skip to Main Content
Most Frequently Asked Questions About Self-publishing Answered

Most Frequently Asked Questions About Self-publishing Answered

The Alliance of Independent Authors recently ran an article on the most frequently asked questions by non-members. Today, we're running another FAQ post, but this time, we're answering our members' most frequently asked questions about self-publishing.

Get your copy of 150 Self-Publishing Questions Answered today.

Do you have self-publishing questions that you can’t seem to find the answer to? We’re here to help. ALLi members can download their complimentary ebook copy of 150 Self-Publishing Questions Answered in the Member Zone. Navigate to allianceindependentauthors.org and log in. Then navigate to the following menu: BOOKS > GUIDEBOOKS. Other formats are available to members and non-members in ALLi’s Bookshop

How Does ALLi Answer Questions?

ALLi is a member-based organisation but we also provide a huge wealth of resources and information to the wider indie author community, through our advice center, blog and The Self-Publishing Advice podcast which has hundreds of episodes on every aspect of self-publishing, at every level.

Our podcast has five streams:

  • Beginner self-publishing
  • Member Q&A
  • Self-Publishing News
  • Advanced Self-Publishing
  • Self-publishing Inspirations
  • ALLi Guidebooks, Short Guides, Handbooks, and Campaign guides are free to members (ebook edition) and

Members can also avail of the AskALLi Helpdesk, alongside all of our recommend reading . Members can download these for free in the member portal. If you're not a member you can purchase them from our bookstore here. And of course, we have our jam-packed blog full of thousands of articles covering all aspects of writing, publishing and marketing.

Editing Books

I don’t have enough money for an editor. Can’t I just self-edit?

Redrafting and self-editing are essential parts of the writing process, but you’ve got to hand the book over to the professionals. In Orna’s opinion, going over and over a manuscript in the effort to avoid hiring an editor is a waste of valuable writing time and can actually be a sophisticated form of creative resistance, stopping you from moving through the publication of the current book and onto the next. Beg, borrow, or steal the money you need for an editor.

Okay, so where do I find an editor? 

If you're a member, we always suggest looking through our Partner Directory which you can find once you log into the member portal. If you're not a member, you can purchase the directory in our bookstore. This is a showcase of ALLi Partner Members’ vetted author services that comply with ALLi standards of ethics and excellence.

There are lots of other ways to find an editor (or designer or any other service for that matter). One port of call would be to ask other author friends. There's nothing quite like a good recommendation from someone you trust. If an author friend has successfully worked with an editor, you have first hand experience of what that editor or designer is like.

We also have an ALLi guidebook: Choosing The Best Self-Publishing Services that helps guide you to find and work with the best publishing services.

And of course, there is this blog, where were have a wealth of information. You can easily search on a specific topic using the search facility. And, this website also hosts our Best and Worst Self-Publishing Services Reviewed & Rated by our Watchdog Team which can provide helpful insights to companies you may have come across in your own research. 

Should I use beta readers?

That’s up to you. Some authors swear by them, others prefer to work alone until they pass the work to a professional editor. The best way to find out is to try it.

Where do I find beta readers?

You can search online for “find beta readers” and see what comes up. Increasingly, there are readers who offer paid beta reader services. There are also Facebook and Goodreads for beta reader groups, but make sure to read the group rules and follow them to the letter. You can also reach out to author friends.

Treat your beta readers well, and remember: they’re volunteering their time to help you. Expect delays, and, moreover, expect some readers not to follow through with their promise. Having a couple of betas will insulate you against this risk.

Book Design and Formatting

What’s the process of working with a cover designer?

The book cover design process has several steps:

  • You communicate your needs to the designer.
  • The designer locates material to use on the cover (they may involve you in this process, or they may not).
  • The designer provides you with a first draft. If the designer is illustrating the cover, the draft may be in black and white or grayscale; the designer will colorize the design once you approve it.
  • You provide feedback and the designer makes updates until you are satisfied or you exhaust the amount of revisions the designer allows.
  • The designer delivers the final product.

Overall, the process is straightforward.

image of large bookshelves filled with books and a ladder

Photo by Henry Be on Unsplash

Where do I find a designer/formatter?

See our advice above, the same methods and resources apply as our ratings and reviews, our guidebooks and partner directory contain a wealth of different service providers catering to all processes of publishing.

Can I use a premade book cover?

Many designers design premade book covers and sell them for a small fee. When you buy one, you provide your book details and the designer puts them on the cover and removes it from sale. You walk away with an original book cover at a fraction of the cost.

The quality of premade covers varies. Some are poor, but some are very good.

Premades are a respectable choice for an author on a budget, but there are a few things you need to think about:

  • Is your book in a series? If so, does the designer offer enough options to complete your series, or will you have to pay them to create extra designs? If you have to pay them to design something original in addition to the premade, it’s probably cheaper to pay for an original cover design that fits your book to begin with.
  • Premades are generally cost-effective alternatives for standalone books, or for authors who only plan to publish a handful of books in their lifetime.
  • If you plan on writing a lot of books, you’ll have a tough time making cohesive author branding for your covers if you use premades. You may have to pay to rebrand premade covers in the future, which will likely be more expensive than hiring a designer upfront.
  • Premades aren’t designed for your book, and it’s difficult to find one that might match the spirit of what you’re trying to achieve.

We're not knocking premades. ALLi Member Q&A Podcast Co-Host and Outreach Manager Michael LaRonn says,

“My first few covers were premades because it was all I could afford. I paid a lot of money to rebrand my covers several years later. It was an expensive lesson for me. Just understand that you’re accepting some major future downsides if you decide to buy premades.”

How do I format my own book?

Depending on whether you have a Mac or Microsoft computer, there are two main pieces of software recommended by the indie community at large: Vellum and Atticus. Both are relatively low priced, especially if you're intending on publishing multiple books and both are easy to use. We have two posts that can help. One on how to publish an ebook. And The Ultimate Guide to Formatting Your Print Book. 

Book Production and Distribution

I’m confused about distributors, wholesalers, and retailers. Who does what?

Some of the platforms open to indie authors are production, distribution, and bookselling platforms. And some companies refer to themselves as publishers, when they are really printers or author services. As a result, authors can confuse the different parties involved in self-publishing.

Here’s the deal:

  • You, the author, are the publisher.
  • The platforms you use for production, printing, distribution, marketing, or other aspects of the publishing process are self-publishing services.
  • The wholesalers, distributors, and aggregators that supply books are all distribution channels as far as an author is concerned.
  • Bookstores, including online stores, and libraries are outlets.
  • Some self-publishing services like IngramSpark are both a publishing service and a distributor. Others like Amazon KDP, Apple Books, Google Play, and Kobo are self-publishing services and distributors with online retail store outlets attached. It is for this reason that ALLi recommends you should go directly to these companies, rather than through an aggregator. Kobo, uniquely, in addition to being service, distributor, and online retailer, also partners with other book retailers and distributors around the world, like Walmart in the United States and WHSmith in the United Kingdom.

What is an ISBN and how do I use them?

One of the most common questions we get asked is around ISBNs. ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. It is a unique numeric identifier attached to a book. We have a very comprehensive post you can find about ISBNs here. We also have an ALLi Short Guidebook, Using ISBNS for Your Self-published Books. You can download and read from our bookstore. If you're an ALLi member, you can read it for free by logging into our member portal and navigating to PUBLICATIONS.

Image of curving bookcase wall filled with books

Photo by Susan Q Yin on Unsplash

In short, ALLi recommends:

Using your own ISBNs for any books you publish. We recommend having one ISBN per format or edition. For example, you would need one ISBN for your ebook, one for your paperback, one for your hardback and one for your audiobook. If you publish a paperback using KDP Print and IngramSpark or any other distributor, you do not need a new ISBN as long as the book is the same. So the same number of pages, same content, same cover design etc.

Should I use IngramSpark or KDP Print? 

Both. Amazon and IngramSpark are valued partner members of ALLi, and both have been significant enablers of digital print publishing for authors. In a world where print-on-demand makes so much sense for so many reasons, it's not surprising that these two services are at the heart of most indie authors' print sales operations. To find out more about why we recommend you use both services, read our in-depth guide answering the question IngramSpark or KDP?

Should I use a book distributor? 

e-book distributors (also known as e-book aggregators) are a great way to expand your reach. Sites like PublishDrive, Draft2Digital, and StreetLib allow you to upload your book once, and they distribute it to many of the major retailers in exchange for a commission. They can get your book into retailers that you can’t on your own, ones you’ve probably never even heard of.

All e-book aggregators have unique offerings and you need to investigate which one is best for you.

Book Marketing and Promotion

How do I market a book?

This is never an easy question to answer. Book marketing and promotion is an ever changing field with certain basics that stay the same. Such as having your own platform, finding and nurturing reader relationships through your mailing list and understanding the need to drive traffic to your sales pages. There's an important distinction that new writers often get wrong which is the difference between marketing and promotion:

Book marketing is ongoing, repeatable activity that generates awareness of a book and its author among book distributors, retailers, and readers. Marketing positions you as an author, and your books as what the publishing business calls “discoverable”—which means they can be easily found by readers who are searching for a book like yours. Marketing covers ongoing activity like tending to your website, your regular social media activity, and growing and communicating with your email list.

Book promotion is concentrated sales-driven activity behind a particular book for a particular period of time. Promotion takes one book and brings it to its target readers, with enticement to buy. It covers things like advertising, price promotions, a BookBub deal, blog tours, or real-life book tours.

Our blog has hundreds of articles on book marketing, from our three part series on establishing, growing and maintaining your mailing list, to book aesthetics, influencer marketing and more.

How do you balance writing and marketing?

When you’re writing your first book, the natural tendency is to put all of your energy into writing and getting the book ready for publication. That’s normal.

When you publish your book, however, now you have some difficult questions to answer: do you start writing the next book or do you market your first book? How much time should you spend marketing versus writing?

These are deceptively difficult questions, actually, especially if you are a part-time writer and have limited time to write.

Some writers divide their time 50–50, 60–40, or 70–30 between writing and marketing. Others schedule specific time on their calendar for marketing.

The most common advice, however, and the most practical in my opinion, is to structure your marketing so that you can do one thing per day that will help you sell more books.

For example, you might send an email to ten book bloggers every day until there are no more to email. This might take you 15 to 20 minutes a day. Or, you might spend 10 minutes per day tweaking your Amazon ads. The key is to keep it simple.

Marketing doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Breaking it into small chunks is a smart strategy. Just like you can exercise with 15 minutes a day, or learn to write your book in 15-minute increments, so too can you market with small amounts of time.

Where do I find readers?

Here at ALLi we've always believed that the best place to find readers is around other books in your genre or subgenre.

You find them by searching for and reading blog reviews or video reviews of your comparable books, and by advertising on Amazon or Facebook by targeting the readers of your comparables.

You can also find readers by using the right keywords and categories for your book on all the retailers where you publish.

And finally, you can find readers by positioning your product correctly—meaning you have a cover and book description that speaks directly to them. It also helps if you can create solid talking points for your book to use whenever you do media interviews or guest appearances.

Depending on your genre, there may be other avenues available to you to find readers.

We recommend you start with influencers, who are the people leaving reviews and talking about the book publicly. They tend to be book bloggers and social media personalities. If they are willing to take a chance on your book and read it, then you can get it in front of a bigger audience. But influencers receive many, many pitches, so be prepared for rejection. And remember, not everyone will like your book.

Readers also hang out in message boards and communities like Goodreads, but we recommend that writers stay out of those communities. Readers go there to talk about books, not to receive promotions. You don’t want to be “that” author who self-promos their book in a community of avid readers, trust me. That will turn readers off.

Book Rights and Licensing

Why is copyright important?

Copyright is one of the main types of intellectual property. It allows the copyright owner to protect against others copying or reproducing their work. Copyright affords an author the exclusive legal right to publish, perform, or record a literary work, to profit from it, and to authorize others to do the same.

Copyright law, policy, and practice underwrite the publication and sale of books. The income that every author and publisher receives derives from copyright law.

There is no international copyright law. It varies by country and is enforced more in some countries than others. In the United States and Europe, copyright law entitles the author to commissions and royalties for their lifetime plus 70 years.

That copyright has real and significant value can be seen in how it is ever more vehemently contested by three competing interests:

  • Big Tech: Internet-based publishing platforms like Google, Facebook and Amazon that authors use to publish and/or promote books.
  • Big Content: Global media corporations like Penguin Random House, News International, and Hollywood to which authors license publishing rights. Here we also find large self-publishing services like Author Solutions (the subject of an ALLi Watchdog Advisory, applied when an organization fails to meet ALLi’s standards for ethics and excellence). Some of these companies grab rights as well as charge service fees.
  • Big Legal: Large legislating territories and blocs like the United States or the European Union who aim to modify the power of Big Tech and Big Content.

Independent authors who are both writers and publishers, and who actively manage their own publishing rights, need to understand the importance of copyright and how to assert their rights in the digital age.

ALLi answers the most important copyright questions in our Copyright Bill of Rights campaign book, which also asserts eight fundamental rights for authors.

We also have a number of other resources on copyright:

How do I get the rights back to a book I traditionally published?

First, you’ll need to look at the reversion rights clause in your contracts. You can usually find it somewhere near the end. In some cases publishers will grant a return of rights, on request. There are many factors to consider, including how well the book is selling. The easiest way to find out is to just drop a note to your agent or the editor you worked with, or the rights department, asking for rights to revert and see what they say. We also have The Ultimate Guide to Rights Reversion here.

Do you have a lawyer/attorney recommendation?

I’m afraid we don’t recommend specific lawyers for a number of reasons, with the main ones being:

  • we're a global organisation with members worldwide
  • lawyers specialise in a number of publishing aspects, so you’d need to find one that suits your requirements
  • we feel a lawyer/client relationship is determined in part on a feeling of compatibility, something that can’t be recommended

You could ask author friends for recommendations. In our opinion, nothing compares to getting the range of responses from lots of authors, with lots of different experiences. That said, when seeking legal help, do be sure to find someone who has experience in the book industry and libel specifically. There are plenty of attorneys, but not all will understand it from an author-needs perspective. Also, you may be able to get a more specific recommendation from your local or national writer's organization.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Latest advice, news, ratings, tools and trends.

Back To Top
×Close search