The Ins and Outs of Self-Publishing Bestsellers

Self-publishing has become the favored way to sell books for millions of authors. Find out everything you need to know on how to self-publish your next novel.

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Blank computer to become a self-published author

Within the past decade, publishing companies around the country have taken notice of the next new movement within the industry: independent authors self-publishing their own books. Self-publishing books have become a mainstream way of getting your stories out there without the hassle of rejection letters and creative disagreements. But what kind of work goes into self-publishing your book?

Figuring out all the complexities of self-publishing turns a lot of potential authors away from the idea, but we’re here to clear up any confusion. We’ve narrowed down all the information you need to know on how to get started publishing your book. By understanding the fundamentals of self-publishing and reviewing a step-by-step guide on how to get started, you’ll feel more confident in taking the leap to become a self-published author.

Self-Publishing Vs. Traditional Publishing

When looking at the primary forms of publishing, the fundamental difference between the two is the amount of support you receive in getting your book to the public. With self-publishing, the author holds all creative power and is solely responsible for the publishing process. From advertising to formatting, you get to choose how to present your book. This may seem like a lot of pressure to put on a single person’s shoulders, but if planned out thoroughly, the opportunity for enhancing your skills and a boost in profits is much greater.

Traditional publishing versus self-publishing graphic that explains the difference between the two.

In traditional publishing, there are multiple hoops to jump through. It can take years just to find an agent and get your manuscript to competitive publishers. When you do surpass these obstacles, you’ll have an organized team that works to ensure your book sells.

A publishing company will essentially buy the rights to your work, and then you’d receive royalties based on how many books the company sells. While there are fewer personal responsibilities in traditional publishing, the creative freedom of authors can be hindered. On the other hand, though, the potential for securing more contracts in the future increases.

What’s pushed people to self-publish?

There’ve been many determining factors for why self-publishing has gained popularity in recent years. For some authors, it’s the combination of more creative authority and the potential for higher earnings. However, for authors of color, self-publishing has become a necessity. Discrimination within publishing companies has been a standard since its conception, and it certainly hasn’t stopped in the 21st century.

In a study done by the New York Times, they found that out of 7,124 widely read fiction books between the 1950s to 2018, an astounding 95% of those books were written by white authors. In 2018 alone, authors of color only accounted for 11% of fiction books published that year.

These numbers don’t lie. Due to the disregard for diverse books, authors of color sought out a different way to make their stories known, and they found it in self-publishing 

Marginalized groups are often left behind when trying to publish their novels the traditional way. So, the market grew to change and make room for everyone. Self-publishing gave authors who might not be published in the conventional sense the room to grow their platforms.

Nowadays, the self-publishing industry is thriving. 300 million self-published books are sold each year, and the market accounts for 30-35% of all ebooks. If you’ve been thinking about self-publishing your next book, there’s never been a better time than right now.

The Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing

Before you decide if self-publishing is the best way to market your work, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons. Every publishing option has its ups and downs, so make sure the potential cons don’t outweigh your pros. At the end of the day, it’s your opinion that matters.

The Pros of Self-Publishing

No Time Constraints: The beauty of self-publishing is you can do it whenever the time feels right. You have the opportunity to set your own hours and personal deadlines. If you need more time to finish writing, no problem. Many authors can publish 2-3 well-written novels within the year. With self-publishing, time is on your side.  

You’re the Boss: All creative decisions run past your desk before they become a reality. As a self-published author, you get to maintain creative control over everything. From formatting, to editing, to storytelling, you get to create the book you’ve always imagined. If you’re not feeling confident about some of your original ideas, nobody is standing in your way of changing things up. You have the authority to do whatever you’d like with your novel.

Gain Vital Skills: Since you’re the go-to person in charge of publishing this book, you’re bound to learn some essential skills along the publishing process. While you may face some challenges, those will become lessons learned down the road. These skills will stay with you into your next book and in your day-to-day life. Self-publishing forces you to think both creatively and analytically. What’s better than that?

Higher Earnings Margin: Just looking at numbers alone, self-publishing offers the opportunity for much greater profits. In traditional publishing, most authors only earn 10%—12% of royalties per book. Meanwhile with self-publishing, the margin is 40%—60%, sometimes even reaching up to 70%. Plus, you don’t have to pay anyone back the advance for your work. Once the book is published, a majority of the money goes to you.

The pros and cons of self-publishing.

The Cons of Self-Publishing

Holding Yourself Responsible: It’s nice to be able to work at your own pace, but it’s still crucial to set stern deadlines with yourself. Your main goal is to publish your book, so you have to actively take steps to get there. Those steps can be small, but just make sure they’re there. Get a calendar or online planner to stay organized if you need to. It’s okay for dates to move around, as long as you’re keeping track of what you’ve accomplished and what needs to be done, you’ll have a finished novel in no time.

Little Support: Being the sole creator of your book can be lonely. It may feel like too much pressure to keep up with every little thing. Since the writing field is a very independent environment, many self-published authors have dealt with the lack of support. Don’t keep all these emotions in. Talk to family, friends, or other writers about your struggles. The best way to gain validation and help is by asking. 

Juggling Multiple Roles: Writing a book is hard enough, but add in editing, formatting, and designing, and things start to seem even more overwhelming. Many self-published authors have felt fear and worry about managing everything on time. Take it step-by-step. Assign different days to specific areas you’ll work on. Do some research about topics you’re unfamiliar with. Over time and with some trial and effort, managing everything will become easier.

Higher Starting Costs: The higher payout of self-publishing is a main attraction for many authors, but just know it comes with more costs in the beginning. If you’re wanting a professional edit and help with the formatting of your book to stand out, those services come with a price tag. Try to budget the most significant costs to create your book. With proper planning and awareness of the upfront cost, you’ll be prepared to take on the financial responsibility of being a self-published author.

What’s the overall cost of self-publishing?

The cost of self-publishing. A person using a calculator.

When budgeting out how much it’ll cost to self-publish your novel, the prices may vary. On average, most authors spend anywhere from $1,000-$2,500 to publish a book. The more money you spend, the higher quality it will be.

The cost is all dependent on what additional services you use to enhance the value of your work. One of the most expensive factors of self-publishing is getting your novel professionally edited. This takes your writing to the next level by focusing on the flow, tone, grammar, story, and other central themes in your novel. This may eat into your budget, but it’s worth every penny in the long run.

Other services you can pay for are marketing promotion, book interior and exterior design, printing, and book formatting. Depending on what your budget is, you can select the most important of these elements or mix and match. Plus, this will allow your book to be seen by more people. The more eyes on the novel, the better. Your book will end up going through more edits and revisions than just by doing it yourself. So, while you may have to spend a little more money in the beginning, the finished result will make it all worth it.

Learning essential skills helps lower the price

Building new skills helps improve the book you're self-publishing. Building blocks that are adding up to 100%

Being a self-published author is a multifaceted role. “Author” isn’t going to be your only title. You’ll also have to become an editor, designer, and advertiser. To help prepare yourself to take on these tasks, it’s good to spruce up on some new skills. Check out some videos on the great ways to design book covers, or read a book about the basics of editing. 

If there’s enough room in the budget, you can also attend self-publishing education classes. This is a for-sure way to learn as much as you can about best practices to make your first published book succeed.

Similar to the initial costs of making your self-published book, this money will be well spent when it comes time to begin the publishing process. It makes every step that much easier. Not only will your skills increase, but you’ll have the potential to network with teachers and other students. These resources can be of great help in the future.

Here are a few of the many self-publishing education courses you can take today:

  1. Authority Pub Academy
  2. Mark Dawson’s Self-Publishing Formula
  3. Your First 10,000 Readers
  4. Ingram Spark
  5. Udemy: Publishing on Amazon Kindle

Now that you know the basics of what goes into self-publishing, you can finally start planning how to get your book out there. Here are seven steps you can take to turn that idea in your head into a fully-fledged book for everyone to read.

1. Write Your Novel

A person looking at ideas on the wall of what kind of book will be good for self-publishing.

We know, we know— this is easier said than done, but hear us out.

Before you even start the self-publishing process, the first thing you need to accomplish is actually writing your book. Take the time to sit down and think of the story you want to tell. Map out who your characters are and potential plot points. The more planning and outlining you do, the easier it will be to write.

The process of writing a book is longer than you might’ve expected, so don’t beat yourself up when you feel stuck. Whenever you finish your book is when you finish. Many famous authors take years to write their books, so be kind to yourself. The more thinking about your novel you do, the better the final product will be.

2. Use an Editorial Eye

Editing is a major aspect of self-publishing. A red pen on top of a paper with edits on it.

Once you’ve completed the initial draft of your novel, it’s time for the first round of edits. Editing is going to be one of the most vital steps in the goal of getting self-published, and you’ll constantly use this skill in your career.

Your book should be changing every time you take a look at it. Think about structure, form, and pacing while editing. When a scene isn’t working the way you want it to, write down why it’s not playing out the way you imagined, and examine what you can do to fix it. Take moments to free-write about what you want the final product to look like. 

However, you’re only one person, and there’s only so much editing you can do in a single day. If you’re able to, get some of your friends, family members, or other writers to take a look at your draft. This will be a test to see how your book comes across to other audiences. Everything might make sense to you, but that’s only because you’ve planned everything out. For a reader, this is all new information. You’ll want to keep that in mind for other edits on your book.

3. Hire a Professional Editor

Since you’ve learned what goes into the budgeting process of self-publishing, you’ll know that one of the best things to do with that money is to hire a professional editor. Self-editing and getting friends to take a glance is great (and free), but having a paid editor can bring out the best in your writing. This will make your book look like it came from a reputable publishing company. Plus, it’s another set of fresh eyes on your work that can catch any small errors (because the last thing you want in your book are grammatical errors!).

4. Format and Design Your Book

Book covers for self-publishing. An old book cover next to flowers and white ribbon.

As much as the words inside your book are the top selling points, so is how you present the contents of the novel. From formatting to designing, these aspects of publishing will determine if your book sells.

Even though we might not want to believe it, people do tend to judge a book by its cover, so make sure that the design is unique and grabs people’s attention. If you need some support handling these tasks, you can always hire designers to help you. Make sure to budget these expenses out. While it may eat up a portion of your budget, your book will look magnificent from cover to cover.

5. Pick a Self-Publishing Website

Pick a webiste for self-publishing your novel. Kindle direct publishing logo.

After you’ve completed your final edits, fixed any formatting issues, and designed a wonderful front and back cover for your book, you can finally pick a website to self-publish on. Various websites offer the opportunity to publish for free, but some you may have to pay a subscription for.

These options can seem endless, so we’ve highlighted some of the most popular self-publishing websites that authors around the world can attest to:

  1. Kindle Direct Publishing
  2. Barnes and Noble Press
  3. Kobo Writing Life
  4. Google Play Books
  5. Apple Books for Authors

The best way to decide which website to use is by looking at potential earnings, any upfront costs, and how many other self-published authors are actively using the site.

Make sure to read reviews and compare one website to others like it. This will help you find out what people are actually saying and give you better insight. Your book is going to spend the rest of its time on whatever website you choose, so pick the one that feels most comfortable to you.

6. Market on Social Media

authors who are self-publishing should market their book on social media. Various signs that say "follow" "share" "chat" and more.

Your book is finally finished! Now it’s time to advertise.

People aren’t going to know about your book unless you talk about it. Hop over to Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or your favorite social media platform and get to work. Let people know the basic plot, when and where they can purchase your novel, and any exciting information to get your audience ready for its release date.

You should be marketing your book from the minute the last draft is done to at least a month after the book is published. Give people a reason to read your novel. The publishing field can be oversaturated at times, so let your audience know how your book stands on its own.

7. Keep Your Fans Updated

Even after your novel has been released, make sure to keep in touch with your fan base. This is how you gain traction in the publishing industry. If people are talking about your book, you’re doing something right.

As mundane as an update may be, there’s no harm in letting your audience know about it. Whenever you decide to self-publish another book, make sure to share that news with your fans. They’ll be elated to know that more material is on the way. This is a step that many beginning self-published authors take for granted, but it’s a necessity if you want your name to continue to circulate in bookish circles. 

If you’re hoping to publish a book in the future, and traditional publishing just isn’t working for you, don’t be afraid to try becoming a self-published author! Self-publishing a book may seem like a huge project to take on, but if you separate your tasks into smaller steps, the overall outcome seems more achievable. Authors around the world dream of the day when they can buy a physical copy of their book, and with the beauty of self-publishing, that dream can finally become a reality.

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