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How to Self-Publish a Book: 7 Simple Steps to Success

Posted in: Understanding Publishing on February 6, 2019 10 Comments 💬

Learning how to publish a book and getting your ideas into the world is easier than it’s ever been. There is a wealth of knowledge available online, shared by authors who have developed proven techniques for selling more books. There are also a number of ways new authors can get access to professional services without breaking the bank.

In this post, Reedsy will share a common-sense, jargon-free approach to ascending the heights of the self-publishing world.


A History of Self-Publishing

By self-publishing, we generally mean printing and selling books outside the ‘traditional’ model — where companies pay authors advances and a royalty, working with them to edit, design, and distribute the book.

Since the advent of the Gutenberg press in the 15th century, many authors have bankrolled the publishing of their books. From the Brontë Sisters to Beatrix Potter, even now-classic writers started off as independent publishers. In the 20th century, authors could successfully self-publish to small markets they had access to (think church organizations or industry conferences). It wasn’t until the advent of ebooks and Amazon, however, that world-domination as an indie author became possible.

How to Self-Publish a Book: 7 Simple Steps to Success
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Today, anybody with an internet connection can write an ebook and make it available to hundreds of millions of readers — pretty much for free. The new challenge is to make these books bestsellers without the marketing might of a HarperCollins behind them — which many writers have managed to do.

The current stars of self-publishing include:

  • E.L. James, whose Fifty Shades trilogy was initially self-published as Twilight fan fiction.
  • Hugh Howey, the American sci-fi author whose novel Silo first become a bestseller when they were self-published as a series of novellas.
  • Guy Kawasaki, the Silicon Valley tech evangelist whose book APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur laid out many of the principles self publishing authors now use to find success.

But what defines success in publishing? If it’s the ability for authors to support themselves as full-time writers, you might be surprised to learn that it can often be easier to achieve without a publisher — for reasons you will discover in the next section.


Advantages of Self Publishing: Bypassing the Gatekeepers

There are many benefits that draw authors to self publishing. Without having to go through the traditional gatekeepers of the publishing world, you will find:

  • Creative freedom. You have full control over the content, the title, the length, and the cover art. You have the option to collaborate with editors and designers — but in the end, the only editorial approval you’ll need is your own!
  • A guarantee of publishing. If you need to release your book by a certain date, pretty much the only way to guarantee it is to do it yourself. After all, you’re not beholden to the schedules of a gargantuan press.
  • A greater portion of royalties. By essentially cutting out the middleman, the self-published author will retain all the proceeds (minus the retailer’s cut).
  • 100% ownership of rights. As part of their book deals, traditional publishers sometimes ask for exclusive rights to reprint, film adaptations, and merchandising. The independent publishing route at least ensures you remain in full control.

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Almost all independent authors choose one of two routes: DIY or Assisted.

DIY: This is where the author does everything by themselves, including the editing, designing, and marketing of their books. There are few (if any) people who can do all of this well, as many parts of the publishing process are usually overseen by professionals with years of experience in the field. Doing everything to a professional standard by one’s self is next to impossible.

Assisted: Self-publishers can choose to work with freelance editors, proofreaders, designers, and marketers on their book. Because they tend to work with limited budgets, prudent independent authors will learn and do as much as they can by themselves before bringing in the pros to take care of everything outside their expertise.

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How to Self-Publish a Book in 7 Steps

In this section, we'll give you the whistle-stop tour. We'll show you what we believe to be the simplest method for publishing a book independently, while also providing you with the resources to learn more if you want.

So here it is: how to publish a book (the indie way) in seven steps.

1. Write the Book

An author with an advance, an agent and a regular editor will have a support team in place that helps guide the first draft. But, by and large, the process of writing a manuscript is the same for any author: with a little planning, discipline, and know-how, a new author can work their way from the first chapter to the final page.

Plan your first draft

An author’s plan for a book will depend on the type of publication they’re writing.

Non-fiction

When you're writing a non-fiction book that's either a how-to book, or a title that aims to solve a readers problem, the planning might include:

  • Research and interviews to develop content, and
  • The creation of a ‘book proposal.’
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A ‘book proposal’ is common to traditional publishing: it’s a document that shows publishers what the end result of a book will be. More independent non-fiction authors have recently found it a useful to create one as well — to ensure that their book delivers on its promises. To get a sample template, check out this guide to writing a book proposal.

Memoir

While also based on true events, memoirs require a slightly different approach to non-fiction books. Unlike most other types of non-fiction, memoirs tend not to offer solutions to a reader’s problems. If you’re writing about your own life, check out this guide to outlining a memoir.

Fiction

In the preparation phase, most fiction writers will lay some groundwork and develop the world of their novel, sketch out their characters, and map the plot. To learn more about planning a novel, check out these articles:

Create a routine

Finding the time to write is an enormous challenge for authors — especially those who have to balance a full-time job and family obligations. To make sure you don’t lose momentum and interest in writing, you need to establish a sustainable writing habit that works with your schedule.

Whatever you need to get that routine started, make sure you do it. If it means not treating yourself to a muffin until you've written 3,000 words in a week — do it. If you need to schedule every single hour of the day to ensure you can steal enough time throughout the week to build momentum, then make it so.

Perfect your craft

Writing a book is like developing any other skill: it requires time, effort, and a willingness to learn. If your goal is to be a better writer, make sure you’re always learning from your mistakes and building on them.


2. Edit the Manuscript

Editing is a pretty broad term that ranges from an author’s rewrites of their first draft to the final proofread before the book launch. In this section, we offer 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 just end up wasting money paying an editor to clean up basic mistakes.

If you’re a novelist, that might mean working through a few drafts to iron out the story and characters; for non-fiction, that might mean 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:

Let a professional help you over the finishing line

Once you’ve taken your manuscript as far as you can by yourself, it’s best to bring in a fresh pair of eyes (that ideally belong to a professional editor). These days, finding your ideal editor is more straightforward than ever. For example, 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.

And of course, once your manuscript has been edited, polished, and proofread, it’s vital to make sure your book looks as good as it reads.


3. Design the Cover and Format the Interior

When we talk about book design, the first thing that jumps to mind is the cover, which is crucial. After all, self published authors rely heavily on a cover to sell the book, whether it's with ads or just by attracting readers on retailers like the Kindle store. However, it’s also important not to forget about interior design: the way that the words are formatted on the page.

Here are a couple of great resources to help you wrap your head around making a beautiful, readable book:

Once you’ve completed the step of designing and formatting, you will have everything you need to start selling your book. That takes us to the next stage.


4. Self Publish as an eBook and in Print

In days past, self-publishing a book would involve getting a print run, which involves paying up-front for thousands of copies. Understandably, you risk ending up with copies that you struggle to sell. Thankfully, modern publishing has provided simple solutions to this problem.

If you're looking for the simplest solution, here it is: just publish your book with KDP. Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing is an author platform that 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. No need to understand how the sausage is made: Amazon has simplified the process. However, if you want to dig a bit deeper and explore your options, carry on reading...

With POD (Print on Demand), authors can upload their book files to a printing service, which will churn out individual copies as, and when, they are purchased. The cost-per-unit is higher than with traditional printing methods, but the lack of risk makes this the preferred option of self-publishing authors.

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The two largest POD services in the world are KDP and IngramSpark, both of whom provide comparable products at similar costs. It is, however, worth investigating both options to see which one makes more sense for the kind of book you’re printing. (For an IngramSpark promo code, read our IngramSpark review here.)

eBooks

Sales on the Kindle store are a self-publishing author’s bread and butter. After all, it offers the highest percentage royalty, and eBooks are usually priced lower than print books, which appeals to readers who might not want to drop $15 on an author they’ve never heard of. Also, once the book is on an e-reader, the quality of the product is virtually indistinguishable from something that a big publisher puts out.


5. Master the Kindle Store (and Other Retailers)

Anybody can get their book onto the Amazon store for free — but few people know how to do it properly. When uploading your title, there are certain things you can do to make sure more of the right people see your book. Then there's the matter of getting the people who find your book to buy it. In short, you need to turn yourself into a bit of an Amazon expert.


6. Market Your Book Effectively

Apart from the part where you write a great book, all of the other steps above can be accomplished by anyone who’s done an afternoon of research. When it comes to marketing in self-publishing, things start to 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.


7. Create an Awesome Launch Plan

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 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:

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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 — assuming that your finances are in place...


The Financial Implications

Money is an obstacle that nearly all self-publishing authors will face at the start of their career. After all, they are solely responsible for funding everything to do with the book. That being said, it doesn’t always mean that the author needs to empty their savings account.

The Cost of Self Publishing

Here are two resources that can help you determine your costs and find alternate ways to cover them:

The upside to all this, as we hinted at earlier, is that by bearing most of the costs, the self-publishing author also gets to enjoy most of the spoils.

Royalties

To give you an idea of the money you can expect to make from each copy sold, let’s look at the royalties offered to both independent and traditionally published authors.

Author royalties on paperbacks:

  • Traditionally published authors can expect around 5%.
  • Indie authors will see 20-50% depending on printing costs.

Author royalties on ebooks:

  • Traditionally published authors tend to see 20-25% of net (after the retailer’s cut).
  • Self-published authors enjoy up to 70% if their book is priced reasonably.

This massive disparity is one of the reasons why J.K. Rowling has dipped her toes into self-publishing. The ebooks and audiobooks (great, incidentally, for road trips) of her Harry Potter series are now released by her own company, Pottermore, allowing her to take the publisher’s share of sales as well as the author's.


Additional Resources

Knowledge is power, and for indie authors, it’s also our greatest asset. There's plenty to learn when it comes to becoming a smart and efficient publisher, so as a send-off, here are a few more resources to help you on your way to the top of the bestseller charts:

The journey to publishing a book can be treacherous, but if you prepare yourself adequately, and surround yourself with the right people, it can also be one of the most satisfying challenges of your life.


Do you have any thoughts or questions about how to self publish a book? Drop a comment in the box below and the folks at Reedsy will get back to you.

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Lady Tam Li Hua

I've spent the past few hours being inspired...but not by the words written here. I saw the cute typewriter graphic in the banner, and just HAD to try and make my own! lol (I fully intend to read the article, though.) Great banner design deserves a shout-out too! 😀

Douglas

I've written and self-published three novels, but I'm hopeless at marketing. I want to find someone who can take on all the PR, ad-placing etc. etc. for half the royalties, leaving me free to write my fourth novel.Can Reedsy help?

Reedsy

Hi Douglas! Sorry we didn't reply earlier. I'm glad to see you've chosen to self-publish your thrillers. Checking through the synopses, they do look like a gripping read! I would say that on the marketing side, you may wish to prioritise the following: - Your cover designs. Seeing as your books are a part of a series, the covers should reflect that and have some kind of 'branding' that unites them. Also, they could do with communicating the genre a little better: currently, a few of them look like supernatural fantasies rather than political thrillers. I've written a post on… Read more »

Laurence McKinney

Hi, Reedsy has helped this "with assistance" a couple of times but I'm really stuck - the first version of a classic mind-science book I wrote called Neurotheology left me with magnificent reviews (on the book's site) - the update is 90% identical but with science updates, new title, and it's ready, book, editing, copy edited, designed, formatted, cover done, and a quickly assembled but good website with a killer URL (goingtoheaven.org) - but I'm told the moment it's on Amazon or anywhere else it's Published and once that happens nobody will review it - but without any way for… Read more »

Reedsy

Hi Laurence,

Glad you've been getting a lot out of the advice on the blog. I'm having trouble grasping how best to tackle your question — could you drop us an email on service@reedsy.com and let us know what your current publishing arrangement is: are you under a book deal with a publisher still? Do you wish to self-publish a new edition? Are you in charge of marketing the book. Thanks! -- Martin

Laurence McKinney

Hi, Reedsy has been helpful (I'm the "uses assists" sort). My 1994 classic "Neurotheology" provided superb reviews (on the site) for an update with a new title although the content is nearly identical, Walkmans swapped out for smart phones TED references, etc. It's done but I'm told I can't release a book until I get reviews - because I can't get reviews once it's released, sort of chicken/egg? What sort of legit consultant lines up reviewers? It's a winner, but I'm stalled with plenty of product, even a beta book site, the basics and a killer URL, "goingtoheaven.org" (getting that… Read more »

Lisa Reyes

I have an entire series of children's books written in my head. I am determined to bring it all to real life in the coming year. I want to copyright the series title so that no one can use it in the future. Is copyright the way to go? Are there other protections? TIA

Reedsy

Thanks for your question! Unfortunately there is no way to protect a series title through copyright — even after you've published the book. Copyright doesn't apply to titles, or sentences, it only applies to full works. More about this here: https://blog.reedsy.com/how-to-copyright-a-book/ What you could register for is a trademark. However your trademark registration will only make sense and be valid if you have already established an existing brand around the series title. Overall, I think that at this stage copyright/trademark protection should be at the lowest in your priority list 🙂 Write the series, publish it, market it. And then,… Read more »

Nikki

Thanks so much for the information. While it was a lot, it is very helpful. I plan to save this blog and refer to as I take the plunge into fiction writing.

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