How to self-publish a book…

…in 1000 steps.

Just kidding.

Maybe.

Am I? I’m not sure. Let me rewind.

I decided to do a simple (relatively) step-by-step blog about what exactly I’ve done to create a book I’m proud of and that, as of right now, seems to be exceeding my wildest expectations from a reader standpoint (see Epic of Helinthia’s current rating on Goodreads). For anyone looking to self-publish a book, either you have always known this was the route you wanted to take, or you’ve tried to obtain an agent to solicit a traditional publishing avenue and been unsuccessful, I hope I can help you set realistic expectations about self-publishing through what I’ve done and the success that has followed as a result.

My book, Epic of Helinthia, is currently in the marketing/preorder stage, so if you choose to subscribe to my blog, and I hope you do, you can see firsthand in (almost) real-time how well my self-publishing choices have turned out for me so you can decide for yourself if these are worthy investments for your own self-publishing venture.

I will preface this first by saying that I spent 0 effort trying to land an agent to get a traditional publishing deal. The reason for this is I’ve lost faith in the traditional publishing system. I can’t tell you how many ARCs I’ve reviewed that are just subpar, not original, not well written, have typos, etc. In contrast, I’ve read a LOT of self-published books that were rejected by trad pub and are absolutely phenomenal! The main one being Kill Your Darlings, by L.E. Harper, which was rejected over 200 times and is one of the most incredible books I’ve ever read. (If you haven’t already, you should order Kill Your Darlings right now).

Seeing amazing books get trampled on by traditional publishing houses because they deal with challenging themes or because they’re not “trending” at the moment just makes me want to snub trad pub in solidarity with these brilliant authors and their amazing works of fiction. Whether or not this will prove to be a good move on my part, time will tell.

I have been working overtime to make sure my novel gets the best possible chance, however, and this success (or failure, who knows?) is what I’m going to share with you through this series of blog posts.

My hope is that this can serve as a blueprint for anyone who is trying to publish their own book. I know there are lots of blogs and youtube and tiktok videos on this topic already, but wouldn’t it be nice to just have it ALL in one blog? Here is a bulleted list of everything I have done so far, each of these I will cover in much more detail in the coming weeks:

Book creation:

  • Streamlined character and story arcs
  • Wrote the chapters
  • Submitted chapters to critique group
  • Incorporated feedback from critique group
  • Wrote more chapters – this included removing chapters that were bogging down the narrative based on critique group feedback and my own gut feelings as I reread my book – if YOU don’t want to reread your chapter for some reason, then that’s a good sign it needs to be overhauled or scrapped.
  • Participated in Nanowrimo to finish a very rough 1st draft of the rest of the story
  • Revised chapters one by one and submitted to my critique group for feedback
  • Incorporated more feedback

2nd Completed draft:

  • Created a list of outstanding concerns I had about the manuscript
  • Submitted to beta readers – I chose people I didn’t know first because I wanted honest feedback. Family members and friends are often nervous about telling you things they don’t like about your book, and stranger are a more reliable comparison to your readers
  • Incorporated feedback from beta readers – 5 total – There was one from my critique group who read it from the beginning again, and 4 that I found on social media – this step was critical.
  • Read-aloud of my story and corrected anything that was still confusing or disjointed
  • First copy-edit
  • Created a book blurb and short description

Pre-publication steps:

  • I purchased a 10 ISBN bundle from Bowker
  • Assigned ISBNs in Bowker. I also purchased a barcode for the paperback and hardcover versions–though I’m no longer sure if this was a necessary step
  • Created a copyright page. I also looked at how books similar to mine were formatted and worded and made sure the quality was matched
  • I registered my manuscript with the US copyright office
  • I applied for an LCCN number – this allows librarians to be able to search for and catalogue my book easier

Cover Design:

  • Don’t skimp on your cover!!! Your cover is your primary marketing tool! If the cover doesn’t look good, readers will not click on your book to learn more and therefore they will not buy it. This also means that ARC readers are less likely to consider reading it as well.
  • Researched the covers of other books that I envisioned my book appearing on the shelf next to in a bonafide bookstore. After I had done this, I went on the hunt for a cover artist
  • Found a cover artist on Fiverr
  • I combed through fiverr looking for portfolios that matched the style of the book covers similar to what I was going for, and then reached out to Sadie and let me know my thoughts. I even did a very rough mockup of what I thought might look good in MS Paint and sent that to her, and found other book covers with color schemes I liked and also sent those to her.
  • Sadie came through with such a beautiful cover, I could not be more thrilled. She produced several options from my rough MS paint sketch and the color schemes I wanted and then we tweaked the design here and there
  • Don’t skimp on this step. It is SO IMPORTANT
  • I decided to go with IngramSpark POD services and they have a cover template that you need to download and supply to your cover artist so it will fit your book exactly

Book Formatting:

  • I formatted my book myself in MS Word. Professional book formatters are worth every single penny they charge for their work, I can attest. However, I was working on a limited budget, so I decided to try it myself.
  • I formatted my manuscript to CMOS standards, which is no headers or page numbers on front matter, specific verso and recto pages, and no headers on chapter title pages. This was a challenge to do in Word, and if you’re interested in learning how to do it, I’ll try to create a blog on it soon
  • Once you do this, supply the total page count to your cover designer with an updated template from Ingram (if you’re using them) to adjust the cover specs if necessary

eBook formatting:

  • I made the mistake of formatting the physical book first, so all the work I did on the headers and footers had to be removed for the ebook, which was a pain. Also, all the drop caps I added to the chapter pages also had to be removed because the epub software I used moved them around on the page when it converted. So I recommend formatting the ebook first and then format the paperback. Some of the same steps are necessary for the ebook, but there are extra steps for the paperback
  • I used calibre, which is a free software that has a bit of a learning curve to it, but it produces a decent epub with minimal effort
  • Main things to note for the epub is that all chapter titles have to have a style heading assigned to them in word, it cannot be normal text just manipulated to look like a chapter heading. Otherwise, the table of contents will not generate in calibre
  • This is also something I learned after the fact and had to go back and reformat all the chapter headings – not hard, just a pain

Copyedit (again)

  • At this point, I decided to do another copy edit of my book, and I’m glad I did, not only did I discover several italicized lines that had lost their italics during my formatting process somehow, but I also discovered some errors I introduced here and there and some that I had missed
  • Disclaimer: I am a professional editor by trade. I cannot stress enough how important it is to get a professional editor to edit your work. It makes a big difference in reader satisfaction and understandability. Grammar check is NOT enough. If you need more convincing, read my article I wrote for Huntsville Independent Press about editing.
  • I also discovered that a couple lines were different (somehow) between the physcial book and the ebook.
  • To remedy this, I used the compare versions option in MS Word and compared both documents, and then made the corrections to ensure they were both exactly the same.
  • Yes, this required a lot of scrolling, but it’s a very important step.

IngramSpark

  • IngramSpark is its own beast
  • Firstly, I purchased an ebook/physical book bundle and a separate physical book because I wanted three versions. Buying a book bundle was a mistake.
  • I discovered that IngramSpark doesn’t accept epubs formatted by calibre and it threw a thousand errors when I uploaded it that I couldn’t even begin to figure out. So I consulted with my friend who also used IngramSpark and she told me Ingram’s ebook service is a mess and I should use Draft2Digital instead.
  • That was one of the best decisions I’ve made for this book yet
  • Draft2Digital accepted my epub without issues and the distribution is really amazing
  • The problem is that now IngramSpark would not let me publish just the physical book without the ebook since I’d bundled it, so I had to delete both titles and start with a physical book again. This resulted in an error that the ISBN for my physical book was not available. Wait 24 hours, Ingram’s databases will sync up and the error will go away
  • With the physical book, I discovered that Ingram doesn’t accept MS Word documents that have been saved as pdf. I don’t know why (except they’re discriminatory against authors on a budget), but I learned through a youtuber that if you print to pdf the error goes away and the manuscript is accepted.
  • Unfortunately, the built-in print to pdf, Microsoft print to pdf, only prints a letter size (8.5×11) document. It SAYS 6×9, but it doesn’t print a 6×9.
  • I downloaded Bullzip print to pdf instead, which there is also a learning curve to, and I’ll cover that in a later blog post
  • Tip: be sure to add your editor and cover designer in Ingram’s collaborator menu – they’re part of your success and recognizing them for it helps their business and rapport
  • Ordered a physical proof copy
  • Made MORE copyedits because looking at a screen is different than reading an actual book
  • Also, I had to change the paper type which meant a cover resize, so keep in touch with your cover artist just in case you need to tweak the cover in any way

Marketing:

  • I scouted some marketing options on Reedsy and engaged with a couple people. Ultimately, I chose not to go this route and instead I did/am doing all of these things:
  • Became an IBPA member
  • Learned to use Canva and create social media images
  • Submitted for a Clarion foreword review
  • Signed up to use StoryOrigin to disseminate ARCs
  • Uploaded book to Goodreads
  • Created a Goodreads Author page and that was its own fiasco
  • Created an Amazon author page
  • Created an author instagram account
  • Entered the Booklife Fiction Contest
  • Signed up for Booksirens ARCs
  • Purchased the IndieReader Review and Edelweiss plus DRC combo
  • Signed up for the Victory Editing Netgalley Coop
  • I can’t stress the significance of good COVER design in this stage
  • Voracious Readers Only giveaway and Evergreen program
  • Blogs 🙂
  • youtube (sort of)
  • Book tour (TBD because this is in the planning stages)
  • Signed up to attend ALA conference and put my book on IBPA’s bookshelf
  • Twitter outreach
  • Engagement with readers

As of the writing of THIS article, I have not utilized a mailing list for any of my marketing, which is something that is frequently pushed as a critical marketing tool, especially for self-published authors. I will discuss this a bit more in a later blog post about why I haven’t used one. I may decide to try it, but as of right now, I haven’t.

Okay. That’s just about everything I’ve done so far. When I try more things I will post another list. If you are curious about any of the items in my list and want to know when I post the more in-depth article, please subscribe to my blog to get alerts on when those articles are published. I’m running on burn out hardcore at the moment because between all of this and normal stuff, like day job and family and laundry, I am exhausted. So, I’m not even going to promise a regular blogging schedule at this point, but I have so much information that is vying to get out, so I will be publishing it eventually, hopefully soon.

Thank you for reading and happy writing!

~MJ

Author: MJ Pankey

MJ is a writer and writing consultant devoted to her muse and to helping other writers gain confidence, overcome obstacles, and unleash the story within. She offers multiple services on her platform, mjpankey.com, and creates helpful content for writers on her youtube channel.

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