Self Publishing a Workbook or Guided Journal

Updated on January 1, 2018
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Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing expert, nonfiction book editor, author of 21+ books and eBooks, and a former trade newspaper editor.


As I edited an author's business book for self publishing, it became clear that a text-filled book was not going to work. Her book was jam packed with exercises for readers to complete. We decided that reinventing her book as a workbook would be beneficial... and it was, for both her business and her customers.

The benefits of offering workbooks and journals include:

  • Interactivity and engagement with readers
  • High perceived value
  • Additional book sales opportunities if offered as a companion to another book title
  • Engages multiple senses when readers handwrite answers

I've created my own workbook of writing prompts, as well as a journal of sorts with thought-provoking questions. Here are some of the challenges I've encountered with self-publishing these types of specialty publications.

How to Self Publish a Workbook or Journal in Print

Because workbooks or journals contain written exercises, print books typically work best.

Perfect Bound May Or May Not Be Perfect. Like cookbooks, readers usually like to have a book lay flat for writing in it. Services such as Amazon Createspace only produce perfect bound trade paperback books which don't easily lay flat.

One way around the write-in difficulty of these books is to create a larger size edition. For example, the author client's book was converted into an 8-1/2" X 11" trade paperback workbook using Amazon Createspace. The larger pages allow the book to lay flatter than smaller sizes. So if there is a significant amount of writing for readers to do, this larger size can be a cost-effective option to consider. For books where answers might be short, even smaller trim sizes (such as 6" X 9") can work, even if they don't provide an ideal user experience.

Spiral Binding. Of course, another option is offer a spiral bound edition. But that can be expensive due to its more fragile physical construction and distribution difficulty. Spiral bound books can flex too easily and the spirals can catch and warp. That's why some distribution or fulfillment companies may request that spiral bound books be shrink wrapped. Plus, fulfillment services, such as Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA), can carry fees that eat up profits. Also, if a distribution partner cannot be secured, the author is left with handling all the sales, printing, shipping, sales taxes, and other requirements... and all the costs.

Hard Covers. For some journal book topics, even a hardcover edition might make sense. Self published hardcover book printing is available through a few platforms such as Lulu, Mixbook, and others. But because of the expense, and accompanying high price that would have to be charged, this option might only make sense for keepsake type journals. An example would be a guided journal to document a baby's first year.

Formatting Tip for Workbooks and Journals

In creating write-in spaces for readers, make sure you leave enough space between each line to allow for easy writing. Also provide enough lines to answer each particular question so that readers won't be writing their answers in the margins!

Do eBook Workbooks Work?

I've offered eBook editions of both of my writing prompts workbook and journal titles using Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). I've been surprised that I've actually sold a number of them in this format! Maybe these readers just want to save money on book purchases and this was a money-saving choice.

Of course, a workbook or journal on the Kindle app does not allow readers to enter their answers in the eBook. I'm guessing that these folks are using some e-device, or possibly a separate notebook, to get their answers written down.

When formatting a workbook or guided journal for Kindle or other eBook platforms, make sure to remove the lines from the manuscript prior to uploading! These lines look horrible in eBook readers. Just include the questions. Also make sure to remove any print edition specific instructions such as "write your answer in the lines below."

What about offering a download PDF instead of a Kindle eBook? Not recommended! While it would be convenient for readers, a PDF download can be shared everywhere on the Internet, robbing you of sales and profits. Understand the risk before you ever consider offering a downloadable edition.

Pricing a Self Published Workbook

Pricing a self published workbook or journal is really no different than pricing any other book.

However, one of the aspects of workbooks and journals that can trip up authors is that they have little text in them. So when seeing a low word count, authors can fall into the trap that more words equals more value and may be tempted to reduce the price of the book, or might even consider stuffing more words into it to make it seem "bigger."

Remember that to develop thought-provoking questions is an art. Price according to how much value answering these questions provides, as well as how this book compares to similar books in the market.

Some coaches and consultants offer workbooks or guided journals as a part of their service package, or use them as part of their lead generation sales funnel. These can often command higher prices than publications produced for purchase by the general public. Again, assess the value provided, compare with similar offerings in the market, and price accordingly.

Remember that to develop thought provoking questions is an art.

— Heidi Thorne

Disclaimer: Both the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparation of this information. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and both parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice and strategies presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional advisor where and when appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential or punitive, arising from or relating to your reliance on this information.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne


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  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 5 months ago from Chicago Area

    AliciaC, with all the more academic material you create, I can see how this type of project could fit in with what you do. Thanks for the kind words and you have a great weekend, too!

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 5 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

    This is another interesting article, Heidi. You've given me some ideas that I could use. Thanks for sharing them. I hope you have a great weekend.

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 5 months ago from Chicago Area

    Blond, you bring up some great questions!

    Kindle eBooks have limited sharing capability in terms of number of books, time available, and with whom it can be shared. As well, readers need to use the Kindle App and/or device, subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, and/or fulfill other requirements. Authors get a bit of royalty for pages read in these shares through the Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Online Lending Library programs. It's not a lot, but it's better than having your work shared without limitation.

    Conversely, PDF documents can be downloaded and stored on anybody's computer, uploaded to social media, shared via email... the range is frightening. When authors sell or offer their PDFs direct-to-customers online, they open themselves up to this potential unlimited sharing without compensation. There are some services that watermark PDFs for tracking and have other ways to help control this. But I'm not sure how successful those strategies are.

    I hope that helps. Truly appreciate you bringing that up since others may question it, too. Thanks for your support, as always, and have a great weekend!

  • Blond Logic profile image

    Mary Wickison 5 months ago from Brazil

    As always you've shown advantages and potential pitfalls for people to avoid.

    I understand your concerns about not recommending a PDF but couldn't an e-book be as deleterious?

    Since this isn't being written in as a hard copy would be, is it not possible to share an e-book?

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 5 months ago from Chicago Area

    Happy Friday, Billybuc! Your coloring book is kind of workbook of sorts. So I think you can relate. Thanks for the kind words (and new moniker)! Happy Weekend!

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 5 months ago from Olympia, WA

    Not for me but great information, Heidi! You are my guru...the guru's guru! LOL I like that!

    Have a great weekend!

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 5 months ago from Chicago Area

    Flourish, with your expertise, I'm sure you'd create a wonderful workbook. Let us know if you do. Appreciate you stopping by! Have a great evening!

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 5 months ago from USA

    I could see myself writing one of these given my background in small group behavior and HR investigations. Thank you for the advice.