Monday 18 January 2016

Paths to Publishing 3: Self-Publishing

By Iola Goulton

Over the last two weeks, we’ve looked at two paths to publishing: working with an agent to attract a major publisher, and publishing through a small press or micropress. This week we are looking at the third option: self-publishing.

Self-publishing has soared in popularity since the release of the Amazon Kindle and competing ereaders. These, along with affordable print-on-demand (POD) services mean no author needs to get stuck with hundreds of copies of unsold paperbacks.

Unfortunately, it also means anyone who can type and open an email account can publish on Amazon, which has led to the “tsunami of carp” (at least, that’s what it’s called on the Amazon discussion forums, which have strict guidelines around language).

Self-publishing is also referred to as indie publishing, a reference to the indie film industry. As indie filmmaking is making and distributing a film independently of the major film studios, indie publishing is publishing and distributing a book independently of the trade publishers.

However, self-publishing is also somewhat of a misnomer, as it implies the writer is publishing alone. This isn’t true: there are many tasks which have to be completed in order to publish a book, and the savvy self-publishing author knows they will need to outsource some of those tasks.

The main tasks which need outsourcing are:


Someone (who isn’t related to you) needs to go through your manuscript and suggest how it can be improved. This can be a critique partner or beta-reader (in which case they help for free on the understanding you will return the favour) or a developmental or structural editor.

Editing and Proofreading:

Even the best editor can’t proofread their own work. We read the words we intended to write … which might not be the words which actually ended up on the screen.

Cover design:

This is best outsourced unless you are a trained graphic designer with experience in book cover design.

Other Tasks

Then there is a range of tasks which a savvy author can learn to do themselves, or can outsource as time and money permit.

These include: interior formatting, uploading the final version to distributors for printing and epublishing, marketing, claiming online author profiles, website development and maintenance, mailing list maintenance, marketing, writing newsletters, social media management, more marketing, organising a blog tour, organising book reviewers, yet more marketing, organising sales promotions, ensuring books are categorised correctly, even more marketing …

The essence of self-publishing isn’t that the author does everything themselves, but that they are in control of the process and contract out those parts of the process they can’t do themselves (like editing) or that could be done better by a professional (e.g. cover design). Some contract tasks like social media updates or website maintenance out to a virtual assistant.

Those who choose to self-publish will be responsible for everything. You will either have to do it yourself, or pay (or bribe or beg) someone else to do it for you. This involves a lot of decisions, and you would be wise to get advice from someone who has been through the process before (and recently – things can change very quickly, particularly when it comes to e-books).

Hybrid Authors

Some authors are known as hybrid authors: they have some self-published some books, and have others published trade publishers. Author Earnings reports suggest hybrid authors have the best of both worlds: they have the advantage of having books in physical bookstores which helps develop a reader base. They have some marketing support from the trade publisher, and while this is specifically for their trade-published titles, it will build name recognition, which will carry over into their indie titles.

Next week we’ll look at the final option around publishing: using external author services to publish. Sounds like a great idea, but there can be a real sting in the tail for the unwary . . .

About Iola Goulton

I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website (, or follow me on Facebook (, Twitter (@IolaGoulton) or Pinterest (


  1. Thanks Iola. Yes, there's much to do in Indie Publishing. I agreed to try it after advice from you and a few US authors who do both as they are tired of the long wait with major publishing houses.Yet it's so rewarding to be able to choose how you want your book presented. I am already reordering my next batch of the last two books I Indie published.

  2. I like your point that in self-publishing the author doesn't do everything, but they are in control of the process. it can be a steep learning curve - but there are also a lot of resources out there that can help indie authors. Thanks for the post, Iola :)

  3. What you said indicates my experience with author friends who've successfully self-published. They did what they could but hired out editors and cover artists, etc., producing a highly professional product. An investment, because often you only get one shot with a reader.

    There are too many aspiring authors who want to just "Get it out there" and see what happens, without adequate preparation to set themselves up for potential success.

  4. Iola, great post! I love indie publishing, although there is a lot more work for the author to either do themselves or delegate to freelancers than in traditional publishing. I now realize just how much work my publisher did behind the scenes to bring my traditionally published books to market.

    I do think it can be an advantageous for authors to traditionally publish in some capacity first, before going it alone as an indie author. The thing with publishing is you don't know what you don't know, and I learned so much about indie publishing by participating in box sets with more experienced indie authors.


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