Before you make any rash decisions about how to publish a book, it’s first advisable to take a moment, learn about how this whole process works, and then decide how to proceed with all the facts at your disposal.
You have two main options: traditional publishing and self-publishing.
I’ve published books both ways. Penguin traditionally published my Jacob Wonderbar trilogy, and I opted to self-publish my guide to writing a novel: How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever.
Here’s how the two approaches work.
Option #1: Try to find a traditional publisher
Nearly all of the books you see on bookstore shelves were published by a traditional publisher. This post is going to focus on Option #2, but here are the key posts you need to peruse in order to learn about the traditional publishing process:
- How the traditional publishing process works
- What literary agents do
- How to find a literary agent
- How to write a query letter
Option #2: Self-publish your book (also called “Indie” or “Independent” publishing)
One of the great things about the modern era we live in is that anyone can now publish a book. If you choose to self-publish, you can make your book available to anyone in the world with an Internet connection. That’s pretty cool!
How should you decide between pursuing traditional publishing and self-publishing? I’m glad you asked:
If you decide you want to go indie, here’s how to go about it:
How to self-publish a book
The best way to think about self-publishing is to break it down into the eight essential tasks that go into making a book. You can do these yourself, you can farm them out to people who will happily take your money to do them for you, or you can do a mix, but you must do these eight things in order to have a quality book available for sale.
The important thing to remember is that you do not have agents and other publishing employees who are guiding you through this process. You need to figure much of it out yourself, which requires a certain level of entrepreneurialism.
Here are the steps to having a great book for sale on Barnes & Amazontunes.
Write the darn thing
Yes, you need to write the whole thing.
My best writing advice is in my guide to writing an novel: How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever
Here are some resources on the blog that might also help:
There are two main stages of editing, and they’re separate and distinct: developmental editing and copyediting.
These edits can come from a paid editor, a critique partner, a friend, a spouse, someone who lives in a van down by the river… whoever they are, they should help you get your manuscript into better shape than you could achieve on your own. You should get help both from an overall structural and plot perspective all the way down to individual line edits.
- I can help with your edits
- How to decide whether to pay someone to edit your work
- How to know if you have a good editor
Once you have finished making all the improvements you and your editor(s) can possibly think to make, you then need a copyeditor who will spot typeoes, grammar problem and inconsistent uses of Oxford commas. These copyediting creatures are wondrous, mystical beings to those of us who wouldn’t be able to spot a typo if it punched us in the face.
Here is a service I recommend for copyediting:
Now you have yourself a finished and polished manuscript.
Figure out how and where you want to publish
There are two main formats to consider when self-publishing: paperback and e-books.
There are ways to produce hardcover books if you really want to, but the most popular print self-publishing companies, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (formerly CreateSpace) and IngramSpark, are oriented toward print on demand paperback books. The advantage of print on demand is that you don’t have to pay any up-front costs to print a book, they will print the copies when customers buy them.
With e-books, you can choose to make your book available exclusively to Amazon’s Kindle platform, which is by far the most popular format, or you can make it available directly with the smaller e-book publishers as well.
For my guide to writing a novel, I used CreateSpace/Amazon for print, I published e-books directly with Kindle, Nook, and Kobo, and used Smashwords to publish to other platforms, including Apple’s iBooks.
Decide where you want to publish your books early, because it will impact which materials you will need before you publish.
Write your cover copy and marketing materials
Wait. Write marketing materials already?
Authors are notorious for bristling at being forced to distill the beauty of their long, beautifully complicated works into short descriptions.
You have to do it. And do it now, because you’ll need marketing copy before you design your cover.
Here are some posts on crafting pitches of a few different lengths, which you’ll need for various stages in the self-publishing process:
Design your interior
This is the flip side of the wondrousness of creating your cover, which we’ll get to in a second.
I bet you didn’t think about this step, did you? When you open up a professionally designed book, did you notice how wonderfully aligned everything is? Did you notice how the fonts are pleasing and complementary when they’re different? Did you notice how the margins feel pleasing to the eye even though they account for the seam in the middle of the book? Did you? Huh? Did you???
Sorry. Got a little excited there.
That stuff doesn’t happen by accident. You’ll need to make sure everything on the inside done looks good and accounts for various quirks in different e-book formats.
Reach out to me if you need help finding an interior designer.
Design the cover
This is the fun part. You probably even sketched out fifty versions of your cover while you were procrastinating. I know I did, and my drawing ability is so bad it looks like I hold a pen with my feet. Didn’t care.
Unlike in traditional publishing, where your publisher will often simply show you your cover and ask you how much you like it on a scale of “love it” to “simply stunning,” one of the best things about self-publishing is that you have total control over your cover. Heck, you could even swap out covers on your books once a week if you wanted to.
Your work here may be as simple as just designing an image, if you’re going e-book only, or a fully fledged cover if you’re going for print. That’s why it’s helpful to know in advance which route you’re going to pursue. Check the different publishers for their requirements to be sure you have the right-sized covers.
Here’s a post on how to go about choosing your cover:
Figure out your price point and get everything uploaded
Once you have all the files you need from your interior designer and cover designer, all that’s left is getting everything uploaded and published.
This whole process was actually way easier than I thought it would be.
You’ll have some decisions to make around your ISBN, copyright, and price point. These posts should help:
- ISBN for Self-Publishers: Answers to 20 of your Questions (The Book Designer)
- How to determine your price point when self-publishing
- How to copyright a book (Reedsy)
Market the heck out of it
Unless you already have an established platform, the most challenging element of self-publishing is the last one: marketing your book.
The key thing to know about marketing is that there are millions of ways to go about it, so you’ll need to pick and choose your approach. Here are some key strategies:
- The key to book marketing: time well spent
- The Thing About Self-Promotion is That Self-Promotion Sucks (But You Have to Do It Anyway)
- The definitive guide to SEO for authors
All that’s left is to sit back and bask in the excitement of having your book available.
Have questions? See anything I missed? Tell me in the comments.
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.
Art: A naturalistic representation of a man pulling a print by Ephraim Moses Lilien
Full disclosure: I receive an affiliate commission via links to NY Book Editors and Query Mastery, but I believe in these services. The founder is a good friend of mine.