The Tellwell Guide to Self-Publishing

  • Home

So, you’ve got a manuscript and you are researching how to publish your book. First off, congratulations! You decided to write and publish a book, and now you’re following through with that goal. And you will achieve it.

This guide will concisely summarize the options you have and the steps to take. In just 5-10 minutes you will learn:

  1. The five steps to publishing a book
  2. How self-publishing differs from conventional commercial publishing
  3. How do-it-yourself compares to “assisted” self-publishing
  4. How Tellwell compares to the 5 biggest self-publishing companies
  5. Tellwell publishing options

Tellwell is unique in the industry because we are objective and neutral when it comes to recommending the best way to distribute your book.

Give us a call and we will gladly give advice on the pros and cons of all the available options.

Regardless of whether a book is self-published or traditionally published, there are five steps to publishing.

Darn, eh? You can’t publish a book without first writing it. If you’re reading this guide, you probably have an idea for a book, or you’ve already written some or all of it.

When you write a book you make thousands of creative decisions. By the time you’re done your first or second or third draft, it becomes nearly impossible for you to grasp how a reader would experience your manuscript for the first time. An editor provides fresh eyes and improves the quality of your writing.

Once the manuscript is edited, a designer creates a compelling cover that will help the book sell. The designer also does the interior layout of the book to ensure a comfortable reading experience, and ensures the design files meet all the specifications so that the book can be distributed, both in print and ebook formats.

Once you have a finished product, you need to make it available for people to buy. Nowadays, most sales channels are available to self-published authors. Also, because print-on-demand (POD) technology permits printing one book at a time, it isn’t necessary to spend any money on printing.

Distribution includes listing your book with major online retailers like and, making your book available to brick-and-mortar bookstores through a distributor, and automatically printing and fulfilling orders, collecting payment, and issuing royalties. Distribution also includes ebook sales via the Kindle, Kobo and other ebookstores. Brick-and-mortar bookstores can’t be forced to stock your book, but they can be given easy access to it via mainstream distributors.

Once your book is available for sale, you need to get people to hear about it and create “buzz.” Promoting activities include issuing press releases and approaching traditional print and broadcast media for interviews or book reviews, online marketing using social media, and events, such as a book launch.

Self-publishing and conventional commercial publishers require the same 5 steps to publish a book, but differ in regard to:

  • Who takes the risk, covering the up-front costs
  • Who earns the reward, the revenues from sales
  • Who owns the rights to the book
  • Who has creative control
  • Who decides whether and when the book gets published

The Up-Front Costs: The costs of publishing a book include paying an editor, a designer, distribution costs, plus any marketing investments. In self-publishing, the author covers these costs. In traditional publishing, the publisher does.

Who Earns Revenues: In self-publishing, the author earns a much greater portion of sales revenues. In traditional publishing, the author makes a very small portion of sales revenues. In other words, whoever takes the risk by covering the up-front costs gets the rewards when the book sells. However, many self-publishing companies take a portion of sales revenues in addition to charging up-front fees.

Who owns the rights to the book: In self-publishing you retain the rights to your manuscript. If you are getting help from a self-publishing company, you typically give the company the temporary, non-exclusive right to publish your book. In traditional publishing, the publisher owns the rights.

Who has creative control: In self-publishing you retain control over the process. If you hire an editor, for example, you don’t have to accept all of their changes. In traditional publishing, the publisher can make changes to the manuscript and the title of the book, and decide what goes on the cover.

Who decides whether to publish your book: In self-publishing, you make a decision to publish your book. In traditional publishing, it is up to the publisher whether they choose to publish your book. Often, they receive thousands of manuscripts every month, and reject over 99%. This is the overwhelming reason so many people choose to self-publish.

Advantages of Self-Publishing

  • 1.

    High royalties

  • 2.

    Creative control

  • 3.

    You retain copyright

  • 4.

    You get to decide whether your book is published

Disadvantages of Self-Publishing

  • 1.

    You cover the up-front costs

Advantages of Traditional Publishing

  • 1.

    Publisher covers the up-front costs and helps in all aspects of publishing

Disadvantages of Traditional Publishing

  • 1.

    You give up most of the sales revenues, the rights to the book, and creative control

  • 2.

    Very competitive, estimated 99% rejection rate

Many aspects of self-publishing can be done directly by a savvy author, but it requires time and knowledge of the publishing industry. Some of the more detailed steps in the publishing process include:

  • Finding and selecting an editor
  • Selecting a designer, ensuring they provide design files in the proper format
  • Getting ISBN numbers, classifying the book using BISAC codes
    Pricing the book
  • Choosing a print-on-demand service
  • Creating print-ready and ebook files (.pub, .mobi)
  • Getting your book into the major ebook retailers
  • Creating metadata, choosing keywords for search engines
  • Creating and executing a marketing plan

Many authors can easily become overwhelmed with all of the steps and the decisions that need to be made. They want guidance through the process.

Enter self-publishing companies, or “assisted self-publishing” companies.

“Assisted self-publishing companies,” such as Tellwell, basically act as a one-stop-shop to help with the entire publishing process, with guidance from the author. It is a team approach, usually involving an editor, designer, marketing consultant, plus somebody to take care of getting the book into the various sales channels.

With a do-it-yourself versus the assisted approach, it is not entirely one or the other. It is a continuum.

You may decide that you need a designer, and some help getting the book formatted properly and into the best sales channels. But to save on costs, you may decide to do most of the promoting yourself and take advantage of a family member who is a qualified editor.

Do-it-Yourself Approach


  • 1.

    Potentially low cost if you are literally doing everything yourself rather than hiring contractors

  • 2.

    Complete control over every aspect


  • 1.

    Requires high degree of knowledge, expertise, and talent

  • 2.

    Time intensive

  • 3.

    Quality may suffer if professionals not involved

  • 4.

    Trial-and-error process of hiring editor or designer may be costly

Assisted Approach


  • 1.

    One-stop solution

  • 2.

    Expertise in each area of publishing

  • 3.

    Guidance through process


  • 1.

    The more help you need, the more it costs

  • 2.

    Reputation of companies varies

Just five companies account for over 85% of the books self-published each year:

  1. Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP): This company is owned by and its strengths include low printing costs. Tellwell includes KDP as an option for distribution and printing. However, we are a competitor of theirs when it comes to services such as design and editing.
  2. Lightning Source & IngramSpark: These two platforms offer competitive print-on-demand services; however, their ebook distribution offers only 40% royalties. Tellwell often uses IngramSpark for print-on-demand, but not for ebooks. These companies do not offer help with editing, design, or publicity.
  3. Smashwords: Smashwords offers an ebook “aggregation” service, making your book available for sale in some of the major ebook channels in exchange for a percentage of sales. You need to be technically savvy enough to get your book in the proper format for them. Their service does not include Kindle ebooks – the most popular ebook option. They do not offer help with editing, design or publicity services. Tellwell generally does not deal with Smashwords because we can get a better deal for authors by dealing directly with each ebook platform (e.g. Kindle, Kobo, Nook, iBooks, and Google Books).
  4. Lulu: This company has a broad range of formats and some good tools for do-it-yourselfers, but their printing is expensive and they take a significant chunk of the author’s revenues.
  5. Author Solutions: They operate many different self-publishing brands including Xlibris, Authorhouse, Trafford, iUniverse, Belboa, Abbott Press, and Archway. Some of these brands are partnerships with traditional publishers, where Author Solutions does the actual work and compensates the traditional publisher for the referrals. Author Solutions’ two main strengths are their persistent sales force and their aggressive Google advertising. Their downside is that they significantly mark-up the printing costs and take a large portion of sales revenues.

How Does Tellwell Compare to the Companies Above?

With Tellwell you can get better royalties than with any of these companies.

Tellwell takes a very clear and unique position in the marketplace:

  • Australia traction: From Brisbane to Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, with over 200 Australian Tellwell authors we’re quickly developing a reputation
  • Smart distribution: With 85-100% net royalties, we offer the closest thing to working directly with distributors without the technical hassles of doing so
  • Transparent pricing: We are a talented team of editors, illustrators, designers, narrators, and other publishing professionals who love what we do, care about quality, and believe in the value of our services, which we price up front
  • Support, encouragement, and quality control: Publishing a book is daunting, so you will find it comforting to have an experienced team on your side, simplifying a complex publishing process into easy steps

Because we give authors up to 100% of the sales revenues, it means we are neutral with regard to what distribution options we use. We often work with two of the above companies (IngramSpark and KDP) for part of the solution for our clients, taking advantage of the best aspects of each. But we use other options where these companies fall short. We never work with Author Solutions companies. We choose the option that is best for each author. And can bring in the highest amount of royalties.

The chart below shows how Tellwell meets or exceeds the royalties of all 5 major self-publishing companies.

PUBLISHING FEATURE ( = Best) Tellwell Author Solutions Lulu Smashwords KDP Ingramspark
Max POD Royalty via major retailers
(before printing cost deducted) **
70% 10% ** 50% x 40-60% 70%
Print cost for 250-page paperback $3.85  or $4.65 $13.99 $10.55 x $3.85 $4.65
Print cost for hardcover 250-pages $10.65 $20.99 19.60 x x $10.65
Kindle royalty 70% 35% 63% x x 40%
Kobo royalty (Chapters) 70% 35% 63% 60% x 40%
Nook royalty (Barnes and Noble) 60% 35% 58.5% 60% x 40%
iBooks royalty 60% 35% 63% 60% x 40%

**While Author Solutions low royalties are as a percentage of the retail, and printing costs are not subtracted, they are nevertheless very uncompetitive.