Tools for Self-publishing in 2016

Tools for Self-publishing in 2016

In 2016, I am helping my dad fulfill his dream of writing and publishing a book. (Hurray!) The first project we're working on is a book of silly poems—written by my dad from the perspective of our melodramatic dog. This is not intended to be a bestseller, and we really just want to have a few dozen print copies to share with (and maybe sell to) friends, family members, and gracious coworkers. If it's a surprise success, we will want the flexibility to print more and also expand into an e-book.

Self-publishing gives us the flexibility we need: it allows us to print and digitally distribute the book on our own schedule and also react quickly to real-life demand.

Also, it's fun. I have been delighted by the process of self-publishing so far, and I wanted to share with you the tools I've been using to make that an enjoyable experience.

Proofreading and Copy Editing

As a professional proofreader and copy editor, I would be remiss if I did not stress the importance of having another set of eyes look at your written work—whether that's a book of silly poems about your dog or a novel you've been crafting your whole life.


Start by asking a trusted friend or colleague to read through to help you find basic typos and errors. Also, I would recommend using the built-in spelling check in Microsoft Word (and the grammar check, if you feel confident enough to disagree with it when it's wrong) or an equivalent service online, like Grammarly. If you end up hiring a professional, you will spend less money if you do this small bit of self-editing work first.

Professional Copy Editing

Copy editing is different than proofreading, and you should hire a copy editor before you hire a proofreader. The copy editor's job is to dig in—to look at sentence structure, word choice, usage, grammar, spelling, formatting, and even the overall flow and organization of the content. A good copy editor will be an advocate for your writing. When I do copy editing, I try to eliminate any potential "tripping hazards" for the reader while maintaining the unique voice of the author. Basically, the copy editor helps the author communicate with the audience and helps the audience understand the author.

If you're looking to hire a freelance copy editor, check out the Editorial Freelancers Association or any of the directories listed here.

Professional Proofreading

After a project has been copy edited (and after it has been formatted for printing or e-book distribution), it should be submitted to a proofreader. A good proofreader will focus on corrections instead of revisions—weeding out any lingering errors but also paying attention to details like a change in font size or the way a paragraph breaks across two pages.

If you're looking to hire a freelance proofreader, check out the Editorial Freelancers Association or any of the directories listed here.

Layout and Publishing

Print Publishing

I decided to use Blurb for this print project for three reasons:

  1. Blurb offers several great formatting and layout options. I am using their plug-in for Adobe InDesign, my software of choice for laying out content and formatting text and images. InDesign is an industry standard, so I could easily find a professional designer to help me do the work. Blurb also offers a free download of Bookwright, which is specifically designed for formatting print and digital books. If you prefer some other software solution, that's fine, too; Blurb accepts PDF uploads of pre-formatted content.
  2. The pricing at Blurb is really reasonable, both for print and digital projects.
  3. It is really easy to sell a product (print or digital) through Blurb. The site has its own online bookstore, but Blurb also provides thorough how-to guides for using Amazon and Apple iBooks.

Another decent option for print publishing is Lulu. Their website and services don't look quite as polished, but I regularly reference their knowledge base for information on ISBNs and other print book distribution requirements.

[EDITED, 01.16.16:] Thanks to @joeld for adding Amazon CreateSpace to the list. CreateSpace also lacks the polished look of Blurb but makes up for that with an immense pool of free resources for new authors.

Digital Publishing

Again, my tool of choice for creating an e-book is Blurb. The above list still applies: it has great tools for making a product that looks good, the cost is very reasonable, and the options for selling are exactly what I want.

If you want to research some wonderful alternatives, check out Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing or Apple's iBooks Author. Both come highly recommended by friends who have successfully published (and sold) their own e-books.

Cover Design

I will be blunt here: self-published books have introduced a lot of ugly book cover designs into the world. No one enjoys seeing an ugly book cover on a shelf, even a digital shelf, so please make room in your budget to hire a designer.

If you want to meet with someone face-to-face, find a local design studio (my local AlphaGraphics franchise has always produced phenomenal work) and ask to see samples or a portfolio before getting an estimate. If you're comfortable communicating what you want online, contact designers you like from Dribbble or Behance or ask to be paired with a freelance designer at a site like Upwork.

Promotion and Distribution

I have less research on this element than I do on the others because my dad and I have pretty modest plans for promoting this first project. However, plenty of really clever people have put together guides and tutorials for 1) building a community and an audience and 2) sharing and selling your published work.

I hope these tools help you accomplish your goals this year! Leave a comment if I missed anything or if you have a question about self-publishing.


P.S. I currently have availability for copy editing jobs or proofreading jobs.


Elevenses: Favorites for December 2015

Elevenses: Favorites for December 2015

Welcome to Elevenses, a monthly round-up of my favorite articles and resources related to language, writing, editing, and freelancing.

Slate | “Teachers! Please Do Not Make Your Students Use Synonyms for Said,” I Blurted →

The title says it all. Stop barking your dialogue.

Los Angeles Times | Is It Wookie or Wookiee? The Times' Definitive 'Star Wars' Style Guide →

When your classic style guide isn't nerdy enough, the Internet will provide you with a Star Wars style guide. The A.V. Club website posted a follow-up: "There Are Two E's in 'Wookiee,' Damn It."

The Guardian | At last, a book that tells you exactly where to stick your apostrophe →

Most people I've worked with struggle with two punctuation marks: apostrophes and commas. (Personally, I overuse hyphens like it's my divine calling.) This article helps explain the purpose of apostrophes—and where they belong. I look forward to ordering a copy of the related book.

Inc. | 10 Simple Tips on Being a Better Writer →

"Think about capitalization. Understand the reasons to use an apostrophe. When in doubt, go for brevity." This article is surprisingly comprehensive given how short it is, so check it out before sending your next email, posting your next tweet, or submitting the next draft of your novel.

NYPL's Most Popular Check-outs of 2015 →

I love year-end book lists and libraries, so this article was an instant bookmark for me. It's a fascinating glimpse at the content that people actively sought out (from 92 libraries!) and a nice complement to my other favorite reading list—the Goodreads Choice Awards—if you're looking for book recommendations in the new year.

Words to Live By and Clichés to Live Without

Words to Live By and Clichés to Live Without

Learn new words, avoid overused and incorrect phrases, and find some unusual (maybe even outlandish) alternatives.

Here & Now | New Dictionary Words for 2015 →

In this five-minute podcast episode, Steve Kleinedler explains the process of how the American Heritage Dictionary editing staff determines which words should be added in a given year and also how they assess potential weak areas in their dictionary. Fun note: "humblebrag" made it into at least one dictionary this year.

You Don't Say | Christmas Is Coming. You Have Been Warned. →

This list of holiday clichés was shared with great enthusiasm during a recent Twitter chat with members of the American Copy Editors Society. Tradition has its place, especially during the holiday season, but no one is charmed by emails that claim "'tis the season" to buy a new toaster.

Independent | The 58 Most Commonly Misused Words and Phrases →

I hereby confess that I spent many years thinking "bemused" was a synonym of "amused," and I had a bit of a melodramatic meltdown when I learned the error of my ways. (How many books did I misread? Oh, the horrors!) This article explains that exact mix-up along with several other understandably confusing English words and phrases.

Bemused means bewildered and does not mean amused. Correct: The unnecessarily complex plot left me bemused. The silly comedy amused me.

Ironic Sans | Thsrs →

This cute thesaurus was inspired by Twitter many years ago and functions just like a traditional thesaurus—except it only returns shorter synonyms. If you've ever run out of characters in a tweet and wished you had something to help you condense your content, this is the tool for you.

Merriam-Webster →

The Merriam-Webster website is now responsive! This new design—which should look great on any device and any size screen—has been in beta testing for a while, and it finally went public this week. The focus is on the content, which loads quickly (without a barrage of advertisements). All in all, it's a beautiful redesign, and it makes me excited to use an online dictionary and thesaurus for the first time in years.

Creating a Beautiful Website for Your New Book

Creating a Beautiful Website for Your New Book

In November, Squarespace announced a new subscription plan for people who simply want to set up a landing page or cover page—a one-page website, basically. This is a fantastic option for authors who want to promote a new book (and for writers or editors who want to create an online résumé). You don't need to know how to code, every subscription includes hosting, and annual subscriptions include a free domain name. You can choose from a variety of themes, customize the look, and switch between themes and styles at no cost as often as you like. (Bonus: all of Squarespace's themes are responsive, which means they look great on any device and any screen size without any extra effort on your part.) Most importantly, Squarespace offers 24/7 support, so you can focus on character development and let someone else figure out why all of the links on your website are suddenly upside-down.

 Sample launch page for a book called  My Fake Autobiography.

Sample launch page for a book called My Fake Autobiography.

Plans are priced really competitively and start at $60/year (or $7/month if you aren't interested in committing for a full year). When you factor in the domain name, hosting, 24/7 support, and a selection of beautiful and responsive themes, it's a great price for a really important investment.

This sample page took me five minutes to make, and most of that time was spent coming up with silly placeholder text.

No Coding Skills Required

I have a background in web design, so I frequently get requests from friends who want help setting up a website for a small business. Squarespace is my top recommendation because it allows me to help someone create a beautiful website and then easily show that person how to update their own site. If you want to change a font, you choose it from a dropdown. If you want to change a color, you select it from a color wheel. Even for a full website like Second Breakfast Media, I arrange the content by dragging and dropping the different elements where I want them (includes text, images, videos, etc.). If you're familiar with something like Microsoft Word or Pages, you should have no trouble creating a beautiful website with Squarespace.

Free Hosting and Domain Name

Setting up the hosting and domain name (the URL, like "" or "") for a new website can be daunting, and it usually costs me $10-15/month just for those two things. Squarespace is a game-changer. Hosting is included with the price of every subscription, and you can register a free domain name with any annual subscription purchase. (If you already have a domain name registered somewhere else, Squarespace has really wonderful tutorials to help walk you through the process of linking your domain name with your Squarespace account.)

Beautiful, Responsive Themes

It is really hard to make a Squarespace site look bad. Every single one of their themes is beautiful on its own, and with a few minor modifications, you can make it fit your own style. Change the fonts, images, colors, sizes, and alignment without any coding knowledge—all with a live preview of what it will look like on your desktop or mobile device. As I mentioned earlier, you can switch themes at any point (all themes are free to use), and every design is responsive, so it will automatically restructure your website's content to look good no matter what size screen its viewed on.

24/7 Support

I have lost count of how many times I have tweeted at or sent an email to Squarespace support, and they have always been quick to respond and diligent in finding a solution to my problem. Sometimes, I've made a mess of my own site and need help getting out of a picklet; other times, I've discovered a unique problem that Squarespace is quick to acknowledge and fix. This alone is worth the cost of the subscription, in my opinion. (Learning about web design is really fun, but crawling through dusty forums in a panic while your website is imploding is not fun.)

Use the official Squarespace coupon code (GIMME10) to get 10% off any annual purchase.

Note: Squarespace is what I use to design and host the Second Breakfast Media website and blog, but this post is not sponsored. I am simply a happy customer who cannot stop recommending this product/service to everyone.