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The nuts-and-bolts of self-publishing

Self-publishing is on many aspiring authors’ lips as they decide how to bring their work to fruition. But how do you actually self-publish? What is involved with it and what are the steps? My last two posts have discussed the rise of self-publishing and considering whether it is right for you. Now let’s dive into the nuts-and-bolts.

Some brave souls or DIY type people might truly self-publish: that is create a publishing company, find an editor, find a typesetter, find a printer, contact Amazon, etc. This is all possible, but most people use a self-publishing partner like Kindle Direct,  IngramSparkSmashwords, or many others. For this post, let’s assume you want to use a self-publishing partner so as not to reinvent the wheel. These services help you, the author, concentrate on the content and the market, and not spend time on such granular tasks as “how do I obtain an ISBN?”

Listed below are some broad and specific steps on moving from an idea to being a (self-published) author. Some important notes: Many of these steps must be done concurrently. Also, some of these steps are composed of many smaller steps. This is not a checklist but an overview of how the process might go:

Content Creation

  • Develop your idea.
  • Define your idea in two or three concise paragraphs that summarize the work.
  • Create a draft table of contents.
  • Investigate competitors, the market, and the intended buyers.
  • Get feedback from intended buyers.
  • Adjust the idea and get ready to write.
  • Create an expanded, detailed outline of the whole project. Get more reader feedback.
  • Start writing!
  • Review your first draft. Make changes.
  • Get reader feedback or peer review from people you know. Make changes.
  • Obtain/create images, tables, and references.
  • One final pass to ensure it is the best work you can possibly produce.

Finding a Self-Publishing Partner

  • Research what a self-publish partner does and does NOT do.
  • Understand their fees.
  • Research companies and decide if one is right for you.

Editing, Typesetting, and Delivery

  • Find a qualified editor. Define what you expect them to do. Understand their costs.
  • Have them edit the work. Review their changes/queries. Make appropriate changes.
  • Find a cover and interior designer (they may be two different people). Review their work. Understand their costs.
  • Have them draft a sample chapter design and cover designs. Choose one.
  • Have them typeset or do page makeup on the whole book.
  • Review their work very, very closely. Have them make the final changes and create the final proofs.
  • Decide if you will have an eBook, print book, or both. Find vendors for printing. Find eBook partners/platforms and also their preferred file format.
  • Have the designer deliver the final files. Launch the eBook and get the book printed!
  • If necessary, find a place to store the printed copies, and do order fulfillment.

Marketing, Distribution, and Promotion

In my mind, this is the most essential part of the self-publishing process. Authors not prepared to go at this at full steam, should not self-publish.

  • Create a well-crafted full description of the book written for customers. Create an About the Author description.
  • Understand completely what your publishing partner will and will not do in regard to marketing. Ask too many questions. Will your book be readily available at retail sites like Amazon? Will it be considered “In Stock” and available for Prime delivery?
  • Create a “Marketing Plan” (while the book is being written) that extensively details what you exactly do.
  • Drum up and perfect all social media efforts in preparation for launch.
  • Define who your ideal customers are and where they can be found.
  • Get twenty or so single sentence endorsements from readers or potential customers about how great the book is and how great you are.
  • Create a website just for the book.
  • Define and execute at least a dozen creative ways to reach out to potential customers about the book!
  • Keep marketing and promoting through the first year. I have yet to talk to an author who said, “I think I did too much promotion on my book,” but plenty that said, “I started too late,” or “Did too little.”

The process may seem complex, and at times I guess it is. But as with all accomplishments in life, the key to success is understanding what needs to be done and methodically moving forward one step at a time. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

When deciding whether to seek a publisher or to self-publish, my number one suggestion is to speak to one or two people that have successfully published or self-published and hear from them the unvarnished truth of their experience.

Contact me with questions about book or textbook publishing, or self-publishing. Adventure awaits!

John BondJohn Bond is a publishing consultant at Riverwinds Consulting. He works with individuals on publishing and writing projects. Schedule an initial complimentary phone call at Publishing Fundamentals. In his career, he has directed the publishing of over 500 book titles and 20,000 journal articles. He is the host of the YouTube channel “Publishing Defined.” Contact him at