What You Need to Know About Self-Publishing a Book.

Today, I’d like to share some useful tidbits about self-publishing a book, but before I do, I’d like to dedicate this blog to my two lovely friends at the gym, “Mac & Tosh”. These are two awesome ladies who come to bootcamp almost every weekday morning. They’re known to the class as a couple of cute chatterbugs, but to me, they’re much more. They bring so much spirit and laughter at 6 am in the morning, something we all can use during that time of day. The other morning, “Tosh” presented me with a gift bag with this beautiful journal inside, embraced me with a warm hug and said, “It’s not every day you become an author. I know you’ll make good use of this.” I certainly will! Thank you, Tosh! Over the years, I’ve learned that everyone has scars in life. Both Mac & Tosh have reminded me that scars can be worn with so much beauty, laughter, authenticity and courage. They are simply two delightful ladies.

journal author
A gift from the lovely Tosh.

Ok, back to the blog!

Whether you’ve already written your book (and haven’t published it yet) or in the process of writing, here’s some useful pointers and steps I’d like to share from my experience on self-publishing a book.

  1. Shop around for your publisher. Although you want to “self-publish”, you’ll likely want to work with a self-publishing company to help you with editing, formatting, cover design, printing and distribution. You can certainly outsource all these tasks independently, but for a first time author without much experience, I personally believe it’s easier to find a company that can help you do all these things. I contacted about half a dozen companies, emailing and speaking to them on the phone before deciding. Also do your research to make sure these are legit publishing companies and not scams. Check your Better Business Bureau to be sure or read up on some blogs on identifying publishing scams. Right off the bat, publishing a book can be expensive and any company that says they can do it cheaply, is either a scam or cutting some corners with their quality of service.
  2. Determine the format for your book. Will it be on paperback only? Ebook? Hard cover? Ask questions about taxation to make sure that you’re not paying more than what you should, depending on the country you live in. Ask about royalties from distributors and payment. How will you get paid and how often? What’s the printing cost for each book? Most distributor royalties range from 30-50% of the price of your book (believe me, there’s no money in books as an author.)
  3. Determine your budget. Most self-publishing companies will have different tiers or packages. Do not let them convince you to go for a higher tier because “you’ll need to.” A good company to work with will respect your budget without trying to manipulate you into a higher priced package. They will usually have a consultant speak to you and ask you what your goals are and budget. The company I chose to work with also had a Project Manager who is your liaison for communication once your book is in development. He/She can answer any questions you have and guide you along the way with “next steps.”
  4. What’s the right editing package for you? Ask them how many rounds of editing the package includes. Mine had two rounds of editing. The first one is what’s called a substantive edit. They’ll take your manuscript (your first draft) and correct for grammar, spelling and sentence structure. They’ll also give a detailed synopsis of how you can improve upon your book with suggestions and perhaps items you can remove. The copy edit is typically the second round of editing. This is to tidy up grammar, spelling and minor structural changes on what you’ve re-submitted. Some publishers can provide additional rounds of editing at a cost. Be sure to ask them. I personally recommend having a minimum of two rounds (one substantive and one copy edit). And PLEASE, do not become your own editor! Sure, you can fine tune some things, but if you repeatedly stare at your own work, you will perpetually be editing and unable to move to the next steps. Limit yourself on how much self-editing you’re going to do! This often times gets authors in a rut because they’re constantly correcting, re-writing and second guessing themselves. Hire an editor.
  5. “What’s formatting?” I asked when I first started. I recommend you ask that question to your publishing company as well. In a nutshell formatting is taking your approved edited manuscript and making it “print ready.” It’s not just about justifying margins and page numbers, it’s about alignment, spacing of your paragraphs and little details such as how the first letter at the start of the chapter is going to look. This is the final stage of your book before it goes to the print-house for your actual book! Yeah, I was nervous clicking “approved”, so proofread your formatted version. For me, I had two rounds of formatting. Again, ask beforehand. I recommend two rounds for this. IMPORTANT: The company I worked with outsourced the formatting which I believe is typical, however I did not know this. Even though you submitted your approved edited manuscript for formatting, it does not mean it will come out perfectly. I repeat…your approved manuscript may have errors after it’s been formatted! When formatting, it’s like taking a PDF document and converting over to MS Word (this is a rough description). When converting, things can get messed up, to be blunt. You may see words in bold, underlined or CAPPED appear even though you had it perfectly written in your manuscript. Indentations may appear where they’re not suppose to. Or spacing of paragraphs may be out of place. Proofread your formatted work. You should also ask about this beforehand to make sure this step is clearly articulated to you. I’m not sure if it’s possible, but perhaps you can suggest that they do a quick edit of your formatted work before submitting it back to you.
  6. Creating your book cover. The company will typically outsource the cover designer. Once again, ask how many rounds of review is included in your package. I had two rounds which I felt was enough. If you have a friend who’s a graphic designer and can help you create an image, make sure you ask the publishing house if it’s OK to use your friend’s image.
  7. What about printing and distribution? Your publishing company should look after things like copyright, ISBN numbers (required of all books. It’s kind of like a license plate for your book) and working out the distribution channels. Will it be on Amazon? Barnes and Noble, Indigo? Are there any hidden costs in printing and are there minimum requirements or obligations in printing? As an author, you have the benefit of buying straight from the print house, without the royalty fees. Thus, you simply pay for the printing and shipping of your book.
  8. Why Marketing? Arguably, this is perhaps one of the first steps in book publishing. If you don’t market your book and you’re not a famous author already, chances are, your book won’t sell very well (regardless how great your book is!) Imagine if I just created the most comfortable pair of runners you’ll ever wear and I decided to sell it online without telling a single person about the benefits of these running shoes. Do you think anyone’s going to buy them if I don’t spread the word a little? Who’s going to buy them when they have Nike, Adidas and New Balance to choose from? Learn to market your book and create a buzz about it, even before it’s published. Do you think the new Star Wars movies would do just as well if they didn’t show teasers one year before its release date? I had a fantastic Marketer who gave me a detailed outline of some future marketing ideas. She was articulate, honest and a wealth of knowledge. I recommend you work with someone in Marketing to help give you some ideas as well for your book.

self publishing author

Now that my book, Living with the Dragon is published, many people have asked me some common questions such as:

  • What inspired me to write?
  • How long did it take to write a book?

Well, the short answer of these two questions are:

  1. I’ve always enjoyed writing and I’ve taken courses and workshops on narrative writing before. It’s a passion and pastime I lost along the way, but thankfully was reminded by my ex-wife to write a book about what I’ve learned through the years in counselling and self-help. Our personal journeys can be an inspiration to others during their recovery. She reminded me to not undermine my own experiences and that there’s a lot I can give to society. I’m starting to believe that she’s right.
  2. It took about 9 months to write my book. This is just the writing portion (not including the editing and publishing stage). It was 9 months of pure joy, fun and excitement for me as I put my book together, piece by piece. I journaled a lot and brought a note book with me everywhere I went. I wrote during my spare time in hotel rooms when I traveled and on airplanes. I wrote on the weekends…it was one of my favorite things to do, waking up at 7am with a cup of coffee on a Saturday morning to write while my son was still asleep. I was constantly getting inspiration from ideas I heard about on the radio or read about in a newspaper article. I’d stop what I was doing to jot down information, so that I’d remember for a later time. It was 9 months of doing one of the things I’m most passionate about.

3D book cover

And there you have it! If you have any other questions or comments about my experience in self-publishing, feel free to leave a comment or email me at livingwiththedragon@gmail.com



Jason Lee, Author of Living with the Dragon. Photo by Kristi MacFarlane Photography.

Published by Jason Lee, Author

There’s something greater to be learned in our journey otherwise life would just be too predictable and I’m not quite willing to accept that!

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