This article will cover the whole indie publishing process, from start to finish. Consider this Part 2 of last week’s, Part 1: 10 Decisions Every Indie Author Needs To Make.
Indie Publishing vs. Self-Publishing
There are three terms for publishing a book yourself:
- Vanity Publishing
- Indie Publishing
These three terms describe the act of publishing a book yourself rather than publishing through a traditional publisher. The term someone uses reveals their degree of bias against the practice.
A person who is hostile to the idea of authors publishing their own books will call it “Vanity Publishing” or “Self-Publishing.” Proponents of the practice call it “Indie Publishing.”
I use the term “indie publishing,” and I have no dog in the fight. There are pros and cons to traditional and indie publishing, and I work with successful authors who make good money with both methods.
I am also convinced that both methods require the same amount of work for the author to succeed. However, some authors are better suited to one or the other.
To discover which method is best for you, you need to be fully aware of what the process requires. We’ve already talked about How to Get Published with a Traditional Publishing House.
So with that out of the way, let’t talk about the indie publishing process.
Step 1: Prep the Inside of the Book
Focus on the substance first.
Write & Edit the Book
The first step of indie publishing is to write and edit the book yourself. The writing should be as tight and compelling as you can make it before you share it.
Getting beta reader feedback on your book is key to getting more five-star reviews. Test your self-edited book on your beta readers so your story will be more likely to connect with your readers.
After you get feedback from your beta readers, work with your developmental editor to fix the problems beta readers pointed out. While beta readers are great at pointing out problems, they rarely suggest viable solutions.
Beta reader feedback often sounds like this:
“When I hit the brakes, my car squeaks. I think it needs an oil change so it doesn’t squeak so much.” Your developmental editor can determine the real issue, just like a mechanic who can clearly see the problem is with the brakes, not the oil.
A developmental edit is an edit of the ideas in a nonfiction work. For a novel, the developmental edit is an edit of the story. It is the big-picture edit.
Add the Utility Pages
Once you finish the developmental edit, it’s time to add the utility pages.
- Copyright Page: This page also includes the ISBN and other metadata.
- Table of Contents: If your book is formatted correctly, you can do this with two clicks. Correct formatting means you have consistently used the “Headings & Styles” feature inside your word processor.
- Acknowledgments: Thank the people who have helped you personally while you wrote the book, such as your friends, family, babysitters, and coffee shops.
- Back Matter: These pages in the back of your book encourage readers to read your next book, sign up for your email list, or write a review.
- Credits: Thank the people who helped you professionally. If you paid them, list them. You can also list members of your launch team, beta readers, and Kickstarter backers. I have found that people work harder and better when they know their name will be attached to the work.
Once you’ve added your utility pages, your manuscript is complete! But your work is not finished.
The next round of editing is an edit of the words. Your copy editor will take a detailed look at punctuation, grammar, and word usage. I recommend hiring someone other than your developmental editor. When most people ask for an editor, the copy editor is usually what they have in mind.
When you are done with the copy edits, your writing is finished! But your book is not!
Typesetting is the process of laying out the words on the page. In this stage, your document goes from being double-spaced to single-spaced. Book pages are about half the size of a standard laser-printer page, so the words jump around a lot during this process.
When the typesetting is complete, you’ll find out exactly how many pages your book will be. Everything before this point was an estimate. If you’re worried your book is too short or too long, there are many typesetting tricks to increase or decrease the number of pages. We discussed some of those tricks in last week’s post, 10 Decisions Every Indie Author Needs to Make Before Publishing a Book.
In the typesetting process, you’ll make sure new chapters always start on the right page and that there are no ugly page breaks. When typesetting is complete, you create the ebook version of your book.
Typesetting used to be a huge undertaking. In ye olden days, they used actual metal type and placed it on the printing press. They pulled the letters out of a “type case” where the big letters were stored in the upper case, and the smaller letters were stored in the lower case. That’s where those terms came from.
Now you can use Vellum to typeset your book, and you can easily do it yourself.
If your document is correctly formatted, typesetting could take as little as 15 minutes using Vellum. Book Sections should be Heading 1, chapter headings should be Heading 2, and chapter sections should be Heading 3.
You can customize your headings styles, and your word processor will keep it consistent throughout your document. Remember, if you are changing the font size by hand, you are doing it the hard way.
To learn about formatting, check out the following resources.
- Podcast: Ebook Publishing Tips, Tricks & Traps
- Ebook: Smashwords guide for using Word.
- Video: Microsoft Word formatting tips.
When typesetting is complete, you will have an .epub file for the ebook and a .pdf file for the print book.
Errors are often introduced during the typesetting process. Sometimes errors that were present the whole time become more obvious after the words are laid out differently on the page.
Hire a professional proofreader to give your typeset pages a final pass. You want fresh eyes on your document, so I recommend choosing an editor who hasn’t read your manuscript yet.
Do not–I repeat–do not skip hiring a proofreader. You can either get proofreading from a proofreader or from 2-star reviews.
Once you have a proofread and corrected .epub and .pdf file of your book, you are ready for Step 2.
Step 2: Prep the Outside of the Book
The outside of the book convinces potential readers to give your writing a chance.
Back Cover Copy
Back cover copy is the text on the back of your book that convinces people to buy your book. This text also goes on your book’s Amazon page and any other online sales page where people decide whether to buy your book.
From a publishing perspective, the term “book cover” refers to the front, back, and spine of your book. Before your designer can create the cover, she needs all the components, including your final back cover copy. Decide whether you will include an endorsement on the back or front. If you want to use a line from the back cover copy on the front cover, make that decision at this stage.
When the cover is designed before the back cover copy is ready, you’re likely to leave off credibility boosters that could help you sell more books.
For more details, listen to How to Write Bestselling Back Cover Copy.
Every book in the world is supposed to have an International Standard Book Number or ISBN. Libraries and bookstores keep track of the millions of books in the world with ISBNs.
If you live in the United States, you can buy an ISBN at ISBN.org. In some countries, you can get the ISBN from a government agency for free. If you live in Australia or Canada, check with your local indie writer community before buying an American ISBN.
When you buy (or register) your ISBN, you will set the metadata for your book. Accurate and complete metadata allows readers to easily find your book when they search for it online.
Amazon will give you a free ISBN, but I don’t trust Amazon, and I don’t recommend using their free ISBNs. Whoever controls a book’s ISBN controls the metadata for the book. Metadata is the most powerful kind of data, and I don’t recommend giving away that power just to save a few dollars.
To learn more about metadata, listen to episode 238, How to Use Metadata to Sell More Books.
Once you have your ISBN, you can use it to generate a barcode. Barcodes are numbers that computers can read. So the barcode is the ISBN number in a computer scannable format.
After you generate the barcode, get a barcode scanning app on your phone and scan the code to make sure it works. After scanning the barcode on your phone, the resulting number should be the same as your ISBN.
Typically, right above (or below) the ISBN on the barcode, you include the price. Choose a high price for the printed cover because the retailer can mark it down much easier than they can mark it up. It is hard for retailers to charge more than the price you print on the back of the book. A good rule of thumb is to find the bestselling book in your category that is the same size as yours and copy their price.
Shelving instructions go above the price. Many indie authors leave these off, and this is one of the things that makes a book “look self-published.” Traditional publishers are very particular that books get put on the right shelf in the bookstore and rarely leave this off.
So name the shelf you want the book placed on in the book store. This could be something like “Romance / Paranormal Romance.” or “Christian Living/Relationships/Dating.” List the general shelf first and then the specific section second.
The person taking your book out of the box needs to know which shelf it belongs on.
Now you are ready to put all the components together in your book cover. There is much to say about book covers, but here is a quick summary.
Your book cover needs to:
- Quickly communicate the genre of your book.
- Fit on the shelf with the bestselling books in your genre.
- Have a single compelling symbol that resonates with the reader.
- Make the reader want to learn more about your book.
I have several episodes that talk about how to do these things:
- 10 Things Every Book Cover Needs
- Book Cover Mistakes That Can Sabotage Your Marketing
- How to Create a Design Brief for Your Book Cover
- How to Avoid the #1 Cause of Bad Book Covers: Design by Committee
I highly recommend listening to all four episodes before hiring a cover designer. If you do, and if you put together a design brief following my instructions regarding the elements we have discussed, you will be on track to have one of the top covers in your genre.
At the end of the cover design process, you will get a .jpg and .pdf of your book cover from your designer. Use the .jpg in your online marketing campaigns, and use the .pdf for making the book.
Step 3: Publish Your Book
At this point, you have:
- an .epub file of the ebook
- a .pdf of the interior of the print book
- a .pdf of the cover
- your metadata entered correctly at ISBN.org
Create a New Amazon Account
Keep your business use of Amazon separate from your personal use of Amazon. To do this, create an Amazon account for your publishing business.
Once you are successful and have a team of people working for you, you don’t want them to have access to your personal Amazon purchase history every time they log in to your KDP account to make a change to one of your books.
Sign up for a new Amazon account at https://www.amazon.com/ap/register. If you decided to start an LLC, use your LLC info. Otherwise, use the DBA (Doing Business As) also known as an Assumed Name in some states from your county courthouse for your sole proprietorship. If you have tax and business questions, check out my course Tax & Business Guide for Authors.
Sign Up for Amazon KDP
Signing up for Amazon KDP is easy. It’s mostly a matter of clicking “next” a bunch of times. You can sign up at https://kdp.amazon.com/. Again, use your business info if you have it. If you don’t have an LLC, make sure you have a separate bank account for your business income and expenses. Keeping your business account separate will save you a lot of hassle when you prepare your taxes.
Upload Your Files
If you have been following along, this is a super easy step because you have all your files ready to go. Amazon will need the cover .pdf file, the interior .pdf file, and the .epub file for your ebook.
Add Your Metadata
KDP will ask for some of the same metadata that ISBN.org asked for. Make sure the metadata on ISBN.org matches the metadata you use for Amazon by copying and pasting your ISBN.org metadata into the KDP forms. If you open KDP in one browser window and ISBN.org in another, this shouldn’t take long.
Print a Test Copy of Your Paper Book
Once everything is entered correctly, Amazon will ask if you would like to pay to receive a proof copy of your book. Yes! Yes, you want a proof copy. Many things could go wrong in the printing process, and you don’t want to find out about them from your Amazon reviews.
When you get your proof copy, check for the following:
- Do the words look good on the page? Sometimes the font seems to be a different size in real life than it did on the screen.
- Are the margins correct? Bad margins make a book “look self-published.” They also make the book harder to read.
- Does the cover look good? Too dark? Too washed out?
- Does the spine match? Many factors affect your book’s thickness, and if the designer does the math wrong, the spine will be off. The text on the spine may fall onto the back or front cover if the spine width hasn’t been precisely calculated.
Pick an Audiobook Narrator
Don’t forget the audiobook! FindawayVoices.com or ACX.com help authors produce audiobooks. Both have plans that allow you to produce your audiobook for free as long as you split the royalty with the narrator. If you don’t want to share royalties, you can pay your narrator upfront.
For more on audiobooks:
- 7 Reasons Why Your Book Should Also Be an Audiobook
- How to Turn Your Book into an Audiobook
- How to Write & Narrate Better Audiobooks with Tom Parks
- Audiobook Production and Promotion with Brennan McPherson
Once you listen to those four episodes, you will be prepared to produce an audiobook version of your book.
Pick an Ebook Price
Picking an ebook price is not a big deal. Unlike the paperback price, which is printed on the book itself, the ebook price is easy to change at any time.
If you need help choosing the best price for your ebook, listen to our episode Book Marketing 101: How to Price Your Ebook.
Pick a Publication Date
I recommend choosing a date at least one month in advance. Ideally, you’d want two or three months, but one month is enough time to make sure everything looks good on your Amazon page. It also gives you time to plan your book launch.
This is it! Your moment of glory!
Step 4: Launch the Book
Every day, a thousand new books appear on Amazon. These new books compete with each other and with the millions of books already on Amazon. Most of them never get noticed.
How do you make sure your book gets noticed? You have a book launch!
Book launches are a time-tested method to break through the noise and get your book the attention it deserves.
Authors who fail to plan their launch can plan to have a failed launch.
Each book launch should include the following elements:
Written Launch Plan
Write down what you plan to do to promote your book during those first 30 days.
When you implement many effective strategies in that first month, you will sell more books. The more books you sell, the more people you will have talking about your book. The more people you get to talk about your book, the more books you will sell. It’s a virtuous cycle.
For more on wha to do and what not to do see Painful Book Launch Lessons You Don’t Want to Learn the Hard Way and How to Launch a Book: A Coaching Session with Krystal Proffitt.
Write down when you plan to do those promotion activities.
The only way to make sure you didn’t schedule yourself for five interviews at the same time is to keep a calendar. Your editorial calendar is the master planner of your launch. It will help you make sure each activity is scheduled properly with enough time between your various launch activities.
For more on putting together an editorial calendar see: How to Create a Written Book Launch Plan.
Recruit the people who will help you spread the word about your book.
It takes a team to launch anything successfully. Make sure you have a team willing to help you launch your book. If you need help assembling a launch team, I recommend you take the Book Launch Blueprint course.
2021 Book Launch Blueprint
Every spring, James L. Rubart and I host a special course called the Book Launch Blueprint. We train a small group of authors to craft a launch plan for their book.
Registration for the 2021 Book Launch Blueprint ends on April 9, 2021. If you are listening in the future, visit BookLaunch.fun to join the waitlist for next year’s course in the spring.
Here is a testimonial from a student who went through the course last year:
Leif and Dyanna Jo are devastated after she miscarries after so many years of trying to get pregnant. The miscarriage becomes a catalyst for their roller-coaster journey to becoming a foster family.
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A few days ago, I counted all my podcast episodes across all my different shows, and I am about to record my 500th podcast episode! If you have any ideas for how we should celebrate, leave me a comment below.
If you are curious about my other podcasts, listen in:
- Christian Publishing Show – This is my podcast for the Christian Publishing Industry. We have many episodes on writing craft, marketing, and publishing. I recently recorded our 100th episode in which I interviewed Jerry Jenkins, an author who has sold over 71 million copies of his books.
- Thomas Umstattd Guest cast – This is a compilation of my guest interviews on other people’s podcasts. I don’t count these toward my episode count, but you can still subscribe.
- Novel Marketing Patrons Only Podcast – This is a special podcast just for the patrons of the Novel Marketing podcast. You can get these episodes for as little as $3 when you become a Novel Marketing Patron here.
- Creative Funding Show – I recorded this show to teach people how to make money as a podcaster. It only ran for 28 episodes, but it is still around.
- Liberty Buzzard – This is a news and politics podcast I hosted for a time.
- cGames – This was my first podcast. I started it in 2007. It is no longer listenable, which is perhaps for the best. It was a great learning experience!