Self-publishing your book: Should you DIY or get expert help?

Since the rise of self-publishing as an alternative to traditional publishers, millions of authors have been able to release their books into the world via Amazon and other platforms. But does self-publishing mean going it alone? As a nonfiction book coach, I’ve seen some authors do it all themselves while others hire a team of book professionals. In this guide, I’ll take you through each stage of the self-publishing process and show you how you can DIY it or get expert help.

#1. Planning

DIY: When it comes to planning your book—deciding on the title, target audience, length, topic, outline, and so on—you can do this yourself using many available online resources to guide you. 

Professional: Alternatively, you can hire a book coach who will show you the way. In my coaching sessions, I walk nonfiction authors through the process of defining their topic, audience, goals, outline, etc. Coaching makes the writing process much smoother and you benefit from the coach’s insider-industry knowledge.

#2. Writing

DIY: Typically, most authors complete the writing stage without outside help. In fact, for many authors, this is the most fun part of the process and not something they’d want to give up.

Professional: However, some authors hire a ghostwriter to write the book for them, especially celebrities. You might want to hire a ghostwriter if you struggle with getting your ideas down on paper, speak English as a second language, or have dyslexia. In these cases, you talk the ghostwriter through what you’d like to convey, then they write the book for you.

#3. Feedback

DIY: It’s very difficult to critique your own work objectively, so most authors need outside help here. Many authors ask their friends and family for feedback on their first draft. You can also find beta readers online who will review your book and provide feedback.

Professional: Alternatively, you can hire an editor to do a professional editorial assessment and critique of your book, providing vital feedback and suggestions that help you craft the book into something exceptional. This expert opinion can reduce the need for hands-on editing.

#4. Content editing

DIY: All authors should do some self-editing whether they hire an editor or not. Ideally, you should put the manuscript away for at least two weeks after writing it, then come back with fresh eyes to edit it, focusing on the big picture first i.e. content, message, and structure. Some authors choose to do all of the editing themselves; some choose not to edit their book at all.

Professional: You can hire a professional editor to do the content editing, which adds a huge amount of value as they ensure that the book is professional, accurate, well-written, and more. It’s not about correcting your grammar but making sure the book is inherently valuable for readers. Importantly, this editor should have experience of your genre, subject matter, and audience.

#5. Copy editing

DIY: Next up is copy editing, which is the “small picture” edit: language, grammar, wording, punctuation, etc. Whether you can do this yourself depends on your knowledge, skills, and confidence with grammar, punctuation, and wording.

Professional: Again, you can hire a professional editor to do the copy editing for you. This editor should be skilled in this specific type of editing and your specific language (as there are differences between UK and US English, for example).

#6. Cover design

DIY: Some authors create a cover in Canva or other design software for free. It’s normally easy to spot a cover that an author has designed themselves, so do your research here. If you decide to DIY it, check out current cover trends in your genre and make sure the image is high resolution. 

Professional: There are freelance cover designers who charge anything from £5 to £500 depending on their experience and skills. Professional cover designers know what works visually and the current trends. Importantly, they know how to create a stand-out, professional, and unique cover for you.

#7. Layout design

DIY: You can lay out, format, and design the inside of your book for free using design software such as Scrivener or Reedsy Editor. If you do this, make sure you understand aspects such as page size, margins, and other design elements.

Professional: Layout designers (also known as “typesetters”) create a bespoke design for your book. The benefit is they know how to lay each item out so it looks effective and improves readability. They also know how to lay out the book correctly for each format, such as print and e-book.

#8. Proofreading

DIY: No author should proofread their own book because our brains are not designed to spot errors in our own work. You can find out why here. Some authors use tools such as Grammarly but they’re largely ineffective. Others ask an eagle-eyed friend or family member to proofread for them.

Professional: There are plenty of professional proofreaders who will proofread your book to eliminate typos and formatting errors as much as possible. Note that proofreading isn’t just about looking for typos but also making sure the formatting and design is correct.

#9. Uploading

DIY: If you’re fairly tech-savvy, you can upload your book to Amazon KDP and the various platforms fairly quickly and easily. There are plenty of help guides online if you get stuck, plus Amazon’s customer support is pretty good.

Professional: If you’re less tech-savvy, you can hire someone to upload the book and all of the metadata for you, setting up the right options for printing and distribution, and so on. There are self-publishing companies like us who can do this process for you.

#10. Marketing

DIY: Many authors do their own marketing and promotion, be it via social media, email lists, or Amazon adverts. However, many authors struggle to market their books successfully, and marketing is notoriously one of the most difficult parts of the self-publishing process.

Professional: It can really pay off to get a professional marketer on board here, as they know the right places, strategies, approach, and messaging to help readers find your book and be compelled to buy it. It’s worth noting that you may also need to pay for advertising as well as the marketer’s time. 

The verdict: DIY or professional?

As you can see, it’s possible to do every stage of the self-publishing process yourself or hire professionals. Some authors choose to do a few stages themselves and hire in for other stages—depending on their budget. My advice is this: if you can afford professionals, it’s often worth it. 

Think about this way—the professional editors, designers, proofreaders, and marketers you can hire have often spent years honing their craft. They probably did a degree relevant to their area of work. They might have worked in-house for a publisher. They’ve no doubt worked on other books, perhaps hundreds. They know genre standards, reader expectations, and insider industry secrets.

You could spend time learning these things yourself, but do you have time to research cover trends for your genre, marketing campaigns for books, the components of a best-seller, and effective book layouts, and so on? If the answer is no, then it’s probably a better use of your time to hire people in.

Need expert help?

If you need an editor, cover designer, layout designer, or proofreader for your nonfiction book, The Book Shelf has a team of professionals with industry experience who will get your book up to scratch, and better! Alternatively, if you have an idea for a nonfiction book but don’t know where to start, we can coach you through the process. Get in touch and let’s bring your book to life!