How and Why to Independently Publish Your Book

In the final installment of my “publishing crash course,” I will be discussing independent publishing, also known as “self-publishing.” If you missed the other two days, feel free to go back and read my crash courses in traditional and vanity publishing.

Lay-Person Definition

Independent publishing is a publishing model in which the author does not seek the assistance of a publishing company or press. Instead, the author takes on the role of the publishing company by managing the book’s production and distribution, often with the help of professional contractors. Because the author does the majority of the work by herself, independent publishing has been called “self-publishing.” However, many authors in the this model prefer the name “independent” or “indie,” for short, because they do not produce the book entirely by themselves, but rather, as an independent/non-affiliated business with the help of contracted professionals.

independent writerFor some, independent publishing does carry a stigma in the publishing world. This is because independent publishing has its origins in vanity publishing. Before recent technological advancements, such as the e-reader, photographic design software, and print-on-demand services, the independent author could not produce books of the same quality as traditional presses and were dubbed “vanity” publishers. However, nowadays, most independent authors are entrepreneurs and professionals who can produce the same caliber of books as traditional publishers and have entirely separated themselves from anything resembling the “vanity” model of publishing.

The Steps to Independent Publication

1. Write your manuscript. 

2. Revise your manuscript. I would argue revision is most necessary for independent authors.

3. Start your business. This step is optional. As an independent author, you can choose to operate as a sole proprietor (essentially, just as yourself), or you can opt to start an official business for your products, the most common choice being a Limited Liability Company (LLC). I will cover the pros and cons of each of these options in a later post. For immediate assistance, do a quick search or read “Section 1.5 Should I Start a Company?” of Joanna Penn’s book Business for Authors.

4A. Find beta readersBeta readers are people who will read your manuscript before it is published and critique it for you. They can be anyone from your mom to a retired editor, but it is best to find individuals within your target audience. Beta readers should tell you how your book will be perceived by the reading public, hence the desire for them to be your target demographic, and leave more intensive editorial critiques to you and your editor(s).

4B. Find editorial services. Because you will not have a publishing company to assign an editor to you, you must find your own editor. If you don’t know where to start, read this post. There are plenty of contract editors out there as well as websites to help you find freelance editors. The main thing is that you must determine which types of editing your book needs. I discuss editing types more in this post, but the three main types are:

Content editors — Help you refine your story by examining its character growth, plot arc, plausibility, etc.

Copy editors — Check to make sure that facts are correct, details are consistent, and grammar is sound.

Proofreaders — Hunt down typographical and grammatical errors.

5. Find a Cover Designer and/or Formatter. Once the content of your book is perfected, you need to find someone to make it look good. Again, because you will not have the assistance of a publishing company, you will be responsible for finding someone to design a cover for you book as well as format it for e-book and print forms. As with vanity publishing, you do have the option to take care of this yourself, but it is not recommended unless you have design education or skills.

e-book and print books6. Distribute your novel. After your book is edited, designed, and formatted, it is time to distribute. Most independent authors have their books available in e-book and print format on online retailers, such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, etc. It is important to note that, since you do not have a publishing company representing you, your chances of getting into a bookstore (especially a large chain store) or library are slim-to-none. Therefore, if that is your big dream, independent publishing may not be for you.

7. Market your novel. You are entirely in control of gaining attention and attracting sales for your novel. This gives you a great amount of flexibility in your strategy, but it also means that you have a lot of work ahead of you. Luckily, social media, active blogging and podcast communities, and myriad other strategies exist to make this task surmountable  for independent authors.

Pros of Independent Publishing

  • You retain ALL of the rights to your creative product.
  • You are not locked into long-term contracts and receive much higher royalties (35-70%, depending on retailer and book format) than traditionally published authors (10-20%, depending on contract with publisher).
  • You have complete control over every stage of production and distribution.
  • You can hire contractors who best fit your business and branding model.
  • You have a more direct relationship with readers.
  • You have the pride of knowing you organized every stage of your book’s life.

Cons of Independent Publishing

  • You do not have any help from a publishing company.
  • You may face stigmas associated with vanity publishing.
  • Others may pre-judge your work because it has not been “approved” by publishing authority figures.
  • There are upfront costs that authors who are traditionally published do not have.
  • If you choose to start your own business, there are expenses and risks associated with it as well.
  • Your chances of your book being sold in physical bookstores, available in libraries, or made into a movie are slim-to-none.

Who Should Independently Publish?

Independent publishing is the best option for authors who want to have a full-time career as a writer. It is also best for writers who enjoy both the artistic side and business side of being an author, and who feel comfortable making final decisions in each field. Likewise, independent publishing is for authors who want to retain the rights to and control over their product and who are willing to put in intensive amounts of labor to compensate for the lack of assistance provided by a publisher.

If you would like a more personal look into the reasons behind independent publishing, read Why I Will Independently Publish.


What are your feeling about independent publishing? What other process steps, pros, and cons of indie publishing would you add? Let me know!

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Kate M. Colby is an author of science fiction, fantasy, and nonfiction. When she is not writing or working, Kate enjoys playing video games, antiquing, and wine tasting. She lives in the United States with her husband and furry children.

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Posted in Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles
25 comments on “How and Why to Independently Publish Your Book
  1. […] For this edition of my “publishing crash course,” I want to talk about “vanity publishing.” If you missed the other days, I strongly encourage you to check out my posts on traditional publishing and independent publishing. […]

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  2. […] go over the three main publishing options available to modern writers: traditional, vanity, and independent. For each one, I will give a basic overview of how the publishing process works as well as the […]

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  3. Jonas Lee says:

    This was a great series of posts this week! Being an Indie, I can totally see each and every pro & con you stated. The marketing part is usually the hardest. Anyone who can formulate a game plan before starting a novel has a definite upper hand. Gaining an audience is the hardest part.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much. I’m glad you enjoyed them!

      As I begin looking forward to publishing, the task of finding an audience for my novels seems very overwhelming. I’ve heard your sentiment echoed over and over again. However, I’ve been doing a LOT of research, and I’m hoping that having an active author platform in place will help me a bit as well. It will definitely be a lot of work and a long road, but I know it is the way I need to go!

      Liked by 3 people

      • Jonas Lee says:

        Trad publishing is great if you have the patience, Indie is great if you want to start getting circulated. It takes some build and focus, but I love being Indie right now. Ask me in a couple of years if I still love it… lol

        Liked by 2 people

  4. I love being an indie as well, for all the reasons you stated, Kate. There’s a certain freedom I very much enjoy, and it works for me–at least for now. But making informed decisions is important, and your post helps writers to do just that!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! That is my whole goal. After all, there are some writers who do not realize that options beyond traditional publishing exist (and are actually viable), as well as writers who jump into ventures like indie publishing without doing their research and end up getting themselves in trouble.

      I really appreciate indie authors like you and Jonas Lee throwing in your two cents as well. I know others will appreciate your comments as much as I do. So thank you again!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. coffeennotes says:

    Thank you so much for this great series. Loved reading as well as the other before this and I have to say that I learned a lot from them, thank you! It’s nice to learn all the cons and pros and about all these options, I never knew before 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Shayna says:

    I love this series on publishing! These post have been so informative and helpful. Though the world of publishing is still daunting,it seems a little less overwhelming now that I have a clearer picture of the many paths an author can take. You did a wonderful job of breaking it down for us. Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

    • You are certainly welcome. Thank YOU so much for reading! I’m glad that they were helpful to you. I agree, even when you have a lot of info, publishing is still a daunting task, but I think it’s a risk that’s worth it!

      Like

  7. Marcy Erb says:

    Thank you so much for these posts. This series was great – clearly written with an open and respectful tone. I agree with Shayna’s comment, the publishing world can be very intimidating for the uninitiated.

    I really wish your posts had existed about nine months ago when I googled “how do I publish a novel?” For whatever unknown google reason, the first link that popped up was a blog post with a similar title by a literary agent and the first line went something like: “I always cringe when someone asks me that…” and I thought “well, geez! Sorry for asking!” 🙂

    Thanks again!

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re most welcome! As I keep saying, I’m just happy that everyone has found them so helpful. And thank you so much for saying that my tone was open and respectful. I tried to be very careful about that, because I know that my personal biases and opinions on each form will not fit with everyone, so I wanted to be as factual as possible.

      Thank you again for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. zachchop says:

    This was a very interesting and helpful post. As someone who will also independently publish, I appreciate the information.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This was a great and informative series you’ve put together! The only thing I would add is that regardless of whether you have developmental or copy edits, everyone needs a proofreader, and the proofreader needs to be someone who has never read the book before. I have so many typos slip by me in my own work (and in the work of people I’ve copy/developmental edited for), and I know that’s a necessary step.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree completely! I included proofreaders along with editors in this article, but I will definitely do more to stress their importance in later posts. I think a lot of people think that a proofreader is one area they can afford to skip, but as professionals like yourself have echoed, it seems to be a lot more necessary than writers may think. Thank you so much for adding that in for everyone!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. […] me does not, by any means, mean that it’s right for everyone. I would suggest starting with Kate Colby’s well written and thorough posts about the different publishing styles. Although I had already done […]

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  11. […] that I have explained the three forms of publishing (traditional, vanity, and independent), I wanted to use this “Feedback Friday” to share with you all the book that secured my […]

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  12. […] I have said before, Daniel is the one who introduced me to independent publishing. However, his role has not ended there. He constantly looks for podcasts, books, and industry news […]

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  13. […] series, I gave a general overview of the three main publishing options: traditional, vanity, and independent. In this article, I want to share with you all my personal reasoning behind choosing independent […]

    Like

  14. […] Decide which type of publishing you want to pursue. We are lucky enough to be writing in a time where there are several publishing options. You can go the traditional route, where you query an agent to help you sell your book to a publishing house. This can either be one of the “big five” publishers or a small or micro-press. You can go the independent route, where you set up your own author-enterpreneur business and publish your own books as if you were a publishing house. Or, you can vanity publish, where you simply put your books out to the world with little to no professional assistance. Click on the name of the publishing model to read more about it: traditional, vanity, independent. […]

    Like

  15. […] those of you going the independent route (like me!), editing is crucial. Selecting which type — or, more commonly, types — of […]

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  16. […] a new author has emerged, of which I am one: the indie author. As an independent author, we are expected to write and edit our own books, format them, design […]

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