Category Archives: Getting started with self-publishing

E-book creation – The Absolute Basics

Should you publish your e-book yourself or is it so difficult that it would be better to pay someone with the necessary skills to do it for you?  

We think it’s very easy and, of course, when you discover the inevitable typo that you, your editor and your proof reader all missed, being able to put it right yourself is a super bonus.

The best way to decide which route to take is to have a dummy run. You’re not going to put this e-book up for sale so it doesn’t matter if your book isn’t completely ready yet.  In fact, any Word file will do but it’s best to use one with chapters so you can see how the chapter breaks work. If it has tables and pictures too, you’ll be able to see some of the problems they can cause but don’t worry about this if there aren’t any in your book.

Several companies allow you to upload your file and turn it into an e-book free of charge, but for this test, we suggest you use Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. The system is very user-friendly and creates a .mobi file which is the right format to sell on Amazon.

Whether you decide to create the ebook yourself or pay someone else to do it, you’ll need an Amazon KDP account to actually publish the book in Kindle format. (Some people will offer to do that for you for a fee or commission but it’s much better to do it yourself.)  So, if you haven’t go an account yet, go to and sign up.  

Now start your test by clicking ‘Add a new title’.  There are  several sections to fill in that you can  ignore for now.   Sections 1, 2 and 3 provide the basic information about the book (title, author etc.).  Section 4 lets you upload a cover or create one with the KDP software. You may want to experiment with that as well in the future, but leave it for now and go straight to section 5. 

Section 5 starts by asking if you want to apply DRM and our advice (see our DRM article) is to leave it set on  ‘no’.  You can then click the browse button which opens a box where you can select the file you’ve decided to put up. The upload starts as soon as you cilck the file. Don’t panic if you click the wrong one: just wait for the upload to finish and try again. 

Uploading and converting takes a little while but when it’s done you can click “Preview book” to see how your book will look on a basic Kindle.  Wow! You’ve made an ebook. It really is that easy.

Amazon suggests, and we agree, that it’s worth downloading their previewer so that you can see how it looks on different devices because they don’t all interpret the file in the same way.  If you have a Kindle e-reader or app, it’s also worth downloading the preview file and side-loading it there.  That way you’ll get a feel for how it looks for real on at least one device.

As you look through your ebook, you’ll probably find various things that aren’t quite the way you wanted. These are probably caused by you having made made things look right in Word in ways that the conversion process doesn’t understand.  For example, indents tend to go wrong if you’ve used the tab key to create them. It’s much better to use the “indent first line” facitily built into Word. Other common problems are connected with page breaks, chapter headings and extra line spaces inserted in the text to show the passage of time.

All these issues can be fixed relatively easily. The help section of KDP offers good suggestions on sorting out the formatting of your Word file, and a quick Google search will show up plenty of other advice online. 

Hopefully, you’ve now got enough confidence to have a go at creating your own ebook when you’re finally ready to publish. There’s nothing to be lost by having a go. You can always turn to an expert for help later  if you run into problems you can’t fix.

Steve and Diana Kimpton

Understanding publishing jargon

Whether you are self publishing or taking the traditional route, you are likely to come across many words that you haven’t heard before. Here are the meanings of the ones you are most likely to meet.

A payment made by a publisher to an author before the book is published.  It’s an advance on future earnings (royalties) from the book but, provided you keep to the terms of the contract, it’s usually non-returnable, even if the book turn out to flop.  Once the book is on sale, any royalties will be offset against the advance until the full amount has been recouped by the publisher. When this has happened, the book has ‘earned out’

Advance Review Copy (ARC)
A copy of a book sent to reviewers, reporters and other relevant people before the official publication date. This helps build interest and enables reviews to be available when the book launches. Continue reading

FAQ for new self-publishers

Do I have to use a self-publishing company?
No. In fact, you will have more control and will probably spend less money if you don’t. But that doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself. (more info)

A publisher has said they will publish my book if I pay them. Is this self-publishing?
No, it’s subsidy publishing and it’s usually not a good idea. The publisher has all the control and keeps most of the profits, while you pay the costs and run the risks. With real self-publishing, you still run the risk but you have all the control and all the profits. You also have control of the costs and may well spend less money. (more info)

How much does self-publishing cost?
That’s like asking someone how long is a piece of string. The cost depends on lots of factors but it can be anything from zero to several thousand pounds.  Decide how much you can afford to spend before you start, and make sure you stick to your budget. (more info)

How many copies will I sell?
No one knows. Even traditional publishers take a gamble every time they publish a book, and they sometimes get their estimates completely wrong.  It’s safest to do your costings on the basis of fairly low sales (hundreds rather than thousands). That way, if you’re wrong, you’ll get a pleasant surprise rather than a nasty shock.

Will my self-published book make me rich?
That’s unlikely and it would still be unlikely if it was traditionally published. Most authors don’t earn a living from their books, and very few earn as much as JK Rowling. But you will earn more per book if you self-publish, and your book will stay on sale for as long as you wish so that income can go on for a long time.

What’s the single most important thing I need to do to be a successful self-publisher?
Write a good book. If you don’t, it won’t get the word-of-mouth recommendations that are vital to driving sales.

What’s the second most important thing?
Produce a high quality book. Make sure it’s laid out well without any typos or punctuation errors and give it a good cover. Contrary to the popular saying, everyone judges a book by its cover. So an amateurish cover suggests it’s an amateurish book.

Do I need an editor?
Yes. You are too close to your own writing to judge it successfully. An editor will come to your book with a fresh eye and spot issues and mistakes you have overlooked. But you need to have the right editor – one who is in tune with what you are writing – and one of the many advantages of self-publishing is being able to choose your own editor.

What’s an ISBN and do I need one?
An ISBN is a unique number given to a specific edition a book which helps bookshops and wholesalers identify it on computer systems. You don’t have to have one, but you’ll need one to sell print books through bookshops and some ebook stores want you to have one too. (more info)

How can I protect my ebook from being pirated?
The standard advice is to put DRM (digital rights management) on the book, but DRM doesn’t work because it’s so easy to remove. So I think it’s sensible not to worry too much about piracy. Most readers will prefer to buy an inexpensive, virus-free version of your book from a reputable site rather than go to a dodgy piracy site and download a marginally cheaper or free version that might contain viruses. Anyway, those that do choose the pirated version probably wouldn’t have bought the legitimate version anyway so you haven’t lost any sales and may even gain word-of-mouth recommendation. (more info on DRM)

Diana Kimpton


Getting help with self-publishing

Traditional publishing is a team effort. No one at a publishing company can do everything, so the company hires full time staff or freelancers to do the various jobs involved in producing a book.  The same applies to self-publishing. When you decide to take the independent route, you become a publisher and, just like the CEO of Penguin, you can buy in the skills you need from experts. So let’s look at the steps involved in publishing a book to see where you may need help. Continue reading