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Anyone who has been involved in publishing during the last decade is aware that self-publishing has entirely changed the landscape of the industry. But for writers who are learning how to publish a book for the first time, the self-publishing process can be more than a little overwhelming. In this guide, we're going to break down the benefits of self-publishing and the simple steps you can take to achieve your publishing goals.
Reasons to Self-Publish
Before we jump into the hows of self-publishing, let's talk about the whys. Self-publishing is not a backup plan in case your attempt at publishing traditionally is not successful.
Click here to review the different types of publishing and the pros and cons of each.
Self-publishing requires significant time and financial investments. Yes, you can throw up a book on Amazon, cross your fingers, and hope for the best. But if the manuscript isn't ready and you haven't gone through the process of creating a quality book, it's not going to sell. And let's be honest, would you really want it to? As a writer myself, I can't imagine publishing a subpar book simply to be published. Your readers deserve better than that, and so do you.
Here are the main reasons authors choose the self-publishing route:
Some authors opt for a hybrid publishing approach, meaning they publish work through self-publishing and traditionally. For example, I am seeking traditional publication for my fiction work. (Click here to read about how I signed with a literary agent.) However, I self-published my nonfiction craft books, Edit Like a Pro and Craft Your Query.
The takeaway here is that there are tons of options for modern authors, but it's important to consider why you're choosing a certain route. Understand that there are pros and cons of every decision, and only pursue self-publishing if it's truly right for your book and your career—not simply because it seems like the only option.
How Much Does it Cost to Self-Publish a Book?
Technically, self-publishing through Amazon or IngramSpark is free. The costs come into play while you are preparing your book for publication (and potentially afterward, during marketing efforts). Here are the three main things you'll need to budget for:
Having these three things done professionally is crucial to the success of your book. We'll discuss each more in-depth below.
Click here to learn how Blue Pen Publishing Services can coordinate your entire self-publishing process.
Note that the overall cost of self-publishing varies widely. Some factors that can impact the cost include the length and complexity of your book. How many rounds of editing does it need? Does the interior include images and tables? Do you plan to purchase a custom cover, or will you opt for a pre-made cover?
I encourage anyone who is planning to self-publish a book to begin their research well in advance. Having a grasp on industry-standard rates is crucial to choosing reputable professionals. Very low rates indicates someone who is not reliable, and of course, very high rates can be a red flag as well.
How to Self-Publish a Book
When you self-publish a book, you become the author and the publisher. That means you're responsible for everything from writing to editing to cover design to marketing. Obviously, one person is not likely to be an expert in all these areas, which is why it's important to build a team of professionals. Below, we'll talk about the steps you should take to self-publish a book, along with the tasks you're likely to contract out.
Step 1: Define Your Goals
Everyone has different goals for self-publishing. Some authors want to use their self-published book to launch their writing career. Others have a memoir or story they want to share with friends and family. Understanding your personal goals will help you decide how much to invest in your book.
Step 2: Set Your Budget
To decide how much to spend on your book, you'll want to consider your goals. If this book is meant to launch your career or if you hope to make a strong profit off your published book, you'll want to invest the necessary amount to create a professional-quality book. Of course, this amount varies widely based on specific elements of your book. However, understanding industry standards can help you come up with a rough estimate.
If you want to publish a professional-quality book but can't afford to invest the necessary funds, I highly recommend putting your book on hold and saving until you can. In the long run, you'll be glad you did.
Step 3: Professional Editing
If you publish traditionally, the publisher's in-house editors work with your manuscript before it ever sees the light of day. More than likely, your agent also had a hand in editing the story before it was even sent to publishers. When you self-publish, all this work falls to you.
Generally, self-publishing authors should hire a professional for at least a developmental edit, line edit, and proofread.
"But I can edit the book myself. Why do I need a professional?"
Yes, you can and should self-edit your book. In fact, you should self-edit thoroughly before you send the manuscript to a professional. However, a professional editor can offer a level of insight and knowledge that most authors simply don't have.
There are a lot of factors to consider when hiring a professional editor. Rather than list them all here, I will direct you to my previous post, How to Vet an Editor.
Step 4: Interior Design
Also known as interior layout and interior formatting, this is the creation of the inside pages of your book. Again, many authors believe they can do this themselves. They can, but the difference between a book designed by an amateur and one created by a professional is clearly evident.
Professional book designers use a program called InDesign, and the process involves going through the book line by line to make sure everything is in its place. A professional book designer will also select fonts that complement your story and may include images and illustrations.
One of the most important reasons to hire a professional book designer, though, has to do with e-books. We all know that publishing a digital version of your book is crucial these days. So many readers exclusively use e-readers. But if you've ever tried to create an e-book yourself, you know it's a complicated process. A professionally designed e-book is responsive and looks good on all devices. Producing an e-book is a lot like writing computer code, and it's not something the average author has the skills to accomplish.
Step 5: Cover Design
Although we've all heard the advice "Don't judge a book by its cover," we all know that readers do just that. An eye-catching, professional cover is crucial to the success of your book.
Cover design is listed after interior design because to create the print cover, your designer will need the dimensions of your book and the number of pages (to calculate spine width).
You have a lot of options when it comes to cover design, but I would encourage you to hire a professional. Although creating covers for your WIP is fun (especially when you're procrastinating on writing), those covers are not something your readers want or need to see. Ideally, look for a designer who works with books in your genre and age category. Every designer has a different style, so you should understand what readers in your book's genre expect from a cover. Remember, the reader should be able to gauge the genre and something about the story just from the cover.
Since you'll likely be publishing in print and digital formats, you'll need a print-ready cover (which the designer will deliver as a PDF with the front, back, and spine) and an e-book cover (which will likely be a JPG file).
To save money and expedite your timeline, you can opt for a pre-made cover rather than a custom cover. With these covers, the designer will add the book title and author name to a cover that is already designed and ready to roll.
Step 6: Publish Your Book
Once all of this is done, you're finally ready to publish your book. Upload all of your materials to Amazon or IngramSpark. Most authors choose to publish on Amazon, since it is a bit simpler and requires no setup fee, so we're going to focus on how to self-publish on Amazon.
If you've been around for a while, you will recognize the name CreateSpace. Originally, authors would publish the print version of their book through Amazon's CreateSpace and the e-book through Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). However, as of 2018, CreateSpace and KDP are one service. That means you now publish both the print and digital versions of your book through KDP.
Once you've done all this work, the actual publication process is pretty simple. Enter your book details (title, author, genre, etc.). Note that KDP restricts changes to some of this info later on, so be sure you get it right. Be sure to add a strong description. Most authors choose to use their back cover blurb. Then upload your book's interior and cover. Choose your book's dimensions, ensuring they align with your interior file, and select what type of paper and cover you'd like. Go through the process of reviewing your materials and check any issues Amazon detects.
You'll also need to set your royalty options. Here is information from KDP about e-book royalty options and print royalty options.
Once all that's done, you'll need to order a proof copy of your book. Note that Amazon considers proof copies low priority, so it may take a while to reach you. You'll get a copy of your book with a watermark across the cover, and you can make sure everything is correct. I do not recommend skipping this step, since this is your last chance to ensure the quality of your book.
While you're waiting, you can create your e-book. You'll need to upload the interior for your digital book, along with your e-book cover. Note that Amazon allows pre-orders of e-books but not the print version.
After receiving and reviewing your proof copy, you are ready to press publish! Note that once you hit publish, it can take up to 72 hours for Amazon to review and approve your book. Unfortunately, that means that you have no control over the actual launch date of your book, so be sure to plan accordingly.
Step 7: Market Your Book
The work of a self-published author is never done. After the book is published, it's time to promote and market. Ideally, you've been building your local and social media platforms in advance. If you haven't, it's never too late.
Start by ordering author copies. In your KDP account, click "order author copies" and select the number of copies. The books will automatically be added to your Amazon cart. As the author, you pay only the printing cost and shipping costs. It's important to have copies on hand for local events and to ship to customers who purchase the book directly through your website.
Speaking of websites, you should have one. You can design a simple site yourself through Wordpress, Weebly, Wix, or SquareSpace. Or you can hire someone to design your website for you. It's important to have an online presence where people can learn about you and your work. Having a website drastically improves your reputation as a professional. Also, be sure to create and update your Amazon author page through Author Central.
When it comes to directly marketing your book, you can hire a service to help you. Be sure to vet these services thoroughly and understand exactly what you're getting for your money. You can also network and promote your book through social media, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Build your personal social media accounts and network with readers.
Remember to network locally, as well. Attend book fairs. Join writing groups. Talk to your local libraries and bookstores about purchasing your book and hosting book signings. Although selling and networking in person can be intimidating, it's extremely valuable for building a reputation within your community and can help you gain devoted new readers.
Self-Publish with Confidence
So many authors take the if-you-build-it-they-will-come approach to self-publishing. With the huge number of books on the market, that is simply not the case. You have to make your book stand out, and the best way to do that is through good old-fashioned hard work.
Dedicate the time and energy to your project. Invest the necessary finances to hire professionals who know what they're doing. And then the readers will come.
Consider the position this puts you in as an author. Rather than publishing low-quality work and participating in the race to the bottom on pricing (99¢ books! Free books!), put out a high-quality book and then charge what it's worth. Develop your career and your readership by approaching self-publishing with the same mindset that traditional publishers use.
When you're ready to start the self-publishing process and turn your manuscript into a professional-quality book, contact me to learn how Blue Pen Editing and Publishing Services can help.
Author & Editor