Everything you need to start your adventure
Twenty years ago, only one out of every nine hundred Americans who wanted to write and publish a book managed to do so. Even if the flowering of self-publishing has since raised the success rate by as much as a factor of ten, if you are soon-to-be-published, you're about to achieve something that likely 99% of people who wanted to didn't. Seriously, help yourself to a kudo.
However, publishing—self-publishing especially—comes with no guarantee of readers for your fledgeling work. It's up to you to figure out how much of your time and other resources you're willing to invest in trying to sell copies. If you're not yet published, though, choosing how and to what extent you promote your book is a bridge you don't have to cross at the moment. In this article, I'm going to take you through all the steps you'll need to take in order to get to that bridge.
1. Editing your book
Editing is part of the traditional publishing package, so if you're going that route, this isn't something you have to worry about. If you're self-publishing, however, you should consider whether or not it would be worth your while to hire a professional editor to clean up your manuscript.
I would suggest giving the document to several avid readers who you can trust to be honest with you. If they report lots of typos, grammatical errors, and minor mix-ups, I'd suggest seriously looking into hiring an editor: those kinds of issues could easily cause potential readers to pass up your story. (If they report major plot holes, tedious slogs, characters they can't stand... well, an editor isn't going to turn a story that isn't working into a story that is working. That's your job.)
I didn't end up hiring an editor, but I didn't reject it out of hand, either. Rather, the fact that my beta readers found very few places in need of editing led me to the conclusion that this service probably wouldn't pay for itself on this particular project.
2. Crafting your book brand
Once the book is presentable inside, it's time to address the packaging, unless you have a publisher handling that for you. Most notably, you'll require a genre-appropriate front cover. I actually made my own, because cover design happens to be something I do professionally (you can hire me to make yours too, if you feel so inclined).
In addition, you'll need to settle on a title and write a compelling blurb. There are a thousand and one articles on the internet offering advice on these topics, and I have no independent expertise, so I won't go into detail. I'll just note that you'll probably want to start your blurb with an attention-catching headline, and keep the whole thing relatively short, 250 words or so.
3. Crafting your author brand
You'll need to decide how you want to present yourself, the author, too. Much as the book has a cover, a title, and a blurb, you'll need a nice author headshot, pen name, and bio. I ignored what is probably very good advice and, instead of hiring a photographer or even asking a friend to help out, I took a picture of myself with my iPhone's front camera and edited it in my iPhone's camera reel app.
I happen to have experience with photography and photo editing, but I don't doubt someone else could have done much better. In the end, what this came down to was a budget issue: again, I didn't see hiring a professional as a good investment here. I'd definitely at least consider hiring a photographer for a future project, but for this one, it was a cost I couldn't justify.
Getting a nom de plume doesn't cost anything, but you will have to consider how well your name fits as a brand name for your work, as well as how closely you want to be associated with what you write. You can think of it as the highly condensed version of your author bio, of which the main objective is to introduce yourself (in the third person), making yourself sound as interesting as possible. I'd recommend staying within 100 words.
4. Putting it all together
Once you have all this, you can start putting together your listings wherever you intend to sell the book, if you haven't already sold it to a publisher. (Kindle, NOOK, iBooks, and Kobo are the main eBook stores you'll want to consider. There are a wider variety of print-on-demand services to research.) It's time to choose a release date, decide whether you want to offer pre-orders (an option for Kindle, NOOK, and B&N Press), and set a price.
There's just one thing left to acquire, if you so choose: an International Standard Book Number; ISBN. This can identify each edition of your book as a unique product. While most self-publishing services will offer a platform-specific product number, the main benefit of having your own ISBN on the book is that such makes it considerably easier for bookstores and libraries to understand that the book exists.
Since I intend to try to get my book into bookstores and libraries, this was something that I judged to be a good investment for my project. I live in the US, so I bought my ISBNs from Bowker—a block of 10 ISBNs for $295 (the ones I don't use for versions of this book will be useful for future projects). Most countries have their own ISBN distributors.
You'll probably have to pick categories and keywords, and, if your book is for children, an age/grade range. This is an exercise in trying to figure out what the reader who would love your book might search for, and there's far more wisdom about this elsewhere on the internet than I can offer. Something to keep in mind, though, is that you can almost always change your keywords and/or categories to test what brings in the most traffic. You don't have to get it right on the first try.
5. Listing the book for sale
In fact, "you don't have to get it right on the first try" applies to everything I've mentioned. In the most extreme case, a book could be entirely re-edited, re-illustrated, re-branded, and re-launched. That's hardly the ideal outcome, but any element can be tweaked if necessary. What's most important is getting your book out there, and with everything I've mentioned in this article, you should be well prepared to begin offering your book to the world.
This is something to celebrate! After all, you've beaten 1:90 odds of publication. Help yourself to another kudo, dance around your bedroom, and make sure to check back for the next article in this series, which will cover how to take your book from potentially being discovered by readers to actually being discovered by readers. Until then!
— E. D. Kastin
Last updated September 9, 2021