How To Self-Publish Your Novel

Until recently, there was just one route to getting published – you had to find an agent that liked your book and who would be able to sell it to a publisher. The process could take months or years. Many writers would give up in frustration. But now there are more options (see my previous posts on publishing).

The only other alternative to traditional publishing was “vanity publishing.” The vanity press will publish anything for a price. Writers can pay several thousand dollars to get their work published. A word of caution, I know of at least one author who was ripped off by a vanity publisher. Some are what you might call sleazy. The vanity press still exists, but emerging technologies have provided writers with new options.

The emergence of print-on-demand (POD) revolutionized publishing. You could produce single copies and small l print runs which allowed the indie publishing industry to flourish. And the internet made it possible to sell books directly to readers without needing to convince bookstores to stock your books. This provided writers with the ability to self-publish. This was nothing short of a revolution!

What are the advantages of self-publishing?

  • It’s guaranteed that your book gets published.
  • You don’t need to waste time looking for an agent or publisher.
  • You control everything including book length, cover design, price, and release date.
  • You don’t have to share profits with others.
  • Your royalties on ebooks can be as high as 70% and 50% for printed books.

What are also disadvantages that you should know about?

  • You will still have no access to bookstores, so your sales will be through online sales, book signing, and other book events.
  • Unless you plan on doing your own editing, cover design, and book formatting, you will need to pay someone to do these things.
  • You need to develop marketing savvy and cover all marketing costs.
  • It’s more difficult to reach readers solely online.

Publishing an ebook is actually simple. This is partly why self-published books have a poor image. But to do it well and make your book look professional requires some work. These are the steps to releasing a professional looking novel. You will notice that at each step there are things you must do. Self-publishing doesn’t mean doing every step yourself. There are a lot of people who can provide good quality and inexpensive help. If you are too busy or not confident that you have the skills, it is possible to pay others to complete them for you. It doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg, but you need to have the resources to hire freelancers.

Step #1 – Finish Your Book

 Yes, this is an obvious step. But many new writers become too worried about the next steps before they even finish their book. When is your manuscript finished? Essentially when you are satisfied with the quality of your writing. I would suggest having different sets of eyes to review your story. Many writers make use of writing friends to review and critique your manuscript. I have a post on how to get the most out of beta readers. You may want to go further than this and hire a professional editor. I’ve also written a post on editing. Not only does your story need to be polished but error-free. Getting multiple people to proofread is an excellent idea.

Step #2 – Front and Back Cover Content

Once your book is completed, as in critiqued, edited, and proofread, it’s time to work on your cover design, title page, author’s bio, acknowledgements, and back cover blurb. Here is a quick description of each piece.

  • Front Cover – You need to have a professional looking cover that will be attractive to potential readers. If the cover is substandard, it won’t matter how good your novel is. It needs to be in a jpg format and high resolution. You can purchase reasonable priced images for the cover from several sources. I’ve used Shuttlestock in the past. If you hire a graphic artist to design an original cover for you, it will cost more. But if you can’t design a great looking cover on your own, then you need to pay someone. The truth is that readers often choose a book by its cover.
  • Title Page – This is the first page of your novel and includes the book title, author’s name, publisher’s name. If you plan on signing paperback copies at events, you will be using the title page for this.
  • Dedication – The next (odd-numbered) page is typically where you will have your dedication.
  • Copyright – The standard copyright page (again on an odd-numbered page) comes next, which includes in addition to copyright information, credit for the cover design, as well as the books ISBN (covered in Step #5).
  • Acknowledgements – This is your opportunity to thank those who supported you through the writing process. It can go in the front or back of your book. I prefer the back because it’s not really a selling feature.
  • About the Author – I always have this as the last page of the book. I include a bio and a photo. You can include your social media contacts and website/blog. If you have other books, you might include info about them.
  • Back Cover – A back cover is typically used to provide a summary of the novel. This is similar to the summary you might include in a query letter. It’s important to hook in readers. Many purchasing decisions are made based on your cover design and back cover summary. I spend hours trying to get it right. Online sellers like Amazon will also use the back cover blurb as the description of your novel on their site. Should you be selling paperbacks, you will need to design a back cover and spine along with your front cover.

Step #3 Formatting

If you are absolutely satisfied that you have a typo-free and grammatically correct manuscript, then you are ready to format your novel. If you plan on releasing both an e-book and paperback version, you will have to format it twice.

To create an e-book, you need to convert your document into epub or mobi format. If you are a Scrivener user, the software will export it into either format. There are many other platforms that can be used. Some are free but they aren’t always easy to use.

Then you want to format your paperback. Formatting an e-book doesn’t involve making every page look perfect because the page layout is determined by the e-reader being used by the person who has downloaded your book. With a paperback, every page must be reviewed to ensure there are no problems. That is why formatting the paperback is considerably more work. If a setting is changed, it can snowball and effect the rest of the document. To do it correctly, you need a good professional desktop publishing software.

Some writers already have the software and experience to format their books. I’m not one of them. It makes more sense for me to pay someone who has both the experience and software. Prices vary so shop around. The price is partly determined by the length of your book because formatting involves reviewing each page for formatting glitches, So, obviously the longer the book, the longer this will take.

Step #4 – Final Proofread

This is your last chance to review your proofs. Not only to catch typos and other errors, but now to catch any formatting errors, including improper page breaks, text where the fonts change, proper page numbering and headers, etc.

Step #5 – Acquiring ISBNs

International Standard Book Number or ISBN is a 13-digit product identifier used by publishers, booksellers, libraries, internet retailers and other supply chain participants for ordering, listing, sales records and stock control purposes. The ISBN identifies the registrant as well as the specific title, edition and format. I’ve provided this as a separate step because you can’t publish your book without an ISBN. In fact, you need a separate ISBN for each format (e-book, paperback, hardcover, audiobook) and each edition. If you take down your book from sales platforms to make changes to it, you will likely need new ISBNs. You need to provide your ISBNs to upload your books onto sales platforms.

There are many agencies that you can purchase an ISBN from including Amazon through KDP. If you’re Canadian, it’s free. You can register your books with Library and Archives Canada who will assign you numbers. I include the ISBNs on my copyright page and indicate with format each number has been registered to.

Step #6 – Upload to Sales Platforms

This is the end of the road. Some sales platforms will only accommodate e-books while others will allow you to sell paperback and hardcover books as well. You may have also set up your website for book sales. The process for uploading e-book and other formats is different, which is why you had to design covers and format the interior layouts separately. There are many sales platforms to consider including KDP (Amazon), Kobo, Nookpress and Smashwords.

Many authors have a love/hate relationship with Amazon. I get this, but how can you ignore the world’s biggest bookseller? Despite the negative you hear about them I really believe you really need to sell on this platform.

Amazon offers two methods of e-book distribution – Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and KDP Select. Kindle Select gives you access to a variety marketing tools, higher royalties and Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program. Kindle Unlimited is a subscription services in which readers pay a month fee to borrow books to read. The author earns royalties based on the number of pages read. However, KDDP Selects requires you to give Amazon exclusive rights to your e-books. That means you can’t distribute digitally on any other platform including your own website. KDP Select does not cover physical copies of your book.

Your book has been uploaded, all that’s left is marketing. I’m going to leave that for a future post. Good luck publishing.

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