Self-Publishing From Start To Finish: Four Steps To Publishing Your Book
Self-publishing is an overwhelming process. I started self-publishing in 2018 and stumbled my way through it. At the time, resources were not clear and they haven't gotten much better. I found a lot of piecemeal articles, videos, or posts about publishing. "Steps to publish an eBook". "Steps to a book launch". "Steps to starting an author website". There were so many "steps" and there was so much research to be done that I felt like a part-time investigator. There were a lot of publishing puzzle pieces and I had a hard time putting them together into one clear path to publishing. What was the result? I published my first book! I got started! But that first book was not the quality I would have liked it to be, if only I'd had known how to publish correctly, strategically. I want to help other writers avoid these same pain points.
If you feel confused about writing a book, publishing a book, and all the steps involved in the publishing process - this is for you! This is for the author that needs a clear guide for self-publishing from start to finish.
1. Write a book
Writing a book is step #1. It seems obvious, but you would be surprised how many "writers" have already vision-boarded their dream book, are already thinking about being published, are already imagining their book tour - but have never taken the time to actually write their book. Hello - I used to do this, so I'm not judging you! Writing a high-quality book and a high-quality story comes first!
First, start with that first draft of your manuscript. It's no different than an artist who starts with a basic sketch or a sculpture who starts with a slab. Writers start with their first draft. It's a brain dump of ideas, characters, plot points, everything! Why? Because it is meant to be revised down to only what's important to the book.
A few tips on writing:
Know your book genre. I am an author/illustrator, oftentimes in children's books writers think they are writing a picture book but their manuscript is better positioned as an early reader or even a middle grade. Another example is when writers think they are writing adult fiction but maybe it is better positioned as a young adult's book. Similarly, I once worked with a client who wrote a climate fiction story, but it could have been positioned as a dystopian novel. Knowing your genre will help you find comp titles that can help guide you when it's time to market your book.
Know your target word count. Knowing your genre will also help you know your target word count. While the target word count is not necessary for self-published authors, the truth is that readers have expectations for books. One of those expectations is the length of the book, so have a target word count range is helpful.
Read books about the revision process. You don't know what you don't know. You don't need an English degree or an MFA to be able to write and publish a book. You do need some self-education. There are so many resources available to writers to improve their writing! Pick one up and go through the process. I have linked below in the Related Reading section my top 3 recommended books for improving your writing.
Find a critique group. It is incredibly valuable to have another set of writer-eyes review your manuscript and give you feedback. They would be able to give you feedback on character development, the pacing of your story, length, and more. They will be able to give that structural feedback that is so hard to find!
RELATED READING: 3 Books To Read That Will Instantly Improve Your Writing
RELATED READING: How To Find A Critique Group: You Need More Than A Critique Partner
RELATED READING: How To Find An Editor For Your Self-Published Book
2. Print a book
While you don't necessarily need to print books nowadays, most authors I have worked with really want a physical copy of their book. Print on demand makes printing books affordable and accessible to all. Though, it's not the only way to produce your book. Here are some routes to consider when logistically planning out how to produce your book:
eBook. eBooks are not for every audience. For instance, a picture book is read as a hard copy during reading time either at home or in the classrooms; but for an older audience, like a non-fiction gardening book, maybe an eBook is all you need. Producing an eBook only would also help cut production costs. Do what is best for your book. Know your audience and how to reach them.
Print on Demand (POD). The most popular Print on Demand platforms are IngramSpark and Amazon KDP. You can actually publish your book on both platforms at the same time. There are also less-known book distributors that offer Print on Demand options like Books International. The benefit of print on demand is that authors do not have to hold a high inventory of their books and they do not have to manage shipping and distribution of their books. Easy and cost-effective!
Hybrid Publishers. While POD can help authors by handling the fulfillment, distribution, and inventory - the actual cheapest way to produce a book is to print books in bulk. For instance, a book with Print on Demand may cost an author $5 per copy to print, but when ordered in bulk each copy may only cost $3.50 to print. When you are selling many copies, the net savings makes sense. In addition to costs, hybrid publishers offer many resources that traditional publishers have such as editors and project managers. A hybrid publisher may even handle inventory and distribution for you. I have shared an article below in the Related Reading section with my tips on finding and working with a hybrid publisher.
A printing company. You could go the route that traditional publishers go and work directly with a printer. This is great for an author who is printing in high volume, who is essentially becoming their own independent publisher. I would recommend this ONLY for the seasoned author who knows what they're doing in publishing. While hybrid publishers will offer many resource, when you work directly with a printing company you will have to be your own knowledge bank. You will have to know how to best distribute your books, find your own freelancers, arrange your own copyrights and ISBNs, etc.
RELATED READING: What is a Hybrid Publisher? 3 Advantages to Using a Hybrid Publisher
RELATED READING: Finding and Hiring a Freelance Illustrator
3. Market a book
Marketing does not start and end with a book launch. Marketing is an ongoing process. It is a conversation you are having with your audience. As a writer, you should always be marketing yourself to build awareness around your personal "brand" (basically, just build awareness around YOU). And as an author, you should do marketing campaigns around your book: a pre-launch, a book launch, and then post-launch marketing. Campaigns are a great way to market a book because they have a beginning and an end, can be measurable and should have many call-to-actions. Here are some marketing ideas to get you going:
Social media. You don't need a big following, you just need an engaged following. Most social media platforms perform best with videos or reels, so if you can embrace the camera - that is better!
Author website. A personal website is first and foremost your online business card. You want to communicate yourself as clearly and succinctly as possible while letting people know how to reach you.
Email marketing. Start building an email list because studies show that email marketing is the most successful way to convert sales, even more successful than social media marketing.
In-Person events. In-person events are always a great option when possible. Get creative and host events outside of the book community, not just at your library or local literary center.
Local partnerships. This is where you get creative! Who could you partner with to promote your book? A climate fiction book could partner with a non-profit or environmental organization to host an author talk or Q+A. A children's picture book could partner with a local animal shelter, a local doctor's office, a local daycare, etc. A non-fiction book could partner with a local small business. How can you invite your community to participate?
Local media outlets. Local news is always looking for local heroes to highlight. You might not think of yourself as a hero, but you are definitely a champion for your community if you are following these steps! If you are planning any local events, school visits, and community engagement projects around your book - share it with your local news channel! Press can only help build your credibility as a writer and awareness around your book.
4. Sell a book
Selling might feel uncomfortable. After all, we are writers and not salesmen, am I right? But without booksales, your book goes nowhere. Sales is the vehicle for getting your book into the hands of the reader.
The biggest tip I can give here is continual call-to-actions. What are CTA's (call-to-actions?)? It is anything that prompts your audience to take an action. So if you are on social media, you can prompt your followers to buy your book. If you are at an event, you can remind people to purchase your book. When you are sharing your publishing journey, you can prompt people to support your book by recommending it o their friends. In all things, just continually direct your audience towards action.
These actions DO NOT have to be sales only. They can be:
Leave a review
Share with a friend
Refer me for school visits or speaking opportunities
Purchase the book
Request my book at your local bookstore
As a writer, you have friends/family/community that may not be your ideal reader but they want to support you nonetheless. Having these call-to-actions increase your book's visibility which will eventually lead to increased sales. Always think of what actions you can direct your audience to take.
Self-publishing can be overwhelming without a clear path. All self-publishing will fall into these four buckets: writing, printing, marketing, and selling. If you can compartmentalize and categorize, it really does help clarify!
As always, I wish you the best in your writing endeavors! Was this helpful? If you want more articles and resources like these, join my email list to receive my free Self-Publishing From Start To Finish Guide.