What Is Self-Publishing and How Does It Work? A Comprehensive Guide

Self-publishing has changed a lot over the past few years, especially with how fast AI technology is moving. The days of writer's block and traditional publishing houses are over. All you need is a computer to get started, and with the tap of a few buttons, you can generate unlimited ideas and make money with them…all as your own boss. Simple, right?

What Is Self-Publishing and How Does It Work? A Comprehensive Guide
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If you want to know more about what makes self-publishing so special (and lucrative), you're in the right place. By the end of this blog post, you'll know exactly what sets it apart from the traditional model, and you'll even meet a former banker, a busy mom, and a chronic procrastinator who never thought they could publish a book, let alone make a business out of it.

Wanna skip to the good part? Join our free webinar to get an up close and personal look at the entire publishing process from one of the experts who founded The Freedom Shortcut, a way to make life-changing income through Amazon's KDP without a fancy degree or any tech experience.

What Does It Mean to Self-Publish a Book?

The definition of self-publishing is simple. It involves independently taking on all the costs associated with publishing a piece of content without involving an established publishing house. This piece of content could be a paperback book, hardcover, audiobook, eBook, or even a magazine. Authors who choose to go the self-publishing route have full creative control over every aspect of the publishing process, from the ideation phase to the distribution and marketing of the book.

Whether you choose to work with a self-publishing coach in the process, you are overseeing the end result and, therefore, get to take complete credit for it. 

How Much Does It Cost to Self-Publish?

The cost to self-publish will largely depend on your business and publishing goals. If self-publishing is more of a passion project and you want to do all the writing, editing, designing, and formatting yourself, you can keep your costs extremely low.

The cost to self-publish on Amazon is free. Here's the cheapest way to self-publish a book:

  • Write and edit in Microsoft Word or Google Docs
  • Format the cover and interior design in Canva using stock images from the web
  • Use software like Reedsy to make sure your book is properly formatted
  • Create an Amazon KDP account for free
  • Get a free ISBN for your book from Amazon
  • Publish your book to Amazon for free

Yes, it is possible to get paid for writing books and doing everything yourself. However, if you're trying to grow a publishing business, it'll be more lucrative to hire professional help with editing, formatting, etc., to produce a high-quality book. Getting a professional writer, editor, and book designer might cost you somewhere in the $1k-$2.5k range, but you'll be able to build a library of self-published books whose royalties are solely your own.

How Much Money Can You Make with Self-Publishing a Book?

In the above scenario, Person A, who wants to self-publish a book for fun or to bring in a small side income to cover the cost of a rising grocery bill, might earn a few hundred dollars per month. Person B, who learns the self-publishing process inside and out, can go on to earn upwards of $10,000 every month because they're running a business with very little overhead costs. A side hustle mindset and a business mindset are two very different things with two very different results, but both are possible.  

A prime example of a self-publishing success story, whether or not you're into romance, is Fifty Shades of Grey. The book was originally published as an eBook and print-on-demand book, but it did so well that it went on to earn the attention of several publishing houses. The author then decided to sell their publishing rights for a hefty sum that they could invest back into their self-publishing business.

Ready for the crazy part? This story isn't uncommon. Head over to our Student Success Hub to see how dozens of students have built up their publishing empires to well over six figures after starting with no publishing experience whatsoever.

Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing

A traditional publishing deal typically comes with a negotiated advance based on the number of copies of a book that are estimated to sell. The traditional publishing process also includes several gatekeepers, such as literary agents, that ultimately determine how successful they think your book can be. These professionals will have extremely strict guidelines and feedback for your work and can also decide to drop you from the publishing house with very little notice.

As a self-published author, you won't be entitled to any sort of advance, but your royalties will never be capped, and you'll never have to share them with anyone else. There are some downsides to self-publishing but the advantages far outweigh the cons.

Even if you work with a ghostwriter for the drafting of the manuscript or a voice artist for the recording of your audiobook.

Publishing your book through a traditional publishing house instead of self-publishing has its pros and cons, but the growing world of publishing allows you to make that choice for yourself.

The Benefits of Self-Publishing

Self-publishing is more complex in that you become solely responsible for the quality control of every step in the publishing process, but having complete control also means owning your schedule and income 24/7.

Other benefits of self-publishing include the fact that you can work from anywhere in the world, and you'll never be tied to any single genre or idea. You can even land on the New York Times Bestseller list without needing any help from a traditional publisher whatsoever.

Why is self-publishing better? Here's the gist:

  • Creative Control: You get to make all the executive decisions regarding the editing, book formatting, cover design, distribution, and promotion. No more answering to an agent or publisher!
  • Speedy Publication: You don't have to wait around for anyone's permission and can publish books at the touch of a button whenever you want. No more being at the mercy of a publisher for months to see if they’ll even pick up your book or if you just wasted all that time on a dead-end manuscript.
  • Higher Royalties: Your take-home royalties are 100% yours every single month and will get directly deposited straight into your bank account. No more negotiating or getting stuck in a bad deal.

Is Self-Publishing Hard?

The hardest part about independent publishing isn't what you might think. The writing, editing, and formatting can all be outsourced, so it's not the words or creating the book cover design that often trips new publishers up. It's actually just seeing the process through.

There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to publishing a book, and it can be a really solitary process. It's easy to lose motivation when the end goal seems so far away, but a book publishing company or a book publishing coach can help.

How Can Self-Publishing Companies Help Me?

Some companies offer self-publishing services to help indie authors take some of the workload off their plate. These companies might have in-house writers, editors, and graphic designers who offer quality work and significantly speed up the book publishing process.

These companies typically will not take any share of the royalties that your books may earn in the future but might cost a one-time fee in exchange for all the time and labor they are saving you. They may even help you get your books set up across many self-publishing platforms, so you don't have to worry about it. 

Just to recap, working with a self-publishing company can offer the following benefits:

  • Access to Accountability Partners
  • Regular Encouragement and Motivation
  • Professional Advice and Tailored Feedback
  • The Ability to Spot Roadblocks Ahead of Time
  • Much Quicker Turnaround Times

Just like any industry, there are scams in the publishing industry, so be sure to check the reviews of any contractor, professional, or company you are considering working with.

Psssst! Fast-track your publishing career with our comprehensive self-publishing course that walks through every step of the publishing process, from coming up with profitable ideas to executing them and using marketing to generate buzz and maximize your book sales.

An Overview of Major Self-Publishing Platforms

Self-publishing platforms are one option to host and sell your books in addition to brick-and-mortar retailers or libraries. These platforms often host traditionally published authors alongside self-published ones to give readers a greater selection. 

These are the most common platforms in the industry right now:

Kindle Direct Publishing

Making money with Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing is easy. Publishing your book through the platform is completely free and allows you to sell your book in multiple formats. This is the simplest platform to publish your books with because they have a cover designer software, a support team, and a self-guided walkthrough actually to get your book published online. You even have the option of selling your book across multiple countries outside of the US. Because of the low start-up costs and lucrative earnings potential, many publishers start this side hustle on Amazon.

Enhance Your KDP Experience with the Publishing.com Experts

We've helped thousands of everyday people publish their books on Amazon, and our guidance has helped generate millions of dollars from this particular self-publishing platform over the last handful of years. Nearly every person on our team has at least one published book under their belt, and some of our self-publishing coaches have even generated six figures exclusively from publishing online.

Ready to dip your toes into the water? Discover our proven formula for indie publishing at our free webinar. Ready for the deep dive? Join our KDP course and jumpstart your publishing journey.

Apple Books

Just like Amazon's user base, Apple's user base continues to grow by the day. Authors can upload eBooks directly to Apple Books using the Apple Books for Authors program. While the platform isn't as straightforward as Amazon's KDP, being on Apple Books gives authors exposure to customers browsing on iPhones and iPads, which can add a notable boost to their book sales every month.


Kobo is one of the largest eBook retailers after Amazon and tends to be most popular among the fiction crowd. Authors can self-publish on Kobo through Kobo Writing Life and reach readers all over the globe. Formatting and uploading on Kobo Writing Life is fairly simple.

Barnes and Noble Press

The Barnes and Noble Press platform offers distribution to Barnes & Noble's brick-and-mortar stores as well as their website and app. They have decent reporting and royalty payments for authors, but it's not available in every country.

An Overview of Major Book Aggregators

Book aggregators allow publishers to upload their books once and distribute them to multiple platforms. This saves time and effort over uploading to each retailer individually.

Here are the major book aggregators to be aware of:


Draft2Digital is one of the largest aggregators, distributing to all major eBook retailers, including Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Apple, and nearly a dozen others. They have intuitive uploading and formatting tools, and royalties are estimated at approximately 45% of the list price of the book minus the printing costs.


BookBaby distributes to both print and eBook retailers. They also offer services like print-on-demand, ISBN registration, and cover design. Royalties are estimated to be between 10-30% of each book sale.


PublishDrive distributes to all major eBook platforms and has translation and audiobook capabilities. They give authors and publishers 100% of their royalties from each book sale. 


IngramSpark is best for print books due to their relationships with major book retailers and wholesalers. They provide industry-standard ISBNs and metadata in addition to standard royalty rates, and they have a good reputation within the industry.

Who Should Consider Self-Publishing?

Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to be an expert to publish a book. This isn't to say anyone is qualified to write about quantum physics and curing cancer, but you don't have to be the world's greatest crocheting expert to help others earlier on in their crafting journeys. Or perhaps your uncle would take you bass fishing every weekend when you were younger, and you want to share that knowledge with others. Heck, maybe you don’t have any experience with crocheting or fishing at all, but you’re interested in both topics and know these books hold potential. 

The most successful self-publishing authors know how to conduct proper research to get to know their ideal readers inside and out...or they hire someone else who can help them.

There's no age, gender, educational background, or degree that determines whether someone will be successful in this field. It just takes grit. Our mission is to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that anyone can produce a professionally published book.

James Allwington was a banker who quit his unfulfilling job to pursue publishing and travel full-time. It took him less than two years to start living out his dreams around the globe.

Carissa Revell had to squeeze publishing in between all her other duties as a busy mom and was able to start making money her first month as a self-published author.

After procrastinating for over a year and a half, Travis Wilkerson made almost $1k in just one month from his first book.

None of these people had any prior book writing or publishing experience, and they certainly didn't consider themselves experts. If you're looking for more financial freedom and control over your schedule, you can do this, too!

The Self-Publishing Method That Works for Beginners

If you've reached the end of this blog eager to start your publishing journey and finally get your very own book in your hands, we can help. Backed by a 4.8 star rating on TrustPilot and hundreds of success stories, we are changing the publishing industry one book and one solo publisher at a time.

Now that you've heard about the pros and cons of working with traditional publishing houses vs. partnering with a self-publishing company, you're equipped to make a better-informed decision about crafting your dream life.

How important is creative control to you?

How much does it cost to keep putting off your financial goals?

Why not get started today?

Grab a snack and join our free webinar to see exactly what's possible. 

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