Self-publishing for beginners

word cloud around publishing

So you’ve written your masterpiece. What now?

Traditionally, you’d send it off to agent after agent, dying a little with each rejection, until either you couldn’t take it anymore, or you found an agent or publisher willing to give you a try. Self-publishing, or “vanity publishing”, was for losers, and rich losers at that.

But that’s all changed. Thanks to technological advances, short print runs now cost only a little more per copy than JK Rowling-style mega print runs. And in the internet age, the stigma attached to self-publishing has largely gone too – aren’t we all self-publicists now?

When I finished my first book, I didn’t even try to find a publisher. As a writer of short stories, I knew that my chances of finding one were slim, and that my chances of actually making any money out of the book were even slimmer. But I wanted to share my work, and I figured that if I did it myself, I would be effectively cutting out the middle man, and might make a small profit, or at least a not-a-loss. I learned a lot on the way. Here are some of my tips for anyone considering self-publishing for the first time.

Find an editor

Publishers usually provide more than printing and marketing services. They will edit your work too – checking it for errors, and pointing out where vital information is missing or too much information given. Even the best authors benefit from this, and if you want to self-publish your work, it is a good idea to ask someone to read it critically first. This could be a professional, a friend who reads a lot, or, as in my case, anyone in the pub who was unfortunate enough to catch my eye when I had a pile of papers in my hand.

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Pay attention to the design

green feather logoPeople do judge books by their cover. If you have the budget, it is worth paying a graphic designer to design the cover of your book, and to at least help you with the layout of the pages, though printers will often help with the internal layout for a small fee. If you have some experience with design, then you could attempt the cover yourself, but if you do, be careful! Keep it simple and remember that the printer will require 3mm bleed on all sides. Remember the blurb for the back page.

If you intend to buy your own ISBN numbers and do the whole thing yourself, you will also need a logo for your publishing company (as that is what you will effectively become). See below for more about ISBN numbers.

For the layout, you’ll need to pay attention to the number of pages in the book. A different font or margins can make huge differences to the final number of pages, and obviously, the more pages there are, the more the printing will cost. However, if yours is a short book, it is worth spacing the text out a bit in order to give a pleasing spine size: you will need at least 80 pages if you want to print text on the spine. The printer will be able to tell you what the spine width will be according to the number of pages you have.

Get quotes for printing

Once you know how many pages you will have, you can start getting quotes from printers. Prices can vary a lot, and will be affected by things like the number of colour pages, the quality of paper used and the binding. Most printers are quite helpful though, so don’t be afraid to ask.

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Create your “title verso” page

All books have a page of information about the publisher at the beginning, usually on the reverse of the internal title page. You need to create this in order to register for your ISBN numbers.

Apply for your ISBN numbers

All officially published books have an ISBN number, and if you want your book to be available as widely as possible, then you will need one for your book. You can publish without one, but you will only be able to sell your book in friendly independent bookshops, and not in the major bookshops or on Amazon.

ISBN numbers are only available in the UK from Nielsen. Go to for more information. In order to be given any numbers, you must register as a publisher and you must buy your numbers in blocks of ten. At the time of writing, the minimum ten numbers cost £132 including VAT. However, registering as a publisher with Nielsen means that you will also be able to sell books to bookshops via their Booknet.

Create a bar code

Once you have your ISBN number, you need to turn it into a bar code so that bookshops and libraries can scan it. Various programmes are available for this, or your printer may be able to do it. The bar code should be added to the back of the book.

Set the price

Be careful when setting the price. Bookshops usually require at least 35% of the cover price, and wholesalers will expect around 50%. Some bookshops may accept a markup of 25%, but remember that the greater the markup, the greater the likelihood that they will give your book a prominent position in the shop. It is not usual to charge postage to bookshops or wholesalers.

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Send it to the printers

This is the exciting part! If you are doing the design yourself, you will need to send print-ready PDF files, or if the printer is going to do some of the layout, you will need to discuss the format with them.
Send a copy to the British Library

If you publish your book with an ISBN number, it is a requirement that you send a copy of the finished book to the British Library. Nielsen will send you details of this.

Set a publication date

Tempting though it is to start selling your book straight away, it is a good idea to do some pre-publication marketing if you can, in particular sending copies to newspapers and magazines. It is also a good idea to send a copy to Bertrams and Gardners, who are the major book wholesalers in the UK. If the book is your first, it is unlikely they will take your book into stock, but it is worth making sure they know about you so that bookshops can order.

Sell your book!

After the publication date, try to find as many outlets as you can. Talk to bookshops. Register as a seller on Amazon and get it listed there. As for marketing – do as much as you can. Social media, book readings are all useful.

That’s it! Publishing your own book can be a lot of work, and marketing it can be even more work. However the rewards – though let’s face it, not usually the financial rewards – can be great.

Lucy Peacock’s publishing company is Green Feather Books

About Lucy Peacock

I am a writer and IT professional, and live in Derbyshire with my three children. Before moving to Derbyshire, I lived in Norfolk, Brighton and Spain, and did lots of jobs, including teaching, building websites and taking bets at a bookmaker's in Brighton. Currently I write stories, do IT stuff and run a (very) small publishing company.