Online tools to help you publish your own book

26th Jul 2009 | 09:00

Online tools to help you publish your own book

You don't need an agent - here's how to self-publish

Registering your book

Fancy yourself as a bit of an author? Good for you. You've come up with a fantastic idea and now, finally, you're finishing writing your book.

It's now that the really hard work begins: getting your work of art published. Unfortunately, whether your book is fiction or non-fiction, it's never been tougher to become a published author.

The well-worn, rocky path to publishing usually begins with attempting to find a literary agent by sending them three perfectly crafted chapters and a clear synopsis. Sadly, agents usually prefer authors who have a proven track record.

It's likely that you'll just end up with a file full of rejection letters. But don't despair. If you still believe your book's good enough and you want to get it out there for people to read, you can take the instantly viable route of publishing your book yourself.

Once considered to be at the substandard end of the industry, self-publishing has now become a perfectly respectable route.

The good news is there have never been more online sites offering to help print and publish your work. Better still, it has never been more affordable to self publish in small amounts (100 or 1,000 copies, for example) either.

Register your book

Publishing is simply the process of printing your book and making it publicly available, whether this involves wholesale distribution to Waterstones or selling it from your own website. Essentially, self-publishing is like setting up a new business; it takes a lot of effort and a lot of work.

Once you realise that, you won't go far wrong. To help you avoid making a wrong turn at the first junction, here's where to begin. First you need to register your book with the ISBN Agency section of Nielsen's Book Data service. Do this as soon as you plan to self-publish, as it can take months for Nielsen to get the details to you.

It's only possible to buy banks of 10 (or more) ISBN numbers at a time, and each purchase costs £107. Once you've been provided with your unique ISBN number, your title will appear on Nielsen's PubWeb system and other publishing datafeeds, meaning that prospective book sellers can order your book if they wish.

The PubWeb system also automatically links to and other online book sellers, so you can sell your title to the world. Brilliant.

Neilsen pubweb

PUBWEB:No, not a list of pubs but a list of published books and their relevant ISBN numbers

You can then use the ISBN number to produce a barcode, which is crucial if you plan to try getting your title stocked in book shops – they'll need to scan it in order for your title to go through their internal payment system. There are plenty of websites offering free barcode creation software: check out and for a couple of good examples.

Choosing a self-publishing method

Next you need to decide how you want to self-publish. There are two options: use an online publishing site, or go entirely on your own. Many authors go straight for the easy option of online 'free' publishing services from the likes of You simply upload your text and pay the site a premium, and – eventually – it will pop up on their website for purchase.

Personally speaking, however, I don't like the lack of creative control offered by sites like these. In the case of my book, I already knew the cover design I wanted, and online sites can force you to use stock cover images and fonts. You may also be restricted in terms of which printer they use, the standards of cover and main text paper stock and, most importantly, the fonts used for the main text.


ONLINE PUBLISHING:Services like Lulu take a lot of the hassle out of publishing, but they also restrict your options

The size and style of the font you choose can have a dramatic impact on the overall feel and tone of your book, and if you pick the wrong combination, it can put off prospective readers. The decision of whether to buy a book often comes down to subconscious factors; readers will flick through your book and then put it straight back down if they don't like the look of it.

Then there's the financial cut that these sites take. Lulu takes 20 per cent. In my case, if I hadn't wanted to publish my book at a loss, I would have had to set a retail price of around £18. I felt that people were unlikely to pay £18 for a self-published novel, and a paperback at that. So in the end I decided to get my book designed and printed independently, and then publish it myself.

Designing and typesetting your book

Design a cover

If you're using a website then things are pretty straightforward, but the independent option is more complex. Let's start with getting the book cover sorted. Although the saying goes 'don't judge a book by its cover', nobody follows that advice, so it's crucial that your design is eye-catching and quickly sums up the content.

To make your book stand out from other self-published titles, invest in a professional designer. They'll do a much better job than you're capable of, understand the market you're aiming for and know what photography or illustration will work best.

They'll also take care of technical stuff like spine widths, merging the front and back cover into one design, producing high resolution imagery in Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator and creating a final four-colour friendly, print-ready PDF.

I searched the internet for a while before I found book cover designer that I wanted to work with. He came up with four rough 'mockups' for me to pick from, I selected my favourite and together we developed the idea. A couple of months later, I ended up with a finished illustration and book cover which really reflected the content and tone of the book.

Typeset your work

Next it's time to typeset. It's possible do a fairly respectable (although basic) job of laying out your pages in Word and then outputting an reasonable quality PDF. But that's not ideal. Working in magazine publishing meant that I'm used to working with high-end desktop publishing (DTP) applications like Adobe InDesign. These apps are quick, powerful and mostly easy to use.

Designing multiple text pages, resizing fonts, styling up page numbers and positioning text accurately is much simpler with a comprehensive DTP package. InDesign also makes it very straightforward to produce the necessary press-quality Adobe PDF with helpfully embedded fonts. If you're not willing to pay for an expensive proprietary product, check out open-source alternative Scribus instead.

To appease your eventual printer, make sure your page count is an even number, and put in blank pages if necessary. Take care to include any blank pages that you want to appear at the start, between chapters and at the end.

Remember the 'prelims', too: reserve a page for your biography, and a page to include all the copyright information, publication date, ISBN number and printer information. You might also want to add a page for a dedication. Check out one of your favourite authors' books for examples of prelims.

As we've already discussed, font choice is paramount to making your product look good, so take your time over font selection – and choose wisely. Use a font you already own to avoid copyright infringement, and check with the printers beforehand if you're planning to use an unusual font that they may not have access to.

Printing your book

Speaking of printers, you'll need one to produce your book. That's a company, not a peripheral. Shop around to find a good company that caters for self-publishers who might want print runs in the low hundreds and who don't charge the earth for the privilege. I found the established print firm Antony Rowe to be helpful and competitive.

Anthony rowe

PRINTERS:A good printer will allow you to choose things like the type of paper stock used and the page size

A good printer is imperative. You should be able to specify page count, cover and text paper stock (measured in gsm, or grams per square metre) and the page size before getting an estimate. My cover stock was 250gsm and text pages were 80gsm. The quote will include a one-off initial setup fee (around £150), but remember to factor delivery charges on top – books are delivered by courier.

It'll obviously work out cheaper if you get your books delivered in one bulk load, as courier costs increase the more boxes there are. If your print quote seems a bit high, think about reducing the page count and increasing the page size. Your book print costs are entirely dictated by the amount of pages that it contains. Either make some ruthless edits to drop the page count or look at reducing the font size slightly. For maximum effect, do both.

That's what I decided to do, and my wallet is glad I did: by shrinking the font from 12pt to 10pt after cutting, I reduced my page count from 560 to 400, which created a substantial saving. Most self-published authors go for a paperback format simply because it keeps costs down.

This isn't unusual, though; novels are usually released in paperback unless you're an international best-selling author, in which case a publisher might release your latest masterpiece in hardback first at an increased price. If you're only printing a minimal amount of pages, though, (say, a book of family photos) it make sense to make the book hardback – it's probably worth the extra costs.

Some printers will entertain very small print runs (50 copies, say) and might even offer print on-demand services. This is perfect for self-publishers, as it means that your set-up costs are the same if you request one or 100 copies of your book. With a large order, a sample of your book will be sent out for you to approve before the rest of the books are printed.

This can be an exciting and slightly unreal experience – I cracked open a bottle of bubbly at this stage! When you've sobered up, check that the cover's colouring and print quality is how you envisaged it, and try reading your book from start to finish to spot any printer errors (like duplicated pages) or textual mistakes that you've missed. Once you give the printer the go ahead to print, there's no turning back, so make sure you've proofread your book very carefully.

Get someone else with a keen eye to proof it too: it smacks of unprofessionalism if there are lots of errors, plus it'll be expensive if you need to resubmit a new PDF to the printers. If you're determined to go down the self-publishing route, the best of British luck to you.

But no matter how well or badly your book does, you can always be proud that you've written a book and published it. Not everybody can say that.


First published in PC Plus Issue 283

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