How to Get Started in Self-Publishing


You’ve written a book! That is amazing! Going the route of self-publishing is a brave choice, and I’m here to offer you a bit of guidance.

Technically, you don’t need to do anything special to self-publish. You could go right now and post your novel on the internet for everyone to read.

The question is this: would anyone actually read it? There is so much content online, you really need to put out a quality product if you want to have any kind of audience. So, before you release your novel into the world, consider all the following things that can help create a successful self-published book.

Perfecting Your Manuscript

Pages and pages of beautiful prose you’ve labored over for days, weeks, months, maybe even years! This is your blood on the page! Metaphorically, of course. What I’m trying to say is: your manuscript is a raw nerve you’re exposing to strangers. So why not make sure it’s the most polished version possible?

To do this, you need to have other people read your work.

  • Critique partners — fellow writers interested in giving constructive feedback
  • Beta readers — fans of the genre you are writing in who can provide the reader’s perspective
  • Editor(s) — professionals who advise on plot, consistency, character development, fact-checking, grammar, and word choice
  • Proofreader(s) — professionals who correct spelling, punctuation, and formatting

Once you’ve sussed out all the issues with the content, you’ll want to focus on formatting your text. Readers don’t want to struggle through a sloppily laid out book. When it comes to formatting, you can hire someone to do it for you, or you can learn to format yourself.


Amazon provides a decent eBook Manuscript Formatting Guide that describes how to lay out your document before uploading it. There is also software you can purchase that makes formatting easy and provides a variety of options for how to lay out your book. Vellum is popular, and they have a free trial option before you decide to purchase.

Hiring an Editor

Self-Publishing Edit

Photo credit: Matt Hampel on Best Running / CC BY

You may have noticed in the list of people I suggested read over your manuscript, I made a point to specify both editors and proofreaders as “professionals.” This is because they are people you pay to do a job. You will need to budget for them, but it’s worth it! These wonderful people find issues in your manuscript you never would have noticed no matter how many times you read through your story.

Hiring an editor can be daunting. You’re paying someone for feedback on your work, and obviously you don’t want to spend a hefty chunk of money without knowing what you’ll be getting in return. Good thing is: most editors will offer to do sample edits. A sample edit involves them giving feedback on a certain number of pages. You then get to decide if their commentary is the right fit for you. Also, feel free to reach out to other authors the editor has worked with in the past, and ask about the experience.

If you’re wondering when you should contact an editor, the answer is sooner rather than later.

Editors’ time often gets booked months in advance, especially if they have authors they regularly work with who are publishing continuously. You may have to wait a little while before they can squeeze you into their schedule, and you’ll likely have to pay a deposit to reserve their time.


When looking for an editor, word of mouth can be the best method of discovery! Post in writers’ forums, like Writer’s Cafe, asking for recommendations. Check the copyright and acknowledgement pages of some of your favorite (well-edited) books. Oftentimes the editor’s name is mentioned there, and you can search for their contact information once you have their name!

Cover Art: Make It or Buy It?

If you have a graphic design degree, then go ahead and create your own cover art! Or, if your budget is next to nothing, then creating your own cover art might be the only choice you have. In this case, I’d suggest using Canva. This free application is great for creating images and includes a book cover template.

For those of you with no graphic design skills and who have some money to spend on a cover, definitely search out a professional artist. This is another good time to check the copyright pages of the books with beautiful covers. That’s how I found my cover artist, OkayCreations!

Getting professional cover art can vary greatly in price.

  • Photoshoot (>$1,000): The designer holds a photoshoot with models, which means you have individualized photos and a lot of creative control.
  • Design with stock photos ($100-$800): The designer creates a new cover using stock photos. These covers can still be beautiful and individualized even if some of the images or cover models have been used before. Designers are usually willing to make a certain amount of changes and adjustments on your request.
  • Pre-made (<$100): The designer creates a cover you can purchase and simply add your title and author name to. Again, a lot of these are lovely. You just don’t have the option to request adjustments.

Every month, Joel Friedlander posts the submissions and winners for his eBook cover contest on his blog. The eBook Cover Design Awards have two major benefits for self-publishing authors:

  • You can read a professional’s commentary on what makes an eBook cover good or bad.
  • The participants link to the creators of their covers, so you can mine submissions for potential cover designers to work with!

Marketing Your Self-Published Book

Marketing is an ever-changing environment when it comes to books. There will be a more in-depth post later this month giving you some great advice on how to go about marketing your self-published novel, but I want to give you a few reassurances in the meantime:

  • Not all marketing costs tons of money. You can market yourself and your book by being active on social media, and by putting out a steady stream of content that readers find engaging (content marketing). Some platforms I’d suggest you consider: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.
  • Not everyone will market the same way. Someone who has twenty published books is going to be utilizing marketing methods that won’t benefit someone who only has one book out. And that’s okay! You need to find what works for you and your book.

If you’re on the edge of your seat waiting for the ATK blog post about marketing, I’d suggest listening to the Smarty Pants Book Marketing podcast to tide you over. It is my favorite resource for marketing ideas.

Self-Publishing Involves Trial and Error

Self-publishing involves a lot of experimentation, using different tools and methods until you discover what works well for you. At times you might get overwhelmed with the amount of options. But remember, one of the best parts about self-publishing is that you are in control. You make your schedule. You have the final say. You are the badass who wrote an amazing book.

Feature image by James Tarbotton on Unsplash 

Lauren Connolly
Lauren Connolly works as a university librarian when she’s not crafting love stories. This means she’s used to researching random topics—from revitalizing rural communities in Japan to the stigma held against horse slaughter and consumption in the United States. (That last one was a bit difficult, what with her being a vegetarian, but she did it!)

In her free time, Lauren wrestles with her grumpy cocker spaniel, named after her favorite pop culture librarian; drives or flies long distances to visit family and friends around the world; reminds herself she should do something healthy, like lift weights or yoga; and stays up past her bedtime to read “just one more page.” She self-published her debut novel, You Only Need One, in November 2018.
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1 Comment

  • Lindsay Hess
    Lindsay Hess

    These are great tips, especially for those of us who know next to nothing about self publishing (*raises hand guiltily*). Thank you so much!

    January 8, 2019 at 10:29 am Reply
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