As with most of my author friends, I regularly get emails and messages saying, “I want to publish my book, too. Help me.”
The first question I ask is, “Have you finished writing the book?”
The answer I always hear is, “No.”
Well, if you don’t have a finished book, then you’re wasting everyone’s time asking how to publish something that doesn’t exist.
Nevertheless, here’s a rundown for beginners on how to publish a book.
1. Be a writer. You will never make a dollar publishing one book. If you can whip out ten, twenty, or thirty, then you have a slim chance to actually make money. Being a writer is a full-time job. It’s a calling. It’s a passion. Is that you? If so, continue reading.
2. Once your book is written, DO NOT hire a vanity publisher. Here’s how vanity publishers work. The ad says they will publish your book, including cover design, editing, layout, and distribution for the low, low price of $495.00. In return, you get to say you’re published. Such a deal! Here’s the truth. These vanity publishers prey on authors who don’t want the hassle of doing anything but writing. The price is fine until the upsell kicks in. They charge the author for a ‘premium’ cover, ‘extra’ editing, typesetting, etc., running into the thousands of dollars. There will be tons of add ons and extras and will cost you a lot of money. They will send you the cover (you paid for) with a watermark on it so you can’t use it to promote your book. They will send you the formatted PDF version of your book (you paid for) with watermarks on every page so you can’t use it for anything except to look at on your own computer. You cannot use these items to market your book, and they are certainly not going to market your book. They will not care about your ideas for the cover design; you get stuck with what they give you. They will upsell you on international distribution. That’s ridiculous. You can do this yourself for free. They will charge your customers a ridiculous price to purchase your book, setting it so high no one will buy it. You have as much say-so in pricing as you did in the cover design. They will charge YOU a ridiculous amount of money to buy copies of YOUR OWN BOOK. They will make all the profit; you will make pennies, maybe. Keep in mind, they make all their money from you, not from the reading public, so they don’t care if you sell one book.
3. There is no harm in hiring someone to do the things you don’t know how to do, as a matter of fact, a professional is often the best choice. But if you’re going to release more than one book, you should learn to do these things yourself.
You need to know how to design two covers – one for print, one for ebook. To do this, you must understand the cover design characteristics in your genre. The first place to look is the Top 100 of your genre on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. What do they have in common? Do that. And keep your font large and simple. The postage-stamp-sized thumbnail on the web should be readable. A pretty font is not your friend. Don’t use Comic Sans, a graphic designer somewhere will hunt you down and kill you. If you would rather have a professional design your cover, call on Elite Book Design. They also create video book trailers.
You also need to know how to use Microsoft Word to format your book. Different book sellers use different formats. Check their websites at the links below for their specifications, and learn how to operate Word like you were born to do it. Start by downloading the Smashwords Style Guide. It’s a tutorial that will walk you through formatting an ebook. Set aside 4-6 hours, pack your patience and a pot of coffee, and go!
The ongoing job you need to know is how to market your book. Build a platform for your topic by creating a blog, a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a Website, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Pinterest, forums about your topic, etc. Understand that marketing is another full-time job, so narrow your platform down to a few specific sites that you can maintain regularly. Create a marketing schedule and follow it like it’s the law. No one will repeatedly visit a page that does not update and change, and no one will buy your book if they don’t know it exists.
Finally, the most important thing you need is help with your story. When it’s finished, send it to an editor for a substantive edit. Then rewrite. Then send it to some beta readers. Then rewrite again. Then send it to a copy editor. No, your cousin cannot edit your book, unless she is a professional editor, but she may be a good beta reader. Find a professional copy editor and be ready to pay them a good amount of money. If someone will edit your book for $0.10 per page, double spaced, 12 font, they are probably not a professional editor. Once your book is edited, get it proofread. Nothing drives readers away faster than errors in a book, and your reviews will reflect each and every error. Don’t ask people to spend their hard-earned money on your book and give them a shoddy product in return. One of the best editors in the business is the Edit Ninja. Be warned: the editing process is more painful than the scathing one-star review.
4. Once you’ve done all these things and released your first book, congratulation! Now, start working on your next book. It’s a never-ending process.
Where can I sell my book? Here is a short list of distributors.
Amazon ebooks – www.KDP.com – This site is for Kindles on Amazon and releases around the world on all Amazon sites.
Barnes & Noble ebooks – www.nookpress.com – This site is for Nook on Barnes & Noble.
iTunes ebooks – www.apple.com/itunes/working-itunes/sell-content/books – This site is for iBooks on iTunes.
Smashwords ebooks – www.smashwords.com – This site distributes ebooks to nearly every online retailer, but you can opt out of individual retailers, for example, if you’ve already published on KDP, Nook, or iTunes. In my opinion, Smashwords has a few glitches that are not in its control. The Sony and Kobo sites take months to update product information. Smashwords only pays quarterly and their sales/payment spreadsheet is a bit confusing. But if you have already uploaded your book to Amazon, you might as well make it available to other retailers.
Create Space print – www.createspace.com – This is a print-on-demand book printing company (owned by Amazon) that will put your book in print and distribute to Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You may also buy copies of your book at a reduced cost.
Lulu print – www.lulu.com – This is a print-on-demand-book printing company that will distribute your book to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBook. You may also buy copies of your book at a reduced cost.
Audible audiobooks – www.acx.com – This is an audiobook company (owned by Amazon) that creates (for a fee) and distributes audiobooks to Amazon and Audible.
(Personally, I use KDP for Kindle, CreateSpace for print, ACX for audiobooks, and Smashwords for the rest. Pay attention to KDP’s rules. They are very picky about your book being priced lower anywhere else online, and will unpublish your book in a heartbeat if they see that. KDP also encourages you to enroll in KDP Select. I don’t really understand KDP Select. This program demands your book be exclusive to Amazon, and in return, you can GIVE YOUR BOOK AWAY FOR FREE for 5 days per quarter. Why the hell would anyone want to do that?)
How much should I charge for my book?
Obviously, paperbacks are more expensive than ebooks because of the material, production, and shipping involved. Personally, I think your ebook should sell for 70-80% less than your paperback. An average indie paperback sells for under $15, most under $10. Most ebooks sell between $0.99 and $9.99, with the average indie ebook selling for under $5. It depends on the length of the book and the popularity of the author. Do your homework. See what other indie authors are selling for. Do that.
Welcome to the publishing world of the indie author. If all this information hasn’t scared you off and you still want to publish that book, go back to step one and finish writing the darn thing.
Thanks Lori! Greatly informative and helpful! I’ll pass this on to my uncle. If he’s anything like me, he’ll read this and question whether it’s worth it!! ;)) Maybe that’s when you know if you’re a writer or not. Thanks for taking the time to share your hard-won knowledge with us fledglings! This was so very helpful. BTW, I wonder if KDP Select has an agreement with Amazon and YOU would get paid when they sent out a “free” book to someone? Otherwise, you’re right…why would anyone limit their exposure to one organization like that (as big as Amazon is)? Thanks again! -Nina
KDP is the Kindle portion of the Amazon Company. No, you don’t get paid anything for selling a free book. That’s why I think it’s so dumb.
For the record, I sell about 200 books at Amazon for every one I sell at Barnes & Noble and not much better ratio for iTunes, then again, iTunes is geared towards a younger demographic, and my books are for an older crowd. Amazon is king.
Hope this blog helps your uncle. You’re the 40th person who’s asked me for help publishing a book that doesn’t exist. 😛
Guess that’s another thing that takes up your time when you’re an author…dozens of people seeking your advice!! So my uncle had finished writing his little novel…well 19 pages is more of a short story isn’t it?! But his main occ. is design engineer, so likely his charming little story won’t get published, but never know unless you try, right? Thanks again! 🙂
A really informative blog post, Lori. Thanks so much for sharing 🙂
You’re welcome, Donna. ♥
Haha! Finishing…just when you think you have…another bit of editing needs to happen 🙂
It’s a never-ending struggle to finish, isn’t it? You have to wonder how artists decide they’re done. Spielberg producing Star Wars – “No, no, that scene needs more fog.” You want to reshoot the whole scene for more fog? Or rewrite the whole chapter for more drama? Yes. One day I published a book and had an epiphany about a new ending. I seriously considered scrapping the whole book and rewriting it, but the thought of all that work made me sick to my stomach. I left it alone.