Self-Publishing – A 10-Point Must-Do Checklist for Authors – Part 1

By on June 26th, 2013

Part 1 in a 4-part series of top tips on how to make your self-published book look like it’s been published with a major publisher. From book coach and marketer, Lynn Serafinn.

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know I’m a huge believer in self-publishing. Far from making an author a ‘second-class citizen’, I believe self-publishing has many advantages over going with a publisher or a subsidiary press like Create Space, Balboa Press or iUniverse. The three main advantages of self-publishing over these other options are:

  1. You make far more money on each unit sold when you go 100% self-published. Most publishers pay between 7%-12% of retail in royalties. Subsidiary presses typically pay 50% of net. With self-publishing, you earn 100% of net. For example, if you had a 250-page book that retailed at $20, you would make about $2 from a publisher, $2.50 from a subsidiary press and $5.50 (or more) if you went the self-publishing route. Of course, the actual figures would depend upon the cost of printing (I have estimated $4.50 per unit) and the wholesale discount at which you offered the book to retailers (I have used a typical rate of 50%).
  2. Self-publishing gives you 100% artistic freedom. While subsidiary presses don’t generally interfere with your artistic process, they also don’t tend to offer a whole lot either. Publishers can provide a lot of artistic input, but they can also take control of it. If you go self-published and hire the right designers and editors (or maybe even a self-publishing adviser) for your production team, you can produce something you feel is truly ‘yours’.  It also permits you to be in complete control of the dates for your book launch and to drive the image/brand behind it.
  3. Self-publishing also gives you the potential for growth. Your publishing enterprise could turn into an actual business with time. You will have the flexibility of negotiating wholesale deals with shops, entering publisher contests and maybe even bringing other authors into your company. While that’s not something that may be on your mind when you are publishing your first book, it at least leaves the door open to possibilities.

While that all might sound great, many authors face three major obstacles when attempting to self-publish:

  1. They don’t know how to self-publish a book AND
  2. Because they don’t know how to do it, they tend to do it badly AND
  3. Even if they do it ‘right’ they don’t know how to market their book

As I focus a lot of my blog posts on the art of book marketing, I thought it would good to devote some time looking at the first of these two obstacles. So, over the next two articles, I’ll be walking you through some of the basic ‘must do’ items on your self-publishing checklist, along with tips on how to do it right so your book doesn’t end up looking self-published.

As there’s so much to cover, I’m breaking this 10-point list into four articles (links to the others are at the end of this article). Today, we’ll be looking at points 1 – 5 on the checklist, as these are the ones you will need to address earliest in the process.

NOTE: While most of my articles address the specific needs of non-fiction authors, most of this information is equally applicable for writers of fiction books.

Must-Do #1: Choose Your Title and Subtitle METICULOUSLY

I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a great title for your book. In the case of non-fiction authors, the subtitle is equally (and sometimes even more) important as the title. Your title is the ‘hook’ that will make people remember your book in the plethora of others on the market. Your subtitle is the ‘promise’ you will bring to the reader.

I routinely help my clients craft winning titles and subtitles for their non-fiction books. I shared some of my tips in a recent article called ‘How to Choose the Perfect Title for Your Non-Fiction Book’. Rather than repeat the information here, I recommend giving it a read.

When to do this: If your title just isn’t working for you, try to work with someone who can help you craft it. Your title and sub-title can be a great asset to you during the WRITING process as it can help you find focus. At the very least, you should ensure you have your title finalised a good 5 months before your projected publication date, so you can begin pre-publication marketing.

Must-Do #2: Find a Highly-Recommended Professional Editor and Proofreader

Too many authors neglect this crucial step in their publishing. No matter how good a writer you are, a good editor and proofreader is vital to keeping your book from looking and reading like a typical ‘self-published’ book. In fact, it’s the lack of good editing that has often given self-publishing a bad rap.

My tips on finding and working with an editor/proofreader are:

  • Don’t say you can’t afford one. The truth is you can’t afford NOT to have one.
  • Never leave it to the last minute. Good editors have a full roster of clients. Book your time with one well in advance. Make sure they are free during the time you need them.
  • Choose an editor who comes highly recommended by an author you trust. Please make sure to choose someone who edits whole BOOKS and not just short copy (web copy, articles, etc). Book editors are experienced in looking for continuity and flow, which is what you need.
  • Be sure to allot enough time for edits to turn around. Many authors underestimate how long the editing process will take. You should allow about one month for an editor to send you their initial edits. Then, you will need to incorporate those edits and suggested changes into the manuscript, which might take you up to a month depending upon how complex the edits are and how much time you have in your daily schedule to work on them. Finally, you’ll need to send this editing manuscript back to your editor (or a separate proofreader) for a final edit and proofread. This might take another month. So, altogether, you should be SURE to allot a good 3 months for the whole process. (I’ll be talking more about this in part 2).

When to do this: Find your editor while you are still writing your first draft, hopefully a good two months BEFORE you need them to do their first edit. Then, be sure to send them your manuscript for the first edit at least 5-6 months before your projected publication date.

Must-Do #3: Find a Highly-Recommended Cover Designer

Again, many self-published authors tend to skimp on this step, saying they cannot ‘afford’ a professional designer for their book. Some succumb to marketing pressure from their subsidiary press, and they use in-house designers. In my experience, these designers produce really sub-standard work that does NOT express the heart and soul of your book, primarily because they don’t know you and are working from a brief. If you really want to have a self-published book that looks professional, you WILL need to spend some money on a professional designer.

My tips on finding and working with a designer are:

  • The same as the above tips for finding and working with an editor. Please don’t find a designer on eLance or any other budget site. Ask around on social networks for referrals to find designers who come recommended by people you trust.
  • Don’t be tempted to go DIY. Do not do the cover yourself or ask a friend to do it UNLESS you/they are skilled designers.
  • Don’t use a generic designer. By ‘generic’ I mean those who work in-house for subsidiary presses. Hire an independent designer who will meet with you, discuss your brief, and be willing to work closely with you to create something unique.
  • Don’t allow your designer to use stock images. Stock images might be ok if you’re making a small (under 20,000 word) Kindle eBook, but not if you’re publishing a full-length book. Hire someone who can make original artwork.
  • Don’t put your own photo on the front cover. Unless you are a famous author, speaker or celebrity, your photo does NOT belong on the front cover. Save it for the back cover in the author bio.
  • Ask to see examples of their work. Like any artist, every designer has a different style. They might be the best designer in the world, but they might not be right for your book. Ask to look at examples of other book covers your designer has made and choose the one that most closely matches the feel of your book.
  • Have a CLEAR idea of what you want. Designers aren’t mind-readers. Don’t assume they’ll know what is perfect for your book without you giving them some idea about what you want. Come up with some concepts and colour schemes that you think match your book. If you can make a mock up in Photoshop or a rough sketch to give the designer an idea, that’s even better.
  • Get a fixed price on the project. I recommend negotiating a fixed price in advance with your designer rather than agreeing to pay by the hour. Hourly rates put pressure on both you and the designer. Agree on a fixed price AND make sure that this covers a specific number of drafts/edits as well as the back cover design (if you are doing a print version of your book).
  • Don’t be afraid to say you don’t like it. A lot of authors I meet hold back from giving feedback to their designers. They don’t like their cover, but they also don’t like ‘conflict’ AND they’re afraid of spending more money (especially if they’re paying by the hour). By not speaking up, you’re going to end up with a cover you really can’t stand, but feel you are ‘stuck’ with. Don’t let this happen.

When to do this: Try to get your FRONT cover made 5-6 months before your projected publication date. The sooner you have your front cover finalised, the sooner you can start creating the ‘buzz’ for your book so people know it will be coming out soon. The back cover can come later, about 3 months before projected publication date. In fact, I recommend LEAVING the back cover until you have the final draft of your book done, so you know your back cover copy matches what’s inside the book.

Must-Do #4: Create a Publishing Company

Depending upon where you live, starting a publishing company is often as easy as making up a name for your publishing house. If you are already self-employed, this can just be another enterprise under your personal name. It doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘officially’ registered as a company.

In choosing a name for your publishing company, choose one that goes beyond the message of your current book, and expresses the message of potential future books. What is the theme of your over-arching message? Where do you see yourself going as an author?

You DON’T necessarily have to come up with a logo for your company, but it’s a nice touch if you do. You may or may not use the same designer you use for your cover. Crafting good logos is a separate skill set. Again, unless you are a graphic designer with logo experience, please don’t attempt to do this on your own.

When to do this: As all of the above, set up your company 5-6 months before your projected publication date. You can make your logo later (if you intend to create one) but make sure it is complete before your designer makes the back cover/spine of your print book (as this is where the logo typically goes) or your layout designer does the layout for the interior (covered in the next article)

Must-Do #5: Get Your ISBN Numbers

Once you have established your publishing company, it’s time to get a batch of ISBN numbers.  ISBN stands for ‘International Standard Book Number’. An ISBN is a thirteen-digit number assigned to every book before publication. Furthermore, you are REQUIRED to use a different ISBN for every format of the book you publish. In other words, if you intend to print a paperback, a hardback and ONE version of eBook of the same book, you’ll need 3 different ISBNs. Many authors don’t realise that you will require a different ISBN for each format in which you publish your eBook (i.e., Smashwords, Kobe, PDF, Kindle, etc). While Smashwords and Kindle can assign you an ISBN, remember that technically they’re the ‘publisher’ if they do so. This doesn’t matter so much on Amazon, as Kindle is a proprietary format, but I do recommend using your own ISBN for other eBook publishing formats.

If you publish a new edition of your book, you will also need a new ISBN. This is not necessary if you are simply making minor changes/edits to your book (you can call that a ‘2nd printing’ rather than a ‘2nd edition’) but if a book has been changed substantially enough to be considered a different edition, you will need to use a new ISBN to distinguish it from the old one.

ISBNs are always associated with the publishing company. Something you might not realise is that if you go with a subsidiary press and have them assign your ISBN, THEY are technically the publisher, not you. This does not infringe on your copyright as an author, but it does limit your ability as a publisher.

The organisations that assign ISBNs are different for each country. Below are the agencies for the US and the UK. If you are in a different country, you can find your ISBN agency by doing a Google search for “ISBN in [name of your country]”.

Some ISBN providers require that you purchase a minimum of 10 ISBNs at a time. I recommend doing this because you’ll go through them more quickly than you might think, especially if you are a prolific writer and you are publishing in multiple formats.

When to do this: Again, do this 5-6 months before your projected publication date. If you are a first-time author who is just setting up your publishing company, you might have some paperwork to fill in, so allow a few hours for this. After you request your first batch of ISBNs, it can take up to 10 working days for you to receive them (although one of my clients received hers within 2 days).


In Part 2 of this 4-part series, we’ll look at:

  • Must-Do #6: Setting up your title with your print-on-demand company (including setting your price & book categories)

Then, in  in Part 3 and Part 4, we’ll be looking at:

Do be sure to subscribe to this blog so you’ll receive that article, plus all our future articles on writing, publishing and book marketing.

I hope you found this article useful. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback below.

AND, of course, if you’re looking for personal help in your self-publishing and book marketing journey, have a look at our Hire Us page to read about our services. Then, if you’re interested in speaking about working together, drop me a line via the contact form on this site and we can set up a 30-minute consultation to discuss your needs.

Lynn Serafinn
26th May 2013

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LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She was recently named one of the Top 100 marketing authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was selected as a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. Her eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Through her company Spirit Authors, her marketing campaigns have  produced a long list of bestselling self-help and mind-body-spirit authors. Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project, a budding social enterprise whose aim is to help grow a new generation of passionate entrepreneurs who want to serve both people and planet through innovative, ethical, independent enterprise.

@LynnSerafinn @SpiritAuthors @7GracesMarketng @GardenOfTheSoul


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  1. Doreen Pendgracs says:

    Great tips, Lynn. I’m a hybrid author, having been traditionally published and now self publishing for reasons you have given. I can’t believe the level of pride I feel toward my self-published project. So worthwhile.

  2. It’s refreshing to see someone writing articles in the online space who knows what she’s talking about. Great post Lynn, some excellent points. I noticed you’ll touch on endorsements and formatting in your next post, two of the most neglected aspects of independent book publishing. These two aspects help create a powerful perception of quality and personal brand.

    By the way, love the Tweep-e-licious cover design.

    Book Cover Café

  3. […] week in Part 1 of this 4-part series, we looked at the first five items on our 10-point self-publishing checklist. […]

  4. […] A 10-Point Must-Do Check List for Self-Publishing Authors by Spirit Authors Filed Under: e-book, inspiration, publishing, reading, writing Tagged With: agents, books, links, publishing […]

  5. […] From spiritauthors.com, some great advice for all self-publishers, here. […]

  6. DMDaye says:

    A great article with some really useful tips on publishing your work, I would agree that using professionals where ever possible is a wise move and it helped me with my own book. The writers group were great with the proof reading but I used a designer from http://www.jdandj.com for my cover and was glad I did. With the vast numbers of books being published these days it’s imperative to give your book the best possible chance as possible.

    Thanks for a great article, DM Daye

  7. […] lead, here, from Spirit Authors, is a list of ten things you’ll need to take care of: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, & Part 5. Jane Friedman provides more concise advice on how to […]

  8. Tareq Hussain says:

    Hi Lynn,

    I have been reading a lot of your articles in the last few days with regards to book publishing and marketing. I really appreciate the way you are taking time to explain a lot of the processes in detail.
    I have a question to you, what are your thoughts on Create Space https://www.createspace.com/
    compare to Lightning Source. I have read in one of your articles where you have recommended Lightning Source but would appreciate if you please share your thoughts.
    Thank you

  9. […] Must-Do #1: Choose Your Title and Subtitle METICULOUSLY […]

  10. Zarita Lopez says:

    I don’t mean to be a STINKER but…. the VAST majority of Kindle authors don’t make ANY money.

    The “median” figures you hear about Kindle authors clocking $154,000 has to be viewed in CONTEXT… that’s SURVIVOR BIAS… You only hear about the ‘successes’ because they’re around to tell the tale…

    How about the person who published ten books and then gave up after not making anything?

    I don’t mean to be negative… But for what it’s worth, successful authors aren’t that mysterious when it comes to their success.

    They share several features

    First, they have mailing lists – that’s why they give out 99 cent or even FREE novels… it’s all about building lists

    Second, they are either super passionate about their niche and just MAKE IT WORK or…

    They focus on targeting HOT niches with big followings and write on THOSE topics

    If they aren’t experts, they hire ghostwriters. No, Experienced American GWS aren’t all expensive. Well-known American ghostwriters like Gene Eugenio are known to write whole books for 99 bucks. There are a few others like him. The bottom line? Just because you’re not an expert in your niche doesn’t mean you can’t write an expert book…. Just outsource it

    Third, they build a solid author brand – they produce series after series and each book promotes previous books. They write tons of books or publish ghostwitter books. Each becomes an asset that adds value to existing books in the series.

    These aren’t secrets. The problem is most authors just don’t want to build a publishing system… that’s why there is such a big DISPARITY between successful authors and not so successful ones… This doesn’t have to be the case.


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