From Writing to Publishing: A Guide in 7 Steps

Photo by James Tarbotton on Unsplash

So you’ve decided to self-publish. Congratulations!

For sure you’ve read that it means a lot of work ahead. But what kind of work, really?

Here I’ll break down the steps involved in self-publishing so you’ll have a better idea of what the work entails. It’ll set your expectations on what to do and prepare yourself mentally for it.

I base this on my own journey from writing to self-publishing. It took me 14 days for my first book, a simple children’s story. It wasn’t the first book I wrote, but it was the book with the first complete illustrations.

My goal was to publish on Amazon through their Kindle Direct Publishing platform, offering both ebook and paperback versions of my book.

Here are the steps involved in self-publishing, and some tips for each task. I won’t get too specific, as there are many articles on that online. Rather, I’ll give an overview of the step, what you’ll need to prepare, and the decisions you’ll have to make.

Ready? Ready!

  1. Writing

It could take one day or many days to write a story. Work on it until you feel confident about it. Let others read your work. I wrote my draft for a children’s story, for ages 3–8, on Day 1, and told it as a bedtime story to my children that night. They enjoyed it.

The succeeding days were spent refining my story. If you don’t feel too confident about your copy, you can hire an editor to review it for you.

2. Illustrating

If your book needs drawings, then you’ll need to find an illustrator, communicate with him or her, and wait. You can also consider hiring an artist to make your book cover.

I tried illustrating the children’s story myself, but found it much wanting. So I stuck to writing and looked for an illustrator.

There are many websites offering illustration services, such as Fiverr. It helps to know what style you’d like for your story and the budget you want to work with. As my story was simple, I chose an artist with a simple style and who was also within my budget. Make sure you can use the illustration for commercial purposes.

Ideally, you’d also identify the size or at least the orientation of the illustration, whether portrait or landscape. This will help later when you format your story.

As the illustrations were simple, they were finished in five days.

Should you credit the illustrator in your book? It’s up to you. The commercial license gives you the right to use the illustrations, but whether you choose to credit them is your decision. In my case, I chose to credit him, as the illustrations are vital to the story, especially being a children’s book.

3. Formatting

At this point, you’ll need to decide on the size of your book. Before you decide on a random size, think steps ahead and decide based on the sizes that your publishing platform allows. In my case, I referred to the sizes allowed by Amazon. To make it easier, you can have the same size for your book versions.

That’s a tip offered in hindsight. On my first try, I did an ebook layout first, with minimal pages. Then when I started on the paperback, I had to redo it on a different size and pagination to meet the minimum of 24 pages.

You’ll also need a program where you can format your book. It can be Word, Canva, Adobe InDesign, or other programs.

Adobe InDesign is best for laying out pages, but it can be expensive and requires learning.

I tried Kindle Kids’ Book Creator to format but quickly realized it was not ideal for laying out text on illustrations. It worked best to import already laid out pages, convert, and preview to a Kindle-ready file.

After some research, I decided to use Canva. I recommend it for its ease of use, flexibility, and variety of beautiful templates. Best of all, it has a free version.

If your page colors or illustrations extend to the edge of the page, save on Canva as a high-quality pdf and check the box to include crop marks and bleed mark on the file. You’ll need this later.

Also, save your cover pages as a separate file, and the inside pages as its own file.

Allot a day or two to format your book. If this is your first time to format a book or if you have a longer book, give yourself more time. Don’t be hard on yourself. Enjoy the learning curve! Or have someone else format your book.

4. ISBN (International Standard Book Number)

Depending on where you live, this may come even before you format or write a book. An ISBN is a unique identifier for a book.

You can purchase your own ISBN, or let Amazon or other publishers do it for you. There are pros and cons, and after weighing them, I bought my own ISBNs. If you choose the latter, you can skip this step.

Authors living in the US will buy their own ISBN from Bowker. For authors outside the US, ISBNs can be bought from the assigned entity in your country. Read up on how to apply in your own country, as the requirements might be different from most of the US-based articles you’ll read.

In my case, I bought mine from our National Library. Due to the pandemic, they waived the fee for getting an ISBN. Getting my own made it a no-brainer for me.

The application process required the publisher’s registered business name, the book’s cover page, and the copyright page.

Registering a business name was easy and could be done online in an hour. And with my book already formatted, I had my cover page and copyright page.

Ás I planned for two versions of my book — ebook and paperback — I applied for two ISBNs. The process was online, and I got my ISBNs in less than an hour.

It doesn’t matter where you applied for the ISBN. Since it is an international number, it is unique and can be used anywhere in the world where you plan to sell your book.

5. Kindle Kids’ Book Creator

I updated my book’s layout with the ISBNs and saved them as pdf files.

The next step for my ebook was to make sure it reads well on Kindle.

I opened the Kindle Kids’ Book Creator and exported the pdf file. I entered the book text again to enable text viewing on a larger scale. Then I viewed my book on the Kindle Previewer. Satisfied, I saved my file for publishing.

Both tools — Kindle Kids’ Book Creator and Kindle Previewer — are so easy to use. And if you make a mistake on the Creator, just redo.

The resulting .mobi file will be what you’ll use to upload on Amazon.

6. Kindle Direct Publishing

Here is where it all comes together. There are some more decisions you’ll need to make as you fill up the KDP form on Amazon.

Among these decisions are:

  • Keywords and categories where your book will appear on Amazon’s pages. There are many articles and books specific to these topics alone. Research on the seven keywords and two initial categories you want your book to appear in. Don’t worry, in case you want to update these later, you can do so again after your book is published.
  • Pricing and royalty. Based on similar books, Amazon will recommend a price for you and show you how much royalty you’ll get based on the price. You can research and simulate different prices and set what you think is best. It’d be nice to make money from self-publishing, but I didn’t set this as a goal for myself. That is the advice too by many other authors. So I pegged my ebook at a low $0.99.
  • Enroll in the KDP Select Program. Being on KDP Select allows you to offer price promotions and be part of the Kindle Unlimited reading program. It’s a good marketing tool, but you can only sell your book exclusively at Amazon for 90 days. As I wasn’t in a rush to sell to other publishers, I enrolled in this program.

If you have more than one version of your book — as I did with my ebook and paperback — you’ll repeat this process per version. Note that Amazon does not offer hardcover on its KDP. You can still offer this through other ways; it’s just a lot more steps involved that may or may not be worth it.

For the paperback, use Amazon’s Cover Page creator to format your cover pages by uploading your pdf file. You’ll also be able to preview the contents of your book in Amazon’s book previewer, and revise as needed. Amazon will only print your book when there’s an order. You can also order author copies at cost after your book is published.

When it’s all set, submit your book, and wait. It’ll take up to 72 hours for your book to be published on Amazon’s site. They’ll email you when it’s done. In my case, it took only a day.

7. Amazon Author Page

Once your book is up on Amazon, you can set up an account on their Author Central site.

Even if you’re a first-time author, have no immediate plans of selling another book, or already have your own blog, I recommend setting up your own author page. One, it makes you look more authoritative (pun intended). Second, you get your own amazon.com/author/yourname domain for free. Get it before someone else does. Third, it’s easy to set up. Just add your photo and a short biography. Your books will immediately show up on your page.

At this point, congratulations are in order for you — you are now a self-published author!

It sounds like a lot of work, and truly it is. The steps from writing to publishing involve a lot of time. There will be other costs if you outsource tasks such as illustrating, editing, and formatting.

And that’s just the start. For those who want their books to actually sell, the work is not yet over. Indeed, many have said that writing to publishing is just up to 40 percent of the work. A self-published author has to devote a lot of time to marketing one’s book so that it sells copies to at least pay for the cost of making it.

The road ahead to self-publishing will be long and tiring. That’s why it helps to have clear expectations and work on things step by step.

Good luck on your self-publishing journey!

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Debbie Rodolfo

Debbie Rodolfo

Writer, mother, book lover, businesswoman, traveler from the Philippines || www.bloomingpen.net