A question that many authors ask me is “How should I self-publish my book?”

Some have been introduced to self-publishing by workshops, seminars, and online pitches that offer them an opportunity to write, publish, and distribute their book for anywhere from about $1500 to $35,000. The less expensive offers are essentially from printers who set up your ready-to print book for distribution on Amazon or Ingram, plus they might feature your book in an online catalog of their books; some add a few thousand if you need help in getting your book ready for print. The more expensive programs of $15,000 and up generally help you get your book written by advising you on how to outline it, write or record and transcribe chapters, and then edit the manuscript into your final book. Then they print and help with marketing.

But the process doesn’t have to be that complicated and expensive. In the following article, I’ll describe the basics of preparing your manuscript for publication. In a subsequent article I’ll cover what platform to use: CreateSpace, IngramSpark, or both. I’ll also discuss how to create your cover for different platforms and how to set up your book to become an e-book, audiobook, and online course.

Writing and Preparing Your Book for Publication

Once you have a general idea of what your book is about, you can outline it into chapters and subsections of a chapter, and then write or record those. Perhaps you might need an hour or two of assistance to guide you, but it seems like these expensive programs make the steps more involved than they need to be, and as long as you work at your own pace and set aside some time to write, you can get it done.

Another good approach is to divide your book into smaller books, so you get something published, and later combine these together into a longer book. Once you have about 50-75 pages, that’s enough for a mini-book, and some people do even shorter books of 25-50 pages. This mini-book approach works well for how-to, self-help, and popular business books, where you are giving out tips on how to do something, and you plan to use the book to increase your credibility, visibility, authority, and branding to get more customers or clients or set up speaking engagements. But if you want your book to appeal to bookstores and libraries, your book should usually be about 150 pages or more.

Recording, Transcribing, and Editing Your Book

If you record your book, you can talk into your phone or other recording device, do an interview, or record a workshop or seminar. Afterwards, however you do it, get it transcribed. Then, figure on editing the manuscript yourself or hiring an editor, since you can’t normally go directly from a transcript to a finished book. There are some software programs you can use to automatically turn your recording into text, such as Dragon software, but automated transcribing generally only works if you have a single clear voice. Otherwise, if you have a workshop with multiple voices or record in a noisy environment, the software can get confused and you can end up with gibberish featuring short phrases, skips, and other mishaps, as I discovered myself in sending some workshop files to a couple of automated online voice to text services. So for that you need a human transcriber, typically at $1 a minute from a service like Rev.com or a local transcriber.

Once you have the transcript, figure on about an hour for editing and rewriting for every 750-1000 words. Plus you may want to add in other ideas suggested by the topics you cover briefly in your recording -- and some editors knowledgeable your subject can add material for you if you don’t do this yourself. Aside from top of your head additions, Internet research is another source of additional material.

Preparing Your Files for Publication

Once you have written and edited your book, you are almost ready to publish it. You then have to format your copy and any photos or illustrations, depending on the platform you choose for publication.

If you have an illustrations or photos, insert them where you want them in the book. Just click insert pictures and add the file. Ideally, you should take, scan, or purchase photos so they are 300 dpi (dots per inch) or higher resolution. You can get away with lower resolution photos on most publishing platforms in your book’s interior, though they can appear fuzzy due to the lower resolution. But if they are small interior photos or illustrations, they will probably look okay.

You also need to format your book according to the finished size you want. Most trade books are now 6”x9”, so it’s usually a good idea to go with that, though if you want to show of photos and illustrations in your book, such as in a gift or children’s book, a 7”x10” or 8”x10” is a good size. For workbooks and handbooks, an 8 1/2”x11” format is ideal, and if you want a small pocket-sized book, some writers like a 5 ½” x 8 ½” book.

Whatever size you choose, set up your margins based on the number of pages. Typically I use .75” on the left and right and 1” on the top and bottom for a book of 350 pages or less. If the book has more pages, allow a larger margin on the right and left, say 1”.

Also, choose your font and font size based on your type of book. A common font type is Times New Roman. I usually use 12-point type for books with a lot of text; 13 point if I want a slightly larger book with less text, and 14 point for gift and children’s books.

Use the headers in Word to mark each chapter and subsection, and then Word will create your Table of Contents. Adjust your copy so any chapters and section headers, such as for a Preface, Foreword, Acknowledgments, Author’s Bio, and Contact Information, start on the right or odd number page. That way, when the reader opens your book, each chapter or section header will pop out on the right.

Finally, once your book is edited, formatted, and ready to go in a Word document, you can use that to create your e-book, or for a print book, it is preferable and sometimes mandatory to turn it into a PDF with embedded fonts. An embedded font is one which will always appear the same way as in your PDF file, so no matter what fonts a reader has on their computer, they will see the same font style you chose. One way to embed your fonts is to print your Word document as an Adobe PDF (don’t just save it as a regular PDF), and instead of a standard PDF, set your printer for Adobe, click properties, and turn your Word doc into a PDF/X1a-2001 document. Then, print. That will embed any fonts. If you use any special fonts and get a notice that the program can’t embed these fonts, which occurs because you don’t have a special license for them, choose another font -- preferably a common one -- and try again.

You can use your original Word document if you use CreateSpace as your publishing platform, but it is preferable to use this printed PDF. But if you publish on IngramSpark, you need a PDF with embedded fonts, such as a PDF/X1a-2001 document.

Now you’ve got the interior of your book ready to publish. I’ll cover how to prepare your cover in a subsequent article.