How to publish a book in 2020 (what do to after you finish writing the rough draft)

Recently in my Guerrilla Publishing Facebook group a new member posted this:

I have just finished the rough draft of my first book. Now what? I’m in the process of putting it in the computer and fixing spelling and sentence structure. I’ve been thinking about cover design but don’t know where to go or how to go about it. Also if anyone has suggestions on how to publish I would appreciate any advice.
 

I broke it down into a few main steps but it turned into an entire mini-course on self-publishing so I turned it into an article, and linked to some of my best online publishing resources and materials. I hope it’s useful and helpful to you!

Short answer: All you really need to publish is book design.


PUBLISHING YOUR BOOK:


– After editing the book so it’s clean, you need to format it for print and ebook. You *can* do this yourself but it can be a pain. I have templates and resources on www.diybookformats.com

EDIT: Don’t assume just because your book is “clean” that it’s good enough to publish. Do the first few pages hook reader’s attention and keep them reading? Do they like the characters and setting? Do they care what happens? Is there enough suspense, tension and conflict? If non-fiction, do they trust that the book will provide the results or insights they’re seeking? EVEN if you do everything else right, nobody will read your book if they’re bored or uninterested in the content. I just added a “first chapter critique” service to my Bestseller Blueprint course if you to be sure your book will satisfy readers.

– Then you need a book cover. This is CRUCIAL, but it only works if you know exactly who your audience is, what genre/category your book falls in, what’s the main promise or benefit of your book, and your cover communicates all that. I have templates and tutorials on www.diybookcovers.com. My book design tutorials have over 2 million views on YouTube.
 
– I try to help people DIY their book design because I know there’s a lot of demand that’s not being met, but if you have the budget you’ll get a much better result hiring a professional. I’m right now in the process of relaunching my book design services with a new team of designers. There are lots of great book designers but you may need to dig to find them (I did make a big post on recommended book designers but took it down because I shared some images without permission… I’ll get it restored eventually). In the meantime, check out www.creativindiecovers.com

Then, you can just upload your book files to KDP (kindle direct publishing) to get them on Amazon. If you wish, you can join their 90 day exclusive program KU (Kindle Unlimited) which I usually recommend for 1st time authors because it’s easier to focus on one platform and Amazon is the biggest.

You could also distribute your ebook wider with Smashwords or Draft2Digital. BUT – your book is unlikely to be seen, found or sold with millions of other books out there. This is also why I don’t recommend IngramSpark or Lightning Source.

The argument is, if you set up your book on those platforms with the industry standard 65% off and returnability (a huge financial risk) then bookstores or libraries could order it… but they won’t, and the print on demand prices for hardcover and paperback don’t make any financial sense.


LAUNCHING YOUR BOOK:


Your book won’t do anything without book reviews. Most authors get stuck here forever. You must get some ARC (advanced reader copies) out to some real readers who enjoy reading books in YOUR genre (not just friends and family).

There are strategies for this: put up a permafree book everywhere with a link to an optin bribe or bonus; put the book on instafreebie, bookfunnel or story origin. Join joint author promotions. Run a giveaway targeting your readers with prizes they actually want (similar books by famous authors). Listbuilding is hard if you don’t have an OFFER they want (great cover, great blurb/sales copy/at least a couple reviews for social proof).

Once your book is published, try to get your beta readers to post reviews on Amazon. If you can sustain full price ($3.99~6.99 for most ebooks) run direct ads with facebook or amazon, once you’ve got 10+ reviews or so. Your cover and sales copy have to be really tight for that to work. You can also “price pulse” – every couple months, schedule a 99cent deal with all the book promotion sites (fussy librarian, ereader news today, bargain booksy etc – there’s a big list in the free Guerrilla Publishing workbook).

The point of a launch is to push your sales rank up higher by getting a bunch of sales the first week, I recommend shooting for 100 – but it’s critical these are real sales from real readers, so that your also boughts aren’t full of random books. Amazon needs to learn who your ideal audience is, so it can keep promoting your book for you. It will keep showing your book to relevant readers as long as they are converting/buying. If they stop or Amazon can’t figure out who your audience is and noone is buying, they will stop showing it to people.

 

CAN’T SOMEONE DO ALL THIS FOR ME?


Not really. There are lots of companies that will charge for full-service publishing, but it’s mostly just book design and you’re probably overpaying, plus if you give up control of your own Amazon account, you can’t change details or run ads, which means you can’t test or tweak and are unlikely to figure out how to boost conversion enough to get ads to work.

Or there are PR firms that will get you a lot of visibility, which WILL NOT convert into sales if they haven’t also helped you get the cover/sales pitch right (what is this, who is it for, why should they read it?)

My free group and my Guerrilla Publishing course is about trying to help you learn to get the bare minimum essentials right, with a good enough cover and blurb and a handful of reviews – the vast majority of authors never achieve this. It’s low-hanging fruit that is undervalued by writers who think they just need visibility and not a desirable product.

That said, I know it’s difficult and scary to try and get all this right on your own; in the future I might offer some kind of package deal where I do more of the work, but it would really only be worth it for nonfiction writers who have a backend offer (course, speaking, product) so they can offset advertising costs and build a platform quickly.

For fiction authors, you’re probably going to need more content (more books) and they need to be GREAT – which is why I’ve been spending a lot of time focused on craft, plotting, and writing tips lately.

I put out a lot of content and resources to help people publish better, but also to avoid mistakes and overpaying for publishing and marketing services that don’t work.

If you need feedback to figure out WHY your book isn’t selling and what to do about it, or to get more of the pieces right on your first book launch, my mentorship program is currently $39/month – you’ll probably get a lot of great tips and resources just from hanging out in the free group (make sure to download the free stuff in the pinned post and watch the videos in the left side menu) but I don’t have time to reply to everyone here (nearly 10K members) so I have a private group where I’m more active.

 

About Derek Murphy

Derek Murphy is a book editor turned book designer with a Ph.D. in Literature. He's been featured on CNN and spoken at dozens of writing conferences around the world. These days he mostly writes young adult fantasy and science fiction, while helping authors write and publish bestselling books. FREE GUIDE: Sell your work without selling out.