How I Self Publish

Just the other day, I was asked how the publishing process works. It’s an excellent question, but not one that’s suited to a simple reply in a comment. There’s a lot that goes on with publishing, even ignoring editing and the writing of a book! I’m going to go over how I do it below.

Traditional vs. Self-Publishing

This is one of the things I want to address first. I’m self-published. That means that I come up with an idea, write the book, pay for editing, pay for cover art, and otherwise make all the decisions on writing the books myself, including on advertising. This gives me incredible freedom to do whatever I want in my books, but it also means I don’t have (potentially) dozens of editors to go over the book at each stage, marketing experts to promote it, or the countless contacts those who work with traditional publishers would have.

Traditional publishers (commonly called the Big Five) have some significant advantages, and for many authors it’s a dream to get a contract with one of them. I’m one of those who doesn’t mind the idea, but I’m not certain how well it would mesh with the way I write. I just don’t know, since I haven’t gone through the endless cycle of rejection letters I’ve heard of. I just went ahead and published the first full novel I finished and thought was decent, Ancient Ruins, which launched my self-publishing career.

That said, there are advantages to self-publishing as well. One of the big things is the sheer freedom a self-published author has. Simply by their nature, traditional publishing (so far as I know) aims to make sure the novel is enjoyable for the largest audience possible. They have to, with all the people whose careers are based on making enormous numbers of sales on books. A self-publisher like me can get by on numbers of sales that might not pay the salary of a single person at a traditional publisher. In fact, I’m going to tell you how much I made in 2019.

In 2019, I earned $55,120.77 (USD), and spent $25,236.70 on various things, including software (Office 365), cover art, editing, and audiobooks. Most of that expense was art and audiobooks. I should add that 2019 was my worst year since I started self-publishing, and I got insanely lucky to earn that much that quickly. And Ancient Dreams blew my socks off for a first year.

As you can see, minus expenses, I didn’t make enough to pay an editor’s salary for the year. Yet at the same time, I made more than double what I did my best year working at my previous job, so it’s a net gain for me (and I’m excluding my wife’s income, I should add). However, all of this is a digression from the main subject, which is the subject of the advantages of self-publishing.

As a self-publisher, I have less overhead (fewer expenses), and more freedom to explore a smaller niche. In my case, high fantasy, polyamorous lesbian romance. Plus dark themes. I also don’t have to wait a year and a half to three years after finishing my book to see it published, as I can instead publish it days after completion. I’ll be honest, from the time I get a book back from the editor, I rarely wait more than 10 days to publish it, and that’s mostly because I aim to release on a Monday and Amazon requires me to upload a pre-order 4 days early. Now, on to the main subject the actual publishing process for me.

Self Publishing on KDP (Amazon)

KDP stands for Kindle Direct Publishing. Anyone can create an account and upload a book if they want to, but making the book good takes a fair bit more work. You can create both ebooks and paperbacks on the site, and while it isn’t the easiest of the storefronts I’ve worked with, it isn’t the hardest either.

Let’s skip the editing process and dive right into things, shall we? Assume I have a novel ready to be uploaded, and I didn’t set up a pre-order this time around. For me, I do my writing in Microsoft Word, and I have a template that’s pretty much identical to what you’d see in the kindle, just not as pretty. I set up that template because it allowed me to upload it directly to KDP and come out looking decent.

Instead, these days I use a program called Vellum to set up the file. Vellum is only for Mac, so I bought a Mac Mini to run it, and it’s saved me enough time to more than pay for the cost of the computer and program at a minimum. (Seriously, it has saved me about a day of work for every single paperback in my catalog, possibly more.) I transfer it over to the Mac, upload the file, do a few minor adjustments to the front matter and backmatter, and have it generate the files to upload for both a paperback and ebook. All told, this usually takes about 20 minutes, though all Lilith’s Shadow books take about an hour (the location/date tags are a pain, and I wish I’d never put them in). Then I transfer the files back to my main computer.

At this point I log into KDP and click the button to create a new book. On this page, there are a lot of settings. The language you’re writing in, subtitles, contributors, publishing rights, and more… but the most important ones to me are as follows; the title, author, description, keywords, categories, and pre-order. Title, author, and description are pretty self-explanatory, so I’ll ignore them. I plug in what I’ve got (descriptions are hard, by the by), and move on to the others.

Keywords are simple and complex all at the same time. You get seven of them, and they’re words, up to 50 characters in length, that both define some of the genres the book appears in (if you write ‘strong heroine’ you’ll show up in superheroes, for some reason), and if someone searches using some of the words from a keyword, your book might come up. For instance, Dusk Gate uses Dark Fantasy Adventure, so if anyone types in Dark Fantasy in Amazon’s search, or Fantasy Adventure, or any individual word, my book might come up. Not very high in the rankings, most likely, but it might show up. As you can see, this can make it hard to know where your book will show up. I heard of a romance novel showing up in Christian Fiction because of a keyword once, and it had nothing to do with Christian Fiction.

Categories and pre-order are pretty simple comparatively. You choose two categories, which are some of the classic ones like ‘Fantasy>Superheroes’ for Lilith’s Shadow or ‘Romance>Lesbian’, which are the only categories you get to choose for yourself. Pre-orders just determines whether you are intending to release the book immediately (dependent on their review process), or as a pre-order (which has to be 4 days out). Once you have all of that set, you move on to the next page.

This page is pretty simple, comparatively. You have whether or not you want Digital Rights Management enabled (I do it, though I’ve dithered on it before), whether you want to upload your manuscript now or later (only an option with pre-orders), whether to use their cover creator or upload your own, an option to preview your book (important to make sure it looks right!), and an optional spot for ISBNs, which are not required for ebooks.

For me, these options are simple. My file is pre-made by Vellum, though I could upload my edited Word file with pretty good results, I make my own covers using Affinity Photo these days (I take the art and add text to it, done), and I don’t use ISBNs. So I move on to the last page of the publishing process.

This last page isn’t too complicated, really. First is whether you want to enroll in KDP Select, AKA Kindle Unlimited. I say yes, since it’s a decision I can revisit every 90 days, and it allows me to select the 70% royalty option. You say whether you have the full worldwide rights or just specific territories (for me, it’s all, but if you had paid to translate a book, and had just rights in a certain market, that’d change things). Then you choose a royalty plan, either 35%, or 70%. This is the percentage of the list price you keep, though 70% has some caveats. They charge you for the size of the file being distributed (which comes out of your royalties), and it has to be in Kindle Unlimited. Then you set the price in your primary marketplace (to be in Kindle Select, it has to be between $2.99 and $9.99 as a self-publisher, except when you’re using your 1 week of sales during each 90-day period). You can also manually set the price for each other Amazon market (.co.uk, .de, .ca, and so on), but they automatically convert prices, so I usually don’t bother.

Finally, there’s ebook lending. This is a setting which allows people who own the book to lend it to one other person for fourteen days, but only once. It’s automatically enabled if you’re in Kindle Select (Which means for all of you who bought any of my ebooks, you can lend it out once! I have no idea how this works, though.)

With all of that done, you can either hit Save as Draft, or Publish. Once you hit publish, the entire entry is locked until Amazon reviews it. They say it should take 72 hours or less, but usually it takes less than 8 hours, recent events notwithstanding.

A slightly different discussion is getting paid, but I’m not going to get into that. Generally, though, I get paid royalties for a given month 2 months after the end. So any sales in October will be sent to my account at the end of December.

I hope that this long-winded explanation was informative, at least!

2 thoughts on “How I Self Publish

  1. Fantastic and inspiring. I’ve looked over the page myself but felt a bit overwhelmed with the amount of information and options they hit you with and felt that it wasn’t worth it. Your post actually cleared up a lot of the questions for me. Though it has raised another. What exactly does Vellum do for you? Is it just formatting, or is there more to it?

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  2. I’m glad that it explained some of your questions! Believe me, I understand on the sheer number of options on the page, though nowadays I’m so used to it that I don’t really blink at most of them. One of the hardest parts of putting a book together for me (aside from the writing, of course) is choosing keywords. A lot of people are better at them than I am, so I’m not going to go into that. Suffice to say, I sort of fumble and flail about, choosing things I think might work.

    Now, as to Vellum. What it does is allow you to put together pre-made themes and universally apply them across chapters, put in subtitles, images, images that are links (say, an image of your next book cover and a link to it in the store), and things like that easily. It isn’t perfect by any means, but it helps optimize the layout of the books. The thing it’s particularly good for is when you’re publishing to multiple storefronts. See, Google Play, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Amazon, Apple… many of them require different file formats (though they seem to be slowly drifting toward epub files), and Vellum supports a lot of them, allowing you to export a single book in multiple formats in seconds. The version that does PDF files (for print books) costs more ($100 vs. $250 when I bought it), but it can use the exact same file you use for the ebook, and you can tell it whether a given page is only in the ebook or pdf file, and it’ll export it quickly. You also have a decent amount of control over font, font size, line spacing, and other things.

    On a personal level, the reason I use Vellum is because it saves me an enormous amount of time. I formatted Dusk Gate today for publication, and also prepped a chapter of Queen’s Journey to share with my Patrons on Monday. All told, between both projects, it took me maybe 15 minutes to get everything put together, and that’s with changing some of the backmatter of the ebook version. Comparatively, the time I put Ancient Ruins into a template manually (this is just the paperback), it took me at least 12 hours. Sure, I probably could cut that down to four or five, but that’s a lot of time. Similarly, I could get my Word Document to give pretty good results, but it wouldn’t be as attractive and it’d take me longer to check for problems. I’m guessing that Vellum has saved me enough time to more than pay for it’s cost (and the mac mini) at least, and maybe even as much as half again more.

    Now, KDP has a ‘Kindle Create’ thing available now, which is supposed to allow you to optimize a file for publication and give you their recommendations. I have no idea how well or not it works, ’cause I already bought Vellum, and it’s part of my publishing process. I know some authors who use it, and haven’t heard much about it one way or another, but it might be perfectly good. Personally, if you’re looking into the idea of self-publishing, I’d say take a look at Kindle Create first, and if it suits your needs, great! I’d still learn how to do it myself, but that isn’t necessary.

    Hope that answers the question for you!

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