Last updated on May 30, 2023
How to Self-Publish a Book (and Get Readers to Buy it)
Are you looking to self-publish and join the thousands of authors every year who enjoy complete creative control and a greater portion of royalties? If so, we're here to show you how to do just that while giving yourself the best shot at achieving your goals. We’ll touch on all the essential parts of the process while also providing you with the resources to learn more.
How to self-publish a book in 7 steps:
- 1. Write a book that people already want to read
- 2. Edit with the help of beta readers and professionals
- 3. Get a cover design that fits in with genre trends
- 4. Format your manuscript for ebook and print
- 5. Pick a simple self-publishing platform like KDP
- 6. Choose a price that will maximize sales
- 7. Hit ‘publish’ and keep marketing
1. Write a book that people already want to read
Whether you're publishing a book with a traditional press or as an indie author, your success hinges on whether readers will love your book enough to recommend it to others.
While there's no surefire method for writing beloved bestsellers, certain approaches can help you purposefully and intentionally write a book that can succeed in the market.
Target an existing market
Book trends are often very noticeable when you walk into a bookstore. Some examples include dark academia (think The Secret History), retellings of Greek mythology and cozy mysteries featuring food and old ladies. You might even remember the YA vampire craze that followed Twilight’s release.
Traditional publishers are often slow to hop on a trend wave. The usual turnaround at a traditional press is around two years (assuming a first draft already exists) — so current trends are something quick-writing indie authors can make more reliable bets on.
Trends are by nature short-lived, so they aren’t the only indicator of commercial potential. A longer-term approach that is still informed by the market is to brainstorm plot ideas around your personal interests, then ask yourself how they fit inside an established book genre and appeal to a specific target audience.
Alternatively, if you don’t have a specific idea in mind, dive into some market research first — explore what’s on the bestseller list, and try to understand why. Much of the time, it’s not just the story that appeals to people. It’s also the way it’s framed and a strong beginning that hooks readers in.
Which genre (or subgenre) am I writing?
Find out which genre your book belongs to. It only takes a minute!
Hook potential readers into your book
With your completed manuscript in hand, you now need a way to describe it compellingly to potential readers. This starts with a strong ‘hook’. Sometimes known as an elevator pitch, this boiled-down, one-line version of your book’s premise should condense your premise in an interesting and exciting way.
This generally means highlighting what makes your plot stand out. Here are some examples of hooks from successful novels:
Book Lovers by Emily Henry: The woman men consistently dump before they find The One takes a summer holiday where she keeps bumping into her nemesis from work. She’s a literary agent, so she knows exactly what the books say would happen — but will it?
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz: A mystery novelist is murdered and his editor has to rely on his unfinished manuscript to puzzle out what happened to him.
11/22/63 by Stephen King: A man time-travels from 2011 back to 1963 to prevent the assassination of JFK, except the timeline can’t simply remain unchanged.
Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder: An exhausted, resentful new mom is turning into a wilder kind of creature — her canines are growing… then hair on the back of her neck… is she turning into a dog?
Erasure by Percival Everett: A disillusioned African American writer pens a satirical novel that depicts the “African American experience” as stereotypically as possible. Publishers unironically love it, so he must decide whether to keep it up and reap the benefits or reveal the truth.
How do they all work? The first two examples give genre fiction clever, meta-textual twists: literary agent and editor characters are aware of genre tropes, so they can appreciate stories that enter a dialogue with existing works in their genres. Our hook for 11/22/63 demonstrates the high stakes will power the story: literally, if the protagonist fails, the world as we know it will collapse. And finally, the hooks for Nightbitch and Erasure pitch stories that go in unexpected directions, making the reader wonder what comes next.
Now that you’re prepared to talk about your manuscript, it’s time to move on to sharing it with others who can help you improve it.
2. Edit with the help of beta readers and professionals
Editing is a pretty broad term. It can range from an author’s rewrites of their first draft to the final proofread before the book launch. This section offers our recommended approach to editing your book for self publishing.
Self-edit as much as you can
An editor’s time is money: your money. Before you hand your work off to a professional, do everything you can for it — or you’ll waste money paying an editor to clean up basic mistakes.
Get our Book Editing Checklist
Resolve every error, from plot holes to misplaced punctuation.
For novelists, that means working through a few drafts to iron out the story and characters; for non-fiction, it means sharing the manuscript with a focus group and re-writing it based on feedback.
Here are a few resources to help you revise and self-edit your manuscript:
- How Long Should Your Novel Be? – A post that explains the importance of understanding the average book lengths in your genre.
- What to Expect From Beta Readers And Where to Find Them – An introduction to getting fresh (and free) eyes on your manuscript.
- What are Sensitivity Readers? (And Should Authors Use Them?) – An article that peels back the curtain as to what sensitivity readers actually do.
- Novel Revision: Practical Tips for Rewrites (Free Course) – This is a 10-part course that includes great lessons on working with critique partners and beta readers.
- How to Self-Edit Your Manuscript Like a Pro (Free Course) – Learn how to spot the ten most common writing mistakes.
Let a professional help you over the finishing line
Once you’ve taken your manuscript as far as you can by yourself, it’s time to bring in some experts. These days, finding your ideal editor is more straightforward than ever. On the Reedsy Marketplace, you can search for (and request quotes from) professionals with experience in your genre.
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Before getting too far down the editing rabbit hole, it’s important to understand the different types of editors and what each of them does.
- 5 Types of Editing: Which One Do You Need Right Now? – This post explains crucial differences between developmental editors, copy editors, and proofreaders. It focuses on fiction, but the principles apply to non-fiction and memoirs.
- What Is an Editorial Assessment? – A quick look at how authors can get help with their book’s ‘big picture’ without paying for a full developmental edit.
If you'd like to confirm which type of editing your book needs at its current stage, we recommend taking this quick quiz:
What kind of editing does your book need?
Takes one minute!
Okay, your manuscript has been edited, polished, and proofed. Now it’s time to make sure your book looks as good as it reads.
Note: You’ll notice we talk about planning how you’ll market your book later on — but the truth is that you should be working on identifying your target audience (and how to reach them) from early on in the process.
3. Get a cover design that fits in with genre trends
Self-published authors rely heavily on book covers for sales, whether used in ads or attract readers as a thumbnail on retailers like the Kindle store. But don’t forget about interior design: how words and images are formatted on the page.
Here are a couple of great resources to help you wrap your head around making a beautiful, readable book:
- Book Cover Design: A Definitive Author's Guide – Includes a description of different book design methods and the best way to hire professional cover creators.
- How to Format a Book with the Reedsy Book Editor – A quick introduction to a tool that lets authors format professional-grade book files for free.
- Why Hire a Book Cover Designer? – Learn about the importance of cover design.
- What is Typesetting? – A comprehensive look at interior book design.
- The Back of a Book Cover: How to Build One That Actually Works – Includes a template to make sure the back of your jacket meets the basic requirements.
Which writing app is right for you?
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Once you’ve completed designing and formatting, you will have everything you need to start selling your book. That takes us to our next stage.
4. Format your manuscript for ebook and print
In days past, self-publishing a book involved getting a print run and paying up-front for thousands of copies. You pretty much always ended up with copies that you couldn't sell. Thankfully, modern publishing has provided simple solutions to this problem.
Print on Demand
With POD (print on demand), authors can upload their book files to a printing service. This service churns out individual paperback or hardcover copies as, and when, they are purchased, either by customers or brick 'n mortar stores. The cost per unit is higher than with printing methods of traditional publishers, but the lack of risk still makes this the preferred option for self-publishing authors.
The two largest POD services in the world are Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and IngramSpark, which provide comparable products at similar costs. However, it's worth investigating the options to see which one makes more sense for you and your book.
- Print-On-Demand vs Offset Printing – A look at the pros and cons of POD.
- What is the Best Service for Print on Demand Books? – A comparison of four major POD services.
- What are the Standard Book Sizes in Publishing? – POD services will allow you to choose from several formats. Picking the right size can make or break your book.
Book sales on the Kindle store are a self-publishing author’s bread and butter. After all, KDP offers the highest percentage royalty, greatly appealing to authors hoping to publish profitably.
- The Complete Guide to Ebook Distribution – This pretty much contains everything you need to know about selling your digital book. It includes sections about going "exclusive" with Amazon, alternative retailers like Kobo and Barnes & Noble, and instructions on setting your book up on retailers.
- EPUB vs. MOBI: Is Amazon's MOBI Format Now Dead? – An up-to-date explanation of which ebook formats you need.
The audio format has skyrocketed in popularity in recent years, and self-published authors who have invested in audiobooks have reaped the benefits. Audiobooks are typically released after print or ebooks — it’s pretty unusual for a book to be launched in audiobook format. They make for an excellent way to boost your backlist, especially if you’re now launching a new book.
- Audiobooks: Your Guide to the Fastest-Growing Format – Discusses the rise of the audiobook and why authors should be paying attention.
- How to Make an Audiobook as an Indie Author – A practical post covering everything from hiring a narrator to selling your audiobook online.
5. Pick a simple self-publishing platform like KDP
When it comes to deciding where (or through which company) you’ll sell your book, the simplest and most popular option for self-publishing authors is Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), which lets you upload your book and list it for free. Readers can then buy the ebook or have a print version created for them at the click of a mouse. There is no need to understand how the sausage is made: Amazon has simplified the process.
Mastering Amazon’s KDP
Anybody can get their book onto the Amazon online bookstore (and therefore the ubiquitous Amazon Kindle) for free. Yet few people know how to do it properly.
For instance, when uploading your title, there are certain things you can do to increase visibility with your readers. Then there's the matter of getting the people who find your book to buy it. To succeed here, you need to turn yourself into a bit of an Amazon expert. Fortunately, we have everything you need to do so!
- The Ultimate Guide to Amazon Self-Publishing – Everything you ever wanted to know about how to self-publish a book on Amazon, plus tips for selling your book.
- All You Need to Know About Amazon Algorithms (Free Course) – Learn to pick the right keywords and metadata and get Amazon to do most of your marketing.
- Pricing Books for an International Audience (Free Course) – An intermediate course that will show you the simplest way to ensure your publication is priced correctly in all countries.
- How to Write an Amazon Book Description That Sells – A look at writing blurbs that specifically work for online retailers.
PRO TIP: Want to know if Amazon exclusivity is right for you and your self-published book? Take our 1-minute quiz below to find out.
Wondering whether you should give all your ebook distribution rights to Amazon?
Answer these 5 questions to find out!
Other self-publishing companies
If Amazon isn’t suitable for you, there’s a world of self-publishing beyond it, whether they help distribute ebooks or sell paperbacks to readers. These include retailers Apple Books, Kobo, and Google Play, or aggregators like Draft2Digital
Head to our post on ebook distribution to compare all your options when sending your book to online retailers.
6. Choose a price that will maximize sales
Basic economics tells us that in most markets, price will impact how well your product will sell — and the book market is no exception. If you price your book too high, you will profit more on every copy sold, but you may sell far fewer copies. Similarly, an underpriced book may shift more units but leave you with less money at the end of each month. So how should you price your book?
Research your market
The first prerequisite to setting your book’s price is to know your market inside out. What is considered a “normal” price for a book like yours? You can find that out by perusing the bestseller lists in your genre — e.g., the Amazon best sellers in your main categories — and looking at their prices.
When doing your research, be mindful that, for years, traditional publishers have been voluntarily overpricing ebooks in an effort to protect their print sales, according to Ricardo Fayet, author of the self-publishing guide How to Market Your Book.
"You can’t really trust the prices of famous, traditionally published ebooks in your genre. Instead, look for high-selling titles from independent authors in your genre, and use those as a benchmark."
Lower your price to build your fanbase
As part of your grander strategy, Ricardo also mentions that price can be a great tool to entice readers to take a chance on your book. "While you can certainly mimic the prices of the most famous indie authors in your category, it can also be a good idea to price your books a tad lower as a start, just to start building that fanbase."
Once you have an established readership, they’ll have no problem paying more to get your future releases. And once you have multiple books in your back catalog, your pricing tactics can get more sophisticated.
For a series, adopt a staircase pricing strategy
The most successful self-published authors are usually the ones who write a series of books. One of the reasons for this is that it only requires the author to heavily market the first book in the series. If the reader likes that first book, they will be inclined to buy the next book (and perhaps even pay more for it).
With a series, Ricardo suggests starting with a free or heavily discounted book and then progressively raising the prices as readers get deeper into the series:
"For example, you could offer book one for $0.99, book two for $2.99, book three for $3.99, and the rest of the books in the series for $5.99. Once a reader is heavily invested in your series — and absolutely needs to know what happens next — pricing is not as big a factor in their purchasing decision."
To learn more about using price promotions to boost your sales and readership numbers, take our free course on the topic.
How to Run a Price Promotion
Learn to reach new readers and boost your sales with limited-time price promotions.
7. Hit ‘publish’ and keep marketing
Now you’ve got the finished product, chosen a retailer, and selected a price. All that's left is to pull the trigger and... congratulations, you’ve published your book!
Launch your book
A lot hinges on a book’s first few weeks on the market. To give yourself the best chance at thriving on Amazon and other platforms, your title must accumulate a healthy dose of book sales and reviews soon after its release. With that in mind, a lot of work needs to go into preparing your book launch. Here’s what you need to learn:
- The World's Most Essential Self Publishing Checklist – A downloadable checklist that allows authors to cover all their bases before launch day.
- Creating an Effective and Timely Book Publicity Plan – An example timeline will help you plan PR activities like reviews, interviews, live readings, and podcast appearances.
- How to Build a Rocking Author Media Kit – A template that will make it easier to get your name out.
- How to Get Book Reviews in 5 Steps – Follow these 5 steps to get reviewed by book bloggers.
So far, we’ve covered writing your book, editing and designing it, planning your launch, and growing your marketing efforts. You now have enough knowledge to actually go and self publish your book.
Never stop marketing
Apart from writing a great book, the steps above can be realized through an afternoon of research and planning. But when it comes to marketing in self-publishing, things get a little more involved.
The good news is that there are tried-and-tested methods for promoting your title, including automated mailing lists, price promotions, and online advertising. Here are some articles on marketing and ads for self-published authors.
- 70+ Book Marketing Ideas Every Author Needs to Know – A fantastic primer covering all the major aspects of indie book marketing.
- How to Promote Your Book: 8 Budget-Friendly Steps to Boost Sales – A look at 'deep cut' promotional tricks
- How to Publish a Memoir – Tips for traditionally or independently publishing a book based on your own life.
- Facebook Ads for Authors (Free Course) – Facebook, because of its data, is the perfect place for authors to reach their target audience, as narrow as that one might be. Find out why!
- Amazon Ads for Authors – A look at Amazon’s book advertising platform, with a helpful guide to setting up your first campaign.
- Social Media for Writers – Learn all about the major social media platforms for writers and how to make the most of your social channels.
How to Self-Publish a Book
Learn to set yourself up for success as an indie author.
You’ve reached the end of the publishing process — now begins longer-term marketing. As any author would tell you, a book is something you never stop promoting. It’ll sit nicely in your social media bio and continue to be discovered by a stream of future readers.
The journey to publishing a book can be treacherous. However, preparing yourself adequately and surrounding yourself with the right people can also be one of the most satisfying experiences.
In the next part of this guide, we'll show you self-publishing's benefits (and potential drawbacks). So be sure to read on!