For self-published authors and creators of all kinds, publishing a book has never been easier. With the explosive growth of self-publishing and ecommerce platforms, indie authors are no longer held back by the whims of a traditional publisher or literary agent. Today you can secure book printing for your work with just an email address and your content files.
Self-publishing today may be easier but that doesn’t mean it’s a simple process. You’ll need to manage your book’s design and marketing. Book print-on-demand services give you complete design control but are no guarantee of book sales.
In this guide, we’ll cover every part of self-publishing your book.
6 Steps To Self-Publish A Book
- Write Your Book
- Research The Market
- Edit & Revise Your Book
- Pick A Self-Publishing Platform
- Format Your Files
- Design Your Book Cover
Being a successful author in today’s creator economy means thinking and acting like an entrepreneur. This means more than just writing a book. You’ll need to identify a target audience and create content like blog posts, emails, social posts, videos, and more to supplement your book and continually build a community around your work.
Traditional publishers handled the design and formatting for authors, but as an indie author doing custom book printing, you’ll need to do all the work to design the book, sell your work, and grow your audience. This 6-step guide will help you understand the process and prepare you for creating your own self-published book.
#1 Write Your Book
Before you think about publishing, marketing, or anything else, you need the first draft of your book. If you’re a new author and this is your first book, you should also be developing a business plan as you write your book. Even then, you need to focus on completing a draft before you take any other steps in the publishing process.
Create A Writing Habit
Writing a book is a marathon. If you want to get a book written, you need to create a strong writing habit. If you can’t commit to writing on a schedule, you’ll find yourself struggling to finish writing your book.
Even before you start writing your book, you should get in the habit of writing every day. That could be drafting outlines for your book, journaling, or doing prompts.
Create A Writing Schedule
It’s helpful at this stage to look at some other books in your genre. Don’t spend too much time researching (that’s the next step!) but you should get a sense of two things:
- The way they structure their book
- The total page/word counts
The structure will give you some hints about what your readers expect. Are your samples broken up into chapters or sections? Maybe both? Are there long paragraphs with rich details or is it mostly dialogue? Take note and make an effort to craft your own book with a similar structure to the books your potential readers are buying.
Likewise, you can use the estimated page count or word count to get a sense of how long your book should be. If most of the authors in your genre are writing 60,000-word novels, you can use that to set your own word count goals when planning your book.
Use that word count to create a writing schedule. If you can get 800 words written a day, it would take you about two-and-a-half months to finish your draft (75 total days). Find a word count and timeframe that works for you and stick to it!
#2 Research The Market
This might not be the most fun part of publishing your book, but it’s important to spend some time researching your genre and the market for your book.
If you’re a first-time author or a returning veteran, it is important to understand who your audience is and what kinds of books they like to read. The first step in your marketing research is to read the most popular books in your genre. These books are your competition. Evaluate what the authors did right and areas where you can innovate on their ideas.
This could be format, style, or plot based. Researching your market reveals what has been working but also gives you an opportunity to find room for new ideas.
Use Social Media For Audience Research
Start your audience research by finding other authors who publish similar books in the same genre. Then go and follow these authors on their social media platforms and follow them. Pay attention to what they post and use that information to develop your own marketing plan.
As you spend time on various social media platforms, you should know which ones your potential fans are using and which ones are less active. Use that information to focus your marketing efforts in the lead-up to your book’s launch on the platforms you know work.
Create Reader Profiles
You should make a profile that is as detailed as you need, but you don’t have to develop long, in-depth personas. Your reader profile can be a simple outline of who your readers are and what they like (and maybe what they don’t like).
The goal is to help identify small ways you can tailor your content and your marketing efforts to appeal to your readers.
You’ll find most of the information you need by observing other authors and creators who are successful in your genre.
- The platforms where authors interact
- Shortlist to consider: Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, LinkedIn, Discord, Goodreads, Reddit, Medium, Substack
- The kinds of posts that get the most attention
- Unique elements used for the cover design
- Where their book is available for sale (both online and in bookstores)
- Check reviews on Amazon and Goodreads to see what readers are saying
- The average price for digital and print books
#3 Edit & Revise Your Book
After spending some time learning about the marketplace and readers you hope will buy your book, it’s time to get back to your content and work on editing and revising. This means going through it several times to catch any spelling or grammar errors, and having at least one other person (preferably a professional copy editor) read it over as well. A poorly edited book will reflect poorly on you as an independent author. This is particularly true for self-published books; if you don’t do the work to make your book look professional, your readers will notice.
Using that time between writing and editing to research your readers will help you come back to your work with a deeper understanding of the commercial side of self-publishing. Traditional publishing houses have professionals who will do this work; the benefit of being an indie author is that you will know your work from all sides.
Self-Editing Your Book
Professional editing is a must if you’re planning to sell your book. But you can start by self-editing to bring focus and cohesion to your work. Reread your manuscript with an eye for:
- Trimming the fat – This is anything that doesn’t contribute to the story or develop your characters. Also, look for opportunities to rewrite sentences so they are shorter and more direct.
- Refine the plot – The first draft of fiction stories are always a mess. Even the most prolific and skilled writers are churning out mediocrity (at best) with the first draft. In your first round of editing, look for ways to refine and focus the plot.
- Read sections aloud – Some editors will advise reading the entire story aloud. If you have the time, do that. Otherwise, just sample some sections and read them aloud—either by yourself or with a listener. You’ll find awkward phrases you might have read past when you read your story aloud.
- Use spelling & grammar checkers – I like Grammarly or ProWritingAid. No matter what you use, take some time to review all the suggested edits and corrections from your spelling & grammar software.
Hiring a book editor is (nearly) a necessity. Professional editors will look at your content with dispassionate eyes, helping you further refine your story.
We’ll cover this more later, but you should include editing as part of your budget for publishing. The cost to have a book edited will vary, but the Editorial Freelancers Association has a chart with the average costs for numerous book editing activities. Use this to get an idea about the cost of a professional editor, but remember you can use more affordable freelancers from platforms like Fiverr.
Book Editing Round Two: Beta Readers
After doing a round of editing your own book and working with a professional editor (or a couple of editors), you’re probably ready to publish, right?
Not so much. But you are ready to get some Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) sent to your beta readers. This is one area where being an indie creator really benefits you. Beyond having creative control over the entire project, you can also use print-on-demand to quickly and easily create ARCs and send books to your readers directly.
Your beta readers should have a bunch of new feedback for you. Take all of that and give your manuscript another thorough edit. You might be satisfied and ready to publish, or you might need to go back to your pro editor to re-edit the newest version of your story.
I write 4 drafts of anything I write. I want to make each paragraph, sentence, word earn its keep.Ann Handley
#4 Pick A Self-Publishing Platform
You’re not quite ready to publish your book yet, but once the content is done being edited, it is time to find a publishing service. Online book publishing has blown up in the last few years, so you’ll have a lot of options. Here are a few important things to think about when you’re researching self-publishing companies:
- How will you sell your book?
- What are your publishing goals?
- What is your publishing budget?
Each platform has its own set of features and fees, so it’s important to do your research and choose the one that best meets your needs.
How Will You Sell Your Book?
As a content creator, you’ve got more publishing and distribution options today than ever before. From massive platforms like Amazon to distributing to your followers on social media, your options are vast.
Luckily, you did that market research and you’ve got a good sense of who your readers are, where they spend their time, and what they like to buy. With that information, you need to consider how you’ll sell your book.
If you write serial fiction, you might use a dedicated platform like Wattpad. If you write ebook novels, you might be on Amazon. And if you’re publishing books for your business, you might want direct sales to your captive audience. The point is, you need a clear sense of how you plan to sell your book before you select a publishing service.
What Are Your Publishing Goals?
Do you aspire to become a full-time author or is your book a hobby or supplement to your existing business? Are you a skilled book marketer or is this your first foray into selling your content?
Without a goal, you’ll struggle to be successful. And you’ll run the risk of selecting a publishing company that isn’t right for you.
If your goal is to sell books on Amazon, use Amazon. There isn’t another publisher in the world who will make it easier or more efficient to sell on Amazon than their own publishing service.
Likewise, if you’re trying to sell your book through retail bookstores, you need to use Ingram. And if you plan to sell directly to your fans on your own site or social media, you need to use Lulu.
Different publishers offer different product and service options. Define your goals for your book (and your publishing career) and then start looking for a publishing company that fits your needs and will help you achieve your goals.
What Is Your Publishing Budget?
This one might be more difficult. But have you ever stopped to think about how much it is to self-publish a book? The cost ranges from $0.00 to $10,000+ depending on your goals and the publishing company you work with.
Consider the costs of self-publishing when you plan your budget.
Additional Self-Publishing Service Considerations
The three questions above are fundamental when selecting a self-publishing platform, but there are a few additional features you may want to look for:
- How much does publishing/printing cost? Some publishers provide services like editing and layout but charge thousands of dollars to publish. Other platforms (like Lulu) are free to use and only charge you print costs. Evaluate the cost to publish and the cost to print carefully, as both will impact your earning potential.
- How much will you earn? The amount you can profit from your book sales will vary wildly. For example, with Lulu Direct you earn 100% of the profit on each sale, while some self-publishers will share as little as 30% with you.
- What’s the deal with ISBNs? The barcode on the back cover of most traditionally published books is the International Standard Book Number (ISBN), a globally recognized means of identifying the book. If you’re self-publishing and intend to sell through distribution channels (like Ingram or Amazon), you’ll need to include an ISBN. If you’re selling directly to your fans, an ISBN isn’t required. You can purchase your own ISBNs from companies like Bowker (in the USA). Many self-publishing companies will offer free ISBNs for your or include them in your publishing package. It’s important to note that an ISBN is unique—you would need a separate ISBN for a print book and ebook version, even if the content is the same.
#5 Format Your Files
The last step! Before you can self-publish your book, you need to create book files and format those files properly for your publishing platform.
To publish with Lulu, you’ll need to create a PDF for your book interior and a separate PDF for your book cover.
Creating Your Interior File
Start by creating a file with MS Word or Google Docs that contains just your book’s text. No images, no header or footer text. Just the words.
Next, open up one of our page templates using your preferred page layout software. I suggest using one of the following programs to lay out your work:
- Microsoft Word – If you’re publishing a novel, memoir, or other work with very few images or complex elements, Microsoft Word is the easiest way to lay out your book.
- Adobe InDesign – On the opposite end of the spectrum from Word, we have the gold standard for page layout with Adobe InDesign. You’ll need to learn how to use InDesign and it is expensive, but if you intend to do a lot of page layouts or have complex books like comic books, magazines, or photo books, InDesign is an impressive tool.
- Affinity Publisher – Affinity Publisher is a low-cost replacement for InDesign. It lacks some of the features but offers many of the same functionality as Adobe’s products. Again, you’ll need to dedicate some time to learning Publisher, but if you plan to do the layout for multiple books but don’t want to invest in Adobe products, Affinity Publisher is the best option.
There is a lot that goes into creating a professional, eye-catching book layout. A few important elements to think about include:
- Front and Back Matter – The front matter of your book includes the title, half-title, copyright page, table of contents, introduction, and any other content that you’ll include before the main contents of your book. Back matter includes anything at the end of your book, like an index, appendix, about the author, or sample chapter for your upcoming release.
- Setup Your Pages – For MS Word, this means using page breaks and styles to define the margins, spacing, fonts, and more for each of your pages. If you’re using InDesign or Publisher, you’ll work with page templates, called Master Pages, to define how your pages will appear.
- Add Page Numbering – The content in your Header and Footer will include page numbers, your author name, the book or section title, and anything else that should appear on each page. If you’re working in Word, page numbering should come last; for InDesign and Publisher, you can incorporate page numbers into your master pages.
- Create a Style Guide – If you’re planning to write multiple books, you should define styles in a simple guide to keep all your work consistent. This might not seem like a big deal upfront, but it will save you time and energy years later and ensures your books retain the same ‘look’ throughout your publishing career.
Creating Your Cover File
If you had a professional book cover designed, be sure to use the cover template you can download while publishing. The cover file can be a challenge, as you may want your graphic designer to begin work before you’ve finished designing the interior file. But you will NEED that interior file to get the spine dimensions (based on your page count).
Regardless of when you start working on the cover, the final design must be sized precisely and adhere to the margins included in our template or you risk text bleeding over onto the spine or being cut off on the edges.
#6 Design Your Book Cover
Once you’ve got your content finalized and you’ve selected a publisher, you’re ready to design the cover.
If you’ve got some graphic design skills, take advantage and design your own book cover. All authors can take advantage of low-cost cover designers:
Creating A Book Cover That Sells
A book cover should grab the attention of a casual browser. Refer back to your market research and look at the most popular books in your genre. What do all their covers have in common?
Consider your long-term goals when designing your cover. If your first book will extend into a series, the covers will need to be consistent. Thanks to print-on-demand, you can easily correct a typo by uploading corrected book files. But updating your cover is like a new book launch.
Professional Book Cover Design
If you want to sell your book and don’t have experience designing book covers, hire a professional to design your cover. Seriously, if you have only one publishing expense, make it the cover. A professional book designer will help you get your book noticed—remember that online retailers will display your title and cover thumbnail and maybe a portion of your book description. You need your cover image to capture attention and pull in potential readers.
I’ll say it one last time before we move on: you need a professional book cover.
Publishing Like Successful Content Creators
As an author, you are a modern content creator and if you’re selling your books (or aim to sell your books), you’re a content entrepreneur. That means you need to think about your book-selling efforts as a business and treat them as such.
When planning your self-publishing, you have to create a budget, plan the story from start to finish, and develop a marketing strategy based on the readers and online platforms that will serve you best.
Finding success as an author starts with publishing, but there is much more involved—from marketing to networking to diversifying your product offerings. You’ll need to be on top of all these factors throughout the writing, editing, publishing, and promotion phases of your book launch.
Paul is the Content Marketing Manager at Lulu. When he's not entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person but considers himself cat tolerant.