If you’re just getting started on your self-publishing career, it’s more important that you focus on the logistics of running a self-publishing business rather than the tactics of mastering your writing craft. Laying a solid foundation at this stage will help you figure out where to focus your most precious resource: time.
Before getting started, you need to figure out what your income goals and expense limits are. This way, you avoid overextending your resources and also set realistic, achievable goals that will be easier for you to meet.
You must be brutally honest with yourself. This will stop you from making overly optimistic goals, which often lead to burnout when you can’t meet them.
Conventional wisdom says that 30% of your income should be set aside for tax purposes -- this is true regardless of your status as an individual or a business entity.
The main benefit of forming a business is so you can deduct business expenses and lower the total amount of taxes you pay. However, be aware that in some states, you may be charged additional business taxes — regardless of your profitability.
It’s important to figure out what you can do yourself, and what you must outsource to others so that your final product looks as professional as possible.
At the very minimum, you’ll want a professional editor to go over your manuscript and a professional cover designer create your book cover — especially if you don’t have a background in design. This way, you can direct the majority of your attention onto the writing and the marketing of the books.
Most self published authors take between 60 to 90 days to write and publish a brand new book. While some authors can sustain a rapid release schedule of one book launch ever 30 days, such a schedule relies on a very well-streamlined production process.
For an author just getting started out with self-publishing, publishing 3 to 4 books per year is a very achievable goal.
Market research is the most important thing an author can do before they put pen to paper, because it lets you find a pre-existing audience who is hungry for the books that you will be writing. For this section, we are assuming you are publishing to Amazon because they don’t use BISAC for their categories - and they are by far the largest marketplace.
You’ll want to find a good subcategory that is both relevant and still open to competition. This way, you can more easily get your book into the Top 100 of the subcategory, possibly even the coveted #1 spot.
If your book does become #1 in your subcategory, it gets a nice little orange tag hyping up its bestselling status, adding social proof to the book, and dramatically increasing its conversion rates.
Once you’ve found subcategories that you want to publish in, you’ll need to estimate how many sales you’ll need to reach the #1, #50, and #100 spot.
Knowing how many sales it takes will allow you to roughly estimate of the amount of money you can expect to make, which allows you to then estimate how much more money you can expect to spend before reaching profitability.
Knowing what readers want and the common tropes in books of a particular subcategory allows you to write to market.
You must read a few of the Top 100 books and make a note of the common themes, subject matters, and topics within them to get a feel for the subcategory at large. You’ll need to also look at both positive and negative reviews on the books to know what readers liked and disliked about the books.
Pay special attention to the negative reviews because they will let you know how your books can stand out within the subcategory.
Covers are important. Otherwise, we wouldn't have the old idiom "don't judge a book by its cover".
A book’s cover is a marketing tool, not a piece of art. The purpose of a cover is to tell readers what kind of book they’re about to read and who the author is.
Look through the Top 100 covers within a subcategory and you will soon get an idea for the common elements that must appear in a cover. Missing these common elements will doom your book launch right from the start.
Like covers, titles and blurbs are a marketing tool: their primary purpose is to tell readers what kind of book they are about to read. You must tailor yours to meet those expectations.
It’s okay if your titles and blurbs come off as stereotypical. In fact, you often want your titles and blurbs to sound that way because it increases the chances that readers who see your book will want to buy it.
Author assets are what you will be using to create a unified author brand. It’s important that you have all these assets ready to go before publishing. The good thing is, most of these author assets will only need to be produced once.
While you always need an author name, the more common question people ask is: Do I need a pen name?
Some authors forgo a pen name because they want their names attached to their books. Other authors prefer using pen names to mask their real identity.
Whatever your final choice for your author name, make sure that it is one that’s genre-appropriate for the subcategory that you’ll be publishing in.
In the current online economy dominated by influencers, it’s vital that your social media presence and author branding remain consistent.
You must set up — at the very minimum — a Facebook page so you can start running Facebook ads for your books. If you create more social media profiles, make sure your appearance is consistent.
A lead magnet is something you offer to prospective readers in exchange for being added to your mailing list. They are powerful tools that allow you to start building your own, targeted audience.
Hint: The most effective fiction lead magnets are free prequels and bonus epilogues because they tie directly to the book that readers have just read.
For non-fiction authors, a website is crucial because of content marketing possibilities. While a website isn’t as important for fiction authors, a website also brings several additional benefits such as:
- You can sell directly to your customers through your website and earn a higher royalty for the same price than if you went through a distributor.
- You can attach a Facebook pixel to retarget people who’ve landed on your website.
- You can also set up online shops with any additional products for your readers.
A mailing list is the single most important thing that you can have in your self publishing career because it is a point of recurring direct contact between your readers and yourself.
You can pair up your mailing list with your lead magnet to quickly build up a list of prospective readers that you can then engage and develop into super-fans.
It’s important that you separate your mailing list audiences into two groups:
Paid Audience - Paid audiences are audiences that you acquired through your lead magnet — they have not yet read your books. They need to be warmed up before you can convert them into super-fans because their interest in you is only through your free lead magnet rather than through your books. To warm them up, you must set up a series of emails to convert them into subscribers who consistently open and click on your books.
Organic Audience - Organic audiences are audiences that subscribed after reading your books. While they are receptive to your messages already, you need to cultivate them into super-fans so that they will open and click on your books every time you contact them.
You’ll also want to set up distinct automations for the two different audience groups.
ARC teams are readers who receive a copy of your book ahead of release in exchange for an honest review. In most cases, those who are interested in joining the ARC team will also be more likely to leave a positive review. Though this is not guaranteed.
Having 20, 30, or even 40+ reviews on a new release gives your books a tremendous amount of social proof, increasing the likelihood of other potential customers buying a copy, as well as help cushion against any potential negative reviews that may come in later.
You'll need to set up your publishing accounts on the various marketplaces you plan on publishing to. Even if you choose to launch through KDP Select, we recommend having other author accounts ready so you can have your books go wide after the 90 day exclusivity period on KDP.
Another important thing you’ll want to set up is your Amazon Author Central account. This is an author management portal where you can add additional meta-data to your books, claim your book to your author name, and update your Amazon author profile.
Note: Author Central only allows you to have 3 pen names total. If you manage more than 3 pen names, you’ll need to create multiple author central accounts
Before going any further, you’ll actually need to write your book if you haven’t already. Here are some resources to help you produce your books on a timely schedule and within budget.
While most people choose to write their books by typing, more and more authors are opting for dictation. The benefit of dictation is that you can hit your daily word goals much faster, and forms a core strategy of Chris Fox’s 10,000 Words per Day method.
However, do be aware that dictation software can take quite a bit of practice to become familiar with.
If you haven’t written your book yet, there is a plethora of advice and techniques on how you can do that. But the most important thing you can do to successfully write a book is to be consistent and track your progress.
Keep in mind: At 2,000 words per day, and writing 5 days per week, you can expect to generate about 40,000 to 50,000 words every month for a first draft. At that pace, you can finish the first draft to a 100,000 word novel every two months.
Once you’ve written your book, you’re not quite ready to launch just yet. You’ll want to take the time and effort to make your book look as professional as possible. As the self-publishing industry continues to mature each year, any books that look amateurish will have a hard time convincing readers to buy. Preparing your book content for launch is a very important part of the process and you don’t want to miss a single step here.
Front matter and back matter are part of what makes your book look more professional. They include Copyright pages, About the Author sections, Other Books sections, and much more. Doing this well will help you sell your other books and get more readers into your mailing list.
You must edit your book because nothing screams amateur more than a book riddled with typos and grammatical errors.
In general, you should always hire an editor. Partly because they will catch the errors that you have missed, but also because they can offer valuable feedback as someone who is reading your book without knowing the full details of the story.
A professionally edited book can still come across as amateurish if it is not properly formatted. The good news is that eBook formatting has gotten a lot easier in recent years with the advent of tools like Scrivener and Vellum. You should take some time to learn how to best use those tools. Otherwise, you can always outsource formatting.
Finally, don’t forget to include your front matter and back matter in your book during the formatting process, since those will be crucial in helping you attract new fans in the long run.
If you haven’t done so yet, you must create a book cover. It bears repeating that a book’s cover is a marketing tool, NOT a piece of art. Hence, we highly recommend that you find a cover designer rather than make your own covers.
Remember: Covers must stand out, look professional, and be genre appropriate.
When writing the blurb, your main job is to let readers know what they can expect out of this book by broadcasting all the tropes. Do NOT go into lengthy detail about specific plot points. That’s what the rest of your book is for!
You must perform keyword research to find the optimal keyword for your books. Properly optimized keywords on Amazon and Google can help your book gain and maintain visibility without ads.
On Amazon, you are limited to just 350 characters spread across seven keywords, so it’s important that you use that limited space wisely. These also help your book appear within "secret" categories on Amazon.
Keywords are especially important for non-fiction books as this will help your website and Amazon listing rank for relevant terms in Google search.
You’ll want to have your advanced review copies ready and sent out to your ARC readers a couple of weeks before you actually publish the book. It’ll give them time to read and give you feedback on the book before you hit the publish button.
It’s important to have a good launch strategy before your books go live. Different launch strategies often require different promotional approaches.
Will you launch at $0.99 or at full price (i.e. $2.99 and above)? Will you make your book available for Pre Order? Should you launch your books first in Kindle Unlimited or make it available on all other distribution channels?
Regardless of which strategy you choose, your mailing list will form the core of your launch strategy.
It’s important to network with other authors in your genre because when they promote your books to their readers, it trains the Amazon algorithm that your ideal book audience is similar to theirs.
Moreover, collaboration with other authors is a powerful way to quickly grow your audience, and opens the possibilities for collaborative boxed sets — which can help you achieve even more impressive accolades such as being included in the USA Today and the New York Times Bestseller lists.
If you’re unable to collaborate with other authors to promote your books (e.g. you don't have a large mailing list), then you should look into using paid newsletters or other forms of paid promotion campaigns outside of advertising.
Do keep in mind that these paid newsletters tend to offer diminishing returns if you use them too frequently. Therefore, you should be using them mostly as a way to convert more readers to your personal mailing list.
Launching your book can be the most nerve-wracking part of the entire self-publishing experience. Publishing the book through vendors like Amazon KDP and Apple Books is actually fairly simple. However, a successful launch is more than just getting your book to go live. Below, you’ll learn some of the most basic steps required in successfully launching your book.
Self-publishing is largely dominated by Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) - accounting for roughly 80% of the online book market. However, it’s worth noting that there are multiple other distribution channels that you can directly publish through. All are free to self publish through.
The main benefit of publishing on these other channels is that you avoid putting all your eggs in the Amazon basket. However, the main drawback is that you will need to do your own marketing on those channels.
For those who want to see their books in print in addition to eBooks, there are also ways to publish your books in physical form on a print-on-demand model.
While paperbacks can be a fantastic boost to your overall bottom line, you need to recognize that overall paperback royalty will be lower than your eBook royalties -- even though on a per sale basis, a paperback may earn more than an eBook.
Important: paperback formatting has its own specific rules that can differ depending on the publishing platform that you choose. You must be familiar with the rules before you start formatting your paperback books.
Did you know you can have up to 10 different categories for your books on Amazon? But when you publish your books, you can only choose two. In order to add other details to your book’s store page, you’ll need to use KDP support to directly contact Amazon.
KDP support can also be used to add books--especially pre orders--into a series, to request Amazon set up a dedicated series ASIN, and many other cool things that help your book stand out and reach more people.
Once your book goes live, you’ll want to claim it through your Author Central dashboard, add any editorial reviews, or make updates to your book description to include qualifiers like "Now a Top 100 Bestseller in ____" While Amazon can do this automatically over time, it’s significantly faster to do so yourself.
As mentioned earlier, you can only have 3 pen names on your Author Central account. To manage more than 3 pen names, you’ll need to create multiple accounts.
Audiobooks are seeing a massive rise in popularity in recent years, and many authors have found great success in entering this growing marketplace while competition remains sparse.
In general, you’ll want to set aside about one to two months minimum for audiobook production. While it’s better to have the audiobook produced before publication, it’s more likely that you’ll begin audiobook production after you’ve published it in eBook or paperback format.
Your first sales should come from your fans. Ideally, you’d have set up your mailing list campaign before your book is available for purchase. At the very least, you should already have the body written and just plug in the final link to the book before hitting send.
Remember: a good mailing list campaign isn’t a send-it-and-forget-it affair. You’ll need to tailor your emails to fit the different engagement levels of people on your mailing list.
You should set up social media posts in preparation for launch because they are a great way to boost the brand awareness for your pen name, build both hype and buzz for your upcoming release, and lets you directly interact with your readers on a more personal level.
As the self-publishing space gets more competitive, ad campaigns — particularly launch ad campaigns — become increasingly important with each passing day.
Marketplaces tend to promote books that are hot, and launch promos are a great way to boost your initial sales to trigger recommendation algorithms and make it onto best seller lists. Utilizing your fans at launch is key to start training the algorithms.
Typically, you want to start up your ads about a week into the launch of your book, and gradually increase the amount you spend each day for a maximum of two weeks so that the algorithm will see an increase in the number of people interested in the book.
Providing the right kind of support to your new book immediately after launch is crucial to your brand. Maintaining a promotional strategy after launch will help you leverage your current books to more easily launch future books in the genre.
It’s important to note that first time authors rarely make a profit (or even break even) on their book launch. The goal is to aggressively grow a fan list to get more book sales at lower costs for future books.
Ads are not set it and forget it; you need to actively manage the ads immediately after launch.
Pause any ads that do not convert to sales, and pour more resources into ads that do. Consistency is key to success here. Take at least 15-30 minutes each day to review your ad performance.
About 2 weeks after launch and after you’ve run the course of your initial launch, it’s time to evaluate your launch results. This is when you’ll need to figure out how your books did, and whether you will support it with extra marketing efforts, so it’ll continue earning money for you in the long run.
This is another moment where you must be brutally honest with yourself: You must be ready to stop supporting a book that just isn’t profitable.
If a book isn’t making money now, there’s little reason to believe that it’ll make money in the long run -- even if supported by heavy ad spend. However, if you see that your book is picking up steam, don't be afraid of pouring even more resources into it.
For books with successful launches, you should start planning how you can build up a long term sales funnel. To do so means taking advantage of all the different tools available to you such as Free Promotions, Kindle Countdown Deals, Perma-Free books, etc.
After your book launches, you must start actively managing your mailing list so that you prune away the unproductive subscribers and keep those who will continue to buy your future books.
Remember: total subscriber numbers mean nothing if they don’t translate to profits.
Having a massive mailing list with an abysmal engagement rate is much worse than having a small mailing list with a great engagement rate. And as your mailing list continues to grow, you must continue managing it so that it remains effective for you.
Backlist titles are books that you published in the past that don’t receive as much attention anymore when they were new releases.
While some authors are content to just let these backlist titles pick up a random sale here or there, you should use them to build long term sales funnels. This way, you’re constantly building on top of what you already have rather than relying on a select few books to carry the load.
No matter how busy you are, don’t forget to keep participating in relevant communities. If you’re a part of an author collaboration group, then be sure to thank the other authors for the help that they’ve given you. If you see others that you can help with your knowledge, then don’t hesitate to reach out.
The more you help others, the more likely they are to help you. We’re all in this together!
If you’ve finished all the above steps, sit back for a moment and celebrate your book launch! It take a lot of time an effort to self publish a book - whether it’s successful or not. But don’t spend too long resting on your laurels. You’ll want to strike while the iron is hot and start on your next book ASAP!