What I learned while self-publishing.

I went through the process of self-publishing Our Bloody Pearl this summer. Even with all the guides in the world it turned out to be a very grueling experience. I’ll be doing it again with Quasi Stellar soon, but I also hope to traditionally publish The Warlord Contracts trilogy.

First, let’s get this out of the way: Self published books are often very bad.

But they don’t have to be.

Self publishing requires you, the writer, to either wear the hat of everyone else at a publishing house, or be your own investor and pay for professionals to do the jobs you can’t. If you’re willing to put in that effort and money then you can come out with a more professional book than you might have had you published traditionally. If you’re not, then self publishing might not be the right road for you.

Now then, how do you self publish in a way that produces a professional book?

Fifteen Basic Steps to Self-Publishing:

1. Write and edit the book.

This is, understandably, the step that a lot of people get stuck at. Writing a novel is hard. Don’t worry about how or when you’ll publish it until it’s finished.

Just write it.

During this time you should also be marketing yourself as a writer. Learn more about that via my marketing tips tag.

2. Beta readers and critique partners.

Getting feedback from handpicked peers is essential for any book no matter which publishing route you choose. If these terms are new to you, learn more about beta readers here and critique partners here.

During your first book (or two) I recommend starting with critique partners and then moving to beta readers afterward, because critique partners will shred your novel down to the bare bones, which you usually really need the first few books you write. Critique partners will also generally pick at your grammar and typos though, which can be very useful at the end of the editing stage so that your manuscript looks cleaner to an editor (or agent, if you traditionally publish.)

3. Write your blurbs and summary.

While your story is in the hands of your final group of readers, you should already be working on blurbs and summaries. By the end of the publishing process you will need:

  • A back of the book blurb.
  • A one-two sentence logline style blurb.
  • A one page summary of the story.

Don’t put these off! They won’t get any easier if you wait. You can find tips on writing blurbs in this article.

4. Determine that you’re done making changes to the manuscript.

A writer who’s growing and learning will forever feel as though there’s something they can change in their manuscript, but at some point you have to decide that what’s done is done. You will always have another awesome book which will be even better than this one.

If you have trouble determining when this point should be, check out this explanation!

5. Make a publishing timetable.

Give yourself more time on your timetable than you think you need! Traditional publishing takes about two years for a reason. A lot of the steps below this point seem relatively simple compared to writing and editing a book, but they require you to learn new skills and spend a lot of time waiting for other people with busy schedules.

Five and a half: Start book two.

You might have already done this during the beta reading stage, but if not, start another book! Writers should never stop writing and editing (outside of planned vacations, emergencies, and mental health breaks, of course), so pick that pen back up and start pounding out another book.

6. Find a content editor.

If you ran a beta reading stage with 10-20 critical and knowledgeable beta readers in your target audience then congratulations, they served the purpose of a content editor already!

6. Find a copy editor.

A copy editor is the person who checks your grammar, sentence structure, flow, and word usage. I found my editor though the editorial freelance association directory. The main things to look for when choosing an editor:

  • Experience. This should include testimonies, information about any publishing companies they worked with, and the works they edited in the past. If you can’t easily access and double check these things, then keep looking.
  • Sample edits. Any editor worth your time will offer you a free sample edit. (For copy editing this is generally 750-1k words of your novel. I’m not sure about other types of editing.) Take advantage of this! Send the same sample to the top four or five editors who fit your price range and see who returns feedback that you jive with and feel comfortable paying.

What if I can’t afford a copy editor?

In general, you can probably get away without hiring a professional copy editor if you (a) find 3-4 solid critique partners who are willing to do a very detailed line edit and proofread of your final draft (do not take advantage of your fellow writers!! Offer them the same in return!!), (b) get free sample edits from a handful of freelance authors to see if they catch any major formatting issues you do regularly, and © learn what a style guide is and make at least a simple one for yourself while you do another round of proofreading.

Remember though, traditionally publishing exists specifically so that you, the writer, can get a professional edit without having to pay for it. If you want a professional book without putting in the investment, then querying an agent might be the better option for you.

7. Prepare to offer ARCs to reviewers and friends.

Getting reviews for your book is the most important marketing activity you can do. The sooner you contact reviewers about this, the more reviews you’ll have when the release date comes. Note that the large majority of book reviewers you contact will never respond. If you email 20 reviewers, expect to get one or two reviews out of it, most likely in 4-6 months. (Which is why you should email all your friends and past beta readers too.)

How do we maximize the number reviewers who will read our books?

You know those neat little lists of book blogs who will review indie books? Don’t use them.Anything that with nicely compiled and easy to get reviewer lists is going to be overcrowded with blogs who have two year wait-lists and 97% of them will never even email you back.

Instead, try searching for reviewers you already follow on twitter and tumblr. Look for semi-popular goodreads reviewers who put positive reviews on books similar to your own and check if they have a link to a blog, or an email for review inquiries. Find less well known booktubers that youtube links to off your favorite popular booktubers.

8. Format the book.

You can pay someone to format your novel, but its rather expensive for something that’s relatively easy to learn to do yourself using guides off the internet. Paperback and ebook formatting must be done separately, and your first time I would set aside a full Saturday to tackle each of them, just to be safe. If you have a program like scrivener, with a little tweaking you should be able to get a nice looking ebook with none of the hassle of learning html. There are many other options though. Do a little research to find the one which works for you!

(Note: If you’re printing a paperback you cannot get a paperback cover until you’ve formatted the book and know final page count for your print size!)

9. Hire a cover artist.

The book cover is the most important part of your book, so far as sales and success are concerned.

There’s a huge trend in self published books to skip this stage and work with photoshop or cavna instead. I would not recommend this. Cover artists for professional books do what they do full time. They know the market. They know what sells. So do some writers, but the truth is, many of the writers who think they can design covers, turn out the sorts of designs that are easily pegged as self-published books.

If you want a professional looking book that pops in the amazon charts, hire a professional.

There are a multitude of ways you can go about this. Some large cover art sites like damonza offer bundles which can get pricey, but let you back out with no charge if you don’t like their first drafts and include unlimited changes if you commit. There are also many freelancers who specialize in book covers, for a wide range of prices.

What if I don’t have the money to hire a cover artist?

If there is anything you don’t want to go cheep on, it’s your cover art. But let’s say you absolutely have to get a cover for cheap or free. There are people who do cover designs for $5 on Fiverr, and I think some of them actually turn out half decent covers for very specific genres, but its a gamble. A couple writeblrs do cover design as part of their day job and might be willing to do something cheep or for a trade. You could also learn how to design covers yourself, but if you want to compete with books whose designers went to school just to do what they now do full time, you’ll either have to put in a lot of time or be lucky enough to have a very good, easily executed idea for your particular novel, and hopefully not one with requires any stock photos unless you want to purchase rights to them.

Now, there are some exceptions. Some writers have a natural design brain, and some writers are in fact designers themselves. Sometimes you write a book where the perfect cover design is very simple and easy to produce yourself. But that won’t be most people, with most books.

So far I have seen exactly two of the hundreds of self publisher made covers I’ve seen have actually made me want to buy the story. I’m not trying to be mean. It’s just the truth.

10. Offer ARCs to more reviewers.

Now you have a nicely formatted book and everything! Who can resist that?

11. Do a cover reveal, and during the cover reveal, offer everyone there an ARC.

Cover reveals come in many different forms. Some writers just post the cover on their blog, some do livestreams on facebook, some do question and answer sessions leading up to the reveal, some even go all out and have other writers come talk about their books on their site for a full day prior to the cover reveal.

Do whatever works best for your schedule. The goal is to attract attention for the book, so make sure you link to anything you’ve already set up from #12, so people can easily find your book when you release it!

And, as always, give out ARCs.

12. Get your book and author profile set up on everything.

Prior to your book’s release you should have a goodreads author page, an amazon author page, and a bookbub author page, all with your book attached. You should also have a website and a mailing list (linked to via your ebook), prepared release announcements for every social media site you work off of, and be ready with attractive and easily noticeable links to the book’s sale page off your tumblr blog and website.

Keep in mind that some of these things will take a decent chunk of time to set up, and a few of them require a live human being to confirm you are who you say you are. Start them as early as possible!

13. Release the book!

Time to actually put the book out there for all to buy. You can do a similar hype release as you do with a cover reveal, if you so desire. Make sure you remember to post all your announcements and put up all your links.

Try not to check on the book’s sales until the following day! It does not help their growth or your mental health to constantly be haunting your sales charts. When you do check them, keep in mind that a book which sells two thousand copies in its entire life time has done well, all things considered.

The fantastic thing about self publishing is that you never have to stop selling your book. If you sell fifty copies your first month and then twenty the second and then five the third, you can always dive back into marketing, run a discount, apply for a bookbub ad, focus on marketing yourself as an author and gaining followers. You chose whether your book is done selling.

To offer pre-orders or not?

This is a toss up. In my experience, pre-orders aren’t a good idea for your debut self-published novel, even if you think you have a large audience who will buy them, because they take away from the sales you could have your release week, and the boost those sale give you on the amazon charts. If you do wish to offer pre-orders though, try going through ingramspark instead of amazon advantage, to save yourself tears and heartache.

To go amazon exclusive or not?

Many authors claim that you have to try both to know what’s right for any particular book. Do your own research and decide what you think is best for you.

Thirteen and a half: Start book three.

At this point you should already have finished at least the rough draft of second novel, so don’t forget to start your third book at some point!

14. Offer people read for review copies.

Especially if your debut novel is aimed toward broke teenagers and younger adults, there will be a lot of people who are interested in the book but aren’t motivated enough to actually buy it on faith alone. By offering free ebooks on a read for review basis, you…

  • Grow your reviews.
  • Create fans out of people who may have never read the book otherwise.
  • Have higher paperback sales, because readers who loved the ebook you gave them may decide to buy themselves a paperback.

15, unto infinity: Keep promoting your book into the sunset, while writing new books!

The time to stop promoting you book is whenever you feel you’ve had enough sales and reached enough readers. Until you reach a point where you’ve published so many books that you can’t handle marketing them all, you should still be trying to expand your readership!

And don’t forget to have a little bit of fun along the way. You worked hard for this. Celebrate it.

But what if I just want to get a book out there?

If your goal is not to publish a professional looking book with will expand your fanbase and set you on a path to full time authorship, but rather to have a piece of your writing available in a book format your friends and family can buy, then there’s no reason not to publish exactly how you wish to.

Are all these steps really necessarily?

I believe they are, at least for a debut novel. In fact, there are probably more steps which I missed entirely. But, if you can find multiple self-published authors who went through a less rigorous publishing process and still received hundreds or goodreads reviews, then by all mean, follow that process instead (and let me know about it!)

So which book did you self publish?

This one here! You can support me and my ability to keep giving writing advice by purchasing a copy today =D

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