I’ve had a chance to read a bunch of self-published books lately, and not e-books but actual paper books made possible by the magic of print-on-demand (POD). This technology is helping to fuel the new indie, self-pub, and micro-press “boom” and it’s a powerful tool even for major, established publishing houses. Services like CreateSpace and Lulu make it almost as fast, easy, and cheap as publishing an e-book.

But there is something you need to keep in mind before you release that indie POD edition. E-books tend to be pretty format-agnostic. The e-book resellers have a strict set of guidelines and since your readers will have the ability to zoom in and out, etc., the formatting rarely makes any difference. E-books are all about the text (or almost all, anyway), but when you go the POD route you really have to understand how to format text that looks professional and is readable and inviting for your potential audience.

Why look professional? I hope I don’t really have to answer that. Authors, by now should know that once you make the decision to self-publish you’re adding “publisher” to your list of job duties and you owe it to yourself, your book, and your readers to put out as professional a product as humanly possible. Tough love here, people: Crappy formatting does not lend your indie book “charm” it just says, “I have no idea what I’m doing here,” and that’s not charming it’s actually disrespectful to your audience, much less to centuries of the art and craft of making books.

That having been said, my best advice is to hire a typesetter. There are freelancers out there, good ones, who can do it for you. This makes your POD book a bit more of an investment, but you should also be paying an editor, a proofreader, and a cover designer, too, so anyone who thinks that self-publishing is “free” is just self-publishing badly.

There is much less patience these days for badly-produced indie books. You’re now competing with “the big dogs” and the bar is set high.

Now, I get it. I don’t have unlimited resources myself, so there are some things you’re going to have to figure out how to do on your own, but that means you have to figure out how to do it on your own, not just not do it. No one ever said this was going to be easy (except maybe Amazon, Lulu, B&N . . .).

Yes, you can “typeset” your POD book in Word. I would recommend learning InDesign, but even buying that software is a real investment, so okay, go ahead and use Word, but if you’re going to do that, for the love of all that’s holy, at least follow these few simple tips…

Read the rest in…

Editor and author Philip Athans offers hands on advice for authors of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and fiction in general in this collection of 58 revised and expanded essays from the first five years of his long-running weekly blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook.


—Philip Athans


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Or contact me for editing, coaching, ghostwriting, and more at Athans & Associates Creative Consulting.


About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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  1. abuzzinid says:

    Thank you!!! Yes, yes, yes.

    I just finished formatting a book for a client fro CreateSpace. While she had already formatted the ebook versions, she was burned out and couldn’t face the POD. I formatted the POD according to the standards you mentioned (I might have screwed up on the first line indents!) plus more–starting chapters on the odd page, etc. She was thrilled with the “professionalism” when she saw the final product.

    I was discussing with a writing friend the joy of knowing it would look “like a real book” when someone buys it. She said she rarely buys self-pubbed books for that reason. She likes the feel of a physical book but can’t stand reading a badly formatted one.

    How many authors are suffering from this reputation of POD in general?

  2. Jevon says:

    I’ve been considering self-publishing, ebook or print, if I can’t find an agent for my novel, so this is really good to know. I heard that I should hire an editor and a cover designer, but didn’t know I also needed a typesetter and a proofreader. Damn. Do you have an estimate or an example of how much all four services will cost? It would be nice to know what kind of budget I should be working with.

    • Philip Athans says:

      Those fees can vary and I’ve seen editors charge as little as a couple hundred bucks up to mid-four-figures. There are various organizations that can help you find an editor/proofreader. I belong to the Northwest Independent Editors Guild. You can find them at: http://www.edsguild.org

      Some editors can do the typesetting for you, too, or at least the e-book formatting, so inquire about that service at the same time. Be prepared to pay by the word, page, or hour, so very very long epic fantasies, for instance, can run you $1000 or so, easily.

    • abuzzinid says:

      Heh, heh, heh! Anywhere from a few hundred to your left arm.

      Each printer has services for hire and those figures can give you a ballpark. Freelancers may be more or less but you may get more personalized service and better, more timely communication–I would expect both. It varies by project, too. Some are by length, some are by project. Realisticaly, the whole thing will run from $500 (a real bargain) on up.

      I paid $225 for a general edit for story, voice, etc. but didn’t know the editor really preferred non-fiction. A very expensive workshop (about $2K) was worth ten times the price and they only looked at the first fifty pages. The difference in info I received was staggering. Yes, the workshop taught a lot of principles and wasn’t directed at my work specifically, but the feedback I received from the 5 staff members was priceless.

  3. I’m going to be self-publishing soon myself.
    My question refers to the Mr. Bond part of this post. I’ve been hearing some people say recently that ‘MOST’ people do not read prologues. Is this what you mean in that statement?
    I’ve questioned a lot of readers and over 90% of them (at least 40 people) say they read everything the author has to say, prologue, story and epilogue, even prefaces.
    Some people argue what’s the point if it’s not in the main story. What is your take on this?
    For me, prologues are something that not describe a world, but more of a warming the reader up kind of thing. For instance in one story I was working on I started the book with the main character’s dying breaths, and then it jumps back in time to tell the story from the beginning.
    A professor highly criticized me for doing this.

    • Philip Athans says:

      I absolutely DID NOT mean you should cut your prologue. People who say that no one reads the prologue are nuts, that’s a part of your story–a part of your text. What you’re describing is a terrific set-up/prologue. Leave that, just don’t step out of the story and describe how you wrote the book, the research you did, etc.

  4. Pingback: WHY YOU HAVE NO CHOICE ABOUT MS WORD | Fantasy Author's Handbook

  5. Pingback: RANDOM LESSONS FROM RANDOM BOOKS | Fantasy Author's Handbook

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