So, you’ve finished your manuscript.
Congratulations! You’ve made it a lot further than many authors who aspire to publish their books.
It’s time to publish your book, but you’re not quite ready to go to print (or ebook) just yet. You’ll need to format the manuscript, edit and proofread it, choose a publishing method, design the cover and format the contents, create your book (either digitally or in print), then market and sell it.
This guide will take you through each step of how to publish your first book.
1. Format and edit your manuscript
Every author needs an editor. A good editor can help you make sure your story and characters are consistent, your message is conveyed clearly, your writing is grammatically correct, and that there are no typos.
Once you’ve polished your manuscript as much as you can and have asked a friend or family member to read it, it’s time to contact an editor. Before you do, make sure you’ve formatted your manuscript for easy reading.
Standard manuscript formatting includes:
- A title page that includes the title and author name
- Table of contents, if applicable
- 12-point font
- Times New or Times New Roman font
- Black font
- One-inch margins
- Double spacing
- Left alignment
- One-inch indentations (using the tab key) at the beginning of each paragraph and new line of dialogue
- A single space after periods
- Page numbers (beginning with the first page of the story, not the cover page)
- Consistently marked section breaks (for example: three centered asterisks for each and every section break)
- Clearly marked chapters and page breaks between each
Once you’ve formatted your document, it’s time to find an editor. There are three levels of editing. Your book may need all three or just one.
- Developmental editing: ensures characters, action, and plot are consistent and clear
- Copyediting or line editing: ensures the writing is grammatically correct and that small details are consistent (for example, if the protagonist is wearing a red coat on page one, and a blue coat on page two, a copy editor will catch that)
- Proofreading: ensures the manuscript contains no typographical errors
Some editors will do all three, others will specialize in just one. Keep this in mind as you’re looking for an editor.
Need help finding an editor? Check out our guides:
2. Choose a publishing method
There are two ways to publish your book:
- The traditional method, using an agent and a publishing house
Here’s a look at a few pros and cons of each method:
|-No need to work through an agent
-Shorter time to publish
-Author has to foot the bill for printing costs
-Author is in charge of their own marketing
-Author is in charge of their own publicity and has more control in the process
-Author keeps a larger share of the profits
-Author has more say in the editing process
|-Author has to work through an agent
-Longer time to publish
-Publisher foots the bill for printing costs
-Marketing support comes from the publisher
-Publisher supports publicity for the book, the author has less control over the process
-Author keeps a smaller share of the profits
-Author has less say in the editing process
Steps to publish your book
|-Format your manuscript
-Edit and polish your manuscript
-Hire an editor and/or proofreader to do another pass
-Choose a self-publishing partner
–Choose a distribution partner
–Hire a designer to design your book and its cover or take a stab at it yourself
–Design your marketing and publicity plan
-Send your book to print and/or create your ebook and/or audiobook files
-Begin executing your marketing and publicity plan
-Start selling your book
-Continue your marketing and publicity campaign
|-Edit and polish your manuscript
-Pitch to literary agents
-Your agent pitches to publishing houses
-Your agent negotiates a deal with the editor who bought your manuscript
-You and your editor edit the manuscript again
-The publishing house designs the book and its cover with the author’s input
-The publishing house designs a marketing and publicity strategy with the author’s input
-The publisher sends the book to print
-The publisher and author begin executing the marketing and publicity plan
-The book is released and lands on bookstore shelves
-The marketing and publicity campaigns continue
|Estimated time to publish: 1–6 months||Estimated time to publish: 1–3 years|
4. Choose a publishing partner
Because the process of publishing a book through a traditional press can be long and tedious, we specialize in helping self-published authors. For those who choose to self-publish their book, the next step is to find a publishing partner.
There is no shortage of platforms where you can self-publish your book in print, in ebook format, or as an audiobook.
No matter what method you choose, you’ll need to consider: book design and artwork, your cut of the profits, how you’ll pay taxes on your earnings, how you’ll promote your book, and where you’ll sell it.
Self-publishing print books
If you choose to print your book, consider the cost of printing and shipping, the quantity you’ll order (or if you’ll print on demand), paperback vs. hardback, book materials and design, distribution, and stocking it in local book stores.
For help on printing your own book, consult our guides:
- How to Print Your Own Book
- How to Publish a Book with Lulu Book Publishing
- How to Publish a Book with IngramSpark Publishing
Self-publishing an ebook is a faster, less expensive way to publish your book, and you won’t have to bother with distributing physical books. There are plenty of places to create an ebook.
Here are just a few:
- How to Self-Publish on Nook Press
- How to Self-Publish on Google
- Apple Books for Authors: Now Open to Everyone
- How to Self-Publish on Apple Books
- How to Self-Publish on Kobo
- How to Self-Publish on Amazon
- How to Publish a Book with IngramSpark Publishing
Like ebooks, audiobooks are a quicker way to get your book into the market. You can read and record the audiobook yourself, or you can hire a professional reader to do it.
Here are some guides and tips on how to get it done:
- How to Create and Publish an Audiobook with ACX
- How to Publish an Audiobook: Your Guide to Audiobook Production and Distribution
4. Design your book
After you’ve chosen your publishing method, it’s time to create beautiful artwork to support your book. Even if you choose the ebook or audiobook formats, you’ll need cover art to market the finished product. And depending on the type of manuscript you’ve written, you may also need interior artwork or illustrations.
If you choose to publish ebooks or print books, you’ll need to design the book interior. Nearly all self-publishing platforms will help you do this, but if you have a very specific design in mind that the platform doesn’t support, you can do it yourself using a program like Photoshop, InDesign, or Canva, or hire a book designer through a site like Reedsy, Fiverr, or Upwork.
Designing your own book? Check out our tips: How to Create a Best-Selling Cover
5. Market and sell your book
You’ve made it to the most exciting part of being a published author: promoting and selling your book.
As a self-published author, you’re in charge of promoting your book. The good news is, the process can be easy (and fun!) and you’ll have total control over your campaign.
A basic book marketing plan might include:
- An author bio
- Promoting the book on your author website and social media accounts
- Getting blurbs from other authors
- Getting reader reviews
- Interviews with local publications or literary journals
- Newsletter swaps with other writers or artists
- Marketing the book to your own newsletter subscribers
- Social media ads
- Amazon ads
- Bookbub ads
- Promoting on sites like Freebooksy
- Local, in-store, or virtual book readings
- Submitting your book to contests
- Getting your book into stores and libraries
More guides and tips for marketing your book:
- Marketing Mindset: Playing to Your Power
- The Best Book Promotion Sites to Promote Your eBook
- The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing for Authors
- How to Market Your Book on Amazon in 7 Easy Steps
- How to Promote Your Series
- How to Use eBook Promo Codes on Google Play
- 5 Steps to Sell More Books on Amazon
- How to Use a Short Story to Sell More Books
- 5 Must-Read Marketing Books for Authors
How to get your self-published book into bookstores
1. Understand the bookstore and their customers
Do your research on the store you’re pitching to. Not all stores sell children’s books, others sell nothing but. Some stores specialize in specific genres, like The Ripped Bodice in Culver City, CA, which stocks only romance novels. Before you call, email, or show up with book in hand, make sure you know what they carry and who their customers are.
Note that some book stores will sell ebooks and audiobooks too!
2. Start local
Most independent bookstores have a section for local authors and love to support the local literary community. Starting with local bookstores is a great way to build your list of stockists, which you can use to sell your book in the broader market.
Don’t limit your local search to stores only in your city, reach out to independent book sellers in your state—that’s local too.
3. Just ask
Email, call, or show up in the store and ask to speak to a manager or buyer about selling your book. You should provide:
- One or two copies of the printed book or a free copy of an ebook or audiobook (offer your book in the formats you want them to sell)
- An author bio, book summary, author blurbs, and reviews
- Information about your marketing plan and target audience
- Information about your readership and following, like reader demographics, email subscribers, previous publications, accolades, and the number of books sold
Give them time to consider your book—about two weeks—then follow up. Offer to provide more information or meet with them about stocking and promoting the book.
4. Offer to give an in-store or virtual reading
Local bookstores need foot traffic and customers, and you can help them bring it in. Offer to give a reading or host a book signing event in their store or online. To make it worth your while—and theirs—lend a hand in promoting the event. This is where your handy marketing plan comes in. If you’re a new author with little or no readership, team up with other authors to give a reading.
Don’t stop at bookstores. Reach out to your local branch as well: How to Get Your Self-Published Book into Libraries