Daily Thoughts 185: 5 DIY Publishing Tips

Author's selfieI spent the last few days working on replacing a kitchen sink. Do-It-Yourself home repairs are a lot like DIY publishing. Both take time, expense, and the outcome isn’t always the same a professional might do. It can be better. Or it can look like the job done in our kitchen before we moved in.

I’m not a professional anything when it comes to home repairs. I use books and online resources to figure out what to do, what the codes are, and best practices. Then I do my best.

I ran into a number of obstacles on this project. If everything was standard it would have been a relatively simple matter to drop in a new sink. Since nothing was standard, that wasn’t going to be the case. The sink didn’t quite fit, necessitating cutting the opening slightly wider. The new sink is deeper and the drains are offset from one another, so the original T-arrangement of the drain wouldn’t work (and wasn’t done correctly anyway). So the drain had to be redone too. I still have to tweak it just a bit, but it’ll be much easier to maintain now. Eventually, we plan to replace the cabinets and I’ll probably change the drain again then. But that’s not right now.

The whole project involved multiple trips to the hardware store, crawling under the sink, and more. I ached from it all and felt worn out. I’m not used to doing that sort of work!

5 DIY Publishing Tips

DIY or ‘self’ publishing involves doing more of the work yourself. It’s a bit different than an independent publisher who hires others to do the work. I enjoy the DIY approach because I like to learn how to do things. I want to pursue illustration, design, coding, accounting, and all of the rest. It can be hard at times, but it’s always interesting. Like any DIY activity, there are easier and harder things to do. Here are my recommendations for writers considering this approach.

1. Upload Your Own Files

Don’t pay someone to upload your files to sites like the Kindle Direct Platform. If you need technical help creating the files, fine. Then take the file and upload it yourself.

Screenshot of the KDP interface

The KDP interface and other similar forms for Kobo, Draft2Digital, and Smashwords provide an easy way to add information about your book and upload it. Whatever you do, don’t give someone a percentage of your income for simply filling out the form!

2. Create Your Own Accounts

Along with the previous point, create your own accounts with the various sites used to distribute your content. You don’t want someone else controlling these accounts, receiving your money and reports. Since you’re going to upload your own files, you’ll have your own accounts anyway. Account setup is also simple. You fill in your details, tax information, and bank accounts to receive monthly payments for your copies sold. The same thing is true whether you’re publishing print or e-books.

3. Don’t Pay Percentages

Here’s the thing about publishing. It’s easy. Even if you don’t go full DIY, hire people to do a job with a clear one-time contract. So you might hire someone to design your cover or interior. If you can’t or don’t want to create the necessary files, hire someone to do that work. Don’t pay anyone for a percentage of your work. That’s a good way to overpay. A good example of this is a ‘publisher’ who sets up to create books for writers, all published through their account, and who sends money and reports to writers. Without a clear audit method, there’s no way for writers to know if the publisher is ethical.

Hire skilled people when you need the help. Use clear contracts (see below). Pay them and take care of the rest yourself.

4. Use Contracts

Don’t hire anyone to do work without a contract. It should be obvious. A contract is good for both parties and should include key details regarding payment schedules, deliverables, deadlines, and what happens when things go wrong. It protects both sides. You can’t make unreasonable revision requests, and the person hired knows what’s needed to get paid.

Consider too, the copyrights involved. If you’re hiring an artist, for example, to do cover art, what rights are you licensing? Don’t assume you can turn around and use the cover art on merchandise. If you want rights to do so, you need to license those rights. Make sure the contract covers such details. Get a lawyer to take a look when necessary. I’d consider asking an intellectual property lawyer to draw up some standard templates that you’ll use when hiring people to do work for your publishing efforts.

5. Don’t Get Overwhelmed

Just as tackling a DIY home improvement project can seem overwhelming, so can a DIY publishing project. Both involve improvements to your property. Your new kitchen might increase (or decrease) the value of your house. What you do with your DIY publishing project can likewise increase or decrease the value of a project. In either case, you can take the time to learn and put in the work yourself, or you can hire help. Typically, it’ll probably be a mix of things you’re comfortable doing yourself and those you want to get help doing. Whatever you decide to do, take your time. Consider your options. Even if you end up hiring someone, learn about whatever it is you’re hiring them to do! I might read up on a repairing a foundation and still hire someone to do it because I decide that it isn’t something I want to do myself. Being informed will help me with any negotiation on the contract.

Have Fun With DIY Publishing

No matter what, have fun with your DIY publishing projects. It can be great fun to create a book. I’m starting my Massive Reboot project because I want to create collectible hardcover editions. It sounds like fun to me. Not necessarily to anyone else. It pushes me to improve my skills. So have fun! Do the parts you want and be smart about what help you need.

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This blog post by Ryan M. Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Wayback Wednesday: Ebooks, Love ’em or Hate ’em

Welcome to Wayback Wednesday — pulling posts out of the internet archive that otherwise would have been lost forever (might not be a bad thing to forget). I haven’t always done a good job of keeping my blog posts. Several times I’ve simply started over. The Internet Archive doesn’t have everything — it’s still fun to see some of the snippets left behind.

From 8/11/2001

A recent discussion over on the HWA message board was started by yet another news article talking about the fact that ebooks haven’t become the next ‘big thing’ that was predicted. I posted my own little bit to the discussion but it has me thinking about one of my favorite topics so I thought I’d spend some more time on it today.

One thing that surprised me about the discussion were those that clearly hate ebooks, say that they want them to fail or that always crouch the discussion in adversarial terms with ebooks threatening the existence of printed books. Why should this surprise me? Because these are horror authors. What do I mean by that?

It’s pretty simple – horror is a limited field with few markets. Do horror authors really want to ignore a potential market? To attack it? This may sound terribly commercial at first, but that’s not my entire point. There are potential readers out there right now that could be reading a horror novel. A reader. Are these authors really saying that they don’t want these people to read their books? Sorry, but you can’t read my book unless it is printed between attractive covers. Oh, and preferably one of a signed, numbered, limited set? Is this really what is being said?

Reading is not America’s first pick of entertainment options. Video games are, or movies, or television, or music. Take your pick. It isn’t reading. Given this sort of environment I don’t see how any authors, much less undersold horror authors, can ignore the opportunity presented by ebooks.

The second big argument against ebooks has to do with the devices. I don’t want to read on my PC, or I’d worry too much to spend $400 on a dedicated reader. How convenient is that ebook reader when I drop it? My paperback might get a bit scuffed but that’s all. Or maybe I’ll have to find my page again. And those arguments are right on target, I agree 100%.

But that’s not where we should be focusing our attention. Those paths may result in a few ebook sales, but the real key is in the devices people will carry with them no matter what. Phones. PDAs. That’s the key to ebooks. Why? Because people turn to those devices now when they have a spare moment. They play games on them, listen to music, and browse the web. Why shouldn’t they have the chance to read books? Why shouldn’t we encourage them to read books? Or, for those that can’t stand reading on the small screens, listen to books? That is exactly the reason I have ebooks. I use my Handspring Visor all day long. Scheduling, planning, writing – and reading.

To get back to the conflict between ebooks and printed books, I still do buy printed books. There are authors I want to have in a nice hardcover, some I’m happy enough with in paperback, and others that I’m content to download. My favorites I want both the paper and electronic version. I grew up in this time, with printed material. I’m as fond of it as anyone else as something that I collect. At the same time I’d like to be able to access my favorite books on my Visor. Ebooks will never replace printed books for those who value the object, but they may for the casual reader. At the library where I work, many people come in with their books that they read once, and now want to give away. If they can’t give them away they will throw them away. For those people ebooks would be perfect. Download, read, delete. Of course, if we don’t want to support ebooks, I suppose they’ll play DOOM instead.


This was 2001. For those who think that e-books started with the Kindle launch in 2007, sorry, no. Manley and Holley (2012) do a good job of tracing the history of e-books from Bush’s “memex” up to around 2009 and just into 2010 — but completely miss tablets like the iPad and the rise of cell phones in reading e-books (as I mentioned here back in 2001). Still, the point is that even back before this people were talking about e-books and what it would mean for writers, publishing and libraries.


Manley, L., & Holley, R. P. (2012). History of the ebook: The changing face of books. Technical Services Quarterly, 29, 292-311. doi: 10.1080/07317131.2012.705731

Hello, Kindle Unlimited

Given all of the potential benefits available through Amazon’s Kindle Select program — including the ability to have books available in Kindle Unlimited — I’ve decided to give it a shot. I want to make it easy for people to get my books, and this is one way to do that.

The downside is that my e-books will be exclusive to the Kindle platform. Print books are available to order through a variety of retailers. I’d posted before about why I backed off my own plans to sell direct given the tax laws for sales tax and VAT. The bulk of my sales come from Kindle sales already (far, far higher than other stores). It takes additional work to publish to multiple platforms. Right now I’m simplifying my approach to getting my work out. I need to streamline my publishing efforts.

If my audience builds and enough people express interest in seeing my work on other platforms, then I’ll consider it in the future and weigh the advantages and disadvantages again. Right now it makes sense to focus. Each quarter I’ll take a look at how things are going and reassess (you have to enroll for a 90-day period).

I can certainly see upsides and downsides to the program. I’ve read authors who had work selling well saying that the borrows didn’t offset a drop in sales. However, given my current levels and ranks, the borrows would be a step up. It lowers the barrier for people to try my books if they can get them for free through the KindleUnlimited program.

Through the Select program, I can also try out Countdown Deals for my books, which might offer some benefits in getting exposure. I’ve resisted doing much marketing at all and have come to realize that I think there has to be at least a little effort made so that people at least have a chance to learn that my books are available.