If you want to understand the book publishing process, you have to learn the difference between Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing. Choosing the right method for you can make or break your book’s success—but most first time Authors don’t know the differences between them.
For example, I was talking to a big real estate CEO that ended up working with us. When he decided he wanted to publish a book, he began by having his executive assistant put together a massive spreadsheet of every publishing company she could find.
I had him send it to me. It had 183 companies listed on it, with a ton of details of each…and it didn’t have a single self-publishing company on it.
His executive assistant only looked at traditional publishers, because even though she is very smart, she didn’t understand the publishing business at all.
Yet self-publishing was clearly his best option.
If he’d only tried to publish his books through those traditional publishers, he would have wasted months trying (and failing) to get his book published. But by going with the right self-publishing company, he had a successfully published book that helped him immensely (it even hit the Wall Street Journal Bestseller List).
Self-publishing is the best method for 98% of Authors. But most authors don’t know that, simply because they don’t understand what each method is for, or how they really work.
This isn’t to say that traditional publishing is bad. It’s great for certain types of authors. But you have to know if you’re the type of author who can benefit from it.
In this post, I’m going to explain what you need to know to choose the right book publishing option for you. You’ll learn:
- The key differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing
- The specific types of people who should self-publish vs. traditionally publish
- The steps it takes to self-publish a nonfiction book (including the costs associated with each)
The Key Differences Between Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing
There are many differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing. But there are two in particular that are essential to understand before making a decision.
The first is accessibility.
In order to sign with a traditional publishing company, the publisher must be confident you can sell around 25,000 books in the first month. This requires you to have a huge existing audience.
As a result, less than 1% of book proposals (the pitch you make on why they should publish your book) get accepted by traditional publishers.
With self-publishing, there are no gatekeepers. Anyone who wants to can self-publish their book.
The second is ownership.
In traditional publishing, the publishing company (often called a “publishing house”) owns the rights and royalties to your book. This means you as the Author receive only a small percentage of book sales. For example, 7.5% royalties on every paperback sold and 25% on every eBook.
In self-publishing, you as the Author own 100% of the rights and royalties.
You also have complete creative control and ownership of your intellectual property. With traditional publishing, you hand over all those rights to the publishing company.
Who Should Self-Publish vs. Traditionally Publish?
For certain types of people, traditional publishing can be a great route.
You get a lump sum of money known as an advance to write your book. You also have the highest chances of receiving traditional media coverage.
But if you aren’t one of the following types of people, it’s very unlikely you can get a deal:
- Big Celebrities
- A-List Actors and Comedians
- Famous Athletes
- Professional Writers with a long history of success
- Household name CEOs
For just about everyone else, self-publishing is the clear choice. This includes:
- Business Owners
Bottom line: If you’re a professional and you want to become a published author, but you don’t have a giant audience, self-publishing is the best route.
Since self-publishing is the right choice for most writers, I’ll walk you through each step of the self-publishing process. Throughout, I’ll describe how it works to manage that step on your own versus how it works with a publishing service like Scribe.
If you want to learn more about the differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing first, you can read our comparison here.
5 Steps to Self-Publish a Nonfiction Book (Plus Key Costs and Considerations)
Before I get into the details below, I want to acknowledge that self-publishing a book is a long, complicated process with a ton of moving parts.
Short of working in publishing full time, it’s very difficult for most Authors to grasp fully.
We wrote a 500 page book about it called The Scribe Method — so a single blog post can only go so far to convey the true complexity of the process.
The following overview is a highly simplified version of what it really takes. With that said, I’ve tried to thread the needle and lay out the most important details to understand.
In each section, you’ll find links to articles that go deeper into all of the steps discussed.
I’ve broken down the self-publishing process into 5 core steps:
- Manuscript Evaluation and Book Editing
- Book Cover Design and Interior Layout
- Copyrighting and Cataloging
- Book Printing and Distribution
- Marketing and Promotion
Below I’ll provide an overview of each, including the key costs and considerations for first time Authors.
Note: We’ve worked with over 2,000 Authors, including best sellers like David Goggins and Tiffany Haddish. We make the self-publishing process simple so you don’t have to worry about understanding every detail to ship your book. Check out our Scribe Publishing service to learn how we can guide you through each of the steps described below.
1. Manuscript Evaluation and Book Editing
Once you have a completed manuscript, the first step in the book publishing process is manuscript evaluation and book editing.
Manuscript evaluation is a high-level form of editing to assess your finished manuscript and ensure it has:
- Focused, relevant, and useful content
Note: If you miss this step, you risk wasting time and effort only to find out later that there are mission-critical issues with your book. So it’s essential that you scrutinize your manuscript at this stage.
Then, book editing involves a number of different types of editing:
- Content Editing: High-level editing at the chapter level (evaluating tone and voice, content gaps, comprehensiveness, etc.)
- Line Editing: Editing for style and clarity
- Copyediting: Editing for typos, spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.
- Proofreading: Final review to catch any mistakes before printing and publishing
There are two common ways to approach this part of the self-publishing process:
- Self Editing
- Hiring book editors
Self editing will cost you time (your ultimate finite resource). And you’ll miss having objective, professional third-party perspectives on your manuscript. This is an option, but not the recommended path.
Hiring book editors for manuscript evaluation and book editing is the best practice in self-publishing. The challenge becomes — as anyone who’s hired before knows — finding the right editors.
Using a quality-editing service is one way to shortcut this part of the process. If you decide to do this yourself, you’ll need to go through the following steps for each type of evaluation and editing mentioned above:
- Search for prospects via online platforms like Reedsy, Upwork, LinkedIn, etc.
- Scan their profiles, browse their personal websites, and read through their portfolios
- Create a list of editors with experience working for a publishing company or with reputable Authors
- Narrow your options based on criteria like years of experience and subject-matter or audience expertise
For manuscript-evaluation editing, you’re looking at a range between $1,000 to $15,000. Meanwhile, copyediting can cost anywhere from $300 to $750. The cheaper the price, the lower the quality.
Authors who want trustworthy editors are best off when hiring an editing or publishing services company to help facilitate this process.
How Evaluation and Book Editing Works with Scribe
At Scribe, all of our editors have decades of experience in a professional writing setting. Many have edited at a Big 5 publishing house and won Pulitzer prizes and Emmy awards. All of the above forms of editing are included in our Scribe Publishing service.
Manuscript evaluation includes a full read by an editor, who then writes you an overview of your manuscript’s strengths and areas of concern. We help you understand exactly what steps to take to ready your manuscript for publishing.
We also execute a full copyedit and final proofread of your manuscript.
2. Book Cover Design and Interior Layout
The second major step in the book publishing process is designing your book cover and interior layout.
Similar to the editing step described above, you can attempt to do this yourself, but far fewer people will buy or engage with your book. So finding professional designers who have proven they do quality work is the best practice.
People judge books by their covers. It’s a fact of life.
Finding and Working with a Book Cover Designer
I’ve written at length about book cover design, including why it’s so important to the success of your book, and how to find and work with the right designer.
If you decide to tackle this part of the publishing process by yourself, take the following steps to get it right:
- Browse book covers for inspiration. Look at many different book covers in and out of your field to get a sense of style for your design. Doing so will allow you to communicate what you’re looking for to designers. Skipping this step will cost you a lot of time and money.
- Search for experienced designers. Leverage platforms like Reedsy, Behance, or Dribble to find quality book designers. Even better, look inside your favorite books to see who designed the cover and reach out to them directly.
- Narrow down your choices and choose a designer. Reach out to your top choices to discuss availability and see who feels like the right fit. Then negotiate pricing.
- Work with your designer. Send your designer the covers you chose for design inspiration. Have a phone or video call to discuss your ideas. Come prepared to communicate your thinking (likes/dislikes, the feel you’re looking for, target audience, etc.). Request multiple mockups.
- Review mockups and provide feedback. The more specific you can be in your feedback, the more likely you’ll end up with a cover that you love.
The cost of a quality independent designer ranges between $750 to $2,000. You can also find decent work through 99Designs from $300 to $600.
Cheaper options exist on Upwork and Fiverr, but choose those at your own risk. Your cover is not the place to cut costs.
Finding and Working with an Interior Layout Designer
I’ve said it before — book layout is a key factor that separates amateurs from professionals. While formatting and typeset might seem trivial, they can have a big impact on the reader’s experience.
There are two layouts to consider:
- Print Book Layout
- eBook Layout
The process of hiring a designer for interior layout is similar to hiring one for your book cover. You can find freelancers who offer layout services on all the platforms mentioned above.
Reedsy is a good option for finding a solid layout designer at a decent price. The cost of hiring a layout designer ranges from $500 on the low end to $2,500 for the best pros in the space.
Note: Not all graphic designers who offer layout services can do quality eBook conversions as well. So take this into consideration when you’re deciding who to hire.
How Book Cover Design and Interior Layout Work with Scribe
Book cover design and interior layouts (for both print and eBooks) are all included in Scribe Publishing service.
Our book cover designers have a proven track record of designing covers and layouts for bestsellers such as:
- Can’t Hurt Me
- Zero to One
- I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell
- Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea
- Choose Yourself
And we take our interiors seriously, treating them as a chance to create a cohesive visual experience for your reader, from the cover to the final page.
3. Copyrighting and Cataloging
These are essential administrative steps in the book publishing process.
Copyright your manuscript by registering it with the United States copyright office. It costs $35 to $55 for most Authors and takes 8 steps:
- Visit the U.S. Copyright Office online
- Create your free account
- Start a new copyright registration
- Fill out the necessary forms
- Review your submissions
- Pay the filing fee
- Send in the required copies
- Get your copyright registration in the mail
Cataloging involves registering your book to receive a series of codes needed by the parties involved with ordering, listing, selling, and stocking your book. This includes publishers, booksellers, libraries, internet retailers, and other links in the supply chain.
Authors who self-publish need the following codes:
- International Standard Book Number (ISBN): A 13-digit code that identifies you as the registrant, as well as your book title, format, and edition. You can purchase one through an ISBN agency like Bowker. This can cost between $85 to $125.
- BISAC Code: A code sent to retailers as part of your book’s metadata. They tell your book’s subject, reading level, and genre. Learn how to choose yours here.
How Copyrighting and Cataloging Works with Scribe
Once complete, your book will be registered in Bowker’s Books In Print database and will be assigned all ISBN, bar, and BISAC codes necessary for retail distribution.
4. Book Printing and Distribution
Once you’ve edited, designed, and cataloged your book, the next step is bring it to life in print and eBook formats so that it’s ready for distribution. Here’s how.
eBook Production and Distribution
Once you’ve worked with your interior layout designer and have a correctly formatted file for uploading, publishing an eBook is straightforward:
- Choose your eBook publishing platforms
- Decide your book price
- Create your accounts
- Upload your eBook
Most Authors publish eBooks through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. For wider distribution, people also leverage Kobo, Apple Books, Google Play, and Barnes & Noble’s Nook Books.
You can work directly with each online publisher for more control over pricing. Or you can use an eBook distribution service like BookBaby. Their current distribution package costs $249.
Note: If you want guidance on how to price your book, check out our book pricing guide.
Printed Book Production and Distribution
In my post on book printing, I do a deep dive into the primary printing options for people who self-publish: print-on-demand (PoD) and offset printing.
With print-on-demand, your price per copy is static regardless of how many books you print — so the price isn’t going down as you scale up.
In contrast, with offset printing the price per copy goes down when you order more books. This can be a good option if you’re an in-demand speaker or have a huge email list.
The catch with offset printing is you have to:
- Order a minimum number of books
- Store those books
- Oversee order fulfillment (or hire someone to handle that for you)
For most Authors, print-on-demand is the preferred option because paperback quality is comparable to offset printing, and you don’t have to manage orders or deal with storage.
However, if you want hardcover books printed, offset printers are a better option for high quality.
If paperbacks are sufficient for you, you can use one of the top PoD services and distribution will be handled for you. We recommend KDP Print to sell paperbacks across Amazon, and IngramSpark to sell PoD paperbacks everywhere else.
The cost of PoD is typically a small upfront cost (eg. $50), plus a flat cost per copy printed (eg. $5).
If you want hardcover copies, offset printing is the best option. You’re looking at a cost range of:
- 1,000 copies: ~$5.00/book
- 2,000 copies: ~$3.50/book
- 5,000 copies: ~$2.50/book
- 10,000 copies: ~$2.00/book
To distribute books created through offset printing, you’ll need to apply for an Amazon Advantage account. Their annual cost is $99 and you’ll receive 45% of royalties. When you receive purchase orders from Amazon, you’ll fulfill those orders directly to Amazon’s warehouse.
How Print and eBook Distribution Works with Scribe
All of the above steps and distribution channels are handled for you with Scribe Publishing service. We set up your distributor and retailer accounts in your name on all relevant platforms.
Your eBook will be available on all major eBook retailers, including copywriting, samples, screenshots, and keywords.
Your book will be available in paperback print-on-demand format, distributed through both Amazon’s KDP platform and IngramSpark’s wider distribution channels. And you have the option, at no additional cost, to have a hardcover as well.
You will own all your own content and royalties.
Some people are devoted to print books, while others prefer eBooks. But there’s a whole other group of readers you might want to consider, too: audiobook devotees.
This post on audiobooks will walk you through the process of creating an audio version of your book that’s high-quality enough to sell on Audible and iTunes.
5. Marketing and Promotion
The final step in the book publishing process is marketing and promotion.
This step typically begins with a book launch, and continues with ongoing marketing efforts over the long term.
A book launch can be valuable for gaining momentum early on, but it’s also a tremendous amount of work. We help the Authors we work with plan and execute book launches as part of our marketing service.
Over the long term, by focusing on one or two things each week for years, you can maximize your ROI without burning yourself out.
Here are some of the best practices you can follow to set the foundation for marketing your book:
- Ask for support from your connections. Create a list of people who have a platform and an audience that overlap with yours. Email them a PDF of your book and include a specific ask for them to share it with their audience.
- Prepare Amazon for your book release. Discount the Kindle version of the book to $0.99 through KDP.
- Secure early Amazon reviews. Have friends and family post immediate reviews to build momentum. Ask them to buy the book for $0.99 as well, so the book is marked as a “Verified Amazon Purchase.”
- Engage your network. Post on social media. Individually message people. And email your LinkedIn connections.
- Build your book into your assets. Add it to your social media profiles and email signature. Order 50-100 copies and send them out to your connections, bring them to meetings, etc. Give away as many as possible.
Once this foundation is set, you can continue leveraging it over time to get in front of your audience in the media they consume.
How Book Marketing and Promotion Works with Scribe
With Scribe Publishing service, we craft an engaging Author bio and book description that’s tailored for your ideal readers.
Then we help you build a step-by-step marketing plan to ensure a successful launch. This includes:
- First week promotion to become an Amazon Best Seller
- Complete strategy and templates to secure early Amazon reviews
- A full set of social media posts and graphics for launch week
- A scheduled podcast interview on you and your book
- A published excerpt from your book released during launch week
- Strategy and templates for you to leverage your network
- Consultation with our Author Marketing team to develop a custom plan for your launch and beyond
- Access to our Book Marketing Course
Are You Ready to Bring Your Book to Life?
Publishing a nonfiction book is an empowering experience. It’s an opportunity to teach and inspire communities you care about, and impact the lives of others.
For most Authors who want to publish their first book, self-publishing is the clear choice. There are no gatekeepers standing in your way.
Your only constraints are time and effort. But if you follow the steps above, you can overcome any obstacles standing between you and a fully-published book.
Our team has developed a proven method for guiding Authors through the publishing process, and helping them make their impact a reality. If you’re considering hiring a publishing service to help you facilitate this process, schedule a consultation to speak with one of our Author strategists.