How to Self-Publish a Book: The Complete Guide to Publish Like a Pro

The book industry is thriving, and self-publishing is on the rise! If you want to learn more about how to self-publish a book, you’ve come to the right place.

    Table of Contents
 

Here, we’ll address the various aspects of self-publishing a book.


  1. What are the benefits of self-publishing?
  2. What are the steps to self-publishing?
  3. How much does it cost to self-publish?
  4. How should I price my book?
  5. How much money do authors make?

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Benefits of Self-Publishing


There are so many pros of self-publishing a book.


No Gatekeepers

There are no gatekeepers—no literary agents or publishers standing in your way. This allows for diversity to flourish and for underrepresented voices to finally have a space to share their work.

Higher Margins

Not only are the barriers to entry lower, but the margins are higher. When you work with a traditional publisher, they have to take their cut. By self-publishing your own book, you can earn more for each book that you sell.

More Control

When you self-publish, you own your work and have complete control over the publishing process. For a lot of authors who have poured their hearts and souls into writing a book, it’s very important for them to have power to make decisions throughout the publishing process.

Equal Quality

As technology has improved, self-published authors now have access to high-quality printing and book distribution networks similar to traditionally published authors. Your self-published book will look like the other books on the shelves.

So what are you waiting for?
Let’s learn more about how to publish a book yourself.

8 Steps to
Self-Publishing a Book


Step 1: Writing

This might sound obvious, but we can’t overlook the writing process!

Waking up every day and putting in the work to write a book is no easy feat.

Here are a few of our favorite writing tips and resources to get your book ready for the next step: 7 Essential Writing Tips for Authors.

Join IngramSpark's 30-Day Writing Challenge

Writing a book is a huge accomplishment. If you’ve made it that far, we hope you take a moment to stop and congratulate yourself on a job well done. Now, let’s get ready to share it with the world!

Step 2: Book Editing

There are a few different types of editing—and each serves a unique purpose for a manuscript. You’ll have to assess your work to determine what level of editing to start with.

Things to Consider
Different types of editing

Manuscript Critique
This is a high-level examination of your manuscript. It looks at things like narrative voice, plot, and character development. With this type of critique, editors give feedback on items that will help improve your overall story.

Comprehensive Edit / Line Edit
A comprehensive edit addresses structural issues (similar to a manuscript critique), but it also involves a line edit, which looks closely at writing style and language. With a line edit, an editor focuses on the use of language to communicate your story to a reader.

Copyedit
A copyedit is often confused with a line edit, but they’re very different steps in the editing process. A copyedit reviews technical flaws—issues with spelling, grammar, and punctuation—and looks for internal inconsistencies throughout the text.

Proofread
This is the final step in the editing process. A proofreader examines the final copy of the manuscript (usually after typesetting) for any awkward page breaks, and he or she might perform some light copyediting.


Step 3: Book Design

The next step is designing your book! There are two main steps in the book design process: interior design and book cover design.

Interior Book Design

Interior design might not sound like the most exciting part of the design process, but it is necessary to create a professionally published book. Typesetting, commonly referred to as book formatting, has “rules” for widows, orphans, hyphens, and various other elements within a book to make it more readable, ensuring a pleasant reading experience for your audience.

Book Cover Design

Your book cover design is the first impression readers have of your book. While it’s important to be unique, it’s equally important to pay attention to what comparable covers in your genre look like.

Visit your local bookstore and look at the books in your genre. What are the trim sizes? What do the front covers look like? The spines? Take note of the imagery, the fonts, the colors, and more. Observe and ask yourself, what elements of these book covers do I like? How can my book cover stand out—in a good way?

The back cover of the book will be made up of common elements such as book reviews, the book description, author bio, and barcode. The spine often contains the name, author, and publisher logo. Study these elements to make sure that your book will fit in on the shelf, and booksellers will feel comfortable stocking it.

A professional book cover designer can help steer the creative direction—but you know your book best, and it’s important for you to bring your own ideas to help create a cover that brings your book to life.


Step 4: Book Metadata

What exactly is book metadata, and why is it important?

book metadata

Book metadata may sound complicated, but it’s relatively straightforward. It consists of all the information that describes your book, including your title, subtitle, price, trim size, author name, book description, and more.

Book Title

Writers often ask for tips on how to come up with a book title.

A good rule of thumb is to follow the PINC Acronym, coined by Michael Hyatt.

  • Make a Promise: let readers know what to expect from reading your book.
  • Create Intrigue: engage a reader; entice them to pick up your book.
  • Identify a Need: if there’s a common problem that your book has the answer to, identify this common ground and promise (back to P!) a solution.
  • State the Content: keep it simple and straightforward. What is your book about?
You Want Your Title to Be

Original
Book titles are not protected by copyright, so it is possible to select a book title that’s already in use—but not recommended.

Memorable
Make sure your title is unique enough to be remembered, but not so long that it’s easily forgotten.

Searchable
Once you have a few ideas, do a quick Google Search. See what shows up in the results and ask yourself a few important questions. What shows up on the search results page? Does my book stand a chance? Is it too broad to rank, or too specific for anyone to be searching for?

As you’re brainstorming ideas for your book title, keep in mind that you have an opportunity to enhance your short title with a longer subtitle. A good book subtitle varies from one genre to another, but here are a few subtitle examples to get you started.

  • Novel: Venetian Blood: Murder in a Sensuous City
  • Memoir: The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood
  • Self-Help: No Excuses: Nine Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power

Book Description

Book Description

The cover of your book draws a person in…the title intrigues…and the book description closes the deal.

So, how do you write a good book description?

  • Keep it simple and straightforward
  • Aim for 150-200 words
  • Use paragraph breaks, bold, and italic formats to provide emphasis when necessary
  • Insert bullet points when applicable
  • Avoid time-sensitive language like “coming soon”

Another tip for writing your description—look up reader reviews for books that are similar to yours. What language are they using? Let their descriptions of similar books help guide you as you write yours.

Your description is more than just text on the back cover of a book. It’s detailed, descriptive copy that will be used in your marketing and help your book’s discoverability. You want your description to appeal to a person picking it up off the shelf at a bookstore, as well as Google’s search algorithm. The keywords in your description impact your book’s discoverability online—so be sure to keep keywords in mind as you write and incorporate them into your description when it’s natural and appropriate.


ISBNs

You’re probably wondering what is an ISBN?

 

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. It’s an internationally recognized identification number, similar to any product number you would find on other products you buy, like a box of cereal or a pair of shoes.

Do you need an ISBN?
You need an ISBN if you want your book to be available for sale in bookstores or with an online retailer or wholesaler. You’ll want to purchase this before your book designer begins work on the cover of your book, so that it can be included in the back barcode.

If you don’t want your book available for sale, IngramSpark can assign a SKU to your book for printing and manufacturing purposes only. If the book is not available for sale with an ISBN, then you will be the only person capable of ordering a copy of your book. You might select this option if you’re printing a book for personal use or as a gift for a friend.

Many self-publishing platforms offer indie authors the opportunity to use a free ISBN. At IngramSpark, we highly recommend that you purchase your own ISBN.

How many ISBNs do you need?
You’ll need an ISBN for each format of your book. Let’s say you want to publish hardcover, paperback, and ebook versions of your upcoming book—that means you’ll need to purchase three unique ISBNs.

What’s the difference between an ISBN and a barcode?
An ISBN acts like a product number, while the barcode is how the actual number is translated and readable by a scanner. If you want your book to be made available in brick-and-mortar bookstores, you’ll want to include a barcode with your ISBN.

Book genres

BISAC Codes

BISAC codes essentially identify what your book is about – the primary genre(s), topic(s), and theme(s). While a reader might not be trained to search for books based on a BISAC code, retailers and booksellers will use your BISAC code to determine in which category to place your book on their website, or where to shelve it in their bookstore.

For a full list of available BISAC codes, see BISG’s Complete BISAC Subject Headings List.

How to Choose BISAC Codes

First Code = Most Specific
The first BISAC code that you enter should be the most accurate and the most specific code to your book. This will be the main BISAC code used to categorize and shelve your book.

Choose Three
We recommend that you choose three BISAC codes for your book. It’s required that you select at least one, but three BISAC codes increase chances of discoverability.

Be Honest
Choose BISAC codes that reflect the full breadth of your book. This is not a time when it’s best to choose a category that you think has the most readers. You want to avoid confusion for readers who think they’ve selected a book about one thing and find it’s much different than what they expected.


Step 5: Publishing

If you haven’t yet, now is the time to choose how you’re going to share your story with the world.

There are various self-publishing companies to choose from—but IngramSpark provides many features that you won’t find anywhere else.

IngramSpark offers indie authors and publishers the ability to create professional print books (paperback and hardcover) and ebooks. With IngramSpark, you can self-publish a book and make it available to 40,000+ retailers and libraries—in stores and online—through our global distribution network.

In addition, IngramSpark authors receive:

  •  24/7 customer support
  •  Online sales reporting
  •  Free publishing tools and resources
  •  Affordable advertising opportunities
  •  Discounts with outside experts on publisher services

Some self-publishers simply wish to print a select number of copies, and not enable their title for distribution—and you can do that! However, if you’re looking to reach the masses, IngramSpark’s distribution network has you covered.

Take IngramSpark's free online course, How to Self-Publish a Book


Step 6 : Distribution

If you haven’t yet, now is the time to choose how you’re going to share your story with the world.

Global Distribution

Book distribution used to be a major stumbling block for self-published authors. They would spend weeks, months, even years writing their book. They would go through the editing, design, and printing process—and then would have no way to get it into bookstores and libraries.

Now, indie publishers can receive the same book distribution channels available to major traditional publishers. IngramSpark makes titles available to 40,000+ retailers, libraries, schools, and e-commerce companies including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indigo, Foyles, Waterstones, and more across the globe.

For more than 50 years, Ingram has developed relationships and connections within the book industry to allow your book to be available to the masses. We have print facilities in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia, and we have print channels in China, Germany, India, Italy, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Spain, and Brazil. By self-publishing with IngramSpark, you’re giving your book the best chance of reaching a global audience.


Step 7: Marketing

Learning how to market a book is essential for indie authors.

When you take the time to write, edit, and design a book, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the to-do list and never stop to think about marketing until a few weeks before your publication date. This is a big mistake for self-published authors!

While this is one of the last steps in our self-publishing process, we highly suggest that you begin thinking about your marketing strategy during the writing process. Building an author platform doesn’t happen overnight.

Consider the following tactics to market your book:

Author Website

Author Website

It’s important to have your own website when you publish a book. This lends credibility to your name as an author and is a great place for readers to go to learn more about you, your book, your events, and more. If you hope to create an engaged audience over time, a website is the first step.

Social Media

Social Media

If you aren’t already on social media, then it’s time to look at creating some social accounts. You don’t have to be active on all social channels. Pick two or three that you enjoy—but make sure you ask yourself, where are my readers? If you wrote a young adult novel, you won’t have success promoting it on LinkedIn. Consider the demographics of each channel before devoting your time and energy to it.

Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs)

Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs)

ARCs are copies of your book that are printed in advance to generate buzz for your book. You can send ARCs to a bookseller to inquire about stocking copies for the release date or to book reviewers to gain reviews for your book before your publication date. ARCs are also used to get endorsements, which can be added to the final cover of your book before printing.

Tip Sheets

Tip Sheets

A tip sheet can also be referred to as a “sales sheet” or a “one sheet.” This one-page paper contains high-level, relevant information about your book—basically, your high-level metadata such as the title, subtitle, publisher, publication date, etc. You can send this to bookstores alongside an ARC, or to the press when requesting media.

Author Events

Author Events

Whether it’s your book launch party or an author reading, events are a great way to connect with readers in your community. Bookstores and libraries are great options, but you should also think outside the box. What other venues might want to feature your book? If you wrote a cookbook, perhaps there’s a local winery or brewery where you can pair some of your tasty food with some local beverages.

Marketing your book can be fun when you take the time and effort to understand your audience and provide them with a valuable reason to join your tribe and ultimately, purchase your book!


Step 8: Join the Indie Publishing Community

The indie publishing community is a tight-knit, supportive group of creators, entrepreneurs, and go-getters.

Find like-minded people who want to see you succeed. Share your work with them and ask for feedback along the way.

IngramSpark Writing Community

Your community might have a writing collective that offers courses, workshops, and meetups. Your local independent bookstore likely has resources to help you succeed in publishing, and the booksellers can help you understand what they look for when they choose whether or not to stock a book. Your local librarians can give you insight into what they look for in a self-published book, and what the local community is most interested in reading. Take the time to immerse yourself in your local literary community before you publish your book. This will make your job much easier when it’s time to turn around and ask for their support.

There’s an online #WritingCommunity that’s incredibly active. Whether you’re on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, every day there are writers and authors sharing tips and encouragement to help each other succeed.

How Much Does It Cost to Self-Publish a Book?


The cost to self-publish a book varies depending on your budget, the type of book you’d like to print, and ultimately, your publishing goals.

Below are the six most common areas in which you may spend money to successfully publish a book.

1. Book Editing

The cost to edit a book varies widely based on a few factors.

Cost to edit a book
  • Quality of Manuscript: some manuscripts require more work than others to produce a professional, ready-to-publish piece.
  • Genre: cost varies by genre. Historical fiction and nonfiction, for example, require more time dedicated to fact checking.
  • Experience: the cost to hire an editor with more experience will be higher than a newer, less-experienced editor.

Some editors charge per word, some charge per page, and some charge per hour. The Editorial Freelancer Association provides rough guidelines to give you an idea of common editorial rates.

  • Developmental Editing (estimated pace 1-5 ms pgs/hr): $45-55/hr
  • Substantive or Line Edit (estimated pace 1-6 ms pgs/hr): $40-60/hr
  • Basic Copyediting (estimated pace 5-10 ms pgs/hr): $30-40/hr
  • Proofreading (estimated pace 5-10 ms pgs/hr): $30-40/hr

When you’re ready to hire an editor, do some research and request a few different quotes. Meet with them, if possible, or have a conversation to get to know whether or not they’ll be the best editor for your book’s content. Have they edited in that genre before? Do you feel like they understand your writing style? Ask them for references or examples of their work to make the most informed decision.

2. Interior Design

The typesetting process mainly focuses on readability, such as proper spacing and fonts. The cost to typeset a book will vary depending on length, genre, and whether or not you’d like to package it with a final proofread.

According to data from Reedsy, a marketplace for book publishing professionals:

  • 17% of people pay less than $500 for book formatting
  • 47% of people pay $500-$1,000 for book formatting
  • 19% of people pay $1,000-$1,500 for book formatting
  • 16% of people pay $1,500+ for book formatting

The price of typesetting will increase based on the number of images, graphs, and tables in your book.

3. Book Cover Design

Book cover design

The typesetting process mainly focuses on readability, such as proper spacing and fonts. The cost to typeset a book will vary depending on length, genre, and whether or not you’d like to package it with a final proofread.

The price of cover design is directly related to a designer’s experience. If you’re going to publish both print and ebook versions (which we recommend), make sure to look for a cover designer who can design both the print and ebook cover. Ask to see examples of a designer’s work before signing a contract and expect to spend at least $500 for a professional cover design.

4. Publishing

The cost to upload a print and ebook at the same time with IngramSpark is $49. If you don’t want to upload both formats, a print book costs $49 to upload alone, and an ebook is $25 when uploaded alone.

Another publishing expense you’ll incur is purchasing an ISBN, if you choose not to use a free ISBN. This is necessary if you’d like to enable your book for distribution, and each format of each book you publish must have its own unique ISBN.

ISBNs are sold by country: In the U.S., ISBNs can be purchased from Bowker directly through your IngramSpark account for $85 each. You can also buy a block of ten ISBNs from Bowker for $295. In the UK, you can buy them from Nielsen Book, while Canadian publishers get ISBNs for free. A full list of ISBN distributors can be found on the International ISBN Agency's Website.

If you want your book to be available in brick-and-mortar bookstores, you’ll need a barcode in addition to your ISBN. Some ISBN services sell barcodes, as well as ISBNs, but you can use IngramSpark’s book cover template generator to get a free barcode.

5. Printing & Shipping

The cost to print and ship a book with IngramSpark depends on the following:

  • Trim Size
  • Interior Color and Paper
  • Binding Type (paperback or hardback)
  • Laminate Type (gloss, matte, or textured)
  • Page Count
  • Quantity
  • Ship-To Address

IngramSpark has a Print and Ship Calculator to help you understand how much it will cost.

6. Book Marketing

When you determine your overall publishing budget, make sure that you factor in a portion for marketing.

According to a NetGalley study, "as authors' budgets increased, so did their corresponding spend on marketing and advertising."

Investing in marketing initiatives with which you can track dollars directly to sales is a good tactic for those with a smaller budget and less freedom to experiment. Whether you’re putting in the work yourself or hiring a book marketing expert, it requires careful planning to successfully execute a marketing campaign.

Pricing Your Book


If you plan to enable your book for distribution, pricing your book is an important step. When you determine the cost to print a book, this will help you decide how to price your book so that you make a profit on each book sale.

Look at Competitive Book Prices

Evaluate books that are similar to yours in genre, format, trim size, and page count—how much do they cost?

Visit your local bookstore and scan the shelves to find out, then make your book price similar. If most of the books in your genre are 6x9 paperbacks printed in black-and-white, then you might not need to spend extra money printing with premium color or in an unusual trim size.

Consider Your Publishing Goals

Do you want to make as much money as possible, or do you want to reach as many readers as possible?

Evaluating the price of similar book titles will help you estimate how much the average reader is willing to spend on a book in your genre.

If you want to maximize your profit, keep in mind that as you increase your price, you’ll lose more price-sensitive readers. If you know you have a fan base that’s willing to pay a premium price for your product, perhaps you can raise the price above the average market value. It comes down to understanding your audience and the value your book brings to them.

If you want to reach more readers (and aren’t as concerned with making a profit), you can drop your price down below the average book price in your genre.

Author Salary


After discussing the costs associated with self-publishing a book, now you’re probably wondering, how much do authors make?

In January 2019, The Authors Guild shared the results from their 2018 Authors’ Income Survey, concluding that:

Median incomes of all published authors who were surveyed—including part-time, full-time, traditionally published, self-published, and hybrid-published authors—for all writing-related activities was $6,080.
Author Salary

The median income for traditionally published authors who participated in the survey—based solely on their book-related activities—was $12,400. While many writers dream of being traditionally published, it’s important to remember that a traditional publishing deal doesn’t always equate to financial success.

The good news? Self-published author incomes are the only incomes on the rise from those surveyed. As the publishing landscape continues to change, more and more traditionally published authors are choosing to self-publish instead—taking back control of their book, their royalties, and ultimately, their livelihoods.

Final Tips for Self-Publishing


As you’re embarking on your self-publishing journey, here are a few things to know before publishing a book:

1. Get Your Book Edited

Professional editing is absolutely necessary before publishing your book. Even the Stephen Kings and John Grishams of the world rely on editors to polish their work before publication. Recognize the value that an editor brings to your work and don’t skip this step!

2. Look Out for Overly Expensive Services

Unfortunately, like any business, there are people out there who care more about making money than about helping you publish a quality book. A high price tag doesn’t always mean quality services. Do your research—ask for sample work from an editor, results from a marketing expert’s campaigns, or references from previous clients.

3. Go Wide With Your Book Distribution

It’s important to partner with a global distributor, like IngramSpark, that can help you reach bookstores, retailers, and libraries all over the world. Don’t limit yourself with an exclusive deal. You want to be available in all channels where your potential readers are.

4. Be Realistic

Almost every author has a goal of becoming a New York Times bestseller. As self-publishing continues to rise, so does the number of books published every year. Competition is fierce in the publishing industry. How many books would you like to sell in the first six months? How many reviews would you like to have? Take the time to create realistic author goals based on comparable books in your genre.

5. Get Involved

Join a writing collective, become a patron at your local indie bookstore, and utilize the public library’s resources. Develop relationships with people who can help support you and your book along your publishing journey.



We hope this guide helps you go from writer to published author! Download a copy of the guide (with bonus content) to help you along your publishing journey.

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