How to Self-Publish Your Life Story

erica-manfred2In her Aging With Geekitude series, self-professed “recovering technophobe” Erica Manfred writes about her adventures with technology and shares what she’s learned as she navigates the not-so-scary waters. 


As a writer I’m constantly getting hit on – not by attractive men, but by people who want a professional writer to help them tell their life story. Hiring a writer can run into the tens of thousands of dollars – and you don’t need one. If you’re literate, you can write about your own life, with or without some help. And you can easily publish your book, whether that means printing 5 copies or 5,000.

If You Tell It, They Will Read It

I believe everyone’s story is worth telling and there are people out there who will want to read it even if it’s not professionally written. Those people are your siblings, children, grandchildren and extended family. I wish my parents had written their memoirs. I would love to have a record of their childhoods in New York in the early 1900s, how they survived the Great Depression, how they met and married, their honeymoon on a train across Russia to Siberia. We all have stories that will fascinate someone.

Once you’ve written and published your memoir, if professional feedback suggests that it might be saleable and of interest to more than your family, you can always go on to market and promote your book.

How to Write That Memoir

Most people who are not professional writers find it daunting to sit down and tell their life stories. Luckily, there are programs in universities, community colleges, senior centers, libraries and writers’ centers all over the country that teach memoir. Sign up for one of these workshops, preferably a long-term one that will see you through your entire book. Here’s a link to memoir workshops in NYC.

(Senior Planet has published articles that can show you how to use digital technology to help you structure your story and keep at it.)

If you do need professional help, you can hire a writer or editor to do anything from help you manuscript editing to copyediting. A developmental editor will critique your manuscript and suggest or provide revisions, while a copyeditor will fix grammar, wording, etc. The writer or editor should be willing to give you a quote for the entire job before getting started. You can find editors on the Editorial Freelancers Assocation site.

Here’s a helpful article about how to write your memoir and get help if you need it.

What is Self-Publishing All About?

With the advent of print-on-demand and self-publishing, it has become ridiculously easy to publish a book, especially if you use a website that walks you through the process (more on that coming up). For under a thousand dollars you can leave a legacy that will live long after you’re no longer around to tell stories.

You’ve probably heard a lot about the self-publishing revolution, but you might not understand exactly what it’s all about. Here’s what’s changed in the publishing industry since we were in college.

Desktop publishing Before computers, typesetting and book creation was messy, labor intensive and not forgiving of corrections. Computers and printers changed all that, making it possible for anyone to write a manuscript, format and print it – no cutting and pasting or messing with type. Desktop publishing was the first step toward self-publishing.

Digital Publishing Do you read online or on a Kindle? Publishing digitally is ridiculously easy and cheap. You can basically turn that Microsoft Word document on your hard drive into an edition that can be sold as an e-book through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Apple or other online booksellers. 

Print on Demand Not so long ago, publishers had to commit to expensive print runs of thousands of books. Today, books can be printed one at a time as they’re ordered and bought online, eliminating expensive print runs, the need to warehouse thousands of books, and (unfortunately) the need for publishers and bookstores.

Self-Publishing Until recently, book publishing was the exclusive domain of companies that controlled the whole process: They hired the authors, editors, designers and distributors, printed thousands of copies and distributed them through bookstores. Now, anyone can be a publisher for their own book and sell it online, either as an e-book (for example, a Kindle edition) or printed on-demand copies. Many of the books you see on Amazon have been published and are being sold by the authors.

How to Self-Publish Your Memoir

You don’t have to be a computer whizz to publish your own book, though it helps to know the basics; if you have some computer savvy it’s a lot easier. There are online free services that offer the tools and guidance you need to create and publish a book. Some also offer a paid option where a consultant will help you through the process.

For a print book

Savvy self-published authors use, Lightening Source or (the top author-recommended services for self-publishing). With these companies, you are the publisher and they are the printer. You pay only for the services you decide you need. You can sell your book online or buy copies for a reasonable sum to give to your friends and family. The typical cost to you for a 250-page paperback book should be around $4.00 per copy with no minimum print run as in traditional publishing. If you want an illustrated book or one with lots of photos, you’ll be running into more complications and cost, but CreateSpace is constantly improving its services to include graphics. [Ed: Also check out Blurb for coffee-table-style books.]

The easiest author services company to work with and the one that sells the most books is I recommend by a package from Amazon’s publishing arm CreateSpace, which will give you the best deal for your print book. For low prices, you keep your rights, set the price of your book, design the cover and buy copies in bulk to either sell or give away; the company offers many other perks, too. CreateSpace offers good customer service, and you can stay in control of your book.

Here’s what’s involved:

  • Upload a Microsoft Word file of your manuscript to CreateSpace (or whichever book formatter you use). If you want to hire a copyditor to fix spelling, grammar etc, they should work on the manuscript before you upload it.
  • Decide on the size of your book and what it should look like. Take a trip to Barnes and Noble and look at similar books. Most paperbacks are 5″ x 8″. Decide which typefaces and page layouts you like. You’ll be selecting sizes and fonts in CreateSpace’s settings.
  • Think about cover design. You can either use CreateSpace’s cover creator, which provides templates, or design/have a designer create a custom cover.

If you want some hand-holding, check out Bibliocrunch for a competitive bid from freelancers who will design, edit, proofread and even coordinate the publishing for you. Miral Sattar, who runs the site, will walk you through the process and personally hold your hand while your book is being produced. Independent contractors cost more, but you’ll have more control over the end product. Here is Miral’s free guide to self publishing (it’s written for for novelists but is relevant to all).

For an ebook

Take the same file you upload to CreateSpace to an ebook formatter. (Insiders recommend avoiding CreateSpace for ebook formatting—they often mess it up.) You can find a decent formatting service for under fifty bucks. My talented friend, Laurie Boris, who actually makes a living selling her self-pubbed novels on Amazon and other sites, recommends Quantum Formatting, but there are hundreds of them. Full disclosure: I got my Kindle book formatted on for five bucks and it looked just fine. When it comes to selling your book on Amazon, you’ll have to set up the account yourself,  but the formatter can walk you through it.

Here are links to some great ebook and other self publishing resources on Laurie’s site.

How to Avoid Self-Publishing Ripoffs

The self-publishing revolution has been a bonanza for predatory ripoff artists who take advantage of naive newbie writers who long to see their book in print. Do not fall for the hype. Some of these guys take your money to produce a book, and then they take more money to sell it back to you.

Don’t opt for a subsidy publisher

Subsidy publishers aren’t really publishers – they are simply print-on-demand companies that charge uninformed writers many thousands of dollars and farm the work out to non-professionals who can – and probably will – mess up your work. They promise to do it all for you – at a steep price. Promises are made and broken, and when they make mistakes that need correcting, you ay for the corrections. Even companies that do a decent job use misleading advertising, lie about their offerings, sell you services you don’t need and way overcharge.

The worst offenders are owned by a huge company called Author Solutions, which has many other imprints that pretend to be independent such as Xlibris, iUniverse, Trafford, AuthorHouse, Palibrio and Booktango. Traditional publishers are now getting into the act. If you get a promotion from Simon and Schuster, Hay House, Thomas Nelson or another name publisher, be wary. They are using the prestige of their names to rope in aspiring authors. Most have a deal with Author Solutions to produce the books.

Here’s a great overview of publishing and self-publishing and valuable info on how to sniff out a predator.

So get to work writing that memoir. If you start now you’ll have a book to give to your kids next Christmas. There’s nothing more satisfying than holding a book with your name on the cover.

Share your link in the comments section when your book goes up online. Meanwhile, check out my self-published novel: Interview with a Jewish Vampire


See more Aging With Geekitude articles.

Erica Manfred is a journalist, essayist and humorist who writes about everything from dentistry to divorce to fantasy fiction. Friend her on Facebook.


6 responses to “How to Self-Publish Your Life Story

  1. Thank you so much for this amazing article that you have shared, one of my friends was looking out to self publish his story and was a bit confused, I am surely sharing this with him so that he gets a clear picture of it.

  2. This is the most difficult part of writing about your own life, and really the reason I didn t do it for a very long time. In the end, I decided to mix the characters up a bit so that people wouldn t recognise themselves. If, however, you want to write a pure memoir you have to decide which is more important, the story or the people?

  3. Erica,
    Yours was a helpful and lovely column. Sister, publishing sure has changed. In the last century-it’s fun to reference that-my first humor book was published by Pinnacle. Huge advance, great royalties and they did everything. I mean everything. All I had to do was provide the manuscript and they did everything else; editing the book designing the cover, marketing, setting up book tours and TV and Radio appearances which led to so many benifits including then hosting my own television shows. Ah, the good all days. This time around, like all my author friends, we are on our own. I had to set up my own company to publish my current satirical survival book “Dancin Schmancin with the Scars: Finding the Humor No Matter What!” on Amazon and electronic devices thus needing to hire people to format for all reading electronics plus do all of the above mentioned tasks.
    As Sophie Tucker said “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor and rich is better!” Similarly having a generous publisher is better…in my opinion. The writing is actually the easy part, don’t you agree? Good luck! Jan Marshall

    1. I do agree but I’ve never had a publisher do it all, even with my traditionally published books I (or most recently a co-author) had to do all the publicity. I currently have an agent trying to sell a novel because self-pubbing is a lonely business. Laurie Boris who I mentioned in the article spends about an hour a day on promotion, but she does very well. You CAN make a living if you’re a good writer and have a few books in print. Good luck. Your book sounds like fun.

Leave a Reply

Senior Planet’s comments are open for all readers/subscribers; we love hearing from you! However, some comments are not welcome here as violations of our Comment Policy. If you would like to express a comment about Senior Planet locations or programs, please contact Want to continue the conversation? Start your own discussion on this topic on Senior Planet Community.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *