by Chris Bigelow
So, you’ve completed a manuscript that you feel is worthy of publication. Now it’s time to share it with the world! If you’ve decided to go the self-publishing route, below is a checklist that will help you think through the process of what’s involved. If you’re traditionally publishing, this list also applies to some of the experience you’ll have, but your publisher will be taking care of the majority of steps. (If you’re undecided, read our article here, as it covers the pros and cons of trad vs. self-publishing.)
Keep in mind that self-publishing—if you are worried about seeing any financial return on your time and monetary investment—is the same as starting a small business. Having realistic expectations about the work required, the multiple hats you’ll don, and the learning curve you may face will help you stay on target with your goals and not become disheartened. The information below will map out those steps so you can get a realistic sense of what you’ll need to do and how long it might take; the list below also includes several tools to help you succeed—so you can more confidently dive in.
- Reader reviews: Once you’ve completed your manuscript, get some good readers to review it. (Not your mom—unless your mom is a professional book editor and not prone to coddling you. Think of readers who have experience with your genre and can intelligently point out major problems; writers who have successfully published in your genre are another good option). Not only can they help you improve your book as needed, but they can provide cover blurbs, future Amazon reviews, etc.
- Editing: At this point, you will want to hire a professional developmental editor to help you really hone the content and maximize its marketability. Then a copyeditor. At the very least.
- Professional page layout: When your words are ready to be placed into actual book format, you should use good typesetting software (preferably InDesign or Vellum); hire someone who knows how to use it. After all, you want your book to look professional, not homemade.
- Cover design: While your interior layout is underway, you’ll also want to arrange for the best, most professional-looking, marketable cover possible. Unless you happen to be a skilled graphic designer, plan on hiring a designer for your cover. Readers can instantly sense an amateur cover, and you’ll lose sales. Next to getting professional content feedback to ensure the marketability of your book, your cover is the number-one priority in terms of funds and focus.
- Arrange printing and distribution: Today’s print-on-demand (POD) industry is fantastic—the books look totally legit, and yet they can be printed literally one at a time. KDP and IngramSpark, Draft2Digital and Kobo. So many options. You’ll also need to set up your ISBN and establish yourself as a business, which might include registering your business name with the state, getting a federal tax ID number and state sales tax account, and getting a business license (several of these links are examples from my home state of Utah; if you live elsewhere, you can find equivalent links). You’ll also need to manage your print-on-demand account(s). Also, be aware that any income you receive from publishing will likely need to be reported to the IRS as self-employment income. (To learn more about how much income requires paying taxes, see this article from the Tax Crisis Institute.)
- eBook and audiobook: You should absolutely do an eBook for all major formats, including Amazon’s Kindle, Apple’s iBook, and others. As far as audiobooks, these can be a little pricey to produce, but if you’ve got the budget (DO NOT record it yourself unless you’re a professional voice actor), it can be quite satisfying and really expand your audience to make an audiobook available on Amazon, iTunes, Findaway Voices, and Audible.com.
- Advance publicity: While you’re getting your book ready, you’ll want to think about how much platform development and advance publicity you want to do. If you want to do real national marketing for your book, the timeline can be tricky—the process kicks into gear after your book is mostly prepared for release (edited, designed, cover ready) but at least six months before your book actually comes out. This allows time for you to mail out advance copies for reviews, contact the media for potential coverage, etc. If you feel your book has a large potential audience and you want to execute a professionally effective campaign, you may want to hire a book publicist. (We have great contacts in this department!)
- Ongoing promotion: Once your book is actually released, promoting it is one of the hardest aspects of publishing. More books than ever are being published, and people have more entertainment options than ever, so the challenge is to stand out. But it can be done! Plan for a learning curve and to invest some time in the process (or to invest in professional help). You’ll need to be patient, and focus on a few key things:
- Writing more books—and some shorter freebies—to draw in an audience and have something to offer them after their first exposure to your work
- Building a social media platform (and a speaking platform if it’s a nonfiction book)
- Learning about book marketing street teams, promotion sites like BookBub, keyword optimization, Amazon ads, and other book promotion services
As with the self-publishing process in general, having realistic expectations about the promotion process is key to not getting too discouraged. Remember that it likely took you months to years to write a good book—effective promotion is no different. Unless you have oodles of free time and marketing training (or you hire experienced professionals to do it all for you) it will take a fair bit of time to build a platform. So settle in for a little research and experimentation or connect with a really skilled book marketer.
Do This Now
1. Settle in for some research or get help: The self-pub world is ever changing. The internet is full of advice and tutorials, as are books. A lot of it is WRONG. A good portion is correct, though it could be overwhelming. If you want to cut to the chase and shave years off your learning curve, get a consultation and/or some support from experienced professionals. You can check out our publishing services here and get a free consult!
2. Keep your goals in mind and perspective intact: Self-publishing is challenging, but it can also be quite rewarding. An important question to ask yourself is, “What is my definition of self-publishing success?” With most self-published books selling under 300 copies (presumably by authors with little marketing know-how and possibly less-than-professional books) you want to decide why you are publishing and draw lines for how much time/money you will invest in trying to sell the book. If you think you’ll need more than a couple hundred sales in order to feel successful, make sure that your book is truly marketable and that you execute publishing and promotion extraordinarily well. If you just want to write, focus on that and add in a little marketing know-how as you go along. Wherever your publishing adventures take you, we wish you all the best and are here to help if you have any questions!
What’s your experience with self-publishing—any tips from the trenches? Questions?
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Christopher Bigelow runs a small, traditional indie press and also provides publishing services to independent authors. He is the author of seven books and has served as an editor of several periodicals, including the Ensign, Irreantum, and The Sugar Beet. He earned a BFA in writing, literature, and publishing from Emerson College and an MA in creative writing from Brigham Young University.