Zack's Blog

How to Self Publish a Novel in 2017

Published 2017-02-25 13 min read

While putting the finishing touches on Singular, I thought it would be nice to capture all the steps required to self-publish a novel, so that any reader thinking of doing likewise (or myself in a year or two) has a ready guide for the process. I’m not an expert in this, but I hope it is valuable nonetheless.

As this is going to be rather long, let’s break this up into sections:

  • Writing - What should I use while I’m writing?
  • Get Help - Who will I need to help me?
  • Prepare to Publish - How do I prepare my manuscript for publication?
  • Publish - How do I get my book into various ebook/paperback channels?

TL;DR: Scrivener, Vellum, KDP, Createspace

Though I should point out, if you’re looking for a TL;DR, perhaps writing novels isn’t an ideal pastime.


While you could choose to write your first draft long hand, drinking cappuccinos in your favorite cafe, you’re eventually going to have to upgrade your tech. Though the cafe scenario sounds more appealing, the print-on-demand services might not accept such a manuscript.

The lingua franca for most writing is Microsoft Word so you’ll have to buy that eventually, in the mean time I recommend another tool for the writing process: Scrivener.


Combining research, outline, pictures, cuts, and the text of your manuscript into one magnificent “binder” is quite handy for staying organized. Add to that the ability to compile your manuscript into a print ready PDF, and it’s quite the combo. They recently added an excellent mobile app, which makes it even more convenient to capture ideas while on the go. Let’s get started!

Step 1: File -> New Project -> Fiction -> Novel

By using their template as a starting point, you get a decent skeleton and a handy little README on how it’s all organized. I ended up changing things a good bit, but starting here helps reduce the blank page effect.

First change I’d recommend is to name the chapters according to what you want them to actually be in print. Since I knew I wanted a prologue and epilogue, the default auto-numbering just wasn’t going to cut it.

Step 2: Write the Novel

You know, the easy part. For every chapter make a new folder, for every scene in that chapter, add another document inside the folder. Continue until you’ve written the whole thing.

After you’ve written it, read it, wallow in despair, edit it repeatedly until you can sleep again. Good job, you’re making progress!

Step 3: Prepare Front Matter

“Front matter” is the collective term for everything that goes at the beginning of the book, shocking, I know. Aren’t I the publishing guru? Since we plan on using Createspace to publish our book, there’s something we must do.

We must include the following structure:

Those “deliberately blank” pages ensure that when you generate your PDF later, your title page appears on the correct side of the book. This wasn’t intuitive at first, as every PDF two-page preview tends to trick you into thinking you’re looking at a book, but if you don’t add these pages, your title will appear on the left-hand side and look weird.

For writing the copyright page, I encourage making a stack of your favorite novels and then make your page look as much like theirs as you can. Since I’m not a lawyer, I won’t try to break this down any further, again, we’re just trying to make a nice looking novel. That said, this “consensus from my favorite books” technique has been a helpful tool for this whole process. Use recent books however, as publishing has changed quite a bit.

Note, I’m entirely ignoring the eBook front matter in Scrivener, focusing only on the paperback version. That’s because Scrivener is in charge of our paperback. We’ve got another tool for the eBook which we’ll turn to later on.

Get Help

Read any acknowledgments section and you’ll see that writing a book is not a lone endeavor. This is a very good thing, so make sure you find professionals to hire.

Specifically, you are going to need a good designer and copy-editor. Even as I write that sentence, I realize that the copy-editor would likely correct my use of hyphenation. Speaking of which, you might want to work with Alex Bear over at Constellation Editing. A very talented copy-editor. The cover was designed by Gabe Rodriguez of Rodriguez Inc.

Spend the money, it’s worth it.

Later on, I’ll assume you have your cover as a print ready PDF according to specific standards. A professional will make this go smoothly.

Prepare to Publish

The manuscript is done. You’ve got an amazing cover and your grammar mistakes are ancient history. You’re ready to publish.

Well, almost. Now we need to prepare the paperback and the eBook, separately, for publication.


Remember how I said Scrivener has a fantastic compile feature?

Well, it does, but you’re still going to have to tweak it to make the book look the way you want. Speaking of which, how do you want your book to look? There are genre trends to be aware of, certainly, but there’s also your taste. In the end, I wanted my book to look like this on the inside:

It’s a clean reading experience, deceptively difficult to achieve. Having read it cover to cover approximately eleven times, I can affirm it’s easy on the eyes and worth the extra time spent tweaking.

Step 1: Contents/Front Matter

Notice the configuration of those deliberately blank pages. That’s to get the recto/verso stuff sorted out for the title page.

Step 2: Separators

The text separator is what will show up between scenes, so adjust as you feel necessary. I’m not a heavy scene utilizer, so this was of marginal import.

Step 3: Formatting

Probably the most important page. Since I wanted to have a prologue/epilogue, I precisely named my folders for print (note the check marks next to the folder level formatting). In the bottom section where it says “TITLE”, you can click and specify a font. I used Garamond Premier Pro, display, 18.

Step 3a: More Recto/Verso

Since we want every chapter to begin on a recto (roughly right-hand) page, we need to click on “Section Layout” and arrange things as you see them in this screenshot.

Step 3b: First Paragraph Idents

By clicking “options” you can also set it to “Remove first paragraph indents”, which is generally preferred.

Step 3c: Font Selection

Very important decision…what font should you use for the body of your book? Your choice, but here’s where you set it. I opted for Adobe Garamond Pro (it’s worth the money), 1.2 line height, size 11, regular. You’ll order proofs later which is the only way to really tell if it feels right.

Typography is a huge subject and generally best left to experts (in other words, ask your designer), but there are some genre conventions that are helpful. Search the internets for details.

Step 4: Transformations

Not terribly exciting here, but since I tend to use the notes/commenting feature a good bit, it’s important to strip those during a compile to rich text. I believe it’s necessary for importing to Vellum, which we do later on.

Step 5: Page Settings

This page configures everything around your text. Your numbers for the margins will be based on how many pages your book ultimately has (bigger gutter for bigger book since it’s harder to bend all those pages). The Header and Footer (combined with the Facing Pages below) enabled me to have a cool adornment, reminiscent of early computer prompts, on my page numbers.

Upper left (Header Footer, header far right): <$PROJECTTITLE> :/ <$p> Upper right (Facing Pages, header far left): <$p> :/ <$AUTHOR>

Step 6: Compile

Click “Compile” and you’ll have a print-ready PDF of your book. Congrats.


For the eBook, I opted to use Vellum. It eliminates the hassle of dealing with the different formats, plus they have some nice design templates.

Step 0: New Project

Title, cover, author, etc. Don’t really need any insight from me on this. The title is locked at purchase, so make sure you know what you want to call the book before you start fiddling with this.

Step 1: Import Manuscript

From Scrivener you need to compile a .docx file (it’s an option near where you selected PDF previously). Then drag and drop that onto the Vellum window. If you followed the instructions above, it should be mostly correct. Flip through everything to make sure.

Step 2: Elements

You will want to use the correct “element” type when adding whatever is missing at this point. I was only missing front-matter, if I recall correctly.

Step 3: Book Style

Then flip through the styles and pick the one you like.

You’ll likely want to customize those, so click away.

Step 4: Generate

Finally, hit the big “Generate” button in the upper right (after following their instructions to download some Kindle generator thingy).

Congrats, now you have a folder filled with all the eBook varieties.


If you live in the United States, you have two options: a Createspace assigned ISBN (free) or one from Bowker’s (pricey).

Being able to publish under my own “imprint” was important to me, so I started a business and bought ISBNs. If you don’t care, go with the free Createspace one. You’ll need one ISBN for each version of your book (one for paperback, one for eBook).


Since I haven’t technically finished this step, I imagine this section will change in the next couple weeks (my first book Singular is available March 31st!), but here is how it stands as of today.


This one is really easy. Go to Amazon KDP, make an account, and click the big button to get started.

There’s only a few scary parts in this process.

You need a description for your book!!! You might be thinking, “I just wrote 100,000 words. What’s another 150?” Ha! Have fun with that. I think I’ve spent ten hours on those well-honed twelve-dozen and six words and I still keep thinking about tweaking them. My advice? Go read a ton of book descriptions on Amazon for books in a similar genre, then go and do likewise.

Next scary part: keywords and categories. Singular is an upbeat dystopian coming-of-age story heavily wrapped around an A.I. singularity event, so naturally I broke that down into whatever keywords they’d let me use and picked relevant sci-fi categories (apocalypse, etc.). You’ll know what you need to do.

The rest of the KDP setup is heavily influenced by your goals. Since I want to enable readers to experiment with an unknown author (me), I’m opting for low price points (but not so low that they seem disreputable or shabby in some way.)

I also chose to set it up for pre-order:

See, doesn’t it look pretty?

I haven’t started in on the other eBook marketplaces yet, but I’ll update this section once I add it to the rest.


While I’m sure I will switch to KDP’s paperback publishing soon, Createspace is the preferred method for now. That said, it’s not as simple of a setup process as the Kindle, and pre-order is notoriously un-fun.

Head over to your member dashboard and click “add new title”

New Project

I recommend using the “Guided” process your first time through.


This page is entirely obvious.


Now you make your decision on the ISBN. Since I already purchased one, I went with the “provide your own”. You might opt for the free Createspace route, or the new “Custom Universal”. It mostly comes down to, are you writing one book only or potentially more than one?

Custom Universal seems to be a great choice for the one-book only crowd that still want to have an imprint specified.


Go to your bookshelf. Grab every book that you like in your genre. Arrange them in stacks according to their dimensions (not page count). Take a ruler-device and get exactly measurements of the ones you like the best. Compare with the options available on Createspace.

I went with 5.5” x 8.5”, black & white on cream paper. I’d like to use the matte finish but the black level is a bit off, so might have to use glossy. Some alpha readers also didn’t like the feel of the matte cover.

That said, you’re going to have to do trial and error here. One of Createspace’s benefits is that you can order an “author proof” before you click the big publish button. There really is no substitute to holding it in your hands.


This part is easy! Just upload that PDF that Scrivener made for you. Hurray!


Here be dragons. Sure, you could use their cover creator, but then you’d have a terrible font selection and absolutely no design, hence my recommendation for a designer.

But here’s the deal, you need to give them the exact PDF cover requirements so they can ultimately give you a print-ready PDF. Download the guidelines from Createspace, do the calculation on spine width according to paper and pages, and provide that to your designer.

Upload the eventual PDF and wait the 24 hours for your files to be reviewed. You’ll get an email with any issues you need to fix.


Once the actual content and cover of the book have been approved, you can unleash your paperback on the world by setting its distribution.


First up, you need to select the channels of distribution. This is partially limited by choices you made earlier regarding your ISBN. If you didn’t select a Createspace ISBN, then you won’t be able to select “Libraries & Academic Institutions”, but that’s just how it goes.

In general, you’ll want to select everything you can on this screen.


One warning, if you fill out everything, you’re book will be published, so you better hold back something in reserve if you’re trying to time the paperback release with the eBook pre-order. Personally, I’m waiting on setting the price.


Almost everything on the description page can be copied over from the KDP entry, everything that is, except for the BISAC category. You’ll have to pick one category for your book, so make sure it’s a good one. Some people like to game the system here by picking something obscure, but I don’t think that’s really helpful for discoverability, so I lean truthful.

Launch Day Considerations

For a common detail page, you’ll want to Link the Kindle and Createspace editions. It makes a more professional looking page as Amazon bundles all the reviews and the buy box into one meta-ASIN. It’s good, do it.

You probably also want to solicit your mailing list for reviews from advance readers so you can get as many honest reviews as you can up on Amazon. I forgot to do this (even though I had two dozen ARCs) so I’m still behind on getting reviews up.

The more you can prepare in advance, the better your launch day will be.

That said, better is subjective. My goal has always been to write fiction that I’d enjoy reading, even when not blinded by the self-love common to every author. As such, I’m not the best person to ask about marketing etc.

I did, however, have an AWESOME launch day and a pretty epic party to boot (some pictures over on Facebook).


Thanks for reading this far, I hope you write a wonderful book to be enjoyed by countless people with impeccable taste! Speaking of which, you seem like you have remarkable good taste and would enjoy my book.

Why not buy it?