Once you have decided to self-publish, what are the steps involved?
- Commit! The very first thing is to make sure you want to make a big commitment in either time or money or both. Publishing is work, if you do it right. You either have to do it all yourself, or get someone else to do it for love or for money.
- Review and edit! Next, make sure your story is ready. Every book should go through an editorial review process, either by being read by an editor or by a group of other writers, or at the very least, by someone other than your mother. This is not merely to get validation that your story is good; it is to get the feedback you need to make the story better. This will often include getting comments about characterization, dialog, pacing, and other things that make a book easy to read. Once you have these comments, you need to decide what to change in your book.
- Copyedit! Once the substantive edits are made, you need to get someone to copyedit the book. Copyediting is distinct process, different from substantive edits. Copyeditors check style, grammar, word usage, and the internal logic of the story. Do you say the protagonist is 23 in Chapter One but a year later in Chapter Two is he suddenly 26? A good copyeditor will catch these things. If you know one, cherish him or her; if not, you might be able to trade copyediting work with another writer, as copyediting your own work is really hard. Don't pay someone to do this unless you are sure they are qualified; if you're not sure, I suggest you hire them only to copyedit a sample (10 or 20 pages, say) as a check of their abilities.
- Pick the platforms! Decide if you will publish in print or as an ebook or both, and then decide what platforms you will sell your book through (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, iBooks, etc.). For ebooks, the publishing platform is usually the retail outlet as well. For print books you will also need to be sure your book is laid out in pages, in a way that looks good and is readable. You also need to decide how you would get your printed book to customers. Two good print platforms for self-publishing are CreateSpace and Lulu.
- Get a decent cover! If you have an eye for design, you might be able to make your own, especially if you know how to use PhotoShop. But there are artists out there who will create a cover for you for about $200 on up (way up!). Be aware of copyright issues where photographs and artwork are concerned. You definitely can't steal someone else's images from the web if you are putting them on work that is for sale. If you publish in print, you need to worry about the whole cover (front, back, and spine), not just a single front-cover image. Be sure to check the cover requirements for every platform you plan to publish on.
- Layout the pages/style the files! If you're publishing in print, you need a PDF of your pages. If you're publishing in ebook form, you need to convert from word processing format to ebook format. The PubIt platform (Barnes & Noble) uses ePub format, Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon) has its own format based on Mobi-pocket, and Smashwords has its own style guide for formatting an MS Word file in a way that works for their conversion program (ominously dubbed "the meat grinder"). Again, you can pay someone or you can do your own conversion using Calibre or Scrivener. If you aren't tech-ey and you can't afford a conversion house, KDP actually accepts many formats, as does PubIt, but then you have to take whatever formatting you get. If you want to control what your book looks like, you might do better to put it into the right format to begin with. Default conversions often yield bland-looking or even badly formatted ebooks. Smashwords has said they will eventually accept ePub, but for right now you are stuck using their MS Word and their style guide.
- Proof again! Assuming you convert the books or have them converted, once you have files in the right format, it is really a good idea to load them into an ereader or an ereader app and proof them again to be sure you don't have formatting errors like run-together words, bad paragraph indenting, and so on.
- Decide about ISBNs! Before you load your book, you need to decide if you want to get your own International Standard Book Number (ISBN). It costs money to get them for yourself, but if you want the book to have an ISBN on all platforms, you will need to do that. Smashwords will assign one for you if your book is formatted well enough to go into their premium catalog, but that won't work for print or the Kindle because you need an ISBN for each format (print, Kindle ebook, ePub ebook). You can purchase ISBNs from Bowker.
- Write a blurb! Once you have the cover, the files you need to load the book, the ISBN (if needed), you need to write a blurb for the book, and decide what tags you will apply to it (mystery, adventure, science fiction, etc.). The blurb should be short and oriented toward making someone interested in reading the book rather than being a plot synopsis. Tags will vary depending on the platform.
- Create a marketing plan! Finally, have a marketing plan in place. Once your book is for sale, how will people know it? You can contact book review blogs and offer a free copy of the book, you can plead for reviews on Amazon and other retail sites, and (in some cases) you can make the book free for a short period of time.
Once you've done all this, then you're ready to publish. Check out how it works on the platforms you're using and get going!