Self-publishing can feel overwhelming, especially if you are a first-time book author. The publishing industry simply isn't one most entrepreneurs are familiar with, so let me give you the lowdown of just what needs to happen to get you to the point where you are holding a printed and bound book in your hands.
(Note: This post assumes you've already decided self-publishing is the right path to publication for you. If that's not the case, check out the Path to Publication series and Self-Publishing: Ugly Stepsister No More first.)
Batching tasks is something we do in our businesses every day, and publishing tasks can be batched as well for a more streamlined process. The necessary tasks fall -- generally -- into the following categories: (Some tasks could fit into a couple categories. I placed them where they feel most natural to me, but you do you!)
This is a catch-all category for tasks that must be completed before the book is published at some point so that you can position and market it properly when the time comes. Because you should be talking up your book well before it's available for purchase, I separate things like identifying keywords and bookstore/Amazon categories and recording a book trailer out from marketing tasks. Pre-publication also includes taking a hard look at your goal(s) for writing a book as well as who your ideal reader is. These exercises are likely familiar to you if you have ever worked with a brand designer. Same idea with a book: You can't serve everyone and the more specifically you can identify your goal(s), the easier it will be to serve that audience and achieve those goals.
Perhaps the most important task of all, which falls under the pre-pub umbrella, is growing your audience. Focus every day -- before you even start writing until well after your book is available -- on growing your social media reach and newsletter subscribers. Growing your platform is likely one of your goals with publishing a book, and that is perfectly okay. But you still need to work on it before publication.
Check out these posts for more details about some key pre-publication tasks:
These are your writing tasks (the manuscript and the cover copy), of course, but I also include recruiting beta readers here. Beta readers are different from reviewers in that they are seeing an earlier, and often not final, version of the manuscript and providing feedback to help you improve and finalize it. It's important to find the right people for this “job,” as beta feedback can shape your manuscript in the best way possible.
You will have pockets of time during the editorial stage, between writing drafts and also while your book manuscript is with your editor. Those pockets are perfect opportunities to tackle some pre-publication as well as early marketing tasks.
Your time line for this phase will depend on a number of factors, among them the number of words in your manuscript, the length of time you've allotted for writing, your editor’s schedule, and how many drafts you plan to write. My best editorial advice is to allow more time than you think you will need for each task. (This applies to every section here, if you think about it.)
Check out these posts for more details about the writing and editing processes:
If you have a design background, there are some tasks here you can DIY. If you don't, I can't recommend highly enough hiring professionals to design/format your book cover and interior. A designer knows what to look for when looking at final PDFs versus final EPUB files. A cover designer knows the characteristics of a compelling book cover. (Hint: There is SO much more to it than just color and font selection.) Your cover is your book’s first impression. Make it a good one!
A formatter also knows exactly what Amazon requires to upload files for both printed and ebooks. Is this something you can figure out on your own? Sure. But is it something you want to spend your time learning/doing? Maybe -- but maybe not.
Check out this post for more details about some of the most important formatting and design-related tasks:
Book marketing is so important and lasts for such a long period, which is why there are so many tasks here. So. Many. Tasks. For now, the most helpful book marketing tip I can give you is this: Make it easy for people to talk about and buy your book. So, for example, your book sales page needs to be complete as possible with a short description of your book, your book trailer, an image of your cover, information about you, links to purchase, and lots of rave reviews. For those people who offer or agree to help spread the word about your book, make it easy for them. Prepare graphics and copy that they can simply cut and paste. You can even create a sample question and answer document that potential interviewers and bloggers can use.
Check out these posts for more details about marketing tasks:
A quick word about your book marketing budget, as this is something I'm asked about almost daily. Your budget can be minimal or it can be pie in the sky; what's important are your execution and follow-through. If you have a small budget, especially, get creative with your book marketing ideas. Book marketing has no end date. You should start marketing your book long before it's published and you will continue marketing it as long as it's available for purchase.
A lot of author-entrepreneurs get hung up on crafting a launch plan for their book release. A book launch is just like any other product or service launch at its core: build buzz, spread the word (with help from your biz besties), and launch the heck out of that sucker!
This section could easily be titled “To Amazon, or Not to Amazon.” Amazon is a key player in book industry -- and even more so when it comes to self-publishing. There are, of course, pros and cons to using Amazon’s print imprint, CreateSpace, and it's ebook publishing through Kindle. The reason so many self-publishing authors stick with Amazon can be summed up in one word: easy. And because Amazon has, much to my chagrin, replaced the traditional bookstore in many ways, it is almost a no-brainer to use Amazon as your publisher. Amazon is where people go to buy books. If you've done your pre-publication and marketing work, your book is titled and subtitled properly and uses keywords in a strategic way so that an audience new to you can find your book just as easily as your family and friends. That is exactly what you're looking for in a publisher.
The best part about self-publishing, in my opinion, is the control it grants authors. You are in the driver's seat. You choose your trim size. You choose your price point. You choose your book format(s).
Speaking of book format, a year ago my conversations with clients included asking if they were considering an audio book in addition to print and/or ebook. These days that conversation goes differently: I recommend and encourage an audio version rather than asking. (It’s the fastest-growing segment of book publishing sales, so an audio book these days is a no-brainer for most author-entrepreneurs.)
Whew -- that’s a lot to keep track of, right? I've got you covered: I created a checklist that breaks down all of the steps so you don't miss anything along the way, and you can snag it right here.