How to Self-Publish a Commercially Successful Book: A Guide for Authors
Hollywood has promoted this romantic idea of authors holed up in studio apartments crammed with books, loose pieces of paper, and scattered notes, ink stains on their fingers, toiling away at their manuscripts. The next thing we know, they’re pulling their book off a shelf at a bookstore, going on tours, and speaking at events. However, the truth is that these movies skip half the process. There’s a lot more to writing and publishing a book, and it’s not all glamorous. The process can be long and grueling, but if you stick through it, it can be unbelievably rewarding.
Publishing a book isn’t something you do on your own—even if you’re self-publishing—and there are many important steps between writing a manuscript and distributing a finished book. From editing and layout to cover design and marketing, self-publishing isn’t an individual endeavor. You may think you can save money by completing some of these steps on your own, but if you lack experience, it’s best to invest in professionals to bring out the best in your book.
If you’ve completed your manuscript and are wondering what the next step should be, check out our services for authors to receive expert feedback and collaborate with professional designers to get your book up to industry standards. So, where do you start?
Write a manuscript people want to read
Of course, you have to write a book you’d want to read—you have to actually like the story you’re telling, or it’ll come off as contrived—but if you want that book to sell, you also have to consider what the market and your target audience want. So, how do you do that? As with everything else in life, it’s all about balance. Don’t cast away all your creativity and allow the market to dictate your plot, but definitely keep marketability in mind as you write.
Do some research about your genre or niche and study the trends: What kinds of stories are more popular? What stories don’t do so well? What themes feel overdone? What kind of elements do fans of the genre expect? We’re not suggesting you craft a book based entirely on market research, but if you want it to sell, these are questions you want to ask yourself.
Also, consider things such as the length of comparable titles and whether you intend to write a series or a single, stand-alone book, then adjust your story according to some of these guidelines. Ideally, you’re writing in a genre you’re already familiar with and love, so you can also use your own perspective as a fan to steer you.
With these things in mind, go ahead and hole up in your tiny studio apartment for months on end, writing until your ink-stained fingers cramp up. Or, you know, write during lunch breaks, while you have your morning coffee, or late at night when you should be sleeping. Whatever your creative reality is, the first step to publishing a book is writing it. Just be persistent with it. Don’t rely on fleeting inspiration—draw on sturdy discipline to make progress every day.
Have your manuscript edited and proofread by professionals
Now that your manuscript is completed, it’s time to edit. Self-editing is an important first step in this process, but it can’t replace the work of an expert. Even if you really know your stuff when it comes to grammar, a professional editor probably knows more. Also, you’re so familiar with your own work that your brain will easily overlook careless typos because you know the intended meaning.
Besides, grammar isn’t all that editors deal with. They’ll also help you clear up confusing scenes or smooth out awkward phrasing—it’s hard for you to detect these issues as the author. Plus, if you want people to pay money to read your book, you need to give them something that’s up to industry standards, something professional, carefully thought-out, and easy to read (meaning it’s not full of typos and has a consistent narrative, among other things). Yes, hiring professional editors means shelling out some money, but if you expect to profit from your book, you should consider this an investment rather than an expense.
So, what kinds of editors do you need? That depends on what stage of the process you’re at. Once you’ve completed the first draft of your manuscript, you can hire a developmental editor to give you expert feedback on issues such as plot holes, character arcs, themes, and structure. After revising your draft and possibly rewriting it (it happens to the best of us), paragraph and sentence editing will help you refine your writing by focusing on style, voice, and sentence structure, as well as grammar and spelling. It’s at this stage that most authors will send their manuscripts to beta readers for more feedback and suggestions on the storytelling itself.
Once you’re happy with your story and ready to take the next step, we highly suggest hiring a professional proofreader to go over your manuscript one final time to check for any typos or missing words. In long texts, such as a book manuscript, stubborn typos can make it past even professional editors, and you or the editor may accidentally add new mistakes as you modify the writing, so a final round of proofreading is always recommended.
Choose carefully your interior and exterior book design
From layout and typesetting to the design of its front and back covers, your book has to look professional to make the cut in a competitive industry such as publishing. It can be the most wonderfully written book in the history of literature, but if it doesn’t look good, chances are most readers aren’t going to buy it. After all, there are tons of books out there, and people have to base their purchasing decisions on something.
When it comes to layout, think about the order in which things will appear. Will the acknowledgments, author bio, review and mailing list requests, and prompts to buy your other books be crammed together at the beginning or at the end? Will they be spread out? We suggest putting your acknowledgments at the front and everything else at the very end, but that’s ultimately up to you. Just keep in mind that presenting ads for your other books will be less effective if the reader has yet to be wowed by your current title. Whether you’re publishing eBooks or print versions, you can hire an expert to format your book for you. Click here for eBook formatting and here for print formatting.
As for typesetting, you definitely want to outsource this to a professional. Unless you’re an expert in the field, interior book design will likely be much more challenging than you expect. Everything from font choice to margins will make a difference in how your readers perceive the quality and professionalism of your book. Poor interior design can lead to a confusing and sloppy-looking book that’s hard to read and may even irritate the audience, while good design can help your readers fly through the pages, immersed in the world you’ve created.
Of course, the first thing a potential reader will see is your book cover—both front and back—and unless you’re a highly skilled cover designer, you should definitely leave the full cover design to an expert. You want your book to look the part, to fit in with other titles in its genre, and to meet the readers’ expectations while standing out from the crowd and faithfully representing the story within.
So, don’t be afraid to invest some money into cover design because that can make the difference between your book getting picked up or left behind in the discount pile—whether it’s virtual or IRL. Even if you’re a skilled graphic designer, in case you don’t have specific experience with book cover design, you may still want to lean on a professional.
Convert your book into an eBook
If you’re only going to sell print copies of your book, you can skip this step, but you’ll be neglecting a huge chunk of the market and, therefore, missing out on potential profits and returning customers. With global marketplaces like Amazon selling millions of eBooks, offering your book as a downloadable file is a no-brainer for most authors.
Although there are multiple online tools authors can use to format their eBooks, it takes a completely different set of skills compared to those needed to write a book. For this reason, we suggest you hire a professional to format your eBook. Yes, it’ll cost some money, but considering the huge market you’ll be tapping into, it’s a worthwhile investment. From reflowable layouts to stylistic choices and file formats, an expert will know how to get the best version of your book optimized for eReaders, which is important because people won’t hesitate to ditch an eBook that’s poorly formatted.
Prepare a marketing strategy
The objective of a successful marketing strategy is to connect with people who would already want to buy your book based on their interest in the genre or subject matter. Therefore, the first step in creating your marketing plan is researching your target audience. From using data analysis tools to studying demographics and market trends, there are myriad ways to learn more about your audience and how to reach it. You should already have an idea of your target demographic, but data analytics gives you much more insight to help craft the most effective marketing strategy you can.
From traditional strategies like arranging media appearances and book signings to modern ones like guest blogs and podcast interviews, there’s so much you can do to market your book these days that it can be quite overwhelming. You should definitely set up your own website and Amazon Author Page, and a social media presence doesn’t hurt one bit, but offering discounts and free chapters and samples is a proven way to attract new readers. You’ll also want to create some buzz—maybe budget for a few ads and establish a way to reach your audience (perhaps through your social media or a mailing list) so they know when you’re launching your book. You’ll also want to start very early, way before your book hits the shelves (physical or digital) so that it can really make a splash when it drops.
This is also a good time to start compiling keywords and optimizing your metadata descriptions, which you’ll need for the next (and final) step: distribution. If marketing feels completely overwhelming, check out our book marketing packages for authors.
Distribute your book
Whether you’re going fully digital or doing both eBooks and print books, distribution is probably the most important step in publishing because no one can buy your book if it’s not available for purchase. From pricing to optimizing your metadata, there are plenty of important details you need to pay close attention to if you aim for a commercially successful distribution.
You definitely want to make your book available on Amazon as it has the most users worldwide. However, you should read the fine print about exclusivity on KDP Select before agreeing to it—it can be a good deal but isn’t the right choice for everyone. You can also distribute your book through multiple sellers, such as Apple Books and Barnes & Noble Press, in case you haven’t signed an exclusivity deal with any of them.
Alternatively, you can work with third-party distributors that will bring your book to smaller retailers and subscription services, but that’s entirely optional and dependent on how much time and effort you can spare for this part of the process; plus, it comes at a price. Weigh your options carefully because there are many, and they can have a huge impact on the overall success of your book.
At the end of the day, you have to choose what works best for you, but these are the basic steps you should take to self-publish a commercially successful book. As we said, publishing a book isn’t something you do entirely by yourself—not if you want it to sell—so head over to our services for authors page to learn more about how you can use professional expertise to create the best version of your book and profit from it.