How to Start a Self-Publishing Business

Self-Publication is a trend that planted its roots over forty years ago, in 1979. However, this process was long, arduous, expensive and often viewed as vanity, instead of an entrepreneurial endeavor.

It wasn’t until 1990 when the first eBook (electronic book) was available and even then, it was not a popular option among the greater population. While Print on Demand (POD) books were a developing technology in the 90’s, there was no significant, widespread availability for authors.

By 2007, the ultimate heir to the eBook and POD throne was conceived; Amazon’s first Kindle eReader was released.  (This was not the first eReader, but it was and continues to be the most prolific). The Kindle eReader caused a paradigm shift in what was possible for authors; aspiring and otherwise.

After that, the self-publishing world continued to flourish into the booming industry that it is today.

This guide will help aspiring authors navigate the many options that are presently available to them for starting their own Self-Publishing business.

How Does Self-Publishing Work?

The world of self-publishing is based on POD or Print on Demand books and eBooks. This is how millions of authors can publish their books without having a warehouse to store them. POD Books and eBooks are both cost and space-efficient, while still offering value, both in time and money, to the customer.

eBooks: Electronic books or eBooks have revolutionized distribution for self-published authors and businesses. eBooks can be created and put on the market within a few days, at most, being sold to people all over the world. That is a pretty amazing for most authors and it can be a lucrative opportunity as well. Even though most of the books available as an eBook are priced under four dollars, with such a large and instantaneous market, the prospects are endless.

POD Books: Still to this day, when authors are picked up by traditional publishers, the contract will include a specific number of printed books. Those books would then be shipped to bookstores throughout the country, or the world, depending on the reach of the publishing company and the rest would be stashed at a warehouse until they were sold. If they don’t get sold, the author or the publishing company will be stuck with excess inventory.

With the Print on Demand platform, the book is only printed when an order is sent through. Whether a single copy of the book is ordered or an entire wholesale order, the printing is the same. That way, every book received by your readers is literally fresh off the press.

How do I Start a Self-Publishing Company?

Starting a self-publishing company is a great idea, whether you are publishing for yourself or collecting other authors and publishing books for them. Starting a self-publishing company is great for these reasons:

  • Authority: Creating a company offers a stable sense of authority for the author and anyone who works with the author (editors, freelance writers, illustrators, beta reviewers, etc.)
  • Central Hub: The creation of a company also helps the business centralize their business efforts.
  • Protection: A company protects the author and their work.
  • Expansion: A company helps lead to the authors expansion, both with their own endeavors and with other indie authors.

Using a Pen Name When Self-Publishing

Using a Pen Name when self-publishing is an extremely personal decision. For the author, it could be an alias that they like, it could work with their genre, or it could just be their own name; it does not have to be another name. In fact, many authors opt to use variations of their real name, such as J.K. Rowling whose name is Joanne Rowling. Yet, that doesn’t quite have the catchy ring that her pen name has.

When you are creating a self-publishing company, however, there are a few different reasons you might want to use a pen name (or more than one pen name) to publish your works. For instance, if you are writing different genres, you might want to choose pen names to separate your work. Stephen King is not likely to write a children’s book. (Even though most people would read it.) The point is that some markets demand a differentiation.

Your pen name is the epicenter of your author persona. Yet, that persona might only work for a specific genre, or you just want to have fun with it. Regardless of the reasoning, choosing a pen name is important because it plays a large role in how people perceive your book.

How to get an ISBN number for Self-Publishing

ISBN numbers are the social security number for your book. It is the identification that solidifies the uniqueness of each book. While amazon and other services offer free ISBN numbers, it is important to understand that those are not specific to your business. At best, those ISBNs are linked to an “independent publisher” or they are registered to the entity the book is published with. This is not your self-publishing company, which can make deal a serious blow to your credibility as a serious business.

To rectify this situation, instead of taking the free ISBN, it is best if you buy the ISBN directly from the source. Bowker is the most reputable place to buy ISBNs.

*Note: The more ISBNs you buy, the less expensive they are. Therefore, if you are planning on self-publishing multiple books, it is a good idea to buy ISBNs in bulk. Additionally, self-publishing business only need to buy ISBNs. You do not need to buy a barcode if you are using a common self-publishing platform, such as Amazon, Ingram Spark, or Barnes and Noble.

What is an AISN number?

An AISN number is strictly for eBooks. Amazon provides AISN numbers for free and if you are only creating an eBook, you do not need anything more than an AISN.

How to Format a Manuscript for Self-Publishing?

Formatting a manuscript for both eBooks and print books is more intimidating than it is difficult. With the multitude of tools provided by self-publishing platforms, formatting your manuscript for publication is relatively simple. Here are the three key elements that you need to know before trying to upload your manuscript to a publishing platform:

Headings: Most office suites (Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Pages) have easily accessible headings. If you do not see Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3… or H1, H2, H3…on your word processing toolbar, search for it and enable it, as it will be useful to have on hand. This is what you are going to use to organize and prepare most of your manuscript. Inserting correct headings help self-publishing platforms update your table of contents and allows the program to know where chapter breaks are located.

H1: This heading is used for the most important portion of the texts. Sometimes, H1 is reserved for the title, if there is not a “Title” heading but H1 is not always used.

H2: Heading 2 is the most common heading. It is usually the heading that is used for chapter headings.

H3: This heading is not always used but can be used for subheadings. This is not the most important text, obviously, but it is still important enough that the self-publishing program should take notice of it.

H4 and Beyond: H4 and other headings are primarily used in guides, some self-help books, reference books, and other non-fiction works. It is rare that H4 and below is used to highlight any text in a fictional book (or in most non-fiction books). Yet, that doesn’t mean it is impossible. Just use it sparingly.

Font and Size: When submitting a manuscript, you want to use Times New Roman, Arial, or Courier, 12-point font. This is clean font, which is easy to read, and simple to work with. There are styling options within each self-publishing platform. However, when you are uploading font and size, you want to make it as simple as possible for the program to read and upload.

Pictures: There are some manuscripts that are greatly improved by the insertion of pictures. Children’s books, reference guides, and other works include pictures to enrich their content. However, you do not want to insert pictures prior to uploading the manuscript. That will be done later, with the guide of the self-publishing program. Instead, mark the photo’s location like this:

[Insert Picture01.jpg here]

This is important because it helps earmark the place for the picture but does not complicate the initial upload.

How to Create a Book Cover for Self-Publishing?

There is an old saying to never judge a book by its cover, but to be fair, that saying found relevance before the internet. While the saying might still be true for people, the cover illustration often clues the reader in to the amount of time and talent went into creating the book. The cover is the first impression of the book. Every time a potential reader looks at your cover, it is like your book is sitting down for an interview. The potential reader is looking at everything from your title to your color variations in deciding whether your book is worth their valuable time. Therefore, it is important for you to do a good job with your cover. It is your duty to make your title a correct representation of your book.

Self-publishing platforms offer cover creators that help you devise the right size for a cover. Unfortunately, besides colors and a few generic pictures, there aren’t many options to choose from. (Basically, if you create covers for any length of time, it becomes abundantly obvious who threw a cover together using one of these cover creators and who put thought into their primary representation.)

Now, this doesn’t mean those cover creators are bad or you should not use them. They can be great for sizing your cover and helping add a title and other important information. Yet, if you only use their designs, it is going to show.

Here are a few of the best sites to find Creative Commons, zero-cost images for your book:

Once you have found/created your main image for your book cover, you must get the size of your book cover. For eBooks, this is not overly difficult, as it is one front image. However, when you are creating a print book, there are certain guidelines that need to be covered and considering books vary in thickness, there is no exact measurement that covers every book. However, her is an explanation and cover template from Amazon.

If you are using a self-publishing platform, your cover will either be approved or denied. The denial of a title will be accompanied by a reason why. In that case, you’ll need to edit the book cover meet the specified requirements. That way, you and the platform can ensure the book will look its best.

Where Can I Self-Publish My Book?

A quick search engine query for self-publishing will yield a litany of places that ‘claim’ to be able to help you self-publish your book. Wading through these results, especially for a beginner, can take longer than writing the book. Therefore, if you are new to the self-publishing sphere, it is a good idea to stick with the tried and true methods of self-publishing. Here is an overview of each of the legitimate and helpful self-publication methods:


Kindle/Amazon is by far the most popular site for self-publishing books. It is become the industry-standard for self-publication, indie authors, and indie publishing companies.


  • KDP can provide a free ISBN to publish your paperback
  • is a global database of print books maintained by Bowker (the US ISBN agency) and consulted by publishers, libraries, and booksellers.
    •  The Publisher field will read “Independently published” for ISBNs obtained in this manner.
  • For self-publishing businesses, however, it is always better to buy your own ISBN. That way, you have control over the publisher field name and the barcode will link back to your business.

Creating a Professional Cover

  • Amazon provides a Cover Creator tool to help you design a unique cover that is pre-formatted to meet Amazon and Kindle’s expectations. This helps move the publishing process along with ease.

Formatting Your Manuscript

Kindle and Amazon help authors by automatically converting their manuscript into a compatible file for both an eBook and a print book. Amazon has devised a beautifully simple system for self-publishing companies (and other indie writers) to format their manuscript. This system is called Kindle Create and it guides authors through the process of formatting their manuscripts appropriately.

    • Download is Available for PC and Mac
    • eBooks created using Kindle Create are compatible with Kindle devices and apps.
    • Automatic Updatable Table of Contents
    • Scans for Document Headings to create the Table of Contents
    • Allows User to Edit and Update their Table of Contents at will
    • Flows with the editing process and updates as necessary

Editing Manuscript After Downloading

Amazon offers a lot of editing and styling options for individual books, after the initial upload. Here is a collection of what can be done through the Kindle Create platform for both eBooks and print books.

  • Styling
    • Set styles of chapters, title, the first paragraph of a chapter and other preferences right on the Kindle Create interface.
    • Make your book visually unique with separators
    • Define different portions of the book as you go
  • Preview and Editing
    • Instant Preview of how the book page will look when published
    • Interactive editing and instant updating of manuscript
    • The old preview and editing system on KDP worked well enough but at times, it is cumbersome and slow. This new system promises to be faster and seamless.


  • The Print Book will be available throughout US and Europe via these avenues:
    • de
    • fr
    • es
    • it

What happened to CreateSpace?

CreateSpace was once the industry standard for print books. Self-publishing businesses and indie authors would publish their eBooks on Amazon and their print books through CreateSpace. It was not a bad system, but it was not the best system either. The biggest complaint about this system was that self-publishers had to deal with two different interfaces to publish one book. (Even though, as of 2005, CreateSpace was owned by Amazon.

However, in July of 2018, CreateSpace was officially consumed by Amazon fully, which discontinued the CreateSpace POD service. Subsequently, all the titles on CreateSpace were added directly to Amazon. This solved the major issue that self-publishing businesses and indie authors had with the platform.

Ingram Sparks

Ingram Sparks is more of a service that helps indie authors publish their book. Its main draw is that it gives books the exposure to over 40,000 retailers and libraries, it posts the books to Amazon, Apple, Kaboo, and Barnes & Noble. Plus, it gives the author in-depth, online sales reports. Ultimately, this is more of a convenience, which charges the author a fair amount, starting with an upfront charge of $49 for both an eBook and print book.


Authors that use Ingram Sparks must provide their own ISBN number and editing services. Although, they do provide publishing tools, such as publishing courses and downloadable guides.

Creating a Professional Cover

Ingram Sparks does not offer any kind of cover creator. Authors must provide their own cover art.

Editing Manuscript After Downloading

Ingram Sparks offers a free file creation guide.


Exposure is the main game for Ingram Sparks. In addition to sending it to over 40,000 global retailers and libraries these are the major areas of exposure that Ingram Sparks offers:

  • Amazon
  • Apple
  • Kaboo
  • Barnes & Noble

Here is a more comprehensive list of the exposure each title receives through Ingram Sparks.

Barnes and Noble

Even with their recent issues, every author wants to say their book is associated with Barnes and Noble. The Barnes and Noble Press gives self-published authors that distinction, sort of. While your book will not be available in Barnes and Nobel stores across the country, it will be available on the Barnes and Noble website. This self-publishing service is available for both eBooks and print books.

Barnes and Noble is more comparative to Amazon, as it offers indie authors a platform to sell their books without an upfront cost. However, the platform is otherwise an extremely straight-forward publishing platform. There is little assistance or access to assistance from this platform, unless you want to team up with B&N approved third-party businesses. (Pro Tip: When you are starting a self-publishing business, you don’t want to use this option. It is easier, cheaper, and more conducive to your growth to hire your own people.) For a one-off author, third-party involvement like this is fine but it is less acceptable for a business.

The process for Barnes and Noble does not offer a plethora of options like Amazon’s platform but its simplicity is effective. This platform is great for self-published companies who already have formatted cover and internal files. If that is the case, this is the quickest and easiest way to self-publish a book, as titles are posted to the site within 72 hours.


Barnes and Noble does not provide an ISBN. Authors need to bring their own ISBN to the platform to use their service.

Creating a Professional Cover

There is no conventional cover creator, yet Barnes and Noble does offer guides and help formatting your cover and internal files.


Barnes and Noble leads authors through a specific format to ensure their book is ready to go on sale.

(Pro Tip: Use Amazon’s design tools and for your initial formatting and then upload the formatted file. That will help this process move along smoothly.)


The exposure is interesting. Automatically, the eBooks and print books are available on and through the eReader, Nook.

Although, there are certain parameters that give bestselling authors on this platform an opportunity to sell in-store and even have a store event. Here is more information on these interesting opportunities.  

Additional Information:

The Barnes and Noble self-publishing platform also allow authors to create and sell a hard-cover version of their book. Considering the ease of use this platform is known for, this is an awesome perk of the platform.

How do I Make Money Self-Publishing?

How Much can You Make Self-Publishing?

Always remember that a self-publishing business is like any other business. The amount of money that can be made is relative to your success. There are two parts that contribute heavily to your profit as a self-publishing business: Quality Books and Promotion.

Often, the amount of quality books that you produce helps catapult your promotion efforts and opportunities. Ultimately, these two factors work together to make you successful.

Quality Books: Every business is based on a known level of quality. Most business, however, operate on quality versus quantity. Yet, self-publishing businesses are an exception. There are millions of self-published books flooding the market. Therefore, it is important to get your books in front of readers. Having a lot of books, across various genres and enriched with multiple series for readers to follow is paramount to success.

The more you write and the more you have to offer, the more earning potential you have. The more books you have, the easier it is for readers to stumble upon your work, or your business’ work. However, every single one of your books need to be quality.

Promotion: When you own a self-publishing business, the promotion of one book or author is the promotion of every book and author in your company. A self-publishing business is a growing network. Therefore, the more you promote your books, the more money you can make.

So, how much can you make? According to the Guardian, the average self-publishing author makes $1000 per year from their book. However, if you are a self-publishing business, you are working with multiple books, and/or multiple authors. Therefore, the more your books and authors make, the more you make. It’s all a numbers game but there is exponential potential for a self-publishing business.

How do I Promote My Self-Published Book?

Promotion is the key to self-publishing success. Garnering exposure and getting your name and the name of your book out into the public is vital. That might sound like a no-brainer, but it is amazing how many people don’t market themselves effectively…or at all.

There are many authors who do all this work to write, edit, and publish their book. They finally get it out there. They are so proud of their accomplishment and then…Nothing.

The authors just leave it there, taking up digital space, wishing and hoping that someone will stumble upon it through their web surfing. However, that simply isn’t how publishing a book works.

When you become a self-published author, you are the reason your book succeeds. You are not just an author. You are a marketer, a promoter, a specialist, an influencer, and likely the best cheerleader your book is going to ever have. Therefore, you need to continue to work on getting it in front of people. Right now, there are millions of self-published books available on the internet. Each author is only a brushstroke in the self-publishing landscape that is created by indie-authors. Therefore, it is important that you work hard to make your brush stroke stand out. You need to make it a pivotal part of that self-published landscape and the only way to do that is to promote it with everything you’ve got. Here are some of the best ways to promote your self-published book:

Author/Book Website:

Websites are commonplace. There are plenty of different ways that authors and self-publishing companies can procure a website. Having a website is an important step in solidifying yourself as a business. Years ago, before working remotely and online businesses became commonplace, having a storefront added credibility to a business.

Now, that torch has passed on to websites. Having social networks and even a blog is nice, but they are noncommittal. Any social media or even blog can be active one day and nowhere to be found the next. When a business invests in a website, it portrays a sense of stability to potential workers, authors, and even customers. A website is the epicenter of your business. Having a website gives you as the self-published business owner the ability to showcase everything you have to offer, without constraints or parameters. In fact, you can even sell your books on your website if you want, but that is not necessary for success.

Facebook and Twitter


Create a Facebook Page that solidifies you as an author and keep your audience up to date on your progress. If you build an audience before the book is even available, you will get a feel for what your readers want. This will also help with your pre-sale numbers.


Twitter is the perfect social media tool for writers. This is true, specifically, because it is text-based and helps writers concisely. Twitter is also a large platform that is great for networking with people who have the same interests, instead of the premise of being “friends” with someone. Twitter seems to be where self-published authors and traditional authors gather to share and learn about books and writing opportunities.

Additionally, when you start a self-publishing business, Twitter is a great place to find new writers, editors, book cover designers, and other necessities for your company. There is a lot of talent and hidden gems to be found on Twitter. All you have to do is learn enough about the platform to know where to look and how to get their attention.

If what you’ve written is the lifeblood of your book, marketing is the circulatory system. One is just as important as the other and the sooner you get the heart of your public persona beating, the better it is for your book’s quality of life.

Go to Book Signings:

Book signings are extremely fun, but they are a little strange. Writers are usually solitary people. Writers tend to live in their heads a lot and as a result, writers can come across as introverted. Therefore, the idea of going in front of people and signing your book can be both exhilarating and horrifying. Of course, there is the obvious fear, the idea that no one will buy a book. However, there is also the fear of having to interact with many people, spell their name right, and carry on general conversation. Or worse is the idea of having to tell people what your book is about. Even the most passionate writers freeze up when this question is posed.

Yet, despite the many reasons that writers might not set up book signings, it is amply important to break the mold. Remember, only you are going to make your book a success. If you are starting a self-publishing business, it is even more important to get your book and services exposure whenever you get the chance. In addition to the library and community center, or possibly a small business, here are a few other locations for a successful book signing:

  • Vender Fairs
  • Literary Events
  • Trade Shows
  • Comic Cons
  • Holiday Festivals/Fairs

There are many places that help offer quality locations and experiences for your books and your business.

What Other Self-Publishing Opportunities are Out There?

This guide has focused on creating a soft-cover book and an eBook of your masterpiece. Yet, there are a few other ways your book can get the recognition that it deserves, net you more sales, and get your work in front of a wider audience. Here are a few other self-publishing opportunities that can be beneficial to your bestselling author endeavor:

Hardcover Books: Ultimately, a hardcover book for a self-published author or self-publishing company is a status symbol. Unfortunately, they are expensive, both on the backend an on the retail end-but that doesn’t mean they aren’t pretty!

As a self-publishing business, you are going to want to use hardcover books as a centerpiece, to draw attention to your booth or table. Do not expect to sell a lot of hardcover books for many genres. Yet, they are important to have because they add to your business’ credentials. Basically, hardcover books make your company look more professional. Almost like having a good website and an active Facebook, having hardcover books add credibility to your self-publishing claims.

That is why it is important to make your hardcover books look good! You want them to stand out and garner excitement.

Audio Books: Audio books are the opposite of hardcover books, when it comes to the selling aspect. Audio books are usually on par with the price of an eBook, so they are affordable, and they appeal to a completely different demographic than either an eBook or a paperback. Everyone likes to listen to a good story and through a well-crafted audiobook, you can play your story through speakers worldwide.

Audio books take a little bit more time. Plus, depending on whether the author or voice talent is recording the book, it can cost a little bit for an audio book. Yet, if it is done well, you can have another product to offer fans.

Where Can I Go to Hire People for My Self-Publishing Business?

There is a plethora of options for owners, looking to hire people for their self-publishing business. Fortunately, nearly every important aspect of an online business is doable remotely. This gives you, as an owner, the option to span out beyond your circle of friends, your town, and even your state, or country, if that is preferable to you. With this access of freedom, though, there are other aspects of hiring that dictate your abilities. These aspects include your budget, you need, and your business ideals.

Here are a few ideas of where you can find a plethora of qualified applicants for every need your self-publishing business has:

Chamber of Commerce: This is a local option, which will help you find people you can work with face-to-face, if you want. Joining a chamber of commerce in your area or a similar entrepreneurial group is a great way to meet and interact with other businesses in your area. Plus, the nature of this type of group is inherently professional, so you should gain some worthwhile leads quickly.

Local Writing Groups/Events: Writers are everywhere, and chances are, you are going to be able to find talent right in your own back yard, if you know where to look. Getting involved in local writing groups and participating in literary-based events throughout your area is a great way to network, get your name out there, and find genuinely talented people who are eager to work with a fellow entrepreneur.   

Reddit: If you have never been on Reddit, or you have never thought of hiring someone off this platform, you should check it out for applicants. There are many subreddits that are specifically for hiring and hiring a specific type of employee. Here are some subreddits that are useful for self-published businesses:

Upwork: Upwork is a good avenue if you are looking to find workers from all over the world, quickly. There are many freelancers available on this site. The setup process is a little more rigorous then that of other hiring avenues. Fortunately, this means that there is more protection for both the business owner and the freelancer. Yet, that also means there are fees associated with this method. Here are a few more third-party sites that use basically the same method for hiring freelancers:


In summation, there are almost as many ways to self-publish a book as there are to write a book. Essentially, self-publishing is a rising feat, which many aspiring authors can achieve in their own way. If you are passionate about every aspect of self-publishing your book, you will be successful. All you must do is decide what is best for you and work toward that goal emphatically. Remember, you are the reason your book becomes a bestseller. When you are creating a self-publishing business, everything depends on you. That can either be good or not, depending on your perseverance, passion, and overall dedication to your work.

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