There are two main types of publishing: ‘traditional’ and ‘self-publishing’. In traditional publishing, the author signs a contract and sells the rights of their book to a publishing house. This attachment can mean that the book changes quite a lot from the author’s original vision. As well as the involvement of a professional editor during the writing process, the publishing house is also responsible for printing, publishing, marketing, and selling the book. It’s perhaps the more ‘recognised’ method, however, this article will focus on how to self publish a book in the UK.
What is self publishing?
Self publishing in the book world is where you – the author – publish the book all by yourself. As well as writing or creating the content of the book, you also take care of every other stage too. From editing and proofreading to cover design and marketing; it’s all your decision and all your responsibility.
Books are either published in print or digital format. Print books can either come in hardback or paperback form. Digital books are known as e-books and are read on a device such as a Kindle or Smartphone.
There is often a stigma attached to self-publishing; as if your work isn’t ‘good enough’ to be published in the traditional way. There was a lot of criticism surrounding the literary merit of 50 Shades of Grey by E L James. What started as Twilight fanfic, became the most successful self-published book to date, selling 100+ million copies worldwide. However, self publishing is more than a vanity project. It opens doors that were previously firmly closed. And not always because of the quality of writing…
Jane Austen privately published Sense and Sensibility in a time when it was frowned upon for women to write. In fact, they were often snubbed for simply not being men. In 1881, Austen paid for Sense and Sensibility to be published on commission. This means that she was prepared to shoulder the financial risk of the novel not selling in order to see it in print.
How popular is self publishing?
Over the years, self-publishing books has increased steadily in both popularity and ease. Thanks to online platforms like Amazon, it has become an acceptable part of the publishing landscape. In fact, by the end of 2019, Amazon had published 2 million books; a number that’s since exploded. However, it’s difficult to know the true scale of self publishing, as it isn’t documented comprehensively. For example, publishing platforms don’t always release their figures and there isn’t a central body recording each publication. Therefore, it isn’t possible to know just how many books are being self-published. But we know it’s a lot…
According to the Self-Publishing Advice Center, self published books made up 30–34% of UK ebook sales in 2020.
Types of books you could self publish
But you don’t need to write a novel to self publish your own book. There are other types of books that you can create and publish yourself. In fact, they cover a complete spectrum effort-, input-, skill-, and time-wise. We’ll look at some of them now.
A book of your own content is usually the first thing most people think of when it comes to self-publishing. This could be from any genre such as Fiction, Non-fiction, or a poetry collection. Self publishing children’s books is also something that’s increasingly popular to do.
Writing a book of any kind, completely from scratch, is a huge undertaking. An average novel is around 80,000 words. And that’s the finished product; there’s likely to be countless rewrites along the way. Not to mention research, fact-checking, formatting, and cover design. As well as the printing, self-publishing, and marketing when you choose to self publish.
This is a softer approach to writing your own book for self publishing. With this method, you still have to write content but not necessarily from scratch.
Books that are in the public domain belong to the general public. Which means that you can read it for free. It also means that you can ‘reinvent’ the original work, using its characters, settings, or themes. But how does this happen?
Before 1964, copyright terms lasted for 28 years before needing to be renewed. The majority of authors didn’t bother and therefore their books fell into the public domain when the terms expired. New laws extended copyright terms to 95 years, which means we won’t see some books in the public domain for a while. However, there are some amazing works available now. In fact, as of January 1st 2021, anything written before 1923 is in the public domain.
- copyright has expired,
- the copyright owner failed to follow copyright renewal rules,
- the copyright owner deliberately places it in the public domain,
- copyright law does not protect this type of work.
“Producers may freely take inspiration from an underlying public domain expression or idea without creative or financial restrictions. The original creator (or successor in title) of a copyright work cannot refuse permission to a creator who wishes to adapt or transform the work, potentially leading to innovation and new creativity.” – source: Copyright and the value of public domain.
Please be aware that copyright rules differ depending on the country, so always check individual terms beforehand.
This is a relatively low-effort way to get content for self-publishing. You can add in as much or as little of your own content too.
Using the same public domain works we talked about a moment ago, you can create a ‘new’ book. But where do you find public domain books? Project Gutenberg is an online library which houses over 60,000 free ebooks. You can use the search box to find books in the public domain. Make sure you check their individual copyrights before republishing them in any way.
Once you have a suitable book, you can repackage and self publish it. Give it a new lease of life by refreshing its cover. Or, add your own notes and thoughts to the text. Have you written an essay or academic paper on the subject? Bundle them together. Speaking of bundles, look for thematically-related content and publish a couple of books as one. But again, check copyright first.
Low content book
The term ‘low content’ covers a range of book types. Think about the inside of a brand new notebook or diary, compared to a novel. The actual amount of content inside is minimal. And a lot of the time, low content equates to low effort. Instead of you writing a full book, you create something that the end user/reader will fill in.
We’ll look at the steps involved in self-publishing a low content book in a moment, but really all you need is a template for the internal pages. And don’t worry if all you can think about is a lined notebook, because we’ve got some more ideas below:
- Sketchbooks use blank pages – they’re the ultimate low content book
- Grid notebooks (used for recording mathematical or scientific data)
- Dot grid paper (used for bullet journaling)
- Recipe books
- Weekly or monthly planners
- Manuscript paper or guitar tab paper
- Puzzle books such as crosswords or word searches
That list isn’t exhaustive, so if there’s something else that will appeal to your target audience, give it a go! And you’ll most likely find an existing template on one of the platforms we’ll talk about in the next section.
The cover is where you can stamp your mark on the book. Obviously, you can customise the internal pages as much as you want, but with low content books, this might not be necessary. For some of the more ‘unusual’ low content books above, you could make the internal pages different. For example, you could create or commission original artwork for a colouring book. However, in terms of a ruled journal, you could literally sell a book by letting people judge its cover.
How to self publish a book UK
How to self publish a book UK: step by step
Now that we’ve looked at the types of books that can be self published, let’s see how easy the process can be. Below is a step-by-step guide for self publishing low content books but it can be adapted for novels or similar.
1. Create an account on Bookbolt
Whilst self-publishing can be cheap, it won’t be free, so be prepared to pay for certain elements of the process. Bookbolt has two packages: Newbie ($9.99/month or $89.99/year) and Pro ($19.99/month or $199.99/year). However, both options come with a three day free trial, so if you’re quick, you might be able to create a book for free. This is perhaps more achievable if you’re making low content books.
With Bookbolt you can check the average prices of similar low content books currently selling on Amazon. This gives you an idea of what your low content book could be worth. You can also look through the most popular or best-selling books in your chosen niche. Again, this gives you a good idea of what has a good chance of selling.
Bookbolt also comes with keyword and product research tools which will be invaluable for when you list your finished book.
2. Design you book
It’s time to unleash your creativity. Or use the available templates, anyway. Because Bookbolt is focused on helping to create low content books, there are a range of interior templates for all kinds of ‘empty’ books. As well as ruled or lined pages, there are also templates for mood trackers, weekly planners, and recipes. Some are free but others are members only. Use the Interior Wizard to find the perfect interior for your low content books. Choose a template and set the size and number of pages. Then save as a pdf.
Alternatively, you could use a graphic design platform like Canva to create your own cover. Remember to download your file as a pdf and save it for when it’s time to publish. You should have two separate pdf files: the interior and exterior of your book.
3. Create an account on Kindle Direct Publishing
KDP is Amazon’s in-house publishing and print on demand service. Once you’ve created a Kindle Direct Publishing account, it’s time to upload your files and get your book ready to self publish. KDP is simple to use and the publishing process can be done in a matter of minutes. Your book may be sent for review but it should be available to purchase on Amazon within 24-48 hours.
Kindle Direct Publishing is free to use and because books are only printed once an order has been made, there are no upfront costs. As you move through the publishing process, you can see printing costs and set the price of your book. You will receive up to 70% royalty on sales made to customers in the UK, US, and lots of countries worldwide.
Work your way through the sections, adding information about your book. Use the keyword research you did on Bookbolt to include relevant, high search terms. Set the category of your book so that target customers can find it when they search on Amazon.
You’ll receive an ISBN (print) or ASIN (ebook) number, which is a unique code used to identify specific editions and publishers. KDP will generate an International Standard Book Number for free.
Upload your cover/exterior and manuscript/interior pdf files. Make sure you preview them first and make changes if necessary. Set your printing preferences such as black and white or colour and price. Choose whether you want to publish in print, digitally, or both. Ebooks will appear for sale on Kindle. Your book will be sent for review.
Then it’s up to you to market it as much or as little as you want! Low content books can be an amazing source of passive income if you find the right niche.
Additional helpful tools
If you’re ‘going it alone’, then you’re going to need the right tools. We’ve already looked at some of the main platforms, such as Bookbolt, Canva and KDP. However, there are lots more you could find useful when it comes to self publishing a book.
An invaluable tool for writers of any kind. While nothing will ever replace a professional Copy Editor, Grammarly is a great stand in. Catch all those spelling, punctuation, style, or grammar mishaps and make sure you make sense. An alternative checking tool is ProWritingAid. Both have Free or Paid versions.
If you’re not a fan of Amazon, there are other self-publishing platforms available. Smashwords offers “free and easy ebook publishing and distribution”. If you sell your ebook via the Smashwords Store, you receive up to 80% of the listed price. PayPal payments are made monthly, once you’ve met the one penny payment threshold. As well as publishing and distribution, Smashwords can also introduce you to ebook formatters and cover designers (paid service).
Another alternative in the world of print-on-demand, self publishing platforms, is Lulu. Similarly to other platforms, all you need to do is upload your files and publish your book. Again, Lulu has templates, guides, and offers editing services.
Bowker is the official ISBN Agency for the US and Australia. If you use KDP, you can get an automatically-generated ISBN for your book. However, you may need to look elsewhere if you use a different platform. Bowker provides a range of bibliographic information and resources, such as its Books In Print® database.
Costs of self publishing books
Self-publishing can kind of cost as much or as little as you want it to. Obviously there will be some costs involved. For example, Bookbolt (mentioned earlier) is a paid tool, although there are some free internal templates available. Therefore, it could cost you as little as a tool subscription or two.
In this case, you’d be doing most of the work involved. From copyediting to cover design and formatting. Or, there are paid services you could bolt on, like a professional editor to proofread and advise. Again, the costs can be kept relatively small here too. For example, it might be worth looking on Fiverr for freelance illustrators or designers. On the other hand, some self publishers will have a list of professionals they recommend.
Using a print on demand service will keep your costs low on the printing front. Most of these platforms will source the paper for you too, as well as taking care of printing and shipping.
How much can you make from self-publishing books?
Unless you strike gold, you’re probably not going to become the next EL James. However, there’s potential for a nice side hustle in self publishing books.
Authors in general can struggle to make a full time wage. In fact, a survey by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) found that some of the UK’s most-seasoned authors (writing for 20+ years) earn less than £10,500 annually. In traditional publishing, an advance is the payment made to an author for their book. It’s usually paid in instalments eg: when a contract is signed, submission of final manuscript, and publication. The figure is also determined by the publishing house.
With self publishing, the amount can vary depending on the platform you use. For example, on KDP you can earn up to 70% royalty on sales. The Self-Publishing School found that self-published authors can make four to six times higher than traditionally-published writers.
More ways to make money online
Print on demand dropshipping is just one example of how outsourcing order fulfillment can help you make money online. However, dropshipping can also be used to sell pretty much anything. For more side hustle ideas, check out our make money online hub.