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Self-Publishing: Baby Steps

By Scott Nicholson

If I can’t talk you out of self-publishing, the least I can do is get you thinking like a pro. Because once you decide to become a publisher, you have no more excuses and no one to blame but yourself. You have just promoted yourself to executive editor, CEO, sales rep, publicist, accountant, and copy clerk.

The first step is finding quality editing, either through the fine professionals here at Blood Red Pencil or highly skilled friends. If you’re going to use peer editors, I’d recommend at least three different readers, but one experienced person should give it a thorough final edit. Usually, you come up with not only a better book but better writing skills for a lifetime.

While the book’s out for edits, you’ll want to round up cover art. I have been using Neil Jackson at Ghostwriter Publications, and we have a trade arrangement where I format his e-books for design work. He does some covers for hire so you can check with him, and there are a number of other high-quality cover artists out there, usually charging in the range of $50 to $300, depending on what you want.

If you’re going indie, you’ll definitely want an electronic copy, and you can learn simple formatting yourself. However, once you see what a professional can do, you’ll find it’s well worth the money. Don’t forget, once you’ve made these investments, the file should be yours for a lifetime of income. And the two biggest e-book markets–Amazon and Barnes & Noble–allow the author to directly upload and manage his own accounts with ease and get paid directly instead of waiting for a bi-annual royalty check that may or may not come.

Ted Risk at Dellaster Design is an artist when it comes to formatting. I know the basics but he takes it up a notch, putting in the cover, table of contents, links, and other digital tools that enhance the digital reading experience. Here’s what Ted says:

“When introducing the Kindle e-book reader Jeff Bezos said that the physical book's most important feature, and that which is the foremost goal of Amazon's device, is that it disappears. The ink and paper - or pixels and plastic - are forgotten and what remains is the author's world.

“Likewise, the most important aspect of good e-book formatting is that it goes unnoticed. Bafflement should come from the mystery presented by the writer, not by inconsistent paragraph and scene breaks or by non-standard typographical conventions.

“Aside from the amount of text that can be presented at once on the screen, the page of an e-book should look just like a page in a printed book. Such conventional formatting is time-tested and what most readers are used to. It's guaranteed, as with a paper book, to get out of the way, to disappear, and allow reader immersion in the author's world.”

Depending on your level of computer skills, you should be able to create an e-book account at Amazon’s digital text platform and B&N’s PubIt in short order, uploading your book files and plugging in descriptions and keywords. It might seem daunting at first, but it’s really no harder than running a blog or attaching files to an email.

And for all your hard work, you get 100 percent of the net proceeds for the life of copyright. Not even a New York publishing CEO gets that kind of deal.

In the next installment, we’ll look at formatting your book for paper, since you may as well take advantage of print-on-demand technology and meet those readers yet to to make the digital transition.

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Scott Nicholson is author of 12 novels and five story collections, publishing in mass market, small press, and solo. He's created four comics series and written six screenplays, and also works as a freelance editor and journalist. He's currently on a 90-day Kindle Giveaway Blog Tour. Visit for free e-books to sample Ted Dellaster's work.


  1. Great information, Scott. Thanks, especially, for the links. Those give writers a place to start their search. Are your comic series digitally published?


  2. I have really been learning a lot from your posts on self-publishing, Scott. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and resources.

  3. If the author gets 100%, what does he pay amazon? They must make money somehow. I'm just curious - it all sounds so very do-able. Gee, like the author could actually make a living at this game. Thanks!


  4. >>>If you’re going to use peer editors

    Oh god, don't. Just don't. I was sent something by someone and I shredded it. It was just awful stuff. He resented the honesty. You WANT THAT HONESTY. Hire a pro.

  5. All info on e-publishing is welcome these days, so thanks, Scott.

    I now have the rights back to my first mystery so am having a new cover designed. And I'm signed up for a class on Nov. 2nd to learn everything else I need to know. At least I have the advantage of the final edited copy from my original publisher, which saves me cost of hiring an independent editor. Small blessings...

  6. Since I've been toying with the idea of self-publishing, this is a great article for me! Thanks, Scott!


  7. Helen, the comics are as PDFs only right now, and I am working with Dellaster Design to format them for iPad and hopefully Kindle.

    Dani, I said "100 percent of net," which is all money after costs. Amazon takes 30 percent of gross, or selling price, as their cut. That is for ebooks priced at least $2.99. If it's less, they take 65 percent. So you're making a royalty of up to 70 percent of cover price (compared to the 4 to 25 percent most publishers pay for ebook royalties).

    Yes, Mike, hire a pro or be a pro, but people have to start somewhere. If no one has ever seen your work, why not see what someone says before you go any further?

    Obviously, I recommend investing in your work to comete at a professional level and with the resources today, you can actually produce e-books that are more professional than many major publishers, who are working from scans of paper pages.


  8. That total responsibility is both exciting and daunting. I enjoy taking charge of my own happiness, but, I will admit that sometimes it's handy to have someone else to blame. That's one reason I want to be totally prepared and ready for the long haul going in, because I will not have anyone to blame. Thank you, Scott, for sharing.

  9. Hey, editor, where are you? Sent you something to your editing email yesterday. Too busy blog touring? Ha. Just kidding.


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