If you finished National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) with a 50K-word draft, congratulations! Only 12% of NaNoWriMo participants finished last year, so getting this far is a huge accomplishment. If you decide to self-publish your work rather than seek traditional publication, there’s one important thing to remember: Your NaNoWriMo book is most likely not ready for readers today.
Unless you have serious superpowers, a book fresh out of a month-long speed draft probably won’t be strong enough for readers to enjoy and share with their friends — or to garner positive reviews. Positive reviews can influence new readers to buy your book or even help you get selected for promotional opportunities like BookBub Featured Deals. So although it might be tempting to upload this book to retailer sites and start getting readers ASAP, taking your time to publish a polished novel and develop a marketing plan will make a world of difference for your sales.
Here are 10 steps we recommend you take before uploading your book anywhere:
Step #1: Revise the book
A book that hasn’t been revised may suffer issues like plot holes, poor character development, typos, and grammatical errors — and reviewers can be quick to point out these flaws. You can start revising right away, but some authors find it helpful to set the first draft aside for four to six weeks before diving back in. Either way, be prepared to revise this book several times.
Before you do line edits, look at the big picture — things like character development, plot, and pacing. Don’t worry about sentence structure, typos, or punctuation when you may need to completely rewrite or toss entire scenes — these tweaks should be part of your final revision.
Not sure where to begin? Learn about 12 common writing errors even bestselling authors make here.
Step #2: Get critique partners
Find critique partners you trust to read your manuscript. If you don’t have a wide circle of author friends available to offer help yet, here are a few ways to find critique partners:
- Find local writing groups. Join societies for your genre (like SCBWI or RWA), or take a local writing workshop to connect with fellow authors and form your own group.
- Join forums like Absolute Write or KBoards. Each of them have loads of members willing to network and exchange beta reads.
- Reach out to authors on Twitter. Once you forge relationships with fellow authors on Twitter, sometimes all it takes is a tweet to find help.
Ideally you’ll find someone well-read in your genre. Critique partners don’t necessarily need to be writers themselves — not all writers are good at or comfortable with providing critical feedback to other authors. The best way to vet new critique partners is to share the first few chapters of your book and see what kind of feedback they offer before providing them with the full manuscript.
Once someone you deem worthy agrees to read for you, specify what kind of feedback you want. For example, for early drafts, ask for big-picture feedback. For later drafts, ask for feedback on specific characters or plot points. Don’t have readers waste time pointing out typos on early revisions.
Don’t be afraid to get critique partners! It’s much better to get the feedback now than in the form of negative public reviews online later. Aim to fix any glaring issues before making your story available to readers.
Step #3: Do line edits
Once you’re happy with your story and its structure, focus on line edits. Here are some great resources for learning how to micro-edit your own book:
- Self-Editing Basics: 10 Simple Ways to Edit Your Own Book
- 43 Words You Should Cut From Your Writing Immediately
- Self-Editing for Fiction Writers ($8.99)
By doing line edits yourself, you’ll reduce the amount of back-and-forth with any professional editors you hire later. Once you finish revising, send the manuscript to several beta readers and ask them to point out any weird sentences, typos, or grammatical issues they come across. You’ll be surprised how your beta readers will each catch different typos!
Step #4: Hire an editor
Depending on what you still need help with, you can hire a developmental editor to ensure that your story structure is in good shape, or you can hire a copy editor to help correct and refine sentence structure and grammar. Remember: The better shape your book is in, the better your reviews, the higher chance readers will recommend your book to their friends, and the more copies you’ll sell.
You can probably get personal recommendations for editors from your author friends, critique partners, or writing group. If you can’t find a reputable editor accepting new clients this way, C.S. Lakin provides great advice on finding the right copy editor for a book here.
Step #5: Research your target audience
When packaging and marketing a book, many authors target too broad an audience, causing their book to get lost among the millions of books available to readers online. Rather than trying to make your book appeal to every potential reader out there, focus your efforts on a smaller group of readers who have demonstrated interest in the type of book you’re trying to sell. Targeting an audience more likely to purchase your books will help you make the most of your production and marketing budget.
Before you dive into the packaging and marketing steps, learn as much as you can about your target audience’s demographics, preferences, and behaviors. Discover what kinds of books they’re searching for, and cater your title, cover design, and marketing copy — including retailer descriptions, synopsis on your website, blog posts, interviews, tweets, etc. — to these search queries. This will help them easily discover your book and convince them to choose it as their next read. You can learn more about how to identify your target audience here.
Step #6: Choose a great title
Your book title is a great opportunity to indicate genre, plot, atmosphere, or characters. Readers like to know what they’re getting into quickly, and your title works in conjunction with your cover design to convince them that they’ll love this book.
When brainstorming a title, keep your book’s genre and target audience in mind. Each genre has its own title conventions, and studying the other titles in your genre, especially those that have been selling well, will help you craft your own. See what the most popular title trends in your genre are here.
Step #7: Hire a cover designer
A book’s cover provides a reader with a first impression of the story, and despite all advice to the contrary, people will judge your book by its cover. Our testing has shown that a cover alone can account for a 30% difference in clicks on a BookBub Featured Deal, and other sources have reported similar results. Different genres often call for different packaging, and you should become familiar with the effective tropes in yours. See what kinds of covers sell more books in your genre here.
Since cover design is such a huge factor in a book’s success, it’s worth the cost to hire a seasoned professional to create the cover. A polished cover from a professional designer can make a book much more appealing to readers scrolling through a list of books. When looking for a designer, here are a couple resources that can help:
Step #8: Format your book correctly
While a reader’s first impression comes from the title and cover, skimping on a book’s inner formatting can make it seem unprofessional. Don’t distract readers from your story by lacking proper indentation, using strange fonts, or including extra line breaks. In fact, formatting is something readers shouldn’t even notice.
Some ebook distributors (see step #9) offer services to help with the formatting and file conversions of your book. But if you’d rather do the formatting yourself, here are some resources to help you get it right:
- Book Design Templates for Microsoft Word
- How to Avoid the Self-Published Look
- Self-Publishing: Typesetting and Formatting Your Book
Once you’re happy with the formatting, Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Apple iBooks, Google Play, and Kobo allow authors to directly upload their books, but you may need to convert your book to the right file type. In general, Amazon’s output is a MOBI file, and the other retailers’ output is an ePub file, but many will let you upload other file types and do the conversion for you. Here’s more formatting information from the major retailers:
- Amazon KDP formats
- Nook Press formats
- iBooks formats
- Google Play allows ePub or PDF files only
- Kobo formats
Step #9: Choose retailers and/or distributors
When self-publishing a book, formatting it and distributing it to retailers can be a complicated process. To make this complex process simpler, several book distribution services are available to help. While using distribution tools isn’t required to self-publish, they can help you reach more readers and save time. Here are some specific things distribution tools can help with:
- Ereader-friendly formatting. If you only have your manuscript in a Word doc and don’t know anything about how to format your book for ereaders, these tools can help you format your book nicely and convert the files.
- Centralized metadata management. Control your book’s metadata (price, description, categorization) at multiple retailers at once.
- Easy modification on retailers. Update your price across all regions and currencies at once.
- Reporting tools. Keep track of book sales across retailers in one place (or two places if you work directly with Amazon and use the distributor for everything else).
Learn more about the most popular distribution tools and get a side-by-side comparison of Smashwords, BookBaby, Draft2Digital, Amazon KDP, and IngramSpark here.
Step #10: Create a marketing plan
It would take much more than a single blog post to cover how to market a book, but we have tons of resources for you to peruse over at The Ultimate Guide to Book Marketing. It’s important to develop a marketing plan before publishing your work. Maybe you’ll want to email a sneak peek to your mailing list, or link to your new release in the back matter of your backlist books, or coordinate a price promotion on an older title to promote this new release. If you rush to publish your book too quickly, you’ll miss the opportunity to try pre-launch marketing tactics, and you’ll end up scrambling to get the rest of your campaigns in place.
While self-publishing is generally faster than waiting to secure a traditional publishing deal and ultimately see your book published a year or two later, but that doesn’t mean you should rush to publication. Taking your time and getting these important steps right can help you achieve greater sales.
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