What are the steps to self-publish your book? The modern boom of independent publishing has put the power to publish in the hands of authors—if they choose to use it. But even once you’ve decided in favor of the indie route over the traditional path of soliciting agents and pitching to publishing-house gatekeepers, what are the actual steps to self-publish your book?
My main focus with this is site is the mechanics of writing well. I don’t talk too much about publishing and marketing because I feel there are so many resources out there that do it much better. Plus, from my vantage point it’s just more fun to explore story theory than Amazon analytics!
However, because I am often asked about the steps to self-publish a book, and because I am currently in the midst of pre-publication work for new my writing-craft book (for which there might be a cover reveal later in the post), it seems a good time to share my own personal, step-by-step process for self-publishing a book.
15 Steps to Self-Publishing Your Book—Whether It’s Fiction or Non-Fiction
First, I will note that this is my process, streamlined through many years and the publication of over a dozen books (both fiction and non-fiction). There are many different ways to do some of the steps (e.g., choosing how to format e-books), but this is the process that continues to work best for me at this point.
For the most part this is the same process I use whether publishing fiction or non-fiction. The writing and editing process for the fiction is more involved than it is for the non-fiction, with many more rounds of editing stretched out over a longer timeline and involving more critique partners, beta readers, and editors. However, once the book is in fighting shape, the publishing process from there is the same whether it’s fiction or non-fiction.
Step #1: Write the Book
Obviously, this step comes first (or maybe not so obviously, since quite a few people start out worrying about publication before they even finish—or sometimes even start—writing the first draft). Although you may have an eventual goal of publishing the book, I recommend putting those plans on the back burner during drafting. The process may be long or short, and you never quite know whether a book will truly be publishable until you’ve finished it.
For many reasons, but not least to make publishing e-books easier later on (see Step #3), I write my first drafts in the multi-functional word processor Scrivener. When writing, I won’t necessarily organize or name all my files and folders in the same I will when publishing, but by starting in Scrivener I save myself the hassle of having to transfer my chapters here eventually.
Step #2: Compile Front and Back Matter for E-Book
Once the book is finished—and by finished, I mean rewritten, edited, and polished into being truly worthy of publication—I compile the front and back matter for the e-book version.
- Title Page—book title, author name, publisher name.
- Mailing List Incentive—offer for a free book, which I include in the very front, so it’s accessible to anyone previewing the book. Even if they choose not to buy it right away, they may decide to grab the free e-book, which may, in turn, interest them in my other books.
- About the Story—This is the same as the back cover copy (see Step #8). I include it at the beginning of the book as a hook and also to remind readers what the book is about if they’ve had it on their e-reader for a while and perhaps forgotten why they bought it.
- Map—most of my fiction includes a map of some sort, which I include here at the beginning of the book.
- Mailing List Incentive—I repeat the ad for the free book here so that people who did buy and read the book will have another opportunity to join my mailing list.
- Note From the Author—a short note thanking readers and nudging them to leave a quick rating or review.
- About the Author—includes links to my website, mailing list, and contact page.
- Also By This Author—I include cover images, short blurbs, and links for two or three related books readers might like to check out next.
- Dedication—if the book has a dedication, I put it at the end, rather than the beginning, so potential readers browsing the preview online don’t have to skip through unnecessary front matter to get to the actual hook that might induce them to purchase the book.
- Acknowledgements—same for acknowledgements—I always put them at the back since they aren’t a selling point and become dead weight in an online preview of the book.
- Copyright—finally, I add a standard copyright page, which includes credit for the cover design and any other illustrations, as well as the e-book specific ISBN (see Step # 12).
Step #3: Format E-Book
There are many ways to format an e-book. I use Scrivener, which will export into both epub and mobi formats (among other things). It’s a little tricky to figure out (and honestly, I couldn’t tell you how to do it anymore), but once you get the presets set up in the compilation window, you can use them over and over. The trickiest bit is getting the Table of Contents to show up how you want it to.
Scrivener isn’t the best e-book converter out there. There are some clunky aspects to it, even apart from the trickiness of figuring things out in the beginning. But I keep using Scrivener primarily because of the ease it offers for editing. If I discover a typo after the book has been published or need to update a link, making changes is as easy as editing my Scrivener file, then re-compiling the e-book versions. Plus, it allows me to keep master files for the book all in one place.
Step #4: Edit Book
Once I have the e-book in its publishable format, I will generally run through it one more time for a final edit. At this point, as mentioned in Step #2, I’ve already edited the book a lot. All major revisions are finished. This final edit is just a last run-through to clean up any remaining prose problems or catch any last errors. I do this here because this is my last chance to change anything comparatively major before I start proofreading and formatting the paperback version (at which point major changes start causing major formatting headaches).
Step #5: Proofread E-Book
I compile the e-book just as I would if I were actually publishing it. I go over it closely, checking the formatting to make sure there are no errors. When I’m satisfied, I send it to my old Keyboard Kindle, which has the great read-aloud feature.
In my experience, using this feature to listen to the book while I also read along is an excellent way to find typos. Using this method, I’ve caught myriad typos that even professional proofreaders and copyeditors missed. It’s tedious and can take a long time depending on the length of the book, but it’s vital to a clean and professional end product.
Step #6: Solicit/Hire Proofreaders
Even with the mighty powers of the read-aloud proofreading trick, I still like to get multiple pairs of eyes on a book before sending it out into the Big Bad World. If I were to hire a professional proofreader for a project, this is when I would do it. Regardless, I like to get around five volunteers to read the book over one last time. I like five as my magic number because it gives me a variety of perspectives without the feedback becoming too overwhelming on what is usually a relatively tight timeline before publication.
Step #7: Format Paperback
Once I’m convinced the e-book version is as clean as it can be, I’m ready to format the paperback. This is always my last step because I want the copy to be as close to perfect as possible. Formatting an e-book doesn’t involve making sure every page looks perfect, because the page layout is determined by subjective e-reader settings. With a paperback, however, every page must be controlled to prevent problems, such as the end of one chapter bleeding onto the top of a new chapter’s title page. Any major changes within the paperback file may create a snowball effect that requires the entire document to be re-formatted from that point on.
I use the professional design software Adobe InDesign, which is powerful in its options for typesetting a book. I have occasionally hired out the typesetting, but I generally do it myself for a number of reasons:
- I know how to do it.
- I’m very picky about the formatting, so it’s often easier to do it myself than try to direct someone else.
- I want the ability to make changes to the files later on if I need to correct a typo or something that slipped through.
- It’s usually faster and cheaper for me to just do it myself.
Formatting a fiction book is comparatively easy, since the only real formatting required is for the chapter headers. Non-fiction is more time consuming, since it often involves many sections with headers, quotes, bulleted lists, and more.
Step #8: Compose Back Cover Copy
This is the blurb that will appear on the back cover and in the sales information on Amazon and other bookseller sites. It is designed to inform readers about the book’s content, hopefully in a way that entices them to read it.
Sometimes I will do this step earlier in the process (for example when creating the Front Matter in Step #2). But mostly because it’s one of my least-favorite tasks, I often delay until this last-minute juncture before commissioning cover art (see Step #9).
Non-fiction blurbs are usually pretty straightforward, since they are more directly sales copy, telling potential readers what the book is about, what problem it solves, and how it will benefit them. Fiction blurbs are more complicated, and I usually enlist quite a bit of feedback to see how readers react to them.
Three-hundred words or less is usually about right.
Step #9: Commission Cover Design
Since it can take weeks to finalize a cover design, I like to get the process started as early as possible. However, that usually isn’t until the paperback formatting is at least underway, since I will need to submit the final page count to determine the book’s spine width.
I continue to use the company Damonza for all my covers. They’re cost-competitive, straightforward to communicate with, and I have always been satisfied with their work. (If you’re interested, I am an affiliate with them, and they offer a 5% discount when you order through my site using the code HWBA5.)
And… just because I can’t resist, here’s a sneak peak at the cover of my upcoming writing book Writing Your Story’s Theme, which should be released within the next couple months!
Step #10: Proofread Paperback Proof
As soon as I receive the finalized cover, I will upload the book to KDP Print and order a paperback proof. When that arrives, I will use Adobe Reader to read aloud the pdf version of the paperback, while I read along on the actual paperback.
This is my final proofreading session. At this point, my initial proofreading should have caught most of the typos, but I want to closely monitor the paperback version’s formatting to make sure every line is correct (and that I didn’t accidentally add a slkdfjs09 in the middle of a word).
Step #11: Purchase ISBNs
Once I have the finalized e-book and paperback versions, I will purchase individual ISBNs for each and register them. This involves uploading cover images, so I wait to finalize the registration until this point in the process.
Step #12: Commission Smashwords E-Book Version
I use Smashwords to distribute e-books to sites to which I can’t personally upload them (see Step #13), but Smashwords’ “meatgrinder” for converting to multiple formats is notoriously difficult to work with. I don’t even try anymore. I hire someone on Fiverr to do the formatting for me. Kimolisa is the vendor I’ve used for the last couple books.
For this, I’ll to export a Word .doc file from Scrivener and strip it of references to any specific sales platform, such as Amazon.
Step #13: Upload to Sales Platforms
And now it’s time to get serious! I upload the paperback version to KDP Print and the e-book to KDP, Kobo, Nookpress, Smashwords, and Selz (the sales platform I use to sell directly off my site). I also create landing pages for the books on my websites, as well as updating a few other sections such as the “Check Out My Latest Novel!” in the left sidebar.
This process will require all the information I have already collected for my book (back cover copy, subtitle, ISBNs, etc.), as well as Keywords and Categories, which I often hire Penny Sansevieri’s Author Marketing Experts to research for me.
Step #14: Commission Audio Book
If I’m going to do an audio book, this is where I start working on scheduling the project with my narrator via ACX. I rarely (never, actually) release the audio book at the same time as the e-book and paperback versions. Mostly this is because I don’t want to wait another six months or so in order to be able to release the books all at the same time. But also, it gives me the opportunity to market the book twice, since delaying the audio-book release gives the book two launches.
Step #15: Plan Launch
Finally, it’s time to figure out how to launch the book. I’m always experimenting with this, so it’s always a little different from book to book. But usually I pick a day for the official launch (since the book has probably been up on the sales sites for maybe even a couple weeks already, so it can start picking up reviews), put together some kind of fun launch party/giveaway, and send it out!
How long does it take to work through all these steps to self-publish your book? It depends. I squeeze in this work around daily and weekly tasks (such as writing sessions and working on this blog), so it takes me longer than it would if I devoted whole days to it. Some of the steps, such as proofreading, are tedious and time-consuming. And of course, how long any given step takes will depend on the length of the book as well as whether or not it’s fiction (with it’s straightforward formatting requirements) or non-fiction.
Generally, I plan on eight to eleven months for the entire process. I usually start working on publishing a book in January or February, hope to see it published by September or October, and probably end up actually publishing it in December. We’ll see how it goes this time! I’m shooting for a mid-October release for Writing Your Story’s Theme, but that depends in large part on how quickly we finalize the back cover.
If you’re thinking about self-publishing a book, I hope this gives you insight and direction into how to break the process down into actionable steps!
Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What are your preferred steps to self-publish your book? Tell me in the comments!
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