DiscoverWriting & Publishing

Self-Publishing Wizard or Wannabe


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With inspiration from The Wizard of Oz, Mary Neighbour's Wizard or Wannabe takes us on a fantastic journey into successful self-publishing.


Written for authors and self-publishers, this concise guide saves readers money, time, and frustration when creating quality books that attract readers, win awards, and sell. Wizard or Wannabe teaches you how to hire editors, designers, and other experts. You'll understand industry standards, learn what distinguishes the wizards from the wannabes, and receive interview questions to ask freelancers.

"Authors who are serious about making a mark with their books will find a wealth of information and insights here." - Kirkus Reviews

Featuring whimsical vintage illustrations and inspiration from L. Frank Baum's classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the new writer's guide Self Publishing: Wizard or Wannabe takes us on a journey into successful self-publication. Despite the name, self-publishing isn’t (or at least, it shouldn’t be) a one-person project. Author and media consultant Mary Neighbour uses her experiences in traditional and indie publishing to highlight the value of hiring professional editors, designers, and book shepherds (consultants) to create the best possible version of your book.

Neighbour emphasizes that while a professional may be skilled and reliable, they may still not be right for your particular project: for example, an award-winning designer of non-fiction book covers may not have the genre savvy to create an appealing and appropriate cover for a dystopian science fiction novel. Each chapter contains helpful interview questions to ask prospective designers, editors, and consultants to ensure that they’re not only good at what they do, but that they are also a good fit for you.

For some prospective authors, it may be financially impossible to hire freelancers; while the interview question sections of the book are not extremely helpful for these authors, they still contain valuable industry information ranging from ISBN assignment to the difference between RGB and CMYK colors. Having even a little knowledge in industry terms and expectations can greatly increase the readability and popularity of your book.

As someone who works as a marketing assistant in the publishing industry, most of the information that Neighbour shares here rings true even in more traditional settings. The only inaccuracy I found was in her definition of the term “blurb”; she defines the term as catalog copy that a marketing department creates, but blurbs are written by authors, celebrities, and key figures in a particular industry as an endorsement of the book. Overall, Wizard or Wannabe is incredibly accurate. The information shared in these pages are things that writers published in any manner – self, small press, traditional, or otherwise – should know.

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I'm a poet working in the publishing industry; through these roles, I'm constantly discovering small presses, new authors, and cool projects that often don't receive the attention they deserve. A good, objective review is maybe the best advertising that a book can receive and something I can offer.


Written for authors and self-publishers, this concise guide saves readers money, time, and frustration when creating quality books that attract readers, win awards, and sell. Wizard or Wannabe teaches you how to hire editors, designers, and other experts. You'll understand industry standards, learn what distinguishes the wizards from the wannabes, and receive interview questions to ask freelancers.

"Authors who are serious about making a mark with their books will find a wealth of information and insights here." - Kirkus Reviews


Introduction: Your Journey from Writer to Self-Publisher



Chapter 1: Relationships with Wizards and Wannabes

The Author’s Due Diligence

A Word about Wannabes

Indications of an Impostor

Resolving a Problem Relationship

Chapter 2: How to Spot a True Editor

Editing Terms You’ll Want to Know

Industry Standards for Editing

Signs Your Editor Is a Professional

What a Professional Editor Is Not

Questions to Ask Your Editor before Hiring

Chapter 3: How to Spot a True Cover Designer

Cover Design Terms You’ll Want to Know

Industry Standards for Cover Design

What Else Belongs on a Cover?

Signs Your Cover Designer Is a Professional

What a Professional Cover Designer Is Not

Questions to Ask Your Designer before Hiring 

The Interview

Chapter 4: How to Spot a True Interior Book Designer


Broad concepts

Technical jargon

Layout lingo 

Interior Book Design Standards

Signs Your Interior Book Designer Is a Professional

Questions to Ask Before Hiring Your Interior Book Designer

Chapter 5: How to Spot a True Book Shepherd

Publishing Terms You’ll Want to Know

Industry Standards 

Signs Your Book Shepherd Is a Professional

Questions to Ask Your Book Shepherd Before Hiring


About the Author

Introduction: Your Journey from Writer to Self-Publisher

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz tells a time-honored tale of marvelous adventures and heartfelt truths. Dorothy, the seeker/heroine, makes her way through strange, new lands, forms friendships with those who help and guide her, and discovers in the end the wonders of home and the powers she herself possesses. What a terrific analogy for the world of self-publishing!

As a writer headed into the territory of independent publishing, you may at first feel caught up in a cyclone and set down among witches and wizards. But take comfort in knowing you can form relationships with industry professionals who will accompany you on the journey and help you overcome the hurdles. This pocket guide will also come in handy, as you meet newcomers and try to determine if they are true wizards or just wannabes.

Since the mid-1990s, when the seeds of self-publishing were sown by the pollination of the World Wide Web, I have cheered the growth of authors who published their own works. I am one of them. I began with editing and expanded into ghostwriting, helping individuals, families, and companies to make books of their personal stories. I avidly embraced print-on-demand (POD) technology, the proliferation of blogs that became books, online book-publishing platforms, and the numerous communities that welcomed and supported writers becoming publishers. These trends and more have contributed to the blossoming of the self-publishing industry, and as I learned the lay of the land—and the laws of the land—I began shepherding others through the dark forests to the palaces of publishing. It is a splendid world, full of opportunity, as sparkling as the Emerald City.

Fortunately, we didn’t need to re-invent the wheel. Self-publishing (sometimes referred to as author publishing, independent publishing, or just plain indie publishing) has much in common with its more conventional counterpart, established (“Big Five”) houses of publishing. But while the steps for getting your manuscript into the marketplace as a book are largely the same—self-publishing truly represents a revolution. It empowers authors by providing a yellow brick road to: 

Retention of rights

Creative control

Financial coherence and greater profits

Speedy, direct access to marketplaces

Evergreen opportunities for sales

Your journey from writer to self-publisher has begun. It can be, and by letting this book guide you it will be, life changing. 


In contrast—but not in opposition—to conventional publishers, pioneer self-publishers faced a steep learning curve to familiarize themselves with the terminologies, methodologies, and standards of the trade. Mistakes were made, aspersions cast, but today’s self-publishers hold their own against the Big Five. Indeed, more and more indie publishers with a proven track record are securing deals with traditional presses and imprints, and big-name authors like Stephen King are embracing self-publishing models. 

As I write this book, independently published books are widespread, respected, and flourishing. A number of professional organizations exist to help educate and guide those joining our ranks. But we haven’t conquered all obstacles yet. Over the course of the past ten years, working with indie authors to bring their manuscripts to the marketplace, I too frequently have heard:

I’ve wasted thousands of dollars on my first editor—and now I’m finding typos and structural problems.

My book is out there, and now I learn that my cover designer didn’t use the “rule of thirds.”

I’m so frustrated because I ordered fifty copies of my newly released book, and the cover looks terrible: muddy and dull. 

I’ve done everything my book shepherd told me to do, but I can’t find my book on common e-retail sites, and I’m not getting any sales.

These complaints reflect a troubling, persistent vexation: some of the so-called professionals out there are more wannabe than wizard. Of course, the Wizard of Oz himself wasn’t a true wizard. My point, then, is this: independent publishing doesn’t require magic. But it does require true professionals with specialized knowledge and skills.

A second type of obstacle, originating with the self-publisher, arises from a peculiar conundrum: there is something so familiar about books, editing, and design that many people think they can become experts. Again, I frequently hear comments like: 

I self-edited my manuscript, so why can’t I publish without an editor?

I love my ideas for the cover. I just need someone to execute them.

The publishing process is not mysterious or technically out-of-reach. So why can’t anyone do it? 

Such thinking invariably leads to huge disappointments because these arguments rest upon the underestimation of the complexity of the self-publishing process. True, publishing is not overly technical, but it is an intricate network of interlocking, interdependent steps—and the technology that is essential frequently changes or requires updates. This is why many authors hire a book shepherd as soon as they finish writing and polishing their manuscript.

So, how does a professional writer learn what they need to know about professional editing, design, and production? There are many blogs, webinars, and websites to help individuals learn, but few want to invest the time and money to do so, especially when they have just finalized their manuscript and can’t wait to see it on bookshelves. 

Because most don’t wish to become students of the industry, they hire professionals to help them through the process: editors, designers, shepherds. Yet, circling back to the first obstacle, how do they assess whether the professionals they hire actually possess the knowledge and skill that is required? Many indie authors simply can’t tell the difference between a professional and an untrained, inexperienced wannabe—until costly, sometimes irreparable, mistakes are made. 


Wise self-publishers read articles that speak about publishing industry standards and methods, but nothing as comprehensive as this book exists. It is the solution that will help you hire professionals with confidence and with the desired results. With Self-Publishing Wizard or Wannabe, I hope to educate and empower authors to fulfill the maximum potential of their books. That is our mutual goal: to make your book the best it can be. With the information provided on these pages, you will be able to identify, choose, and evaluate the freelancers you hire to assist you. 

Self-Publishing Wizard or Wannabe aims at helping writers hire true professionals for editing, designing, and publishing their manuscripts. Chapter One defines “wizard” and “wannabe,” as well as identifies the author’s role in these relationships and what you can do if a collaboration collapses. Subsequent chapters, individually focused on editing, design, and production, will cover: 

Distinctions between wizards and wannabes

Terminology used and understood by professionals

Publishing industry standards

Signs of a true professional

Sample questions to ask prospective candidates

Feel free to skip ahead and read chapters out of order; I’ve written each to be comprehensible all on its own. And at the end of each chapter are blank pages where you can keep notes about (1) ideas to revisit or (2) the interviews you conduct. However, some readers—especially those who have just finished writing and don’t know where to start—may be encouraged and enlightened by reading this book in its entirety. Just knowing there are skilled professionals out there to help you can be very reassuring. Self-publishing doesn’t mean you have to do everything on your own.

Prepare for the adventure by reading on! Together we will embark on a journey through the world of self-publishing, where the writer is the hero. Along the way we’ll encounter sage guides, enlightened editors, and wizards of design—all of whom will help you, the author, face the wicked witches of publishing. You will return home, transformed into a self-published author, eager to share your experiences and wisdom with the village. 

You have the power to create not only a book you’re proud of but also one that strangers in the industry will admire. Putting your work out into the world is an ambitious journey, yet it will ultimately bring you closer to home, within yourself. It will require courage, heart, and brains—and just as Dorothy experienced, the need for help along the way.

About the author

Some have called Mary E. Neighbour a “book shepherd,” though she wields a red pencil far more expertly than a herding rod. Since the dawn of the self-publishing revolution, she and her husband, through their company, MediaNeighbours, have helped scores of writers publish books that win awards.  view profile

Published on March 31, 2020

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20000 words

Genre: Writing & Publishing

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