Self-Publishing: What To Do Yourself And Why

Writing and self-publishing involve a lot of tasks that you might be able to outsource to someone else. As I talked about in On Not Doing It All Yourself last Sunday, it doesn’t make sense to do all of them yourself if you are able to pay someone to do at least some.

But there are good reasons to take a do-it-yourself approach to some tasks. Figuring out which ones is the key to a less stressful and more productive writing life.

The No-Brainers

Money and time are the threshold questions in terms of whether to outsource. If you have no money to spare, you’ll need to start by doing tasks yourself. Later, if you earn more at your current work or at writing, you can shift to paying professionals for tasks like editing and cover design.

On the flipside, if you have almost no time to write because you work a lot, and you’re earning good money, outsourcing everything you possibly can will make sense.

Most of us are somewhere in the middle on the money/time continuum, though. If that’s true for you, the easiest tasks to outsource are the ones you absolutely don’t know how to do and have no good way of learning quickly or inexpensively.

When I published my first thriller, The Awakening, there were few easy-to-use online resources for creating your own cover, and I lacked any experience at manipulating photos or text. It never crossed my mind to design a cover myself, nor did I want to struggle with formatting a word processing file for Kindle, Nook, or any other ereader.

These days, though, almost any task relating to self-publishing can be done by the author. Sites like make it possible to create social media posts and covers without much graphic design experience. With Vellum, you can convert Word files to ebook files without any coding or programming expertise. So there are fewer tasks that clearly must be outsourced.

So how to choose which to do yourself? Once you get past the easy questions, in my experience, what it’s best to do yourself depends on three things:

(1) What you’re good at

(2) Whether performing the task helps you in other ways

(3) What you enjoy

Your Skills 

My general rule is if the end result will look as good as it will if I outsource it to an expert, and I’m good enough at it that outsourcing won’t save me significant time, I’ll probably do the task myself.

For example, for several years after college I temped as a word processor, moving from company to company and picking up skills as I went. I became very good at figuring out new software and exploring ways to make it do cool things. While the software to convert Microsoft Word to ebook formats is totally different from the word processing programs I used decades ago, I still am comfortable experimenting, and Vellum is easy enough to use, that my final product looks good.

Also, while outsourcing saves time in preparing the ebook files, the quality control/final correction phase is quicker when I do it myself. When I outsource and review the file I get back, I have to copy and past each error and the corresponding corrections into an email or Word file to send to the conversion service, wait a couple days for a new version, and review that. When I do it myself, I see the error, correct it, review it, then move on.

Think about your skills. Are you good at software, copywriting, or graphic design?

If so, choose a project that is low stress—a novella or short story versus a novel—and experiment. You might find it’s worth doing some tasks yourself.

And if not, at least you’ve found one task you definitely want to outsource.

Does Doing This Task Help You In Other Ways?

So far, I’ve never tried designing a cover for a novel (and I don’t plan to for the reasons listed in Your Book Will Be Judged By Its Cover), but recently I experimented with creating covers on for non-fiction. There are a couple ways that helped me beyond learning how to do a basic cover, a skill I might or might not ever use again.

First, as I designed one cover, I refined my title. My first title for Super Simple Story Structure, was Five Steps to Story Structure. As I laid it out on the cover, though, that initial title looked out of balance.

No doubt a good graphic designer could have made it work. If I’d been in love with the title, I would have chucked my attempts and hired someone. But I wasn’t. So I tried using “5” instead of “Five” and played around with fonts and capitalization.

Finally, I experimented with other titles and settled on Super Simple Story Structure. The row of words starting with S makes the title look good aligned on the left. The alliteration makes the title easier to remember. And the “Super Simple” part does a much better job of conveying the point of the book, which is to make plotting a novel simple and clear.

Second, when I was designing the cover for How The Virgin Mary Influenced The United States Supreme Court, I was still writing the ebook. It started as an academic paper, but I wanted it to be easy to read and interesting to any reader who wanted to know whether the justices’ religious backgrounds played a role in their decision about religious objections to health insurance that covered contraceptives.

Pulling together background photos of the Supreme Court and a statute of the Virgin Mary helped me figure out how to focus the book. I changed an abstract discussion of Catholic doctrine into a conversation about how the Virgin Mary represents the “pure” and “perfect” woman, and how that view of women influences our culture and courts.

Had I not done the cover myself, though, I might never have found a good approach to the book.

What’s Fun For You?

I really like using Vellum to create my final ebook files. The display lets me see the book as the reader sees it and gives me a different perspective on how it appears. (For one thing, it’s caused me to write shorter paragraphs.) It’s also fun for me to play with the different styles for chapter headings and the symbols in between scenes. Finally, it kind of feels like magic to me the way I drop in a Word file and get an ebook file that looks pretty.

In short, it’s fun.

On the other hand, because I get neck and shoulder pain when I type too much, I hate making extensive revisions in Word, and I need to minimize my typing time. So when I’ve got a very solid first draft, I print it, handwrite changes, and send it to a virtual assistant to do the heavy lifting.

You, on the other hand, might like revising using your screen and keyboard and might hate spending time with a formatting program.

Which tasks you find fun matters.

Most of us already do enough work we don’t love at our day-to-day jobs or careers because it comes with the job title. Also, many people who write make more money at their regular jobs. So if writing and the tasks related to it aren’t fun, it’ll be hard to keep devoting time to them.

Finally, and most important, at least to me, is that the point is to live a happy life, not to write novels—or achieve other goals—at any cost.

So rather than push yourself to do writing-related tasks you don’t like, if you’re able, send those to someone else and save the fun things for yourself.

Until Friday—


L.M. Lilly




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