My Self-Publishing Antics, Part 2: I have a complete manuscript! What is the next step?
Updated: Oct 4, 2021
Welcome to My Self-Publishing Antics! This is where I lay out the nitty-gritty of the self-publishing process to the best of my ability. I hope this helps you authors make important decisions as you maneuver the confusing and at-times overwhelming roller coaster of publishing your own book!
What follows "The End"?
You have put insurmountable hours of blood, sweat, and tears into this manuscript.
You have labored over your keyboard or notebook, you have fought your way valiantly through stubborn scenes, and you have felt the victory of your plot finally coming to its resolution.
You have written the lovely words "The End" (which are often not included in the final product of your book, but just roll with me here).
First off, congratulations on finishing your manuscript! That is an absolutely amazing accomplishment in itself! You created an entire story of your own, or if you are a non-fiction author, you have successfully brought to the world an engaging memoir or a fresh take on an important topic. That's awesome!!
However, for a quality product, there is still much work to be done before you can hit that "Publish" button on the printing and distribution platforms. Since my experience is in fiction, I'll be writing this from a fiction author's point of view; however, these steps are definitely applicable to non-fiction, as well.
Here is a general step guide of what authors should be thinking about next.
Step 1: Do a round or two of thorough self-edits.
"But I just wrote the dang thing! Don't I know the story better than anyone?"
Yes you did, and of course you do! However, we are all guilty of typos, incomplete sentences, misused words, faulty plot points, and any number of other grammatical or contextual errors. Just as with any paper you wrote in high school or college, it is so important to read through your book again (yes, I know, the whole thing) to catch these mistakes to the best of your ability. This is to ensure your book is readable and enjoyable for your beta readers (which is Step 2!).
Expect to spend: $0; 1-2 weeks
Step 1A: Consider hiring a developmental editor and/or get an editorial assessment.
There are so many different types of editing out there (more on that in a later blog post), and a developmental editor can really help you nail down your plot points. Not everyone has to do this step, but it is something to consider if you are left with a feeling of "my story just does not feel like it flows as well as it can."
Keep in mind that hiring a professional editor is one of the biggest expenses of self-publishing, so if you don't have the budget for a developmental edit, save your money for the very important copyedit (Step 4) and be sure to ask your beta readers for thorough feedback.
Though it is not mandatory, I definitely recommend at least getting an editorial assessment done. These typically run a bit cheaper than full developmental edits and still provide great insight from a professional's perspective. My editor Gina Kammer provided GREAT insight and really helped me build my story into something greater!
*Expect to spend: $0.01-$0.03 per word; 4-6 weeks
Step 2: Send your manuscript to beta readers.
Beta readers are such an important part of the publishing process! Your beta readers are your first line of defense, so to speak, against the harsh critics out there, and they provide you with invaluable insight on how your story can improve. Every author is too emotionally involved in his or her story to be a fair judge, so each of your beta readers provides a fresh set of eyes to glean through your story and find what works and what doesn't from a reader's perspective.
Your beta readers should be people who enjoy reading your genre and should be people you trust. And you should try to have at least a handful of beta readers, more than five. Some authors can find up to fifty beta readers! More is better to an extent, but remember that you are looking for quality feedback.
So, how do you find beta readers?
If you're a new author, definitely reach out to family and friends--BUT! Remember that you are looking for honest feedback! Invite people to be beta readers that you believe can give that honest feedback despite knowing you and caring about you. If possible, have those family and friends reach out to their family and friends as well, which provides an even more objective audience.
Once you are more established in your writing career, or if you took advantage of setting up a mailing list early on, you can reach out to trustworthy fans or people on your mailing list about being beta readers. That can really increase your sample size and can provide you with as much feedback as you would like before sending it to an editor for copyediting.
For more information on beta readers, this article by Paul Kilpatrick on FIctionary was very helpful.
*Expect to spend: $0; 6-8 weeks (make your timeline clear to your beta readers)
Step 3: Edit your manuscript with your new feedback.
Now you have wonderful feedback from your beta readers! Take this feedback, read through it very carefully, and make changes to your manuscript as you see fit. If you have questions regarding your feedback, do not hesitate to reach out to your beta readers! More often than not, they will be more than happy to talk through their feedback with you!
Keep in mind that not all suggestions you receive have to be taken. As the author, you decide which suggestions work best for your story. But your beta readers' insights are invaluable, and they put in the time and effort to help you--their feedback should be considered very carefully and thoughtfully! Their suggestions could be exactly what your story needs, or they could definitely point you in right direction!
*Expect to spend: $0; 1-2 weeks
Step 4: Hire a professional copy editor.
I believe that every single book in the world should go through a professional copyedit! If this is the only time a professional editor sees your work, so be it! (though I suggest otherwise!) By the time you send your book to a copy editor, your plot is for all intensive purposes set in stone. Now, the focus is finding those sly grammar mistakes.
A copyedit is a type of editing in which the professional goes line by line and finds grammatical and consistency errors. These are things so easily missed by the author since we read our work so many times before publishing. We cruise over the misused punctuation, the incorrect capitalization, the syntax errors--the list is endless. It truly takes a fresh, keen eye for finding these mistakes.
If you're lucky like I was, your copy editor will make an effort to focus on line editing as well, which is an editing type that focuses on each sentence in its meaning to ensure it is most clear to your reader. A line edit is also very important and really polishes your writing.
*Expect to spend: $0.01-$0.03 per word; 3-4 weeks
Step 5: Purchase your ISBNs and make your barcodes.
This step can really be done before you even finish your novel, but I felt the need to include it here because it is a necessity and should be done at least before Step 6.
There will be a blog post later explaining anything and everything there is to know about ISBNs and barcodes, but for now, you should know that every book must have an ISBN. An ISBN, or International Standard Book Number, is how your book is tracked and catalogued across the globe. An ISBN gives your book its own identity (professionally speaking).
I highly suggest purchasing your own ISBNs. If you have your own ISBN, you can name yourself as the publisher. Alternatively, if you use the free ISBNs from the printing/distribution platforms, each respective platform will be listed as the publisher--not you. And your book will have multiple ISBNs assigned to it rather than one consistent number across the board, which will make it an absolute nightmare for libraries and bookstores to find your book. So, if you plan on printing and getting your book into physical bookstores, go ahead and budget for purchasing your own!
If you're in the US, you can purchase your ISBNs from Bowker.com. This is the ONLY place to purchase authentic ISBNs; please do not fall for scammers! Bowker has a nice package for 10 ISBNs, which is much cheaper than purchasing one ISBN at a time. ISBNs do not expire and are not reused, so you can purchase as many as you see fit at one time and hold on to them as long as you need.
For barcodes, don't waste your money on buying barcodes (or QR codes) from Bowker! You can make your own EAN-13 barcode with your ISBN and book price inlaid in them for free online, like this one at CreativIndieCovers.
You will need your ISBN and barcode for your cover designer (Step 6).
*Expect to spend: **$125 for one ISBN, $295 for 10 ISBNs; 2-3 days for ISBN assignment
Step 6: Hire a cover designer.
If you want your book to look professional, you should hire a professional!
Book designers know the ins and outs of the designing software systems and have the experience in working with the templates provided by the printing platforms. Hiring a professional cover designer certainly saves a headache later on when you are uploading your cover to the different platforms, and you get a breathtaking book cover like the one Lena Yang made for Of Legends and Roses!
This step can be done earlier, but if you plan on printing your book, you should have a good idea of how many pages your book will be before hiring a cover designer for print covers. You will need an approximate page count for your cover designer to determine the book's spine width, and a page count can only be done once your book content is finalized. You can always estimate like I did, but I estimated a few pages too high and had to sacrifice a bit of formatting freedom to meet the page count.
*Expect to spend: $500-$1,500; 3-4 weeks
Step 7: Format your book and ebook.
This is also something that you can hire a professional for, but if your budget does not allow, you can do it yourself. I did, and many other authors do too!
Many Mac users use a platform called Vellum. There is a subscription fee, but I have heard great things about the ease and beauty of its formatting capabilities.
I, on the other hand, with my little old regular PC, used Microsoft Word--and I will do it again for the next novel! I chose to use Microsoft Word because it is what I had access to, it is what I knew how to use, and it is what so many authors have used in the past that there were tons of formatting tutorials out there. Still, there was a lot to learn since book formatting uses functions I have never used before. After a bit of a frustrating learning curve, formatting on Microsoft Word wasn't so bad and still produced a beautiful book!
So, in short, you CAN format your own novel! This is a great thing to hear, especially if you are on a slimmer budget or just want to control first-hand how your book looks. There will be another blog post and possible video tutorial for Microsoft Word formatting in the future.
*Expect to spend: $0 (or $200-2,500 if hiring out); 1 week (or 1-3 weeks if hiring out)
These steps lead you to a wonderfully made final product ready for the world to see!
Please, please, please remember that there is so much information out there about these aspects of publishing! This list is simply meant to give you a good idea of where to start and what to expect on your publishing journey. There will be more blog posts about several of these topics, so stay tuned.
A huge part of self-publishing is doing your research to find what is right for you and your story. You are not in this alone, and there are many authors out there ready to help you find your way!
Other things to consider before publishing:
Where you wish to upload your book for printing and/or distribution
Social Media Presence
Best of luck to you on your self-publishing journey!
*estimated average based on personal research and experience
**pricing info gathered from Bowker's website in September 2021