If you’re a writer, a dreamer, or anyone with something important to say, chances are you’ve thought about writing and publishing a book. Perhaps during the Coronavirus lockdown, you decided to finally make a start on your first draft. But what’s next? Of course, in days past, no one knew how to publish a book except those in industry circles, and only traditionally published books were able to “succeed.”
Fortunately, a lot has changed since then. Today’s authors have more publishing options than ever — and better yet, these authors have a shot at success no matter which path they choose! That said, successful publishing still requires a great deal of expertise and finesse, and very few bestselling authors get there without any assistance.
To help you emulate these bestsellers, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to how to publish a book! And the good news is that you can do it while observing all social distancing standards! Here you’ll find a 10-step plan that help you publish your first book:
- Decide how you want to publish
- Perform a thorough edit
- Get feedback from others
- Choose an unforgettable title
- Format your book carefully
- Design an amazing cover
- Optimize your metadata
- Develop a detailed launch plan
- Publish your book
- Market like a boss
1. Decide how you want to publish
We just mentioned that authors today have more publishing options than ever before, and we meant it. There’s no single right way to publish a book — which is why we’ve designed the steps in this guide more as “best practices” than mandatory actions for every author.
That said, the way you choose to publish will inevitably affect your approach to some of our steps, and even enable you to skip a few of them. So before you proceed, you need to decide: do you want to publish all by yourself? Or do you want to traditionally publish through either a small press or a larger publisher?
Only you can determine what’s right for your book.
2. Perform a thorough edit
Take it from us: the greatest gift you can give your manuscript (besides bringing it to life in the first place) is to thoroughly edit it once it’s done. This is true whether you’re publishing solo or sending your manuscript to tons of agents; either way, people will be reading it, judging it, and making decisions that affect its success.
3. Get feedback from others
Whether you hire a professional editor or not, remember that any kind of thoughtful third-party feedback is invaluable to your book. So throughout the editing process (most authors go through at least two or three rounds), share your manuscript with friends, fellow writers, and beta readers to see what they think.
We know it’s hard to open your work up to criticism, but it’s also the only way to address mistakes in your blind spot! And again, it’s much better to fix these problems now than to publish a book that’s riddled with them.
To make sure you’re getting the most out of the feedback process, do the following:
- Send your book to multiple readers at a time, along with a Google form, so they can submit feedback anonymously.
- Include a list of specific elements (plot, characters, prose, etc.) for them to rate on a scale of 1-10.
- For every problem they find, ask them to suggest a solution. This ensures constructive criticism and puts them in your shoes as a writer, which should help them give more nuanced feedback overall.
Where should I look for feedback?
If you feel comfortable asking your friends and family for feedback, you definitely should! However, we know that this can be a delicate process, and it may be better not to involve anyone you know personally — which is why we’ve compiled a few other options here.
- Online critique circles are a fantastic alternative to asking your friends for feedback. Joining a critique circle allows you to get notes on your book and hone your own critiquing skills, plus it’s cool to be part of a tightly knit writing group!
- Larger writing communities can also be really helpful. Many of these communities have built-in critique circles, but it’s worth checking their individual forums to see if anyone’s looking for a critique partner — or, if you’re lucky, offering free critiques.
- Beta readers are another great way to get detailed, honest feedback from people who are invested in your book. Most authors use beta readers after they’ve done some self-editing, but before they pass their book off to an editor.
4. Choose an unforgettable title
If you’ve come this far, you probably have a pretty good idea of what your book’s title will be. But if you haven’t quite settled on it — or if the editing process changed your manuscript so much, you feel like you need a new title to match — now’s the time to choose an amazing book title!
- Keep it short. Think about how many bestsellers these days have one-to-two word titles! Titling your book “The [Something]” is a timeless approach for a reason — it gets the idea across, fits on the title page, and is easy for readers to remember and repeat.
- Make it intriguing. Another advantage to a short title is that it naturally creates intrigue; still, when in doubt, add another layer of mystery.
- Don’t mimic anyone too closely. While it’s great to use tried-and-true formulas, you don’t want your title to sound so familiar that people think, “Haven’t I read that before?” Steer clear of The Great Garfield, To Kill a Hummingbird, and The Catcher in the Pie. We know it sounds kind of silly, but it’s always worth double-checking to make sure you’re not subconsciously copying anyone!
5. Format your book carefully
Now that you have the text of your book prepared, title and all, you’re ready to format it carefully and professionally. Again, this is crucial whether you’re self publishing or sending it to agents or publishers! No one should have to endure 300 pages of atrocious formatting — moreover, you’ll lose them after just one page if the interior of your book is a mess.
Basically, if you want readers to take your book seriously, it needs to look like an actual book. You’ll need chapter headings, page numbers, standard margins, and perfectly spaced text in precisely the right typeface… not to mention the rigmarole of front and back matter.
6. Design an amazing cover
Let’s talk about cover design and why it’s so important to invest in a strong cover before you publish a book. You may think that the contents are more important, and in a perfect world, this would be true. But in reality, readers constantly judge books by their covers — which means your cover design can have a massive impact on sales.
Why do I need a cover designer?
A cover designer is the only person with the talent, experience, and industry knowledge to create a worthy cover for your book. You might think you can do it yourself, but cover design is a special skill that takes years to master, and making an amateur attempt at your book cover will only hurt your sales.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any input! On the contrary, your designer will consult you frequently throughout the cover design process. So if you haven’t already, start thinking about…
- Potential color schemes
- Whether you want a photo-based or illustrated cover
- Cover conventions of your genre and how to emulate them
- The font and placement of your title and any other text
Your designer will add their professional expertise to your creative vision and get to work. You may have to go through a few iterations, but the final result should be a cover that’s beautiful and marketable — a cover you’ll be proud to have representing your book for years to come.
7. Optimize your metadata
For those who may have been dreading this step, don’t worry — optimizing your metadata isn’t as technical as it sounds! In publishing, metadata is simply the information that defines your book: the keywords, categories, and description that appear with every retailer. And if you want readers to purchase your book, it must be optimized to entice them.
8. Develop a detailed launch plan
Your book isn’t going to sell itself, and the first few days after it launches are critical. So one more thing to do before you publish is develop a killer launch plan. This plan should raise awareness, tap into your existing audience, and kick up a fuss about your book. To that end, here are four actions you should include in your launch plan:
- Form a street team. This will be comprised of friends and collaborators who promote your book on their own platforms. Remember, joined forces and social proof are much more powerful than a single, self-serving effort.
- Reach out to reviewers. By far the greatest external influence on book sales is other people’s reviews. If your title has zero reviews when it launches, people won’t realize it’s worth reading! Prevent this debacle by reaching out to reviewers early and often.
- Post on social media. Nearly everyone has Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram these days. As a result, these may be the only places where you have a decent-sized audience — so even if you don’t usually post promotional content, now is the time to leverage your platforms for sales.
- Throw a virtual launch party. Not just on social media, but on your author website (if you have one), and by guest-posting on other people’s blogs. Make it a big event; shout about your book from the rooftops! And once you’ve done your digital launch duty, go ahead and celebrate with your real-life friends (assuming that you observe local social distancing standards).
9. Publish your book
Now you’re ready to finally, blissfully, thrillingly publish your book! You’ll be glad to know that out of the entire publishing operation, this part is one of the easiest. Amazon and other retailers take you through the upload process step-by-step, and as long as you have your materials prepared, you should have no trouble at all. Here’s what you can expect to do, in order:
- Enter your title and metadata
- Upload your manuscript file (MOBI for Amazon & Book Society of Nigeria Website)
- Add your book cover (JPG, TIFF, or PDF)
- Price your book and hit “publish”!
Pricing is another decision that every author must make for themselves. That said, if this is your first book and your main goal is to gain recognition, you should price your book pretty low — between $2.99 and $5.99 to start. You can also run price promotions to make your book even cheaper, or free, for a limited time, which can be a huge boon to your downloads!
WHERE Should I publish ?
Another big question when it comes to publishing: should I only pursue Amazon self-publishing, or “go wide” with other stores ?
For first-time authors, going Amazon-exclusive is often the best option, simply because it offers so much in return. Book Society of Nigeria allows you to run those price promotions we mentioned and add your book to the Kindle Unlimited library, where more readers can find it.
Bottom line: do your research and figure out what’s right for you.
10. Market like a boss
Your book is polished, published, and (with any luck) pulling in readers already! But that doesn’t mean your job is done — far from it.
The final step of how to publish a book is, of course, marketing it to the fullest. Once again, we’ve already written a number of posts on book marketing ideas and promotional hacks for you to consult! However, here are a few essentials that you’ll want to take into account:
👩💻 Build a website and mailing list. You’ll need an author website with a clear signup area for your mailing list in order to acquire and retain readers. Get on WordPress or hire a web designer, and start learning all you can about author mailing lists.
🤝 Do more blog tours and connect with authors. Guest-posting to promote your book isn’t just for your launch plan! Continue reaching out to relevant blogs, especially those owned by other authors who might be willing to cross-promote.
🤑 Make the most of price promotions. Unless your book is permafree, the price can always be better for customers. If your downloads are dipping and you haven’t run a price promotion in awhile, that should be the very next thing you do.
💁 Employ third-party promotional services. Burnt out on self-marketing, or simply don’t have the influence you’d like? Third-party book promotion services can be immensely helpful. Look for services that cater specifically to your book’s target audience.
💪 Always be prepared for opportunities. You never know when you’ll have the chance to promote your book in a life-changing way!
Publishing a book is an absolutely enormous undertaking, whether you choose to publish by yourself or publish traditionally. The good news is, if you’ve read this far, you now know exactly what your options are, plus the specific pros and cons of each.
We can’t publish your book for you (try as we might, Book Society of Nigeria is a Nigerian publisher). However, we’re confident that we have all the information you need in order to achieve this lifelong goal! Enjoy the journey as much as you can, keep your eyes on the destination.