My finger hovers over the publish button on the self-publishing platform of my choice. I’ve worked over a year to get here. I’ve written over thirty thousand words. I’ve spent countless hours preparing illustrations and painstakingly putting together my book design. I’ve sent my work off to editors and picked it apart, polishing it for this day. Reviewers have already put out reviews for ARC copies, and I have several lined up for the day of my release. It’s go time. But… how did I get here?
How do I get my book ready to self-publish?
There are very important steps to follow to prepare your book for self-publishing: completing your manuscript, picking the publishing platform of your choice, getting your book edited, acquiring illustrations or a book cover for your book, finalizing your book, finding and soliciting reviewers, and finally publishing your book. This might seem like a lot, but with enough planning and an understanding of each of the steps, you’ll be there in no time! Having a good team behind you and the motivation of friends can make a world of difference. Build yourself a road map, in the beginning, to follow step by step, build deadlines, and get your book out there!
Step 01: Completing Your Manuscript
This step should be pretty obvious! Before even moving forward with anything else, your manuscript needs to be complete in the sense that your whole story should be on paper. Of course, edits will be made, there will be revisions, there will be additions, but for now, your book needs to be the best that it can be as a draft. You’re the only one who’s worked on the book at this point, so don’t expect it to be 100% perfect, but at least the whole idea will be there.
At this stage, I like to do a little bit of early editing myself. First, I will read through my manuscript OUT LOUD. This is an incredibly important step. It will help you make sure your dialogue sounds like a normal human would say it, your sentences flow correctly, and that your work is relatively free of typos. By reading aloud, you slow your brain down, giving you time to look at your manuscript as best as you can.
For now, I also like to run my manuscript through a basic copyediting program like Grammarly just to make sure my manuscript is free of obvious typos. By the end of this, I should be in a good place to send my book off to someone else.
Step 02: Pick Your Self-Publishing Platform
There are dozens of platforms out there, many, many more than there were years ago, so do your research! In this section, I’ll be covering the biggest three self-publishing platforms.
I personally have used CreateSpace for the entire length of my publishing career up to this point. CreateSpace was an Amazon publishing company that has since been discontinued and merged with Kindle Direct Publishing, which I used for e-books. Kindle Direct functions exactly as CreateSpace did as far as I can see, and it is still owned by the same company! I picked this company because, at the time, there were very few quality options. Lulu was still low quality and Ingram Spark was unknown to me. I like Kindle Direct because it is a direct line to Amazon, which is a self-published author’s best friend. They also give you a free ISBN if you need it.
The other options that I have little to no experience in are Lulu and Ingram Spark. Ingram Spark is owned by publishing giant Ingram and I have heard only good things from them. Lulu has drastically increased in quality since 2011 when I first entered the publishing scene, and I would argue is on par with Kindle Direct at this point. Do your research, look at all three, and pick the one you like the best!
The most important thing for you to do at this stage is to AVOID VANITY PRESSES AT ALL COST. Vanity presses are “self-publishing” companies that want you to buy enormous amounts of books for a high cost. They will print your indie book, but you need to order two THOUSAND of them. This is dumb for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Kindle Direct, Lulu, and Ingram Spark are all print on demand book printers, meaning if you only want to order one copy of your book you can with no problem. Secondly, the minimum for what is considered a small print run in the professional publishing world is two hundred and fifty books. This being said, vanity presses are a total SCAM. It is much wiser for you to be able to only order a couple of your books at a time despite a higher unit cost. Because of print on demand, this also means you won’t have to store all your books in your house!
Step 03: Get Your Book Edited
I’ve covered editing before, but don’t skip this step! I know a lot of self-published authors are so eager to get their book on shelves that they breeze right past an editor for the sake of having a physical book. This is TERRIBLE and will hurt you more than help you. If your book is unedited, your family will pity-buy the book, even though they know the quality is poor, and you won’t be able to sell it to anyone else unless you’re the best marketer in the world. Bookstores will not consider stocking their shelves with your work and the basic requirement for most bookstores is that the manuscript is free of typos. Do yourself a favor and find a good editor.
Before I even send my books to my editors, I do an edit myself (this is even after I pop it through Grammarly the first time). I let my book sit for a month (YES A WHOLE MONTH) where I completely ignore its existence. After that, I read through my manuscript again, make any changes I like with the aid of editing software like ProWritingAid, and then put it into Grammarly again. I am now ready to send my books to editors.
At this point, I give my books to my first editor who bundles manuscript critique and line editing into one package. She helps me with style and makes sure my story is loveable, makes sense, and is exciting to read. After I get it back from her, I implement her edits, run the manuscript through Grammarly again, and then push it off to my second editor. He is strictly a copyeditor and will make sure my word usage is good, the manuscript reads properly, and that I don’t have any weird formatting errors. When I get it back from him, I do the same thing again. Grammarly GO!
Step 04: Acquiring Illustrations
This is maybe one of the most important steps. The truth is, people DO judge books by their cover. If your cover is missing essential elements, bookstores won’t accept it. On top of that, if your book is ugly no one will want to read it, no matter how good its insides are. PAY AN ILLUSTRATOR OR GRAPHIC DESIGNER. That’s all I’ll say about that. As an illustrator myself, I know how valuable a sexy book cover is, and you will feel SO PROUD looking at your book if the cover is what you envisioned. Especially if you are writing fantasy or science fiction for any age, people want to see what your world and characters look like. Pay an illustrator to make that happen!
Depending on the illustrator, the covers can range from as low as $100 to as high as $2000 based on price and complexity. The industry standard for paying an illustrator is around $2000 for just a single cover, but many freelance illustrators (like myself) will offer cover design in the range of $100 to $400. It may seem like a lot, but if you REALLY want to sell your book and make an actual income, this is an investment you can’t skip. Interior illustrations vary from illustrator to illustrator, but I personally charge anywhere between $50 to $250 depending on the size of the illustration. Keep in mind, too, that if you’re self-publishing your book, many companies do not offer single color illustrations in your books. They’re either ALL color or ALL black and white. Full color printing is unnecessary and EXPENSIVE. I would recommend commissioning greyscale images to save you money during both the illustration process and the printing process.
Step 05: Finalize Your Book
Now’s the time to put it all together. Using your software of choice, format your book and insert illustrations. I recommend InDesign which is industry standard. If you can’t purchase or don’t want to learn InDesign, find an illustrator like me who will put your book together for you. On the publishing platform of your choice, input your book information, an ISBN if you’ve bought one or your publishing service provides one for free, your manuscript interior in the format they recommend, and your cover images. At this point, your book is almost done and you can order a proof (a dummy copy, or galley) of your book! This is the type of copy you’re going to send to reviewers and read over really quickly for any formatting errors or lingering typos.
Order only how many your budget affords. For a small print run of 50 books, you should really only order one physical review copy to send out to reviewers. Offer to send digital copies if you can to save a lot of money.
Step 06: Finding Reviewers
The hunt begins. This is my least favorite part of this process, but it’s essential. You’re going to go, find a list of reviewers that review books in your genre and email every. Single. One of them. This is a super daunting process and I typically try and tackle five or six a week. Craft one book pitch that covers most of the information reviewers want to see on their submission forms and copy and paste this to make this quicker. If they want to read your book, they’ll ask for an ebook or physical copy. Give them a deadline when they ask for it, and you can expect to see reviews of your book on Amazon and Goodreads on the day of the launch.
Step 07: Publish
After you’ve got a launch day lined up, your reviewers know when to look for your book on Amazon and Goodreads,and when the day comes, hit that publish button. CONGRATULATIONS!!! YOU DID IT!!! *throws confetti and glitter*
Publishing is hard, and knowing the process before even starting can save a life. Hopefully outlining it here will help you get started on publishing your next book, and you can always reach out to me if you’re stuck or have any questions! Good luck, I can’t wait to see what you create, and get publishing!