Self-publishing tips and advice from the pros

These self-publishing tips and advice are based on our experience helping hundreds of authors produce professional-grade print books and ebooks.

Our tips will save you time, money, and frustration at all stages—while you’re writing, during production, and after you publish. You’ll get your books back much faster, keep costs down, and even end up with higher-quality books and ebooks.

We know what works and what doesn’t, what makes a project successful (on-time and on-budget) and what makes it go off the rails. This list will continue to grow as we add ideas and tips, so please come back regularly to see what’s new. Ready? Let’s get started.

What do you want to accomplish with your book? Know your goals before you start.

Before making commitments, sit down and figure out your goals.

Do you want to make money from book sales? Do you want to attract new customers for your business? Do you want to launch a career as an author? Or is your book just a hobby project?

If your book is just a hobby project, you can meet whatever quality standards you’re personally comfortable with.

But if your book represents your business (even if you’re distributing it for free), it should be well-designed and top quality. Quality design is a profit center. It will easily pay for itself with more sales, sign-ups or clients, and then keep earning.

If you want to succeed as an author, you’ll also need professional-quality books and ebooks. It’s what retailers, potential buyers, and reviewers expect. An amateur job won’t meet industry standards and will scream “self-published.” Amazon sales will be marginal, and your book won’t get anywhere near bookstores. Publishing well-designed books and well-formatted ebooks will get you where you want to go.

Be thorough during editing and production—don't rush

Rushing leads to mistakes. We see it all the time.

You want to publish your book or ebook as soon as possible. We get it. But please be patient and thorough during the production process. Take your time during editing, design review, and proofing. These are vital elements of quality control, and if you rush through them, you might end up with embarrassing errors in your book or ebook. Then you’ll have to spend time and money getting those mistakes fixed.

When a project has time or cost overruns, it’s nearly always because the author was moving too fast and not being careful. They either missed things or didn’t give their ideas enough time to develop.

As with anything…measure twice, cut once. You’ll get better results, faster and for less money.

Take time to craft the perfect book title.

Don’t just slap on the first title that comes to mind or allow a draft title to stay. Brainstorm ideas. Study other titles in your genre. Your title should hook readers, clearly communicate what your book is about, and be memorable. Are you solving the reader’s problem? Are you promising something the reader is desperate for? Use compelling language. Tighten it until it pops. Cover space is limited, so every single word should pull its weight. Using search keywords is great but only if they sound natural.

Don't confuse production errors (PE) with author alterations (AA).

Typeset proofs are not drafts. You are looking for errors only. Reviewing page proofs is not the time to polish your language or add text. Post-pagination AAs can dramatically increase your project cost and delay delivery, especially if the changes cause rest of the book layout to reflow. They involve creation of a new proof, more author proofing, and, if new errors are found, more production and proofing rounds. Besides adding cost and time, late editorial changes often introduce errors. It’s better to hold off on book production until your manuscript has been thoroughly reviewed and you are sure it is final.

Copyright v. copyright registration

You do not need to formally register your manuscript’s copyright. Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form. However copyright registration is required if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. To register your manuscript, you’ll need to submit a completed copyright registration form to the U.S. Copyright Office along with a copy of your manuscript. (Here is the copyright registration procedure.) For general information about copyright and registration, hop over to the U.S.Copyright Office website and read their excellent FAQ page.

Buy your own ISBNs

The ISBN (International Sales Book Number) is a 13-digit product number used by bookstores, publishers, libraries, internet retailers and other supply-chain participants for ordering, listings, sales records, and stock control. The ISBN identifies the registrant (author/publisher) as well as the specific title, edition and format.

ISBNs are only required for print books, though most authors choose to buy them for their ebooks as well. In that case, each version of your book would need its own ISBN.  For example, if you’re planning to offer a print-on-demand option, as well as an ePUB on iBooks and MOBI on Amazon, you’d need 3 ISBNs.

If you choose to use ISBNs, then be sure to buy your own. If you use the free numbers provided by CreateSpace or other service providers, then they will be listed as the publisher of your book, not you!

For more information check out our post, Self-Publishers Guide to ISBNs: Everything You Need to Know.

Choose your BISAC codes carefully

BISAC subject codes are published by the Book Industry Study Group, a nonprofit publishing industry research group. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Ingram, Bowker, and most major publishers use this list of subjects to categorize print books and ebooks so buyers, sellers, librarians, distributors, and search engines can find them.

When you upload print-on-demand or ebook files you’ll need to assign subject codes (also called browse codes) that best describe the primary genre(s), topic(s), and theme(s) of your book. If you do it accurately, readers will find your book. Each seller uses slightly different categories, but they’re all based on the BISAC list. Here are some tips when assigning your book’s codes.

Be specific. (Never use the “general” label).

Be accurate.

Don’t be redundant.

It helps to search for books similar to yours and see how they are coded.

Booksellers occasionally update their category lists, so be sure to go back every few months to every seller that offers your book and make sure your choices are still the best they can be.