For Publishers and Self-Publishers

QUESTIONS? Contact Joelle Steele at

I answer questions from publishers and self-publishers. I try to answer all questions by Monday mornings at the latest. Not all questions make it into this column, but every reasonable question is answered by E-mail, so be sure your E-mail address is correct. You can use your browser's "find" or "search" function on the Edit menu to search this page. You can also read some of my answers to questions about website publishing and writing.

Q & A Material as of JANUARY 1, 2018

Q. Are there certain eBook formats that are best? Is there a shortcut to making the conversions?
A. There are a lot of eBook formats, but the main ones are the standard PDF, Kindle Mobi, and ePUB. You might want to check out They provide instructions for preparing your manuscript in Word for conversion and then their automated system does the conversions free, distributes the ebooks to online sellers, and pays you royalties. I've used their services for more than a dozen of my ebooks and they have been great. I also wrote a shorter version of their formatting process.

Q. Should I self-publish my book as an eBook, or should I make a regular book?
A. Either is fine, both is best at this point in time. Just remember that either way you will have to market your own book. Don't be misled into thinking that print-on-demand sites and sites like are marketers; they are booksellers. Period. Marketing is finding people who will want to buy your book. Selling is displaying the information about your book and giving buyers a way to purchase it. If your buyers don't know you exist, they won't go looking for you. You have to market to them.

Q. I want to publish an online newsletter for a special interest group. Should I mail it to them or have them log on to read it? Should it be in the form of a PDF or an HTML insert into the body of an E-mail if I send it to them?
A. You will have to E-mail your readers either with the newsletter itself or with a reminder that they can now log on to your Web site to read the latest issue. Most people will not remember to log on without a reminder. The format (PDF or HTML) is just a matter of personal choice, but most of the newsletters I subscribe to are HTML in an E-mail.

Q. I am new to typesetting and I have a client who wants me to typeset her book of poems. I have trouble making them fit on the page and still look like she wants them to look (they are shaped like animals and plants and other things). Is there a trick to doing this?
A. Before you begin to typeset anything, you should always examine the work as a whole and make sure that the page size you and/or your client selected will match the work. That will solve this kind of problem before it begins. If the client demands a certain size page, then you can try to find a more suitable font or a better font size, or kern a line here or there to make it fit.

Q. About a year ago I started a magazine. I published four issues (quarterly) and I'm having problems getting decent articles and I'm ending up rewriting and editing everything. I get lots of queries but the writing in the articles is awful. Is it my technical subject matter or what?
A. It can be subject matter. You didn't say exactly what your subject was, but I have edited articles for a lot of technical magazines over the years — even for my own publications — and they did tend to have the worst writers, people who were true experts on a subject but with no real writing ability at all. If that sounds like your problem, it is probably what you should expect, and you will just need to be doing a lot of editing and rewriting to ensure your publication's credibility.

Q. I want to self-publish a book and I just found out how much the ISBN numbers cost. I was shocked. Do I have to use an ISBN number?
A. Probably, if you plan to distribute to bookstores and libraries, which rely on that numbering system. I stopped using them for some of my niche market books several years ago because they are constantly being updated and changed. But I bought 100 numbers to cover me for everything else. There are certain marketing advantages with getting an ISBN, so I suggest you contact Bowker and find out what they have to say about this on their website

Q. Is there a certain size book that sells better than others? I want to self-publish my book in the best size that will make it sell.
A. The size of a book is not what sells it. It is the size of the book in relation to its content and how that content is presented and used. For example, if you are publishing a travel guide, you want it to fit easily in a pocket or travel bag. And most travel books have subject matter that fits into that format quite nicely. If you're publishing a how-to book, you may need only a small format for some topics and something a little larger for others. Look at how other books that are similar to yours are formatted. That should give you a better idea of what to do.

Q. For the past five years I have been publishing a magazine that is 80 pages and has a paid circulation of 6,000. I do most of the work myself, including selling the advertising, and I want to lighten my load a little by hiring a full-time employee, but what should I have them do? How is my time best spent?
A. Your time is best spent directing all the activities of the publication. If you have to do some of that work itself, then you can pick things you do best, things you like most, and things that are most difficult to teach someone else to do. I've been in your shoes before, and have had others do a variety of things for me but, in the end, I had others do the advertising sales and circulation because I don't like to do those things, don't do them very well, and prefer to use my creative abilities in the writing and design areas..

Q. I sent you a question about getting a list of resources for custom bookbinding and you didn't respond.
A. I do not generally make very many referrals in this column and, in addition, I do not do research for people who write in with questions that can be answered by going to the library and reading reference books or by going online and researching via websites.

Q. Can you tell me approximately how much it costs to start a publishing business? I have a background in graphic design and have several friends who have written books that they want to publish.
A. I can't really even give you a range of costs because there are so many different expenses to consider when you start any kind of a business. You will need enough to have the books edited, typeset, and printed, with covers, and then marketed. If you do some of those tasks, you must consider your own hourly wage. Marketing can be expensive, and the Internet is not the only way you can market most books, so you will have to consider the costs of print advertising and mailings as well. Then there are the printing costs and your regular overhead of rent, furniture, computer, phone, etc. Also, keep in mind that publishers make money by combining their marketing costs. They do this by publishing books in certain genres only, because it costs as much to market ONE BOOK as it does to market ONE THOUSAND BOOKS in the same genre.

Q. Do you think there is any benefit to publishing a book on the Internet? Would anyone read it?
A. There are different ways to publish a book on the Internet. You can publish a book on your own Web site or someone else's, you can publish it as a downloadable PDF, or you can publish an e-Book. Whether someone reads it or not is largely dependent on how well you market it. Just publishing something in any format is no guarantee that it will be read or purchased. People have to know it's there.

Q, I have written a book that is similar in size/length to the ones you write and sell. I would like to self-publish it, so I have contacted some print-on-demand companies online. If I set up a Web site for this book, how long will it take before people find it and start to buy it?
A. I wish there was a simple answer to this question, but Web marketing takes a long time and it is an enormous amount of work. I strongly suggest that you read my article Is Self-Publishing For You before you give up on finding a royalty publisher and resort to self-publishing. I only self-publish for three reasons: 1) I have more than 35 years of writing and publishing experience; 2) I already have a niche audience for my non-fiction; and 3) I enjoy the publishing process as much as I enjoy the writing.

Q. I self-published a book two years ago, and I have never made back my initial investment. I've got 1,800 books left and I don't know what to do.
A. Yours is an all too common problem among writers who self-publish. It is a full-time job just to market (to sell) the book. If you have not already done so, you need to send a lot of copies to book reviewers, and that will often help with sales. If you can get a distributor to take them, you may be better able to get them into book stores. You need to get the book on and if possible onto your own website. Go online and find websites that might run a blurb about your book. See if there are any niche markets out there that you can market to. Also, try to get your book into libraries. For others who are considering self-publishing, check out my article Is Self-Publishing For You?

Q. What is a galley? A page proof?
A. With the advances in desktop publishing, they are now one in the same. Galleys were long lengths of text printed out from a typesetting or composition system. A page proof was a copy of what the actual page would look like when it appeared in a book or magazine, complete with photos or illustrations. Today, any computer can crank out a page proof without the need to do a galley in the interim.