Want to Self-Publish Successfully? Don’t Skip These Seven Steps


A couple of weeks ago, GFP attended Digital Book World’s first Indie Author conference, designed for the “new professional author.” With excellent presentations by the publishing frontier’s thought leaders, including Jane FriedmanJon FinePorter AndersonData GuyOrna RossKelly Gallagher, and Peter McCarthy, the event gave a fantastic overview of one of publishing’s most dynamic areas.

As we know, the advent of the self-publishing platform has changed the publishing landscape dramatically. At one point, Richard Nash presented a graphic like the one below depicting how, essentially, the traditional book manufacturing chain—involving a printer, distributor, and retailer—collapses in the self-publishing model down to a single entity: the “platform.”

Every publisher (traditional, hybrid, or indie) has the same challenge: to connect authors with their readers. In many ways, self-publishing platforms are beneficial for authors because platforms make the distance from author to reader shorter and more direct. This gives authors more control over how they reach potential reading communities with the added benefit that the profit pie is split in fewer ways. Your royalties as a self-publisher are much higher than when you work through a traditional publisher.

However, the direct accessibility the platform model offers has also prompted hundreds of thousands of self-publishers to overlook some of the most essential processes in a successful book publishing business. But DIY just puts authors in the control seat—it does not give self-publishers permission to skip essential steps that ensure quality.

At the conference, Orna Ross, the founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, laid out these seven essential processes for publishing successful books—regardless of which publishing model you’re following. We couldn’t agree more.

1. Editorial. The first thing to do if you want to reach readers is write a really good book. If you want to be a successful author, you need to think of yourself competing with the books traditional publishers are putting out. That’s the bar that readers are measuring your work against. Traditional publishers are hiring high-quality editors—you should too.

2. Design. Design is a crucial part of your book’s branding. People absolutely judge a book by its cover. Don’t DIY your cover, or it will become a barrier to your story’s ability to find its way to readers.

3. Production. Production refers to the printing of your book. POD (print on demand) platforms, because they offer a “no-inventory” approach, are sensibly the primary production method for most self-publishers. Understanding what the platforms do well and don’t, as well as choosing print specifications that are in line with your book’s genre (size, paper, cover, format), are all important to get right.

4. Distribution. Look back up at the infographic above. Brick-and-mortar bookstores do not figure in to the current self-publishing/platform model. (Look here if you need more convincing.) However, self-publishers do have access and even advantages at e-retail storefronts (Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com), where nearly 75 percent of all books are purchased. There’s also no barrier for distributing your e-books through distribution platforms such as KDP, Kobo, iBooks, Nook, etc.

5. Marketing. Making the book available for sale is great, but with 4,500 new books published daily, I’m sorry to tell you, no matter how great your book or beautiful your cover, readers are not going to just flock to the flame. Having a strategic marketing plan is critical to reaching your readers where they are online and cutting through the noise that impacts their buying choices. Most importantly, marketing is about listening to and connecting with your readers, not using social media as a bullhorn to talk about your book. Self-publishers can make this reader connection—and oftentimes do it even better than traditional publishers can do on an author’s behalf. It’s your relationship with your readers that’s key to your marketing success.

6. Promotion. Put thought into the way you price your book and pull different levers to help move more copies. Readers have come to expect promotions, which offer an important tool to get people’s attention. Comprehensive resources like Author Earnings’ quarterly analyses, the only full picture of traditionally published and indie book sales, can give you important insights into what price points for print and e-editions are successful in your genre.

7. Rights Sales. This is another area where independent authors struggle in relation to their traditional counterparts, most of whom have teams of people dedicated to pursuing subsidiary rights for their list. Yet sub rights—film rights, audio, foreign editions—can really impact profits. While it might prove daunting or nearly impossible to sell film rights as an indie, audio has shown progress. There are now production/distribution/marketing houses like ListenUp or the more do-it-yourself ACX (an Amazon company) that remove the friction of finding narrators and distributing the audio editions.

When you’re making the decision to self-publish, make sure you consider your capability to take on the management and execution of these key elements. And if you can’t do it all yourself (few can!), hire help where you need it to give you and your book the best chance of success.