So you want to self publish? - New York Times Bestselling Author, J. Sterling

So you want to self publish?

First of all, let me say to you... GOOD!  AWESOME!  EXCITING!!!!!

I'm excited when anyone tells me that they've always had a dream to do something and they are taking the steps to actually FOLLOW.THAT.DREAM.  :) 

If you've always wanted to write- there is no better time than now to do it! We don't need agents. We don't need publishers. We just need the internet and we can publish our own books!!! So freaking cool. And there is enough room out there for all of us. There are tons of readers with all different styles, tastes, preferences, etc- it's not a competition... because there is nothing to compete over. It's not like someone reads one and only one book for the rest of their life. Right?  Right.

So you want to self publish and you're totally overwhelmed because you're like... NOW WHAT?  I'll tell you all the questions I get fairly often, and then i'll answer them the best I can- and with my experience only.  :)  Ready?  Course you are.

Did you make paperbacks of your books, or only E-books? What should I do?
I did both formats. Mostly because I didn't have an e-reader (kindle, nook, ipad, kobo) at the time and I was still reading paperbacks. And because I wanted a physical copy of my book. There was no way I was writing a book and not having it on my bookshelf!

I used Createspace for my paperbacks. Createspace has since been purchased by Amazon and I now handle all of my paperback printing through my Amazon KDP dashboard. (KDP stands for Kindle Direct Publishing).

You should 100% make an e-book, but whether or not you want to offer paperbacks is up to you. I will say that the only people who bought my paperbacks in the beginning stages of my career were my friends and family. But it was nice to have copies for things like bloggers, giveaways, auctions, donations, libraries, and readers who have been amazing!! Even in the age of E-Readers, people still like getting a signed paperback in the mail!  :)

Is it hard to format everything? How do I do it?
It is not hard to format everything. It's a pain in the ass, but it's not hard. It's time consuming, but it's not hard. It will make you want to throw your head into a brick wall sometimes, but it's not hard.  Each site requires a different way of formatting. You have to check with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, etc for their requirements. 

Or you can go to Smashwords and if you are graced by the smashwords gods and you actually format your ebook properly, they will distribute to ALL the internet book selling sites for you. I like smashwords a lot for it's convenience, but it's formatting drives people to jump off bridges.

If you don't have the patience for Smashwords or you can't seem to get it right, I'd suggest you upload to Amazon and iBooks and call it a day. If you only want to choose one online site for your book- simply choose Amazon. They are by far the e-book sales leader, but why would you limit yourself to only one retailer? I personally, would never suggest that. Put yourself on as many sales sites as possible.

Will you read my book and give me feedback?
I read a lot. I read a ton of Indie author's books. Why? Because I love them. Because I love supporting them and reading good stories written by awesome people. And when I'm not reading someone else's book, I'm writing my own. And being a mom. I simply don't have the time to read your book. But you should find some beta readers (people who will read your book and tell you anything that didn't work for them, story inconsistencies, etc). Yes, your beta readers can be friends or family, but they need to be able to provide you with HONEST feedback. They shouldn't be afraid to hurt your feelings. And trust me when I tell you that your feelings will get hurt because it's really hard to hear criticism of your work. But I promise you that it will help you in the long run and your writing will benefit from any constructive feedback. It's things like that that help you grow. You should always have people read your story before you put it out there.  And you should definitely have it professionally edited.

I don't have any money to pay for things like an editor. It's so expensive. Do I have to?
Trust me, I've been there. I have SO.FREAKING.BEEN.THERE.  But listen to me- if there are two things you pay attention to in regards to your book (aside from writing a good one), it's the EDITING and the COVER.  I know you don't have the money to pay thousands of dollars for an editor. No one does when they're first starting out. But there are editors out there who don't cost an arm and a leg. And I promise you... you want to have your book professionally edited. Not edited by a friend who's really good with word... or a friend who likes to read... or someone who is a good editor of documents... it's NOT the same. You need someone you can count on to follow the Chicago Manual of Style. Someone who knows what they're doing.

I released In Dreams (my first novel) without it being professionally edited and I got my ass handed to me. My heart felt like it was ripped from my chest, stomped on, tore into a million pieces and then tossed into the garbage. And I sat there, struggling to breathe while it all happened.

I couldn't sleep because I wasn't satisfied with the state my story was in (you see, some of those really negative reviews and comments were right- and I needed to hear them). They haunted me. And it all could have been avoided had I had it professionally edited before I released it.

Don't let your book haunt you. Cause trust me, it will.  Research editors. Ask other Self Published authors who they use. Find books that you love and see who edited them. It's worth it. DO NOT put your book out there without doing this.

I don't know how to design a book cover. I suck at Photoshop. What do I do?
The cover is the other important factor to your book. I wrote a crazy blog post here that you need to read because I can't even begin to tell you how important the cover is. You can go to sites like Dreamstime or istock photo and buy pictures to use on your cover. My only suggestion if you do that is to RESEARCH FIRST. Make sure someone else in the same category as your book, isn't using the same photo. For example, if you write Young Adult Romance books, go look at the other YA Romance books online and check out their covers, look what's selling, etc. There's nothing worse than seeing "your" cover on someone else's book.

I have a designer who does my covers ( You can research, ask around, look into cover designers on facebook. It can be done, you just have to look.  :)  Do not underestimate the power of a great cover!

How do you market your book? How do you get it to sell? I want to be a best seller overnight!
Awww, that's cute. But not very realistic. lol  We all want our books to sell well. We all want readers to connect with our story. But reading is very subjective and people's opinions tend to vary... vastly. There is NO magic formula to what sells and what doesn't. What worked for one author, might not work for another one. What worked 3 months ago, most likely won't work today. We all have different target audiences.  What works for a guy writing sci-fi, won't work for a woman writing chick-lit. Know what I mean?

It's a huge hit and miss project. It's all about finding what DOES work for YOU and YOUR audience. I had to work my ass off for well over a year to make myself known- to get people excited for my books- to have a following. It's not something that will just be handed to you, so don't expect it to be. Social networking is the BIGGEST and most time consuming part of your day. But you have to do it. It's how you connect with people... other authors, fans, readers, etc. 

My helpful suggestions for you are:

Build a website/blog. This doesn't have to cost you any money. You can build a website through Blogger or Wordpress. Blogger is awesome and super easy to navigate and build. They have tons of professional and pretty looking templates that you can choose from. You can make pages for different information, etc.  For example, this entire website is a Blogger site (although I own my own domain name as well)... Pretty awesome, right?  :)

Speaking of domain names, you can get a .com site with your author name (which I recommend if possible vs doing a .com for each book you expect to release). It's definitely worth looking into so that you can establish your online presence, as well as having consistent branding. YOU are your brand. And owning the domain of your author name is IMPORTANT to your brand. (thanks Kevin for this reminder).

Set up a facebook fan page for your author name, or your books. I chose my author name because I didn't want to set up a separate page for each book I wrote. Other authors do a page for each book. I don't know how they keep up with it, but the choice is up to you. It's all about your preferences and how you want to market yourself. In the interest of saving time (and my sanity) I find it's easier to represent everything you write all in one place- under your author name.

Set up a twitter account. You can easily link your facebook to your twitter so everytime you update one, it updates the other. I have a twitter, but i'm SUPER bad at using it.  Actually, I suck at using it. I'm probably the worst. I should win an award for suckiest twitter-er. 

Read JA Konrath's blog. Why? Because he posts about every.single.thing. you'd ever want to know about self publishing. He's really open and honest and forthcoming about his sales numbers, what he thinks works, what doesn't, etc. He's a super resource for anyone just starting out. Prepare to lose hours in your day reading that site. Search his archives. Have fun.  lol

You can (and probably should) join Goodreads. Many authors have had fantastic experiences there as those readers can truly MAKE your book (talk about a word of mouth frenzy). But the flip side is, it can be a truly brutal website. So put on your thick skin and your big girl panties and go log in. There are tons of groups available with people willing to read and review your book on goodreads, you just have to find them. 

You should definitely research book bloggers. But only reach out to the ones you think would really like your story. Don't waste their time (and yours) by asking someone who doesn't read YA, or self published books, to make an exception and read yours. It's rude. And will most likely land you on their "never read" list. 

Please remember that when you ask someone to read your book (book blogger, beta reader, etc) that you make sure they are willing to leave a review as well. Amazon reviews are a HUGE help to any author, so you want to get as many of those as you can.  :)

Make friends with other authors. Especially the ones who are just starting out at the same time you are, and write in the same genre. There's nothing like making friends with people who are going through the same things you are. And you both should be willing to help each other out (pimp each others release dates, contests, etc). Self published authors are some of the coolest and most helpful people I know. I've made friends with many after I read their books, fell in love with their stories and HAD to know them! I've been really fortunate to become friends with some of the most talented and successful writers out there. :)  Read Indie books. Friend the authors of stories you like. Get to know them. Get to know your readers. Join author groups. Join reader groups.  Connect. 

**Additional New Writer Note- it's unrealistic to assume that a best selling author with years of experience will help promote a brand new author they haven't read anything by yet. And it's rude to ask. So don't. I know that when you're first starting out, it doesn't seem like it's a big deal, but the best selling authors have their brand, their fans and their publishers sometimes to consider. They can't (and won't) promote everyone who asks them. Many have worked for years to build the audience they have now and it didn't happen because someone handed it to them. You have to work hard to make yourself known. It is a full time job, and more.**

And my #1, biggest suggestion for you? 
Write a good book.
Word of mouth will be your biggest and most influential friend. There is nothing that you could ever do that could compete or compare with what other people can do for you. Word of mouth. It's the thing we all strive more.  It's what makes us.

Good luck! I'll add to this as needed.  :)


  1. You rock! Great advice!

  2. Thanks so much for sharing! If I ever write a book, I'll definitely be back here referencing this!

  3. This is excellent, J. Truly.
    I love how you're so supportive of other authors. Your kindness in that area is rare. Thanks for the great information.

  4. Awesome advice and need to in this page.

  5. Have to say...I've come back and read this post time and time again. I'm currently 60k words into my first attempt at a self-pub and this gives me some "Get-Up-And-Go" when I think I'm just D.O.N.E.

    Thank you!! :)

  6. Vicki F7:40 AM

    Where was this bit of advice 3 months ago? :-) I am currently in the last editing stages of my book before I hand it over to a publisher! I have written 4 books in total but this will be my first attempt to do anything with them. The book I'm working on now is a trilogy and I'm almost finished writing the last book. I highly recommend writers read this before start in the publishing end of things, there is some valuable information here! I learned the hard way! Thank you J!