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5 Simple Lessons I Learned As A First-Time Self-Publisher

I've moved into self-publishing in a big way in the past year or so and learned a lot of lessons en route.

Some of them have been very painful, others disruptive and the rest expensive.

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I thought I'd share them here so that you can benefit from my learning process 🙂

Scribd manuscript targetsLesson 1: Microsoft Word is a pain for writers

I wrote my first fiction books directly into Google Drive, which was fine.

Unfortunately, I then had to move them into Word to process for publishing.

I had all sorts of formatting and indentation issues and Word kept doing weird things to mess things up.

Unfortunately, it's very hard to avoid Word in the writing process.

For instance, proof-readers tend to work in Word

However, I have now arrived at a satisfactory solution.

I've written my second trilogy directly into Scrivener.

It's a fabulous resource for planning and writing your book, with none of the horrible Word formatting problems.

You can export your book as a Word document (for your editors) or as EPUB and mobi files (these are the file types needed for Kindle, Kobo and all the other outlets).

It backs up automatically and  – when you save your files to Dropbox – your writing is safe and sound, whatever happens.

Scrivener's name generatorYou can even take snapshots of different versions of your book, then restore them at a later date if necessary.

I particularly like the writing targets functionality and the fictional names generator, which I use a lot.

A word of warning with Scrivener.

It does have a (small) learning curve, but once mastered, it will save you so much time and hassle.

My tip is to grab the Learn Scrivener Fast training; it took me about a day to work through this, and it taught me everything that I need to know.

Lesson 2: Use Draft2Digital

If you use Scrivener, you will immediately remove all the pain involved with creating EPUB and mobi files.

These are the electronic files that you need to list your books on Kindle, Nook, Google Play Books Kobo and iBooks.

I would recommend that you list your books in as many places as possible.

Firstly, it's never good to put all of your eggs in one basket, i.e., Amazon.

Secondly, not everybody uses Kindle devices, why would you want to miss out on getting your books into more hands?

To do this, I'd suggest that you use an aggregator, which allows you to upload your book once, then distribute it to multiple channels.

I did try listing my books directly on Kobo, but experienced constant technical issues so gave it up as a bad job in the end.

I now submit all books to Draft2Digital, which distributes them directly to Barnes & Noble/Nook, iBooks, Kobo, Scribd, Page Foundry, Oyster and Tolino.

Draft2Digital makes this process easy.

Draft2DigitalI just upload a .doc file, and it produces EPUB, mobi and PDF versions, with some nice added extras, like cross promos to my other books, about the author pages and so on.

They also handle the payments in one place, which makes accounting much easier, and you can set up pre-orders where they are supported by distributors.

The best-known alternative to Draft2Digital is Smashwords, which is also an aggregation service.

You can access more distribution outlets on Smashwords if you choose that route.

However, I have listened to a lot of podcasts now where self-published authors who are much further advanced than me warn that is harder than D2D.

So for now I'm giving it a miss, but I may come back to look at it later.

Lesson 3: Beware Kindle pre-order dates

I got caught out with this very early on in my writing career, and I know of others who have also had issues.

When I discovered my big mistake, I had to go ‘cap in hand' to Amazon.

Lucky for me they showed mercy!

Pre-orders are great, on the day I'm writing this article, I just set up three for my forthcoming trilogy.

AuthorSetting up pre-orders allows you to sell books before you've even written them.

When you're more advanced in your writing career and selling more books, they can even propel you to best seller lists (so I hear!).

They also serve as an unbreakable deadline if you're one of those people who struggles to hit their writing targets.

There's a big ‘but' though – don't get caught out by it.

The first time I ran a pre-order, I scheduled it for the date that I'd have the book ready.

It was a tight deadline; I had lots of business training bookings to deliver in the run-up to publication.

Then I discovered the problem!

If you set a publication date for, say, 30th November, you have to have the finished version available by 20th November.

That's a whole ten days earlier!

Kindle Pre-Orders

Now, when you create pre-orders, you submit a primary file with a first draft, and you can upload new and improved versions as many times as you want prior to release.

What I didn't realise is that the date ten days prior to publication is your cut-off date – that's it, the final version has to be ready by then.

There are no more tweaks or uploads, if it's not ready by the earlier date, you're in trouble!

I got caught out by that big time, my final book wasn't ready.

The punishment is harsh if you miss the deadline.

Here is what Amazon has to say:

Delivering your book on schedule is required for you to retain access to pre-order. You will not be able to update your book 3 days before the release date. If you delay or cancel a pre-order book, you will be unable to list any book for pre-order for one year.

I've marked the words ‘one year' in bold.


Fortunately, I appealed to Amazon, and they let me change the file one more time prior to publication.

They let me have that one as a ‘newbie error', but I still had to get that book finished in record time!

So, when you set pre-orders, calculate by Amazon's ‘due date', don't use the time of public release in your calculations.

Lesson 4: Use Createspace rather than Ingram Spark

I've used both Createspace and Ingram Spark, and I'd recommend the former every time unless you're hellbent on getting stocked in bookshops.

I did have that as a goal until I realised that I just can't supply paperbacks at a decent price.

By the time I take into account bookshop wholesale discounts (which are very high!) and their requirement to be able to return unsold books, there's no money left for the poor old author.

You could lose the shirt off your back if you foot the costs of books that don't sell, so I've given that one a wide berth.

Also, Ingram Spark will charge you $25 every time you upload a new file.

As I've discovered only this week, if there's a minor problem with the first file you try, they'll charge you again if you have to have to re-upload it.

That's not a brand new listing, that's an extra $25 for testing a file, pre-publication, and then needing to change it due to a small error.

Book storeSo, for now, I'm ditching Ingram Spark, I've had far happier experiences with Createspace, which not only gives you free ISBNs, the entire process is completely free too.

All you pay for is your proof copies, and that's fair enough.

You pay extra for those at Ingram Spark.

You also have to buy 10x ISBN numbers from Nielson before you can list your book.

That's a lot of additional expense considering you've already paid for covers and editors.

So, I'd recommend Createspace every time, the only disadvantage is that bookshops won't want to use those books, they prefer to buy via the Ingram Spark outlets.

While I'm a big fan of aggregation services, I wouldn't recommend using Createspace to generate an automatic Kindle version of your book.

List that separately, it gives you more control over the look of your finished Kindle version.

In summary, if you want to self-publish and get your books into stores, you'll have to go down the Ingram Spark route.

If you're happy to forget the bookshops, don't even hesitate to choose Createspace, it's a much easier process.

Lesson 5: Use Grammarly and AutoCrit

However many times I check my work, I still miss things.

Even work that has been completed by an excellent proof-reader will still have a couple of errors in it – we're only human after all.

So bring in the robots!

I wish I'd known about Grammarly when I wrote my first trilogy, it's an absolute life-saver.

It will spot every spelling mistake, punctuation error and grammatical error known to humanity.

You can't get away with a trick.


I'm now using it prior to submitting to my proof-reader and afterwards, just before publication.

It's easy to make a slip every time you tweak your text, but Grammarly will help you to find everything.

It also serves as a plagiarism checker, will offer word recommendations and gives feedback on style and structure.

Now, it's only a machine, it doesn't get it right every time, but you just click ‘ignore' if you disagree with the guidance.

I've only been using it for a month, but I wouldn't be without it.

I also use their Chrome browser plugin, so it's checking this blog post as I write it, and it does the same for my emails, social media posts and so on.

Incidentally, I'm using Grammarly alongside another service called AutoCrit which I also dearly love.

AutoCrit is an editing tool, but it offers many services that make it very distinctive from Grammarly.


It will give you feedback on your use of dialogue, pacing and momentum, your word choice (repetitions, showing vs. telling, etc.) and overuse of words.

I just used it on the first draft of my new fiction book; it was an excellent resource.

Like Grammarly, it's just a robot, so use it for guidance, don't feel that you have to make every change that it suggests.

I found the repeated words, overused words and pacing indicators invaluable.

Both of these services are paid for (you can try them for free, but I'll bet you upgrade!) but neither is hugely expensive for the value they provide.

Bonus Tip: Join Alli!

Okay, I said five tips but I'm giving you six.

As a newly self-published author, you must check out and join The Alliance of Independent Authors.

Not only are they a remarkable source of free advice and support, but they also hold some superb events, including monthly Google Hangouts, answering all of your self-publishing questions.

You can showcase your new books with them and access a constant stream of useful and informative blog posts.

If you're self-publishing, you do need to become a member 🙂


  • Paul, as always, you give a lot of good advice. I will now go out and install AutoCrit + Gramerly (both of which I’ve eschewed b/c I am a former English teacher.) Many thanks for your diligence…I have Scrivener, but am now so accustomed to Word I wonder if I’m make that leap.

    pault23 Reply:

    I haven’t looked back since ditching Word and moving to Scrivener. There’s always a learning curve involved with learning any new software or process, but I consider it an investment in my long-term author career if it saves me time and hassles 🙂

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