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How to self-publish a work of non-fiction; pitfalls and handy tips Part 1

NB See also Part 2 here

In 2015 is the year I wrote my first book – a work of non-fiction entitled ‘Stress, Trauma and Unresolved Emotion in Chronic Disease’. It was, to my knowledge, the first time that someone has addressed the biochemistry, physiology and psychology of trauma together in one book reflecting my personal interests. I started research formally in September 2016, and completed a ‘how to write a book course’ which, although giving me some useful tips, turned out to be a bit out of date and more geared towards those who want to get a publisher, whereas I wanted to self-publish as I knew I could get it out quicker.

Writing the manuscript

I used Word which I know is not what professional writers use, but once you set up a Styles template, makes producing a Table of contents (or TOC) much, much easier. Do this straight away when you first lay out your chapter headings – google it if unsure how to do it1.  You can also move parts of your document around by viewing in Outline view so you don’t have to scroll through thousands of words which is so difficult once your manuscript is large, and can get you into hot water with duplicating things unintentionally..

I was told that around 30 – 70,000 words was ideal – in the end mine was over 80,000 but as it was quite technical in places and needed a lot of explanation so I deemed that ok. There is an important payoff between length and cost so this is important (larger books cost more to produce so have to be higher priced which may put people off).

Proof reading

I got a friend who specialises in this to do the proof-reading – don’t attempt to do it yourself as you will not notice errors. Even after this was done there were still some that escaped so I would say get it proof-read professionally and then maybe read by someone you trust to see if they understand it and it makes sense. They can also point out anything that they notice that may have been missed. Editing may also be necessary if your readers find bits that don’t make sense. Don’t assume though that proof-readers will do this. They

Kindle (digital) version

I then went on to the Kindle self-publishing website and found a template which enabled me to copy and paste into which made the kindle pages the right size (6″ x 9″)is industry standard and paginated accordingly. After that it was simple to check the layout and make any necessary changes using their tools. nowadays Kindle will also do paperback books so you need only register with them if you like.

Print version

For the print version I knew I’d have to do a lot more work; I chose to use CreateSpace which is an amazon company dedicated to self-publishing print to order books. Now, some of you may groan, but it has been invaluable in the help they give you and the easy interface with amazon, which, after all is the biggest bookseller in the world. I did some research on alternatives, which work out slightly cheaper per print copy but then you had to pay more up front print costs which, since I had no idea how many I’d want, seemed not a good idea. The point after all, is not to have to order loads of books that you then have to store. Print to order is exactly what it says. They’re only printed when someone orders a book and then you get your royalty payments accordingly.

This proved to be quite tricky and took almost as long as the proof-reading as the system has to be re-published too each time you make an alteration to the text. So make sure your manuscript is finalised before publishing to the online tool.


These proved very tricky indeed – getting royalty-free images is vital so either your own or ones which are clearly marked as such. you may need to search for these online and check. Also size is an issue here as in order to print well, some of the images I’d used in my kindle edition were not good enough for the printed version as the resolution must be much higher for print than for the web. In the end where I couldn’t find a better quality image I had to reduce the size of the images – and keep re–publishing an proofing til the online tool accepted my version (it has some inbuilt checks here).


The issue of colour or black and white is crucial – I wanted a colour print but it turned out that the cost to make a profit would have meant the retail cost to the buyer would have to be around £25 – not likely to sell well for a first-time author no-one has heard of!! So I chose to go for a colour cover (using my own artwork and again their handy design tools) and a b/w interior. It’s come out fine, very clear and although I would have preferred colour of course, it still makes sense as the greyscale is quite well-defined for some of the more complex diagrams that require you to map to a key.

Anyhow when I had to judge what a good sale price would be and determined £5.99 for a Kindle version £7.99 for a 300 printed page book was ok (actually this is cheap but as an unknown author I didn’t want to price myself out the market). Each author needs to make this choice for themselves. you will also need to judge whether you want to give Kindle unlimimted rights to the digital version which gives you more royalties but means you can’t advertise it anywhere else e.g another bookseller or on your own website. You can reassess this after 90 days and change your mind.

1 It’s even possible to create an index too, although placing it at the end of the book (Word makes the references – or Endnotes as it calls them – the last thing and it’s hard to overrule that). Creating the Endnotes is an art in itself. I chose to have both Endnotes (indexed references at the end of the whole manuscript AND Footnotes (comments at the end of each page – which you need to make sure the numbering system is different for each).

Update 2017

In 2017 I decided it was time to write another book ‘The World Within’ , which is about the bugs that live in and on us andn how they help create health or disease.  I published also on Createspace, and took the opportunity to update the first book – not as a revised edition (which would require a new ISBN and therefore be a separate book) but with mild to moderate revisions I simply uploaded a new interior file to Createspace – with ‘Revised 2017’ in the Front matter (the technical term for the copyright information, etc after the title page and before the Introduction).

I also took the opportunity to adjust the formatting (which had been a bit makeshift in the first book) and make the TOC (Table of contents) work better. My attempts to include an index failed however as Word would NOT put it at the end but always before the Endnotes (References).  I may attempt that at some point.- * I have finally worked out how to do this and discuss in part 2 of this blog.

Audiobook version

For the moment I am busy recording an audiobook version – this time using Audacity (free sound editing software) and ACX (amazon’s audible hosting site). They make uploading easy – but first you must get your book recorded. you have a choice to go for professional narrating or you can do it yourself if you have experience. I have chosen the latter as I’ve done radio work before and feel that only I know my book. But making sure your voice is right for the book is important. ACX will help you find a narrator if you decide to go that option.

You will need a properly sound-proofed studio – either by creating one in your home (a good mike and sound baffles) or using a professional one where they do some of the sound editing and mastering for you. It’s an expensive option compared to home recording but you at least will get the high quality you need without risking your uploaded files being rejected (once badly recorded no amount of post-production will save them – not for ACX anyhow – they have very high standards. Just to let you know – I tried the home recording option, sent it to a studio to see what they thought and they were able to tell me exactly what sort of room I had recorded it in. And of course there was traffic noise, popping and cracking which made it not to standard. If I had then spent another 30 – 40 hours recording only to have it rejected that would have been soul-destroying. Time is money too..

Whatever option you decide, recording an audiobook is expensive and may not give you back what you have outlaid. So, think carefully before going for this option. I have decided to do it for my own experience rather than expecting to make it back in sales. At £60 – 90 per hour of recording, and each page taking about 4 mins (including time for errors) it’s going to to be about 30 hours of recording = £1800 you can see the cost is quite large. *But see update in Part 2 – I found someone who would do it for a set fee and give me the sound quality I need..

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