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How to Self Publish a Book in 5 Easy Steps

Contrary to popular belief that self-publishing is only exclusive to mediocre authors whose works no respectable literary agent or publisher will touch, learning how to self-publish a book is actually a lucrative way of bringing your literary work to the masses.

“Fifty Shades of Grey”…”Switched”….”Diary of a Mad Fat Girl”…”No Thanks”…”A Time to Kill”…”Still Alice”…”Leaves of Grass”…”The Martian”…”Eragon”…”A Room of One’s Own”…”The Wake”…”Huckleberry Finn”…”Double Persephone”…”Spartacus”…”A Naked Singularity”…”Ulysses”

Would you believe that all these books were self-published?

Now have I piqued your interest?

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Below you’ll find the exact steps you need to take to self-publish a book and the 12 best self-publishing companies for authors.

2 Major Reasons to Go the Self-Publishing Route

Want to learn more about self-publishing and why it is the better choice than partnering with publishers?

Here are the two best reasons:

1. You can earn more money with self-published books

In traditional publishing, new authors often have no choice but to sign away rights to his/her book for x number of years.

In exchange of this deal, the author earns a book advance of about $5K and around 5% to 8% royalties on all book sales.

Bigger publishing companies do this and continue supporting the author with marketing, book tours, promotions, and follow-up possibilities.

Unfortunately, this is rare. Authors usually have to deal with their book’s own marketing and shoulder PR campaigns themselves, which can cost anywhere from $5k to $10k per campaign.

In contrast, a self-publishing author pays for the printing costs up-front. With options like print-on-demand (POD), this isn’t such a burden even for first-time authors.

You may pay as little as a few bucks for each printed book (and far less for an ebook), which in turn, allows you to price your book fairly and to keep more money for yourself.

2. Keep 100% publishing rights with you

Traditional publishers shoulder initial costs of your book production, but get most of the control over the rights of the book for up to 5 years.

For some unlucky authors who didn’t know better, they may have unknowingly signed away all their rights to their book(s) forever.

The one with bigger percentage of publishing rights can control many details of the book, including retail price, ebook promotions, potential follow-ups of the book, and so on.

As such, giving away your publishing rights will tie your hands regarding the success/failure of your book.

You simply can’t decide on anything major about the book’s production, promotion or sales.

Meanwhile, self-publishing your book removes all clauses, rules, and contracts, leaving you total control of everything from printing to marketing to expansion of the book as a series, or into an ebook or audiobook.

How to Self Publish a Book in 5 Steps

The steps to self-publishing a book may be slightly different between personal situations, locations, budgets, and whatnots, but most authors follow either of these two paths:

  1. Authors become their own publisher – With this route, you’ll will become the author and publishing house in one.
  2. Authors join Self-Publishing Companies – With this route, the author will decide everything from editors, book art, book format, pricing, and then upload the complete book on his/her chosen self-publishing website. As the author, potential buyers buy your book from the website, which then prints the book and ships it straight to the buyer. You then receive royalties of your book at a scheduled payout, or if earnings are allowed to be withdrawn at any time.

For those wishing to be their own publisher, here are the steps you need to take:

1. Pick a publisher name and incorporate

Take inspiration from big publishing houses like HarperCollins or Random House. Choose a catchy name you’ll be proud of, but don’t use your real name.

Make sure you incorporate your publishing business into an LCC.

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This will protect you from potentially losing personal assets if your business is being sued by employees, consultants, freelancers and even other people your company didn’t hire. Click here for more information on why you should form an LLC.

2. Buy a block of ISBNs

The International Standard Barcode Number (ISBN) is a 13 digit number that identifies a book as well as different versions of that book (e.g., edition, audiobook, ebook).

Most booksellers and distributors require an ISBN before they will list a book.

Libraries also use ISBNs to locate book titles.

3. Copyright your book

If you want to protect your book from being re-published as someone else’s “original” material, you’ll need to copyright it.

You also can’t sue anybody for copyright infringement of your book unless you first register that book with the US Copyright Office (assuming you live in the U.S.).

An electronic copyright filing for a book is just $35.

4. Print your book

There are many book printers out there and, as a new publisher, you are going to be best served by a printer that is linked to Ingram Content Group, a large, U.S.-based distributor of books, music and other media.

Currently, Ingram distributes to over 38,000 retailers, libraries, schools in 195 countries.

If you’d rather stick with just one distribution channel such as Amazon, you could print your book through CreateSpace, which is a subsidiary of Amazon.

The main benefit to setting Amazon as an exclusive distributor is that you get a higher profit margin on your book. And because Amazon has no rights to the book, you can switch your distributor at any time.

5. Market your book

Create a website for your publishing company as well as your book(s).

Work the social network circuit and post your business as well as its product(s) on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Talk with other small publishers and find out how they are promoting their products and through which channels.

Try different marketing strategies; for example, offer 100 copies of your book for free in exchange for a review on Amazon, Facebook, etc.

12 Best Self-Publishing Companies

If you choose to self-publish, you will likely work with a self-publisher that will provide you with a set of services including formatting, cover design, copyright registration, distributor listing, etc. in exchange for a set fee.

The cost of printing is fairly even across the board with most self-publishers- or at least it should be- because most self-publishing companies use either an in-house or third-party print-on-demand service provider of their choice.

For those looking to work with the best self-publishing companies, here are your top choices:

1. Kindle Direct Publishing

The most popular of all self-publishing companies simply because it is directly from retail giant Amazon, so your book will be included in the Kindle store.

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KDP has its own platform to layout your book, if you haven’t done so.

Uploaded books will be reviewed under 10 minutes, so if your book passes, it can go live on the Amazon marketplace hours after being accepted.

There’s no fee to self-publish with Kindle Direct Publishing, plus you earn 70% of book royalties.

2. Smash Words

Many “indie authors” feel right at home here, since Smash Words isn’t like traditional publishing companies.

Authors receive up to 80% royalties and receive monthly PayPal payments (with only a penny payment threshold).

It partners with Findaway Voices for audiobook production and distribution.

3. Kobo

Kobo (yeah the ebook reader brand) followed the footsteps of Kindle Direct Publishing with its own Kobo Writing Life service.

There does seem to be a huge difference.

Kobo lets authors keep their downloaded ePub file after the conversion, which means you’d be able to share a digital copy of your book to your friends and family instead of asking them to pay.

Authors keep 60% of royalties, but you are in control of prices and promotions.

You also own the rights to your books completely and you’re allowed to publish elsewhere too.

4. Blurb

Although this UK-based company became famous for printing photography books, Blurb also has a platform for authors to layout their work, promote and distribute the books through its own Blurb store, Amazon, Ingram, and other self-publishing sites.

5. Outskirts Press

Probably one of the lowest-rates in the self-publishing industry, Outskirts Press has been a favorite among authors for years now.

This Colorado-based company makes it homey for authors, giving out prizes to “Best Book of the Year” with a $1,500 price annually, promoting books day in day out, and millions of dollars in royalties since it launched in 2002.

6. Lulu

This site offers the same self-publishing options as the rest of this list, but they’ve been known to have superb editorial and marketing add-on services.

7. Xlibris

Known for professional customer support and an easy-to-use interface, Xlibris gives its authors royalties ranging from 10% to 50%, depending on factors such as when you joined Xlibris, type of book (printed vs. digital), and so on. X

libris is popular for its author events, which definitely provide a much-needed push especially for new authors.

8. BookBaby

Don’t underestimate the cuteness of its name.

Greeting authors with the phrase, “Ready, Set, Publish,” this company provides a complete self-publishing experience (if you need to) and mix-and-match self-publishing services if you just need help with printing, or distribution, or ebook conversion, and so on.

9. Barnes & Noble Nook Press

Barnes & Noble has a pretty strong ebook sales record, even if it doesn’t go outside the United States.

This company is a solid publishing house with a massive collection of books, so it is definitely worthy of a spot while you’re considering which of the best self-publishing companies to go for.

10. IngramSpark

Ingram Book Company is the largest distributors and wholesaler of books in the US.

It is also one of the best self-publishing companies around the world with its 50+ years of history in the field.

BONUSIf you haven’t thought about ebooks (YOU SHOULD, though), there are two resources that you should never skip:

11. Apple iBooks

Apple sells majority of the world’s ebooks, after Amazon of course. As an author, you can join iTunes Connect and spread your book digitally from here.

12. Google Play’s Book Partner Center

Of course, if you’re taking on Apple, make sure you cover the Android crowd as well.

How much money can you earn from a self-published book?

For every book sold, the self-publisher and you will split the profit- also known as the royalty- in some way.

Hopefully, the split is at least 50/50. There is also the book printing cost to consider, as well as any discount rates offered by a retailer like Amazon.

In the end, your profit margin might look like this:

  • Retail price of your book ($14.95) – printing cost ($5.00) – discount rate ($2) = profit ($7.95)
  • profit x (0.50 publisher royalty) = $3.98 royalty for you, $3.98 royalty for self-publisher
  • A hypothetical $3.98 from a book that costs $14.95 is not very much profit for you; however, this is at least a healthy 26.5% royalty. By comparison, consider how traditional publishers often give authors only a 5-8% royalty, meaning a profit of just $0.74 – $1.20 per book sold.

However, even if a self-publisher states that it takes only 50% of the profit, there are ways that it can pad its bottom line.

That padding is typically done by pumping up printing costs.

As a result, it’s imperative that you know the expected price of printing a book.

7 Must-Follow Tips on Self-Publishing a Book

Want to know how to self publish a book successfully?

The answer all boils down to marketing.

Here are 7 book marketing tips you can do, even without experience or tons of funds:

1. Learn about your audience

How can you promote to a group of people if you’re not sure who the book is for?

This might sound a little strange, but let’s face it we don’t all like the same things, so narrowing down your audience early on will not only help you focus your book for the right people but allow you to focus your later marketing directly to this group.

2. Brainstorm heavily for your title and cover

First impressions last, so it’s best that your book title catches a person’s intrigue the right way.

Both the book cover and title should be interesting, professional, and invoke something in the reader that grabs their attention.

3. Pick the right author bio and picture

This is particularly important for new authors, since the author bio introduces you to the world.

Remember that your bio is there so that readers can get a bit more of a feel for who you are, because they are not just buying a story or a self-help book, but instead investing in a person: you. In the same vein, you have to pick your author photo carefully as well.

4. Prepare your synopsis

Your synopsis will affect sales quite dramatically.

If the synopsis makes the story sound dull or the contents sound uninspiring then the potential purchaser will move onto the next one.

Consider the synopsis to be your initial sales pitch: it has to grab the user, based on the genre and suck them in.

5. Join or build a community

Self-published authors are generally lone writers, and marketing your book is hard work.

It might then be worthwhile to join a “tribe” (I recommend Self-Publishing School) of your fellow authors to help spread the load a bit.

This can be as little as just chatting with people online to share tips and advice, or you could go a similar route as Discover Sci-Fi. This group is a bunch of Sci-Fi authors who have self-published on Amazon and have banded together to help promote each other’s books and sales.

This method allows for a greater reach, especially if each author promotes the group to their own audience.

If done correctly, it becomes a win-win situation: authors gain a wider reach and readers gain access to perhaps unknown authors.

6. Maintain a website and build a mailing list

There is zero excuse for an author to not have a website.

A website is a focal point for the author to sell or presell books, as well as a way for your readers to gain better insight into the your mind.

A website can be as basic as a single page with a blurb and link to Amazon etc., or it can be more fully fledged. From a marketing point of view, a site with a blog is an absolute minimum.

A blog allows you to gain SEO advantages and also to give a glimpse into your life, connect with your readership and promote sales, new book releases etc.

And while you’re at it, consider building a mailing list. This is where you’d be sending freebies, news about your books, and other ways of promoting your book.

Make it count.

7. Make your online presence felt

There are so many social networks out there that using social media as a method of marketing can be daunting.

My advice here is to pick one or two (say Twitter and Facebook) and focus purely on them.

Social media should be considered as a way to promote you as an author rather than for a specific book. That’s not to say that you can’t let your followers know about your books and any offers etc. but it should not be the main focus.

Use these networks instead to connect with people, to discuss topics in your preferred genre and to give shout outs for other authors and books that your respect or enjoy.

How To Self Publish A Book Successfully

I hope this comprehensive guide can help you self publish a book successfully.

Know that book publishing is both a personal and professional decision that is not undertaken lightly.

There is a ton of work involved in just completing the manuscript, then having it ripped up (I mean, edited) and finally in promoting the book via social media and other methods.

But for some professionals, having a book helps promote their careers and give them legitimacy. For others, a book is a chance to leave some kind of legacy.

And for still others, a book can be a means to eventual fame and fortune- not to mention a career in itself.

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