Note from Tom:  Cheryl has quarterbacked my last two novels from start to finish. The stuff she does, I neither want to do myself or even know how to do it. There are those who do want to handle all phases of their book, and I appreciate it. I’m just not one of them and would be lost without Cheryl’s knowledge and skills as well as her perspective on things.

By Cheryl Callighan

I get this question all the time. My response: Yes and no.

There are a number of reasons to self-publish. Some are economic, some are issues of control over your work, and some are by necessity, since it’s increasingly hard to find representation these days. But whatever your reason, there are a host of benefits to self-publishing. IF you do it right. Doing it right means thinking about your readers and marketing strategy from the get-go.

Thousands of books are published each day on Amazon, KDP, IngramSpark, Smashwords, etc. But are all of them “professional” quality? No. And that’s where the problems start for self-publishers.

You can format your book’s interior with apps like Vellum, Draft2Digital and Atticus. These programs are easy to use. But their biggest drawback is they have limited templates, fonts, and overall design elements. It’s highly likely your book will look just like someone else’s book. While these apps do a good job of formatting and converting your interior files for Amazon, IngramSpark and KDP or Smashwords, they still lack the finite details and consistency you get hiring a professional book designer. Yes, it’s a little bit more money but the big benefit is your book is unique, professional quality and has that eye-catching appeal to your readers.

That’s just one issue. There’s purchasing your ISBNs from Bowker ( If you use a “freebie” ISBN, you are very limited in your ability to market your book wide. IngramSpark will not allow you to use a free Amazon ISBN. And why is that important? I tell my authors to be on Amazon/KDP because they have the lion’s share of the book market.  IngramSpark because of their global distribution and because bookstores only order from IngramSpark or (Note: You have to have your book on IngramSpark in order to show up on Spend the money, purchase your ISBN through Bowker. It will save you headaches in the long run.

Next, let’s talk about researching and optimizing your metadata. It’s important. Here are things most authors don’t think are important but play a huge role in your book’s discoverability, meaning being found by readers who will buy your book.

  • Title & subtitle. All too often an author comes to me with a great title and subtitle in tow. I pull up Amazon, type in the title and behold: There are 20 books with the exact same title! You can use your subtitle to differentiate your book, but still, the title is likely the search term readers will use.
  • Author name and/or pen name. Same as above. To make your name or pen name different, add an initial or spell out your first name. Instead of “Tim” use Timothy.
  • Categories & keywords. This is important now that Amazon has limited category choices to just 3 when you upload your book files. Make sure you pick the most appropriate categories for your book. Beware, according to Dave Chesson of Kindlepreneur, there are ghost categories and duplicated categories. Don’t waste your precious choices on these. They won’t help become an Amazon Best Selling author.  AND to further complicate things, Amazon states on their website that they have the option of moving your book to different categories without your consent to “improve the reader experience.” To combat this, keywords come into play. Your keywords (you have 7 boxes of 50 characters each when you upload your book to Amazon, to capture the keywords or phrases that are most relevant to your book.) will factor in if Amazon is looking to switch/move your book into other categories.

Note: Dave Chesson has a great website about all things Amazon. He also created Publisher Rocket, a software app that will help you research your categories and keywords. It’s a great tool and one I use with every author I work with.

  • Pricing. Since the COVID year(s) and problems created by the supply chain issues, the cost of paper and printing have gone up. In June this year IngramSpark announced a significant increase in their printing costs. Research your book’s printing costs based on trim size and page count and then compare it to other books in your genre. Ingramspark and Amazon have printing cost calculators on their website – use them both! You want to stay within your book’s market comps, but you don’t want to price it so low that it impacts your royalties.

These are just a few things self-published authors need to know about; there are many more. And this is just the front end of the process. I’ll be back later with the role that an outside resource such as myself can play in bringing your book to market and helping it achieve the success it deserves.