Tools for Self-publishing in 2016

In 2016, I am helping my dad fulfill his dream of writing and publishing a book. (Hurray!) The first project we’re working on is a book of silly poems — written by my dad from the perspective of our melodramatic dog. This is not intended to be a bestseller, and we really just want to have a few dozen print copies to share with (and maybe sell to) friends, family members, and gracious coworkers. If it’s a surprise success, we will want the flexibility to print more and also expand into an e-book.

Self-publishing gives us the flexibility we need: it allows us to print and digitally distribute the book on our own schedule and also react quickly to real-life demand.

Also, it’s fun. I have been delighted by the process of self-publishing so far, and I wanted to share with you the tools I’ve been using to make that an enjoyable experience.

Proofreading and Copy Editing

As a professional proofreader and copy editor, I would be remiss if I did not stress the importance of having another set of eyes look at your written work — whether that’s a book of silly poems about your dog or a novel you’ve been crafting your whole life.


Start by asking a trusted friend or colleague to read through to help you find basic typos and errors. Also, I would recommend using the built-in spelling check in Microsoft Word (and the grammar check, if you feel confident enough to disagree with it when it’s wrong) or an equivalent service online, like Grammarly. If you end up hiring a professional, you will spend less money if you do this small bit of self-editing work first.

Professional Copy Editing

Copy editing is different than proofreading, and you should hire a copy editor before you hire a proofreader. The copy editor’s job is to dig in — to look at sentence structure, word choice, usage, grammar, spelling, formatting, and even the overall flow and organization of the content. A good copy editor will be an advocate for your writing. When I do copy editing, I try to eliminate any potential “tripping hazards” for the reader while maintaining the unique voice of the author. Basically, the copy editor helps the author communicate with the audience and helps the audience understand the author.

If you’re looking to hire a freelance copy editor, check out the Editorial Freelancers Association or any of the directories listed here.

Professional Proofreading

After a project has been copy edited (and after it has been formatted for printing or e-book distribution), it should be submitted to a proofreader. A good proofreader will focus on corrections instead of revisions — weeding out any lingering errors but also paying attention to details like a change in font size or the way a paragraph breaks across two pages.

If you’re looking to hire a freelance proofreader, check out the Editorial Freelancers Association or any of the directories listed here.

Layout and Publishing

Print Publishing

I decided to use Blurb for this print project for three reasons:

  1. Blurb offers several great formatting and layout options. I am using their plug-in for Adobe InDesign, my software of choice for laying out content and formatting text and images. InDesign is an industry standard, so I could easily find a professional designer to help me do the work. Blurb also offers a free download of Bookwright, which is specifically designed for formatting print and digital books. If you prefer some other software solution, that’s fine, too; Blurb accepts PDF uploads of pre-formatted content.
  2. The pricing at Blurb is really reasonable, both for print and digital projects.
  3. It is really easy to sell a product (print or digital) through Blurb. The site has its own online bookstore, but Blurb also provides thorough how-to guides for using Amazon and Apple iBooks.

Another decent option for print publishing is Lulu. Their website and services don’t look quite as polished, but I regularly reference their knowledge base for information on ISBNs and other print book distribution requirements.

[EDITED, 01.16.16:] Thanks to @joeld for adding Amazon CreateSpace to the list. CreateSpace also lacks the polished look of Blurb but makes up for that with an immense pool of free resources for new authors.

Digital Publishing

Again, my tool of choice for creating an e-book is Blurb. The above list still applies: it has great tools for making a product that looks good, the cost is very reasonable, and the options for selling are exactly what I want.

If you want to research some wonderful alternatives, check out Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing or Apple’s iBooks Author. Both come highly recommended by friends who have successfully published (and sold) their own e-books.

Cover Design

I will be blunt here: self-published books have introduced a lot of ugly book cover designs into the world. No one enjoys seeing an ugly book cover on a shelf, even a digital shelf, so please make room in your budget to hire a designer.

If you want to meet with someone face-to-face, find a local design studio (my local AlphaGraphics franchise has always produced phenomenal work) and ask to see samples or a portfolio before getting an estimate. If you’re comfortable communicating what you want online, contact designers you like from Dribbble or Behance or ask to be paired with a freelance designer at a site like Upwork.

Promotion and Distribution

I have less research on this element than I do on the others because my dad and I have pretty modest plans for promoting this first project. However, plenty of really clever people have put together guides and tutorials for 1) building a community and an audience and 2) sharing and selling your published work.

I hope these tools help you accomplish your goals this year! Leave a comment if I missed anything or if you have a question about self-publishing.

P.S. I currently have availability for copy editing jobs or proofreading jobs. Start here.

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