If you’re a writer, a dreamer or someone with something important to say, you’ve probably thought about how to publish a book. But while writing a book is a great achievement in itself, getting it in front of readers is another matter, and figuring out how to publish a book can be a real challenge for beginners.
In fact, with more publishing options than ever before, today’s authors have a lot to take in. I’m here to cut through the fog and show you exactly how to publish a book in 2021. In this guide, you’ll find concrete advice, publishing resources, and all the guidance you’ll need to get your book out into the world.
1 Know how you want to publish a book
Again, modern authors have many publishing avenues to choose from. There is no one “right” way to how to publish a book, so the steps in this guide should be seen as best practice, rather than mandatory actions.
That said, your path to publishing a book will inevitably affect your approach here. Before proceeding, you need to decide:
Do you want to self-publish or traditionally publish, do you want to do it through a printer, a publisher, an online platform or all at the same time?
Advantages and disadvantages of the three publishing routes
Do you have a solid idea of the best publishing route for your book? Great! Now we’ll cover the tips every author should keep in mind, regardless of how you decide to publish.
Full creative control, faster time to publication, customised distribution and higher royalties (70% for ebooks)
The author is responsible for all production costs and marketing efforts, minor eligibility for major awards and the bestseller list. It is not on display in bookstores and physical shops.
Self-publishing with a printing company
A team of professionals working more closely with you, faster turnaround than with the big publishers, may be best if you’re writing for a niche audience. More profit margin.
Less control and lower margins than ebook publishing, less potential than with a reputable publisher.
Publishing with a major publisher
Established creative team behind you, distribution to well-known physical shop chains, plus publicity and literary prestige.
Minimal creative control, long publication time (usually 1-2 years after final editing), much lower royalties (5-15% of books sold)
2 Edit your book thoroughly
The best gift any author can give their manuscript is a thorough edit.
Yes, this is true whether you self-publish or send your book to agents: either way, people will read it, judge it, and make decisions that will affect its success.
Have you never edited a book before? Fear not: I’ve written a step-by-step guide on how to edit a book to help you do it! That article contains detailed advice on editing all the major elements of the story, such as plot, characters and conflict, as well as more subtle aspects such as dialogue and descriptions. But here are a few tips to get you started:
- Wait a week or more before editing. This will give you the fresh eyes you need to consider your writing as an editor would.
- Start with plot and characters. Read through your book and make notes with the broad elements in mind. Does your plot follow a sensible structure, have a good number of plot points, and not seem too rushed at the end? Do your characters seem well rounded, with compelling motivations driving them and dynamic interactions with each other?
- If this is too daunting, move on to line editing. You may not be able to figure out plot or character changes right now, but you can work on the pacing of individual scenes. Or you can refine your voice with better word choice. Even correcting basic mechanical errors is better than nothing.
- If in doubt, read aloud. If you’re struggling to get through part of an edit, try reading passages aloud. It’s a great way to break down your mental blocks and hear what can be improved in your writing.
3 Get feedback from others
One key to the question of how to publish a book is to ask for feedback before you publish.
Whether you hire an editor or not, the thoughtful comments of others are invaluable. So, throughout the editing process (most authors go through several rounds of revisions), share your book with trusted collaborators to see what they think.
To help your participants give more honest feedback, ask them to submit an anonymous form with their opinions on specific elements: plot, characters, pacing, and prose. You can include a scoring system to make it easier for them. Also, to make sure their comments are constructive, ask them to propose a solution to each problem, not just point it out.
Where should I look for opinions
If you are comfortable asking friends and family for feedback, you should do so. However, this can be a delicate process, and it may be best not to involve anyone you know personally. Here are three other ways to get reliable feedback on your book:
- Critique forums are great places to get feedback. Not only do they allow you to get notes on your book, but they also help you hone your own critical skills.
- Writing communities can also be useful. Many of these communities have built-in critique forums, but it’s worth checking their individual forums to see if anyone is looking for a critique partner – or, if you’re lucky, offering free critiques.
- Beta readers are a third way to get detailed, honest feedback from people who are interested in your book. For context, most authors turn to beta readers after they’ve done some self-publishing, but before they pass their book on to a publisher. You can read that article to find out more.
One recommendation is that you launch a first print run of about 100 books and distribute them for a lower price (than you have decided to sell it for) in exchange for a review.
4 Choose an unforgettable title
Having got this far in this article on how to publish a book, you may have already chosen a title for your book. But if you haven’t decided on it, or if the editing process has changed your book so much that you feel you need a new title to match, now’s the time to nail it down.
You’ll be fine if you keep the following in mind:
- Keep it short. Think about how many of today’s bestsellers have one- or two-word titles. Titling your book “The [something]” is a timeless approach for a reason: it gets the idea across quickly and is easy for readers to remember.
- Make it intriguing. Another advantage of a short title is that it naturally creates intrigue. Still, when in doubt, add a little more. Brit Bennett could have just as accurately titled her 2020 book The Saga of the Vignes Family, but The Vanishing Half is a much more intriguing and elegant title.
- Don’t copy anyone too much. While it’s good to use tried and tested formulas, you don’t want your title to sound so familiar that people think: “Haven’t I read that before?”. Avoid, for example, The Galileo Code or The Girl on the Bus.
5 Layout your book in a professional way
Now that you have your manuscript fully polished, you are ready to format your book with chapter headings, aligned text and page numbers. Again, this is crucial whether you’re self-publishing or submitting your work to publishers: either way, you’ll want to make a good impression with a professionally formatted book. Layout is part of the process of how to publish a book.
- For those who submit their book to agents, all you need to do is lay out your book in a standardised, readable way.
- If you’re publishing online, this step is a little more complicated: you need to lay out your book so that it’s 100% ready to upload to your chosen self-publishing platform. And it’s understandable that many authors are reluctant to do layout; after all, design is a very different skill from writing.
- If you’re publishing your book with the help of a printer, you can ask them to include layout in the quote. This is often the best thing to do. Professional typesetting is very important for the final result and will compensate you for the time saved against the increase in budget.
Now take a moment to stop and think
So far, this guide has applied to all methods of how to publish a book, but this is where things diverge. From here on, the steps to publishing a book will depend on which way you prefer:
If you plan to publish through a publisher, now is the time to start querying! The final steps outlined in this guide will be taken care of by your publisher. Some of the most famous big publishers are Penguin Random House and Harper Collins, which are difficult to access but not impossible. However, if you want to self-publish online or with the help of a printer (which means more involvement) or simply want to learn more about the process of publishing a book, feel free to read on.
6 Make a cover that converts
The next thing you’ll need to successfully publish your book is a strong book cover. Your book cover provides readers with a vital first impression of your work, which means that it must not only grab the attention of your target audience, but also let them know that this book is for them.
To do this, the design of your cover should be:
- Flamboyant but tasteful Whether you choose a photo-based, illustration-based or typography-based cover, it should be interesting enough to catch the reader’s eye, but not so cluttered that it looks overwhelming or unprofessional. Here are three covers from each of these categories that strike the right balance:
- Genre-indicative. Consciously or not, readers look for certain cover design elements in their favourite genres, and yours should match (at least some of) these conventions as well. Romance novels, for example, tend to have illustrated covers and shades of red, pink and purple. Thriller novels, on the other hand, tend to use dark colours and disturbing pictures to signal their content. A few more examples to demonstrate this:
- Tailored to your publishing medium. If you are self-publishing an e-book, the cover should be just that, a cover, as it is the only thing readers will see. However, if you plan to print your book, you will also need a spine and back cover design.
As with layout, all this can seem quite intimidating to authors who don’t know about design. But unlike the interior layout, which most authors can do themselves with the right tools, the cover should be designed by a professional. You shouldn’t take a chance with your number one marketing tool, and a professional cover designer has the talent, experience and industry knowledge to help your book succeed.
7 Optimise your book description
The description of your book is another important factor in getting people to buy your book. Luckily, it’s easy to optimise your description to improve sales. Before you continue reading about how to publish a book, take a look at your book and optimise it.
The basics of writing a strong description are:
- Engage readers with a headline. Whether it’s a dramatic statement, a quote from a favourable review, or the very first line of your book, your headline should get readers interested in it right away.
- Introduce the plot or main idea. But don’t summarise everything – you don’t have room for it! Briefly describe the central conflict(s), or if you’ve written a non-fiction book, point out the central concepts you’re going to address.
- Leave them wanting more. End with a question, a hint of a twist, or even a cliffhanger. Make it impossible for readers to miss a preview of your book (if only because they’re sceptical that you can pull it off).
When in doubt, look at the descriptions of bestsellers in your genre and try to emulate them. Read five to ten of these descriptions and you’ll probably see a pattern start to emerge; from there, your description will practically write itself.
What about keywords and categories
Although they are not included in your book description, keywords and categories are two of the most important parts of your online book listing. To know how to publish an online book or ebook this step is fundamental, it will increase your sales. For those of you who don’t know:
- Keywords are related phrases that people can search for to find a book like yours. For example, if you’ve written a self-help book on how to eat better, some of your keywords might be “how to eat healthy”, “the best diet plan” and “change your life”.
- Categories are the genres and sub-genres to which your book belongs. They can be as general (“Nonfiction”) or as specific as you like (“Nonfiction > Biography & autobiography > Personal memoir”).
The best way to choose keywords and categories is to put yourself in your target reader’s shoes. What would they search for to find your book? What similar books might they be reading, and what categories do those books fit into?
A good thing to remember about your book description, keywords and categories is that you can always adjust them later. That said, you should try to optimise these elements before you launch your book and hit the ground running. Speaking of which, the next step is to…
8 Conduct a multiple launch
Your book isn’t going to sell itself, and the early days of getting a book published are crucial. So what you need before you publish (and what you should start working on as soon as possible) is a great launch plan.
This plan should get the word out about the book, tap into the existing audience and cause a lot of buzz around it. Let’s quickly cover four actions that you should definitely include in your launch plan:
- Form a street team. This will consist of friends and supporters who promote your book on their own platforms. Remember, joining forces and social proof is much more powerful than your own efforts alone!
- Build a website and mailing list. You will need an author website with a clear sign-up area for your mailing list to get readers. Also with an online shop so you can sell directly from it. Get into WordPress or hire a web designer, and start learning all you can about mailing lists and online sales.
- Get book reviews. If your title doesn’t have any reviews when it launches, people will assume it’s not worth reading. Avoid this bad fate by contacting reviewers early and often; make sure you target reviewers and bloggers in your niche.
- Organise a virtual or physical launch. Not just on social media, but also on your website (if you have one) and by guest posting on other people’s blogs. Make it a big event; shout your book to the four winds so that as many people as possible hear about it. Show it off at a local bookstore and start spreading the word as soon as possible.
9 Publish your book at last!
Congratulations! You’re finally ready to publish your own book. You’ve read everything and everything we can advise you on how to publish a book. There is more in depth material but these notions will help you, once you decide on marketing channels come back to us, we are sure we have other articles that will continue to guide you.
You’ll be glad to know that the act of self-publishing a book is fairly easy.
If you do it online Amazon and other retailers guide you step-by-step through the upload process, and as long as you have your materials ready, you should have no problems. If you do it with the help of a printer you will also get help and advice on layout and design. If you do it in a publishing house you have everything ready to go.
This is what you can do, in order:
- Enter the title, book description and keywords/categories.
- Package the book and prepare a launch campaign.
- Add a good cover to your book
- Upload to digital platforms or send your book to the printer or publisher.
- Price your book and “hit publish.”
10 Market to the fullest
Your book is polished, published and, hopefully, already has a readership. But that doesn’t mean the job is over – far from it. The process of how to publish a book is over, but the process of selling and promoting it is not
The last step in how to publish a book is to market it as much as possible. You’ve already put your launch plan in place, but here are some essentials to keep in mind:
- Get more blog hits and connect with authors. Guest posting to promote your book is not just for your launch plan. Even after launch, keep reaching out to relevant blogs, especially those written by other authors who might want to cross-promote.
- Take advantage of price promotions. Unless your book is free, pricing can always be better for customers. If your downloads or sales are dropping and you haven’t done a price promotion in a while, try it now.
- Employ third-party promotion services. Tired of marketing on your own, or just don’t have the massive influence you’d like? Book promotion services can help. Look for services that are specifically tailored to your book’s target audience.
- Always be prepared for opportunities – you never know when you’ll get the chance to promote your book in a life-changing way! If you were to meet Reese Witherspoon tomorrow, you should have a preview of your book ready to launch into the cloud on her phone.
The end of how to publish a book
If you liked our article on how to publish a book, let us know below your questions, the aspects that most interested you or helped you the most. If you are about to launch a book let us know, send us something, maybe we can also help you in the review process, it will come in handy. The more promotion the better 🙂
Good luck with the publication of your book and we hope you’ll be able to set a release date very soon.