, could you recommend a reliable company. I have started my search but am not sure if they are any good.
2) Regarding the drawings, how do I go about? I have read that I would need a graphic designer to change/format the drawings so they can be printed. Is that correct?
3) This particular short story of mine is bit ‘deeper’. There is some ‘wisdom’ in it but also lots of humour. I think it’s more for 9-11 year olds or 9-100 year olds really. Trying to determine the age group… How do you find the right age group?
4) I’d like to spread out the text over more pages and include the drawings (only six) here and there.
I guess your storyboard for picture books would be useful?
I’m just a bit confused as what to do first and how to do it because my book is not a pure picture book nor a pure text book, basically it has more text and just six drawings.
I would be super duper grateful if you could give me any piece of advice.
I’m out all of this week at London Book Fair and then a school visit, so will reply at the weekend or early next week. My apologies!
Thank you for letting me know.
Have a lovely time and lots of success at the London Book Fair and the school visit.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Hi Simone — apologies for my delayed reply after last week. I’m still catching up on myself. In fact, now that I’ve had time to read your post more thoroughly I think I would recommend getting feedback on the story before you go any further – to be sure it’s as good as it possibly could be and is pitched at the right audience. You need to be clear in your own head about what age group it’s aimed at (even if adults will enjoy it too). So the fact that you seem unsure is a bit of shaky start! (But you may be fine!)
But just a couple of observations: if it’s for ages 9-11 then normally this age group would not expect water colour illustrations (though they might in some circumstances expect black and white line drawings here and there). (Unless, thinking off the top of my head, it were an illustrated version of something like The Secret Garden or another well-known classic.) Colour illustrations tend to be for younger readers – though there might always be exceptions, of course!
Anyway, I digress. What I would suggest is that you firstly get feedback from children and adults who aren’t necessarily close friends to see what they think of the story – and indeed what they think about having the pictures with it. You could, for example, ask your local children’s librarian to have a read (or a school librarian) and ask for his or her honest feedback – or ask if they can share it with children coming into the library to get their feedback?
After that (NB you could skip to this next suggestion right away) I’d recommend you get feedback from a professional of some sort, such as The Writers’ Advice Centre for Children’s Books in London. I used them in the early days and they set me straight on the fundamentals of how to write for children; what works and what doesn’t etc in terms of pitching for different age groups. They are all well qualified in children’s literature (all have worked as editors in traditional publishing for children) and their advice will be well worth it if you can afford it and you will be able to apply it going forward. And if you have a masterpiece on your hands they will know!
Their costs are reasonable – you can get a written report or telephone feedback (the latter can sometimes be more useful and cost effective I think — especially if it’s a short book). Here is an article I wrote about them a couple of years ago. >>> https://selfpublishingadventures.com/2014/10/17/the-writers-advice-centre-for-childrens-books/ Their website is http://writersadvice.co.uk/ (and you’ll find the link in my article). I hope this helps! I certainly don’t want to be disparaging, rather if you’re going to spend time and money on getting illustrations formatted you need to be sure the story is right first! Writers’ Advice will also be able to tell you whether they think the illustrations would work (I think). Once you know all that then do come back and ask me about where and how to format!
If you really don’t want to go through these steps then leave a message and I’ll put you in touch with someone who can give you more info on the technical side of adding illustrations as I’m not an expert and my illustrator worked entirely digitally!
I hope this helps 🙂
This is such a useful post, thank you so much. As someone who’s just starting out with the long slog of self publishing it’s reassuring to know that it can be worth it.
Thank you and keep well
Many thanks and glad you’ve found it useful. I’d highly recommend joining the alliance of independent authors for mutual support on your journey 🙂 See my page here: https://kareninglis.wordpress.com/alliance-of-independent-authors/
That’s great thanks… yes we are on twitter so have re-tweeted 🙂 Yes we were very interested to read your post about the crosswords! We have done some word searches for the library visits but hadn’t thought about crosswords… we have just created one from the site you mentioned in your post… fantastic!!!
Thanks again Karen and yes please do get in touch if you are ever up this way… Manchester is fantastic at Christmas – they have amazing Christmas Markets 🙂
Will do 🙂 Glad you found your way around that site — it’s very clunky and ugly but it works! What’s your twitter feed? (Sorry I may know it — not sure!)
Ignore last comment — seen it!
Many thanks for your kind comments 🙂 We have been very busy – it has been hard work but we have definitely made progress. Yes it is very difficult to target the children’s book market outside of the schools because the kids themselves cant really access social media – you have to get right in front of them and get them excited about your product. We are lucky that we have a “sub-market” for our books which is the “Pug Community” so we can target the adult market to a certain degree on social media…. but even then, it isn’t very effective. One thing that does work very well is when we do a book signing at a local book shop (or BHS etc) is we have posters made up to advertise the events and fliers to give out – so we can physically target mums with kids and they tend to be that curious to see what is happening that they pop in and then buy a book 🙂
We are based up in St Helens (Merseyside) which means geographically we are well placed to cover Liverpool, Manchester and surrounding areas. We have found most people have been very supportive…. you just have to ask to get involved and be prepared to invest lots of time (usually for free) to get your returns. Many schools now place orders for at least 10 copies of each book (30 books) and in some schools we can sell over 100 copies to the children at the events we do.
If you are ever up this way drop me a line as I would be lovely to meet you… and I’ll be sure to keep you up-to-date with how things are going in the world of Pugalugs as we move forward… I receive updates from your website whenever something is posted 🙂
All the best
All sounds brilliant, Mark — and this is exactly the kind of approach I take with school events or bookshop signngs — freebies and handouts etc. On which note I assume you will have seen my recent post on using Crossword Puzzles to promote your children’s books ? https://kareninglis.wordpress.com/2015/10/08/using-crossword-puzzles-to-promote-your-childrens-book/– probably not right for your target age group but it’s the principle of thinking outside the box about how you can help spread the word about your book that counts. (My husband and both sons are die-hard Liverpool supporters and I did make it to a match there once! But I’ve never been to Manchester and it’s long been on my list to visit – I’ll be sure to get in touch if I’m up that way!)
BTW I just tweeted your comment if you’re on twitter…more PR for you 🙂
Hi Graham / Karen
Our publishing adventure started back in 2013 and our first book was launched in January this year… we are busy promoting our third book (I say we because my wife writes and I publish…. and we promote together) “Trick or Treat” for the Halloween Season. The advice Karen set out on her website was invaluable to us because there is so much to learn. Our third book has been a dream to publish with all the new found knowledge and experience of the first 2 books. We are currently looking to sign deals with the main distributors and this is taking time but sales have been good given the interaction we have had with the schools.
We targeted every single local school (over 60 of them) and prepared a sales letter with some promotional material and a copy of the book. We then literally walked into the reception of the schools and spoke to whoever we could leaving our “sales” material with them. It was like going fishing… we knew if we left our bait in enough places eventually we would get a bite! Sure enough we did and we did our first “Author, Publisher, Character Visit” (my wife and I take the dogs into the schools who are the characters of the books) for World Book day earlier this year. Since then, as the word spread we have visited nearly 30 schools which has allowed us to “target” exactly the right market. The Pugs now get recognised wherever they go when the children spot them!
We also spoke to the library service who were delighted to help and organised the “Pugalugs on Tour” events whereby we are visiting all of the libraries in the borough to promote the books.
Every time we do an event with the schools or libraries we prepare a press release and send it to the local papers. If its a library visit, we contact the council press office and they usually send a photographer and do the press release for us which gives us fantastic coverage as they send the press release out to 100’s of media outlets up and down the country – not just locally…. for free!
Because of the press release material, we were then contacted by BBC Radio to do an interview with the Pugs which gave us more exposure and this led to us being contacted by British Home Stores and Tesco Stores to do books signing events – we are now negotiating with them to supply our books to them. Most of the local “independent” books shops have also been very supportive and have invited us in to do book signing events which again gives great coverage.
It is just a case of being active – the more the better as things tend to spin off other things as you gain momentum. Keren is right when she says you cant rely on the internet to sell your book – we set up a lovely website etc etc etc but have found it pretty slow moving even though we do lots of promotional work on facebook and twitter etc. We still have a long way to go and have lots of hard work to get through…. and above all, we are still learning but I hope the above gives you an insight as to what we have been doing to achieve sales that perhaps you could try (if you haven’t already). Above it all, without Karen’s website we would probably still be trying to get book 1 printed… so once again, MANY THANKS Karen 🙂 !!
Hi Mark — thanks for leaving this inspiring and detailed comment for others to see — and *huge congratulations* on your efforts and successes! Very well deserved! And as for getting onto BBC and being approached by Tesco and BHS, well that is incredible. Do keep us updated! I’ve recently been contacted by someone about recommending a PR professional to help with sales but my advice is that with children you need to get out and meet your audience if you’re to sell in any numbers — and, as you have found out, it can then take off from there. (Out of interest, where in the UK are you based?)
Just a few words to say that I have found your site very informative. I self published on Amazon nearly 12 months ago via a third party, whom I paid for the preparation. Sales however have been disappointing particularly as the third party had stated that my first children’s novel deserved to do well, no criticism of them is intended here. I have just complete book two in the series & I am currently working on book three. I did feel like giving up at one stage until I saw your site and way forward, daunting though it is. I am not the best person in world at selling me! or my books. But your advice on here does give me some hope.
Many Thanks Karen.
Many thanks, Graham — and I’m glad you’ve found it useful. The key with children’s books is really to get out there and meet your audience I think! You can also sell online but far fewer books as marketing is all indirect. Very best of luck all the same! Karen
Just a quick message to say thank you for your kind assistance a good few months back.. It has been a challenging process but our first book “Pugalugs – The Beginning” is now complete and is available on Amazon and our website. Your site provided such an array of information without which we would probably still be working on getting the book into print. Our official book launch is on 24th January at a local book store and our second book is now being illustrated…. so we just need to get out there and sell sell sell now!
Thanks again and Best Wishes
Many thanks! Best of luck to you on your self-pub journey. Have you joined the Alliance of Independent Authors? You’ll get some great support/tips through them. I’d have loved that resource when I first started out on this! All the best, Karen
Just a note to thank you for sharing what you have learnt about self-publishing so willingly for others of us who are picking our way through this newly-discovered jungle! I am delighted to hear that this route is giving you a direct route to your readers. Hope things continue to develop well for you. Good wishes.
As far as I’m aware you can publish whatever length story you wish on Kindle.
After a quick Google I’ve found someone who has self-published short stories:
If you look at the comments you will also see that he links to info on formatting (though I would not recommend trying to do the formatting yourself unless you really understand HTML and are very tech savvy!) : http://sites.google.com/site/sinclairstories/self-publishing/kindle-formatting
And this info on Kindle Singles may be of interest (but 10,000 words is probably too long for you?)
How you price it will probably be trickiest, but maybe you could start with a free one and see how it goes… I think the best thing is to Google around ‘short stories on Kindle’ and read some blogs and see what others are doing! One comment I just spotted re short stories says: “it’s a good idea to state in the book’s description on Amazon how many pages the book contains. Just to head off customer anger. ;-)” – ie if your book is only a few pages and you’re asking someone go pay even a modest price they may not notice this in the book details which Amazon automatically inserts re no of pages – so make sure it’s mentioned in the book description. I suppose another idea might be to bundle several stories into a collection.
Best of luck and sorry I can’t be of more specific help 🙂
I’ve found your article very genuine and interesting, thank you! I’m at present in a slight ‘Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell’ state with pink wine in my case, so i’m quite pleased i’m able to write this note to you. You sound really genuine and sincere.
I write because some years ago, i wrote a lot of short stories, then went to live abroad and didn’t do anything about them. They’re of mixed genres. Would i be able to publish them on Kindle? Are these popular? I once had a very good response from a Women’s magazine asking me to produce more of their particular market brand for them to consider this one story i sent them.
I’d love to know if Kindle is appropriate for short stories: some paranormal, some of ‘deja vue’, some very here and now of conflict and resolution. I’m afraid i’ve not written for about 5 years but yearn to!
Thank you in advance for reading my note and hopefully for a response.
God Bless. Amina Vierk