Self-Publishing eBooks: Some Helpful Guides

There’s an awful lot of information out there about how to publish ebooks. Probably too much information. Or, at least too much information to very easily separate the helpful from the less helpful — the sheer volume of get-rich-with-ebooks material out there could easily be confused for signaling the dawn of some sort of Gold Rush era (a Gold Rush except, you know, with books). Earlier this week we took a brief look at this topic (“Writers, Self-Publishing, and eBooks”).

The good news is that self-publishing is becoming simple enough that anyone can do it. The bad news is that self-publishing is becoming simple enough that anyone can do it. In general, I’m all for a more democratic approach to publishing — the ebook publishing trend of course brings both its positives as well as negatives. From my perspective (or, maybe my hope), it seems that the positives outbalance the negatives. Looking at some of the surprising successes (example: New York Times, “Amanda Hocking, Storyseller”) that have come out of ebook self-publishing, the closest analogy I can think of is the ‘YouTube celebrity’ phenomenon. You never really know, sometimes.

Anyone that’s interested in books and the practice of publishing wants to have a good nuts-and-bolts understanding of what other people are doing now to change that very industry of book publishing. So, I thought I’d gather a few helpful and informative resources in one place.

CNET’s guide, “How to self-publish an ebook” is quite useful and good and certainly recommended reading to start with. There’s some sound advice on pricing strategies, but the primary value of this how-to guide is from its thorough rundown of some of the prominent self-publishing options. The focus is sensibly organized around the main concerns self-publishers are going to be thinking about (how much will it cost? where will it be distributed? what is the revenue?). It’s a detailed list, so I won’t go into overly much detail here, other than to provide just a summary list. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing is overall one of the best solutions out there. But there are many other interesting options (such as and FastPencil):

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing




Publish Green

Barnes & Noble’s Pub-It

Different books naturally have different publishing needs. So, researching and exploring the different options would be wise. I’d also recommend a read of PBS, “The Easiest, Cheapest, Fastest Way to Self-Publish Your Book” which provides a how-to self publishing guide using SmashWords, Kindle Direct Publishing, and CreateSpace; as well as useful and important advice on book ISBNs; and a very realistic cost breakdown of what to expect. The cheapest and easiest (which keep in mind, does not always mean ‘best’) scenario might look something like this:


When all is said and done, you’ve got an e-book and a print book for around $500. Let’s break it down:

$45-$125 for formatting
$100-$200 for a cover design
$250 for a block of 10 ISBN numbers from Bowker
$39 for the CreateSpace Pro Plan”

For those that take the you-gotta-spend-money-to-make-money approach, a more expensive and professionally-thorough scenario could cost upwards of $5,000:

“$1,000 Professional editing (developmental, line editing, proofreading)
$1,000 Professional cover design
$1,000 Marketing and promotion
$500 Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) and postage
$500 Website design and creation, not including domain name purchases, PayPal shopping cart, mailing list management, and related site costs
$500 Photography, logo design, and other branding items
$65 Membership in one or two professional publishers associations like SPAN”

Gizmodo also chimes in with some context on the how of self publishing (“Publishing eBooks: Kindle, iPad, Nook, Kobo?”) and some words of caution about how time-intensive self-publishing can be (“Before you dive into Self-publishing make sure you are ready to start your own business”), and hence the usefulness of third party services that will do some of that work for you, for a price.

In addition, PCWorld has a very basic how-to guide for those interested in Kindle Direct Publishing (“How to Publish Your Own Amazon Kindle Ebook”).

And finally, here’s a useful resource of formatting and style guides for ebook publishing (GalleyCat: “5 Free Formatting Guides on How To Publish Your eBook”)

There are many choices out there, which is generally a good thing (unless of course we want to think about the dangers of too much choice).

And, from the historical perspective, there are quite a number of well-known authors who took the self-publishing route and seemed to do all right — e.e. cummings, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, to name a few. (See also: List of Self-published bestsellers). I’ll resist making a lame platitude about history repeating itself, but it’s still worth thinking that while the means of the current self-publishing boom might be something new, there’s a great deal of history behind the practice of self-publishing.


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

tyler shores cambridge

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