Self-Publishing Basics – The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Self-Publishing


A decade ago, most storytellers would have found their audiences limited to friends and family. The big publishing houses controlled what was published, and the balance was tilted in favor of stories and authors with established audiences. For an untested author, getting past the traditional gatekeepers was a formidable hurdle.

But the growth in self-publishing in recent years has made authors independent of publishing houses. Budding authors can now publish a book without validation from a publisher. Such has been the growth in self-publishing that these titles now account for 30% to 40% of ebook sales.

But while publishing a book is now easier than ever, it is not as easy to perform all the functions of a publisher. Publishing houses have traditionally provided an ecosystem of services that help prepare, distribute, and market books. Authors who publish on their own have to figure these out independently.

In this article, we demystify self-publishing and explain the advantages and disadvantages of going down this route.


What is self-publishing?

The traditional way to book publishing begins with the author writing a book and commissioning a literary agent to secure a deal with a publishing house. But the path to landing a deal is strewn with rejection, and the wait can wear out an author’s hopes and resources. Fortunately, now there are publishing service companies.

By using the services of such a company, authors can bypass literary agents and publishing houses and bring their books to their audiences directly. While authors may resort to self-publishing when their attempts to find a traditional publisher seem to fail, they are increasingly making self-publishing their first choice.

What is a publishing service company?

A publishing service company provides a platform for authors to prepare their books and reach their target audiences. At the minimum, these companies provide services or templates that convert manuscripts into publishing-ready formats and give access to one or more retail platforms. At the other end of the spectrum, they offer a range of services that include professional book editing and cover design, enhanced distribution to make the book available to readers through as many channels as possible, and marketing and promotional assistance to drive up visibility and sales.

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), CreateSpace, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Google Books, and IngramSpark are some of the well-known publishing service companies.

How long does self-publishing take?

Self-publishing can take a few hours to a few days. All you need to do is create an account with a publishing service company and prepare your book in the format they require. Some, like Draft2Digital, will even format your ebook for free.

What are the costs associated with self-publishing?

Most companies do not charge any fees for the basic services of format conversion (or providing templates) and publishing. Instead, they charge a commission on the sales of books—this can range from 10% to 65% of the sale amount. As they provide the retail platform, they deduct their fees before paying you the rest. With royalties ranging from 35% to 90%, self-publishing appears more financially rewarding than traditional publishing, where royalties are limited to 7% to 15%.

Self-publishing companies also provide dashboards and trackers in an author’s account, which help authors keep track of their sales and royalty figures.

Are there advantages to self-publishing apart from higher royalties, independence from the traditional publisher, and quicker publishing?

Yes. Self-publishing received a shot in the arm with the success of online businesses such as Amazon. Ebooks are the preferred format of independent authors, and by boosting ebook sales, these e-tailers have delivered a truly borderless market to authors—many are pleasantly surprised to find that they have customers in little-known countries and faraway islands! This would have been impossible with a traditional publisher, unless the book became a huge international success.

The growth in digital media has also made it easier for readers to discover books they are interested in. Readers can stumble upon digital books through their search queries many months and years after they are published; this gives self-published books an infinite shelf-life as compared to traditionally published books, whose discovery largely depends on getting display space at bookstores.

Irrespective of whether you publish on your own or through a traditional publisher, you will own the copyright to your book. However, self-publishing authors can use their own ISBN, which is advantageous for authors because it identifies them as the publisher of record in book databases.

What are the disadvantages of self-publishing?

Self-publishing authors have to invest more time and money. Here is how. Authors have to pay out of their pocket for professional services such as book editing and cover design, which are otherwise provided by experts at the publishing house.

The responsibility to market and promote the book also rests with the author, and they have to pick up the skills required to be able to do so. Being comfortable with blogging and using social media definitely help. Authors should be prepared to spend less time writing than they would love to!

Another disadvantage with self-publishing is restricted distribution. With traditional publishing, authors get access to the publishing house’s physical distribution network, which gives their books a reach that they cannot achieve by themselves. It is difficult for self-publishing authors to convince bookstores to stock their books. There are two main reasons for this. Bookstores are hesitant to stock books that have the imprint of a publishing services company like Amazon, largely because they compete with Amazon for customers. The other reason is that that self-publishing authors cannot accept book returns, and the seller will be responsible for any book returns.

Still confused? Read more about traditional publishing vs self-publishing and the pros and cons of each.


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