Publishing a book has never been easier, thanks to the internet.
You have three main options to consider if you want to publish a book: self-publishing, traditional publishing, and publishing with a small press (an independent publishing company).
We’ll cover all three options in detail in this guide: self-publishing, traditional publishing, and publishing with a small press.
Self-publishing has quickly become the go-to standard for the majority of authors to get published because:
- It’s Fast. You can self-publish a book in a few weeks or less, while it takes up to 2 years or more to get a book published through traditional channels.
- It’s Easy. You can do it yourself by following a few steps, like in our Kindle Self Publishing Checklist and our Print Book Self Publishing Checklist.
- It’s Cheap. You can often do it for $5,000 (or much, much less if your book is less than 70K words, or if you don’t need much editing).
Self-publishing has done for books what Starbucks has done for coffee: If you’re willing to spend a little bit of extra money, you can get the job done well and very quickly.
Picking the Right Self-Publishing Formats
There are three main formats you can publish your book in: eBook, print, and audiobook.
Here’s how to know if your book is a good fit for each format.
Your book is likely a good fit to publish in eBook format if it is:
- A novel, short story, or work of fiction
- A poem or compilation of poems
- A typical nonfiction book
Your book is likely not a good fit to publish as an eBook if it is:
- A workbook that includes lots of lines for the reader to write in
- A journal or notebook
There are two main types of print books you can publish: hardcover and paperback.
Your book is likely a good fit to self-publish in print if it is:
- Less than 700 pages
- Can be printed in black and white (color printing is expensive, so it will most likely only make sense for short books of 200 pages or less)
Your book is likely to be a good fit to publish in audiobook format if it is:
- A novel, short story, or work of fiction
- A typical nonfiction book
- You can afford to cost of narration and production (narration cost is based on length, so longer books will cost more)
How to Self-Publish
If you’re going to self-publish your book, here are all the steps you need to take:
1. Come Up With a Great Title
Assuming you have already written your book, the first step for self-publishing is to narrow down your list of possible book titles and come up with a great official title for your book.
Although you will be able to change the book title later in the self-publishing process, doing so will take you some extra time and could change the whole direction of your project. That’s why we highly recommend you start working on your book title first, so that you don’t waste time or money having to change too many things later in the process.
You can follow the steps outlined in our free post on how to come up with a great book title.
2. Edit Your Book
The next step is to go through a round of both developmental edits and copy edits.
Developmental editing is when a trained editor reviews your manuscript and helps work on making it better from a “big picture” perspective. Developmental editors will often cut sections that don’t fit, move sections or chapters around to organize them better, ask you to revise or rewrite sections to make things clearer or flow better and ensure that your book delivers a great experience for readers.
Copy editing is when an editor reviews your manuscript to fix mechanical issues at the paragraph and sentence level. Once your book is in the copy editing stage, it should already have all the organizational and structural elements in place (that’s what developmental editing is for).
3. Design Your Print Layout
Designing a book for print is really important because the design decisions you make will make a huge impact on your customer’s reading experience.
We do have a step-by-step guide on how to do print layout and design yourself that walks you through the process of using Microsoft Word to layout and design your book. Microsoft Word is great for beginners to use for book layout and design because it’s so easy to use and learn.
However, Microsoft Word is not the best software for book design if your goal is to publish the most beautifully designed book with the highest level of attention to detail.
InDesign (software that’s part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud family of apps) is the tool of choice for professional book designers. The problem is that InDesign costs around $40 per month to get started, and there’s a very steep learning curve with using it. If you’re very tech and design savvy, you might want to jump in and teach yourself how to use InDesign to layout a book for print.
If not, you’ll want to use Microsoft Word to keep things simple, or simply hire a professional book cover designer which could cost anywhere from $100 to $500 depending on the page count of your book and the complexity of design you want.
You can find an experienced book designer who specializes in laying out print books with InDesign on Reedsy’s freelancer marketplace.
4. Proofread Your Book
Once all your developmental and copy edits are complete and your book is laid out for print, you’ll need a proofreader.
The reason you want to do proofreading after print layout is so that your proofreader can see the final design of the book before they start fixing any final typos, grammatical errors, or other layout errors. A proofreader’s job is to make your book look as great as possible and to be as error-free as possible. Often, errors can be added during the print layout process, so that’s why publishing companies do layout first before proofreading is done, and that’s why we recommend self published authors follow this process as well.
We also recommend you complete your proofread before eBook formatting and layout (if you’re publishing in both eBook and print) because once you have two official versions of your book (eBook and print), you’ll have two files, and paying someone to proofread two files will unnecessarily increase your costs.
If you’re not publishing your book in print, we recommend you finish the eBook formatting first before proofreading begins.
5. Format Your Ebook
The next step is to format your book so it will look great and provide a seamless and enjoyable experience for readers on any eReader device, mobile phone, tablet, or computer.
We have step-by-step instructions on how to format an eBook using Microsoft Word. You can also download our free templates for formatting fiction and nonfiction eBooks.
If you used InDesign for the print layout process, you or your designer will need to make some additional changes to the eBook version so that it looks great in eBook format. Here’s a free guide on how to create a beautiful eBook file with InDesign.
6. Prepare Your Book for Audiobook Narration
If you’re planning on self-publishing your book as an audiobook, you may need to make some minor edits to your manuscript when you prepare your audiobook script, which is a modified version of your book used as the basis of your audiobook. This is often done for nonfiction books, but rarely for fiction. You can follow our free guide on how to write an audiobook script.
If your book is nonfiction, you’ll also likely want to create an audiobook PDF companion document so that readers can reference any charts, images, URLs, or other additional resources mentioned in your book. Here’s our free guide on how to create an audiobook PDF companion document.
Once your audiobook script is finalized, you’ll have the file you need to send to your narrator so they can get to work on creating your audiobook recording and files.
You can find an audiobook narrator by posting your project on ACX.com. You’ll get bids and quotes from many different narrators along with samples of them recording a brief section of your book. You can then choose the best narrator for you based on the quality of their voiceover and how much they want to charge you.
7. Design Your Cover
Your book cover will make a huge impact on your book sales, for better or for worse. It’s crucial that you hire a professional book cover designer who can create a great cover for you, and that you understand what makes a good book cover…and what makes a bad book cover.
We highly recommend you browse Amazon’s bestseller lists in your genre or market to study the covers of bestsellers in your market.
Our guide to becoming a #1 bestseller on Amazon lays out a more detailed plan on how to research and design a great book cover from a marketing perspective.
You can follow our free guide on how to find a book cover designer.
Ebook Cover Design
Your eBook cover should include only the front cover image for the book, and it should be 2,560 x 1,600 pixels in size. You can make it bigger than that, but it’s not necessary. If it’s smaller, you could have quality issues that will reduce your sales.
Print Cover Design
Your print book cover design should include the front cover, back cover, and spine for the book.
Any good book cover designer should know how to do all this for you, but you can also download a print book cover template here.
8. Write a Book Description
Now it’s time to write your book description. Think of this as both a summary and ad copy for your book: your best chance to convince readers that your book is worth the price of purchase.
A great book description will dramatically increase sales for your book, while a bad description could doom your book to obscurity on Amazon and other online retailers.
Definitely follow our steps on how to write a great book description, whether you write fiction or nonfiction.
Formatting Your Book Description
Once your book description is written, you’ll need to format it properly so it looks amazing on Amazon.
Here’s our free guide on how to format your book description using HTML.
9. Get an ISBN
At this stage, it’s time to get an ISBN for your book. You cannot publish a book in print in the US without an ISBN.
Ebooks and audiobooks do not need ISBN’s.
Learn more about how to get an ISBN.
10. Choose Your BISAC Categories
When you setup your ISBN, you’ll need to select the BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications) categories for your book. Think of the BISAC codes or categories like genre sections in a bookstore. Which bookshelf should your book be placed on that would make the most sense to readers?
You can browse all the BISAC codes to pick the best one or two for your book. You can also check out Bestseller Ranking Pro for software and training that helps you find and pick the best BISAC categories and Amazon bestseller lists for your books.
11. Select Your Distribution Channels
Now it’s time to figure out where and how you want to distribute your books.
There are two main eBook distribution options or strategies:
- Amazon only via KDP Select
- Amazon and all other eBook retailers (Nook, Kobo, iBooks, GooglePlay, etc.)
Learn more about how authors get paid for eBook sales before you decide which route to take.
Your print distribution strategy will also depend partly on which methods you use for printing books and fulfilling orders.
Here are some of your options:
- Use KDP POD (Print-on-Demand) publishing to publish your book on Amazon.com, other online book retailers, and in KDP’s Expanded distribution program to get distribution to bookstores and libraries.
- Use LightningSource POD (Print-on-Demand) publishing to get distribution for bookstores and libraries, then use Amazon Advantage to sell your books on Amazon (this strategy is far more complex and requires you to invest in inventory to sell on Amazon, so it’s not recommended for most authors).
- Find your own printer to do a print run of anywhere between 100-10,000 copies of your book. Then sell your book on Amazon through Amazon Advantage, and find a way to warehouse, fulfill, and ship orders to customers and retailers. This is by far the most complicated option, and it requires a much larger upfront investment in inventory, as well as the risk of having to pay to store and fulfill books.
There are two ways to produce an audiobook: you can create a digital audiobook or an audiobook CD. The vast majority of audiobook sales are now digital audiobook sales, so that’s where you’ll earn the most money. It’s also a lot less expensive to produce a digital audiobook than to print, store, and fulfill audiobook CD orders.
That’s why we recommend any self-published author simply create a digital audiobook and use ACX.com to distribute your audiobook to Amazon, Audible, iTunes, and other audiobook retailers. That way you’ll get at least 95% of the distribution potential available for your digital audiobook (Audible and Amazon control 95% of the digital audiobook market in the US).
12. Set Your Price
Once you’ve got your distribution figured out, you need to set the price of your book
The sweet spot for eBook pricing is usually between $2.99 and $9.99 because you’ll earn 70% royalties on Amazon in that price range instead of 35% royalties.
Research bestselling books in your market to see what their eBook pricing strategy is. Don’t price your book too high at first because you won’t get as much demand early on. A high early price may hurt your book’s chances for success by limiting your impact when at launch.
You can always raise your price later on, so for most authors we recommend starting with a lower price at first and then raising the price once your book is consistently selling well.
Paperback Book Pricing
Typical paperback books sell for $9.99 to $24.99. Research the bestsellers in your market to see what their prices are, and don’t price your paperback book too high when you launch it. Again, you can always raise the price later once your book is selling well.
Hardcover Book Pricing
Hardcover books are usually more expensive than paperbacks, between $19.99 and $34.99. Again, check out the bestsellers in your market to analyze the competition’s pricing before you decide.
Digital Audiobook Pricing
Digital audiobooks sold through ACX, Audible, and Amazon are all priced automatically based on the book’s length in recorded hours, so you won’t need (or be able to) to pick the pricing strategy for your digital audiobook.
13. Choose DRM (Digital Rights Management)…or Not.
This step only applies if you’re publishing an eBook.
We commend you don’t choose DRM for your eBook because it can limit your sales, and we believe it does not provide any meaningful protection against copyright infringement or piracy (you can google how to hack DRM and hack any DRM file in a few minutes with free software).
14. Setup Your Author Central Profile
Once you’ve got everything done and click “Publish,” make sure you set up your Amazon Author Central profile. Many authors forget this part, and it can reduce your chances for success on Amazon.
Read our guide to learn how to set up your author profile on Amazon.
Paying for Publishing Services
Paying for publishing services is basically the same as self-publishing, except instead of “doing it yourself,” you’re choosing to hire a self-publishing company or self-publishing service to do some or all of the work for you.
However, this is where you run the risk of falling prey to one of the many publishing scams that plague the industry, and it’s where many authors make the mistake of choosing the wrong company or significantly overpaying for services.
That said, there are definitely some great publishing services companies out there who do really high-quality work at reasonable prices. Two of them we recommend include Archangel Ink and Happy Self Publishing.
Here’s a huge list of self-publishing services companies who can help you get the job done if you want to go this route.
Traditional publishing is what most people think of when they think of getting a book published.
The biggest traditional book publishing companies are called the Big Five publishers. If you want to get your book traditionally published by a Big Five publisher, you must have a literary agent because, with a few rare exceptions, the big publishing houses are closed to submissions from unrepresented authors.
In other words, if you want to pursue a traditional publishing deal, you must find a literary agent and convince them to work with you. And once you do that, your agent must be successful in selling your book to a traditional publishing company.
If that works out, you’ll sign a contract with the publisher and your book will be published, usually within 18-24 months.
If you want to pursue traditional publishing, here are the steps to take:
1. Find Relevant Literary Agents
You have to find literary agents who are interested in your type of work. Literary agents specialize in specific genres or markets, like memoir, romance, fantasy, or business books. If you pitch your romance novel to a fantasy agent, they will simply ignore your email and never read your query or manuscript.
So don’t waste your time (or theirs) submitting your book to an agent who doesn’t work with books in your genre.
The good news is, we’ve already created a detailed list of literary agents organized by which genre they’re interested in. You can simply browse through the list and keep track of all the agents who publish books in your market.
2. Send Query Letters to Agents
Once you’ve got your personal list of relevant literary agents created, it’s time to start contacting them. But before you just shoot them any old email, make absolutely sure you know how to write a query letter.
You also need to read each literary agents’ websites and submissions guidelines to make sure you follow any unique instructions they have for authors. Different agents require slightly different query letters or submissions.
Once you’ve done all that research, write up the first draft of your query letter.
After that’s done, we highly recommend you have an experienced author or publishing industry professional review your query letter and help you edit it. You should also have someone proofread it for typos or errors.
Once you’ve sent the query letter, you just have to wait to see if you get a response. Many agents will never send a response to rejected submissions. Don’t take this rejection personally: instead, work on improving both your manuscript and your query!
3. Sign the Agency Contract
If you hear back from a literary agent and they want to sign you as a client, congratulations! You’ll want to review the contract in detail and make sure you understand every part of it.
We recommend you don’t sign any contracts that lock you in for more than a year. You should have a termination clause in the contract that allows you to cancel the agreement after a year. Of course, it often takes more than a year for an agent to get a publishing deal on a book, so you should also be patient and not terminate your contract unless you feel the agent is not providing what you need to get a book deal.
4. Work With Your Agent
After the contract is signed, your agent may ask you to make revisions or changes to the contract or work on building your marketing platform to increase your chances of getting a deal.
Assuming you’ve picked a good agent, you should follow their advice so you can improve your manuscript and improve your marketing platform.
5. Get Lucky
Many authors who get literary agents never get a book deal, so at this stage of the game you just have to hope you get lucky and some publisher wants to buy your book.
6. Sign the Publishing Contract
Assuming you’ve gotten lucky, you now have an offer from a publisher. If you have multiple offers, you should discuss with your agent which one is the best for you and your goals. If you only get one offer, you need to consider whether you want to just take it or hope something better comes along.
7. After the Book Deal
After the book deal is signed, you’ll need to deliver your manuscript to the publisher. They may require you to make changes or edits before you do so.
After that, you’ll have to go through the three stages of editing: developmental editing, copy editing, and proofreading. There’s a good chance you will have to review your book and edits at least three times, if not more. They may even ask you to cut sections, rewrite sections, or add sections to the book.
After all the stages of editing are complete, you’re pretty much done with “getting published.” All you have to do after that point is market your book as best as you can and hope your book performs well on the market…because if it doesn’t, that will dramatically decrease your chances of getting a second book deal.
Small Press Publishing
Small press publishing is similar to publishing with a traditional publisher, but there are many more options to choose from, and many small publishers do business differently than the Big Five publishing houses.
With a true small press publisher or small publishing company, you won’t have to pay the publisher for any services like editing, cover design, or advertising. All of this would be included in the publishing deal (just like with a Big Five publisher).
Since every small publishing company is different, the terms of their contracts and how they do business vary dramatically from one to another. Many of them will accept submissions without a literary agent, so you don’t necessarily need an agent if you want to publish with a small press.
If you want to work with a small press publisher, here’s what you should do to improve your chances of getting a good deal and making the best decision for you.
1. Find Relevant Small Press Publishers
You can use our list of 100+ reputable publishers to start building your own list of publishers that publish books in your market or genre.
2. Read Their Submission Guidelines
Every small press publisher has their own unique submission guidelines, so you’ll need to do your research and read their websites thoroughly to find out if they currently are accepting submissions, and how to submit your manuscript to them.
3. Submit Your Manuscript
Next, simply submit your manuscript for review according to the publisher’s submission guidelines.
4. Review the Contract
If you hear back from the publisher with an offer, you’ll want to review the publishing contract in detail. You may want to consult a publishing attorney, your literary agent, an experienced author, or all of the above, to make sure you don’t overlook any important details that could come back to haunt you later.
After the contract is signed, you’ll have to follow the same steps as with a Big Five publisher: developmental editing, copy editing, and proofreading.
Choose Your Publishing Options
There are countless opportunities for getting your book published. Now, all you have to do is choose the route that looks most appealing to you right now and then follows the steps in this article to get started.
Get Feedback on Your Book
If you’re looking for a publisher that will help with everything from editing to design to create a custom marketing plan for your book, you can check out the submission guidelines for TCK Publishing.
You’ll be able to submit your manuscript on that page, and our editors will get back to you within 14-28 days.
Got Publishing Questions?
If you have any questions about publishing your book, feel free to post your comments below, and our team will do our best to help you get all the information you need to succeed.
If you liked this post, here are some other articles you might love:
- How to Publish Your Book on Amazon Today
- How to Get Your Self-Published Books Into Bookstores and Libraries – The 8 Key Steps to Retail Book Sales
- How to Write a Book Without Spending 1 Minute of Extra Time
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