There are two options available to you if you are self-publishing for the first time.
One, pay someone a lot of money to do it for you, or two, do it yourself for (mostly) free.
The second option for most authors who are self-publishing for the first time will be far more attractive of course.
If you are considering paying someone, though, just remember that the tools and services they will use will be exactly the same as the ones you will use if you do it on your own.
So consider very carefully before you agree to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for something you can easily learn to do yourself.
So where do you start when self-publishing for the first time?
After all the writing, editing and proofreading you have done during the process of preparing your manuscript, it’s now time to drop your pen, leave your keyboard and start on doing a few days of reading, research and learning about self-publishing.
There are four principal self-publishing services that provide their services for free, and these will ensure that once your book and ebook are published, they will be available worldwide via most of the major online book retailers.
Kindle Direct Publishing. Amazon’s ebook publishing service for Kindle e-books and for KDP paperback publishing.
Smashwords. A publisher and distributor of e-books to Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and Scribd amongst others.
Draft2Digital. Similar to Smashwords, Draft2Digital is an ebook distributor to Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and Scribd. However, it also can publish in paperback through Createspace. There is a review of Draft2Digital available here.
Createspace. A paperback Print On Demand service with distribution channels through Amazon, Barnes and Noble as well as most online books stores offering paperback books.
All of these service providers have well-written help sections and guides that are a must read.
But in particular, a free e-book, the Smashwords Style Guide, is now almost a bible on how to prepare a Word file in preparation for e-book self-publishing, so is an absolute must to read for those totally new to electronic publishing.
For Kindle Direct Publishing, Smashwords and Draft2Digital, the advice and preparation steps in this Style Guide will make sure your file is ready for all e-book publishing platforms.
Should you wish to publish in paperback, there are a few providers, but from my own experience, only Createspace offers a totally free service to publish in paper form.
Update: KDP now offers paperback publishing similar to Createspace.
If you publish with Createspace, there will only be a charge if you wish to buy copies of your book.
Their prices are very reasonable, though, at around $3.85 per copy, plus postage for a 250-page book. As mentioned earlier, Draft2Digital also offer Createspace publishing.
Learning how to format the interior and cover for a paperback is little more work than what is required for an e-book of course. A good starting point is A Step-By-Step Guide to Formatting Your Book’s Interior.
As paperback covers need to be of very high resolution and exacting dimensions, this is one part of the self-publishing process that I always believe is worth spending a little money on.
I wrote about Book and Ebook Covers For Self-Publishing, so I would recommend reading this article if you wish to publish in paperback.
You might also find How To Prepare Your Word Manuscript For Self-Publishing another useful starting point in getting your manuscript ready for publishing.
Or if you prefer, a video tutorial on How To Format An Ebook using Microsoft Word.
You can also read our list of How-To Articles, where you will find helpful advice on a number of aspects of self-publishing.
There are thousands of authors who, like you, started with little or no knowledge about self-publishing, but who are now published and earning sales royalties, without having to pay a cent to do so.
If you are prepared to take the time to read, learn, ask questions on community forums and subscribe to self-publishing advice blogs, you will have all the expertise you need to self-publish your writing in a very short time.
So good luck, and fingers crossed that you self-publish a bestseller!