Beginner’s Guide to Self-Publishing

I am taking a break from our regularly-scheduled programming to share with you a beginner’s guide for how to publish and market a book. It’s an Idiot’s Guide, if you will, because I’m basically telling you exactly what you need to do.

Of course you can do something else, but I was really looking for someone to tell me exactly what to do when I was self-publishing so I wouldn’t have to spend hours on research. Well, I hope those hours of research will benefit you too.

I should mention that I did not receive compensation in any form for this post.

Why Self-Publish?

As you probably know, self-publishing has become a reputable thing. Sure, it feels good to have someone else say your work is good enough to represent, or (the golden egg) to actually publish. But here are some reasons why self-publishing is preferable to traditional publishing:

– You don’t have to put your fate and your dreams into anyone else’s hands. You can make it happen, and on your timetable.

– Most people can’t tell that your book was self-published when they’re trawling the Amazon site.

– You earn up to 70% royalties (on Kindle), as opposed to about 10% with traditional.

– You decide when it gets published, and don’t depend on an editor’s schedule.

– You decide what will go on the cover, and you can make edits to the cover or interior as soon as you find them. When you go with a traditional publisher, you’re at their mercy for making changes, big and small. And sometimes they say no.

– Even if you’re with a traditional publisher, you still have to do your own marketing. Sure, you’ll get some help, but a lot of it falls on you. If that’s the case, why not reap a greater monetary benefit from your efforts and do it yourself?

Now, I should tell you, by way of disclaimer, that I’m no bestseller or anything. To date, I’ve only sold just over 200 books. But that’s why this is called an idiot’s a beginner’s guide, and not a master’s guide. Considering that most books never sell more than 200 copies in their whole shelf life, and most authors never sell enough even to earn their advance, the way I see it – anything above and beyond 200 is frosting!

For those who are still with me, let’s begin.

Beginner's Guide to Self-Publishing & Marketing Your Book @aladyinfrance
Preparation& Publishing

Step One: As an author, you will ideally already have a blog, a personal Facebook account, as well as a Facebook fan page. You will be on twitter, Google+ and (it’s always helpful) – Pinterest.

If you don’t have these things, sign up. Follow people you admire on twitter (celebs), and follow people who will hopefully be your peers as well – those who will likely follow you back. Your little profile blurbs can mention your book, but they should be about you. Your tweets and FB updates should also be about you.

Install Tweetdeck (it’s not hard) to organise your tweets for you. Start a Facebook fan page – it’s easy! But just make one for you, the author. Otherwise, if you make one for each book, there are too many places you have to keep updated.

Make it a goal to write a short blog post on your blog once a week. Post pictures, tell about your life, do book reviews, cook! Whatever interests you. The most important thing is building relationships. Your tweets and FB shares cannot be 100% about your book or people will block you.

Sound like a lot of work? It is. But people rarely buy books from someone they’ve never heard of. At the bare minimum, have a blog/website, a twitter handle and a FB fan page.

Step Two: Make sure you’ve had your book professionally edited. If possible, have a few beta readers read and edit the book before your professional edit, and even afterwards. A beta reader is any friend or acquaintance who has a good grasp of the English language, and  who will not be afraid to give you solid advice and critique. For a professional editor, I highly recommend mine, Lizzie Harwood.

And don’t forget that even after you receive your professional edits, you will need to proofread again and again. There are always those tiny mistakes that make it through. I was vigilant, and a friend still caught three after my book was published.

Step Three: Hire a cover & internal layout designer. I was not crazy about the the covers I saw that were designed by the CreateSpace team (which you have to pay for). Also, they offer to convert your file for you to upload on kindle, but then you don’t own the file and you can’t send it to other people for free (in order to get reviews, for example).

My cover designer was Lacey O’Connor (, and I recommend her. She did the front and back cover, my internal layout for print, for kindle, and for other e-book formats, as they are not all the same. She also did a single cover for me to upload on Facebook, and she gave me all the files so I could keep sending them out.

A word on formatting for e-readers:

The files you will need are pdf for the print version, as well as for the iPad and some e-readers.

As for the e-readers, there is Kindle (from Amazon) which needs a mobi file.

There is also the Nook (Barnes & Nobles), Kobo (from Borders) and Reader Throw Down (from Sony) – and all three need an EPub file, though they also accept other files, such as pdf.

Step Four: Upload to CreateSpace. This part is free. I recommend you use their ISBN number because that is also free, and I’ve found that there was no reason I needed to have my own. I read a lot about it first before making that decision. For the Kindle version, you’ll get an ASIN number, which serves the same purpose, and which is also provided for free. The Kindle version is not done through CreateSpace. We’ll get to that.

Step Five: You need to include metadata. These are the key word searches that you input for the description. You can choose one category for your print book, and you can choose two for kindle. In addition, you get five to seven key words. I recommend using their words – their categories and sub-categories as your key words. It doesn’t matter if the category has two words (like “feelings & emotions) – the words are only counted by the comma between each one.

Step Six: You have to go to KDP Amazon to upload your kindle file. I recommend choosing 70% royalties instead of 35% because I can’t think of why you wouldn’t want to earn more money on your title. I think you should allow for the open distribution (don’t try to limit people sharing your book). Don’t be stingy about free books, book lending, giveaways because it’s a cheap form of publicity and there will always be readers who pay for it.

One last piece of advice on Kindle. I would go for the Kindle Select program for at least three months. It means you can’t upload your book to be made available to any of the other e-readers, which can be limiting. However, you can let people download the book for free for a certain number of days. And that will shove you right up in the page ranks of Amazon and make your book more visible. I think the positive aspects of doing this outweigh the negative. And when you’re ready to quit KDP Select and just have an ordinary kindle account so that you can upload for other e-Readers, the simplest thing to do will be to publish on Smashwords. They will make your book available for e-readers everywhere.

A word to the wise. Make sure your cover and title accurately represent your book. The only two negative reviews I had were to do with the fact that the cover and title were misleading. They expected (I imagine) a fictional romance. And instead they got a memoir about grief and faith. If I had to do it over, I probably would have changed both.


Step One:  If you’re not content with the beginner’s guide, and want the master’s guide, read this before you publish!

Step Two: If you are already a blogger, ask friends and acquaintances (in advance) to do a book review of your book right after it comes out. You should already have been supporting their blog or they will likely not be willing to do the extra work. Make a schedule so that all the reviews don’t fall on the same day. Provide the book for free, and as a nice gesture, link back to them on your own blog on the day their review comes out, saying what you appreciate about their work.

A word on reciprocity. Do your best to read, review and share others’ work. At times people will support you when you cannot return the favour. At other times you’ll support someone who cannot do the same for you. But your reputation precedes you, and it should be one of generosity of spirit.

Step Three: If you’re going to do the 5 days free on Kindle Prime Select (recommended), check out these sites FIRST and decide which ones you will add your book to for extra publicity. Let me reiterate – you can’t give away too many free books. There will always be other people who will want to buy it (because they prefer print or want to give it as a gift or heard about it somewhere), and free books = publicity.

You should plan your free days to fall on Tuesdays through Thursdays, and contact those promo sites in advance. Many of them require two weeks’ notice, although not all. However, I don’t recommend telling your friends and family your book is out until the five free days are OVER! The people who are going to pay for your book are the ones who know you. The ones who will discover you are more likely to do so if your book is free. You can also split the five free days and not use them all at once.

Step Four: Do a giveaway on Goodreads. (Join Goodreads if you haven’t!!). I recommend giving five copies and making the giveaway a month long, and although you have to pay for the print copies to be sent out, it’s not that much with your CS discount. Many of the people who sign up to win the giveaway will add your book to their “to-read” list so you’ll get tons of publicity like that. All of their goodreads friends will see that they’ve added your book.

Step Five: If you decide to do a paid marketing campaign on Goodreads, do it at the same time as your giveaway. Start with a small sum, like $25, and use a high cost-per-click ratio, like 50 cents per click. I found that I didn’t get a lot from this, and that’s why I’m recommending a small sum. You won’t need to ask for your money back like I did. Study samples of other ads before you create your wording.

Step Six: You need reviews. You can sign up here to do an author review swap on Goodreads. You read 4 books in exchange for 4 people reading yours (but they are not the same people). You must leave a review on goodreads and amazon for each book you review, so that’s 4 more reviews for you in both places.

Step Seven: Another great place to get reviews in exchange for giving away free electronic versions (and 3 small Amazon gift certificates) is The Story Cartel.

Step Eight: Submit your book to national book awards. Why not, right? The five cream of the crop awards are found on this website. And the rest of them – many of which seem worthwhile to me (although it can start to get costly), are found here. This is a great thing to put on your bio, and it could get you lots of sales and recognition, even if you were “only” shortlisted. Pay attention to the time of year. All awards are different, but figure out quickly which ones you want to do and note the deadline for each. Most are at the beginning of the year, and since most of them are only for books released the prior year, time is of the essence.

Step Nine: Join Freado. This has an application called BookBuzzr, which is free, and which allows you to put a widget to preview your book on your blog or FB page. Mine is over there to the right – the one that says “A Lady in France Book.” I know it’s not the right size for my sidebar – it’s cut off – and I have a similar widget from Amazon that I could probably do away with. I’ll get to that later.

You’ll figure it out. Although you can get the widget for free, I paid for Freado’s premium service, and I’m almost certain some of the sales can be tracked to that website. I know I can do more to invest in that website, and I will when some of the more pressing deadlines are over.

Step Ten: Actual advertising. I’m only just getting around to this five months in. My budget is not unlimited, but I’m going to advertise on Christian websites for just one month. That’s all I can afford, and I finally surrendered to the fact that it’s my target audience. I wanted my book to reach everyone, no matter where they stood regarding faith, but I can see that the people who will appreciate it most are the ones who share the same faith. So off I go, narrowing my focus for my target audience.

Narrow your focus when you advertise.

Tracking Sales

You only need to know one thing about this, and that is this: There is not one website that shows you all the books you’ve sold.

The print copies that you sell are found in your Member Dashboard on CreateSpace, and your Kindle copies that you sell are found on your KDP Amazon page.

In addition . . . for Kindle, you have to click on “Reports” to see the Sales Dashboard or the Month-to-Date Unit Sales. But even then, in the monthly sales, you will only see the sales. If you want to see how much you sold from other countries, you either need to click on each individual country (there’s a drop down menu), OR you need to click on the Sales Dashboard. This will show you a graph of how much you sold, and it will include all the countries.

A reminder that becoming a premium member of Freado will allow you to receive a daily e-mail telling you your Amazon rank each day – the high and the low, and this is not a bad thing.

It Doesn’t Hurt to . . . 

Step One: Add this application to your FB page. It’s self explanatory, and you can click on my FB page to see what it looks like. It’s the red button up top that says, “Read my Book.”

Step Two: Read this post by Candace Walsh (author of Licking the Spoon). It’s got ten additional marketing tips  (I love the one about getting people to take pictures with your book and pinning it or sharing on FB). And there is also a link to her website where she shares her book club document. Because yes! Contact local book clubs and see if they would be interested in reading your book. She’s created a list of questions that you can use as a basis for your own document. And, ahem, I have yet to finish mine.

Step Three: Contact Pubslush to raise money for your book. This can be pre-publication, in order to pay for design and editing. It can also be post-publication to pay for marketing, advertising, and even translating into other languages.

Step Four: Do monthly Amazon Kindle giveaways for as long as you decide to remain in their Select program. Do another goodreads giveaway. Give books away on your FB fan page. My friend Kristin Duncombe, author of Trailing and fellow expat in France, said that every time she gives her book away, her sales shoot up. And her book is doing very well.

Step Five: You can do an Orangeberry Book Tour*I’m sorry, but I can no longer recommend them. They did not fulfil their obligation.

Step Six: Brand yourself. The image where your book cover should go (on Amazon, FB, Goodreads, etc) should always have the image of the cover of the book. And wherever you need to put an author photo (twitter, blog, Amazon, etc), there should be one. No space for an image should remain blank. Try to use the same head shot everywhere so people recognise you.

I think I’ve covered most of the basics. Marketing can be a serious time-suck, and it’s really exhausting when you’re trying to figure it all out (on top of writing, and (likely) being a parent, and carrying on a full-time job . . . . My advice is to set a time limit each day and do what you can and be at peace with that.

Also, the best thing you can do for your book sales is to keep writing more books. The more people like your style, the more fans you will have who will then buy the books that you have already published, increasing both visibility and sales.

And that’s it. What about you, authors? Do you have any great tips to share? Please leave them in the comments so we can all benefit. :-)

Postscript: Do check out the comments because there are good tips there!


I love to hear from you, friends. You can comment using the box below or your Facebook profile. But FB doesn't notify me of new comments, so if the post is more than a week old and you want to make sure I see your comment, it's better to use the comment box. Merci!

I am the daughter of a symphony musician who was raised in upstate New York, and I simply breathe all things classical, be it music or 19th century literature (English and Russian). I married Sir Renaissance in New York City, and before I knew it, he had swept me up and brought me back home to his own country. So here we are. Three children, a rather ordinary life in a rather exceptional place. I am now ‘A Lady in France.’

Posted in Family, Favorites, The Lady
51 comments on “Beginner’s Guide to Self-Publishing
  1. This is an extremely comprehensive article, thank you. I’ve ben self-published for two years and only got to around half of this! It’s definitely a full time job but worth the effort. Goodreads giveaways and KDP giveaways worked particularly well for my romance novel but not so much for my YA, so genre plays a part too. And, yes, I’ve had reviews that said my title and cover were misleading. I guess you can’t win them all!
    Amanda Martin recently posted…Please Help A Fellow BloggerMy Profile

    • ladyjennie says:

      That’s a really great point, Amanda. I still think it’s worth doing the giveaway, but maybe the expectations should be set, depending on the genre. I only had about 1500 KDP downloads and 1600 entries for the GR giveaway, which I don’t think is a raging success. But I’m grateful for all the people who added my book to their “to-read” list.

      • They sound like good numbers to me! I got similar numbers on the giveaway and my last free promotion for the romance. I did have one giveaway on the romance that must have hit a sweet spot on timing (it might even have been over Easter) where I hit 2000 downloads in a day and made it on the first page on giveaways in the UK. I sold 100 books off the back of it, but have never managed to recreate such glorious success! There is definitely an element of luck. And of course I think reviews help. However my YA has a few 1-start reviews from people who read it after downloading it for free and it not matching their expectations, so it’s a double-edged sword!
        Amanda Martin recently posted…Please Help A Fellow BloggerMy Profile

  2. Lizzie says:

    Wow, there’s a tonne of great info in here, Jennie! Thank you for taking the time to write this!!
    Lizzie recently posted…10 reasons to read Herman Melville’s The Whale (or M.D.)My Profile

  3. Alison says:

    Jennie, you are an angel for sharing all of these great tips! Thank you. And I wish you great success with your memoir, and of course, your books to come (can’t wait!).
    Alison recently posted…I Do Love YouMy Profile

    • ladyjennie says:

      Thank you so much. Your advice and input in this process were invaluable. You led me to a few of these places, and if you had the time right now, people would be beating down your door to get some good solid help.

  4. Andrea says:

    This is a great article, Jennie, and so much great info that I wouldn’t even have any idea about. As for your book, I love it and wish you steady sales for many, many years. xo
    Andrea recently posted…The DanceMy Profile

  5. alexandra says:

    Jennie, what a work…. you should consider publishing this one as well!! THANK YOU!
    alexandra recently posted…10 Breathtaking Moments in My LifeMy Profile

  6. Wow this is awesome. And, it’s prompted me to finally purchase your book!
    christy casimiro recently posted…Team NOLAs trip in picturesMy Profile

  7. ladyjennie says:

    “learn a ton in a short amount of time” – you said it right there!

  8. This is a ton of good info! Thank you for your generosity in putting it together!
    anna whiston-donaldson recently posted…Love Flash Mob!My Profile

  9. angela says:

    What a gift you’re providing to anyone just starting this process (and those who may have missed a few steps that have already published!) Thank you, dear.
    angela recently posted…Drums aren’t all badMy Profile

  10. Wow, what a great resource for any writer! Thank you so much for all your work (and for your book – which I LOVED!)
    Kerstin @ Auer Life recently posted…42.5My Profile

  11. Kerith Stull says:

    Excellent suggestions here! A few I hadn’t heard of, so I was happy (not really) to add some things to my to-do list today!

    I recently published a similar post about self-publishing you might also find useful!

    (Thanks in advance for permission to share the link in the comments here!)
    Kerith Stull recently posted…Six Things I Miss About Living in TexasMy Profile

  12. Pam says:

    Thanks for all this great info!!! I have copied and pasted this link into my “resources for self-publishing” file. I really appreciate you breaking it down like this.
    Pam recently posted…Listen To Your Mother- Why?My Profile

  13. This was wonderful, Jennie. And generous.
    Just like you.

    julie gardner recently posted…Goldilocks and the House FireMy Profile

  14. Whoa – crazy amazing info! You’re incredible! xo
    tracy@sellabitmum recently posted…What Is A Little Free LibraryMy Profile

  15. So much great info! Thank you for sharing all of this.
    Angela Youngblood recently posted…All TogetherMy Profile

  16. Tamara says:

    I’m saving this. I had no idea what self-publishing even was until I was part of The Mother of All Meltdowns. I love how you outlined the process, and I very well might do this on my own. I’s a life dream and all!
    Tamara recently posted…Sometimes I Think Horrible Things About Myself.My Profile

    • ladyjennie says:

      I know. I learned about it at a BlogHer Pathfinder Day, but didn’t consider it until I got two agent rejections. Then I got a headache and decided to go solo.

  17. Korinthia says:

    Wow, what a great service you’ve done for other writers! You are very kind to take the time to lay this out so clearly.

    I would add from my adventures in self-publishing I have been happy with a company called BookBaby that does e-book conversions and gets your work available on all electronic formats for a one time fee. That might be something others could check out as well.
    Korinthia recently posted…Sometimes Yes Begins With NoMy Profile

    • ladyjennie says:

      I forgot about BookBaby! I had taken a look at them, but decided not to use them. This is a helpful resource. I added a postscript, directing people to take a closer look at the comments.

  18. Elaine A. says:

    I am so impressed with you for so many reasons. I want to be you when I grow up. 😉 This is wonderful information!!
    Elaine A. recently posted…2 + 5 = SEVEN!My Profile

  19. Wonderful wealth of information. I’ll share on my pages as soon as I get through coffee.

    One thing you might add is that you can automize your blog so that G+ and FB pick up automatically what you have posted so you don’t have to go and do all those webmarketing things each time.
    Angie Arcangioli recently posted…TH is for throw upMy Profile

  20. Kim says:

    What great tips on such an involved process! How wonderful to have them all in one spot. :)
    Kim recently posted…Glory DaysMy Profile

  21. Jessica says:

    Wow, this is amazing! Thank you so much for sharing! This whole process seemed overwhelming and tenable until now. So for that, thank you!

  22. Nina says:

    Wow!! What a resource!
    Nina recently posted…Makeup, Daughters, and 30 Clean UpdateMy Profile

  23. –Just saved to my favorites.

    thank you, Jennie.

    I shall utilize this! xx
    My Inner Chick recently posted…You Rise Over & Over AgainMy Profile

  24. Hillary says:

    This is a wonderful resource to give to others. Thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge. Your business experience really shines through in this article.

  25. Roxanne says:

    These are some GREAT tips! Thanks for sharing.
    Roxanne recently posted…What I’m doing today…My Profile

  26. Jennie,
    Thanks so much for your post. This is the first time I’ve been on your website, and I’m glad I found it. I have a manuscript that’s pretty much finished. It would fall within the Christian genre. As you know better than I, there are seemingly endless numbers of “publishing companies” that assist authors in self-publishing their books — for a fee. I’ve looked at several of them and talked with a couple. The fees vary, depending on what you want the company to do. It seems, however, that an average fee payable to the publishing company to get the basics you would need runs around $4,000-$5,000. I was wondering if you could share how much it cost you to do what you recommend doing in your post. Also wondering what you think of these self-publishing publishing companies. Any additional assistance would be greatly appreciated. BTW, I have been in touch with Lacey about design assistance. Thanks.
    John Phillips

    • ladyjennie says:

      Hi John,

      I’m just getting back to you now. I don’t recommend publishing companies. I think you can make better use of your money by hiring individual designers and editors and using all the rest of the money for marketing. If you look at Lizzie’s website, she’s got a rate card for professional editing and I think you’ll be able to get both editing and designing for just over $2000 (depending on your individual manuscript, of course), and that leaves you with twice as much to spend on advertising, etc. (And you’ll need it). With a little bit of effort, I really think you can do it yourself.

      Wishing you all the best and many hopes for your success. :-)

  27. Jenna F Hill says:

    This IS awesome! Thank you so much. I am a new writer that recently self published through Shires Press in Vermont. It is an interesting process. I LEARNED so much from this. I have received much help from local libraries and indie bookstores as well (they are going to hold book signing events for me). I am finding this a great way to market as well. I also found your article on which is another way for us indie folks to promote our labors of love. Thank you so much for this, immensely helpful.


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