How do you self publish a book?

People ask all the time, “How do you self publish a book?” In some respects, the answer is easier now than it was a decade ago.  In other respects, it is more convoluted than ever.

When famous authors who self published long ago (like L. Frank Baum, Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, and Mark Twain), they often did so when they were teenagers and at the beginning of their careers. And they often collaborated with a business associate, since writing a book is a creative endeavor while publishing one is a business endeavor, and rarely does one person possess adequate strength in both fields, no matter how much they may fool themselves into believing otherwise.

The Huffington Post has an interesting article debunking the popular myth about these and other self-publishing authors that you can read here. Even that article corroborates the fact that when writers self publish their own work, they usually do so for two common reasons:  They either want to make more money, or they realize that self-publishing is their only option for getting a book published.

See, not so much has changed after all!  Today, when you’re asking yourself, “How do you self publish a book?” you are most likely asking this question for one of the same reasons:

  1. You want to make more money, or…
  2. You realiz that self-publishing a book is your only option for getting a book published

Back in the “old days” when Baum, King, Poe, Twain and others “self published” their books, they may have each gone about it in slightly different ways, but ultimately there was commonality, chief among them being that a printer was involved in actually producing the book. And the same holds true today.  If you are a self-publishing author, there is no substitute for publishing a paperback and/or hardback — in other words, producing a physical hard copy book that you can actually hold in your hands.

Does that mean you should not publish an e-book? Of course you should! But should you ONLY publish an e-book?  Absolutely not!  For one, you cannot sign an e-book; you cannot wrap one up and give it away as a gift; you cannot stock your bookshelves or decorate your home with e-books in order to impress family or friends or potential significant others. And isn’t that half the point of publishing a book in the first place? To impress family or friends or significant others? Heck, to impress yourself?  And how impressive is an e-book? Not very…

So when you ask, “How do you self publish a book” what you’re really asking is, how do you self publish a book, not just an e-book.  And that is an important distinction, because real published authors publish real published books. So the first thing you do is commit to self publishing a paperback, and during the publication phase you add additional formats, like e-books, audio books, and a hardback format (if your publisher doesn’t publish hardbacks, ask yourself: what kind of publisher doesn’t publish hardbacks???).

In other words, if you have written a manuscript and you want to know how to self publish a book, you don’t short-change yourself on publishing it by simply storing that book “in the cloud.”  You produce a paperback, something you can see, touch, feel, and hold.  Just like those famous authors who self-published back in the day.

Okay, okay, so how DO you self publish a book now that you know you need a printer?

This is where the answer is easier than ever before, and also more convoluted.  You have choices, and choices mean decisions.  Decisions are difficult for some people, so this article will help you narrow your self-publishing choices down to just two. How ’bout that?

But first, some history:  There used to be only one way to self publish a book. So if you wanted to self publish a book, you did it the only way you could — by doing everything yourself.  You formatted it yourself.  You designed the cover yourself.  You wrote all the back cover copy yourself. You made sure the width of the spine on your cover file was the proper calculation based upon the number of pages of your book in consideration of the width of each piece of paper.  You created the final print-ready files yourself. You registered an ISBN with Bowker.  You sourced local printers, got bids, compared quality, and settled upon a printer. You gave them the files and quite a lot of money, because their offset printers would require quantity commitment of around 2000-5000 copies at a time, give or take 10% — since offset printers don’t stop on a dime.

And then you’d hope like hell you didn’t have a typo on the cover.  But, hundreds of man hours later, and probably tens of thousands of dollars later, you would have a self published book…. boxes and boxes of them, actually, sitting on your living room floor, or sitting in your garage warping from the heat.

Now what?  Then the question suddenly becomes, “How do I market a book?” or “How do I get my book onto Amazon?” or “How do I sell my self-published book?”  Those are all questions for a different blog post, but for now we are answering one not-so-simple question:  How do you self publish a book?

So, that long, involved process with a very steep learning curve used to be the ONLY way you could self publish a book. Then the Internet came along and print-on-demand printing technology came along, followed quickly by consultants, “book shepherds”, DIY printers, and “full service self publishing companies.”  They all offered different services, depending upon your needs.  Consultants and book shepherds will provide you with advice and mentoring, based (usually) upon their own experience.  In many cases, they may perform many of those tasks above for you (like formatting, editing, cover design, spine calculation, getting an ISBN, copyright registration, etc.).  But you’ll still need to find a printer.

On the other hand, DIY printers print your files, but you have to do all that up-front work yourself (design, editing, formatting, ISBN, etc.)  Sure, some of them have computers that “format” your book automatically for you but … simply put… you do not want a computer formatting a book automatically for you.  You just don’t.

And, finally, there are full service self publishing companies that combine both aspects of self-publishing.  They can handle the editing, design, formatting, ISBN, and all the other pre-production and production aspects of publishing a professional book. AND they have printers to produce the physical book, with the option of one-at-a-time print-on-demand (POD) convenience to save you from the hassle of storing boxes and boxes of books in your living room or garage.


In all cases, self-publishing costs money.  Perhaps you think you will self-publish for “free” because you are going to do everything yourself at one of those DIY places. If so, you must ask yourself what your hourly rate is, and how good your book is really going to look if you handle all those publishing details yourself. Losing book sales because your book is atrocious just adds to the “costs.”

Or, alternatively, you realize self-publishing costs money and you’re planning on paying a professional  to do it for you, just like Baum, Poe, King and Twain.   Anyone who is expecting a publisher to front the cost of publishing a book is not self-publishing a book.  Self publishing a book costs money because self publishing a book is a business.

Nowadays, the easiest, fastest, and most affordable way to self publish your book is through a full-service self publishing company. Fortunately, there are many to choose from.

And… unfortunately, there are many to choose from.

So how do you choose the best self-publishing company for your book? You weigh their pros and cons, and you persist with your goal even when you discover that the “perfect” self-publishing company doesn’t exist. It’s a bit like buying a car — there’s no “perfect” one.  There are really good ones, and really bad ones. Every self-publishing company that has been in business for any reasonable amount of time is going to have some cons, such as complaints from previous clients.  In fact, statistically speaking, the more books they publish (or the longer they have been in business), the more complaints they’re going to have.   Does this make them a bad company for your book? Probably not.   The only self-publishing company without any complaints is the one who hasn’t published any books yet, or hasn’t been in business very long. Do you really want your book to be their guinea pig?   No; you want to pick a self-publishing company that knows what it’s doing.

All those big self publishing companies who have published 1000 books or more each year for a decade or longer know what they’re doing. And 99 times out of 100, they do a great job.

So which full-service self publishing companies have published 1000 books or more for each of the last ten years?

That’s a much more manageable list, and in alphabetical order your choices are:

  • Outskirts-Press-Self-PublishingAuthorHouse
  • iUniverse
  • Outskirts Press
  • Trafford
  • Xlibris

How do you decide which self publishing company should publish your book?

You look at third party comparison sites for self-publishing services. There are two major ones: Top Consumer Reviews and Top 10 Reviews.

Are any of the top six listed on both? Yes,  iUniverse and Outskirts Press.

Now when you’re asking “How do I self publish my book” your answer is down to a very manageable choice.  It’s time to do your research: Look at each of their websites.  Look at their services.  Look at each of their publishing contracts. Look at each of their Facebook pages.  Look at their pricing. Look at their complaints. Look at their testimonials. Look at some of their books.  Look them each up on Amazon (do an advanced search by publisher and then sort by bestsellers).  Are their covers good? Are their books selling?  Do they publish the kind of book you want to publish?

Then pick one, and start your own self publishing journey knowing it’s going to be the BEST self-publishing adventure of your life. You’ll be amazed at the affect having a positive outlook can have.

And that, in short (or not so short) is the answer to the question “How do you self publish your book.”


brent sampson

ABOUT BRENT SAMPSON: Brent Sampson is the President and CMO of Outskirts Press, a full-service self-publishing company in Colorado. Outskirts Press  helps authors develop and publish high-quality books by offering exceptional design, printing, publishing, distribution, and book marketing services. Top Consumer Reviews ranks Outskirts Press #1 because they deliver outstanding customer service, affordable pricing, industry-leading royalties, and a team of hands-on, US-based publishing experts. To learn more about Brent, visit his blog at

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