The Ultimate Self-Publishing Guide

Use this self-publishing guide to kick start your indie author career

In today’s publishing landscape, there’s a variety of ways to become a published author and more writers are turning to self-publishing as a viable business option. In this self-publishing guide, we’re going to share with you the benefits and risks of self-publishing, what to consider when deciding if it’s right for you, and the basic process to follow.

I’m Rebecca and I’ll be your self-publishing guide. I am a founding book coach at Conquer Books who has worked with authors across the traditional and self-publishing spectrum. I’m a self-published author myself and I’m excited to share all of these great tips with you. If you have questions this most ultimate guide doesn’t answer, feel free to get in touch with me at Rebecca@ConquerBooks.com.

Rebecca Zornow, book coach & indie author

A Note on Indie vs. Self-Publishing

An independent author, or indie author, is a self-published author. Many authors that have self-published prefer to call themselves an indie author rather than a self-published author. They use this distinction to separate business-minded career authors (the indie authors) from individuals who only seek to upload one book to Amazon for personal value (self-published authors). But, of course, terminology is still evolving in this developing field.

The Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing

Many new writers think that writing their book is going to be the most difficult part of the process when, in reality, getting a book published is often equally as difficult. And considering exactly how to get your book in the hands of readers is the first enormous question to tackle.

So, what are the benefits of self-publishing, and what are the downsides?

The Good News

  • You don’t have to wait to be discovered, you can get started when the time feels right
  • More and more readers purposefully select indie authors because of the unbridled storytelling and niche interests
  • You have complete control over your deadlines, process, and finished product
  • You can decide how much you want to make on an individual book sale, price accordingly, and pick the retailers you’ll list with 

The Challenges

  • You have to educate yourself on every aspect of writing, editing, book publishing, and marketing
  • You have to build your own support team of editors, book designers, and other professionals
  • You have to pay them upfront, which is a financial risk
  • Some people still carry a stigma about self-publishing
  • No one is going to stop you from pulling off a crazy idea (or does this go in the good news column?)

What it really comes down to is: are you prepared to problem-solve the challenges to reap the benefits?

Is Self-Pubbing Right for You?

One false notion writers often have when discussing publishing is that there is a right way to do it, or that one way of publishing is better.

It’s natural to assume the answer you came to after hours of research and careful thought is the right one. But what people often miss is that it was the right answer. For them.

That’s why Nicole and I encourage writers to leave behind the notion of there being a right way to pursue a writing career, and instead consider what is right for you, based on your own strengths, tolerance for certain problems, and vision of success.

Self-publishing might be right for you if these concepts resonate:

  • I want to run my own author business
  • I’m interested in writing full-time and retaining control of my schedule
  • I may want to publish two or more books per year
  • I’m a good networker
  • I’m very motivated and, though validation from others is nice, I’m committed to achieving my goal myself
  • I trust my artistic vison and want to have the final say on what projects I pursue
  • I’m a good problem solver
  • I recognize it might take time to build my business, but the long-term earning potential makes it worth it

How to Self-Publish

We do want this to be the ultimate guide, so we’re going to start at the beginning and build a SAMPLE self-publishing plan. Your self-publishing guide will look different. This sample is just to introduce you to the general timeline and order of things.

This publishing plan was designed for a first time author who was able to invest moderately in her book and wanted her process to take 12 months. It’s heavily abridged, but should give you a good idea of what to expect.

Month 1

  1. Outline your book
  2. Build your budget and make a plan
    1. Consider editors: developmental, line edit, copy edit, proofreader
    2. Consider designers: cover or book designer, interior design
    3. Consider marketing: advertising, event banners for signings, website

Months 2-5

  1. Write the first draft
  2. Write the book summary or jacket copy
  3. Perform self-edits on your book until it’s ready for a developmental editor

Month 6

  1. Work with a developmental editor
  2. Make your own line edits

Month 7

  1. Work with a line editor 
  2. Proofread your work
  3. Take author photos

Month 8

  1. Work with beta readers 
  2. Begin working with a cover designer and request covers for e-book, softcover, and hardcover
  3. Set up social media, author website, and start building a newsletter
  4. Request blurbs from authors in your genre

Month 9

  1. Work with a copy editor
  2. Work with a proofreader
  3. Cover reveal
  4. Work with an interior designer
  5. Purchase an ISBN number

Month 10-11

  1. Upload the cover, blurb, and other info to your aggregator
  2. Announce your pre-sale
  3. Set up author pages on book websites
  4. Market your book via ARCs, social media, paid promotion, etc
  5. Order proof copies and upload corrections well ahead of the sale date

Month 12

  1. Launch book
  2. Continue marketing via press releases, Amazon ads, or Facebook
  3. Send a copy to the Library of Congress
  4. Start your next book

Just a reminder, this is a sample publishing plan for an author who wanted to produce a book in a year and had some funds to invest in her work. Let’s talk about some of the things to consider when building your own self-publishing guide.

Wide vs. Exclusive

The first question to research and answer is: Who will print your book and how you will distribute it? Authors commonly do one of two things:

  1. Go exclusive with a company like Amazon in exchange for slightly higher royalties. 
  2. Publish wide using an aggregator that will distribute your book to the retailors they work with.

Earning higher royalties is a compelling draw, but it’s important to consider your readership. If your readers are on Kindle Unlimited and love devouring three e-books a week, this could be a good move for you. But, if your readers shop at indie bookstores, they want to request copies from their local library, and you don’t want to be beholden to one company, you may want to go wide and use an aggregator like IngramSpark or Draft2Digital. As you explore this topic, beware of vanity publishers that will cost an arm and a leg, and do little to professionally produce and distrubute your book.

Investment

How much indie authors invest and make is spread over a huge range. Let’s get started with a baseline as we consider this question.

Written Word Media shared the figures below regarding editing and cover investments. I’ve also seen figures suggesting the average indie author spends $300-$2,000 on editing, even $3,000 for a very well-edited manuscript.

graph of how much self-published authors spend

As with any investment, you should ask, what will I make back? Again, it’s variable and dependent on a wide variety of factors. 20Booksto50K shared these numbers after their 2020 survey (They are also a great resource to learn more about self-publishing).

Remember, at the beginning of this post, we differentiated between self-published authors who want to get their dream book out there, and indie authors who are running a business. People will feel differently about certain levels of investment and expected returns and these charts include all types of writers.

Self-Publishing Partners

In our sample publishing guide, the author had a moderate amount to invest in her book. In reality, not everyone is going to be in that position for their first book. Most authors use a combination of essential freelance professionals and DIY methods to get their first book out there. Who you decide to pay and what you decide to learn yourself will depend on your own talents and skillset. 

Let’s look at the list of potential paid partners:

  • Book coaches help writers organize their project, make decisions about their writing career, and edit their manuscript on the developmental or line level.
  • Developmental editors help you fix the structure of your book including character arcs, plot points, etc.
  • Line editors help on the sentence level and deal with unclear sentences, dialogue, word choice, etc.
  • Copy editors fix typos, grammar, etc.
  • Proofreaders ensure everything is as it should be one final time.
  • Cover designers create the cover and spine of your book. Some designers create custom illustrations, others use photographs, others use design elements. You can buy a pre-made cover or work with a designer to hone your vision.
  • Interior book designers build the inside format of your book and prepare your files to upload.

Additionally, some indie authors use virtual assistants, marketing staff, or publicists, but usually build up to that point. What’s listed above are necessary partners in creating your book. That doesn’t mean you have to have to pay 7+ professionals (though you may choose to), because you might decide to take some of those tasks on yourself or have people in your life who can help for free or in trade. 

Myself, I decided I was going to learn to format a book instead of hiring an interior book designer. I did this to cut costs and so that if I needed to fix a typo in the book after it was published, I could do it myself instead of going back to someone. Now I have a skill that will greatly reduce my overhead each time I publish. However, I knew formatting was in alignment with my attention to detail and I invested a lot of time in learning the skill.

What's Next?

We hope this ultimate self-publishing guide was helpful as you consider your options as an author or orientate yourself in a growing industry. Self-publishing is a huge endeavor that requires commitment, time, and money. It’s not the quick and easy option some trad publishing advocates make it out to be. I’ve chronicled my own writing process on YouTube and you may be interested in checking out my monthly summaries.

Take your time as you consider what’s best for your writing career and if you need further guidance, we’re only a click away.

Nicole and Rebecca back to back
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