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Self-Publishing 101: Everything You Need To Know Before Starting

It's inevitable. At some point you're going to come to a crossroads in your writing journey where you must make a choice: Will you opt to query and try your chances of getting accepted by a publisher, or will you choose to go it alone and self-publish? Both have unique advantages and disadvantages. We covered what those pro's and con's are in our last article: Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing: Which Path Should You Follow? so if you're still on the fence about which direction you want to go in, we recommend you read that post first.

Self-Publishing is not for the author who is faint of heart. The workload is heavy, but the potential for future rewards are high. You have to be courageous enough to choose a path with little structure and a hefty price tag, and confident enough in your ability to promote yourself as an author to make it work. But most importantly, whether you ultimately choose this way to publish or not, being fully informed and weighing the work for yourself is the right way to go.

Read on to explore what the path of self-publishing really looks like and what you'll need to do throughout the process to be successful.

An Overview:

Here is a glimpse at the self-publishing process and what to expect. You can download this checklist to have on hand as you work through your own publishing process by clicking on the download option underneath the image.

Here we'll further explore what each of these steps entail and what you can expect.

Build Your Author Brand/Platform

You've probably heard the term "author brand" or "author platform" before. For those who are unfamiliar or need clarification, an author brand refers to the essence of who you are as a person, an author, and your writing. It is a virtual representation of "you" made up of different elements such as tone and style of writing, photos used, fonts, and color choice (to name a few). These details are then applied to the marketing tools used to build your author platform. An author platform refers to any media device used to create promotional material for your book (example: website, emails, newsletters, social media, etc.). Together the goal of these two is to create a marketing campaign that you can then use to sell your book effectively.

Need help getting started? Connect with us at and ask about our marketing coaching!

Why is this necessary? As a self-published author, it is YOUR responsibility to market your book. Plain and simple. Unlike with traditional publishing, there's no team to perform these duties for you. You could write the next great American novel, but if you can't get people to read it, it won't matter. Bottom line: You need an author platform to help get eyes on your books and the sooner you can pull one together for this purpose, the better. The reason you want to establish this first before anything else is because you're going to drive readers back to your website where your book will be listed for sale.


Making A Good First Impression: How To Build An Awesome Author Platform

5 Successful Strategies To Help Identify Your Target Audience

Hire An Editor

Don't make the mistake of thinking your novel is finished after you've written "The End". It's highly unlikely that your newly completed book is perfect- after all, we're only human and no one is immune to grammatical errors. One mistake you don't want to make is joining the ranks of other authors who self-publish too quickly and don't seek out an editor before they publish, either because of budget restrictions, impulsivity, or because they think they don't need to. It's these types of authors who wind up regretting their publishing decisions because they don't see a return in their initial investment. As with anything else, you get what you pay for.

The reason traditional publishers take longer to produce a novel is because of quality control. Often novels that are picked up by publishers are heavily edited, with multiple rounds/types of editing being done to ensure that it is of the highest quality before it ever hits bookshelves. They do this because they know that the better the novel is, the more likely it will be to sell.

Adopting high standards for your novel will be key to it's future success. Setting aside an editing budget and doing your research before-hand will help you find the right fit for you and your novel without breaking your bank.

Looking for an editor? You might not know this, but Writing It Wells offers both Developmental and Copy Editing services for indie authors. Email and let us know what you need!

Other ways to help your novel grow stronger is by allowing other writers/readers that you know to beta read and critique your work. Unlike editing services, beta reading merely provides an overall opinion of your novel. It may point out what works, doesn't work, what overall reader reactions might be to certain scenes, reader insights about your character, and can provide opinions about the appropriateness of the title, genre category you plan to market it in, and even provide quotes that you can then use to help market your story.

If you're in the market for a beta reader who will *actually* finish your book and provide the thorough feedback you need, reach out to and request a beta read for your manuscript.


How To Find A Beta Reader and How They Can Strengthen Your Book

Design Your Cover

While your manuscript is in the capable hands of your editor, you can move on to the next fun stage- designing your book cover! This is yet another area where the amount of money you devote to it makes a big difference. Aside from editing services, this is where we suggest you allot the second highest amount in your overall publishing budget.

Think about it. When you buy a book, what is the first thing you see? The book's cover. How many times have you picked up a book simply because you liked the cover? Countless. In the competitive world of book-selling, the cover really does matter. It's what will set your book apart from hundreds of other books in the same genre- meaning you don't want it to look obviously cheap or homemade. Unless you have experience or a degree in graphic design or how to design professional book covers, chances are you should leave this up to a professional.

Don't know where to find a good designer? Don't worry. Start by asking your writer friends who are already published. Ask your writing groups on social media, and worst case scenario Google and read reviews before signing up for any services. Most will be willing to share a portfolio with you in the event that it's not already attached to their website. Read more on the subject here: Book Cover Designs: 6 Smart Tips You Need To Know.

Polish Your Manuscript

This is when you should be considering the final round of edits. This refers to line edits and proofreading. By this point you should have already gotten your edits back from your copy and developmental editors and have tweaked what needed fixing based on their recommendations. Now your novel is complete and ready to be evaluated in its infant form.

Think of these editing services as getting your newly washed car waxed. You've already had the car scrubbed down, vacuumed, and smelling nice. Now it's time to put the final glossy finish on the perfect package.

The same rules apply. You should always seek a professional eye when it comes to scanning for grammatical errors. Statistics have shown that regular writers only catch about 60% of their own mistakes, while professionals catch about 80%. With such a dramatic difference, it's always a safer bet to have someone else who isn't biased and book-blind review your work just in case.

Choose Where To Self-Publish

Research matters. There are several ways that you can go about self-publishing your novel. The difference comes down to where you decide to host it. No matter what option you choose, they all come with different downsides and benefits to consider.

Here are the options:

Consider the questions below as you begin looking into each.

Understand Formatting Guidelines

Once you have your publishing company chosen, you need to carefully review their publishing format parameters. This is also something that varies across platforms, so factor that into your aforementioned evaluation before you choose.

This is an area where DIY is up for debate. If you're confident in your tech abilities, then this may be an area where you won't need to hire a professional. If you're not comfortable with milder forms of coding, then you may want to factor in a professional into your budget as well.

Most publishing platforms have detailed guidelines for how they want their books to be formatted and they won't accept it any other way. Typically Ebook formatting is where most authors get stuck, so if you find yourself having trouble, don't be shy about turning to the Indie community online to ask for help. Writing groups contain a wealth of knowledge about how to get past common publishing issues so don't be afraid to reach out. Same goes for finding a professional to do the job for you if it's just not your cup of tea.

Establish Copyright

This is one of those deceivingly simple tasks. In comparison it's probably the easiest of all the other items on your author "To-Do" list, but the one that leaves most authors scratching their heads wondering where to begin.

All you have to do is visit and select "Learn More" under the "Register Your Works" category. It costs about $85 to register a single book (listed as "Registration of a claim in a group of unpublished works") and $65 to register short online literary works (listed as "Registration of a claim in a group of short online literary works").

While the option of whether or not to copyright your novel is 100% up to you, it's an area that bears careful consideration. Having a copyright essentially prevents your work from being stolen, protects it from another author or publication claiming it as their own/profiting from it, and makes it easier for you to win your court case should you have to file a lawsuit over such issues.

Obtain ISBN

An ISBN number, or International Standard Book Number, is the 13 digit number on the back of a book that is used for product identification. It is 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.

Creating one for your novel is fairly straightforward. Some publishing platforms like KDP will automatically assign your novel a free ISBN. If perchance they don't, a simple visit to Bowker or your local ISBN agency will do the trick.

Plan Your Book Launch/Pre-Order Campaign

Going back to marketing, this is all part of generating buzz and excitement surrounding your novel before it's actually published and available for purchase. To host a successful launch that ends in a pre-order campaign, it's important to remember that the goal is to get as many eyes on your book as possible. Some of what these processes entail is emailing, engaging on social media, spreading the word by reaching out to other media and writing contacts, hosting a giveaway, and sharing about your book and the process you used to write it. For a more in-depth guide on how to do this, check out the links below:

10 Smart Ways To Generate Buzz For Your Book Launch

8 Steps To A Killer Pre-Order Book Campaign: What You Need To Know To Succeed

About To Publish? Prep Your Book Marketing Tools With These 5 Practical Tips!

Publish Your Book

Congratulations! You're now an indie author! Make sure you're up to speed on your platform's guidelines so there are no kinks in the road and before you know it, your book will be out there in the universe being read by the fans you picked up along the way through your marketing journey. Take a moment to savor this special moment by sharing a picture of you and your new novel, by thanking your followers on social media, and by giving anyone who helped make your dream possible a big thank you.

Continue Marketing Your Book

Now the real work begins. Just because your book is published doesn't mean you can take a breather. Truthfully an author's work is never finished. Your success as an indie writer relies solely on your ability to sell your novel once you've published. This is another area where traditionally published authors have an advantage. They have a team that supports and organizes things like book tours, award submissions, other promotional activities like asking blogs to review your book, interviews, podcasts, and running further sales campaigns during the year, particularly during the holiday season.

As an self-published author, you'll have to do the same things, but on a smaller, more realistic scale. While traditional publishers can give their authors a reputation and industry network to fall back on, those who self-publish must make due with their own elbow grease. It doesn't mean that you can't be successful, it just means that it'll be a slow upward climb. Start by boosting the social media following you built in the beginning when you established your author presence. Then focus on getting the word out about your novel to different indie blogs and other places where reviews will be the result. Ask your local indie bookstore if you can host a reading and signing session. Hand out flyers, give free signed copies away in a raffle, and team up with other indie authors in your genre to host events that promote all of your novels to a combined audience.

Write Your Next Book & Repeat!

Ready, set, repeat! A proven fact is that the best way to gain a following as an indie author is to keep writing. The more books you have under your name, the more sales you'll accrue. Readers love having the option to go back and read more from their favorite writers so don't keep them waiting. Continuing to write and promote your work is the true key to Indie author success.

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