This article is due for an update, but because I'm now in the process of moving my website to a new WordPress website and blog, all I had time to do now was make a few changes regarding Amazon's latest changes and double-check the links. Now, authors must publish both print books and eBooks through KINDLE DIRECT PUBLISHING.

The rest of the content in this article is still timely and correct, but when I update it for republication on my new site, it will be expanded to reflect new things I've learned in the past year about publishing both print and eBooks, with info about a relatively new eBook publisher that offers benefits not available from Amazon.  

If you would like to receive an announcement when my new site is up, please subscribe to my Brabec Bulletin. The new site will include several new articles for writers, authors, and those who are still dreaming about writing a book.

Historical Note about Amazon/Booklocker Lawsuit

Everything in the self-publishing industry changed in April 2008 when Amazon announced that in order for self-published authors to sell POD and regularly-printed books on its site, independent authors and publishers had to print their books using its BookSurge service. But Amazon's attempt to monopolize the entire POD industry failed when Booklocker issued a class action antitrust lawsuit against Amazon in July, 2008 and WON that lawsuit in January 2010. Amazon then "retired" the BookSurge name and POD service and agreed to pay $300,000 in attorney's fees. Read details here. However, BookSurge was simply replaced by CreateSpace.

Amazon's CreateSpace POD Option

Today, self-publishers must use Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (which replaced CreateSpace's POD publishing service) if they want their books to show up on the product page as being available for immediate shipment. Publishing through any other provider, such as Lightning Source or one of the many self-publishing companies on the Web, will likely result in the availability date showing as "Ships in 2 to 3 weeks," which will effectively kill a book. Thus Amazon is still "ruling the roost" here. And this is why today's self-publishers are finding it necessary to publish their book twice—through Lightning Source or Ingram to get the book into bookstore and library databases (as well as on Amazon); and through KDP in order to have the description read, "In stock." (Details at right.)


A Lightning Source Tip

Lightning Source doesn't offer hand-holding services, and they work not with "authors" but only "independent publishers." So, as the author-publisher, you will be expected to study their how-to guidelines and send them properly formatted PDF documents for the book's text and cover. Lacking those skills, you may wish to consult with Barbara for personal referrals to a freelance service provider in her network who can not only design and typeset your book for you, but give you the required PDF documents needed by both Lightning Source and CreateSpace (the two major POD printers).

===>See also Aaron Shepard's comments about the problem authors have when submitting a revised edition of a POD book to Lightning Source.

Self-Publishing Companies to Avoid

Mark Levine's book, The Fine Print of Self-Publishing (3rd edition) analyzes, ranks, and exposes the contracts and services of 45 Self-Publishing Companies. This book features a list of eight "Outstanding Self-Publishing Companies" and lists of other publishers he calls "pretty good" and "just OK," but the most impressive list is the one that names twenty-one "Publishers to Avoid" and then gives the reasons for this within the book's text.

Further research on Barbara's part led her to discover that five publishers on this list (Authorhouse, iUniverse, Tate Publishing, Trafford Publishing, and Xlibris) are owned by the same company: AUTHOR SOLUTIONS.* What all of them have in common are many complaints about their services on the Web.

To read these complaints or learn if there are any complaints about a publisher you're thinking about working with, simply type the publisher's name, a plus sign, and the word complaints into a search engine.

You'll be astonished by how many authors have documented their sad publishing experiences with each of the above companies. In fact, Author Solutions has more than a million web pages connecting its name to the word "complaint.") Be careful.

* Believe it or not . . . Author Solutions was bought by the world-renowned Penguin Group in 2012. Mark Coker, owner of, wrote about this in his July newsletter, wondering why this traditional publisher paid $116 million for a self-publishing company that, as he puts it, "... put the 'V' in vanity" and earns 2/3 or more of their income "selling services and books to authors, not selling authors' books to readers."

If you plan to publish eBooks, be sure to subscribe to Coker's newsletters. Some remarkable writing and perspective here!

FOR MORE INFORMATION on writer complaints about other self-publishing companies, click here to find "Alerts for Writers" and "Warnings about the Schemes, Scams, and Pitfalls That Threaten Writers" on the website of Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).

One book publisher not discussed in Levin's book but exposed in considerable detail on the SFWA site is Strategic Book Publishing Group and its owner, Robert M. Fletcher. Read this article to see the list of publisher names and literary agencies this man has operated under through the years.

In 2009, Fletcher was sued by the Florida's Attorney General's office for using more than twenty websites and related companies to fleece unsuspecting authors. What's said that this company is still operating today under the same name and website URLs.

A Cautionary Note about Vanity Presses (Also Known as "Subsidy Publishers")

Vanity publishers feed on people's egos and wallets, often charging outrageous fees to get a book into print. As Tom and Marilyn Ross explained in their Complete Guide to Self-Publishing (5th ed., published in 2010), it's easy to be taken in by one of these publishers. "The advertising copywriters hired by subsidy publishers are the best in the business," they say, adding that they could "charm the lard off a hog." Further, the Rosses point out that, in most cases, after paying thousands of dollars to print your book, you won't even own it. Instead, you'll get a "royalty" on any book that happens to be sold, and if you want copies for yourself, you'll have to buy them. The really bad news is that no one wants to buy books published by a vanity press, so if you want to sell many books and make a good profit, look for another way to get into print.

A very good article on vanity presses will be found here on the website of Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.

And of course you can always just Google the words "vanity subsidy publishing" to turn up nearly 250,000 Web pages on the topic.

Related Articles by Barbara

Selling Your Book to a Trade Publisher

Author-Publisher Contracts from Internet Book Publishers and Self-Publishing Services

Book Manuscript Formatting Tips


Barbara Brabec's eBooks for the Kindle and Nook.

"In the new world of ebook self-publishing, there are no advances, but your book never goes out of print either. Thanks to the scalability and efficiency of online retailing, the digital bits and bytes that comprise your ebook can happily occupy an online retailer’s shelf forever if you let it. Your book is immortal. You always have another day to find your next readers. You harvest your income over time as the book sells.

"Your book-as-an-annuity will very likely produce some level of income for you for the rest of your life. All you need to do is keep the book in stores."

     - from Smashwords' Blog: "The Ebook as Annuity"

Other Resources

YOU COULD SPEND DAYS on Google in search of information on topics related to POD publishing and eBooks. But you should start with the resources in this article and on the T/C page of the Writing/Publishing department to connect with some of the best websites and author blogs.

Also visit John Kremer's site, which features his books, reports, and consulting services. Of particular interest will be the wealth of information and resource lists in his "Personal Filing Cabinet" department.



Copyright © 2000-2019 by Barbara Brabec. All Rights Reserved.

How to Self-Publish a Book

Your Print-on-Demand (POD)
Self-Publishing Options,
with Perspective on eBook Editions

by Barbara Brabec

(Last updated May, 2019; but see note at left.)

The climate for self-publishing has never been better than it is right now, and the number of companies on the Web that offer services to authors who want to self-publish is absolutely amazing. But these POD publishers are a different breed from the traditional trade book publishers who sell to bookstores and libraries, and there are many pitfalls awaiting those who elect to publish with one of them.


I PUBLISHED THREE OF MY BOOKS in the 1980s and 1990s and sold several thousand copies of each book by mail, making a tidy profit in the process. I actually produced one of those books with nothing more than sheer determination and an IBM Selectric typewriter (how I loved those interchangeable balls), but my readers didn't care how they were produced because the content was solid and the books were attractively laid out and easy to read. This was in the days when boards had to be pasted up and sent to the printer for "shooting." Red film had to be stripped in where pictures were to be inserted, and it was a very tedious and time-consuming process. Now, everything about the publishing industry has changed; today's publishers and printers want books designed and delivered electronically, and there's a whole lot more to this than is obvious at first glance.

If you have tried to get the attention of a trade publisher and been rejected, or if you simply prefer the idea of self-publishing so you can be in complete control of your book from start to finish—and you're prepared to learn how to market and sell the book/s you plan to publish—then I urge you to give serious consideration to self-publishing. Since countless books have been written on this topic, this article merely offers a summary of what I've learned from first-hand experience, with links to some of the best resources for self-publishers. (This is a long discussion; you might want to pour a cup of coffee first.)

Skills and Services Needed for Success

EACH POD BOOK PRINTER has its own specifications and requirements for how text pages and cover images must be designed and submitted for printing, but not all authors follow them carefully enough or have the technical skills to do what is required. As I learned from a spokesperson for one of the companies on the Web that helps authors get into print, there is always something significantly wrong with most "camera-ready" books they receive from new authors. "There are errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation," this person said. "Or the author-turned-layout-artist has left floating headers on blank pages. Or the margins are much too tight. Or the images are too low-resolution for print. If we published one of these books 'as is,' the book would look amateurish and no one would buy it."

Although many writers have the computer software to do the design and layout of their own books, few of them have the skills needed to do a professional job. For example, no writer, however capable, should publish a book that hasn't been professionally edited. It is simply impossible for any writer to see all of his or her own writing errors. Trust me on this. Although I'm a good editor who can see the errors other writers make, it's extremely difficult for me to catch all my own typos.

(See my Editing Checklist for the "why" of this and the kind of errors writers commonly make that they can easily fix themselves to lower their editing costs.) As a professional editor who has always edited her own work, I don't have my books edited by anyone else because I don't want anyone changing anything I've written. I do, however, rely on others to help me with the proofreading.

Without question, most authors—especially first-time authors—need help with cover design as well as the interior design of the book itself (selection of typefaces, layout, graphic illustrations in the text, and so on). Granted, many of the publishing companies on the Web who are serving the self-publishing industry offer editing and cover design services, but their cover designs are based on standard templates (nothing very creative here), and the editing offered is bare-bones at best—usually nothing more than basic copy editing when in fact every manuscript by a first-time author I've ever edited has needed a great deal of content (developmental) editing as well.

A manuscript may be poorly structured or formatted, or have choppy or incomplete sentences, clumsy dialogue, or paragraphing that needs improvement. Sometimes quoted material has been used improperly or illegally. A good freelance editor will bring such matters to the author's attention, whereas a "quick and dirty" copy edit by a company whose only concern is how much the author is paying them for this service couldn't care less. Most of the self-publishing companies on the Web will publish any manuscript that comes their way, whether it has merit or not.

If you feel you must work with one of the self-publishing companies on the Web—and there are some very good reasons for doing this—it's still best to work with a freelance editor whose editing will be far more comprehensive than that of any self-publishing service you may be considering. Always remember that if your first book isn't well written and edited and professionally produced, no one will buy your second.

Printers vs. Publishers

SOMETHING THAT MAY NOT AT FIRST be apparent to beginning authors is that there is a big difference between a POD printer and a "self-publishing company." A few outstanding self-publishing companies offer complete publishing and marketing packages to authors who need help with every aspect of the publication process, but these packages can get very pricey ($5,000 or more). As a book manuscript editor and author's consultant, part of my job is to help authors decide how to publish their book and help them avoid the pitfalls so many other beginning authors have experienced. I've now helped several first-time authors publish independently by referring them to trusted freelance service providers in my network—individuals who give their clients personal attention and a guarantee of satisfaction (something I don't see any of the self-publishing companies offering). In all cases, their publication costs have been much less than what they would have paid to any self-publishing company for the same services.

But saving money is only one of the benefits enjoyed by independent self-publishers. When you publish independently—doing it all yourself or with the help of freelancers—YOU are the publisher named in the book (not the self-publishing company). YOU retain complete control of the book and its ISBN number, and YOU keep 100 percent of the profits and can increase those profits by publishing an eBook edition that will yield 70 percent of its retail price. You can also get into the same marketing channels offered by the self-publishing companies.

Understand that all the self-publishing companies that call themselves "publishers" are merely service providers who send their clients' books somewhere else for printing, usually Lightning Source. If you actually publish through Ingram Spark or Lightning Source, this will automatically get your book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and into all the bookstore/library databases, plus into Canada and globally, if you think your book has that broad a market and you set your wholesale discount high enough. If you publish through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP, formerly Createspace), you can get broader distribution at an extra fee, but I don't recommend this. As discussed in a sidebar at left, most authors will get the best distribution by publishing through both KDP and Lightning Source, or its branch, IngramSpark, which is designed for smaller publishers and is less expensive than Lightning Source.

Here's something else you need to understand about marketing and distribution: Forget about selling a POD book through bookstores. With few exceptions, such as when an author lives in a small town that has an independent bookstore, bookstores will not buy or stock a POD book; they will merely be able to get information about it from Ingram's database files because Ingram owns Lightning Source. Yes, you might sell a few copies in bookstores, but only if you can motivate people to go into a bookstore and ask that your book be special-ordered for them. Some authors buy books at 50% off the retail price and can wholesale to a local bookstore at 30% and still have a little room for profit. Libraries may also buy a copy if you can motivate your fans to go into their library and ask them to obtain a copy for them. But you're talking very small numbers here.

Today's savvy self-publishers accept the fact that the bulk of their sales are going to come primarily from Amazon and other online bookstores and that, to sell a book online, they must learn how to promote it on their own website or blog and/or through social networking and word of mouth.

Not all authors want or need to sell a book online, of course, or set up a website to promote it. A few authors make most of their money from a print book by going on the road with it or selling it in their workshops or speaking engagements. In that case, working with an offset printer to print 500-1,000 books at a time may be the best publishing option. This was the route I took all those years I was publishing some of my own books and selling them by mail and at home-business events.

The Changing Self-Publishing Scene

MANY THINGS HAVE CHANGED in the world of self-publishing in the past couple of years, and they seem to be changing all the time now. I've been getting much of my best information and education on this topic from Aaron Shepard, an author and publisher that has been blazing a trail for authors around the world for many years. After reading his three books on self-publishing, I found Perfect Pages and Aiming for Amazon absolutely invaluable to me in my first POD publishing experience in 2010. The first book enabled me to typeset a beautifully designed book using MS Word 2003; the other helped me set up an effective product page on Amazon for my memoir, The Drummer Drives! Everybody Else Rides. I still use Word 2003 to do my writing and typesetting of my books because this is best version of this program ever released. (Shepherd said to hang onto this program as long as possible, and that's what I plan to do until I'm forced to give it up.)

For a "crash course" on how POD publishing has changed and what authors need to know to successfully publish and sell a print-on-demand book today, read Shepard's helpful report, "In Pursuit of Plan B: Dealing with the Reduced Availability of Lightning Source Books on" Although he says this report is now out of date, it does explain how Amazon's 800-pound-gorilla approach to the industry has forced authors to adjust their publishing strategy by publishing a book through two channels with different wholesale price discounts in order to maximize distribution and sales: (1) through Lightning Source to get into Ingram's database, and (2) Amazon's CreateSpace/KDP program to ensure that the book's product page on Amazon says the book is "in stock, ready for immediate shipment." In other words, the rule now seems to be "publish through Amazon . . . or else."

Once you've read this article, which I realize is enough to give anyone an "Excedrin headache," you might consider setting up a telephone consultation with me so I can help you figure out your best self-publishing options. Depending on the kind of book you've written, one publishing route may be better for you than another, and you may find that doing an eBook edition first to test the waters is the smartest and most affordable way to begin. As several authors have attested, I can answer many questions you may have and help you get started on the self-publishing road that's right for you.

After your book manuscript has been edited and you've decided whether you're going to publish a POD book, eBook (see note at end), or both, you'll need a good cover design, and if you're doing a print edition, you'll also need affordable book design/typesetting and a  PDF file conversion service or the software to do this yourself.  I'm not accepting editing jobs now, but I'm still critiquing manuscripts. Whatever help you may need beyond the services I offer, I can refer you to one or more skilled individuals in my network who will help you get published without stress and at an affordable price.

REMEMBER: The primary difference in publishing independently and using one of the self-publishing services is that as an independent publisher you will buy your own ISBN number and own it, and the book will show you as the publisher. You'll also receive all the income from the book instead of a royalty from the publisher. This is the route I always advise my clients to take.

Researching Individual Companies
and Publishers to Avoid

IF YOU ELECT TO WORK WITH one of the self-publishing companies, you'll need to do a lot of research. Start by reading the information in the left column on POD publishers to avoid. Once you find a few companies that you like the looks of, do a spreadsheet that lists their basic "package" charge (if there is one), plus what they are charging for all the "extras" (such as editing, cover design, etc.), and whether they pay royalties, offer marketing support, or merely print and ship books and "split" the profits with the author-publisher. To get started, check this "Incomplete Guide to Print on Demand Publishers." Just make sure that the company you decide to work with does not demand exclusive rights to publish and distribute your book. Finally, make sure you understand all the fine print in the publishing contract and know how you can sever this publishing relationship, if need be, before you sign on the dotted line.

Unfortunately, the self-publishing explosion has given birth to dozens of POD publishers, some of whom have racked up a lot of complaints from dissatisfied authors. Some have renamed themselves as a result and continue to operate the same old way, while others have simply gone out of business, leaving authors in the lurch. Read this article by Angela Hoy, owner of Booklocker, for insight on what happens to authors when a POD publisher goes out of business. (See also this article, with background info on Booklocker's 20-year history.)

Your list of prospective POD publishers should include this company  because this is one of the "good guys." Their stated goal is to "get a quality book into the market, with the lowest initial investment for an author, and usually within a month." You might begin by reading their updated 2019 Self-Publishing Price Comparison report.

If you lack skills, the right software, and money, you might want to give a look. Many kinds of products can be designed and published here with no upfront costs, and though I haven't tried it, it looks like anyone could publish an eBook here using their conversion service. The profit potential is good since authors have complete control of the publishing process, set their own retail prices, and receive 80 percent of the revenue from sales. But understand that YOU must generate your own sales of the book. It will show up on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but getting people to the product page to buy it is the trick.

I've heard some good things about Lulu, but the following note from one of my editor pals will tell you that it's important to start with a properly edited and formatted manuscript to get a good-looking book from them. My friend wrote:

"I received a book published by Lulu, and it looks AWFUL. It has TWO spaces between sentences and a sans serif font for the text (never should be done) that is almost unreadable, and the leading is all off. Lines are crammed together like sardines. What a travesty! They also have her name in the left-page header where the book title should be. Unheard of. Also no drop caps. There are also straggling lines (widows and orphans) on almost every page. And the paragraph indent is way too big. I thought Lulu was better than this. Obviously, I was wrong."

For a positive report on this company, consider that I have in my library a very handsome book by Chris Irwin that he published through Lulu as a book he could sell to generate extra income for his ministry. Chris reported that this was a perfect publishing solution for him. One of my clients wrote this detailed article about his positive experience with Lulu that will give you additional perspective on how this company operates. The biggest problem I have with Lulu is that when there is a question or problem, one has to go into a forum to get an answer—a perfect example of the old saying, "You get what you pay for."

AND NOW . . . A Few Words
about Publishing an eBook Edition

MOST FIRST-TIME AUTHORS would benefit by publishing an eBook edition before going to the expense of publishing a print book. First, it's less costly; second, this gives the author a chance to test the market for the book and begin to understand the kind of promotion any book needs if it's going to find its market.

Once you decide to do an eBook, you have to have a properly formatted manuscript and then decide which eBook publisher/distributor you want to use to maximize distribution. You could work with one of the eBook publishing services such as BookBaby, (which I don't recommend), or do it yourself by setting up accounts for an Amazon Kindle book, B&N's Nook, or Smashwords. But you'll have to spend a lot of time reading the formatting guides for each eBook publisher because they're all different.

If you need some help in deciding how you should publish your book—whether in print, as an eBook, or both—I'd be happy to consult with you on this topic. I know the pros, cons, and challenges of each type of publishing, and I've now helped several first-time authors publish both print and eBook editions either by working with them directly, or by referring them to trusted freelance service providers in my network.

I also have first-hand experience here, having broken into eBook publishing in 2012 by publishing three of my books as Kindle, Nook, and/or Smashwords editions. (I have a couple of books on the B&N site for the Nook, but I won't be publishing there again, for reasons indicated below.) Amazon no longer accepts .mobi book files generated by Calibre, but I've found their ePub conversions acceptable to Amazon, which then converts the ePub file to meet their Kindle requirements.

Note that Smashwords only accepts a Microsoft Word document, which must be formatted differently than the ones needed for Kindle and Nook editions. I've pulled back from publishing on Smashwords, too, for reasons indicated below.

Comparing Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords

AMAZON REMAINS my publishing choice at this stage of the game. I became disgusted with B&N/Nook's program for a couple of reasons. First, they don't have any of Amazon's marketing savvy or website design skills, and this is reflected on their poorly designed product pages, which lack sales rank info and a link on the author's name to a special author's BIO page (called "Author Central" on Amazon). Worse, B&N has never figured out how to tie two editions of a book together on the product page, even though they ask for this information in the publishing process.

Case in point: The eBook edition of my memoir, The Drummer Drives! was published for the Nook in November 2012, but today this book still has two product pages on B&N, and anyone landing on one or the other hasn't a clue that another edition of the book is available. What was really annoying to me was that on the print book's product page, B&N was asking readers to request that this book be made available as an eBook long after I had uploaded the eBook file and told them there was a print edition on their site. I thus concluded that their right hand didn't know what the left was doing. (The only way to know if one edition of a book has another edition is to click the author's name on the product page, which does link to a page that shows all the books that author has published on the B&N site.)

Unlike Amazon, Barnes & Noble gives the author little control over how a book's product page looks. All you have to do is compare the difference in the appearance of the product page for any book on both sites to see what I mean. Only a snippet of editorial reviews show on B&N, and the overall quality of design just doesn't look "sharp" to me. In the "Look Inside the Book" feature, Amazon gives a better preview of the book while the B&N preview is shorter and displayed in two columns, which is NOT how eBooks are designed. Both sites do offer various apps to enable buyers to read eBooks on a variety of devices.

And have you noticed that no one writes reviews for the B&N site? The company was in a state of transition in 2015, and self-publishers will have to decide if it's worth their time to create an eBook conversion for this site.

According to a May 7, 2018 Opinion article on the New York Times website titled, "Amazon vs. Barnes & Noble," the writer says the website and Nook sales have plummeted, and he opines that "It's plausible that Barnes & Noble will not survive."

All eBook authors need to promote their eBooks on their own website, blog, or social networking pages, but a big point I had against NOOK books was that they don't allow the author to include external links in them; only hyperlinks to content within the eBook itself. But this completely defeats a main goal of an eBook, which is to link the reader to the author's website or blog to learn about other books, products, or services, or just to read related articles or blog posts. At least Smashwords allows external links.

HOWEVER . . . a big strike against Smashwords is that authors are offered no digital rights management (DRM) protection. Not every book needs this, and while it's a Kindle and Nook option, many readers hate it; yet this is something to consider. (There are many pro/con discussions about this on the Web.)

Because 90 percent of the books being published on Smashwords today are FREE or $.99, sales of a book priced higher than $2.99 are likely to be few and far between, so you might want to think of Smashwords as the back door of your eBook publishing venture unless you have a powerful presence on the Web and know how to promote a higher priced eBook through social networking.

The biggest benefit of publishing on Smashwords may be that this gives authors a way to offer eBooks to folks who have neither a Kindle or a Nook but want to buy a PDF book (one of the many download options offered by SW), and perhaps print it for reading offline. One could also promote other books and services, too, by publishing free eBooks that link to your website or blog where they will find other books available. 

May 2018 UPDATE

I DECIDED TO PUBLISH my second biography and memoir through CreateSpace last November and found this to be an easy process, given the detailed instructions that guide the novice publisher through the many screens of their step-by-step publishing process. But . . . I found there were several things a first-time author with CreateSpace should know and prepare for before they log in to upload their book files. (Perhaps I'll write more about what I learned in my first publishing experience with CS when time allows.) Meanwhile I'll be happy to consult with first-time authors who have questions about this publishing option.

After publishing my new memoir on CreateSpace, I decided to publish through LightningSource as well to get distribution through brick-and-mortar bookstores in the U.S., enable libraries to order a book, make my book available in Canada, and also expand my online bookstore distribution worldwide. I was in no hurry to do this, however, because I needed time to reread my proof copy from CS to make sure I'd caught all the changes that should be made before I uploaded the file to LightningSource. If errors are found after a book has been published on CreateSpace, it's easy to upload a revised book file at no charge, but I learned with my first memoir that it's a major and costly deal to do this after you've published on LightningSource. (I believe in the old saying, "Haste makes waste.")

P.S. I don't know this for sure because I'm months away from being ready to publish my new book in progress, but KDP supposedly works the same way as CreateSpace once worked.

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