Learning how to self-publish a book involves selecting the perfect genre for your book and the best platforms for selling your book. You also need to decide whether you want to publish an e-book, a print-on-demand book, or invest in a print run. On average, self-publishing a book costs between $100 and $3,000.
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Here is your step-by-step guide for how to self-publish a book in 12 steps:
1. Decide What Kind of Book to Self-publish
Before you begin the process of self-publishing a book, you need to be clear about the type of book you want to publish. Learning how to self-publish a book requires going through a number of preliminary steps, including deciding between an e-book and a physical book, researching the audience for your book, and establishing concrete performance goals.
Here are some specific areas you’ll want to consider when deciding what kind of book to self-publish:
Be Clear About Your Goals for Your Book
People self-publish books for many reasons. Most do it to make money, others self-publish a book to build credibility and gain awareness for their business, while some people feel compelled to write about a subject to help people. Some self-published authors have all three of these goals.
Before you begin the process of self-publishing a book, take some time to consider why you want to write a book and publish it on your own. Consider your top goals and be specific about what you intend to accomplish by self-publishing a book. Establish your parameters for measuring the success of your book before you launch into the self-publishing process.
“Be very clear in your thinking about why you want to self-publish. The why will determine the things you need to pay attention to and give your time to. If your goal is to simply publish, there are several tools available to make that fairly simple. But, if your goal is to sell books, your list gets longer as you need to pay more attention to editing, cover design, promoting your book, and the other basic marketing activities. If your goal is to become a well-known writer or something similar, you also need to give priority to creating your brand, which will include everything that is you.”
– John B. Jamison, Writer, Jamison Books
Research the Audience for Your Book
The more you know about the audience for your book before you self-publish, the greater the likelihood that your book will speak to that audience. Spend some time on Amazon—the world’s largest book retailer—looking at book titles that align with your book genre. Explore bestseller lists and read customer reviews. Look for unserved needs and wants and figure out ways to capitalize on those opportunities.
To see how well a book is selling on Amazon, scroll down on the book’s Amazon page to view the product details. There, you’ll find the Amazon Best Sellers Rank (ABSR) for the book. A low number means the book is selling well, while a high number indicates the book is not selling well; remember that Amazon lists millions of books, so books with an ABSR in the thousands or even tens of thousands can be profitable.
To get a sense of roughly how many books are being sold for any book title, you can use TCK Publishing’s online Amazon Book Sales Calculator. Following along with our book example (“The Friend Zone” by Abby Jimenez, which has an ABSR of 3,146), the TCK Amazon Book Sales Calculator tells us that, to date, the romance novel is selling about 944 books per month, or 63 books per day. The paperback for this book’s list price is $7.99, while the Kindle book lists for $9.99, so on average, this book is generating gross sales between $503 and $629 every day on Amazon.
As you can see from the example above, a book that has an ABSR in the thousands can be profitable. As you explore more book titles, you’ll see many books have ABSRs in the high six, seven, and even eight figures, which is empirical evidence that those books are not selling well.
Fiction vs Nonfiction
While many of the aspects of self-publishing a fiction book vs a nonfiction book are the same, the audiences vary substantially. Even within the fiction and nonfiction classifications, the audiences are extremely different. Fiction encompasses adult, teen, and children’s books, plus dozens of categories from romance to science fiction. Nonfiction has many audiences and categories too, such as educational books, cookbooks, crafts, hobbies, business books, self-help, sports, and travel books.
One plus of writing a fiction book is that the total book-buying audience (including buyers for children and young adult books) is larger, at around 70% of total book sales. A downside to fiction books is that marketing can be more difficult since you can’t rely on search engine optimization (SEO) to help you promote your book like you can with a nonfiction book.
Nonfiction books can typically be marketed using long-tail keywords, which means people searching on Google who type in related keywords are far more likely to discover a nonfiction book through a search than a fiction book.
Self-publishing an E-book vs a Physical Book
Self-publishing an e-book is easier than self-publishing a physical book because you don’t have to go through the printing process and all the fulfillment issues related to physical products. Some downsides to e-books are that you can’t sell them in retail environments, which means you can’t conduct book readings at bookstores or easily sell your e-books at conferences and other live events.
Today, more and more people are reading books online, which is a plus for e-books. The convenience of being able to buy an e-book instantaneously is an advantage for e-book readers and authors alike. Some readers, though, still prefer physical books, and if your book is only available in digital form, you’ll miss out on print-loyal book readers.
Because you don’t incur printing and physical shipping charges with e-books, you retain more money from your list price than you do with physical books. While physical book sales are around 75% of total book sales, the author’s profit margin for a self-published e-book can easily be more than triple what you can yield from a physical book due to printing costs. So even though the total market is smaller for e-books, the margin advantages make e-books worth serious consideration.
2. Choose Between Assisted Self-publishing vs Do-It-Yourself (DIY)
When it comes to publishing a book, you have three basic options. The first is working with a traditional publishing house and the second is having a hybrid publisher assist you with various aspects of getting your book published. There are advantages and disadvantages to each choice.
Self-publish a Book Through a Hybrid Publisher
Hybrid publishing—also called author-assisted publishing or independent publishing—is somewhere between working with a traditional publisher and DIY self-publishing. You still retain control of your book’s content and when and how it gets published.
Hybrid publishers help you with various tasks associated with book publishing, such as editing, proofreading, cover design, book layout, printing, distribution, and book marketing. Make no mistake—these tasks are difficult and can be time-consuming, so choosing a reputable hybrid publisher to handle these details can be worthwhile.
The best hybrid publishing providers are publishing experts who function as either assistants or consultants. Beware, though—the worst of these agencies are scam artists who are just looking to soak you for a lot of money.
Here are some popular agencies that help authors self-publish their books:
- Balboa Press: This self-publishing agency is a division of Hay House Publishing. Self-publishing packages range from $1,099 to $14,999.
- Greenleaf Book Group: This hybrid publisher requires book submission before agreeing to work with authors, yet authors retain ownership rights and creative control. Publishing support plans are customized for each book submitted.
- Archway Publishing: Operated by Author Solutions, this Agency from Simon & Schuster offers self-publishing packages that range from $1,999 to $13,999.
Working with a hybrid publisher or agency can save you a lot of time and headaches and allows you to focus on your writing. If your budget is tight, you can save a lot of money through pure DIY self-publishing.
Protect Yourself From Scam Self-publishing Services
It’s important to be able to spot the difference between a quality self-publishing agency and a scam artist. Don’t be fooled into purchasing hundreds of your print books at a premium price. Know market rates for various services such as editing, proofreading, layout, and book cover design—which we’ll discuss in later sections—so you can verify that you’re not being overcharged by your hybrid publisher. Also, be sure to vet the agency’s editorial standards to ensure you’re getting the professional quality for which you are paying.
Also, beware of anyone who charges exorbitant fees for copywriting your book. A single copyright application with one author costs $35, and you can easily do that yourself. Finally, if you’re contacted by an agency without submitting an inquiry, in all likelihood it’s a scammer, so run.
How to Self-publish a Book on Your Own
The most affordable way to self-publish a book is to handle most of the publishing tasks yourself, including distributing your books on multiple marketplaces. It’s possible to self-publish a book for $0 on your own, but it isn’t advised. Most authors outsource some tasks, such as copyediting, proofreading, and book cover design.
The benefit of DIY self-publishing is that instead of paying several thousands to a hybrid publisher, average self-publishing costs range from $100 to $800, depending on the length of your book and whether you’re publishing an e-book or a physical book. The fewer tasks you choose to outsource, the less you’ll pay to self-publish your book.
3. Decide Where & How to Sell Your Book
If you’re self-publishing a book, you have a lot of options for where and how to sell your book. Amazon is king when it comes to selling books online. In fact, Amazon is the most important marketplace to list your book, as Amazon dominates both physical and e-book sales. Around 80% of online book sales in the U.S. are conducted through Amazon.
You can self-publish e-books and paperbacks on Amazon through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). There are no costs involved with listing your book on Amazon. You receive a 35% or 70% royalty for e-books, depending on the publishing plan you select. You receive up to a 60% royalty on print-on-demand paperbacks, minus printing costs.
There are a number of other online outlets for selling your book, including Barnes & Noble (B&N.com), Apple iBooks, and Google Play. If you’re self-publishing a book, you probably also want to sell it on Kobo, which accounts for around 20% of the worldwide e-book market.
You can work through an e-book distributor, such as Draft2Digital or Smashwords, to distribute your book to more marketplaces. You’ll be charged a fee for this service, typically an additional 10% to 30% of your book’s list price.
IngramSpark is another option you may want to consider. IngramSpark offers services for both print-on-demand books and physical book printing—in both paperback and hardcover edition. Self-publishing prices range from $25 to $49 per title, with additional fees for printing. When self-publishing a book with IngramSpark, you have access to their global distribution network, which serves independent bookstores, chain stores, libraries, and even universities.
Other places to sell your self-published physical books are through independent bookstores, boutiques, and local gift shops. Contact owners directly to work out a sales arrangement that benefits both you and the retail outlet.
When self-publishing a book, you may also want to sell it on your website. Squarespace offers ecommerce plans that allow you to do this quickly and easily.
You may be self-publishing a book so that you can sell it when you attend conferences and association meetings, or when you speak in front of a live audience. Most speakers and top trainers sell books this way.
4. Write Your Book
You’ll need to write your book before you can self-publish it. Once you’re clear about your book goals and have done your audience research, you are almost ready to start the writing process. Before you begin writing, though, you’ll want to pick a working title, select the writing tools you plan to use, and create a book outline. You also want to get a handle on the appropriate book length for your genre before you embark upon writing your book.
The book-writing process involves going through the following stages:
Choose a Working Title for Your Book
If you want to be successful at self-publishing a book, the title you choose for your book is critical. In fact, most experts would argue that your title will greatly influence whether your book will be a hit or a flop.
Come up with a working title for your book before you start writing and keep it on a separate document or notebook. As you work through the writing process, more titles are likely to occur to you. Write those in that separate title notes document too. You can decide on your final book title later, before you have your book cover designed. Don’t stress about the exact title at the beginning stages of writing.
Select the Right Tools to Write Your Book
There are a number of tools available—both free and paid—that can make the book writing process easier. An important decision you’ll make as a self-publishing author is whether you’ll use a standard word processing program, such as Google Docs or Microsoft Word, to write your book, or go with a writing tool that’s specifically designed for authors.
Best-selling author Michael Hyatt is convinced Scrivener makes writing books so much easier than using Word or Google Docs. Scrivener is a writing tool that helps authors organize research and content notes as well as outline and write their books. It also saves your book in your desired book format. Scrivener is available for both Mac and PC, and costs $49 for a standard license and $41.65 for an educational license.
Another word processing application for writers is FocusWriter. This free application helps eliminate distractions and comes with writing timers, allows you to set daily writing goals, and even offers typewriter sound effects in case you want to envision yourself in front of a classic typewriter.
Naturally, you can write your book on the most popular wording processing platforms, Microsoft Office or Google docs. However, if you intend to create an e-book, neither of these options automatically converts your files into the MOBI or EPUB formats required by most online marketplaces. No worries; Amazon offers free e-book formatting for books posted through KDP Publishing, which requires the MOBI format. There are several other solutions for formatting in both MOBI and EPUB, including Any eBook Converter and ZamZar.
If you’re looking for a writing platform that can help you with other self-publishing tasks, FastPencil is an all-in-one solution for writing, editing, and self-publishing your print books or e-books. FastPencil offers free plans that are sufficient for writing and formatting your book, and paid plans ranging from $499 to $2,997 are available for advanced services, such as global distribution and book marketing.
Other useful writing tools include:
- Grammarly: This Chrome plugin helps you catch grammatical errors and typos on nearly everything you write. A free plan is available and more feature-rich plans start at $11.66 per month when paid annually.
- Pro Writing Aid: This style editor, proofreading, and writing mentor app can be used with Microsoft Word, Google Docs, and Scrivener. A one-year plan costs $70 and a lifetime plan costs $240.
- Reedsy Book Editor: This free editor functions as a word processor and will save your book in any standard book file format, including MOBI, EPUB, and PDF.
- Evernote: This note-taking app allows you to jot down your ideas anywhere you happen to be—and you know the best ideas don’t always come when you’re at your computer. The basic app is free and premium plans start at $7.99.
- Marinara Timer: This free, custom productivity timer helps you manage your writing time to get more done.
- MindMeister: This idea-mapping software helps you organize your thoughts and create logical flows for your book, or for any project. The free version lets you create up to three mind maps. Premium version pricing starts at $4.99 and allows you to create more maps.
Self-publishing a book can be a long and arduous journey. You’ll make the process a lot easier if you use time-saving and productivity-boosting tools when writing your book.
Plan Your Book Content & Structure
The structure of your book will be largely determined by the type of book you write. Every book has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Beyond that, when it comes to book structure, your best bet is to take a good long look at bestselling books in the same genre; pick up tips from what they do that you like.
If you’re writing a novel, you want to create a basic story structure or storyline before you start writing. Your beginning should set the stage for what’s happening, where it’s happening, and who the main players in the story are. It’s also common to introduce an inciting incident in the first pages of the book, something that hooks your reader into the book and piques their curiosity so they keep reading.
Many fiction writers follow the two-stage Hero’s Journey structure, a term coined by Joseph Campbell. This classic fiction story structure maps the long and challenge-filled journey of the hero as he or she faces certain conflicts, wins, and losses until finally he or she triumphs at the end. Readers root for the hero every step of the journey.
The best novels end with hopeful, exciting, or surprising endings that make readers so deliriously satisfied that they want to buy more books from the author. Predictable and unsatisfying endings are death to future book sales.
Nonfiction books typically follow either a step-by-step structure or a logical, knowledge-based structure where each new chapter builds upon previous content. Whatever type of book you’re self-publishing, always keep your readers’ needs, wants, and interests foremost in mind as you create the structure of your book.
Decide How Long Your Book Will Be
The perfect book length is a myth. While there are book-length guidelines by genre, you’ll find many bestsellers that prove there is no ideal book length.
Not everyone wants to write the next “Infinite Jest,” a 1,079-page bestselling book with extensive footnotes by David Foster—the audiobook is over 56 hours long. It’s not wise to start off your book-writing career with an epic of comparable length.
Different genres call for different book lengths. One of the biggest mistakes new self-publishing authors make is adding fluff just to extend book length; this only corrupts the integrity and quality of the book.
Here are the industry standards to use as a general guide:
- Literary fiction: 80,000 to 100,000 words
- Popular fiction: 40,000 to 80,000 words
- Kindle Short Reads: Up to 7,500 words
- Kindle Singles: Up to 30,000 words
- Novellas: 10,000 to 40,000 words
- Nonfiction: Whatever tells the story; 5,000-word short reads and 50,000-word (or more) works all are marketable
While there are rules of thumb for book length, the rules are broken all the time. Short books and long books can all be bestsellers.
Create a Simple, Clean Layout for Your Book
The inside layout for your book needs to be simple, clean, and easy to read for both e-book and print buyers. Tools like Scrivener and Reedsy allow you to choose from multiple layout templates, as do some word processing book file converters. Typography elements such as font choice, font size, and line spacing all need to be established. Allow the tools you’re using to write and self-publish your book to guide you.
Create Your First Draft
Once you have a structure plan—which typically includes at least a rough outline—created for your book, it’s time to start writing. This will be the most time-consuming part of the self-publishing process, but if you’re like most authors, the writing stage is also the most fulfilling.
“Save yourself time down the road by writing your book in Scrivener from the start. Once you finish and are ready to upload for publishing, Scrivener makes it easy to export your file into the proper book format with zero extra work. I didn’t use Scrivener for my first book, and trying to figure out the proper formatting for the file was incredibly stressful and time-consuming.”
– Shawna Newman, Marketing Consultant, Skipblast Digital
5. Edit Your Book
It’s a rare author who can produce a first draft that is suitable for publication. So, once you complete your first draft—or at least have a good chunk of it finished if it’s a long book—it’s time to enter the editing phase of self-publishing an e-book. This is a process; you don’t just send it to the editor for one review and then you’re done.
You’ll edit your book at least two times, and probably more, to create a polished, professional publication. You can do the editing yourself or you can hire a professional copy editor to help you.
Hire an Editor vs Edit Your Book Yourself
If you’re on a tight budget and you have exceptional writing and grammar skills, then you can be your own editor. In fact, you should always play an editing role in your book; an outsourced editor won’t ever fully understand what you want to accomplish as precisely as you will.
While you will play a role in editing your book, it’s unwise to be the only person editing it. Your perspective will be clouded and your ability to catch errors in a book for which you’re intimately familiar will be impaired. That’s why it’s best to acquire the services of a trained book editor. You can find a book editor on Fiverr or Upwork, or you could work with editors on writer-centric sites like Reedsy or the Editorial Freelancers Association.
Some editors charge by the hour, and fees range from $35 to $100 per hour, based on the level of editing detail you require. Other editors charge by the word; 1 cent to 3 cents per word is common.
6. Proof Your Book
When you’re finished writing your book and you’ve completed all the rounds of editing, have a proofreader go through your book once before book formatting and once after book formatting. You can proof your own work, but again, you’re so close to your book at this point that it’s extremely difficult for you to find errors that need to be caught in the proofreading stage of self-publishing a book.
Some editors perform proofreading functions along with editing, but if you can afford it, it’s wise to have fresh eyes proofread your book. It’s common for proofreaders to charge by the project; 1/2 cent to one cent per word is a fair price to pay for proofreading, though you may find proofreading freelancers on Fiverr who’ll charge even less.
7. Finalize Your Book’s Title
You began your self-publishing book project with a working title, and, hopefully, you made some notes about other title ideas while you were writing your book. You should now have a good list of title ideas from which to choose.
When mastering the steps of how to self-publish a book, one of the most important steps is coming up with a final title for your book. Established authors get to rely on their reputations for each new book they publish, but for new authors, the title is a key factor that will determine whether people buy your book. Many a great book has failed for lack of a great title.
Famous Books Whose Original Titles Were Rejected
“War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy
“Dracula” by Bram Stoker
“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen
“Valley of the Dolls” by Jacqueline Susann
“The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemmingway
“1984” by George Orwell
“Lord of the Flies” by William Golding
“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
All’s Well That Ends Well
The Dead Un-Dead
They Don’t Build Statues to Businessmen
The Last Man in Europe
Strangers From Within
Trimalchio in West Egg
Tips on What Makes a Good Title
If there was a magic formula for creating a bestselling title for your book, that would be shared here, but alas, no such formula exists. Fortunately, there are a handful of strategies that tend to improve your odds of creating a money-making book title.
Here are some tips for creating a good book title:
- Book title length for nonfiction: Bestselling fiction book titles tend to be shorter, typically one to three words.
- Book title length for fiction: Bestselling nonfiction book titles tend to be slightly longer, around four to six words.
- Use simple language: You’ve probably heard the old saying “confuse them and lose them,” and that certainly applies to book titles. Simple, clear titles sell better.
- Use power words: Power words trigger curiosity or evoke emotion. They grab a reader’s attention, which means readers will stop to look at the book and spend more time considering whether to buy it.
- Add a little mystery: This fiction title technique can work for more than just mystery books. Experiment with adding a bit of intrigue and mystery to your title for your romance, thriller, or science fiction book too.
- Add keywords to book titles: People search Google using keywords, and if you want them to find your nonfiction book, add keywords to your title that people use in searches.
- Avoid using book titles already published: Technically, your book title can be the same as a published book provided you have a unique International Standard Book Number (ISBN). However, you may end up in legal hot water if you copy a trademarked title. If you’re unsure, consult an attorney on LegalZoom.
If you find your book isn’t selling, you can always change your book’s title. This is especially easy for print-on-demand books and e-books. If you’ve printed 5,000 books at your local printer, changing your book title would be an expensive option—which is a good reason not to launch a new book with large, self-funded, expensive print run.
8. Create & Finalize All Book Content Elements
The main writing you’ll do for your book is the body copy—which is likely already done at this point—but there are more elements you need to create for your book before you can publish it. As an author self-publishing a book, the elements that you decide to include in your book are totally up to you.
What many new authors don’t realize at first is you must create all types of content for your book before self-publishing it. You must decide exactly what elements you will add to your book, which includes front matter content, body copy, images, and back matter content.
Common of Elements in Self-published Books
The front matter of a book are pages included in a book before the actual book’s story or content begins. Not all books contain the same front matter elements; shorter books and e-books tend to have fewer front matter pages.
Common front matter elements include:
- A half-title page: This page usually contains the book’s title, subtitle, author’s name, and sometimes publishing and copyright information.
- Dedication: Some authors dedicate their books to loved ones and thank them publicly in the book’s dedication.
- Acknowledgments: Many authors acknowledge those who helped them create the book or inspired them via an acknowledgments page.
- Epigraphs: An epigraph is a relevant quotation that authors often share in front matter and in chapter headings too.
- Table of contents: Every book needs a table of contents to guide readers.
- Foreword: If you have access to a famous person or well-known subject matter expert who’s willing to write a foreword to your book, include it in your front matter.
- Book introduction: Not all books need introductions, but this section is often included so authors can tell readers what they’ll gain from reading the book.
Again, you’re in full control of what you want to include in the front matter for your book. If you’re not clear how this content should look, just take a glimpse at a handful of books on your bookshelf for inspiration.
Common body elements include:
- Section headers: Many books are divided into parts or sections. It’s common for these books to contain sparse-text pages dedicated exclusively to introducing a new section.
- Chapter headings: If there are no section or parts breaks in the books, chapter headings might be standalone pages, though typically the chapter heading is placed above body copy.
- Subheadings: To make it easy for the reader to follow along in your book, adding subheadings helps guide the reader’s eyes and improves the reader’s experience.
- Body copy: The main content in your book is your body copy.
- Images: Using images such as photos, illustrations, tables, and other visuals in books is common. Be sure you own the rights to those images or secure permission to include them in your publication.
- Links: When self-publishing a book, don’t forget to include live links in your e-books to related content or to your website.
When self-publishing a book, your body copy is entirely up to you, as is all book content. Make it as long or as short as you’d like.
Common back matter elements include:
- Promotional content: When a reader finishes your book and loved it, it’s the perfect time to show them promotional, brand-building content. Instruct readers on where to find you online, including website and social media addresses. Also, promote your other book titles.
- Glossary: When appropriate, include a glossary of terms and definitions that your readers might want to reference.
- References: If you’ve added content to your book that is based on other publications, note the original source or inspiration for that content in a reference list.
- Appendix: Many authors want to refer readers to additional, more in-depth material that didn’t fit neatly within the book. You can place that content in an appendix, which is most common in nonfiction books.
Creating back matter content may feel a bit tedious, but don’t underestimate how many engaged readers will peruse these pages. People who enjoyed your book often want to know more about you and the book, so these sections can add value to your readers.
9. Legally Protect Your Book & Make It Sellable
If you’re publishing a physical book that you plan to distribute through multiple channels, you’ll need to purchase an International Standard Book Number (ISBN). You may also want to copyright your book, regardless of whether it’s an e-book or a physical book.
How to Get an International Standard Book Number (ISBN)
An ISBN is required on all physical books but is optional for e-books. Bookstores, libraries, and other outlets use the ISBN to manage book inventory and identify your book as a unique entity. Many all-in-one self-publishing distributors like Smashwords and KOBO provide ISBNs for your book within their service packages; however, they restrict the use of that ISBN for sales on their platforms and marketplaces.
In the U.S., you can register your ISBN directly through Bowker, the official U.S. ISBN agency. A single ISBN costs $125 without a barcode and $150 with a barcode, which is important if you plan to sell your book in retail outlets or to libraries. To save money, you can buy your ISBNs in bulk and then register them to new book titles as they are created. You can buy 10 ISBNs for $295 or 100 ISBNs for $575.
How to Copyright Your Book
You actually own the copyright to your book the minute you write and publish it. Still, you may want to officially copyright your book to have additional legal muscle should someone steal your work. You can copyright your book at Copyright.gov, and it will cost $35 to $55. Contact an attorney at LegalZoom if you want to know more about copyright law.
10. Create a Book Cover & Book Layout Design
Your book cover is the visual that first grabs book buyers’ attention and has a significant impact on whether they’ll buy your book. The layout of your book enhances your book’s readability. It’s important that you take great care with both book cover design and book layout.
Book Cover Design Tips
When self-publishing a book, the cover elements required for your book depend on the type of book you intend to publish. If you’re self-publishing an e-book, you’ll just need to create a front cover. If you’re self-publishing a physical book—hardcover or paperback—you’ll need to create and design more elements, as noted in the chart below.
Cover Design Elements Required for Different Book Types
Front Page Design
Back Cover Design
Inside Flap Design
Regardless of book type, standard elements on a front cover include the book’s title and the author’s name. You may also want to include a five- to 15-word subtitle or header or footer notes—it’s rare to see all three. If the author is famous, their name is often more prevalent in the cover design than the book title. For most authors, the title is the star of the front cover design.
If you’re not a well-known author, but you have a quote about your book from a well-known person, you may want to include that endorsement on the front cover. Usually, though, book reviews are reserved for the back cover or the inside flaps for hardcover books.
Your front cover also needs to include an eye-catching image or stunning typography that functions as a graphic. Sometimes a smaller title creates a stronger impact than a large one.
Make sure you own the full rights to an image before placing it on your book cover or within your book. Many image owners require that you purchase an extended license for using their images on anything you plan to sell, including books.
If you’re creating a print book, you’ll need to create a book spine design, which typically includes the book title, author name, and publishing house logo. Since you’re self-publishing, you can create your own private publisher’s logo or skip this altogether.
The back cover of the book typically features one or more extremely positive book reviews, a book synopsis, a picture of the author, and a short author biography. If publishing a print book that will be sold off-line, your ISBN, along with a bar code and book retail price for the U.S. and Canada, are placed here as well.
If you’re self-publishing a hardcover book, you’ll need to design inside cover flaps. These typically include longer but similar elements mentioned on the back cover.
11. Self-publish Physical Books & E-books
It’s easy to self-publish an e-book and you can even start selling virtually instantaneously once you post it to online marketplaces. Printing a paperback or hardcover book tends to complicate matters a bit, but luckily there are several print-on-demand options available for selling books online. This means you never get stuck with costly print runs and have to use your garage for book storing thousands of not-yet-sold books.
Here are some critical considerations for self-publishing both physical and e-books:
Format Your Book for Publication
As mentioned previously, if you’re selling an e-book, before publishing it you’ll need to format it in the appropriate format for the marketplaces you intend to sell it. The two formats for selling an e-book online through top marketplaces are MOBI and EPUB. The largest e-book online marketplace is Amazon’s KDP Publishing, which requires the MOBI format. Most other online book-selling outlets require the EPUB format. If you’re selling your book on your own website, the PDF format is acceptable.
If you’re creating a book for print-on-demand, follow the formatting directions for the marketplaces you’re using. Amazon’s print-on-demand cost for a 300-page paperback printed in black ink will be about $4.45. You can use Amazon’s printing cost calculator to figure out what your book will cost.
In addition to Amazon KDP Publishing, you can establish print-on-demand relationships with a number of companies, including with Blurb, Ingram, and Lulu. Whatever platform you use, familiarize yourself with their printing prices so you can price your book at a level where you’ll achieve your per-book profit goals.
Because printing glitches are common, physical books require more vetting of the final product. Make sure you thoroughly review your proof copy before releasing your book for print. When using print-on-demand services, you may want to order a physical copy before conducting an extensive book promotion campaign. Like e-books, one advantage to print-on-demand is you can usually modify your original document at any time.
If you plan on printing your book yourself, consult a local printer for rates, which vary considerably based on size of book, weight of paper used, types of ink used, and printer capabilities—as not all printers have equipment that is cost-effective for book printing. If you’re working through a self-publishing agency, they may provide small-run book printing, so be sure to ask for details and prices. Physical book printing prices typically run from $2 to more than $10 per book.
Price Your Book
Books that are published exclusively in e-book form are usually priced between $0 and $9.99. Some e-book authors offer their books for free or for 99 cents in prelaunch promotional campaigns to collect more book reviews that can help with future sales. They then raise the price at a later date.
Books that are published in both e-book and paperback typically range between $4.99 and $14.99. The e-book version often costs a few dollars less than the physical book.
Hardcover book retail prices range between $17.99 and $39.99; printing prices eat into the profits, so higher prices are the norm here. Reference and coffee table books are often priced between $49 and $149. Ask any college student, and they’ll tell you that textbook costs are off-the-chart high; in fact, according to a report from “CBS News,” the average list price is $153.
Amazon, the largest online bookseller, offers two different royalty plans for e-books on their site. These royalties are based on the e-book’s list price and digital storage requirements. There is a sweet spot where you can earn a 70% commission, but for all others, you’ll earn a 35% royalty.
Amazon’s KDP Royalty Fees by E-book Price
99 cents to $199
$2.99 to $9.99
Choose a Distributor for Your Self-published Book
There are dozens of places to distribute your self-published book, but you’ll want to make sure Amazon is first on your list. They sell more than 80% of all e-books and around 50% of all books sold online in America. When self-publishing a book, you can’t afford to skip Amazon.
Other top online marketplaces include Apple Books, Kobo Writing Life, and Barnes & Noble Press. If you work with a self-publishing service like Smashwords, they will distribute your books to all the top marketplaces. With Smashwords, you’ll earn 60% of the list price from major e-book retailers and up to 80% for all books sold through the popular Smashwords Online Bookstore.
Don’t forget that readers in all English-speaking countries might want to buy your book too. What you might not realize, though, is that in other countries, Amazon is not always king of book sales. That’s another reason why working with a self-publishing agency to distribute your book globally is a smart strategy.
12. Promote Your Book
Your book is now written and self-published, which must be quite a relief. However, your work is not done and this final step is where many new self-published authors fall short. Don’t let that be you. Books do not fly off shelves without a good promotional strategy behind them.
If you’ve ever watched a talk show, you’ve undoubtedly seen celebrities and experts touting their latest book. You may not have the credibility or celebrity status to appear on “Good Morning America” just yet, but there are plenty of steps you can take to ensure your book is a smashing success.
Here are some strategies you can use to promote your book:
Develop an Online Presence & a Following
First and foremost, launch an author’s website. You can create a stunning website with Squarespace starting at just $12 a month. Squarespace sites are gorgeous and easy to set up, so there’s really no excuse for not launching one immediately. Launch your website even if you’re still working on writing your book and intrigue site visitors with what’s to come.
Use your author website to establish your brand authority and connect in a personal way with your existing following and fans. Even if you’re just starting out, you need a website to tell the world who you are and what you do. You should help your website visitors understand why they should buy your books—either for enjoyment, education, or inspiration, or even better, a combination of all three.
People love it when writers get personal about their writing and personal lives. Share as freely as you deem appropriate, and be sure to include lots of photos of you. Photos personalize your message. Update your site regularly with new blog posts, book reviews, and anything else that can help you establish your unique author brand.
Some authors prefer to have an author’s website plus a website dedicated to each book they write. This can be very helpful in getting additional exposure for your work via Google organic search.
Gather Endorsements, Testimonials & Book Reviews
You can talk about yourself for days, and that won’t do as much for your writing career as getting endorsements about you and your work via testimonials and stellar book reviews from people who gush over how much they love your book. The higher the profile of the reviewer, the more impact their endorsement will have on book sales. If you don’t have high-profile reviewers, that’s fine, because you can make up for that with a large number of reviews from book readers.
“When self-publishing a book, my biggest piece of advice is to develop brand authority through endorsements. While publishing my own book, I provided my network with a sneak peek at my materials before they went public. In return, I had thoughtful testimonials ready to utilize as my book launched. Declaring one’s public approval of a product or service is a powerful tool that should not be overlooked because it earns trust among your potential readers.”
– Caroline Kalentzos, CEO, POSH PR
Use Social Media to Promote Your Books
The most successful authors in the world create massive buzz for their books through their social profiles. In developing a social media marketing strategy for your book, you’ll want to explore various channels, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. LinkedIn is an ideal platform for business-oriented books. Choose the platform that best aligns with your target audience.
If you struggle with posting frequently on multiple channels, start building your following by focusing on one platform you feel resonates best with your potential book readers. If you need help with social media post creation or social media management, hire a professional on Fiverr to help you.
Host Book Readings at a Bookstore or Library
If your local bookstore agrees to carry your book, offer to host a book reading. You’ll have an hour or two to talk with bookstore visitors, and it could help you sell more copies of your book and give you great practice talking about your book in preparation for speaking in front of larger audiences. You can also contact your library to see if they’ll let you host a book reading.
Speak at Conferences, Book Shows, Trade Shows & Events
Find every chance you can get to speak in front of audiences that might buy your books. If you published a physical book, bring copies of your book with you to sell and sign. If you have an e-book, bring flyers that link to your website and promote your book.
Appearing at in-person events such as conferences, book shows, trade shows, special events, and association meetings are all great options for spreading the word about your book. You can also volunteer to speak at local or regional church meetings, women’s groups, and book clubs to get exposure for your book. The ripple effect of word-of-mouth marketing can make a big difference on how much money you’ll make with your self-published book.
Bottom Line: How to Self-publish a Book
When self-publishing a book, you’ll go through many steps, from selecting a topic to writing your book to actually publishing your book. You can earn a nice side income or a full-time income as a self-published book author. Successful self-published authors post their works on multiple marketplaces and are voracious at marketing and promoting books.
Next to writing a terrific book, promoting your work is the most important step for self-published authors, which is why you need to set up a Squarespace website. Squarespace makes it easy for authors to create a gorgeous, compelling online presence for promoting their books. Plans start at just $12. Visit Squarespace today.