The Ultimate Guide on How to Publish a Book
Want to publish a book? Learn about the options available to you, get step-by-step guidance for each, and set yourself up for a successful launch.
First, write a great book
Regardless of the publishing option you choose, the process will go more smoothly if you've written a great book. First, focus on writing an awesome story. Once you feel your manuscript is in a solid place, then consider your publishing options...
Traditional vs. independent publishing
With traditional publishing, a publishing company will acquire the rights to your manuscript and handle your book's publication and sales strategy. You may receive an advance, an upfront cash payment. Once the book is out, you'd share the royalties with the publisher via a contractually agreed-upon split.
With independent publishing, also known as indie publishing or self-publishing, you'd be responsible for turning your manuscript into a book and submitting it for sale to retailers. You will have to go out of pocket for various expenses, however, you keep 100% of the royalties.
The pros and cons of traditional publishing
The advantages of traditional publishing for authors:
The disadvantages of traditional publishing for authors:
If you'd like to consider traditional publishing, make a list of possible publishers that would be a good fit for your book. To do that, look up the publishers of various books in your genre. You can find the information on the book's Amazon page, back cover, or Google.
Once you have your list of publishers, you want to find their submission requirements, ie how you can give your manuscript to them for assessment.
Certain companies allow you to directly submit your manuscript via their website, however, many others only accept submissions from literary agents working on an author's behalf.
So, if you're considering the traditional-publishing path, you may need to find a literary agent. To do that, Google the names of various authors in your genre followed by "literary agent." The names of agencies and/or specific agents will come up. Visit their sites and read their submission requirements.
Whether you're sending your manuscript to a publisher directly or to literary agents, you should be aware that many submsissions are rejected. If yours happens to be, this does not mean you're a bad writer. Submit to a lot of genre-relevant publishers/agencies and hopefully you find a match.
However, many authors wind up getting rejected from everyone they submit to. Again, this does not mean you're a bad writer. However, if this happens, traditional publishing wouldn't be doable for your project. You'd want to consider indie publishing.
Other authors skip the traditional-submission process altogether and publish all their titles independently. Learn about this method and see what's best for you...
The pros and cons of independent publishing
The advantages of independent publishing for authors:
The disadvantages of independent publishing for authors:
If you're considering the self-publishing path, you should be aware of the major tasks that need to be done before a book goes live:
If you'd like to offer your book as a paperback and/or audiobook, also take into account:
As for marketing, an indie author is responsible for promoting their own book. Yes, it's possible to generate sales using only free marketing (ex, promoting on BookTok), however, paid ads can accelerate your reach.
The vast majority of indie authors don't personally do all of the tasks listed above. They rely on specialized professionals for help. Yes, they come at a cost. However, as mentioned, an indie author keeps 100% of a book's royalties. So, if your book does well, you can easily pay yourself back, plus turn a big profit.
As for hiring professionals to help launch your indie book, you have two main options:
Self-publishing firms vs. freelancers
An all-in-one self-publishing firm acts like a publishing company in that they'll handle the necessary tasks to launch your book, such as editing, cover design, and file formatting. However, unlike a publisher, they will charge you for these services.
With freelancers, you'd hire various professionals to take care of certain aspects of your book's launch. For instance, someone can design your cover while someone else formats your manuscript for paperback printing.
The advantage of a self-publishing firm over freelancers is that it serves as a single point of contact for the entire publishing process. If you'd like, you can step back, have the firm complete every step of the process for you, and then simply check their work for approval.
If this option seems appealing to you, I recommend a self-publishing package from BookBaby, along with their editing service.
Though BookBaby's packages are affordable, you may be able to get your book live for cheaper if you worked with various freelancers and/or handled certain tasks yourself. You wouldn't have a single point of contact through the process, though.
Below, I offer more detail on the steps involved in self-publishing. If you feel you can effectively do any yourself, you can save money going that way.
However, if you lack the expertise or time to properly complete a step yourself, I'd suggest working with a freelancer (I recommend some for you, below).
Editing for self-published books
Manuscript editing is a crucial step of the publishing process. An indie author who puts out an unedited book for sale will come off as an amateur if readers notice issues like plot holes or excessive typos and mention them in reviews.
People who read the reviews likely won't buy the book and people who wrote the reviews likely won't buy your next book.
Even if you're a great self-editor, I strongly suggest you bring in at least one professional to go through your manuscript with an outside perspective.
Four types of editing exist. Ideally, you'd want an editor, or multiple editors, to address your manuscript with all four kinds:
To learn more about each, check out my guide to book editing.
Freelance editors offer various packages where they can do multiple editing services for you. Thus, you likely won't need four separate jobs.
Editing services are priced by the length of your manuscript. They aren't cheap. But, to avoid coming off as an amateur, you should absolutely take on the cost.
I recommend the platform Fiverr for finding affordable freelancers - browse their editors.
Cover design for self-published books
The majority of self-published books are sold on Amazon. The main avenues Amazon uses to market books - search results, on-site recommendations, email recommendations, and ads - all heavily feature covers.
So, if your cover isn't high quality, your book will be at a severe disadvantage on Amazon, in addition to other major retailers.
Tips for an effective book cover:
Unless you've worked as a professional graphic designer at some point, I'd strongly suggest you do not design your own cover. A subpar cover is the quickest way an author can come off as an amateur.
If potential readers see a bad cover, they likely not only won't read your book, but not even click your link to read your description.
Once you've written down some ideas for your cover, hire a freelance cover designer and share your thoughts with them. Also provide links to the 10 or so books in your niche you identified.
A good designer can take this information and create various options for you. Once you choose an option and provide your feedback, the designer will take a second pass, integrating your input. Likely, you'd do one more round of nuanced feedback and updates, and then your cover will be done.
A good cover designer can go for a few hundred bucks. Though this isn't cheap, again, avoiding coming off as an amateur is well worth the cost.
Check out Fiverr's book cover designers.
E-book file formatting for self-published books
Once you've worked with editor(s) to arrive at the final draft of your manuscript, you need to convert it from your word-processing program into an appropriate file type for e-readers (Kindles, Nooks, iPads, etc).
The primary file type for e-books is known as an ePub. It's compatible with all the major retailers and their associated e-readers.
When creating an ePub file, you must achieve consistency in the style of your chapter headings and the spacing between chapters. If your book contains illustrations, charts, or other graphics, they need to be optimized for clarity.
Fortunately, easy-to-use software systems enable you to format your files yourself. I recommend a tool called Vellum.
You can try it for free. For a one-time purchase of $249.99, you'll gain access to their platform for both e-book and paperback formatting. If you plan to self-publish multiple books in both formats, this investment can be much less than the cost of hiring freelancers for each project.
That being said, if you don't like doing any tech tasks on your own, many professionals on Fiverr are available to format your e-book for you.
Retailer submissions for self-published books
As stated, most self-published books are sold on Amazon. The company offers authors a program known as KDP Select, which grants you special promotional opportunities in exchange for giving Amazon exclusive sales rights to the e-book format of the book.
To learn more about KDP Select and whether it's a fit for you, check out my post on selling books on Amazon.
If you don't opt for KDP Select, you can publish your e-book on other platforms too. Here are links to create self-publishing accounts on the major retailers:
Regardless of the platform(s) you publish on, before you submit your book, you'll need your final cover file and interior file.
Once you have an account on a retailer platform, you should see an option to add a book. You'll be asked to submit your cover and interior files, plus fill out various fields, such as:
Self-publishing a paperback book
Once you've made your e-book version on Amazon's author platform, you can create a paperback. These physical books are printed on-demand, ie when someone orders one, Amazon's printing machines will produce one and it'll be sent off for shipping.
As the author, you don't need to worry about managing inventory or mailing copies.
Your paperback can be purchased by consumers from Amazon's website. In addition, it'll also become available in catalogs for order by libraries and physical bookstores. So, if you've made a paperback version through Amazon, it can theoretically show up on the shelves of a library or bookstore.
Here's what you'll need to create a paperback:
Self-publishing an audiobook on Audible
Audiobook retailer Audible, owned by Amazon, has been growing a lot in popularity. Indie writers can publish audiobooks directly on Audible via its author platform, ACX.
Here's what you'll need to create an audiobook:
If you want to go with a professional narrator, here are your three main options:
Marketing your self-published book
Now you know what you need to independently publish an e-book, paperback, and audiobook. However, simply publishing a book doesn't mean it'll generate sales. You also need to market it.
Various marketing strategies are at your disposal, some free, some paid. Learn about them next in my ultimate guide to book marketing.
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