Self-publishing: Tips from a writer

Patsy Trench on self-publishing

Lucy Peacock has already offered very sound advice on independent publishing. My experience of self-publishing three books is similar, yet slightly different.

Patsy's first bookUnlike Lucy I am not an IT specialist, yet I managed to publish my first book back in 2012 almost entirely myself. Like Lucy I didn’t bother with agents as my book, the story of early colonial Australia as seen through the eyes of my ancestors, was never intended to be a mass seller, and therefore very unlikely to attract the attention of an agent or a traditional publisher. The only services I paid for were for editing (crucial) and cover design (ditto, unless you are a graphic designer).

Back then, there was really only Amazon for self-publishers. Whatever you think of their business practices, they have revolutionised the publishing world and made it easy – and cheap – for writers with no publishing experience to submit their books, in both ebook and, through their print ‘arm’ Createspace, in paperback form. They even provide you with their own form of ISBN for free.

Now there is another contender, Ingram Spark. Their submission process is almost as easy as Amazon’s and almost as free – there is a small submission charge of US$49. You do need to provide your own ISBN however, which you can buy from Neilsen in batches of a minimum of 10 for £144. The barcode is provided for you.

Why bother with Ingram? Because they are not Amazon. Bookshops don’t like Amazon, but when you publish with Ingram you become the publisher, and having given yourself a publisher name there is no way anyone can tell you are self-published. Ingram have been in the publishing business for eons but have only recently opened up to independent publishers. Their distribution, outside the UK and US especially, is better and you are more likely to find your book taken on by real-life bookshops and libraries (though there is no guarantee). They also offer more options such as hardbacks, picture books and books in peculiar shapes.

How should you go about self-publishing your book? There are three basic options.

Do it yourself

Patsy self publishingThis is what I did (except for editing and cover design). You don’t need any specialist knowledge or software to convert your manuscript into ebook and paperback form, but you do need a certain amount of time and patience. I only decided to DIY because I am a control freak, and because I wanted to save money. (As a result of my experiences, I even wrote a book about it called Self-Publishing for the Technically Challenged.)

Hire other people to do some of it for you

Option two is to buy in help for specific tasks such as any or all of these:

  • Editing and proof-reading
  • Cover and interior design
  • Converting to ebook
  • Submission to Amazon and/or Ingram Spark
  • Marketing and distribution

Hand the whole thing over to an expert, or service provider.

If you choose this route, BE VERY CAREFUL. There are sharks out there who will take your money and do very little in return. I have heard fearful stories of writers who have lost thousands of pounds or dollars when providers go bust, or don’t deliver what they promise. There are plenty of reputable self-publishing services out there, so choose carefully.

The biggest challenge facing independent publishers – all publishers come to that – is marketing. There is plenty of information out there to help you, and I’ve listed the few blogs and books I have found particularly useful below.

front cover of Patsy's ebookBut most important of all: the only way your book will sell in any quantity is if it is thoroughly well-written, professionally edited and proof-read and beautifully designed and presented. It should look as if it’s professionally produced, with no typos, no slipshod spacing or eccentric layouts. As an independent publisher you are taking on a task usually handled by a team of experienced people, who have probably been in the publishing business for years. It takes time, and patience, and effort. But the potential rewards make up for all of it.

If you need any more detailed information on self-publishing, you will find it all, and more, on my website at

Recommended books:

Choosing a Self-Publishing Service, Jim Giamatteo, ALLI (Alliance of Independent Authors)
How I Self-Publish My Books, Orna Ross, ditto

Blogs: Joel Friedlander. Useful information on book design, covers, selling, and all other aspects of independent publishing. Frances Caballo. Marketing books using social media. Jane Friedman. Writing and Publishing in the Digital Age.