Self-Publishing for Newbies

cover IHello friends! Greg and I get questions all the time on self-publishing, so we have decided to do a blog post on it for you. That’s right – this post comes from both the Seymour’s today! 

Here is our advice, answers, and tips for you:

1. Why did you self-publish vs. publishing the traditional way? Well, that answer is quite simple: time and money.

TIME: It could take a long time (years!) to be properly accepted by a publisher. Just thinking of how many letters we’d have to send out, then be patient, then receive rejection letters, all the while trying to keep our spirits up, and then send more letters out, etc… ! Also, we were “unknown’s” at the time – we had both never written a book before.  While our blogs were gaining viewers and popularity, they were also brand new and virtually unknown. Why would a publisher pick up our books to even glance at them? On the flip side, my pal Brittany has an extremely well known blog, so for her – it paid to go the standard publishing route (in fact she had publishers fighting over her book!).  

Hey, I had people fighting over my book, too:

MONEY: Sure, with a publisher you get an advance, but then you’re at their mercy of book deadlines, editing deadlines, and to be honest – you’re not going to have as much input as you would if you just did the whole thing yourself. Also, I’ve heard of people having to pay their advance back to the publisher, in part, if their book didn’t go over as well as initially thought. With self-publishing, there is no out-of-pocket money to you! Unless, you have an editor or book cover artist to pay. I had some fabulous friends who helped me with my editing and I did my cover myself (but I love playing around with pictures, and it doesn’t hurt that Greg is a pro at Photoshop). If you’re not familiar with either of those things, I would definitely hire someone to do a professional job for you (more on this below). Your cover and title are the most important things to first grab someone’s attention.

2. Can anyone do it? Is it hard? Two years ago, neither Greg nor I had ever published anything. Now I have two books out (soon to have a 3rd) and Greg has a book out (working on his 2nd). So, we have proven that it can be done with very little knowledge. Here’s our books: Costa Rica Chica, Costa Rica Chica Cookbook, and Living and Visiting Costa Rica (100 Tips!).

3. Does it matter how long my ebook is? My advice on proper length, is to NOT try to fill it with fluff just so it’s longer. I say write from your heart, and whatever length it ends up being that you are happy with (after editing, of course) – that is what it is!

4. What to write about? Write about something you know well, and what other people are interested in. Books don’t sell themselves, so getting an audience before you publish is very important. Greg and I did this through our blogs. We built our blogs up first, and then once we published – we had a captive audience.

5. Editing? Have the final book edited. You can use a service like Fiverr for getting it done cheap. Same goes for the cover, unless you have graphic art experience. People DO judge a book by its cover.

6. What about the publishing process? The actual process of publishing is pretty easy if you go through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).  KDP walks you through the process, you upload a formatted word document, and then you review the ebook online and make any necessary changes. You can see how it will appear on all of the various Kindle formats (including an iPhone, etc.), which is really helpful.

There are a couple of options for pricing with Kindle.  If you publish the book as a “regular” Kindle ebook, you can have any amount of words, and price it between $2.99 – $9.99 to get 70% of each book sold. If you price it over $9.99, you only get 30%.

The other option is to publish it as a “Kindle single.” You have to have between 5,000 – 30,000 words (translates to about 15 – 90 pages), and you can price it lower than $2.99 and still get 70%.  However, this also automatically puts you in the “KDP select program,” which means you can’t sell it anywhere else. Also you have to choose one of the Kindle Single categories, and there are only a few – so if your book does not fall into any of these, you are out of luck.  The Single is really meant for novella-length nonfiction literature or long-form journalism.

For the paperback, you also use KDP (this used to be a separate company Createspace, but now has been bought by KDP). The paperback process is separate from the ebook, but both are pretty user friendly.After both your ebook and paperback are published and approved – Amazon will “tie” them together, so when someone looks up your book on Amazon, they can view both your ebook and the paperback on the same screen (toggling back and forth). Using KDP for your paperback is great because you don’t have to spend any money up front, and you don’t have to buy, say, 500 books to get the best deal. The book(s) are “print on demand,” so each book is not printed until it’s ordered – and your cost remains quite low.

Also – KDP makes it easy to track (daily) how many books you’ve sold!

7. Marketing? Finally, once published, you need to market. If you have a blog, of course the first thing you should do is a post on it! But, you need more, more, more. Guest post on other peoples blogs in your genre, find podcasts where you can be interviewed, submit your book to reviewers and advertise it all over the place when you get a good review. Don’t be shy! 

Also, book-signing party’s help!  I was lucky enough to have two. My first one was in Costa Rica, thrown by my friends Irina & Marti:
signing frameAnd my second one was in Wisconsin, given by my lovely friend, Melissa:Me and my Wisconsinsite pal, Melissa.

8. How important are reviews? Reviews are important. Give friends a free book in return for an honest review. In the end, bad reviews might hurt your feelings, but they don’t hurt the sale of the book, they actually provide proof of the book – that other people are reading it. Also, once you get over 50 reviews on Amazon, Amazon will start listing your book in its newsletters and other promotions (free marketing for you!).

9. FREE help? Here’s some FREE ebooks on amazon that you should read to help you while writing your book and with publishing on Amazon when you’re ready:

Building Your Book for Kindle
Publish on Amazon Kindle with Kindle Direct Publishing

There’s other books out there, but the above two are free, and published by Amazon themselves. I personally have read both, and refer back to them frequently.    

We hope all this helps. It all seems daunting at first, but it is definitely doable.
Heck, if we did it – you can do it too!
IMG_3518 2Happy publishing! — Jen & Greg

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15 Responses to Self-Publishing for Newbies

  1. Eureka! Guys, this is coming along at JUST the right moment for me. You
    must have been reading my mind — I’m beginning to write my book (gulp) in
    May. Thanks ever so much for this information; it must be a sign from
    your muses to mine… Mil Gracias!

  2. Great post Jen. Kurt has thought about writing a book in relation to our experience on the underwear bomber flight as well as our follow up move to Costa Rica. I will have to show him this post to show him it’s not as difficult as one may think.

  3. Jen – thank you for your wise and witty advice; I always look forward to hearing from you. As you know, I’m striving to develop and promote my blog ( and plan to begin my book this July during my next hiatus to Costa Rica, so your words are a blessed encouragement to me. Any advice about how to build followers to a blog? Peace – Staci

    • Awesome, Staci! Blog: find Facebook groups to post to, make sure you have a subscriber list from the beginning, guest blog post on other people’s blogs, and comment on other blogs (with your website so people can link back to you)….

  4. Glad you wrote this. My father self-published a number of years ago and I never quite understood how he did it. Thanks!!!!!

  5. Since I was a child I have a writer spirit that gets truck by a family situation, now after been unemployed I decided to get back to what I love, I have found issues to get people to actually read my Spanish book, I will appreciate some advice, Cel 88928050

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