You can write and publish a book.
This often sounds crazy or intimidating to the writers I mentor in my church’s writer’s group. We’ve been taught that writing a book is hard, that finding a publisher is nearly impossible, and that self-published books don’t look professional. However thanks to the internet, Amazon, and print on demand, it’s now easier than ever for you to professionally publish your book yourself without paying vanity publishers or waiting years for a traditional publisher to be interested.
Having a self-published book that looks professional requires following the process that traditional publishers use and following the style guidelines that are industry standard. This guide is certainly not exhaustive and you will need to do more research to complete each step. But I hope that by having the steps to self-publish laid out you feel empowered to write and publish that book you’ve been carrying in your heart.
1) Optional – Build Your Platform
Many people do this after publishing their book and don’t understand why it’s not selling. Book publishing doesn’t have to come first. Write a blog, post quality content on social media, establish your voice and grow your following. If you build your platform first your book will already have eager buyers waiting when it publishes.
An email list is an extremely important part of this because that is an audience you own vs renting one on social media. Look at TikTok for example: if that platform goes away those influencers have lost their audience.
They were “renting” their following on someone else’s platform. With an email list you own your following. No matter what platforms come and go, your list can go with you since you “own” your following.
Be sure to setup your email list legally. You must use an email marketing platform like Mailer Lite or MailChimp. And don’t add anyone to your list without their permission. Here’s some basics on email marketing to get you started.
Forego at Your Own Risk
This step is optional and you can wait until after publishing your book to build your platform. However, if you really want to sell your book and build your career as an author, taking this step is vitally important.
Not everyone plans on writing multiple books or building a following and that’s ok. There are many books that need to be written, stories that need to be told, and many of those can be marketed well with just Amazon ads. But if you’ve tried self-publishing before and don’t understand why you aren’t getting any sales it’s likely because you haven’t built your platform or because your book doesn’t look professional.
2) Write Your Book
You can write wherever makes sense to you – Word, Google Docs, Scrivener, random notebooks. You will need your text in Word doc format eventually in the process but that doesn’t mean you have to do your actual writing there. Google Docs and Scrivener both give you the option to save directly to a Word doc. Google docs is a great free option and also makes it easy to collaborate if you have coauthors. Scrivener is a paid writing software that some writers love and some don’t. If you want to try it they have a free trial.
- Don’t use any templates
- Make chapters clear with a large, bold, centered title or number
- Number your references and use superscript or footnotes to note them throughout your text. Keep a running list in the back formatted using MLA or Chicago style (Not needed for fiction)
- Proofread using Word’s Spelling and Grammar Check
- Proofread again using Pro Writing Aid
This software is much more powerful than the spelling and grammar check built into Word. It’s like having a line editor in your pocket to help you get as close to professional editing as possible. It doesn’t just proofread your writing, it helps you learn to be a better writer.
The free version is available for Google Docs as a Chrome plugin. Even if you write in Word or Scrivener you can open your Word doc in Google Docs and run Pro Writing Aid and then save back as a Word doc.
It is time consuming to go through all the suggestions but it is worth it. The more time you spend self-editing with Pro Writing Aid, the less money you’ll spend paying a professional editor (most charge about 25cents a word). The paid versions have more options for what they check for and you can use them on desktop with Word and Scrivener instead of just in Google Docs.
- After proofreading digitally, print off a hard copy and proofread again
4) Alpha Read
Get 2-3 people to read it and give you feedback, depending on how well you know/trust them you may have them sign a non-disclosure agreement first
These need to be people that will give you clear constructive feedback. Not just “Oh I loved it!” but also “this part didn’t make sense, I wish you’d explained this more, this sentence needs some reworking”
Give them a time frame of when you need feedback returned
- Self-edit again applying their feedback
5) Decide on Your Title and Subtitle
- Keywords are extremely important when choosing your title and subtitle. What terms would someone search if they were looking for a book like yours? Use at least one different keyword in both the title and subtitle.
- Is the title already used? Research your title and make sure it’s distinct.
- Get feedback from others on your title and subtitle – would they be excited to read the book? Is it clear what the book is about? Facebook writer’s groups are a great place to get feedback on titles from people who understand what it takes to sell and book and not just what sounds nice.
6) Beta Read
Get 2-3 people to read it and give you feedback. Again, these need to be people that will give you clear constructive feedback
Get at least one new reader this time and keep at least one that was an Alpha reader
Give them a time frame of when you need feedback returned
- Self-edit again applying their feedback
7) Professional Editing
Some try to skip this step, but it is extremely important for professional self-publishing. The more self-editing you do with Pro Writing Aid and getting feedback from Beta readers, the cleaner your text will be for the editor, and the cheaper it will be to have professionally edited.
- When you chose an editor it is good to start with a sample of your writing to make sure you like how they edit. Most editors will offer free a sample edit of a few hundred words or will charge a small fee for a sample.
- Make sure the editor tracks changes. You don’t want your edits back with no idea what was changed.
- Review the editor’s changes and decide if you will keep them or make your own changes
8) Read it Out Loud
Reading the book out loud will help you hear where the editor has changed your voice and find more places that need editing for flow. Take notes as you read of spots that don’t make sense, are difficult to read, or don’t say what you intended.
- Self-edit again using the notes from your read aloud
9) Write Your Bio
You’ll need two versions of your bio. A shorter one for the back cover and optionally, a longer one for the back matter of your book.
- It may be easier to have someone else write the bio for you or get them to help you write it
- Short version should be 2-3 sentences (about 140 characters like a tweet) and should connect with the reader. Why should they read about this topic from you specifically?
- Long version (paragraph or two is fine, but less is usually more) may include a bit of your credentials around the book subject, a little personal info, and something you enjoy.
10) Get Your ISBN
- If you plan on writing more than one book or using IngramSpark it is best to buy your own ISBN through Bowker. You can get a discount for buying 10 at a time and can use them whenever you want. You can always buy your own ISBN and republish later if there is not the budget for this initially.
- You can use the free ISBNs from Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) or Draft2Digital to publish through those platforms. If you use the free ISBNs they can only be used on the platform you got them from. So if you get a free KDP ISBN and then later want to publish through IngramSpark as well then you will need to buy a new ISBN to use on IngramSpark.
- If you buy the ISBN through Bowker you can use the same one on all platforms because you own it
11) Create Copyright Page
The basics this should include:
- Copyright YEAR Your Name
- All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any manner without the prior written permission of the copyright owner, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
- ISBN of book
- If quoting any scripture this is where you put the copyright information
12) Create Any Back and Front Matter
- Create a title page that goes before the copyright page
- Any disclaimers
- Any dedications
- A page in the back with author bio and optionally a photo and contact information
- Any advertisements for other books or products you sell related to your book. It looks very unprofessional and spammy to advertise products, business ventures, MLMs etc, if they are not related to the book.
13) Pick Your Trim Size
Trim size is mostly up to preference but staying within common trim sizes for your genre will help your book look professional and sell well. Workbooks and educational material is often in an 8.5×11 trim size but that size would be odd for a novel.
A trade paperback 6×9 size is one of the most common trim sizes across genres. Depending on the length of your book you may opt for a slightly smaller size to increase the thickness. No matter where you publish, these are the industry standard trim sizes you can choose from.
14) Format Interior Layout
- If you are using Draft2Digital you can skip this step. You just need your Word document with chapters clearly marked.
- You may use Kindle Create’s paperback formatting option as well instead of manually formatting in Word.
- If formatting in Word, download the template for your trim size
- Format your text with clear chapter headings, footer with page numbers, optional headers with chapter titles, and table of contents
- Save as a Word document so you can make any needed corrections later
- Save as a PDF to upload for printing
15) Format for Ebook
- Kindle Create is a free software from Amazon to format your book for Kindle ebook. You upload your book from your Word doc and go through some steps to save it in Kindle format. Kindle Create will only let you save the file as a Kindle ebook file though.
- Draft2Digital will format for ebook for you. Just upload your Word doc with clearly marked chapter headings and they will take it from there.
16) Write Back Cover Copy
The back cover copy sells your book. It should tell the reader what your book is about but also why they should care. There are lots of great resources out there on how to write back cover copy and often the best way to write them is to have someone else write it for you.
17) Get a Headshot
You don’t have to pay for professional photos, but it should look like you did.
- Photo should just show you, unless it makes sense with the book to include another person
- Keep background simple, no props, animals, or anything else distracting
- Colors should be neutral or fit with the cover
- Don’t just crop a group photo or use a selfie!
18) Design the Cover
The cover is one of the bigger costs associated with publishing, but it will have the biggest return on investment. You might be able to get away with skipping a professional editor in favor of a helpful friend with an English degree and several rounds of Pro Writing Aid, it’s not as easy to get away with a non-professional cover. You may have written the most life changing book ever, but if the cover isn’t engaging and clear your book just will not sell.
- Your cover should fit in your genre. Look at the top 10, top 50 books in your genre on Amazon. What do the covers look like? Are there certain font styles, colors, types of art that are common? You cover should look at home in these groups of top sellers.
- If you have really good graphic design skills you can design your own cover using a template for your trim size
- Most people do not have really good graphic design skills, and even if they do, they don’t know enough about elements of a good cover to design their own.
- Fiverr and 99Designs are two good sites for finding a cover designer. You can expect to pay between $200-500+ for a high quality cover depending on the complexity of what you are looking for.
- Make sure whatever cover designer you use is familiar with book covers specifically and that you have the rights to any images used in the cover design.
- Once your cover file is ready including back cover blurb, bio, headshot, and space for barcode, save as a print ready PDF.
19) Write book description
Your book description can include your back cover blurb but should be longer and written more as a sales copy than just a description.
- Start the description with a question or problem the reader is facing and tell them how your book will solve it
- For fiction entice the reader by getting them to care about the story and characters
- Bullet points are a great sales tool in descriptions – tell the reader what they will get by reading your book
- Fiction or non-fiction end the description with a call to action
- Book descriptions can have html markup but you have to write it before you enter the description in your publisher’s field. Use Kindlepreneur’s Book Description Generator to format your description.
20) Research Keywords and Categories
Keywords are not just important for your title and subtitle they are important for your book listing as well. You will be asked to enter up to seven keywords for your book. Be sure to use all seven and don’t use the same keywords you used in your title and subtitle.
You’ll also be asked to select two categories for your book. Categories are important for helping readers find your book and also for getting good sales ranks. If you can find a very niche category for your book the chances of getting a bestseller badge are much higher. After your book is published you can contact Amazon to ask that your book be listed in additional relevant categories, the more the better.
- Kindleprenuer is an amazing resource for learning about categories and keywords
21) Upload Files to Publisher
- Now that you have your formatted text PDF, your cover print ready PDF, description, keywords, and categories you are ready to upload your book!
- The process on all self-publishing sites is very similar and specific guides for each are easy to find on Google.
- Recommended publishers include: Amazon KDP, Draft2Digital, IngramSpark
22) Upload ebook file
You do not have to sell your book as both ebook and print but with print on demand it makes sense to offer both options. You don’t pay anything to have the additional options and it gives you a wider reach of potential readers.
You can also use different publishers for your ebook than your print book. Some authors will use Draft2Digital for expanded ebook distribution and KDP for their print books. Or many use IngramSpark for their expanded print distribution.
23) Order author copies
Many authors are tempted to order large quantities and try to tell the books themselves because the profit margins look larger than the royalties you get selling through Amazon or other publishers.
However, the profit margins aren’t actually larger when you factor in the cost to store and ship the books, the work it takes to process orders yourself, and the profit loss if your inventory doesn’t sell. You can always order more author copies.
- 10 is a good number to start with, no more than 50 to start
- You do not need a large inventory unless you know for sure you can sell all the books, have a booth at an event, or have presold copies.
24) Claim Amazon Author Page
This is a simple step but helps readers find you yet another way. It also creates an easy way for readers to find your other books if you go on to write more. Amazon Author Central also has some good tools for keeping track of your reviews and sales.
25) Advertise Your Book
This is the step most self-published authors skip and the reason even most professional self-published books do not sell well. You don’t have to spend a lot on ads, but even a few dollars a day can translate to big returns in sales.
- Amazon ads are the simplest to run. They don’t require you to write any ad copy, just select the keywords you want to target and set your budget. Even if you want to skip on advertising and building a platform, don’t skip Amazon ads. They are too simple to miss out on the sales you can get through them.
- Facebook ads are more involved and require you to create graphics, ad copy, and a business page to run the ads. If you’ve done well with the optional step 1 of building your platform, Facebook ads can be a powerful way to reach the followers you already have and potential new followers that are similar to that audience.
- BookBub ads are for ebooks only and are especially good for fiction
- GospelEbooks is another option for ebooks – Christian fiction and non-fiction
- Social media, your email list, friends and family – remember that audience you built in step 1? Don’t forget to tell them about your book release! If you’ve uploaded your book to several platforms, Universal Book Link can help simplify sharing on social media and email. It gives you one link that shows all the places to buy your book.
- If you’ve already built your platform you have even more options to advertise to your current audience. One option is to offer a bonus freebie if they buy the book in the first week and send you proof of purchase.
Leah Lesesne, MA has written multiple books about inner healing and emotional health. You can read more of her writing on her blog and find her books on Amazon.