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What I’ve learned so far about self-publishing my own book

In preparation for self-publishing my book Content DNA in spring 2020, I’ve decided to work with book-production specialist Catherine Williams.

Below are the notes I made from my first call with her. If you want to self-publish your own book, you might find this helpful.

BitmoJohn cash money


This was the first thing I had in mind to get straight. Book-production costs are closely linked to the length of the book.

Knowing your intended word count will help service providers give you a good idea about costs.

Right now, I don’t have a final word count for Content DNA, but I’m guessing it’s going to be at least 50K words.

I have a rough idea about layout costs but will update this part of the article when I can confirm them.

BitmoJohn postbox


Self-published books can be distributed via Ingram Spark and Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). There may be several other options, but these are two of the most popular ones.

Ingram Spark offers distribution to Amazon but also to other places, so it’s probably a better choice than Amazon KDP.

Authors should set up their own free accounts on Ingram Spark and Amazon KDP. After the book is published, these accounts can be used to track sales.

I’m told that Amazon will gobble up 65% of the takings from sales of the book. I can see why they’re so rich now. Ugh.

BitmoJohn maths


Your book producer will need to know what size of book you want to create. For my book, Content DNA, I have opted for 21.5cm × 14cm (or 8.5in × 5.5in) – but other sizes are possible.

The size of the book is important for the cover designer to know, so you can get the right visuals prepared in time for printing. The cover design can happen at the same time as the content design, but it makes sense to have the front cover prepared well in advance, to help with marketing the book.

The exact size of the whole cover can be confirmed only when the number of pages is known, because that will determine the size of the book’s spine. A long book with lots of pages will have a much bigger spine than a short book with relatively few pages.

BitmoJohn book reading in hand


If you’re an author in the UK, you’re strongly advised to buy their own ISBN from the Nielsen website.

If you were to publish an ebook via Amazon KDP, they could assign a free ISBN. However, this would mean that Amazon would be listed as the publisher rather than you.

A single ISBN from Nielsen costs £89 but you will need to buy a block if you intend to publish your book as an ebook (which is now common practice). Each different publishing format requires its own ISBN.

In August 2019, I bought a block of ten ISBNs at a cost of £164.

If you’re in another country, you’ll have a different ISBN agency to buy from, e.g. Bowker in the US.

BitmoJohn book reading


Print book files need to go through a conversion process to prepare them to be published as ebooks.

Depending on the complexity of the work, this might cost £0.30–£0.60 per page.

The output should be a reflowable ebook in both ePub and MOBI formats. Separate ISBNs are needed for each format.

MOBI is used for Amazon Kindles. ePub is used for other ebook readers.

BitmoJohn thinking


Here’s the rough order of responsibilities and steps to get a book ready for publication:

  • Author: write the draft manuscript (usually in MS Word).
  • Editor: edit the document with Track Changes on.
  • Beta readers: read and give feedback and quotes for the cover.
  • Typesetter: turn the script into a design ready for printing.
  • Proofreader: check text and apply corrections.
  • Typesetter: make adjustments based on proofreading.
  • Indexer: create an index for the book.

Some of the above may need to be repeated depending on the circumstances, e.g. back and forth between author and editor at the early stage or between the typesetter and proofreader at a later stage.

The typesetter will take care of extra tasks such as leaving space for a foreword and other front matter in the book.

Let’s round off with some additional thoughts from a couple of helpful, bookish colleagues:

Kristina Adams

Kristina Adams

You don’t need an ISBN for an ebook no matter how you publish. Amazon gives you an ASIN for an ebook rather than an ISBN.

Amazon charges you delivery costs on the 70% royalty rate, so the smaller your file, the better.

Books published via Ingram Spark are higher quality but not eligible for Amazon Prime. A lot of authors use KDP for Amazon books and Ingram for everywhere else because of this.

A couple of other aggregators worth investigating are Draft2Digital and Publish Drive. They’ll take a chunk of your profit but may make life easier. Aggregators will give you an ISBN.

Lisa Cordaro

Lisa Cordaro

I would consider putting beta reading before editing, because feedback after a full professional edit can duplicate the process and intro new errors.

Authors may need to consider development editing, as they aren’t always writers but experts. They might need more than a copy-edit.

Learn more about Content DNA

Here are some free nuggets to whet your appetite for the book:

Content DNA nuggets

John Espirian

John Espirian

I'm a content writer for B2B websites. I explain how products, services and processes work, to help you build trust and authority with your customers.

I also help business owners do better on LinkedIn.

My book is Content DNA.

Espresso: digital caffeine in your inbox.

Free email tips to improve your web content and LinkedIn presence.
Always fewer than 200 words.

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