Self publishing checklist

Reminders and gotchas on the crucial tasks

By Rob Fitzpatrick

The below list of tasks can feel quite fiddly and tedious, but you shouldn’t let that psyche you out because it isn’t risky. These are annoying tasks to deal with, but you can deal with them. A million people per year are doing so successfully, and you can too.

You can get through it quite naturally (as a part-time, low stress task) in three months, or can hustle it in a month or less if you’re well-organized and using quality freelance helpers.

Not every task is strictly necessary. If you are constrained by time/attention/finances, then some can be skipped or skimped on. In a perfect world, you would maximize your books polish and professionalism by nailing all of them. But in the real world, we do what we can with where we’re at.

The most important thing is that you get your book past the finish line and out into the world.

Checklist of selfpub tasks

(Note that all of these tasks come after the manuscript is solid and proven to be working for beta readers. You don’t want to polish the book until confirming that it is desirable, effective, and engaging. Get the foundations right first.)

Copyediting to strengthen the prose:

  • Copy editors help tremendously with clarity, conciseness, and phrasing, but don’t deal with big-picture structural issues, so ensure that you’ve already sorted all that out via beta reading and/or developmental editing
  • $500+ to hire a freelancer, based on word count (strongly recommended if possible, since doing it yourself is extremely time-consuming and will never be as good as what a professional can provide)

Final review readers to cover any gaps left by beta reading, potentially including:

  • Influential readers to gather pre-launch testimonials for the book’s cover and the “editorial reviews” section on your Amazon page
  • Expert readers to check for inaccuracies and overgeneralizations
  • Sensitivity readers to catch unintentional bias, insensitivity, and marginalization
  • A legal review (normally only relevant if you’re worried about potential libel or IP issues from using anecdotes/quotes of real people or entities, but mandatory if you intend to insure the book as a business asset)

Proofreading to fix typos and grammar, thereby finalizing the manuscript:

  • $150+ to hire a freelancer (highly recommended — terrific value for money in terms of time and sanity saved)
  • Traditionally, proofreaders work from the formatted PDF of your semi-final book in order to catch layout errors — but I prefer to have them work directly in my manuscript doc (far faster to integrate the suggestions) and then take responsibility for verifying page layouts myself

Interior page layouts for paperback, ebook, and (optionally) PDF:

  • Worth learning yourself if you intend to make frequent updates, but otherwise freelancers are readily available at great rates
  • If your book requires an index, glossary, or fancy layout/typography, then freelance help becomes both more important and more expensive
  • If doing it yourself, you’re (currently) stuck choosing between “easy and beautiful but inflexible” (Vellum, Reedsy, Kindle Create, etc.), or “fiddly and tedious but customizable” (MS Word with a book template, Google Docs with add-ons, Adobe InDesign, etc.)
  • After it has been exported, always scan each page of the final PDF for weird page breaks: the first/last line of a list or paragraph dangling on a separate page, section headings that begin as a page ends, illustrations getting displaced and leaving lots of whitespace, and so on

Create cover images:

  • Front cover for ebook, front/back/spine for paperback (leave an empty corner for the ISBN and barcode on the back of the paperback), and a square version for the audiobook (if you have one)
  • Use an online calculator for paperback spine width once you know your page count, paper weight, and book dimensions
  • $50-500 to hire a freelancer if desired (or fairly reasonable DIY templates are a Google search away)

Decide how to do your print-on-demand and where to sell your books:

  • If selling through Amazon, do it all via Amazon KDP (“Kindle Direct Publishing”) which, despite its name, also handles paperbacks (see Chapter 8 for optimizations and the Appendix for guidance on setup options)
  • If setting up your own website and storefront, use IngramSpark + Shopify to handle everything (i.e., selling, printing, and shipping) — this requires being fairly comfortable with multiple tech tools, although no actual coding is required

Get some ISBNs, which are your book’s identification number and barcode:

  • The simple option is to accept the free ISBNs from either Amazon or IngramSpark (which they’ll offer to you while setting up your book), but doing so does carry some limitations and restrictions that are worth researching (I did this for my first two books and it was fine, but I’m using the next option for this book)
  • The more professional option is to buy your own ISBNs and “publish” the book under your own publishing imprint — this is relatively straightforward if you already have a business entity, but requires setting one up if not, which obviously carries an accounting and admin burden
  • You’ll use a different ISBN for each format (e.g., hardback, paperback, Kindle, iBooks, etc.) and each new version (only for major updates, minor fixes don’t matter)

That’s a big list that potentially includes a few new tasks you didn’t even know existed. But although many of these tasks are indeed a bit fiddly and tedious, they’re also fairly predictable, solvable, and low-risk. You can do them. A million titles are self-published per year, many by first time authors. Plus, all sorts of helpful blog posts, tutorials, and guides have been written by the folks who have already been through it.

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