How to Self-Publish your Book (for cheap) and get it Listed on Amazon

Self publishing your own book is surprisingly easy (and cheap!)

Someone once told me that there is a book inside all of us – but few get the chance to ever pluck that idea from their head and transfer it to print. I’m not sure if that’s true or not… but if you have a book you want to create and lack the know-how, then this post is for you.

I have self-published two comic books in the last year. My third book comes out on June 15th, 2015.

As a result, I have become a bit of an expert when it comes to self-publishing on your own – for cheap. I love self-publishing and wouldn’t change it for the world.

I use the Createspace platform. Createspace is a print-on-demand company run by Amazon. It is completely free to create, format, and publish your book – and when you do, it is automatically listed on Amazon.com. This post isn’t sponsored by anyone, I just wanted to share my knowledge and experience.

This is how I self-published my comic books (and you can too):

1. Get a working manuscript

It doesn’t have to be perfect, but before you even start down the road of self-publishing, you’re going to need a semi-complete manuscript.

What’s the title? Subtitle? Estimated page count? Genre?

2. Buy a barcode and ISBN

This is, like, the only thing you actually have to pay for when you self-publish.

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Createspace offers you a free ISBN number that you are free to use. Personally, I don’t recommend it. It’s all very complicated, but if you use the Createspace ISBN, you have the possibility of losing certain rights to your book, Createspace is then listed as the book’s publisher, and, of course, you are not allowed to print your book through a different publisher.

ISBNs (or International Standard Book Number) are expensive. They can be legally purchased at myidentifiers.com (run by Bowker). They’re freakishly expensive because Bowker controls the market and can honestly charge as much as they want.

1 ISBN is $125
10 ISBNs are $295

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They also sell in packs of 100 and 1000… but really, are you going to use that many?

I went ahead and purchased 10 ISBNs when I published my first comic book because I knew I was going to be writing another book. Also, if you change the page count and/or drastically change the interior content, you have to list it under a separate ISBN. So I would recommend just buying the pack of 10 ISBNs right off the bat.

Barcodes can also be purchased at myidentifiers.com. They cost $25 each… so not that bad. A barcode is the ISBN in a format that can be identified by scanners. While ISBNs are required for every book, having a barcode is completely optional.

That being said, I really recommend buying a barcode because:

  1. Barcodes make the book look more “legit” (which is important when you’re self-publishing)
  2. Bookstores won’t sell your book unless it has a barcode. So far I haven’t managed to convince a bookstore to stock my books, but honestly, I haven’t been trying too hard. I wanted to get three books out before I started on hard-core marketing.
  3. It’s $25. That’s not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things. Seriously. Just get a barcode.

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Once you buy a barcode and ISBN, you can “link” them together. There is a nice walk-through on the Bowkers site  – don’t even worry about it. It’s very self explanatory.

3. Set up an account on Createspace

Createspace is a print-on-demand company run by Amazon.com. Print on demand is a style of digital printing that prints books as they are ordered – meaning an exact number of books is printed and shipped to whoever ordered the books (and nothing more). This is different from “normal book printing” where, like, 1000 books are printed at one time and then sit in a warehouse until someone buys them.

I love print-on-demand. Mostly because the POD model allows me to not touch the stock.

When someone buys my books on Amazon, they are printed and shipped to them directly. I don’t have to do anything. Which is especially great because I live in Japan and the majority of people who buy my book do NOT live in Japan. Every month, Createspace transfers money to my account.

You’re not going to do everything for Createspace right now. Just set up an account.

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You can enter in the beginning information (title, ISBN, subtitle, etc). And see what else you need ot add.

4. Design or buy a cover for your book

This isn’t final. Don’t worry. You don’t have to commit to anything yet. In fact, I’ve changed the covers for both my books several times, after noticing small mistakes (even after they are selling on Amazon).

I went ahead and designed the cover for all three of my books, mostly because I didn’t want to pay anyone to do it for me. And I’m kind of creative.

I mean, I did write comic books. So far I haven’t gotten any complaints on my book covers.

Createspace offers an affordable price package if you want someone to design it for you. I have friends who have also turned to fiverr or other freelancing sites, to get a cover design for cheap. I also have friends who have just bought a photo from a photography site and slapped some text over it – voila! Book cover.

Basically, you can do whatever floats your boat. But remember – people DO judge a book by its cover.

Createspace lets you download a PDF that represents the flattened out book cover (cover, spine, and back). The side of the spine depends on the page-count – so make sure you get that in the right ballpark.

Remember – you can change this cover any time.

5. Set up pre-orders (for print books) on Amazon Advantage

(optional)

I have a special place in my heart for Amazon Advantage – right next to people who talk on their phone loudly in public, people who litter, and parents who live vicariously through their children. I do not like Amazon Advantage. My husband can vouch for that.

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I called him half a dozen times to rant over how much I didn’t understand the Amazon Advantage system when setting up pre-orders for my first book.

Eventually I figured it out. And you will too. Just take a deep breath and remember that everyone I know who has tried to use it has had problems.

Amazon Advantage is run by Amazon (of course) and is in charge of print book pre-orders. You don’t have to have a manuscript to get preorders up and running, by the way. All you need is a title, some cover art, and the estimated publishing date. Once you submit the information, in 3-5 business days, your book will be up on Amazon!

Seeing it up on Amazon is a great feeling. And with each of my books, I was selling between 20 – 150 books via preorder – before the book even existed!

So it’s definitely worth it. It’s basically like having an extra couple months to sell the book.

6. Set up pre-orders for digital (kindle) books on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing

(optional)

Like Amazon Advantage, Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is part of the Amazon empire. It is the section devoted to kindle (ebooks). There are lots of pros for using KDP that I won’t go into here – and it’s pretty easy to get your book up on there.

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Personally, I’ve never done kindle pre-orders for my books – because part of my marketing strategy involves giving the books away for the first three days after publishing (but I will write about that later).

Setting up kindle pre-orders on KDP is pretty far back on my list of thing to do because you do have to upload a final manuscript. Which you might not have until the end of this list.

7. Set up an Author profile on Amazon Author Central and Goodreads

(optional)

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Having an author profile has quite a few benefits. It’s easy enough to set an author profile up on both Amazon Author Central and Goodreads. Do it. That way you can link to your books and post regular updates.

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8. Upload your manuscript and cover to Createspace and order a proof copy!

Hopefully by this step, you have a final manuscript up and ready to go. Createspace has two methods for viewing proofs – you can view a digital proof (online) and/or order a print copy proof.

self publishing how to screen shots

Createspace has a nice checklist you can use to figure out what else you need to upload, before you can publish (or order a proof).

The “law of publishing” seems to go that the first time you see your book in print, you find at least one spelling error. It sucks, but that’s just how it works.

I like to see the book in print before I officially publish it – just to make sure the cover looks ok, the font size works out, and all the margins look ok.

9. Approve the proof copy and hit “publish”

If you like the way your book looks, you can hit “publish.” Anyone who pre-ordered a print copy will be charged and the book will be shipped to them. After this, you can also start ordering copies of your own book (for the cost of printing).

Note: As soon as you hit “approve proof,” the book will automatically start selling on Amazon. I learned this the hard way.

I wanted to approve the proof copy and order a couple hundred copies of my first book, so I could start selling them in Japan the same day the started selling in America – but I wasn’t able to order copies until I approve the proof. And as soon as I did that, the books started selling in Amazon, a month and a half before they were supposed to!

It ended up causing a lot of problems.

10. Order copies of your book (and sell them!)

Click here to figure out how much it would cost to print your books on Createspace. The website itself is, of course, free to use. The only thing you have to pay for is copies of your book – if you decide to sell them at conferences, speaking events, via an online shop on your blog, etc.

Books_final_5 cover self publish japanese husband thinks i'm crazy

Createspace has a nice calculator if you want to figure out how much that would cost before bothering with the setup process. You can find it here.

Although selling books in person requires quite a bit more work (and upfront costs), I make a much higher profit margin, so I try to keep 75 – 150 copies of each of my books at home.

I sell signed copies of my books on Etsy. And my blog.

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——————————————–

I’m going to do another post soon(ish) about how to market and sell your books (for super-cheap and without any experience/connections).

If you have any questions or any topic ideas you want me to write about (related to self-publishing), please just let me know in the comments section!

About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

22 Comments on How to Self-Publish your Book (for cheap) and get it Listed on Amazon

  1. I know this is from a year ago, but I wondered about whether you had heard of/used such self-publishing sites as BLURB? I used them to self-publish a small sketchbook, and didn’t actually need to add an ISBN or barcode.. maybe this is best for selling through ETSY VS actually properly selling through amazon I guess?
    I’m really impressed you went and wrote and drew your own comic books, you seem like an amazing girl :-)

  2. Thanks for the tips! My publishing is being delayed and the pre-order option is going to be a life saver!

    As a soon to be self publishing author, I want to be able to count all of the expenses associated with being an author and I want the protection of a company, so I intend to set up an LLC for myself. What I am trying to figure out now is how then do you actually use it to “publish” so you gain the protective benefits of the LLC? Or is there a better way? Other options? Do you have any recommendations/guidance on this subject?

  3. This was all really great advice! It really is a lot easier than most people think, and it is absolutely a worthwhile endeavor.

  4. lakerzombie // 3 June, 2015 at 1:52 am //

    Thank you for breaking it down! This is such a great bite sized way to ingest this information. Like everyone else has stated I am so glad you posted this and for taking the time to make it as simple and precise as possible. Side note i’m also very thankful I came across your blog. I’ve never been to Japan but I have hopes to go one day. In the meantime i’m so digging your blog and hilarious comic strip. I love gravitating towards creativity in things and topics i’m interested in and you have a very unique way of getting your wit and charm across in your blogs while remaining true to who you are. Congrats and continued success :)

  5. AWESOME !!!!!

    PLEASE write about how you promoted your books !!!

    Big hug, Grace!!!

  6. Thank you so much!!! Now it’s time to really start working on my book (and my daughter to finish her graphic novel LOL)

  7. Awesome! I was about to send you a mail about your previous video as I still had a few questions, so this post is great and I can’t wait to read more about it.

    In fact, a lot of my readers want me to publish a book as well. A photo book to be precise.
    I’ve been using a POD system for other items such as calendars and I didn’t like it that much.
    Why? Because I put all this effort into it and end up with 1-5% comission, so I literally earned nothing at all.

    What I wanted to ask you is if using a POD service like you mentioned is worth it.
    I tried using the Royalties calculator on Createspace with some random book data and it turns out it would roughly be something between 0.14-1.86$ per book.

    Let’s say maybe 10-30 people will buy my book, it’s just NOT worth the months of effort I would have to put into it.

    Or is my calculation completely wrong?

    Would really love to hear from you. :3

    • Woah. That’s pretty low for royalties. Ouch.

      My pagecount isn’t so high, so I make like $4 – $5.50 per book (which is a rather nice margin). It’s a lot higher than the 8% of the list price, if I went with a traditional publisher.
      It’s always difficult to tell who actually will buy your book. I was disappointed the first month or so selling my book, because it was a LOT lower than I expected. But by the time I published my second book, it picked up rather nicely (to higher than I estimated).

      I also think if you do something travel-related (or even pseudo guide-book related) you can reach a MUCH larger audience. And, of course, there’s the obvious benefit of publishing for the sole purpose of being able to say that you’re an author.

      I looked at the POD model for mugs, shirts, and other accessories – but I think I was also surprised at the low commission. It just didn’t seem worth it :/

      • Well, I calculated with a book price of 9.99$. Of course, I have no idea yet how much I’ll charge, but that’s the royalties that came up. ^^;
        4$ per book sounds awesome. :)

        So, you’re saying that you might actually make more self-publishing a book rather than going with a traditional (paper) publisher like Tuttle? (Wanted to research that soon-ish anyway.)

        The calendars are nice. Some of my readers really love them and they make a great present for family and friends, but yeah, you don’t make a lot of money out of that. ^^;

        • I looked at it – if I sold less than 1000 books than I would make more going with a traditional publisher (because most publisher do a $5000 advance – that rarely is surpassed in the following 5 years of book sales, at 8% the list price). If I sold more than 1000, I would make more doing self-publishing.

          Between kindle sales, my Etsy store (for signed copies), and regular books, I’ve already surpassed the $5000 “break even” point (albeit just barely)… so I can’t imagine wanting to sign with a traditional publisher. I’ve also heard stories from friends who have gone with traditional publishers – the publisher doesn’t do much/anything in terms of marketing. They can put a copy of your book in some airports/bookstores (which is wonderful, of course, and I wish I could do that)… but that’s about it. Authors are responsible for marketing their own books.
          Plus, every once and a while I go through and want to change something I wrote, so I can easily update the interior file and “fix” whatever I didn’t like.

  8. This. Is. Freaking. Amazing. This blog really drives home what you said in your YT video. Thank you for sharing your experience as a self-published author because, self-publishing ftw! Btw, I really like your book covers <3

  9. Thanks for sharing, Grace! This may come in handy in the near future!!

  10. Thank you for this guide Grace! I have it in my future plans to self-publish a book so I’m definitely bookmarking this post :)

    Btw! Your books just arrived yesterday!!! I’m so excited that I’ve already read half of the first one :)) Thank you for the cute postcards and the drawing! <3

    Always cheering you on,
    Pam (http://organizedbypam.com/blog)

  11. Perfect as always and I cannot wait to know about this giveaway your book for free for 3 days. I wonder how that helps sales? Maybe I will finally publish a book. Even a lame one but I have to work more on them since most are just totally in my head XD

  12. What a wonderful post today! I’m sure many bloggers here are aspiring to self-publish, this would be a wonderful guide to them!

  13. Great! I am adding this to my evernote %)

  14. Thanks! It’s helpful for people who want to self-publish. I guess in the past I assumed you’d always need someone to help you publish but apparently not :D not that I’m interested in self-publishing since I can’t write a book since I can never finish anything I start apparently…it’s difficult :(

  15. This is awesome, Grace! Thanks for sharing your hard-won knowledge!

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