What does it mean to rock the D.I.Y. approach to self-publishing?

May 20, 2017

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In order to rock the D.I.Y. approach to self-publishing, indie authors need to know what the professionals know …

  • about writing a book your target readers will want to buy and read 
  • about editing your book
  • about designing a book cover that will get your target readers clicking on it to learn more
  • about writing a book description that gets people to buy your book
  • about publishing and launching your book to get better and better results
  • about short- and long-term book marketing (in a way that doesn’t irritate people)

The D.I.Y. route is not an easy or a quick one. It takes work, and it takes time.

It’s always easier to have someone else do the work for you so you can focus on writing, but for many of us, outsourcing everything isn’t something we can afford to do with each book, if we can even afford to do that for our first one.

I’m still paying off the debt I incurred from outsourcing everything for book #1. It keeps me working, because I need to bring in a certain amount each month to pay those bills and to also provide something to help with family expenses.

So, the D.I.Y. approach is the only one I can afford right now, but I need to clarify what that approach means by saying what it doesn’t:

It does NOT mean doing everything all by yourself — with no help.

As a rule, I don’t like asking for help. I don’t like needing help. I’ve gone through life trying to do everything myself, so that I wouldn’t inconvenience anyone, because I was determined never be called “high maintenance” or “needy.” 

As an oversensitive and introverted kid who struggled against overwhelm, I felt as though I needed more from others than I had a right to expect. Others needed less (or at least they seemed to) and were less sensitive (i.e., not “oversensitive”) and less likely to be overwhelmed by the world around them. They didn’t seem fazed by noise and lights and chaotic emotions, and they were able to give quick and intelligent answers to other people’s questions, while I struggled to process what someone was saying, because I was shutting down and turning inward.

I wanted to need less. I wanted to be “worth the trouble” by being as little trouble as possible.

So, I thought I needed to do everything — or as much as possible — without help. Because as soon as I asked for help, I was making trouble for someone. I was adding to their stress and their burden instead of taking it all on my own shoulders. Growing up meant shouldering your own load and not asking for help unless you really needed it.

I took that to a bit of an extreme. Or, at least, I tried to. Even I can only have so many false starts and epic face-plants, though, before it slowly dawns on me that maybe I should get help from someone who knows what he or she is doing.


The thought of hiring a coach or paying for coaching used to put me on edge, because I thought, “Who can afford that? I can’t. So, I’ll just read these books and learn the only way I can afford to — slowly and the hard way.”

It’s the only way I’ve ever been able to afford to learn: independently, with loads of initiative, gallons of coffee, and a tiny budget.   

Whenever I found myself thinking, “Wow, I’d love to be coached by this person,” I found out how much it would cost, and while I couldn’t blame the professional for setting the cost so high (so many interested people, so little time — and time is precious), I looked at the debt I already had — which I was struggling to pay off — and I remembered how I’d told myself before joining this or that program that I’d soon be earning more than enough to pay off the debt I’d incur.

So, I quickly gave up the idea of paying for coaching. And I went back to the books. I read books by the people by whom I wanted to be coached. I read their blog posts and listened to their audiobooks and podcasts.  I signed up for their webinars and reached out to some of these people on social media — usually when I wanted to let them know I included them in a book of my own or that I wrote a blog post thanking them for this or that resource.

And now and again, I sign up to join programs that cost far less per month, that are light on one-on-one coaching but heavy on substance and helpful resources, and I keep steadily learning more and applying what I’m learning.

It’s the slow road, but there’s plenty about it that I enjoy.

(Not the bit about struggling financially, though. I don’t like that part at all.)


There are some tools I bought that I consider splurges — but that I don’t regret buying:

  • KDP Rocket
  • KD Spy
  • KD ROI

I also still pay my monthly subscription to Canva For Work (which is about $12 per month, since I pay month-to-month) and Spotify Premium (mostly for my daughters, who love that they can download the songs they like and listen to them offline — especially on the long bus-ride to school and back).

Canva is my favorite tool for designing book covers and blog graphics, as well as any other graphic design projects. And when it comes to designing book covers, especially, I’ve learned much and continue learning from Derek Murphy’s websites, books, and a course of his that I joined recently (for $47).

I’ve also benefited from Canva’s own tutorials and by researching the book cover designs of bestselling books on Amazon — going by genre, picking up details, noticing impressions and how the elements contribute to those impressions, and creating my own mock-ups to practice designing covers for specific genres.

I now have a folder on my desktop full of images of Kindle covers I found and loved on Amazon — in different genres — so I can look through them anytime (and add to it when I’m looking through Amazon’s best-sellers) and note things like the fonts used, their placement, the use of color, the way the author name is displayed, etc.

I also have a growing folder of my own book cover designs, which I’m adding to as I create new covers and revise older ones. Because sometimes the D.I.Y. approach can lead to freelance opportunities to add to our book-writing income. I have a lot to learn, yet, but I’m working on a way to build my design portfolio. I’ll share more about that in a future blog post.

Ship it now, improve it later

When it comes to getting my books written, polished, published, and launched, I’d rather do it all myself — with help from those who’ve been doing these things longer than I have — get it out there, and then make corrections and updated editions as needed (and when I can get to them). If I waited ‘til the book was perfect, I’d still be sitting on book #1.

And I’d be in a world of hurt when those monthly credit card bills came due.

Getting the books out there — after I doing the best I can do right now — is bringing in money that is paying those bills and helping me get closer to the day when the money will more than replace the income from my part-time job.

I’m not a perfectionist. I can spend hours on one book cover design, tweaking this detail and that, but at some point, when I’m getting uncomfortably close to the deadline I’ve set for myself, I upload what I’ve got — the cover and interior files — and get ready to launch it.

It’s not going to be perfect. My books often have a few small mistakes left that escaped my notice even after the final edit. There aren’t many, though, and I’ve learned not to sweat it. I’ve read scads of books with minor mistakes here and there, and if I’m enjoying the book otherwise, those little mistakes don’t detract from my enjoyment.

Many authors have said they’d rather outsource certain jobs related to their books, so they can spend more time writing. And I don’t blame them for that. But I actually enjoy the variety that editing, formatting, and book cover design add to my daily book-related work. I love writing, and I also enjoy making my book look pretty — inside and out.

It’s possible that sometime down the road, I’ll pay someone else to do one of the non-writing jobs, but only if I have more money than time. Right now, it’s usually the opposite — even though I’m a wife, a mother of four, and a part-time lunch lady.

Because the job I have is physically and socially demanding (and draining), I do a good hunk of my daily writing before I head out to work. I also get more done in the evening, because for me, writing is how I recover after a draining shift at work.

Writing is not something I have to work myself up to. It’s something I’m usually itching to get back to — unless I really want to work on a cover design instead. If I’m having trouble writing for a particular project (for example, a particular scene in a novel or a chapter in a nonfiction book), I’ll open a new file in Google docs or Microsoft Word and just freewrite for a while about what’s on my mind, what I’m thinking about the particular scene or chapter, and what — specifically — I’d still like to get done that day.

It helps. 

Learning from those who are crushing it as D.I.Y. authors

The D.I.Y. approach to self-publishing is the one that appeals to me most, especially after seeing how much it cost to outsource everything for my first book. Only after I started doing my own book cover design, my own editing and proofreading, and my own book formatting for both ebook and paperback did I find out how much I enjoyed doing it myself. 

But I wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much without the help I received from those who are already rocking the D.I.Y. approach to book cover design and/or formatting. Those that come immediately to mind are Derek Murphy and Tom Corson-Knowles — which is why I mention them (along with a few others) in my book, Writer on a Budget (affiliate link alert — for my own book).

Their videos, books, and websites are still my go-to resources and the ones I most frequently recommend to other authors interested in doing their own D.I.Y. covers and formatting.

We’re not doing this because we think we’re more resourceful or more all-around-awesome than authors who choose to outsource one or more (or even all) of the non-writing parts of getting a book ready for publication. What works for me may not work for another author, and that’s fine. There are different paths to self-publishing and doing a brilliant job of it. The outsourcing route is not always better than the D.I.Y. route, and vice-versa. 

The results speak for themselves. We can always do better, and — usually — we learn more by sticking our necks out and experimenting, unless others have already done that for us, and we learn enough from them to avoid costly mistakes and to earn more money with our books faster than we thought possible (or faster than we did before we learned from others, anyway).

If your book looks like a professionally-published book — inside and out — and people are clicking on the cover and then buying the book after reading your brilliant book description (Bryan Cohen has some excellent resources for this, too), and then leaving favorable reviews, you’re doing something right. Actually, you’re doing a lot of things right. I’d love it if you’d make this post even better by sharing something you’ve learned in your D.I.Y. adventures. 

Also, if you have any questions about this post or about doing your own book cover design, editing, or formatting, please make yourself at home and leave a comment with your questions and other thoughts. I look forward to reading them. 



By Sarah Lentz

Writing and designing book covers are two of Sarah Lentz's favorite things. She lives in Minnesota with her husband, their four kids, and two messy but adorable guinea pigs.

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