22 Steps to Successfully Self-Publishing

There’s a lot to do and consider before Indie Publishing. A friend asked me for my advice and I decided to think it through for a few days and share it here as well.

I put this list together so my friend could make a decision and then start to prepare with as much information as possible. That doesn’t mean I’m blind to the costs. Yes, I had friends who edited. Yes, I have a friend in PR I could go to. Yes, I found a cover for cheap (although, if you follow my blog you know that I waited until I got a good cover. It actually held up publication. Don’t go live with a bad cover, an unedited product, or any other bad corners cut off to spite your face. Also, ignore any mixed-metaphors in this post.)

I worked under the assumption you did all the pre-work. You wrote a good book. You revised and edited and had beta readers and worked that thing until it was so shiny it blinded you. You’ve made a conscious decision to self-publish your book and you asked yourself the two important questions first. Everything on this lists comes after that.

So, here’s the list I came up with. I’m sure as I get further from my original pub date and closer to my next launch, I’ll find a few things to add to it. Right now, I feel pretty confident in handing this off.

Good Luck.

  1. Pay a full service editor. Even with a writing degree and copy editing cert, I want to have the security that it was done and done right. Courtney Milan really convinced me of this.
  2. Edit the book again. Yes, I know. You hired an editor. Some Indie Authors hire two…or three. Maybe you can’t afford that, but hiring at lease one is not the place to skimp. Now, do your writer thing and work through all those edits with your brain on.
  3. Research. Research your genre. Who are they? How are they tagging? Who is selling the most? Why are they selling? What do the best genre book covers look like? Do they blog? What do they blog about? How are they advertising? Don’t move to the next things on the list till you do the research.
  4. A cover. Start looking now. I actually do a run through of some sites to see if I can get another great deal. With the cover for It’s in His Kiss I was lucky to find a double sale for $22 – and I love it. The cover counts a lot.
  5. The Title: Check that the title works for the story, genre and readers. Make it catchy and memorable…If you’re anyone but me, make sure a really, really, really famous author with the same last name doesn’t have a book with the same title *head desk* And seriously, no one in the Invisible Posse picked it up either until I paid for the cover.
  6. Join groups. For example:
    1. Join Kindleboards. There’s a lot of good info and support there.
    2. Romance Divas and the Rom Indie yahoo group. I’m a lurker in both of these places but, they’re great for specific Rom stuff. Find some in your genre.
  7. Join reader forums. No, you’re not going to pimp your book, but you need to be out there where your genre fans are. It’s going to do several things: Keep you in the loop and get your name familiar.Remember, the needs of today’s readers can be filled more quickly by Indie Authors. (To add: If you aren’t a fan of your genre and there anyway for the fun stuff, maybe you’re writing the wrong thing.)
  8. Set up your Amazon author page and author central stuff so you’re ready to go.
  9. Tag your book on Amazon. These help people find your book based on their interests. I also ask people if they liked It’s in His Kiss to please hit the “Like” button at the top. I’ve been told (although I have no proof) this bumps you up the search ranks. Regardless, it is something I look at now – did people like the book enough to come back and hit that button?
    • UPDATE: If they like you as an author, tell them they can also “Like” you personally. If you click the author’s name on any of their book pages, it brings you to their Author Central homepage. Toward the top, right-hand corner is a “Like” button. We’ve been told that magic might happen when you hit certain numbers.
  10. Set up a Goodreads author account separate from your account. I can’t stress this enough. I estimate that about 70% of my sales come from GR reviews and recommendations.
  11. Start blogging and tweeting about it 3 months in advance (during edits) just like you would a trad book deal and share the ride to publication and launch date with your readers. But remember, only talking about your book is boring, rude and exhausting. If you have nothing else to say, maybe just avoid social media.
  12. Write an actual promo plan.
    1. Are you going to advertise? If so, where?
    2. Does your blurb stand alone? Is it well-edited?
    3. Do you have a promo timeline?
  13. Set up a blog tour. Note this isn’t part of the promo plan. Yes, you’ll work it into the plan, but this is a must.
  14. Send out ARCs for review – This is scary, but I’ll definitely do it next time. I had a few reviewers write-up It’s in His Kiss just because. They were so encouraging and I know for a fact their readers tried me because of their reviews.
  15. Giveaways: There are two types of giveaways.
    1. From You: If you have a following, these will go wonderfully. You’re tribe will be looking forward to getting their hands on your book. Do some the week before it comes out and the two weeks after that.
    2. From Others: It wouldn’t hurt to offer free copies to a few places that review or discuss books as reader giveaways. They’ll reach people you’d never be able to on your own.
  16. Schedule your Business Hours. When will you be online networking and marketing? If it’s written down, you’re more likely to do it. Also, you’re more likely to limit yourself to that instead of getting sucked into the *refresh* addiction.
  17. Barter, Beg, Steal… Okay, don’t steal. But, use your resources.

A.  Formatting: This was hard. I stunk at it. On top of that, the wrong version accidentally got uploaded.

If I didn’t have two friends who are gifted come along side me and fix my mess and explain stuff to me, I’d be in a boatload of trouble – One reader told me later (when I mentioned I was having a corrected version uploaded) that she saw the format mess, but was pulled into the story so much that she forgot about it and never let me know.

This was incredibly flattering, but I know the only reason I got away with that was it was a short.

Do not skimp on formatting. Period. It’s the difference between a new reader for life and someone who doesn’t trust you to put out a quality product.

Also, where are you going to publish? I’m currently only on Amazon, but the second check is earmarked for formatting for Smashwords and BN.

B.  Proofing: Yes, even after you pay for an editor the book still needs to be proofed.  At a minimum, find someone you trust to mark it up even as a “finished product” and you’ll be golden. A nice Starbucks card goes a long way here.

  1. Get a cover quote or two. No seriously. If you have the connections or (the you-know-what that rhymes with falls) contact another writer to see if she’d give you one. Who are the successful Indie Authors in your genre?
  2. Set up your budget: How much are you willing to pay total? How much are you willing to pay for each thing? Are you going to do advertising? Where does it work the best (hint: check Kindleboards for this type of data)
  3. Set up a tracking system. I’ll be blogging about this later. But, do not go live without someway to track your expenses and income.

This is a business. Treat it seriously.

  1. Send an email to friends saying how excited you are about this. Share that you’re nervous about doing it without the support of a publisher and that their support has been invaluable. I gave my Invisible Posse each a copy. I know what you’re saying, this costs me money and gets me nothing – Dude, say thank you. Always say thank you.
  2. I’m working on a blog called How To Love Your Indie Friend… because the support needed is more moral. People don’t know how to help and support you if you don’t tell them.

The best advice I can give you: DO NOT RUSH. I know, I know. You can’t wait to get it out there in the world. But do it right and give it the wings it needs to really knock it out of the park (remember, we’re not mocking mixed metaphors today) – So, go forth and be successful.



  1. I wish you’d written this before I started my Journey toward Indie-publishing.

    Luckily, I seem to have done most of these things already, or I am in the process of doing the rest.

    IMHO the two most important points you make are to present the work as professionally as possible and join readers’ forums.

    Presenting a clean work is essential. Anyone who spends any time on the reader boards/loops will realize this. This means professional editing, two layers if you can possibly afford it. I hired a copy/line editor. Did another intensive round of revisions off his edits, (including tweaking a ton of stuff that showed up as I went through the book line by line) did another read-aloud proofing, fixed those errors and then sent the book off to a professional proof reader for an in-depth proofing. The last step will be a professional formatter.

    Yes, having your book professionally edited is expensive. It can range between $300-$1000 dollars. But in the long run it will pay for itself because readers won’t get distracted by glaring errors or messed up formatting. I have no intention of losing readers because of poor editing or messed up formatting–and you will lose readers if you have either. And yes, you have to check out editor references, don’t assume the editor knows what they are doing. I tested four before settling on mine. Those first three did a terrible job.

    I found a professional formatter who will format your book for uploading to Amazon, B&N and Smashwords for $35-$40. (for all three, for a 100K book. Shorter books cost less) The more places you can get your book up, the more sales you will get. I have friends selling almost as much on B&N as they are on Amazon. The Nook is quickly gaining ground. But Smashwords is just as important because its the ONLY place that will give the author download codes to give the book away for free. So if you want to do free promotions, you need the book up at Smashwords.

    Think of the start-up cost as an investment in your career. An investment that will pay for itself down the road. You should never be thinking short term with publishing–Indie or traditional–you should always keep long term results in mind.

    One thing that Catie didn’t mention, and I’d like to, is to NOT discount putting up print books. I’ve found that half of the readers who have contacted me prior to publishing my book are looking for print versions. Half of them! You don’t not want to turn half your potential readers away. So make sure you have a print version of your book up through Createspace or Lulu at the same time you put your digital version up. Not having a print version irritates those readers who don’t have an e-reader yet. You don’t want to irritate any reader, because who knows if you can get them to come back again. I’ve been offering these readers a free PDF file until I can get my print version up. This seems to pacify them. But not making plans to launch a print version at the same time I launched a digital version is my biggest mistake to date.

    As for readers forums/loops. Don’t just lurk. Participate. But never pitch or promote your book directly to the readers. By participating, people will check you out. (It’s essential that you have a website/blog with a contact page for people to go) I have a list of people waiting for my book to come out and they are all from various readers who checked out my name from a loop/discussion forum and found my website and from there found my book. The interesting thing is that none of these people were readers I was in the discussion with. All the people on my list were lurkers on the discussion.

    Eisley Jacobs is doing an excellent in-depth series of blogs on Indie publishing. Every day an Indie author (either published or pre-published) shares insights they have discovered along their path to publication. For anyone considering self-publishing this is a great series to check out. http://eisleyjacobs.com/blog/category/indie/

    • Great point about the print books. Since my first go was a short, it was something I didn’t (and wouldn’t ) consider. But, for a full, I’d definitely look into that!

  2. It never occurred to me the print version would be so important. I had it in mind that my audience were readers w/ e-readers. Once I made the decision to move to self-publishing, I shrugged off the print readers as a causally of abandoning traditional. Only to find that readers don’t care how you are publishing. They only care about finding the book. If they don’t have an ereader, they want to be able to find it in print. I know self-publishing through Createspace/LuLu can make the books more expensive than their traditional counterparts. So not sure how many readers will actually buy at the higher price. But at least it’s available- and a friend has sold 100 copies of her book in print format in the last three weeks. So readers will apparently buy if they want to read it bad enough.

  3. Caitie,
    Your blog post is geared towards a Kindle published book. Did you do research for a BN self-pubbed book? What made you go with Kindle? I’m loving all your advice and comments…even if I am a bit late coming into the discussion.

    • THANKS! The downside of writing stuff for self-publishing in addition to my agented stuff is that the timeline has to be based on the agented stuff.

      So, yes! I’d love to get on Smashwords and roll that into BN, but for now, just getting the next story ready to go for this summer hopefully seems to take up all my time for the stuff I do under my name here!

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