Speaking of terminology for many, self-published seems to mean print while independent (or indie) means e-books. In reality, they're both pretty much the same. Both require you to publish your novel yourself.
No doubt you've heard terms like .pdf and epub, etc... They can be pretty daunting, but the truth is all you really need to start is Microsoft Word.
The first piece of advice I'll give you is this - Write the story.
Without a story, nothing else matters. Don't worry about editing, proper English or punctuation. That can all be fixed later.
Now, there are generally two kinds of writers, plotters and pantsers. Plotters need outlines. Pantsers just write. There are a myriad different variations in between. You'll learn what works best for you. Tune out everyone who tried to tell you the 'right' way of doing it. There is only one 'right' way - yours.
Just.. write the story. All of it. Drink it down to its dregs with your last cup of cold coffee.
Unless you're driven to do the second draft right away, step away. Let it simmer. While it simmers, get a copy of Strunk and White's book The Elements of Style. When you're ready, use it as a rest for your coffee cup while you write the second draft (or the second book in the series and then the second draft.)
Now for a reality check. Editors are not for fixing all the mistakes you make in writing. Editors are for making your book the best it can be AFTER you've polished it to a shine. That's what The Elements of Style is for. If you thought you knew the English language well, this, and Word's spelling and grammar check, will dispel that notion.
At this point, you can then consider uploading your book.
But I wouldn't. Most people are crappy self-editors. And, you'll need a cover.
It's time for the nuts and bolts.
- First and foremost, you do need an editor. No matter how good or bad the cover, if the content is a mess of misspelled words in shifting tenses with multiple points of view (the characters' standpoints) in the same sentence you won't get a sale.
Unless you know someone, a good editor will charge either per word or per page, (some as low as $1.00 per page) double-spaced, or more. It's not cheap - that can amount to $200 and up. Shop around to find one, some may even offer a first chapter edit to see if your styles match. If you can't afford one, try the English class at your local community college or even Honors English at high school. Payment of some kind and extra credit in exchanged for the work. A professional editor should still lie somewhere in your future.
- You can create a cover of your own for e-books. It's relatively simple. Find a great image using stock photo sites like Dreamstime, 123rf or iStockphoto, etc. Using the covers of your favorite authors as templates, you can add the author name and title.
As I said, you can, but I wouldn't. It might be good enough temporarily, but not for the long term. For print? I'd hire a cover artist. There's a lot to consider with a print cover - both front and back matter as well as the spine.
Cover artists range from $100 up and there are a number of them available on the Internet.
- There are currently three large distributors of e-books. (There may soon be a fourth.) Those distributors are Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing, Barnes and Noble's PubIt, and Smashwords. All three programs are easy to use. For PubIt, all you need is that Word file and some patience. Follow their instructions, and make changes to your document to make it look pretty on the page.
For Smashwords, download their free Smashwords Style Guide from their site and follow the instructions. No shortcuts. The Meatgrinder (their name) will chew you up and spit you out.
Better yet, just hire someone to format for you. They range in price from $25-$30 and up and they're worth every penny. They should return your manuscript to you in a format Smashwords and Amazon's Kindle Direct will take. Just upload.
- That's it. Bare minimum, $330 dollars to self-publish something that resembles a real novel.
What do you do while you're waiting for your edits to come back? Start writing the next novel. (Very few writers were successful with just one book.)
Do you need an ISBN - the international standard book number? Eventually, yes. At the moment, no. Smashwords will give you a free one. Amazon uses ASIN, and B&N doesn't require them.
Once again, what about print? The best option is CreateSpace, but I'd worry about that later. Build a reputation in e-books (the fastest growing segment of the market) and use it to build a demand for print. Then, when you create a print version, you'll have a built in fan base to help promote it.