Quick and Dirty Checklist for Self-Publishing

I’ve self-published three books this year and plan to do two more. It’s been so much fun learning this new skill. Since so many folks have asked me what I’ve learned, I’m going to do a series of self-publishing posts.

Here’s my quick and dirty checklist for self-publishing. I’ll go deeper into detail on some of these points in future posts.

This quick and dirty checklist served as my roadmap as I embarked on this new and slightly scary journey. If you’re thinking about self-publishing, I hope it can give you a framework with which to develop your own plan.

Step 1 Get Organized

scrnshot_OneNoteHow do you keep track of large quantities of information? For me, it’s a Microsoft program called OneNote. It came standard with my Office software, and I use it like my personal journal, notebook, and planning tool. I make notes in OneNote on everything from childcare tips to marketing to newsletter planning to learning something new, like self-publishing.

For you, it might be a different computer program, a series of on-line documents, a physical notebook, or a bulletin board. Whatever system you use, open a “file” called Self-Publishing, and prepare to add lots of “tabs” or “pages” or “sticky notes” or whatever.

I also suggest making a folder in your on-line bookmarks titled Self-Publishing. My folder contains bookmarks to all the SP sites I visit frequently, including retailers, cover art sites, Bowker Identification service, US Copyright office, SP support groups, helpful blogs, and a lot more. All the links to these places are below for your convenience, and I’m sure you’ll find plenty of your own useful sites too.

Step 2 Decide on Your Budget

Regardless of whether you have $1,000, $100, or $0 to spend on your self-publishing project, there are ways to make it happen.

Think about whether your project has mass appeal. Do you expect to sell 10 copies, 100, 1000 or more? What kind of return on investment are you hoping for? Is it realistic or a pipe dream? Can you put up some money now and plan to earn it back, or is this a total vanity project?

Remember, going the traditional agent/publisher route takes longer than self-publishing, but it’s free. You won’t have to spend a dime, so you have nothing to lose. Except time and possible income, if you think you’ve got something you can sell immediately.

I don’t have much experience with self-publishing on a shoestring budget. I am fortunate in that I have a dear friend who believed in my work who gave me a loan. For me, it took about $1000 to get things rolling, and I’ve already made that back. I expect to be able to pay off the loan within a few months now that I’m beginning to see return on investment. I’m also rolling some of my new self-publishing income into things like advertising, publishing more books, and building my author brand. More on these things in future posts.

Where I can speak into free or cheap tips for self-publishing, I will, but move forward understanding that my goal was never to save money on the process. Rather, my stance was: “You’ve got to spend money to make money.” Spending lots of money is not the only way to do this whole SP thing. You can do it for cheaper than I did.

Deciding on your budget ahead of time will help you decide on things like whether you want to:

  •  Purchase ISBN numbers or use free ones. You’ll need a separate identifier for each format of each book. In other words,  if you plan to publish 1 book in ebook, print, and audio, that’s 3 ISBNs. If you might do a box set, that’s another ISBN. (I purchased 100 ISBNs from Bowker Identifier Services for $575)
  • Pay for cover art or design your own (I paid $135 for a professional cover, The Killion Group)
  • Pay for editing or barter for it by trading some skill you have (i.e. proof-reading, blog design, promo opportunities). (I paid for professional editing. Besides ISBNs and cover, this will be your other major expense. Expect to pay between $300 and $700 for a good editor)
  • Pay for a service to format the interior of your book or do it yourself (I am pretty computer literate, so I did this myself)
  • scrnshot_WebsitePay for an author website or make a free one on Blogger or WordPress (I have a free WordPress blog; I paid $25 for a domain name through GoDaddy and I pay $72 per year for a simple website through Website Builder)
  • Purchase high-profile ads or only consider free marketing/promo opportunities
  • One thing you really should spend money on is copyrighting your work. A copyright runs about $35 (US Copyright Office)

Step 3 Decide Where to Publish

As you can see in my OneNote screenshot above, I chose to publish with the following on-line retailers:

Step 4 Plan Your Publishing Timeline

How long does it take to self-publish? How long until I see my book in e-stores? How long until I see my book in print?

That depends. Do you have a finished project all edited and ready to upload to retailers? Do you have beautiful cover art that will draw people to your book? Do you have a blurb that makes people go, “WOW! I have to read that right now!”?

If so, you could see your book in e-stores in as little as a day. If not, well, cover art and editing take time. The amount of time will depend on how you go about these steps.

Generally, once your content is final and you have your cover art, e-Publishing can happen in a day (KDP) to a week (iTunes through D2D).

How long until I get paid?

If your e-book sells in January, you will generally receive royalties in April or May (60 days or more after the close of the sale month.

Please, please, please, put at least 20% if not 30% aside to pay the tax man. YOU and only you are responsible for paying taxes on this income. Don’t be caught off guard when next April comes around.

Step 5 Convert Your Work

Different retailers prefer different files to upload. My advice is to have a conversion program on hand in case you need to convert your files for upload. You don’t need a conversion program to convert from .docx to .pdf, but you do need a conversion program to create a .mobi or a .lit or a .epub file.

I use the free conversion software: Calibre.

You will be fine with standard computer software for uploading to the big retailers. Smaller retailers, like All Romance prefer for you to have converted files to upload.

 Step 6 Upload Your Book

Each retailer has its quirks. In the past few months, I’ve leaned that KDP likes documents to be set up pretty much the way I write my books in MS Word. Nook Press, on the other hand, likes you to use section breaks instead of page breaks. After you upload your manuscript, you have to use their manuscript editor to tweak your table of contents or it reads like a folder on your computer, exposing your file name and letting your readers look up your digital skirt. *blushes*

Google Play is just plain confusing. Draft2Digital won’t let you paste your blurb into their system. You have to type it. I’m not kidding. It’s really lame. But everything else about D2D is super easy and streamlined. You don’t have to have your manuscript formatted any certain way. Their converter is set up to accept pretty much any kind of chapter organization and page/section break system, as long as you are consistent.

The point is, you’ve got to do things differently for each retailer. If you plan on publishing more than one book, take notes (remember Step 1, organization). You’ll be glad you did when it’s time to publish book 2.

That’s probably enough info for a general checklist. Look for future blog posts on:

  • Places to Go for SP Help
  • Formatting for KDP vs Nook Press
  • Converting Documents
  • Formatting for Print
  • Keeping Track of Sales & Royalties
  • Promoting Your Books
  • Using Social Media to Build Your Author Brand

I’ll take requests, too. If there’s a topic you’d like to pick my brain over, let me know in the comments.

If you’re tackling self-publishing, where are you in the process? Are there any tips or tricks you’ve learned that you can share here?

Leave a comment below, and let’s keep the conversation going!




About Jessi Gage

USA Today Bestselling Author Jessi Gage is addicted to happy-ever-after endings. She counts herself blessed because she gets to live her own HEA with her husband and children in the Seattle area. Jessi has the attention span of a gnat…unless there is a romance novel in her hands. In that case, you might need a bullhorn to get her to notice you. She writes what she loves to read: stories about love. Leave a comment to introduce yourself! There is no better motivation to finish her latest writing project than a note from a happy reader! Don't forget to sign up for Jessi’s newsletter so you’ll never miss a new release. Thanks for visiting!
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14 Responses to Quick and Dirty Checklist for Self-Publishing

  1. KarenM says:

    Fantastic post, Jessi! Tons of great information for anyone interested in self-pub to consider. Definitely looking forward to your future posts on this subject.

  2. Jessi Gage says:

    Thanks, Karen! I’m looking forward to posting about some of the tips I’ve learned! I love sharing:-) Thanks for the motivation!

  3. Jessi Gage says:

    Just found a useful post that includes time to upload to various e-retailers. http://smutwriters.com/2014/05/05/why-we-cant-tell-you-when-a-book-will-be-released/

  4. Mae Clair says:

    Great post, Jessi, and I’m looking forward to the rest in your series. I’ve only indie pubbed a short novella so far, and then only to KDP but I have a full length novel to get out next month to the bulk of ebook sellers. I’m still learning the ropes. I’ve found that it does require a lot of work and time, but the flexibility and freedom is wonderful too. Congrats on taking such a successful step to furthering your writing career. It sounds like you are doing wonderfully. Kudos to the friend who backed and supported you. That’s awesome!

    • Jessi Gage says:

      Thank, Mae. Amazon is by far the easiest retailer to work with through KDP. Publishing with them first will give you a good idea of how to go about things with other retailers, too. Just don’t expect things to go quite as quickly or smoothly.

      Yes, my friend who gave me the loan is a huge supporter. I literally wouldn’t be where I am today without her.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Hi Jessi,

    This is a great post. I’ve e-published the first three books of my Real Estate Paranormal Mystery Series, but took the third one down pretty quickly when I realized it wasn’t the best it could be. I paid for all the formatting, cover, and editing. I would like to format my novels when I’m ready to re-release Soul in Present Condition this year. I have Calibre, but had trouble using it, because I’m not that computer savvy.

    I published all my books through Amazon KDP exclusively. I did not know you could be in the KDP program on Amazon and still publish elsewhere. What a great idea. I know as a self-publisher this is going to help me a lot. I will definitely be sharing this information with my writing groups.


    Mary E. Merrell

    • Jessi Gage says:

      You might be thinking of Kindle Select, Mary. If your book is with Kindle Select, the contract states Kindle sells your book exclusively for 90 days. Your book is then available for lending through the Kindle library. Each time it’s downloaded, you get a couple bucks from the “select pot.” Don’t ask me how Amazon gets millions of dollars into that pot every month. It probably has to do with witchcraft or voodoo or something.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Elise-Maria Barton says:

    Gimme wolf!

  7. Great, detailed info on SP Jessi! My question is this…with all that (additional) work, on top of writing, then editing, what are the benefits to SP, as opposed to traditional? I see the royalties are higher, but then you’re doing ALL the work, so I would expect this, but what other benefits are there? I read where you mentioned turn-around time (no kidding) and I believe that, since most edits (on a 80-100k MS) take months to get back…but there has to be more, because that’s a heck of a lot of work and expense for the SP starter!

    I imagine, once you’ve done this a few times, you get the hang of it and the process moves like a well-oiled machine, but dang! I find spare time is a commodity in my life with traditional publishing! =)

    Again, thanks for the information – and the recommendation on One Note. I’ve had it all this time and never even opened it! I’m going to now! =)

    • Jessi Gage says:

      Hi Shelbie! Thanks for stopping by.

      Well, with self-publishing, there’s quite a steep learning curve. And yes, it takes time to do it right. BUT you can hire out work as you need to. The largest time-suckers for me have been formatting for print-on-demand and doing the actual uploads to the various retailers. Each took my about two full days my first go-round. Now I can format for print and upload to all the retailers in a day, day and a half if I run into slow internet problems.

      You might give it a try with a novella or something and see how you like it, or you could do an anthology with a couple other authors and share the work-load…just some suggestions for testing the waters of SP without fully committing.

      All that said, I don’t actually find that I do that much more as a SP author than a smalla press author. Even before SP, I still did most of my own promo (website design, setting up blog appearances, giveaways, daily tweets, etc.). As far as the editing & cover art, I don’t do any more work than I did as a small press author. I hire those out. The only difference is that I pay for those out of my pocket now instead of the publisher paying for them.

      Good luck!

  8. Hi Jessi! Do you think it’s worth it to format the books yourself? I’m computer savvy (I’m a web developer) but I wonder if it’s worth the time to do the ebook formatting as opposed to paying someone else to do it. My time could be spent writing or promoting or something… About how long does it take you to do all the various formatting for a book?

    • Jessi Gage says:

      I wouldn’t say formatting is a snap, but it’s not that bad. I’m toward the high end of computer savvyness, and I did run into some glitches, but there are a few key points that if you know going in, it’ll help you:
      1. For ebook, once you have a master file in Word formatted just the way you like it, you can send it to your Kindle as a personal document and see it exactly as it will appear if you upload that file in Word format to Amazon KDP. I don’t know how you do this with other e-readers, but for Kindle, you just email the document to your Kindle address and put CONVERT in the subject line.
      2. Once you’ve verified your book looks good on your e-reader, save it as a pdf and then use a conversion program like Calibre to convert to mobi, epub, and whatever else. Then you can do a second check by uploading the mobi/epub to your e-reader or using an online viewer like Kindle for PC to check it again.
      3. If all looks good, upload it to the eretailers. Your ebook is done!
      4. Print gets more complicated. I’ll do a post on formatting for print in the near future.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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