How to Self-Publish a Book in 2023: A Guide for Savvy Authors
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 people 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.
Planning for success
While we’re trying to go through the whole self-publishing process, there simply isn’t enough space to give much practical advice on specific aspects of writing right here. So instead, we’re listing some of the resources on our blog that can help you in just about any writing predicament ahead.
- How to Write a Nonfiction Book in 6 Steps – Writing a nonfiction book is an excellent way to share your story, impart your wisdom, or even build your business.
- How to Write a Book Proposal That Seals the Book Deal (+ Free Template) – Find out how to write a book proposal that can win you that six-figure deal.
- How to Write a Memoir: Tell Your Amazing Story in 9 Steps – Learn to excavate through the sands of your memory to tell a personal and moving story.
- How to Outline a Memoir – This 3-step guide will help you organize your ideas in a logical and coherent arc.
- The 30 Best Memoirs of the Last Century – This list is a godsend for anyone still researching the genre.
- What is a Narrative Arc? – A breakdown of your protagonist's journey, as influenced by the three-act structure.
- Dynamic Characters Vs. Static Characters – Understand these critical types of characters and how they best work together in fiction.
- Point of View: The Ultimate Guide – Find out how to choose the most suitable perspective for your story.
- Reedsy’s Guide to Worldbuilding (+ Template!) – Learn the best way to create a convincing and believable universe.
- How to Write a Novel (Free Course) – A comprehensive walkthrough by indie novelist Ben Galley.
- Self-Publishing a Children's Book – Our detailed guide to creating and publishing a book for young readers.
Getting over the finishing line
Enough with the skill-building — let’s talk practical, sitting-yourself-down-to-actually-write stuff. That’s where building a habit of writing comes in. Luckily, we’ve got some handy resources to help you out.
- How to Create a Regular Writing Habit – Author and book coach Kevin Johns reveals his process for creating a writing schedule that will work around your life.
- Stop Procrastinating! Build a Solid Writing Routine (Free Course) – Using cutting-edge behavioral science, this course aims to help writers kill their procrastination gremlins.
- How Long Does It Take to Write a Book? – All about how long you can expect this process to take, and how to cut down your writing time as much as possible.
Tell us about your book, and we'll give you a writing playlist
2. Edit with feedback from beta readers and editors
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, make sure you do everything you can for it — or you’ll end up wasting money paying an editor to clean up basic mistakes.
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.
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 also apply to non-fiction and memoir.
- 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?
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. Hire a book cover designer
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?
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 the manuscript for ebook or 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, which greatly appeals 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 self-publishing platform
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, 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?
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. Self-publish the book!
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 Market a Memoir – Expert marketers provide top tips for selling 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.
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.
7. Keep marketing your work after publication
Now you’ve got the finished product and all the necessary hype from reviewers, you’ve mustered all your courage and pulled the trigger: congratulations, you’ve published your book!
Now that your book is out in the world, finding its devoted readers, what’s next for you? Here are just a few resources to help you keep your momentum as an author:
- How to Write a Series: 5 Fundamental Tips for Expanding Your Story – Give your readers what they want, and revisit the universe of a book by expanding it into a series.
- How to Start Your Own Publishing Company – If you’re publishing several books, consider starting your own publishing company for that ultimate level-up.
- How to Become a Better Writer – 20 tips and hacks to take your skills to the next level when you tackle your next project.
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 bio on social media or in print 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!