The self-publishing process can appear convoluted for first-time authors, especially when you’re faced with a dizzying number of options for editing, designing, producing and selling your book. You can ask friends, forums and customers of publishing companies, but each of them will give different answers. In reality, the process can be broken down to critical steps that are easy to follow. When you develop a good understanding of the process, it’s easier to feel confident about the publication choices you make and control every aspect of the publishing journey from beginning to end.
The Essential Steps
1. Complete Your Manuscript
Businessman and author Guy Kawasaki has sound advice for all authors, self-published or otherwise: start with why you want to publish. According to Kawasaki, being the brutally honest genius that he is, if your main motivation to publish a book is to get rich, attract attention, or widen your business reach, you are bound to fail. A successful book is one that the author wrote because they want to share invaluable information, an inspiring story or idea, or solutions for a specific niche.
Bear this in mind while writing your manuscript.
Moreover, the first step in the publishing process is completing your manuscript because you don’t want to submit a half-baked work or something written in a rush. An inordinate amount of errors can surface if you write something under pressure. This includes plot holes, pacing inconsistencies and poor character development to name a few.
2. Choose a Package
When you decide to self-publish, you generally have two options:
- Do it yourself by hiring an editor, book cover designer and other professionals to make your book market-ready
- Hire a self-publishing company to handle everything from editing to distribution to marketing
You can also mix these two options because some companies offer editing and cover design as optional add-ons to be purchased on top of a publishing package.
This guide will focus on the second option – partnering with a self-publishing company. Not all indie publishers are created equal. Below are factors to consider so you can choose a service that fits your needs and requirements.
- Budget – Prepare to spend a considerable amount of money. Most publishing companies have editing and cover design in one package, and that can be less expensive than hiring a professional editor and a cover design artist. Make sure to inspect their portfolio, price range and customer testimonials to narrow down your choices.
- Printed or e-book? – Some companies offer paperback and hardcopy printing, others include e-book publishing, and there are some who provide both. Determine what formats you want the book to be available in. If you want to sell printed versions, you’re going to need an ISBN and copyright registration, two things that most publishers will obtain on your behalf. If you decide to go digital, consider publishing on your own through publishing platforms like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, but remember that if you publish on multiple sales channels, you’ll need to convert your manuscript into different file formats. You don’t need an ISBN to publish on Amazon.
- Your book’s retail price – You’re free to set your book’s retail price if you publish on your own, but a few self-publishing companies will decide on the book’s list price. When you partner with an indie publisher, you’ll want to secure the freedom to price your book however you like.
- Royalties – Not all self-publishing service give authors 100% of their book sales. Some take at least a 10% cut. Thoroughly read their royalty policy and don’t hesitate to question them about this matter. Be wary of companies that don’t explicitly explain their royalty policy, or those that don’t have a royalty rate calculator, especially if they take pages, trim size and list price into consideration for calculating the royalty rate.
- Non-exclusive contract – With a non-exclusive contract, you can work with a publisher and still have the freedom to sign up with other publishing-related services or sell your work to a traditional publishing house, film producer, etc.
- Termination of the agreement – You should have the right to terminate the contract any time. You may find a number of reasons for doing so. A traditional publisher might be interested in your book, you may find publishing costs a bit too much down the line, or you might find that you’re unhappy with the service. While you’re at it, find out if you can get a full or partial refund.
- Add-on services – Does the publisher offer book marketing support? It would be very convenient if the publisher offered an all-in-one service or at least add-on options to maximize your publishing opportunities. Find out what promotional activities they implement, how they can impact your book sales and how much these services cost.
- Distribution – Will the publisher distribute your book to a multitude of sales channels worldwide? This is important because the more sales channels you use, the higher your exposure.
- Business model – How does the company earn money? Do they have hidden charges? All businesses need to make money, but the charges you incur should be reasonable.
3. Book Production
This is where the nitty-gritty takes place. The publishing activities you chose will finally be implemented (editing, internal layout, cover design, etc.), so a lot of writing, editing, revising and approving will occur. Once the copy editing and cover design is complete, the publisher will send you an electronic or printed (or both) copy of the market-ready book for your approval. This copy is called a “proof.” This is where you can check the cover and each page.
You can still request changes to the text, content, design and cover at this point, but if you make unnecessary changes, they may be made at your own expense.
Make sure to thoroughly read the proof to see if the copy editor’s revisions have been implemented.
4. Marketing and Promotion
Once the content and design are finalized, the book is now ready to be shared to the world. If you decide to let a self-publishing company market your book, their marketing department will send out a press release to notify the media about your work to gain press coverage.
The promotional activities here will depend on the package you purchase, but you can also promote your book your own way. You will most likely have free author copies from your publisher. Use these as promotional materials – give them away to bloggers and book reviewers and ask for a review in exchange, hold a free book giveaway contest, or send them to your friends and family. Purchase additional copies of your book if you want to advertise your book directly.
Marketing can also include printed promotional materials, such as posters, bookmarks and postcards. Hand them out at book events, trade shows, the local library, airport libraries, gas stations and other places you can think of.
5. Publication – Release Your Book to the World
The 4th and 5th steps are often done simultaneously. Once the book is approved for publication, the publisher sends the book to a printer and makes your book available on retail stores.
Continue marketing your book and ship it to customers, your personal networks, and if possible, local bookstores and distributors. Write blog posts about your book. Send out tweets, posts and pins. Make sure to include a link. There are so many things to be done. Ergo, this final step isn’t really the end. It’s a beginning.