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How to Self-Publish a Book: The Simple and Not-So-Simple Method

Self-publishing Writing

How to Self-Publish a Book

“How do you publish a book?” Since I have been self-publishing for nearly fifteen years, I get this question a lot. And whenever I give the answer, I can tell people are expecting a much simpler answer. Most people think publishing a book is easy. Yes, our digital age has made it more convenient to publish a book, but it does require a great deal of digital know-how. That being said, I would like to answer the question here honestly, for anyone who is brave enough for the answer! I’ve also provided a simplified solution for anyone who feels like the advanced option is beyond them.

First, if you are interested in your students writing their own books, that is an amazing idea! Here are my suggested steps.

  1. Have your students read The Hero’s Guidebook, which gives a detailed breakdown of the Hero’s Journey. This will teach them plot structure, character development, and common storytelling tropes. They can follow these patterns or branch out on their own, but knowing them strengthens their writing skills.
  2. Have your students complete a story outline using Design-a-QuestThis download has two graphic organizers that helps students outline their stories (either through writing or pictures, a “storyboard” approach.)
  3. The next step? Make the book! There are two ways to do this–through a website or the traditional by-hand method.

Choose Your Own Adventure:  Which path do you choose?

  1. Self-Publish through a Website:  If you want to try self-publishing your book, I am your biggest supporter! My only questions are:  How much do you know about word processing and photo editing? And if that’s not much, how much are you willing to learn? If you’re up to the challenge, read the section directly below this one.
  2. Make a Book By-Hand Publishing:  If you’re not knowledgeable about technology (and the idea of spending hours and hours learning it) is not for you, I suggest the traditional, by-hand way of making a book. Skip down to the section titled “Traditional Book Making Method” for more information.

Self-Publishing Digitally:  You (or your students) will learn many practical skills during the process of digitally self-publishing your book, including:

  • The basics of Microsoft Word
    • I use Google Docs for many things, but, sorry, Google. Your formatting options are not just there yet. With Microsoft Word, you can change every aspect of your document! I’ve been using it for nearly twenty years to publish books.
    • If you don’t know how to use many of the features of Microsoft Word (or are not willing to learn), I would suggest you stick to the traditional book-making process.
  • The basics of Photoshop
    • If you have illustrations, you will probably need to use Photoshop or some facsimile. I am an illustrator as well as an author, so this is a must for me.
    • You’ll also need to own a scanner or be able to take really clear photos with your Smartphone.
    • Maybe you aren’t going to have illustrations or need to edit images. If so, you can probably get by without knowing too much about Photoshop.
  • How to deal with print requirements
    • KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing, Amazon’s publishing service) is the simplest publishing process that I’ve found. That being said, it’s still not easy. Your student will need to learn about trim sizes, margins, formatting, etc. The best way to learn this information is through online tutorials and YouTube videos. They will have to do a bit of research. But all the information is out there. (By the way, don’t worry that Kindle is in the name. They publish physical books, too.) 
  • Profit vs. Cost Analysis
    • Publishing on KDP is cheap, so that’s the good news. You can choose to publish copies of your book just for yourself, or you can make it available on Amazon for the whole world to buy. KDP allows you to set your own profit margins, which is great, real-world experience with profit analysis.
  • Professionalism
    • Your book may be available to the whole world, but if it does not look professional, nobody is going to buy it there (unless your grandma logs on and snags a copy). You know that whole “Don’t judge a book by its cover” saying? Nobody listens to that–in the book-buying world anyway. Your book has to look professional!
    • So what should your goal be? Learn the skills that will make your book look professional.
    • Study books that you own. How do they look? What types of fonts do they use? What do their covers look like? Then pattern your book after them.
    • Will this be a lot of work? Yes! But are you willing to do it? Go for it!
  • Choose your own adventure (again):
      • Are you up for the challenge? Keep reading!
      • If all of this sounds daunting, skip down to the old-fashioned self-publishing way. 

    The online publishing process:  I start by laying the book out in Microsoft Word, and then KDP has a program that will convert it to a published file. It's a complicated process, but, fortunately, there are a lot of how-to KDP publishing videos on YouTube. But before you start down that path, here are some questions to consider:

    1. How familiar are you with Microsoft Word? It will be the simplest way to make a book. If you're not fluent with Microsoft Word, it will be much more difficult--probably to the point of frustration. 😁
    2. What size will the final book be? KDP offers a variety of book sizes. Look at books you own and decide what size would fit your story best. You will need to make your Word document the size that your final book will be.
    3. Will your book have lots of illustrations? These will need to be scanned into the computer and added to the Word document. So you will need a scanner and know how to get those images into Word. Photoshop is a very handy tool for editing pictures as well.
    4. Once these questions have been answered, I suggest scouting out some KDP Publishing how-to videos on YouTube. One I can recommend is Why video? They walk you through the process screen by screen.

    Traditional Book Making Method:  Don’t poo-poo this idea right off the bat. The traditional method of sewing pages together and adding a cardboard-covered-in-contact-paper cover is a great way to make a book. I loved making these as a kid! And I still have the ones I made way back then. If you don’t have a lot of tech skills, this version might actually end up looking better than the self-published route, and it would have great sentimental value! The book I wrote in fifth grade, The Journey, which I talk about in The Hero's Guidebook, was written on regular sheets of paper with a cardstock cover that I hand drew, all stitched together with thread. It’s an heirloom I can keep forever, and it was cheap to make.

    I hope these suggestions help you on your path to self-publishing!

    Products mentioned in this post:

    • When writing their story for the first time, The Hero’s Guidebook walks students through the stages of the Hero’s Journey. 
    • Design-a-Quest walks students through storyboarding their story based on the Hero’s Journey.

    Stay creative,


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