“The harder I work, the luckier I get.”
~ Gary Player

Why self-publish?

With more trade publishers closing their doors to new authors every day, the odds of landing a publishing contract in Australia are starting to mirror the odds of winning lotto. Bookstore shelves are already saturated with titles, and publishers aren’t always keen to invest in unknown names. They are businesses, after all, and every book they take on is a financial risk. Publishing houses have to cover the cost of editing your book, as well as formatting and cover design, printing, distribution and marketing; and like all investments, there is no guarantee of return. It makes sense that publishing houses follow trends and take on only the absolute best of submissions; submissions that they believe will sell. It also makes sense that they like authors with established track records, or a defined public image; authors who can sell their book just because it has their name on the front cover.

Of course, new authors can (and do!) get picked up by trade publishers, and I would encourage any writer to research and approach traditional publishing companies when embarking on their publication journey. If you succeed, your book will be backed by a professional team who are aware that your success is paramount to the success of their own business; the more copies of your book they sell, the more money they make. They will do a lot of the hard work for you, and your book will carry the prestige of a trade publishing company behind it.

So what about those books that DON’T make it into the trade market?

Rejections are simply part of the publication game. While a poorly-written book or lack-lustre storyline will (and should) be binned in a heart-beat, manuscripts can be rejected by trade houses for myriad reasons. I received several rejections for ‘David and the Heart of Aurasius’ stating that while the editor loved the story, their fantasy list was already full. Likewise, I received a rejection for ‘The Brothers of Turoc’ on the basis that the publishing house had just taken on two manuscripts with similar subject matter. Bad timing, a full list, and the personal taste of an individual editor all play a part in the final decision of the publishing house.

Books take a lot of time and effort to write. But just because it’s getting harder to land a contract, doesn’t mean your book has to remain tucked away in your bottom drawer forever.

Self-publishing might just be your answer.

There is no denying that self-publishing your own book is a hard slog. There is a lot to learn, and you have to become so much more than just a writer. But the rewards are tried and true; you retain up to 100% of the profits from book sales – minus any retainers from bookstores and distributors – and with the right attitude, it can actually be a whole lot of fun. After all, what’s so terrible about seeing your dreams come true?

A note on vanity press publishing…

I have attended well over 70 book signings, author visits and various presentations since 2010 and am frequently approached by new writers with questions on publication. I run low-cost workshops and offer one-on-one mentoring to educate writers on self-publishing. I have no financial interest in the books of my clients; but I do have a personal interest in helping others publish their book, and to do so without seeing them go bankrupt. Of course, every writer has the right to do their own research and choose their own path. Personally, I believe that it really is possible for anyone to self-publish their own book, on their own, without forking out thousands of dollars to a middle-man venture that will take a fee to ‘publish’ your book for you. Vanity Press companies, subsidiary publishing and partnership publishing are best avoided if you care about keeping down costs. At my self-publishing workshops I do a simple desktop exercise to explain the financial differences between self-publishing and hiring a Vanity Press, and here it is:

Self-publishing costs vs. a typical Vanity Press publishing plan for a print run of 150 books

Manuscript assessment $200 You should still get this done yourself: $200
Editing $850 Vanity Press tend to supply typographical editing only in their packages, so you’ll still need this: $850
Cover design $1,000 Included (but not necessarily A-grade work)
Interior layout design + ISBN and barcode $350 Included… and to be fair, usually done well, at least for paperback novels
Printing $1200 for 150 copies ($8 per book) $3000 for 150 copies ($20 per book)
1,000 bookmarks for marketing $100 Not included: $100
Book launch $300 Not included: $300
Press release $60 Included
Publishing fee $0 Anywhere between $1,000 and $10,000… on average though, let’s say $2,000
TOTALS: $4060 $6450

So overall, a difference of well over $2,000. But that’s not the end of it. Through a vanity press, your books will continue to cost around $15 or more to purchase and then on-sell. To get anything close to a worthwhile discount on printing you have to order thousands of books. On the other hand, if you self-publish, your book can cost between $5 and $10 to print. Obviously there are exceptions for books like cookbooks and picture books that require expensive papers and binding, but the theory remains; what you pay to have printed yourself, will cost about double to purchase from a middle-man Vanity Press. Remember; they are a business. They need to make money. They WILL tell you self-publishing is too hard to do on your own.

It’s not. Don’t buy it.

Ten steps to self-publishing

I’ve self-published two books with a third on the way. My background is in design and marketing so many of the steps on my own learning curve weren’t quite so rigorous; I took care of most of the design elements of my book myself, plus I already had a handle on printing terms and requirements. Because most writers are not, in fact, designers, I’ve researched a few different options in the design section for you. Feel free to contact me and let me know if you’ve used other methods. Even though I’m familiar with and own industry-grade design software, I sometimes like to try the ‘easy-to-use’ software to see the difference for myself.

1. Content: It's what's inside that counts

This section does not cover much on writing (for that, see my writing tips). What this section does cover is the purpose of your book. It’s hard to end up in the right place without first knowing where you’re going.

Think about each point below. Write the answers down on paper so you can refer to them later.

  • What is your genre? If your book covers more than one genre, make sure you list them all. This will help you build your marketing plan later on.
  • Is your book fiction or non-fiction?
  • What is the word count of your book?
  • List your target audiences
  • What age is your target audience?
    What types of people would buy your book? HINT: This doesn’t always means who will READ the book. Babies don’t buy books, their parents and grandparents do. Who is the person making the purchase?
  • Is the inside of your book text only, or does it include illustrations, graphics, diagrams or photos?
  • What are your skills outside writing?

Right now you should have a fair idea of what kind of book you want to end up with. We have the purpose in mind, now on with the plan.

2. Assessment: Is my book really good enough?

This is the first time you need to find a professional. A manuscript assessor can read your book and let you know what’s working and what isn’t. Some are very thorough and cover characters, plot and writing style in quite intricate detail. Others will give you a general opinion and handful of ideas on how to make your book better.

What is a manuscript assessment?
A manuscript appraisal or assessment is not the same as an edit, but some assessors do include minor editing as part of the process. The important thing is that they are objective. This is the first and hardest step to self-publication because it’s the first time you’re revealing your work to the eyes of others. That is NEVER easy, but it is possibly the most important part of the process. Why? Because it puts you straight on the path to quality.

3. Editing: Cut, copy and polish!

Even if you skip the assessment step, hiring an editor is unavoidable. Running spell check through your word processor is simply not enough. The professionally trained eyes of an editor will pick up inconsistencies, plot issues, bad grammar, missing words, structural problems and more. An unreadable manuscript is poor form; an unreadable book simply won’t sell.

Keep your needs in mind
Does your manuscript need some light polishing, such as a cookbook or instruction manual might, or does it need a complete overhaul of structure, pace, plot and characterisation? Make sure you hire the right editor for the right job to keep your costs as low as possible and the quality of your book in the forefront. There are three basic types of editing: substantive, copy editing and proofreading.

Substantive / Structural editing
Cost: Between $20 – $50 per hour
This is the ‘complete overhaul’ option. An substantive editor will analyse plot, structure, writing style, narrative and characterisation. They are best suited to works of fiction, memoirs, and anything that constitutes a ‘narrative’ work.

Copy editing
Cost: Between $15 – $40 per hour
If the narrative of your manuscript is sound and only requires a brush-up on grammar, consistency in tone, spelling and punctuation, you may only require the services of a copy editor. It’s faster, and therefore cheaper, than an editor, and suitable for non-fiction and instructive texts.

Cost: Between $15 – $30 per hour
The most basic form of editing. A proofreader is the human equivalent of a computerised spellcheck, with the added benefit of beind able to pick up the use of incorrect words (e.g., if you’ve used ‘whether’ instead of ‘weather’). Proofreaders do not edit style, language or tone.

Map out your expectations
Ensure that any editor you hire understands the full scope of the project and can meet your deadlines. Set out payment terms in a contract that both of you sign, and make sure they supply invoices, or at least receipts. Aside from printing and commissioning cover art, this is likely to be your biggest expense. If you’re running your book’s publication as a business (and you should be), and you have registered for GST, you will be able to claim the GST you pay from the ATO.

Finding an editor
Visit the links below for directories of freelance editors and editing services in your state or territory

4. Publication: The necessary basics

Many self-publishers fall into the trap of believing that having your book printed means it has been published. To protect your rights, and to make your book sellable in book stores, there are four important steps you need to complete; sourcing an ISBN, sourcing a barcode, applying for CiP and depositing your book to library archives. These steps can take some time to process, so it’s better to be organised and get the ball rolling well before you’re ready to go to print.

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. You’ll need an ISBN if you plan to sell a paperback or hardback book in a bookstore, launch an e-book on Kindle or Kobo, and if you want your book to be searchable in publication databases around the world (HINT: you do.)

ISBNs can be sourced by anyone through the Thorpe-Bowker website at

Cost: The first time you purchase an ISBN, you need to register yourself as a publisher, which costs $55.00. You can use your own name as the publisher, or a business name, if you own the trading rights to that name.

ISBN Prices
Single ISBN: $40.00
Block of 10 ISBNs: $80.00
Block of 100 ISBNs: $435.00

Unlike ISBNs, barcodes are not essential to have your book published. They do, however, make it more likely for a bookstore to stock your book. It also looks more professional. Barcodes are not required for e-books. Barcodes can be sourced online from Thorpe-Bowker at the same time you purchase you ISBN.

Cost: $45 per barcode

CiP entries
CiP stands for Cataloguing in Publication. This is a free service provided by the National Library of Australia for books to be catalogued before they are published. CiP also supplies you with your dewey-decimal number, which is printed on the copyright page of your book, and is also used by libraries to store information on your title.

CiP entries take about 10 days to process and you must already have an ISBN to apply. Applications can be made online at

Library Deposits
It is a legal requirement that any published book be lodged at the National Library for archiving. There are no forms to fill out, simply send a copy of your book to the address below. Future print editions have to be lodged if they contain alterations, even if they have the same ISBN. If you release both a paperback and hardback edition, the hardback edition must be the one that is lodged.

Post your book to:
Legal Deposit Unit
National Library of Australia
Canberra ACT 2600

5. Cover and interior design: Judging a book by its cover

The phrase ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’ is a big fat lie. Your cover design is possibly the most important part of your book, only just falling shy of what’s between the covers. We live in a world of quick decisions and short attention spans. If the outside of a book is glossy and well-designed, odds are consumers will believe the inside is just as fabulous, and be far more inclined to pick it up and thumb through it. Bad covers are not frowned on or tsked at; they are simply ignored. Which is awful news for your book.

There are three types of artists when it comes to book cover design; graphic designers, illustrators, and graphic artists.

Graphic Designers
Generally the cheapest and most common choice of the three. Graphic designers are artists, yes, but their job usually involves scouring stock photography sites, touching up artwork and piecing design elements like titles, photos and artwork together to make the final layout. (HINT: this is a skill of its own. Many fine artists and illustrators struggle with this step.)

Cost: Anywhere between $30 – $300 per hour. Shop around and get quotes. As much as I believe in keeping the Australian economy strong, there are sites like and where you can find an oversees designer at very low costs. If you’d prefer to stay local, my small business, Vanilla Web Designs, charges $65 per hour + GST for graphic design and we can usually get a cover done in one or two days.

If you want an original piece of art for your book cover, or for the inside for that matter, such as a painting, drawing or mural, expect to pay a lot more than you would pay a graphic designer. As a guide, the Australian Society of Authors state that the minimum amount illustrators should charge for the front cover of a book is $1300, and the back cover $900. As mentioned above, design is a skill separate to illustration, and even if you commission artwork for your cover, keep in mind you may still need to hire a graphic designer to piece the elements of the cover together.

Graphic Artists
Graphic artists are something between fine artists and graphic designers, and their fees also fall in the middle.

Interior Design
There are two options for this step; hire a graphic designer, or lay out the inside pages yourself. There are countless free and licensed programs out there that will automate a lot of the process for you, and it’s not particularly difficult if the inside of your book is quite straightforward, such as a fiction novel that’s made up entirely of prose with no illustrations. Some of the programs listed below even offer templates for more complex books like picture books, non-fiction text books and cookbooks.


*Free word processor very similar to Microsoft® Word*

Clickonprint Photobooks


Book Cover Pro ($90 – $190)

Book Design Wizard for Microsoft® Word ($39.50)
*Creates a template you can use to create your book in Word*

Hiring a designer
On the flip side, if your book has illustrations, photos, diagrams or anything outside of ‘basic text’, hiring a professional designer will be a much easier and less frustrating option. Your book must shout ‘quality’ from the barcode to the free bookmarks you’re going to hand out at your book launch, so an interior that looks like it was put together in Microsoft Word by the lady who makes the school newsletter, is not going to cut it. See under ‘Graphic Designers’ above for an idea of costs and expectations.

6. Printing: Make your mark!

This is often the most costly step, and as such, it’s easy to get ripped off. However, if you sign up with a Vanity Press-type publisher, you will find that you will still need to pay for the printing of your own books, over and above their ‘publishing’ fee. Even trade published authors must pay for copies of their own books.

Before you start approaching printers for quotes, it’s important to have a plan in place already.

How many books are you looking to print in your first run? You can always print more later, but the more you order, the cheaper the cost. As a guide, a few hundred copies is enough to start off with. Choose a printer who offers a fast turn-around time in case your book is a hot seller and you need another few hundred copies in a short time. It’s better to have to order more books than end up with thousands of copies you have to store and distribute yourself.

What else do you need to know?
There’s a lot more involved than just uploading a PDF of your book and saying, ‘Off to the printing press with you!’. The more research you do into what kind of printing is right for your book, the better the outcome, and the lower the cost. Take the time to learn about what paper stock is best for your book, the page and leaf count, book sizing and orientation, colours, and binding. The more information you give to the printer, the less likely they are to sell you a product or service you don’t actually need.

7. Electronic publishing: The wonderful world of e-books

Welcome to the new frontier of publishing! The collective word ‘e-books’ covers a wide range of formats, but essentially refers to a book read on an electronic device. This could be a computer, an iPad, one of a range of specific e-readers (Kindle, Kobo, Nook etc), and even a Smart Phone.

e-Books are fast becoming the new buzz in publishing. By default, e-book publishing obliterates one of the highest costs; printing. e-Books are accessible, affordable and unlike a stack of 50 paperbacks, entirely portable. Traditional publishers around the world are raving about its success, and it’s becoming more and more common for e-book sales to outrank the sales of the same book in hard or paperback versions.

So how hard is it? There is a growing number of tech companies that will convert your file for you, though personally, being a nerdy web designer, I like to format the code of my e-pub files myself in HTML. If you’d like to avoid that kind of migraine and are looking for a cost-effective solution, Smashwords is probably your answer.

Smashwords, your one-stop-e-cbook shop
Smashwords is a clever distribution company that will take your Word document and convert it into myriad formats, then make it available on over 30 platforms. They have extremely strict styling guidelines, but their website is full of useful information on formatting your document correctly. If you follow their directions to a ‘T’, a well-formatted document will get you onto their Premium Catalog, which opens the doors to the most popular e-readers like Kobo and Nook. Their policy with Amazon is a little less conventional, and you have to earn over $1,000 in sales through Smashwords before you can ‘apply’ to have your Smashwords book available on Kindle. In the meantime, there’s nothing stopping you from signing up with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program (KDP) yourself and selling your e-book on Kindle straight away.

To find out more about Smashwords, visit their website and sign up for a free account. They provide services on e-book conversion and formatting, and if you follow their style guides studiously, you can save yourself a lot of the leg work.

Marketing your e-book
Just because your book is now available on Kindle, Kobo, Nook, and whatever else, do not expect the sales to just start rolling in. Like any product in any market, you must TELL people about your book. And even though you’re selling on online product, do not dismiss the value of offline marketing. See under Step 10: Marketing and Promotion for some usefuk tips.

8. Distribution: The Final Frontier

Distribution can be the most difficult part of self-publishing, and is one of the biggest disadvantages a self-publisher has. Trade published titles are distributed on mass to chain bookstores and independents by the big publishing houses. Most chain stores such as QBD and Dymocks will not stock self-published titles, unless there is already a demand for them. As a self-publisher, it’s necessary to be creative about distribution. Below are some suggestions.

  • DISTRIBUTION: Contact distribution companies directly, such as John Reed Books, The Australian Book Group, United Book Distributors or Brumby Books and ask if they take on independently published titles. Don’t be disappointed if they say no; getting a distributor is almost as hard as landing a publisher.
  • LOCAL BOOKSTORES: Approach independent bookstores and ask if they stock books by local authors. All bookstores work on consignment – i.e., where they don’t pay you for the stock until it actually sells – even for the big distributors, so there is little risk for them. I’ve only ever been told ‘no’ by one independent bookstore. Just expect to do all the legwork and following up; they will not chase you to pay for the books that sell. That’s your job.
  • MARKETS: Craft markets, community festivals, school fetes and anywhere you can rent a stall for a day are good ways to sell your book and promote yourself. Hand out bookmarks and be as friendly and charming as possible. I have made numerous contacts from attending markets; it’s not just about selling books. And unlike a bookstore, anything you make outside your stall fee, is all yours.
    Market stalls can cost anywhere between $15 and over $100, so be selective. Visit the market as a patron first to see if it draws the right ‘crowd’.
  • ONLINE: Making your book available online is crucial. Get yourself a website, or if you have one already, add an online shopping page where people can purchase copies of your book straight away through PayPal, without having to jump to different websites and register with another retailer.
  • PUBLIC APPEARANCES: Library visits, workshops, writer’s meetings, seminars; people love to hear from other people how they published their book. Offering to give a free talk at your local library puts you in good stead with librarians (a good thing), and if people like what you have to say about your journey, they will buy your book. A book launch is also a great time to sell books; which is step nine.

9. Book launch: Houston, we are ready for take-off!

Celebrate the release of your ‘new baby’ with a well-organised book launch. Not only is a launch a great chance to sell books and make back some, or all, of your printing costs, it’s the launching pad of your marketing campaign. You can even have more than one book launch; in fact, as long as you have a fresh, captive audience each time, the sky is the limit!

What really matters
I would love to say ‘sales’ or even ‘the book itself’, but the number one thing people remember from book launches – or in fact just about any organised event – is the food. Skimp on entertainment, freebies, lucky door prizes, costumes … but don’t skimp on the food!

10. Marketing and promotion: And all that jazz

Crafting your book into a sellable product is only the first part of the journey. Marketing and promotion requires just as much effort, and a lot more resilience.

Before the book is released:

  • Source a good promotional photo of yourself. You will use it far more often than you think.
  • Write your press release and send it a few weeks before the book is ‘officially’ released. Hire a professional if you need, although there are hundreds of free templates and in-depth guidelines to be found online.
  • Design and print bookmarks. Include artwork from the cover, plus your name and book title, on one side; then include your promo photo, brief spiel on the book, ISBN and your website on the back.
  • Have posters and fliers designed and placed in local libraries to help advertise the launch of the book.
  • Complete a detailed marketing plan outlining exactly who your target audience is; gender, age, occupations, hobbies, demographics, location; and then list ways to reach them. This is the basis of all marketing.
  • Contact your old high school, university, your old primary school, and let them know you have released a book; you will be surprised how many people will ask you to come and give a presentation about your writing journey.

During the book release
On top of the book launch, it’s a good idea to build the momentum of your book and plan an entire book release. Contact libraries and bookstores, local shopping centres, schools – wherever your target audience deigns – and offer to hold a free signing or a talk. Organise this well in advance as library talks are often booked months ahead.

Online marketing
You may be surprised how many people on your Facebook friends list own a Kindle, or have the Blackberry Kobo app, or enjoy reading PDFs on screen rather than paper books. Mirror offline marketing techniques such as narrowing down your demographics. If your book is on decorating cupcakes, join a Mum’s group, a cake maker’s group, a bakery lovers group, a sugar addicts group. There is a group for almost anything on Facebook… get on and tell people about your new book. Include direct links to where the book can be purchased. Include the price. Then step down off the cyber podium and move onto the next group, page or social site. Don’t harp on and on about your book for 20 posts in a row – people will start hiding your updates, making you invisible.

If you don’t have one already, you can set-up a free blog through a site like WordPress, Tumblr or Blogspot. There are countless others, but they do much the same. In the end it’s not about the URL or even the pretty template; it’s about content.

Writers often make the mistake of blogging about writing; specifically, their own writing. While it’s nice to read about somebody else’s experiences and writing successes, you won’t sell a lot of books this way. If you want to fill the internet with blurbs and snippets about your book, get someone to review it. Search for relevant e-zines and book review sites (the site is a good place to start), and offer a free copy of your e-book to the next available review writer. Some writers even like to ‘swap’ e-books for review; your read their e-book and review it, and they do the same for you. Yes, it can be time-consuming. But once a review is posted online, there is a good chance it will stay there for years – and search engines love web articles with longevity.

So if you’re not blogging about your book, what are you blogging about? If you want other writers to read your blog, blog about writing. If you want your blog to be read by your target audience, however, that’s when you need to get creative. Consider these questions:

  • WHO is my target audience?
  • WHAT is my target audience interested in?
  • WHAT subjects would they read about online?
  • WHAT kind of questions would my target audience ask?

The aim of your blog post is to draw the reader in and introduce them to your writing style. Give them something they’re looking for first, and then in one graceful line, at the end of your blog, mention you are the author of Such and Such and it’s available ‘here’ for ‘$$$’. Don’t go over one sentence, and keep your plug until the very end. If your reader doesn’t make it that far, your writing, or your subject matter, was not what they were looking for; and as such, there’s a good chance that your neither was your book.

After the book release
Don’t forget to keep up your online and offline marketing even after your book is released. Continue to run talks and signings. Keep active in writer’s groups and share your publishing story with others. If your book is a standalone venture to enhance your current career or business, then a book release and a few signings may be enough. If you are establishing yourself as an author, get straight back into the process of starting your next book… and good luck!

© Copyright R.J. Timmis, Australia, 2019