The Ultimate Guide to Learning Writing: Self-Publish a Book
The DIY Guide: How to Self-Publish a Book
Are you writing the next “how-to” nonfiction book? Or is your niche historical fiction? Is your first book a nascent idea, the one on the backburner that keeps nagging for attention? Or rather, has it long been written and saved on your desktop, collecting digital dust?
Furthermore, the promise of selling books in a brick and mortar store no longer holds the same weight as e-reader device sales continue to exponentially rise. Self-published books and self-publishers are on the rise but the question of how to self publish a book can still be an intimidating one.
Replete with benefits, self-publishing offers:
- Creative freedom
You hold full control over the content and cover design of your book. This is what you sign away with a traditional publishing process - you risk ending up with content, a title, a cover design, and a marketing angle far from the brand you envisioned for yourself.
- Higher royalty rates
Traditional publishing royalty rates range between 7-25% and are also against your advance (authors generally average about $10,000), which means you will only earn royalties after the first $10,000 in sales.
- Accelerated timeline
The beauty of technology means that once you upload your files, your ebook can be on sale within 4-72 hours and your first paycheck will come 60 days after the end of the first month of sale. If you decide to print-on-demand, after you approve the final formatting online, your first copy can be ordered and printed just 24 hours later.
- Retained rights
Since you retain the rights to your book, you can market and sell it on the global market by any means. With increasing cell phone and internet access, your potential audience is only growing.
- Easier access to the market to build your name
Instead of waiting years for the traditional book deal, you can enter the game on your own terms - if you’re successful, agents and traditional publishers will in turn seek you out for your next book.
In this guide, you will learn the steps to self-publishing your book, from start to launch, as well as steps to grow and sustain your sales - the online marketplace is full of self-published projects - how will your book continue to perform and stand out from the rest?
Step 1: Identify your writing objectives
Why are you writing your book? Everyone dreams of success, and monetary reward is certainly gratifying, but no one writes a book for the money alone. What story will you tell; how will you inspire, educate, or entertain?
Answer the following questions in order to identify your writing objectives:
- Why are you writing your book?
- How is your book unique and does it fill a market need? Who are you writing for?
- How does it excite you and an audience?
Once you have these answers, write the argument or gist of your book in a sentence, then stretch it into a paragraph, and finally into a one page outline. Write a table of contents and break the chapters into sections - this will guide you during the writing process.
Step 2: Write your book
Keep the following writing tips in mind to ease your process as you write your book:
- Set a total word count
All good planning starts with the end in mind - set a total word count (think in 10,000 word increments) and break each chapter into roughly equal parts. If this is your first book, you may consider writing a shorter piece rather than an epic novel.
- Stick to weekly and daily deadlines
Based on your total word count, set achievable weekly and daily deadlines. Don’t start lofty - you want to feel small successes. You can keep writing after your daily goal is met, but take caution to not burn out every day. Set and make the time to write every day, even if it’s just for ten minutes. Don’t give into excuses.
- Expect and plan for obstacles
Writing is far from smooth sailing at times. See our guide to overcoming and avoiding writer’s block for strategies to build a consistent and disciplined writing habits that facilitate creativity.
- Don’t edit as you go
Keep your pace flowing and edit later. Self criticism and doubt will only slow you down - allow editing to be its own separate process.
Step 3: Get writing feedback
Getting early writing feedback is critical in ensuring you’re going in the right direction - you don’t want to be in the position of rewriting your book because you didn’t secure early suggestions. Feedback can come through a number of channels - try starting with trusted early advisers such as family and friends.
As you branch out through your network, look for quality versus quantity of feedback. Thoughtful comments are the most valuable rather than surface level remarks from a skim read. Try looking for “beta readers”, or readers who are already familiar with your book topic and/or well-read in your genre. You can give them guidance as to what they should be looking for.
Some networks to access for writing feedback can include:
- Your email list (if you have one)
- Social media networks
- Beta reader groups on Goodreads and Tumblr (a free account is required to view groups on Goodreads)
Step 4: Choose a book title
A book title is incredibly important - along with the cover, it is the first thing potential readers will see. It will become your brand, is associated with your name, and will determine the design of your book’s cover, website, advertising, and promotional material. Before you commit to a title, try googling it to ensure there aren’t too many other products associated with it.
Above all, your title should create intrigue and leave room for imagination, whether your book is fiction or nonfiction. Best-selling nonfiction author Michael Hyatt suggests considering the PINC strategy, or “make a promise, create intrigue, identify a need, or simply state the content” with your title.
With this in mind, choosing a book title shouldn’t be a hang up - although it draws in an uninformed and unfamiliar reader, your content is what determines how your book is received at launch. You ultimately need to name the book for yourself, while keeping your audience in mind.
Step 5: Find a book editor
Finding a book editor can be an intimidating process if you don’t already have contacts or recommendations for a professional editor. While this can be a fair expense, the right editor can help to transform your book from good to outstanding - so how do you find a book editor amid the sea of unknown editors at your fingertips?
Here are our tips:
- Polish your draft
Ensure you have made all the improvements you can first, with the support of beta readers if possible.
- Consider avoiding “packages” or in-house editors
Or at least do your research first. The cost may be the same whether you use an in-house or freelance editor, but it can be helpful to have options and ultimately choose your own editor.
- Shop around for recommended editors
Compare specialties and rates in editors groups such as Independent Editors Group or Editorial Freelancers Association, marketplaces such as Reedsy that screen and vet editors, Facebook groups for authors, and lists of book editors recommended by other self-published authors.
- Consider the level of editing a potential editor performs
A developmental editor does heavy editing and looks at the big picture and structure of your book. A line editor will do stylistic editing and refine your text line by line, ensuring your overall style is consistent. A copy editor will revise for grammar, word usage, and punctuation. The final look is done by the proofreader, who will check for typos and grammatical errors, repeated words, and formatting consistency.
Ask targeted questions when interviewing candidates
- What style will you use?
- Can I send you a page/excerpt and can you provide a sample edit? (compare these)
- Do you specialize in any type of writing?
- Can you provide testimonials from clients? References?
- What is the timeline/turnaround of an edit?
- What are your rates?
Step 6: Make a book cover
We do, in fact, judge a book by its cover. Your book cover will shape your brand. What do you want your cover to communicate to potential readers? How will it pair with your title and create intrigue? How does it connect with the essence of your book?
Will you do-it-yourself or will you hire a designer? DIY websites such as DIY Book Covers, Canva, and Cover Design Studio can guide you through how to make a book cover and also provide templates. If you are hiring a designer, consider reaching out to your network for any recommended designers or consult curated lists of cover designers. Consider running a contest on 99designs to have options to choose from.
Recall that your book cover should also look good and draw attention as a thumbnail on an online marketplace.
Step 7: Research and choose from the best self-publishing companies
Who you choose as your self-publishing platform will depend on your needs and budget, among other factors. Regardless, if your book is text-based (no graphics, illustrations, or photos), print should be your secondary focus in today’s market. You can always release your book in print after your ebook.
The following are notable self-publishing companies:
- Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)
KDP gives you immediate access to the largest literary marketplace and easy integration with Amazon’s line of products. You can update your book online after publishing it.
Known for offering a variety of self-publishing mediums, you can even publish your coffee book, print magazine, and photo book with Blurb.
Another Amazon-owned company that offers e-publish and print publishing options, CreateSpace is popular among first-time and budget-conscious authors.
Lulu offers in-house services like editors, printers, illustrators, and releases about 1,000 new titles every day.
- Book Baby
Offering affordable self-publishing packages, Book Baby is a budget-conscious self-publishing option.
Notable for its selling reach, AuthorHouse markets its books with other Barnes & Noble and Amazon authors.
Step 8: Decide on a book price
Choosing a book price can be tricky and may seem counterintuitive, however, there are simple guidelines to follow. Don’t stray from precedence when considering book price - the market has done the testing here.
Keep the following in mind:
- Follow the herd
Research the prices, format, and construction of competing books in your genre. Stay within this range and don’t price yourself out of the market.
- Consider the wholesale discount
The standard retail rate is 55% of the final retail price (wholesale discount), whereas you and/or your publisher will receive 45%.
- Consider incentives in ebook pricing
Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing in particular sets pricing incentives to encourage pricing that will drive the most sales. For example, if a Kindle book is priced between $2.99-$9.99 on Amazon, the royalty share for the author or publisher is 70%, versus just 35% for any price outside of this range.
- Prioritize building your fan base. Prices are flexible.
Lower prices encourage more sales (and these lead to reviews), especially if you are a new and unknown author. Pricing your book between $0.99-$2.99 for a period of time will allow you to reach a wider audience. Pricing is flexible and can be adjusted for any promotional period.
- Ask your audience for feedback
Directly ask your readers via an email list or run an ad campaign with ads testing different price points on Facebook. See which ads receive the most clicks - link to your website or reward interest with a digital copy of your book.
Step 9: Plan a book launch
- Assemble a core team to assist in your book launch
A team effort here is absolutely necessary and your communication with your team will determine this success. Your team may consist of fans of previous work, blog readers, family, friends, and thought partners. This team will be among your first reviewers and promote your book among their networks. These should be at least 20-30 committed people you can contact directly. If you want to include tertiary members, you may put out a call on social media. You can incentivize your launch team by offering access to webinars, a digital copy of the book before launch day, or a free hard copy.
- Set goals, connect smaller objectives to your goals, and align your marketing tactics
Set longer term goals (Ex: number of copies/downloads sold in first six months), break them down into smaller objectives (Ex: number of pre-orders sold before launch day, copies sold within first 30 days), and align your marketing tactics to these objectives. You may run a pre-order campaign, plan price promotions, run a review campaign, pay for advertising, etc.
Step 10: Publish your book
It’s time to pull the trigger - publish your book! Set a deadline or have one set for you so that you can commit to finishing it. Countless books each year go unpublished for one reason or another - often fear. You will never improve as a writer if you go unpublished. If you tend to waver on pulling the trigger, book and print-on-demand models allow you to easily edit and upload new versions if necessary.
Step 11: Market your book
Follow through with the goals, objectives, and marketing tactics you outlined to prepare for your book launch. Consistency will determine your success - set monthly reminders and calendar actions to market your book. Your increased visibility will directly impact sales.
- Utilize your social networks
Build your email list and maintain regular communication, post on your social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), and create an author Facebook page to market your book.
- Run contests and giveaways
Reward your audience on social media for sharing your posts with copies of your book. Enter the behemoth of an online community, Goodreads, and plan a book giveaway. Reviews are key here, and Goodreads recommends its readers review books they receive.
- Reach out to podcasts and blogs
Guest post online on blogs and reach out to podcasts for interview and promotional opportunities. Podcast listeners explore back catalogues of episodes - your appearance will be replayed beyond the first airing.
- Seek out speaking opportunities and market your book by word of mouth
In person impressions can be powerful. Reach out in your network for opportunities to promote your book in person.
Self-publishing, though a lot of hard work, puts you, the author, in the driver’s seat in the publishing world. Like any new journey, it’s a learning process with surprises and challenges. However, you now have access to a market that was once gripped tight by traditional publishing houses - and the steps to bring your book to the public you wrote it for.