How Many English Majors Does it Take to Publish a Book? 7 Things I Learned From Self-Publishing

In the ever-growing world of electronic reading, self-publishing is beginning to gain a major presence. Amazon, Nook, and the Apple Store give readers and writers both new material to discover and opportunities to publish. With bestsellers like The Martian coming from self-published e-books, publishing online is a goldmine.  

During my senior year of undergraduate study, an English professor at my college crafted a seminar focused on self-publishing. The class would research, write, edit, and design a full-length nonfiction e-book for publication—all in four weeks. The best way to learn about self-publishing is to do it, he insisted. And with that, Dr. Paul Battles’ English 360: Seminar in Self-Publishing was born. I signed up immediately.

In these tightly-scheduled and deadline-heavy four weeks, I learned more about the art of self-publishing than I could from any book or video. If you’re a writer, I highly recommend researching or taking a course on self-publishing. If your university has yet to offer such a course, here are some things to get you started:  

1. Join a team

My course had thirteen students and one very dedicated professor. Each of us was responsible for one chapter of the book, but we also contributed individual talents as well. Sydney had a strong sense of grammar. Josh was great with a camera, Jade was good on camera. Perry could code like nobody’s business, and Dr. Battles copyedited the entire work. The more we communicated, the better things turned out. By working as a team we could produce quick, quality material.    

“Don’t forget about the power of social media, either. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter are some of your most powerful tools. Publicize, publicize, publicize.”

2. Know your resources

In addition to knowing your team’s skills and talents, know that there are tons of resources for self-publishing. Coding sites, photo-editing sites, blog-creating sites—all are available online for free. With a little research and trial-and-error, we were able to find sites to guide us through the process.

Don’t forget about the power of social media, either. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter are some of your most powerful tools. Publicize, publicize, publicize. Tell your best friend, your great-aunt, and even that girl sitting next to you in Biology 101 about your book and to share your posts. Make it go viral. 

3. Invest

Graphic design was something none of us had any significant experience with. We toyed with various photo-editing sites, but no one produced anything strong enough to be a cover image. Cover design, we discovered, is everything. It’s what gets readers to click on your material. Due to the importance of the cover, we decided to outsource. Our professor ordered a $30 cover off, and it truly was a great investment. Dr. Battles also highly recommended that we invest in freelance copyeditors if we ever self-publish again. Bottom line is: if you really want to create something that will sell as well or better than a book in stores, you need to invest.         

4. Brush up on legal terminology

Learn how to attain ISBNs (available for purchase online). Learn how to write up a team contract (we did—it’s really not that hard). Learn about copyrights, and avoid them to avoid lawsuits (the key is public domain images). It’s time to start reading the fine print of the terms and conditions and knowing a little legal jargon won’t hurt you.   

5. Know how to make money

Just because you have to invest doesn’t mean you can’t earn all those dollars back—that’s why it’s called investing. Don’t go into massive debt self-publishing (if you’re outsourcing constantly, maybe self-publication isn’t the best route for you). Making money from your e-book is actually pretty simple: set a price, publicize your book, and get paid.   

Price your book accordingly. Most likely, this is your first venture into publishing. Would you pay $19.99 for a brand new book of an author you’ve never heard of? More often than not, the answer is no.  So hit that sweet spot of $2.99-$9.99. Sequels can typically be priced a little higher as they’ve already got a following.    

Indie America: How the Spirit of Indie-pendence is Transforming Our Lives
By Paxton Waite, R. U. Saxon, Marek Koselak, I. J. Nicholas, Brandon Lanbaker, Joseph Feldmann, Grace Trogdon, Ellis Malbrech, Tess Stoops, Geneva Disching-Smedes

Publicize, publicize, publicize. Go back to Number 2 on this list and ask that girl in Biology if she’s shared your book page yet. The more you publicize, the more likely you are to sell. Create your own hashtag and use it. Look at how other authors in your genre publicize to their readers, and do the same.    

6. Learn to code

Coding is the future, and it’s really not that hard to learn the basics of (this is coming from a 21st Century Luddite). But, you argue, I’m a writer, not a programmer.  Why do I need to learn this stuff? Here’s the deal: if you’re self-publishing, you’re doing everything yourself (or with your team). If the material is difficult to read because of silly coding glitches, no one will bother reading it. So learn the basics of HTML code and how to create an epub. Make sure your book appears the same on all reading devices. Work with your team, or if coding is your weakness, see Point 4 and invest.        

7. Check your ego

There are some literary purists who believe the only way to publish is through a mainstream publisher. The key word here is “mainstream.” In today’s writing world, there are five major publishers competing for bestsellers. They are focused on, surprisingly enough, selling. They don’t care about groundbreaking new material or the next American novel. They care about books flying off the shelves. Keep in mind that not all books have wings. Some are meant to stand-alone—just ask Homer, Twain, or Joyce.      

And my class? 

We focused our book on the indie movement in the United States. It’s titled Indie America: How the Spirit of Indie-pendence is Transforming Our Lives and available through most online book marketplaces. A pretty good read, if I do say so myself. Maybe you’ll even check out the chapter I wrote—good luck guessing which contributor, though. Most of us used pen names in the spirit of staying indie!


Sarah just graduated magna cum laude from Hanover College in Southern Indiana with a double major in English and French and a minor in Creative Writing.  She’s headed to Indiana University this fall to read her way through both her M.A. and her Ph.D. in English literature.  She fully believes she was a Viking in a past life, and she prides herself on her skills in eating Oreos, jumping out of planes, and tripping up stairs (though not in that order). 

Posted on September 1, 2016 and filed under Articles, Featured Articles.