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