So you want to publish your book…

I hear from people frequently who start by saying, “I have written a book and I want to get it published.”

I’m always excited to hear that someone has WRITTEN their book–as opposed to thinking about it–but I sigh. So many questions crowd around that simple desire to see one’s words make it all the way to print.

First, I have to find out–is the person thinking about commercial publishing or personal publishing? Down one fork of that road lies book proposals, the search for an agent, the thicket of rejections and very occasionally, a successful match. I have worked with acquisition editors to locate authors, develop manuscripts, and produce books. I’ve worked with would-be authors to find publishers, then helped them turn book ideas into books in stores. It’s one way to go.

But there’s the other fork of that road–the one that leads toward personal publishing. The technology for print-on-demand (P-O-D) has expanded the possibilities for individuals to affordably create and distribute books. As a result, there is a growing business opportunity for professional services dedicated to helping individuals self-publish. I work that beat as well. And frankly, with the declining fortunes of the publishing industry, I’m doing more work for self-publishing authors and less work for publishing houses these days.

So let’s say we’ve talked, and I’ve ascertained you want to self-publish your own book to distribute to friends and families and maybe even sell a few. Now I know what lies ahead for you. You need to get your manuscript into layout. You need to go from pages that look like this….

to ones that look like this.

Preparing pages for printing means laying them out, combining text and photos and “page furniture” like running heads and page numbers. Some people try to do this using word-processing software–and drive themselves crazy. Some hire people like me who do layout professionally. Some use online software on the P-O-D service’s website that compose pages for you using predetermined templates. Some buy an easy-to-use layout program like Microsoft Publisher or Apple’s Pages. Each of these routes is valid–each represents an individual’s preferences for D-I-Y vs. hired help, and for control vs. convenience. (Personally I wouldn’t use an the P-O-D service’s software to lay out my book–what if the service goes away? Your book is lost to you!)

DO NOT start laying out pages (no matter which route you choose) until you’ve decided which P-O-D service will print your book. Each P-O-D publisher has specifications you must follow. Their rules govern the page sizes you can use, whether your document prints in color or black-and-white, whether elements can bleed off the page, and more.

Start by looking around at online print-on-demand services like Lulu, Blurb, Bookemon, and Amazon’s CreateSpace. Last time I looked they all priced their services about the same. (Lulu led the pack by a fraction of a penny or two.) Choose one you think will work for you. If you’re planning to use their online layout tools, poke around and see if you find them easy to use. (I particularly like Bookemon’s.)

Once you’ve found the service you’ll use, get their specs and start getting your pages into layout. When you’re satisfied with how they look–once you’ve had someone look them over and catch the mistakes you overlooked because you’re too close to the project–create the final PDF you’ll upload to the P-O-D site. Place your order.

Order one first for a proof copy before you order however many you think you want!

Then order books for yourself, your family, your friends, your sale table at a local book fair. Bask in the pleasure of the compliments you receive. You did it–you published your book!

Examples are from Simply Joe by Joseph Koelsch, published by the Koelsch family and for sale on

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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