What every author needs to know about publishing their own book in print or online.
If you’re an author who is thinking about self-publishing and are finished or are nearly finished writing your book, it is time to start thinking about the production process. In general, these are the things that every self-publishing author needs to think about to prepare their book for the world.
When you think of editing, you may think of it as someone going through your writing and correcting spelling, grammar, and usage, but there is actually a whole lot more to the editing process that books go through when they are published traditionally. Depending on your book, some of these stages may not apply to you, but mostly your book should go through all of these stages of editing.
- Substantive / Developmental Editing: This is when an editor goes through your work and helps you with large, overarching issues like character development, plot arc, overall clarity, your essential message and how well it is conveyed to the reader (for fiction works), or structure, thesis, the way you present your argument, and how you’ve organized your book (for non-fiction titles). This is the type of editing that will improve your work the most, and should not be overlooked.
- Stylistic / Line Editing: This is a line-by-line, sentence-by-sentence type of editing. Your editor will look at your sentence composition, the words you’ve chosen, your overall tone and your language choices. This will improve the flow and clarity of your writing, and overall, teach you to compose more elegant and clear prose.
- Copy Editing: This is what most people think of when they think of editing. Checking grammar, spelling, and usage, but also making sure your work is consistent to a particular style guide. Copy editors also do fact checking and make sure that your book’s continuity works. You simply cannot skip the copy editing process and should always hire a trained copy editor to look at your work, even if it is a junior copyeditor.
- Proofreading: Proofreading has often been mislabeled. Many people associate the word proofreading with what should actually fall under copy editing. In fact, proof reading is the process of checking your final page proofs against the final manuscript to make sure that everything is exactly correct to the final version, and that there are no visual issues like bad breaks, hyphenation issues, widows, orphans, rivers, and other things that make a printed page look sloppy or make it difficult to read. This doesn’t really apply to digital-only publications (ebooks) unless they are fixed layout books.
DECIDING ON FORMAT
Many self publishers decide to publish their books only as ebooks, selling them on stores like the Amazon Kindle Store, the Apple iBooks Store, Kobo Books, the Nook Store, or Google Play Books. However, many authors would also like to see their books in print and choose to produce both ebooks and print books. Here are your choices for physical and digital books:
There are three main types of digital books: reflowable ebooks, fixed layout ebooks, and enhanced ebooks.
Reflowable ebooks are what you are probably used to seeing: books that are mostly text and are read on ereader devices like Kindles and on tablets like the iPad. It is called reflowable because the way the text falls on the screen is different for everybody; it reflows depending on the user’s screen size and font size settings. If you are writing a novel, this is probably the format you need. You will need an .epub file (for most ereader devices and tablets) and a .mobi file (for Kindles and the Amazon app).
Fixed layout ebooks are like digital versions of a print book. The text doesn’t reflow–pages always look the same way on every device. These books can only be read on tablet devices, and are mainly aimed at readers shopping on the Apple iBooks store, though Android tablet devices can also handle fixed layout books. This format is ideal for titles that include full-page illustrations, like children’s books, or that require special formatting and large, beautiful images, like cookbooks and art books. They are more expensive to produce, but some works demand nothing less than full page layouts. To publish a fixed layout ebook you will need a .epub file in the ePub 3.0 format (many reflowable books are ePub 2.0) and, if you want to publish to Kindle, a .mobi file in the KF8 format for Amazon.
Enhanced ebooks can be either fixed layout or reflowable. What sets enhanced books apart is that they contain some kind of multimedia, like a video or an audio file. If your book contains one of these, you will need an enhanced ebook and you will need to decide if it makes more sense for it to be made into a reflowable or a fixed layout book. Enhanced ebooks are .epub files in the ePub 3.0 format (many reflowable books are ePub 2.0) and, if you want to publish to Kindle, you’ll also need a .mobi file in the KF8 format.
If you decide to publish in print, you have a few main choices. First, does your book need special page layouts and colour printing, or is it mostly just text content that can be put into chapters? This pretty much the same decision you’d have to make when choosing between reflowable ebooks or fixed layout ebooks.
If your book is text-based, you then need to decide if you want to sell your book through a print-on-demand service like Amazon’s CreateSpace, or if you want to sell the book in physical bookstores or sell them yourself. Print-on-demand services basically take your finished manuscript, pump them into their generic book template, and then when a customer orders your book online, they print it and ship it to that person. They do it all for you so you don’t have to worry about shipping, and you never print too many books, because the books are made to order. However, some people want to try getting their book sold in bricks-and-mortar stores, or they want to sell them themselves at events. In that case, you will need someone to create your book’s layout in desktop publishing software and provide you with a print ready PDF that you will then take to a printer to produce your books. The upside here is that you have control over everything, from the paper to the font used in your book. It is a lot more work to sell your book yourself, but for many authors, this is how they get their book noticed.
THE FIDDLY BITS
There are a number of small, easy-to-overlook steps that you need to keep in mind once you have a completed manuscript. Here’s a few things you will need to take care of:
- Get an ISBN. Keep in mind you need one for every version of your book, so if you are making an ebook and a print book, you need two.
- Get a barcode (print only)
- Write your back cover copy / book description
- Write your author biography (some vendors require this in their metadata, it’s not just for inside your book)
- Get an author photo taken if you want a biography page in your book
- Register your book with library and catalogue services (print only)
- Decide if you want to sell your book worldwide, or in just a few countries
- Write your acknowledgements and dedication
- Arrange your book’s metadata (download our metadata spreadsheet)
- Write your copyright page (see our generic copyright page for Canadian and US books)
- Think about permissions and copyright issues: Do you want to include photos? Do you drop any names? Permissions is a large umbrella and if you think you might need to get permissions or add credits to your book, you should consider hiring a permissions and rights freelancer.
Now that you’ve decided on the book you want to make, you have to actually make that book. The process is different for print and digital books.
If you need an ebook, it is time to find an ebook developer (like us!). Whether your book is simple or complex, you should always hire a professional to make your ebook for you, and I am not just saying that because it is how I make my living. There are tools available that automatically convert a Word document into an .epub file, but these files are generally not up to spec and the files they pump out will often be rejected by online vendors. Your customers will also be people used to reading ebooks, and providing them with a sloppy product will take away from their ability to enjoy your book. Creating an ebook means understanding html and the proprietary epub xml, so you should spend a little money to make sure that the person making your book knows what they are doing and are taking time to ensure that your ebook is up to code.
Simple reflowable ebooks are inexpensive to produce. You can check out our pricing page for the total cost.
If you are self-publishing your book through a service like Smashwords or Kindle Direct Publishing, you have the option to skip the epub production step, and send your manuscript right to them to be pumped into an ebook. These finished ebooks are generally better than those made with automatic conversion tools, but only if you format your manuscript properly from the outset. We can help you with formatting your manuscript for these services, just check out our services page.
Publishing through Smashwords or KDP has its pros and cons. If you are interested in these services, I suggest you take some time poking around their websites. Personally, I don’t recommend using these services to most of my clients. Most authors are very invested in the success of their books, and are willing to put in time and effort when releasing their works. In these cases, I recommend setting up your own vendor accounts and maintaining full control over your files instead of using a one-stop shop like Smashwords. This way, you ensure that your book is on sale at every vendor you want to publish at (most services like Smashwords will leave you without a book on at least one major ebook vendor site), and you retain full control over your ebook. A little more effort at the outset and a little more cost up front (to pay for your ebook to be made) also means that you’ll have the opportunity to make more money in the long run as you won’t have a middleman taking a cut from your royalties.
If you are going to need a fixed layout or enhanced ebook, you will need an epub developer who is also a book designer (like us!). Whether you know exactly what you want your book to look like, or if you need someone to design the page layouts for you, you will need someone to translate your layout into a fixed layout book. This is definitely more time consuming and expensive than making a regular reflowable book, but the finished products are stunning.
Again, your production needs will vary based on the type of book you have written and the format you’ve decided to publish in. If you want to use a print-on-demand service, you will need to prepare your manuscript so that it can be uploaded to the system that will pump it into the print book template. Check out our pricing page for the cost of manuscript formatting if you’re interested.
If you are looking to print your self published book yourself you need a book designer (like us!) to create your book with desktop publishing software. Your designer should create a few different example page layouts for you to choose from–more if the book is highly designed. Once you agree on the look, your designer will typeset your entire book and send you an example of it as a PDF. This PDF is what you will need to have proofread and corrected until everything is perfect. At that stage your designer will provide you with a print file to bring to your printer.
It is important to note that you should not have a significant amount of changes left to make in the book once it gets to this stage. Of course, your proofreading will not be done yet, but if you haven’t rounded up all your content and approved every edit, you shouldn’t move into production. It will take much longer to make edits to the book once it is typeset, and your designer might have to charge you for excessive changes to the typeset book.
Once your book is in production, the cover design process should be started. If you are making a print book, it is ideal to have the same team designing your print book and cover, or at least to allow for communication between the print and cover design teams. This way, they can make sure that the two designs fit with each other, and they can share fonts and colors between them.
Book covers are arguably the most important part of the production process, especially for digital books. If you are writing a book that will only be published as an ebook, the cover is the only visual hook you have to grab readers browsing online stores. Though the overall quality of your printed book is also important, your cover will need to stand out among thousands of other titles in a book store.
So, don’t skimp. If you are going to pay extra for any part of the process, this should be it. Find a designer with book cover experience and a portfolio that speaks to you. They should have a lot of questions for you about what your book is about and what you envision for your cover. Designers are not there to recreate exactly what you have in your mind for your cover. Keep in mind that they are professionals who know what makes a good book cover, so put your trust in their ability to express your book’s theme and story. Usually a designer will send you several covers to look at and you choose the one that you feel is closest to being “the one”, giving feedback about what you do and do not like about it. After a few revisions, your cover will be ready. Also note, if you and your designer can’t seem to find something that works together, a good cover design contract should allow for you or the designer to end the relationship after a certain number of unsuccessful revisions, though you will probably lose your deposit.
Skip this section if you are only interested in having your book published as an ebook. Printing can be a confusing process for someone who has never had experience with large scale print runs. You should first decide how many books you think you will sell. For a first time author with no idea how many books to print, 200 to 500 copies is a good place to start. Remember, you can always print more.
Search online, or look for local printers to find someone who is willing to do a print run in the size you are looking for (many will only do large print runs of 1000+). There are a lot of decisions to be made when printing a book: binding, paper color, paper weight, cover weight, number of inks, cover finishes, and more. If you are new to this, I wouldn’t worry about all of that. If you describe your book to your printer, and just let them know your basic requirements and give them examples of existing books that represent what you want your finished product to look like, they should be able to make the major decisions for you.
Instead, these are the decisions you should focus on making before you start talking to printers:
- What kind of binding do you want? Standard choices are paperback perfect bound and hardcover with saddle stitch or stab/side stitch.
- What is the finished size of your book? Most first edition paperbacks are 6″ x 9″. Mass market paperbacks are 4″ x 7″. Hardcovers often come in around 6.25″ x 9.25″.
- Do you want to use a digital printer or an offset printer? Digital printing is cheaper, but produces lower quality results, though it is pretty standard for self-published books to be digitally printed. Offset printing is more expensive, but looks more like a book a large publishing house would produce, you can see and feel the difference in quality.