Occasionally, I get messages from people trying to break into the “traditional” (as in 20th century) publishing industry, and they always seem to be under some distress. In fact, the messages often come off like the pleading of abuse victims, with authors talking publicly on twitter sounding like battered women excusing their abuser.
Everybody is aware of how lame it is to “pay” an agent (in reality, they pay you, and you better hope they are honest, unlike Chuck Palahniuk’s agent, who left him broke) to have coffee with someone at the publishing imprint, who then takes years to make you rewrite your book, then blames you, the author, when the book bombs. They are aware, but they carry on, because… they want approval from someone? I don’t know.
Anyway, there is an alternative to writing query letters to agents for months to years on end, which is self-publishing your book.
Self-publishing is not all that difficult, once you know what you are doing. Here are the simple steps:
- Write your book. Seems obvious, but some people want to skip steps. For your first book, don’t worry about writing to market. Don’t worry about log lines, pitches, or querying. Just write the book you want to write until you can happily put the end on the last page. I won’t go over the drafting process here. You can check out my youtube videos or read my book Keys to Prolific Creativity to get a handle on the process.
- Revise your book. Revise. Don’t rewrite. You can pay a competant editor for help if you are new to this. Again, I talk about the process in detail elsewhere, this is just the step where you polish up your manuscript and get it ready to be seen by readers.
- Get a cover. Unless you are an experienced graphic designer capable of learning book design (and I have lots of videos on it, again, elsewhere), you should look for a competent designer who works in the genre you have written a book in. You can buy a cheap pre-made cover for as little as 50 dollars from several websites by googling “Premade Book Covers.” Some of these include rockingbookcovers.com, thebookcoverdesigner.com, and bookcoverzone.com. If you are new to the business you need to know two things: book covers are important, and book covers will not make your sale. Basically, you want good quality and you shouldn’t break the bank because there is more to selling than a cover. Keep it cheap for your first book. You can always spring for that fancy illustrated cover later. Most for-hire designers will be able to make both ebook and paperback covers.
- Write a Blurb. This is basically the short description you see when you flip a book over, check the dust jacket, or click on it on Amazon. The specifics of this for every genre are beyond the scope of this article, but most blurbs should include an attention-grabbing headline (MURDERING FOR THE WOMAN HE LOVES), a one sentence intro hitting the essential story elements and conflicts (Jack Stone is just a veteran trying to hold down a desk job, but when Janine, the woman he secretly adores, mistakes him for a professional hitman, he finds himself embroiled in the unspeakable mafia business), and should somewhere give the reader a question that she can only answer by reading the book (But what will Jack do when he finds out he’s next on Janine’s hitlist?).
- Format your manuscript. Again, I have videos on this and there is lots of information online. You want a Word document that is free of tabs (use paragraph styles instead, with a .25 indent for the first line), has a title page, copyright page, generated table of contents (Word will do the hyperlinks automatically), and chapter headings set as one of the heading styles. This will make your table of contents clickable when it is converted to mobi, azw, and epub formats for electronic distribution. Paperback formatting is more complicated, but I have info on that and Amazon provides free templates that have the correct margins, gutters, etc. in them.
- Set up your Amazon KDP account (and others). Head to https://kdp.amazon.com/ and start setting up your account. You’ll need to enter a bunch of information for tax purposes, too. 90%+ of your sales will come through amazon, and though other distributors can automatically push to Amazon, you want to have maximum control yourself. The rest of the ebook platforms can be reached by using a distributor such as draft2digital (which I use).
- Start setting up your sales page. At this step you will set up a new book on Amazon. You will put in the blurb you wrote for the description, enter the title, subtitle, and series, and also assign your initial two categories (these are like genres). Your book can have up to ten categories, but you can only select two now. Most categories are hidden at this step and will require either careful manipulation or contact with customer support for your book to be included in them. Don’t worry about that now.
- Assign your keywords. On the same page, you will enter up to seven (you should do the max) keywords. These will help your book be sorted to the proper categories and show up in the right searches. You can use software like Publisher Rocket to help find these, or just put in the key words that you think are important for your book. For instance, a book about a hitman would use words like mafia, hitman, assassin, crime drama, etc.
- Upload your manuscript and cover. On the next setup page on Amazon, you upload your complete manuscript in Word format, as well as the ebook cover you have purchased or designed. You can use Amazon’s cover creator if you are dead broke, but I don’t recommend it. Note: you do NOT need to buy an external ISBN. It’s a waste of money at this stage.
- Set your price and publish. You can set a price on Amazon as low as $.99. This is actually a good price for a new author, as you will need reviews, and unless you already have an audience (like if you are already a personality on social media), you will need initial readers to take a chance on you. A low price-point will help. You can even make your book perma-free using some work-arounds, but in the last few years I have found that free books attract negative reviews from people who don’t actually read the book and/or hate me because of what I say on social media. Once you hit “Publish,” you are done! You can just wait for an email to let you know the book has gone live.
That is how you self-publish a book. Ten steps may seem like a lot, but it’s a straightforward process once you know it. You can expect to improve on every step as you go. You may want to update your keywords and blurb every so often to see if you can improve their function.
After that, you’re looking at marketing your book, attracting an audience, advertising, etc.
I am an author, among other things. If you want more information on how to establish your creative process to complete your projects on time, please check out:
You can also read my other books. Here are a few: