Hello, reader! I previously worked as the in-house editor for a boutique literary agency’s assisted self-publishing program. During my time there, I worked with hybrid authors on their independent projects from start to finish. This blog post is intended to offer a high-level overview of how to self-publish your manuscript.
If you’re venturing into the self-publishing world, you probably have a lot of questions: How can you make your book successful? How much will it cost? What do you need to do first?
These questions are all valid and great to ask. But before we jump into it, let’s define a few key terms that you may encounter during your self-publishing journey and in this article.
- Indie author: An independent, or self-published, author.
- Hybrid author: An author who publishes through both traditional and independent channels.
- Cover copy: The description of your novel that is intended to entice readers to select your book. This typically appears on the front flap of a hardcover book, on the back cover of a paperback, and on the product page for each online retailer.
- Metadata: The keywords, categories (BISAC codes), cover copy, and any other information about your book that is intended to help readers find it.
- Mobi: The eBook file type used by Amazon Kindle.
- ePub: The eBook file type used by other online retailers (Barnes & Noble Press, Apple Books, etc.).
- POD: POD stands for Print on Demand, which means books are printed as they are ordered. There is no inventory.
Now that we have the terminology down, here are the recommended steps you should take to prep your manuscript:
- Hire an Editor
- Determine the Metadata
- Purchase an ISBN
- Register a Copyright
- Create a Cover
- Format the Book
- Upload to Online Retailers
- Market Your Title
Are you ready to knock out your self-publishing obstacles and get your questions answered? Let’s get started!
1. Hire an Editor
From the moment you complete the first draft of your manuscript, you should:
- Take a step back for at least a couple of weeks. You completed a novel. You earned a break! Plus, you need that break in order to come back to your story with a fresh mind.
- Self-edit. You’ll definitely want to read through your manuscript more than once to ensure it’s telling the story you want to tell and doesn’t have any glaring errors.
- Send it off to critique partners and/or beta readers. Confide in your writer friends and get feedback on grammar, plot, continuity, and other issues. Not sure where to find such friends? Check out a few CP Match services, such as this one for children’s writers.
After all of that? It’s time to hire a professional editor. A professional developmental editor will help you expand on your manuscript, as well as give you notes on voice, scene structure, sequence of events, and more.
Once you’ve successfully implemented feedback from a developmental edit, you’ll want to pursue a copyedit. A copyeditor cleans up the manuscript copy, ensures you maintain consistent spelling choices, fact-checks, and makes other stylistic and grammatical corrections. Then, the final (optional) stage of your professional editing process involves hiring a proofreader to review the book after it’s typeset for any lingering (but minor) errors in the story.
Hiring an editor is so incredibly important. If there are glaring plot issues or typos in your story, you’ll lose your readers quickly. Don’t let that happen to you. Hire a professional.
2. Determine the Metadata
As defined in the glossary earlier, metadata is the information meant to help readers find your book. These are the keywords they’re typing into the search field on Amazon, or the categories they’re narrowing their search down to in the sidebar.
While coming up with metadata may seem straightforward, there are still a few caveats to consider:
- Don’t overlap words. Take the famous book title, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. If you were the one publishing this title, you would not want to choose keywords such as “lion,” “witch,” or “wardrobe.” Why is this? These words are already going to be included as metadata because they’re part of your title. This also means you can choose a plethora of other keywords instead (depending on how many your online retailer allows). The same concept applies to your cover copy. Avoid choosing keywords that already appear in your cover copy, as those words will already be indexed. Take advantage of as many descriptive words as you can!
- Don’t be general. When selecting categories (BISAC codes), avoid choosing the “General” subcategory. For example, if you’re writing Juvenile Fiction, choose a subcategory that caters to the genre you’ve written, such as Juvenile > Fantasy & Magic, rather than Juvenile > General. Be as specific as possible so more readers will find your book.
- Put thought into your cover copy. Research other books online and look at titles similar to your own (also known as comparative, or comp, titles). Read the descriptions on their product pages. Note how long they are. See what types of words or phrases are used. Keep that in mind when you write your own. Certain keywords in your cover copy will help users find your book.
Your metadata is meant to help readers discover your book. Be sure to have all of this information ready when you go to upload your manuscript to online retailers.
3. Purchase an ISBN
ISBNs make your book easier to find for readers, and serve as the global standard for identifying titles.
While some online retailers may offer you a free ISBN, this comes with a catch: you’ll most likely only be allowed to use that ISBN with their service. If you’re planning to publish across multiple platforms, this won’t benefit you in the long-run. In addition to that, you’ll need to have different ISBNs for different formats of your book. For example, you’ll need one ISBN for your hardcover and one for your eBook edition.
So, how can you get an ISBN for your book?
This is where more investment comes into play. Bowker’s Identifier Service is the only official ISBN agency in the United States. You can purchase one ISBN for $125, or multiple for a discount. Depending on how many books you want to self-publish in the future (and how many formatted versions of each you’ll create) buying in bulk may be the way to go.
4. Register a Copyright
Another step you’ll want to take before uploading your book is extremely important: registering your copyright. By visiting Copyright.gov, you can follow the steps to register and protect your literary work. This is your intellectual property; a copyright will help prevent others from stealing it.
Note: Your copyright will take several months to process, but it will be effective from the day the copyright office receives all necessary components of your application. In other words, this will be the day you submit (and pay for) the online application. Make sure you have an electronic copy of your manuscript to upload to the website along with your copyright application.
5. Create a Cover
While the idea of creating your own cover may be appealing, you might want to consider hiring a professional cover designer—unless you have substantial design experience yourself!
This can be pricey, though there are a few alternatives you can try first. Check out premade book cover galleries before you make the investment in a custom design. However, make sure the cover you choose from a premade gallery is professional in appearance and portrays your story in the way you want.
If you’re not having much luck going down that avenue, consider hiring a cover designer through Reedsy, a freelancer marketplace made with self-publishing authors in mind.
Depending on if you’re planning to publish both an eBook and print version of your novel, you’ll want an eBook cover and a paperback cover. However, you’ll need the final page count of your interior layout (see the following section!) before the spine width on your paperback cover can be finalized.
Lastly, be sure to select an industry-standard trim size. This is typically 5×8, 6×9, etc. From there, you’ll have the dimensions you need for formatting your interior, as well.
6. Format the Book
Though some online retailers, including Amazon, accept .docx files, using that type of file can negatively impact the formatting of your book once it’s automatically converted into an eBook. For that reason, I highly recommend hiring a professional eBook and POD formatter (or using the wonderful free book formatter tool from Reedsy) once you’ve finalized your manuscript and had it professionally edited.
Depending on the services you purchase, you can end up with:
- An ePub file
- A Mobi file
- A print-ready PDF
You’ll need to have your front cover image finalized and available if you’d like it included in the eBook file(s), which is recommended. You’ll also need your ISBNs and copyright information. Once you have these versions of your book ready, you can easily upload them to each respective online retailer.
7. Upload to Online Retailers
You may be thinking, I want to self-publish everywhere, of course! However, there are a lot of publishing platforms out there at your disposal, and it’s important to research each one and determine if it suits your needs.
Once your manuscript files are ready to go and you’ve compiled all the necessary information about your book, it’s time to research! From Amazon to IngramSpark and everything in between, each platform offers its own benefits to publishing through them. It’s up to you to determine whether they will meet your needs.
Though there are many more options out there to consider, here are five popular publishing platforms:
Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) merged with Amazon Createspace so you can keep track of both your eBooks and print-on-demand books all in one place. When you upload to Amazon KDP, you’ll select a group of keywords and categories (so have that predetermined list handy!) and decide whether you want to enable Digital Rights Management (which prevents the unauthorized distribution of your Kindle files). You can also choose your distribution territories and the percentage of royalties you’d like from predetermined options.
KDP also offers a program called KDP select, which, if you choose to enroll in it, means you must exclusively publish with KDP. In other words, you can’t publish through any other platforms. What’s the benefit? Your book will automatically be enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. You’ll also have a chance to earn higher royalties.
Finally, you can choose to put your book up for sale immediately or set up a preorder for a release date in the future.
B&N Press is another great self-publishing platform that will put your book up for sale on the Barnes & Noble website. You’ll want to ensure you have the following ready as you begin to upload your book:
- Your book’s information (title, keywords, categories, description)
- Your book’s ePub file (and print file, if applicable) and cover image
- Your pricing information
Once you have all of this ready, you’ll be able to upload your book in a similar manner as to KDP.
Apple Books (formerly iBooks) is a bit different in that, in order to access the platform, you’ll need to download iTunes Producer. From there, you’ll be able to upload your ePub file and cover image, include a sample for the Apple Books store, and provide other information about your book.
Kobo is a popular eBook retailer in Canada, which also offers an e-reader device through which readers can download your book. While this may be the first time you’re hearing of Kobo, it’s a great channel to consider, especially if you’re looking to expand your reach!
IngramSpark offers you the opportunity to create high quality print books and eBooks. If you choose to publish through them, you’ll get the chance to be featured in their product catalog, which allows your book to be purchased by libraries, bookstores, and other retail outlets. Through their extensive distribution networks, you’ll also be able to publish on Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, and more.
It’s worth noting, however, that IngramSpark does charge a setup fee for each book you upload onto their platform.
Having a basic understanding of what platforms are available sets up a great foundation for your next task: deciding where to sell your book.
Deciding Where to Sell
It’s okay to feel overwhelmed with the options available to you. In fact, it’s normal! That’s why you should do your homework and lay out your plan beforehand. Then, as you do your research, there are a few key questions you should ask yourself:
- What is your goal? What is your goal for self-publishing? Do you want to reach as many distribution channels as possible, such as through IngramSpark? Or, do you want to take advantage of the KDP Select program and potentially reach more readers that way?
- What features do you need? Do you want the ability to set a preorder date? Choose several categories and keywords rather than just two or three? Update your book file once it has already been published? Make sure the platforms you choose offer these capabilities.
- How do you plan to market? Some self-publishing platforms offer a catalog, like IngramSpark, or entry into programs like Kindle Unlimited. If you’re planning to rely more on marketing opportunities like these, you’ll want to choose a platform that offers such a thing. However, if you plan to leverage your own marketing techniques to sell your book, these programs may not be as important to you.
Deciding where to sell your book takes a little digging and research, but there are great opportunities all over for you to get your book on readers’ radars. Just think about your goals, the features you want to take advantage of, and your marketing plan beforehand.
8. Market Your Title
Of course, all of the effort you’ve put in thus far won’t get you the traction you’re looking for if you don’t focus on your marketing campaign. After all, readers won’t know about your book if you don’t tell them!
Here are some tips for marketing your book:
- Have an online presence. Make sure you have a website and keep it updated with information about your books, any events, and how to contact you. Social media isn’t for everyone, but consider creating and keeping at least one account on a platform updated (Twitter or Instagram are great options for this!). You can also create an author page on sites like Amazon, Goodreads, and others.
- Take advantage of your retailers’ campaigns. Amazon KDP offers countdown deals and other marketing campaigns you can take advantage of. Consider also submitting your book to reviewers (either through large publications like Kirkus Reviews, or to independent bloggers and reviewers). NetGalley and Goodreads are great places to offer ARCs (advance reader’s copies) and giveaways, respectively. However, it’s worth noting that these also come with a fee!
- Market your credentials. Are you writing nonfiction on a topic you’re an expert about? Make that known! Reach out to universities, conferences, and other institutions or events that would benefit from hearing from you. Set up visits and speaking events so you can talk about your book and the topic at hand.
- Don’t forget your local community. Get to know booksellers and librarians in your community—before you start marketing your book. Establish relationships with them, get to know their tastes, and then reach out to them to offer to speak at events or to inquire about stocking your book once you’re ready.
Marketing can be costly, but it’s like we’ve said before—self-publishing is an investment. Don’t let your efforts fall to the wayside once you’ve hit Publish. There’s still much to do!
From completing your manuscript to signing off on your final proof to marketing your title, self-publishing requires an investment of both time and money, but it can be rewarding. While sales are never a guarantee (even for traditional publishers!), if you put the effort and research into producing the most professional product possible, you’ll appeal to more readers and create something you should be proud of. Good luck!