When you finish writing your first book, the question you have to ask yourself is this: Do I self-publish, or go traditional?
Some people think the answer is simple, that they’ll just try to find an agent, and if that doesn’t work out, they’ll publish it themselves, but that is the wrong way to go about it. This is a strategy made by people who either don’t know enough about the business of writing and publishing books, or they don’t have the motivation to choose one.
No matter what you choose to do, you have to want it. If you want to find an agent and get your book sold through a big publishing company, you’ll have to put in the effort of researching agents, sending out your manuscript, making tweaks to the story, and more. You have to be committed, and if you tell yourself that there’s always a fallback, you’re only hindering yourself.
Self-publishing, while almost entirely different, requires the same amount of drive. The only reason you should choose to self-publish is that you want complete control of the project—not because you think it’s easy. Sure, if you self-publish, you could put forth minimal effort and upload the very first draft online to be sold, but no matter how good of a writer you are, the first draft is never good. Doing so only degrades the market and lowers the standard of self-published books. It’s disrespectful to other authors out there.
Don’t worry, though! It’s not all bad news. There is a way for self-publishing to be done right, which I will outline for you right here in this article. I’m not going to be talking about the stages of publishing, per se. See From Pen to Published for a step-by-step guide. This article will be more about helping you make the decisions you need to make.
First things first: Choosing a platform.
If you’ve decided to self-publish, it’s safe to say that you already have an idea of how you want your book to turn out. You probably already know whether you want your book to be available in print, eBook, audiobook, or some mix of the three. Some people only make their book available in print, some only as an eBook. In my opinion, the best strategy is to have both of those. Print books and eBooks have different markets, after all, so it’s better for your readers and for yourself to have both. Audiobooks are great to have as well, so if you have the extra money, investing in a voice actor can be worth it!
Common Self-Publishing Websites
Here is a list of the best self-publishing companies (in 2022) from selfpublishing.com, which goes much more in-depth about each one. I’m only going to go into detail with KDP, as it is what I’m most familiar with.
Owned by Amazon. Allows for paperback, hardcover (newer feature and thus no dust jackets available yet), eBooks, and audiobooks.
Fairly straightforward to use. Free upload. You can upload different formats and link them as a single book.
Publishes straight to the Amazon websites all over the world. Also allows for expanded distribution, but most wholesale buyers won’t buy from Amazon as it is a direct competitor.
Allows for multiple trim sizes. Can either use cream or white paper (use cream for fiction as it is less straining on the eyes). Uses 90 gsm [grams per square meter] paper, which is heavier and thicker than other books (which use 74 gsm paper).
Something I personally found with the quality of KDP books is that the matt covers smudge kind of easily. They are of course also quite heavy books because of the paper used, but an argument can be made that the ink doesn’t show through the pages, and they are much harder to rip by accident. I have also found that there is often a very visible “break” in the book, where the pages split into two sections. I don’t know what causes this, but the issue doesn’t seem to be affected by how many pages there are (I’ve seen it in 50-page books and 500-page books).
Unlike with other platforms, when you order a proof copy of the book, it will come with an added grey band around it saying “not for resale” which some people find annoying, but I believe that it’s fair since you can buy them cheap. Plus, it’s useful in knowing which books are just drafts and which ones are author copies that you’ve ordered.
Editing and Designing
I won’t go into much detail about these things because I have other articles already dedicated to them. I am a professional editor specializing in Fantasy and Science Fiction, and I work with an amazing cover designer named Alex Perkins [see his work here]. As for information, see these articles:
The different types of editing and common errors that you can look for when prepping your manuscript for a professional.
The process of writing a book and getting it published. A step-by-step guide.
My “What is…?” series:
[more What is…? articles to be added as they come out]
Marketing and Promotion
First, here is an article with 10 Strategies to Promote Your Book for Free.
The most important thing about getting your book known to the world is promotion. This involves everything from chatting about it with friends to creating a whole campaign. You can’t just put it online and expect people to buy it. Online retailers like Amazon are just that—retailers. They will promote what’s doing well because if it sells, it makes them money.
The best thing you can do for your book is have a marketing plan laid out and a team of people to help you spread the word. Your cover designer may provide a social media package for you to use as promotional material, but the rest is really on you (or a professional publicist that you’ve hired).
The most important time for your book is the Launch (or, as most people know it: the release date). Are you going to do it in person or online? Are you going to rent a space at a convention, local library, or bookstore where you’ll sit and sign copies for people?
Either way, make sure to get as many ARC readers as possible to read and review your book the moment it goes live. Getting 10, 20, or 30 reviews right off the bat will skyrocket your book in the algorithm—it might even get the “Bestseller” tag.
Another tip is to include a message (a Call to Action) at the end of your book requesting readers to leave a review. If your reader can just click a link in their eBook to take them to the page, you’re much more likely to get a review!
I can’t give in-depth advice about your book because each genre has its own fanbase, and unfortunately, not all readers hang out in the same social circles. The best way to know how to market your book is to research, research, research! Find where your readers are hanging out. What do they like, what do they do? Remember that while you research for your genre, also research for other aspects of your book. If your book takes place in the wilderness, maybe look for people who spend time outdoors or enjoy camping. If it’s about LGBTQ+ characters, it’ll most likely have readers from that community. And people who ride horses enjoy reading stories about horses—whether Fantasy, Romance, Mystery, or something else entirely!
How to Promote
I’m the kind of person who likes a schedule. If I tell myself that I’ll post whenever I have content, I’ll never post, so I find the best way is to make a schedule and create content based on that. If you’re the same, or even if you’re not, making an outline of what you’re going to do is helpful.
You’ll want to promote your book in five* stages.
I: Writing & Editing Stage
This is generally the word-of-mouth stage. You don’t really have promotional material yet, but you’re writing a book and you want to tell people about it. You probably have also joined different writing or self-publishing groups on social media. You can ask people on Facebook or Reddit for feedback about your story idea, your blurb, and your cover design (when you have one). You can share images and information on Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr. Give sneak peeks as you work, but don’t spoil anything.
[Quick Tip: tailor what you share specifically to each platform.]
This is when you build hype for your book and where you can find your beta and ARC readers. This process is easier when you have a loyal fanbase, of course, so if it’s still your debut novel, don’t worry about not getting much traffic early on. You’re still learning.
II: Pre-release Stage
In the weeks and days leading up to the launch of your book, have your ARC readers prepare their reviews. A Launch Team [see this Self-Publishing School article for more info] can help a lot by spreading the word with promotional material that you provide.
III: The Launch! Stage
This is when you flood the market with content and when your ARC readers upload their reviews. You can also ask them to take pictures of themselves reading your book and to write their reviews on many different platforms.
IV: Post-release Stage
From here, maintain relevance by intermittently sharing bonus content. This can be artwork, character bios, fan posts, or even just talking about your inspirations. Keep up with your fanbase. Remember that even the best books have positive and negative reviews, so focus on the good stuff.
*V: Upcoming books
If it’s a one-and-done sort of book, this doesn’t really apply, but if you’re preparing to release a sequel book or a side story book, this is the best time to build hype about your first book again by offering a discount or a special sale.
Keeping Up with Demand
Now the most important part of the process: Staying relevant! Some people think that they can just write one book and be done with it, and that’s fine. If you only have one book in you and writing isn’t what you want to do full time, you don’t have to write another book.
For the people who do want to write full time, or at least part-time, don’t think that you can wait until your first book is completely published before writing another one. Writing a book is a long and difficult process, and you could easily fall behind. I know that I’ve had my fair share of writer’s block and/or procrastination.
For fiction, typically you’ll want to release a new book once a year, and some authors even believe that releasing a new one every six months is the sweet spot to maintain relevancy to your readers.
The best strategy is to start writing your next book the moment the first book’s first draft is done. That way, while you’re waiting for beta readers and editors to get back to you, you’ll still be writing while taking a break from the project. It’s also a good way to either keep yourself in the world (if it’s a series) or take a break from the world (if it’s a standalone).
When beta readers get back to you, you can take a break from book 2 to work on book 1. Switching between projects may even give you new ideas.
Overall, the advice is to never stop writing, whether you’re working on outlines, worldbuilding, short stories, or a whole draft.
Click here to visit my Article Archive and see what’s coming up.