Self-Publishing FAQ


General Questions


Do you have recommendations for editors, book formatters, and other freelancers?

I do! I've worked with and met a lot of amazingly talented people who can help you make your book the best it can be.


Book formatting:


Should I use my own name or a pen name?

This is a personal decision and entirely up to you. Some authors prefer to use their own names, some don't. Some use both their own name and pen names, too. Factors like building your brand, your online presence, and your own comfort and what's important to you personally play a big part in deciding if using a pen name is right for you.

Pen names are great if you write in very different genres, such as paranormal romance and spy thrillers. They can help you build your brand, such as a fantasy author using a name that has a fantasy sound to it, or has a similar ring to authors in the genre. If you find your name is hard for most people to pronounce and that's important to you, you might consider a pen name as well. It's a big consideration if you have a very common name and can't easily buy a dotcom domain with your name, or you might be confused with someone who is well-known who would otherwise top any Google searches for your name. Pen names can also keep your professional life and online presence separate from your personal life. This is especially important to some authors whose regular jobs might be impacted by their name used in a fiction career.

If you do wish to use your real name, but not the name you use every day, you can also use initials, an added first or middle initial, or an ancestral family name.


Can you help me choose my title?

While I'm happy to give input on title choices, the only person who can truly know what title is best for your book is you. There are a lot of personal and marketing decisions that go into choosing a title for a book. Certain genres have title patterns that resonate more than others (like psychological thrillers with "girl" in the title, or epic fantasies that use "a thing of things" patterns). It's worth doing some genre research, and then seeing how your title fits with others in the genre. More evocative, specific titles that have emotional ties to your themes often do better than vague or one-word titles--but that's not a hard and fast rule. Take Wool, for example. Running a list of a few titles by some trusted friends is a good way to gauge the effectiveness of your title choices, but always trust your gut over all.


What's a blurb, and why do I need one?

A blurb, or summary, or back cover copy, is a short 1-4 paragraph description of your book, used on your Amazon (and other vendors) product page and the back cover of your book. This isn't meant to tell your whole story, or even all the juicy details, but to put the main awesome and unique things in your story front and center. The aim is to hook the reader so they will buy your book. It might help to think of writing a blurb as writing ad copy, or describing your favorite novel to a friend with a short attention span.

Blurbs come in many styles, and it's a good idea to look through blurbs on Amazon for best-selling books in your genre. This will give you a good idea of how authors are presenting their stories to potential readers, and you'll see some patterns emerge that you can then use in your own blurbs.

Some blurbs start with a punchy tagline, and a strong tagline can do much to reel the reader in.

What you probably shouldn't put in your blurb is how much your readers will love your book--it's best to show them how awesome the ride will be, and let them decide for themselves.


Print Design


What are the pros and cons of print vs ebook only?

This depends on what your publishing goals are. Many authors publish both print and ebook--and sometimes audiobook--versions at the same time. Others, to keep costs down or to gauge series interest, only publish ebook versions, and sometimes add print later. Short stories or novellas are often ebook-only, because of length. Smaller works in a series might be ebook-only, too, and later collected in an omnibus print and ebook version. Going with ebook only is also simpler up front, as you only need to format and proof the ebook vs formatting and proofing the print book as well.

Going with print, however, allows you to sell and sign physical copies of your books in bookstores, book fairs, and libraries. Some book reviewers only take print copies, too. And there's just something special about having your book in print--even if you don't plan to sell many physical copies, having print copies of your books for your shelf can be a powerful accomplishment and motivator.

In short: go with what fits your needs. If you think you'll need or would like a print version, it's generally easier and more cost-effective to get that designed up front. But you can almost always make a print cover for an ebook later.


What size should I make my paperback?

A lot of this depends on personal preference, but there are a few sizes that work for almost all genres:

  • 6" x 9"
  • 5.5" x 8.5"
  • 5.25" x 8"
  • 5" x 8"

Some sizes might be used more in certain genres than others. And some people prefer larger paperbacks than smaller, or vice versa. If you have a longer book and wish to keep paperback cost down, a larger size will help you do that as well. If you're still unsure, it's often helpful to take a ruler to your bookshelves and measure the books in your genre, and the paperbacks you like best. It's also a good idea, once you pick a size, to be consistent across your future books.


White paper or cream? Does it matter?

White paper is typically used in non-fiction, and cream paper in fiction. You do need to know this before downloading a design template from Createspace or Ingram Spark, as the two paper colors have slightly different widths and will affect the spine size.

While there's typical uses for each color of paper, though, that doesn't mean you can't use white for fiction or cream for non-fiction. For instance, fiction books with black and white illustrations sometimes print better in white. Paper color is completely your personal preference. Just make sure to be consistent across your books.


What's an ISBN, and do I need one?

An ISBN, or International Standard Book Number, is a number unique to your book that's used in bookstores and library systems to identify your book. An ISBN is what is used to generate the barcode on the back of a book. In some countries, ISBNs are purchased through registered vendors (Bowker in the United States), and other countries offer them for free (New Zealand and Canada, among others). Every printed book should have an ISBN if you want to sell it in bookstores. Ebooks can have ISBNs, too, which will need to be a different ISBN than a paperback. Technically, all versions of a book should have a different ISBN. But, publishing on Amazon's KDP does not require one, although that might be different for different ebook vendors. Make sure you read up on each vendor's terms of service.

For paperbacks, if you need to purchase an ISBN will depend on which printing service you're using, and where you'd like your books to be purchased. If you use Amazon's Createspace service, they will assign an ISBN to your book at no charge, and generate a barcode when they process your cover. Brick and mortar bookstores don't always like Amazon's barcodes, though, so if you want wide distribution, it might be best to purchase an ISBN for your book. If you use Ingram Spark or its parent company of Lightning Source, you'll be required to have an ISBN already purchased just to download the template. Ingram Spark will then generate a barcode for you to use on the back of your book, or you can use a paid or free barcode service to make your own barcode, too. Some authors who use both Ingram Spark and Createspace to print the same book prefer to have their own barcode images so that they'll be the same across both printers.


Createspace vs Ingram Spark: which printer should I use?

The two main printing services that indie authors use are Createspace and Ingram Spark. Amazon also has a paperback service through KDP, which functions a lot like Createspace, and Ingram Spark has a parent company in Lightning Source, which functions a lot like Ingram Spark, but is geared toward small-mid-sized publishing houses rather than self-publishers.

Print-on-demand has come a long way in the last ten years, and both Createspace and Ingram Spark put out good-quality books. But, there are some differences and pros and cons that will help in choosing which service is right for you.

If you're going for budget-friendly printing, both for yourself and your readers, Createspace is a budget-friendlier printing process up front, and generally runs a few dollars cheaper in production costs per book. Createspace books can vary in quality, however. Color quality can vary from batch to batch, paper color is sometimes slightly different, and sometimes the spine and overall centering of the cover can be slightly off. Generally, these aren't big concerns, but the issues can come up. I have a lot of Createspace-printed books on my shelves and most have at least one of the issues above, usually the spine being shifted. Createspace's colors are often not quite as vivid as Ingram Spark's, too. Another issue with Createspace is that they don't have as many distribution options as Ingram Spark, so if you want to get into bookstores and libraries, this might not be the best option. Createspace-printed books can only be purchased through Amazon or Createspace, too, so you can't list your paperbacks for sale on Barnes and Noble and other stores that sell print, although Createspace does have an option for expanded distribution, which will raise your paperback price per book but allow for greater purchasing options. If your primary goal is to sell decent-quality books at the best price to readers online, though, Createspace is a great way to go.

Ingram Spark has more up-front costs, and their books are a few dollars more per than Createspace, but in my experience, they put out a better-quality book. Paper quality is better, printing both on the cover and the interior of the book is clearer, and colors are more vivid. Ingram Spark is more intensive and geared toward those with experience with publishing and printing, however, so be prepared for a bit sharper learning curve than with Createspace. You will need a professionally formatted book interior with Ingram Spark (or formatted yourself to professional specs), and their guidelines are a bit more rigid overall. If you're doing your cover or interior yourself, you'll need software that can edit InDesign, PDF for print, or Photoshop files, and you'll need a basic understanding of CMYK printing colors. If you want a high-quality print-on-demand book, though, Ingram Spark will be the better choice. I'd recommend Ingram Spark over Createspace for printing books with illustrations, too.  

Some authors choose to use both print services for the same book, getting the advantages of both. Createspace-printed books will be available on Amazon, and Ingram Spark-printed books will be available on other vendors, and have wider distribution. Books from either vendor can then be ordered for signings or conventions


Can I use my Createspace template cover on an Ingram Spark template, too?

Createspace and Ingram Spark use different papers and printing methods, and have slightly different spine widths (Ingram Spark spines are generally 1/8" smaller than a Createspace spine with the same page count). A cover designed to Createspace specs will print off-center on an Ingram Spark template, so I generally recommend adjusting your design to fit the specs of each template.


Whats the final formatted-for-print PDF page count, and how do I get it?

Book spine widths are determined by page count, and a book's page count is determined by the final formatted document of your book. This isn't the MS Word file page count (even if it's in Standard Manuscript Format), but the page count of the final upload file that either your or your interior formatter prepared. It includes all pages of your book, including front and back matter, not just the internal numbered pages.

Many print-on-demand printing services generate templates in page counts of ten, always rounding up. If your final file has 252 pages, the template will be for 260 pages. This is helpful to keep in mind if you need to add a few pages to your file and want to know if you'll need to adjust the design to a new template or not.

Paperbacks can be designed to a general page count estimate and they often are, if the cover is designed ahead of the finished book, but the final PDF page count is what's needed to produce a finished product. A paperback designed to a general page count will almost always need to be adjusted to a new template once you know your final page count.


How do I format my book for print?

There are a number of different ways to do this, some more intensive than others. Some print services offer the ability to convert an MS Word file for print, but I generally don't recommend this, as it gives a much less professional end product, and can produce some oddly-formatted pages.

If you own or have access to a Mac, the software Vellum is a great way to format a book for print. Software such as InDesign can also help you make beautifully-formatted books, although if you haven't used this software before, be prepared to watch an hour or few of tutorials before you really get a handle on what it can do. I'd recommend InDesign or a similar program for any books that have illustrations or unusual formatting needs.

Some self-publishing websites offer copy/paste print templates for formatting a book, for InDesign and other programs. These are a great alternative to doing it from scratch yourself, while still being cost-effective. 

It might be a good idea to look into professional book formatting, too. A lot of designers do formatting either on the side or exclusively as their business, and can give you a beautifully formatted print book.


Matte vs glossy, and does it matter?

Matte and glossy refer to the different finishes a paperback cover can have. A matte cover generally has a thicker texture coating added after the initial printing, and a glossy cover has a high-gloss coating added. Whether you use matte or glossy is up to personal preference, but a few guidelines can help you determine which is best for your book.

Matte covers are used more often in certain genres than others. Check bookstores to look at what finishes are on the trade paperbacks of covers in your genre. For instance, Urban Fantasy often uses matte finishes, and a glossy cover won't fit as well with the genre and might look less professional.

Glossy covers sometimes work better with white or predominantly light-colored covers. Matte can tend to show fingerprints more than glossy.

It's a good idea to know if your cover will be matte or glossy before you start the design process, too, as they have different color needs when finalizing your design for print. Matte covers will generally desaturate colors (make less vivid) a bit more than glossy, and they also tend to print dark and need a little more lightening before they head to print. Matte will also usually wash out the blacks, so dark covers with a lot of details in the dark areas won't do as well with matte as they will with glossy. Glossy covers tend to run brighter, with crisper details and more vivid colors, so these won't need to be brightened or saturated as much as matte covers.


Do I need pricing info on my cover?

No, but it's standard for U.S. publishers to list U.S. and sometimes Canadian pricing by the barcode to help booksellers and readers find the cover price. Pricing will be determined by the production costs of your book, with factors like black and white or color interior, hardcover or paperback binding, and overall page count as contributing factors. If you want to receive royalties on your print copies, it's best to price at least a few dollars above base pricing. You can find pricing info for your book specifically by uploading your final formatted-for-print PDF file to your printer. In general, Ingram Spark will have slightly higher pricing than Createspace. If you use both services for the same book, you'll want to use the same price for both.


What are RGB and CMYK?

RGB and CMYK refer to color modes used by monitors, digital devices, and printers. RGB stands for red, green, and blue, and it's how backlit devices, like monitors, tablets, and phones, display colors. With very few exceptions, all digital use will be in RGB--usually sRGB (web colors). CMYK is what most industrial and home printers use. CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Printers print with varying quantities of these colors, and print files made for CMYK generally need to be careful of the amounts of each color in any given part of the design, not exceeding the printer's limit. (This is an issue that sometimes comes up with Lightning Source and Ingram Spark covers, and I detail more on that below.) 

Generally, files for ebook covers and web graphics will be in RGB, and files for print covers and printed items will be in CMYK. Amazon covers can be designed and uploaded in RGB, but Amazon's color conversion will tend to wash the colors out a bit, so CMYK is your better bet with them. Ingram Spark requires CMYK, and requires that colors not exceed a certain limit. If you ever run into a color limit error, try converting your file to sRGB, then converting it back to CMYK. (This will flatten any layers, so make sure you're working on a copy of your file and not the original.)

Many designers design in RGB, as it gives more vivid colors than CMYK because it has a larger color gamut (more colors available to use). Conversion to CMYK can sometimes make colors slightly less vivid or slightly different colors, however, because it's limiting the amount of colors down from the larger number available in RGB. This is most noticeable in vivid blues and violets. This can sometimes make print colors a little different from ebook colors, though with some careful adjustments, the colors can usually match up fairly well.

Not all software displays colors in CMYK mode. If you have a print cover PDF in CMYK, it will often appear with very washed-out colors if opened in a browser such as Edge or Chrome, but this is normal and the colors will display fine in a color-managed app like Photoshop.