Self-Publishing 101: A Step-by-Step Guide to Sharing Your Idea With the World

More and more authors are choosing to self-publish their own books rather than rely on the traditional publishing process. There are benefits to both routes and authors should make that decision based on their skills and comfort with self-promotion.

Scroll down to learn how to go from idea to self-published author. You will find a clear roadmap with specific, practical information on planning, writing, editing, publishing, and marketing your book. We’ve also included links to download some free books to help you on your way.

The greatest benefit of self-publishing is that you get to keep all the income from your books (Yay!). The greatest hurdle to self-publishing is that you are solely responsible for finding your readers and making those sales (Argh!).

As a self-published writer, you’re the CEO of your own business: one that sells books. It’s on your shoulders to make sure your manuscript is the best it can be, to create and manage your author platform, to market your book(s), to manage inventory (if you’re selling print books), and to take care of the financial and administrative aspects of running your company.

For many authors, this is an exciting new challenge. For others, the idea of actively promoting themselves and their book fills them with horror. But it doesn’t have to be scary. There are a thousand ways to promote your book to prospective readers. Each writer just needs to find the tactics that feel right to them.

Self publishing Pros and Cons

Read on to learn the 12 key steps to becoming a successful self-published author.

Of course not. Traditional publishing is still a valid means for authors to get their books into the hands of huge numbers of readers.

Books that are published through traditional methods have the benefit of a large publishing machine behind them. The agents and editors in big publishing houses like HarperCollins or Penguin Random House hold a lot of sway when it comes to getting your book into the big booksellers like Barnes and Noble.

These publishers also have some of the strongest editorial, marketing, and promotion teams out there. This will ultimately lead to greater visibility and reach for your book. They also cover the upfront costs of publishing your book, including an advance.

The downside to traditional publishing is that it is incredibly difficult to break into. The gates are heavily guarded by powerful submissions teams, and if you can’t get past them you don’t get in.

You also lose creative control over things like your cover, blurb, marketing activities, etc. And most importantly, you receive a much lower royalty rate. After the publishing house and agent take their cut, most authors receive around 10% of the royalties on print books, and 30% on eBooks.

Self-publishing is an ongoing, cyclical process. Many authors have multiple books that are at varying stages, so there can be a lot of balls to juggle.

Each stage is essential—you can’t really cut any corners here. When you’re self-publishing, the work doesn’t end when you have a finished manuscript. In fact, in many ways, it’s just beginning.

From story idea to published book, these are the key self-publishing phases that you need to be prepared for:

Self-Publishing in 12 Steps

Let’s dive in.

1. Planning/Outlining Your Book

Before you publish your book, you have to write it.

Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, it’s important to have at least a loose plan down for your book.

Here are some key questions to consider:

  • What is your main goal for writing your book? Is it money, fame, personal branding, or do you just have a story inside you that is bursting to get out?
  • What is your book about?
  • What genre are you writing?
  • Who are your main characters or what is your main subject?
  • What are your key narrative structure and plot points?
  • If you are writing non fiction, what level of knowledge will your readers already have?
  • What research do you have to undertake in preparation for writing?
  • When do you hope to have your manuscript completed?
  • Who are your target readers?

Getting these details down on paper will help you during the writing process. As lovely as it would be, most writers don’t have a cozy cabin in the woods that they can disappear to in order to write undisturbed.

Even a loose plan will help you take advantage of the writing time you do have in your real life so you know exactly what to focus on during the minutes of writing you can squeeze between your other obligations.

The Novel-Writing Training Plan

Tip: If you are planning to write a novel, there is even more to think about. Download our free book The Novel-Writing Training Plan: 17 Steps to Get Your Ideas in Shape for the Marathon of Writing to help you get organized.

2. Writing Your Book

How you write will depend largely on your availability and writing style. You might have large chunks of interrupted time to dedicate towards writing or you may need to sneak in a few sentences here and there on your coffee breaks. Either way, it’s important to build a schedule and try to adhere to it.

Be realistic about what you can achieve. You’ll make more headway if you schedule your writing in a way that makes sense for your lifestyle. If you only have ten minutes a day to write, that’s okay. Set an appointment for those ten minutes in your calendar so you don’t forget and commit to doing just that every single day.

If you’d rather work one day a week for a longer chunk of time, that’s fine, too. Many writers get burned out trying to overcommit. The key is to commit at a level where you can still make progress without setting unrealistic expectations for yourself.

3. How to Self-Edit Your Book

Self-editing is a crucial stage for all authors. We have all read self-published work that’s full of grammar mistakes, confusing characterization, and awkward phrasing. It’s the fastest way to make your reader lose faith in your ideas and interest in your story.

Fortunately, as the author, you are the best person to do a thorough self-edit. You know what you want to say better than anyone else.

During the self-editing stage, you want to examine the characters, plot, language, and style in your book. That way, if you choose to hire a professional editor, they can spend more time focussing on making improvements to your writing that you may not catch.

The types of edits you’ll take on will depend on whether you’re working on a fiction or non-fiction book.

Regardless of what type of manuscript you’ve created, your edits will fall into two stages:

1. Developmental Edits

2. Line Edits

Line Edits vs. Developmental Edits

What is Developmental Editing?

Developmental edits are when you look in-depth at the substance of your work. You may have also heard this editing stage referred to as content editing or substantive editing. These terms are all similar: they refer to editing the ideas of your book.

If you’re working on a fiction manuscript, your developmental edits are where you’ll look at your plot, characters, and settings. You may examine your manuscript to see if your settings are vibrant and clear and if your characters have clear motivations and arcs throughout the story. You will also dissect your plot to make sure it flows logically and makes sense.

If you’re working on a non-fiction manuscript, you will take a deep look at your argument during the developmental editing stage. Make sure your writing is clear and persuasive and that you’ve used enough evidence to back up your key points.

What are Line Edits?

After you’ve completed your developmental edits, it’s time to move on to your line edits. You may also have heard this editing stage referred to as copy editing. The goal of the line editing stage is to examine the language and style in your book with a microscope.

Using technology during the line editing stage can help speed up the process. Often, as writers, we don’t notice mistakes or bad habits in our work. An editing tool like ProWritingAid can give you important feedback.

The ProWritingAid Pop-Up Showing an Educational Video about Passive Voice

ProWritingAid doesn’t just help you catch mistakes, it helps you improve as a writer by teaching you good writing technique as you edit. When the software suggests a change, there are articles, videos, and even quizzes to hel

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