An Author's Technical Guide to Self-Publishing a Book

Doug Landsborough
January 19, 2024
An Author's Technical Guide to Self-Publishing a Book

Self-publishing your book is equal parts exciting and scary, especially if this is your first book. I still remember the day I decided to be an indie author and get my book out there to the people I knew were dying to read it.

I didn't realize how much work it would be, though.

What followed was months and months of research, trial and error, and wearing a wardrobe's worth of hats. All while writing my manuscript to boot.

I'm not saying this to frighten you or build up your anxiety; remember, it's an exciting process. I'm saying it all to help you understand that self-publishing isn't easy. It's an entire process unto itself that very few people are familiar with before they embark on their indie author journey.

That's where this guide comes in. My goal is to provide you with a no-nonsense (except for some great jokes) guide to the technical side of self-publishing your book. That includes:

  • Understanding the self-publishing process
  • Preparing your manuscript
  • Designing your cover
  • Formatting your book
  • Understanding print-on-demand and self-publishing platforms
  • Marketing strategies
  • Running it all in a cost-effective way

If you're ready to wrap your head around this thing we call self-publishing, let's get started.

Understanding the Self-Publishing Process

Before we can get into the finer details of self-publishing, we need to understand the fundamentals. This starts before you write your first word or plan your first character—but don't worry if you're already a few chapters deep.

Where Are You As an Author?

This is the most important question you can ask yourself in this entire journey, and the answer will guide you as you move forward.

I like to think of authors as being in one of three positions in their writing life, and neither is better or worse than either of the others, as long as you're aware of where you are and (eventually) what you want.

New or debut author - Anyone with a book or two usually falls under this category, as do any authors working on their first novel. For most people here, writing is mostly, if not entirely, about passion. It could be a hobby or a stepping stone towards a bona fide writing career. Writing is more important than economics, market trends, etc.

Established/career author - On the other end of the spectrum are authors who write for a living or at least a portion of their living. To be clear, this kind of writing isn't devoid of passion, but it balances what you want and love with a business mindset. Authors in this place of their writing life might write to market, generally draft faster, have processes in place to leverage self-publishing, and approach their craft as a business (because it is).

Somewhere in between - This spot on your journey encompasses anyone who has some experience but isn't treating books solely as a business. It's a broad category for authors with a handful of books under their belt, and it might be a place where you stay forever; it's perfectly fine for writing to be a profitable hobby.

Writing your first book is great. Writing your third book in half-hour sprints every other day is great. Writing your sixth book and making a few hundred dollars a month is great. Writing four books a year is great.

Wherever you are, that's great. It's perfect, actually. But bear that spot in mind when reading what we're chatting about in this article. 

When we talk about understanding your genre, a career self-published author needs to know the ins and outs much more than a debut author. Similarly, an established author needs to be writing hundreds if not thousands of words per day, while someone in between new and career levels has more leeway.

So let's discuss some of those details.

Ten(ish) Steps to Self-Publishing Success

Taking a book from idea to published work is a process. Luckily for us, processes have some pretty defined steps.

Don't let that scare you—I'm not here to tell you that there's only one way to write and publish a book. But there is a straightforward path you can follow when you're self-publishing. Here's what that looks like.

Step One: Research

We're already venturing into some territory where your place in the self-publishing spectrum matters. If you're a career author, your process starts by researching your genre and examining market trends.

Is BookTok obsessed with Fourth Wing? Then you might want to write a book with dragons. Are fae so last year? Don't spend time writing for a market that isn't devouring novels right now.

On the other hand, authors who are self-publishing as a hobby, passion, or just a little more seriously should study the conventions of their genre. What do bestselling authors in your genre do well? What is common across popular books?

This doesn't mean you should copy these books. Instead, read them with the intent to understand what works and what doesn't.

Step Two: Plan

Some authors think the idea of planning is offensive. Some adore spending hundreds of hours worldbuilding, developing characters, and outlining their plot.

Either way, you need to do some initial planning for your book. The less experienced you are with writing entire novels, the more planning I suggest you use.

For guides on plotting, worldbuilding, creating characters, and planning even if you hate it, click all those respective links.

Step Three: Write Your Book

Don't let it scare you that writing an entire novel—something that is potentially more than 100,000 words long—is only one step of this whole publishing process. This will be the biggest (and potentially longest) step of your journey.

First, let's set ourselves a realistic goal.

Setting reasonable goals is proven to make you more likely to achieve them. Simply wanting to "write a book" can lead to years of meandering in and out of your work in progress. I suggest doing one of the following:

  1. Set a goal of writing for X minutes every Y days or;
  2. Set a goal of writing Z words every day.

The first is good if you aren't sure what to aim for and just want to get words down. The second option is more effective at achieving your goal, but only if you have a word count to aim for, usually chosen by looking at similar books or through experience.

And when I say "every day" or "every Y days," don't think you can't have days off. The goal isn't to burn yourself out but to finish your dang book.

If you're using Dabble, it can crunch the numbers for you. Just punch in how many words you want to write, when you want to write them by, and what days you're taking off.

Pro tip: Click or tap on the day of the week at the top of the calendar to take that day off every week. Personally, Thursdays are a no-go for me because I spend far too much time playing D&D, so I don't factor them into my goals.

Once your goal is set, the best thing you can do is develop a writing habit or routine. You can learn all about that with this guide here but understand that developing this habit is the #1 thing you can do to get from idea to finished draft.

It means writing regularly and actually factoring it into your schedule. For experienced writers, it's a must. Writing should be an everyday event so you can maintain your income.

If it's your first novel, a writing habit will help you when the going gets tough (and it will somewhere around the second act). I won't be on your back as much if you don't do this right away, though.

Step Four: Revise

Once you've finished your first draft, celebrate a little. Buy yourself that fancy coffee, go out for dinner, or splurge on that book you really want and will totally read after you read those other ten books.

Then we move on to revising, which can be a bunch of steps in itself. We have a guide to revising over here, but it ultimately boils down to reading and rewriting your draft. If you don't have your own revising process, I'd break it down into multiple pass-throughs.

Read with intention. Do one read looking for big plot holes. Do another reading specifically for character arcs. Each time you read, look for something in particular. Don't worry too much about spelling and grammar errors until you're on your last revision, and you'll be hiring an editor for that, anyway.

Step Five: Developmental and Line Editing

Here is the first opportunity where you may want to bring in outside help. Developmental and line editing are two different types of editing performed by professionals.

Developmental or structural editing takes a macro look at your book, examining character development, workshopping the plot and pointing out plot holes, picking apart the structure of your novel and more.

Line editing is a step down from the big-picture view of developmental editing. These editors look at your word choice, flow, and paragraph and sentence structure and make recommendations on everything else that makes your novel better to read.

Assuming you hire one who knows their stuff, these editors will make your book better but come at a monetary cost. We'll discuss when you need to hire these professionals when we talk about self-publishing in a cost-effective way.

Step Six: Beta Readers

Once you've fixed up your manuscript with your revisions and any editor feedback, it's time to bring in some fresh eyes. Beta readers are (usually) volunteers or people you exchange services with to get outside feedback on your book.

Unlike an editor, who takes a more technical or professional approach to giving feedback, beta readers should be more similar to your intended audience. These can be other writers if they specialize in your genre, but the intent of a beta reader is to give you an insight into what actual readers would think of your current draft.

For a complete guide on working with beta readers, click here.

Step Steven: Copy Editing

Once you've chewed on your beta feedback and incorporated what you want, copy editing is the last step before you're done with your story.

Copy editors are another type of editor you can hire that will look for the traditional proofreading elements: spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. This is the final polish to make your book perfect, and you shouldn't be making any changes to your work after you get this edit done (lest you risk accidentally adding unreviewed errors to your work).

There are tools like ProWritingAid out there—and it's built into Dabble to make your life extra easy. But these tools aren't perfect, lack the nuances of human eyes, and sometimes make errors, especially if your voice or a character's dialogue doesn't jive with perfect English. 

We'll discuss choosing between a professional editor and software editing options later in this guide.

Step Eight: Finalize Your Manuscript

Your story is done. The words are perfect. The characters are yearning to get in your readers' minds. Now it's time to finalize your manuscript. 

This includes designing a cover and formatting your book.

People who say never judge a book by its cover are living in a dream world. We all judge books by their covers. That's the whole point of a cover.

Designing your own cover might be worthwhile if you have experience in art or design related to your genre. Alternatively, you can hire a cover designer to lend their expertise.

Formatting is much the same, though it requires a heck of a lot less expertise than cover design (in most cases). There are professionals you can hire to format your book. This is a helpful option if you don't have the time or want something out of the ordinary.

Alternatively, here's a guide to format your own book.

Step Nine: Choose Your Distribution Platform

At the time of writing (and probably forever), Amazon's self-publishing platform reigns supreme in this space. Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) does the distribution for you, gets your book on Amazon and other sites, and will give you a place to sell your book for a cut of the profits.

There are other self-publishing companies out there: Lulu, Draft2Digital, Smashwords, and more. Each has pros and cons, so do your research and determine which is best for you.

Heck, some self-published indie authors have had commercial success only selling their books on their website, using print-on-demand to ship to a customer or order author copies for conventions.

We're going to chat more about distributors in a bit.

Step Ten: Market the Heck Out of Your Book

This is where we tend to lose a lot of writers. Millions of new books are released by traditional publishers and self-publishing companies every year.

You read that right: millions.

And while your novel isn't necessarily competing against every single one of those, it's easier than ever to get lost in the overwhelming number of new stories in every genre.

Think back to where you are in your writing journey and where you want to be. If you're writing a book so you can hold it up proud and feel the beautiful sense of accomplishment that comes with writing a great tale, then you don't need to market your story at all.

However, if you want to make some money from your book, build an audience, and start a snowball-like effect towards bestseller status, you need to do some marketing.

And if you're looking to make writing your career, you need to become a marketing expert.

The tragic reality is that books don't sell themselves. You might get lucky and have your novel go viral on BookTok or be reviewed by some bigshot blogger.

I also hope my lottery ticket for tonight's draw wins me millions.

Sassy comments aside, you can't bank on luck to generate success. Nor should you; the whole point of self-publishing is to take the reins of your writing career and make yourself successful.

We'll cover some tried-and-true marketing strategies before we're done here, don't you worry.

Bonus Step: Keep Going

Even after you've published your book and put some blood, sweat, and tears into marketing, the journey isn't over.

I mean, it might be if your goal was just getting that one book finished. But for most self-published authors, you're already on to the next book.

You'll also want to grow and foster a community of readers who loved your first book and keep bugging you for the release date of your next novel. It's more endearing than annoying, I promise.

If you're making a career out of self-publishing, you'll want to develop some processes and habits to make this whole shindig more efficient. The key is to always be writing. 

Do what works best for you and your craft, though. Don't burn yourself out if you're just getting your first few novels under your belt. And in the rest of this guide, we'll dive deeper into what you need to finish your self-published book.

Preparing and Formatting Your Manuscript to Self-Publish

The rest of this guide assumes you've written a great book. Whether you self-publish or work with traditional publishers, you must start there. 

We have a bunch of articles and guides to help you with that whole part of the process, and aside from potentially including professional editors, the pathway is the same no matter how you choose to publish your book.

Do yourself a favor and bookmark DabbleU to go through the hundreds of free articles we have there.

The rest of this article will focus on the self-publishing process after you've written your book. That's where the trickier, more business-oriented side of being an indie author comes in. Up first, let's discuss formatting.

Just a quick reminder that we have a guide to formatting your manuscript (that you can access by clicking that link). However, I want to provide you with more information to shed some light on what you're in for.

Minimum Requirements for All Formatting

Once your draft is done, you're going to need these elements to successfully publish your book on any self-publishing platform:

  • A polished manuscript
  • Consistent margins, page breaks, scene breaks, and font styles (i.e., Chapter headings, first paragraph font, body font, etc.)
  • A cover image
  • Front and back matter (if you are including them)

From there, it gets a little more complex.

Different Platforms Have Different Requirements

While similar, different platforms will demand slightly different formatting.

Kindle Direct Publishing, for example, prefers different setups to Smashwords, which prefers minimal formatting so it can crunch it through what it calls the grinder. However, Smashwords also lets you upload your EPUB file for direct distribution, as long as you still meet their style guide requirements.

Then you need to consider the different book formats. KDP lets you publish e-book, paperback, and hardcover versions of your book, while Smashwords doesn't.

My advice? Check out the different platforms and learn all about their requirements.

Do-It-Yourself vs. Formatting Tools vs. Paying a Professional

Finally, you need to figure out how you want to get your book from draft to formatted manuscript. This boils down to one of three options.

Do-It-Yourself Formatting

This is the cheapest but most time-consuming option and requires at least some proficiency with a tool like Microsoft Word or Google Docs. The good news is that it's easy to learn basic formatting, and most self-publishing platforms have templates you can use to make it even easier.

Pro tip: Dabble automatically formats your manuscript to industry standards when you export it. That means minimal tweaking to make it meet the needs of your self-publishing platform of choice.

The downside is that formatting yourself leaves room for unintentional errors, takes time, and limits any fancy things you may want to add—though fancy is far from a requirement for a great book.

Formatting Tools

A step up from doing it yourself is using a formatting tool to do most of the work for you. Usually, these platforms or pieces of software get you to plug in your manuscript and make some stylistic choices, and it does the rest. 

However, you can get pretty dang technical with some of them.

Here are some of the biggest players in this space:

Vellum - The original player in this game, Vellum is a comprehensive formatting tool that helps you prepare your book for any platform. The downside? It's only available for macOS systems.

Atticus - Completely web-based, Atticus can add standards and flair to your work using a sizeable number of predefined styles, fonts, and templates. It is straightforward to use and, compared to the other two tools, more affordable.

InDesign - Adobe's design tool is a freakin' powerhouse. Seriously, there's no end to what you can do when formatting with this software. That said, it is notoriously complex and will take some time to get the hang of, much less master.

Pay a Professional

Finally, you can just outsource the job to a professional.

There's almost no end to the specialized roles you can find for hire, including your book editing and formatting. Just be sure to do your due diligence and keep your budget in mind.

Some popular places to find book formatters include Fiverr, Upwork, Freelancer, and Reedsy.

Cover Design and Branding

The cover of your book is much more than just an artistic statement; it's one of your most important marketing tools. In an industry where visibility is critical to success, an eye-catching, well-designed cover can significantly influence a potential reader's decision to pick up your book.

It's essential to understand that your book cover acts as a visual sales pitch. It should be compelling enough to grab attention and intriguing enough to convey the essence of your story, prompting the reader to explore further.

Genre is incredibly influential, too. Each has its own visual language and expectations. Romance novels often feature warm, inviting imagery (and can be pretty steamy), while science fiction covers might lean towards bold, futuristic details, images of space, or designs that invoke the feeling of how freakin' big space is. 

Aligning your cover design with genre and reader expectations is crucial in attracting the right audience.

So let's discuss how we do that.

Designing Your Book Cover

Just like formatting, you can do your cover yourself or hire someone to do it.

DIY Design

Creating your own cover is a viable option for authors on a budget or with a knack for design. Tools like Canva or Adobe Spark provide user-friendly platforms with a variety of templates specifically tailored for book covers. 

When taking the DIY route, you must familiarize yourself with basic design principles, including color theory, typography, and image selection. These principles are fundamental in creating a cover that is not only visually appealing but also professionally polished.

I can't stress this enough: get plenty of outside feedback if you design your own cover. And I don't mean from your parents, friends, or writing buddies. I mean people who aren't going to mince words and who read a heck of a lot of your genre.

They are your audience, after all.

Hiring a Professional Designer

Hiring a professional is probably the best route if design isn't your forte. 

Finding a designer specializing in book covers is key, as they will have a deeper understanding of genre-specific trends and marketing tactics. 

Platforms like 99designs or Reedsy offer a pool of professionals with varied styles and rates, as do sites like Fiverr and Upwork. 

When working with a designer, clear communication is essential. Provide them with a detailed brief about your book's genre, themes, and target audience, and be open to their creative suggestions.

Feel free to go back and forth, too. You probably have a great idea of what you want, but your first (or second) brief will only partially articulate that.

Branding for Authors

I want to take a second to mention branding. Branding extends beyond just the cover of your current book. If you are writing a series or plan to publish multiple books, maintaining a consistent visual theme across your covers can help build brand recognition. 

Leaning into current cover trends can also be a great way to sell your books. If you leverage trends (without copying or plagiarizing other authors), you can tell your reader, "Hey, this is the kind of book you know you like."

Your branding can also extend to your author platform, including your website and social media profiles, to create a cohesive and recognizable author identity.

Key Elements of a Successful Cover

While your cover will mainly be informed by your story, genre, and brand, there are some critical pieces you can't miss.

On a successful cover, the title and author's name should be clear and prominent. You might not think about it, but what would your ideal cover look like in an online thumbnail where potential readers first encounter your book? 

The imagery and themes on the cover should reflect the content of your book in a way that's not overly complex. A cover that's too busy can be off-putting. A simple yet striking image can be much more effective.

Understanding color theory is helpful, too. Don't overload your cover with too many colors or you risk turning potential readers off. Pick a central shade to go with your ideas and work from there.

Choosing the Right Self-Publishing Platform

When you're done with all that formatting and cover design stuff, you need to get your book out there. Technically, this step should be done while you're formatting, but it's hard to write an article with parallel sections, you know?

Choosing your self-publishing platform shouldn't be understated. This is how your book gets in front of readers and earns those dollar bills. Each one comes with its pros and cons, too. Here's a quick breakdown of the most popular ones.

Kindle Direct Publishing - I've already espoused the fact that KDP is, at the time of writing, the biggest self-publishing platform. I mean that in terms of the number of authors who use it, the sales revenue it generates, and the reach it has with readers. KDP gets you on Amazon and into extended distribution and allows you to sell in e-book, paperback, and hardcover formats.

Smashwords - Smashwords is renowned for its broad distribution network. It's an ideal platform for authors who want to reach multiple retailers and libraries. Smashwords distributes to major outlets like Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books, and many others. Smashwords is particularly beneficial for authors prioritizing widespread distribution over Amazon's KDP's consolidated approach.

Draft2Digital (D2D) - Draft2Digital offers a user-friendly experience and is known for its excellent customer service. Like Smashwords, D2D distributes to a wide range of retailers, including Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. One of its standout features is its automated back matter creation, making it easier for authors to promote their other works or connect with readers. For authors seeking a straightforward, hassle-free publishing process with extensive distribution, Draft2Digital is a strong contender. Bonus: D2D now owns Smashwords, so you get two birds with one stone.

IngramSpark - IngramSpark is ideal for authors serious about print distribution, especially in the international market. It provides access to one of the largest distribution networks, reaching online retailers and physical bookstores globally better than any other distributor. However, it involves setup fees and has a steeper learning curve, but it offsets that by being a stellar print-on-demand service, too.

Apple Books - For authors targeting the Apple ecosystem specifically, publishing directly through Apple Books is an option. Apple Books offers a significant audience, especially among users of their devices. While it doesn't have the same reach as Amazon, it's a leading player in the e-book market. Publishing on Apple Books requires adherence to specific formatting guidelines, and ideally, you'll need access to a Mac for the easiest time.

Barnes & Noble Press - Barnes & Noble Press allows authors to publish both e-books and print books, giving you access to a vast network of Barnes & Noble readers. The platform is known for its simplicity and offers competitive royalty rates. Authors can also take advantage of promotional opportunities through Barnes & Noble's physical and online stores. For those looking to have a presence in a well-established bookstore chain, Barnes & Noble Press presents a unique opportunity.

Kobo Writing Life - Kobo Writing Life is the publishing arm of the Canadian company Kobo, known for its e-readers. It offers direct access to Kobo's e-bookstore and an expansive international market, with a particularly strong presence in Canada. The platform is straightforward and allows authors to set their book prices and control their rights. Kobo Writing Life is a worthwhile option for authors targeting the international e-book market outside Amazon's ecosystem.

Marketing Strategies for Self-Published Authors

While self-publishing has democratized writing and storytelling, the increasing number of books hitting the market means effective marketing is essential for any indie author wanting to make money.

There are a lot of different ways you can approach marketing, and some will jive better with you than others. I'm going to provide you with a boatload of different ideas; some are basically mandatory (like a website and email list) if you want to succeed, while others can work if you're willing to put in the effort.

Understanding Your Target Audience

The foundation of a successful marketing strategy lies in understanding who your book is for. Identifying and understanding your target audience is essential, as it informs every aspect of your marketing approach, from the cover design to the marketing channels you choose. 

Consider creating detailed buyer personas, which include characteristics like age, gender, interests, and reading preferences of your ideal reader. Research through social media, online forums, and reader reviews of similar books to gather insights about your target demographic.

Building an Online Presence

In the digital age, an author's online presence is vital. This includes having a well-designed author website and an active social media presence.

Author Website

Your website serves as the central hub for your author brand. It should include your biography, detailed information about your book(s), purchasing links, and a blog or news section. 

Regular updates and SEO optimization are crucial for increasing your website's visibility on search engines. This optimization involves using relevant keywords and meta descriptions and ensuring your site is updated with fresh content.

This doesn't mean every author needs a blog, though. Having a functioning website to attract readers, capture their email, and direct them to your books and social media is mandatory, but a blog is an option for taking your marketing to the next level.

Social Media

Choosing the right social media platforms is as important as it is overwhelming. These platforms should align with where your target audience is most active, whether it's Instagram, Twitter/X, Facebook, or TikTok. 

Engage with your followers regularly, which could include posting relevant content, commenting back and forth with followers, and participating in online communities related to your genre. Sharing behind-the-scenes content, snippets from your book, or interesting facts about your writing process can create a more personal connection with your audience.

Personal advice? Choose one or two platforms to focus on. Spreading yourself too thin over every social media site will lead to weaker content and burnout. Plus, it will take too much valuable time away from your writing!

Email Marketing

Building a mailing list is one of the most effective marketing tools at your disposal. While social media sites are effective, a simple change in the algorithm or a few bad actors can render all your months or years of effort down to nothing.

Does that kind of change happen often? No. But it has.

Your email list is one of the few things you have complete creative control and total ownership over. It is the single most viable marketing tool you will ever have.

So how do you build it?

Offer incentives such as a free chapter or an e-book in exchange for email sign-ups. If you're more established, reader magnets like novellas can be excellent ways to draw new readers.

Regular newsletters inform your audience about your book, upcoming events, or exclusive content. These emails should be engaging and valuable to your subscribers, providing them with relevant and exciting content. They shouldn't just be rehashes of your social content.

People have trusted you with a direct line to them. Appreciate that relationship. Cultivate it. And I guarantee it will reward you with diehard fans and sales.

Content Marketing

Content marketing involves creating and sharing valuable content related to your book's topic, genre, or themes, usually through regular blogging on your website. 

Topics might include writing tips, insights into your writing process, or discussions about the themes in your book. Guest posting on other blogs or websites can expand your reach and establish you as an authority in your genre.

Keep your target market in mind, though. I started my author career blogging about the craft of writing. But I wasn't writing books for writers; I was writing them for fantasy readers. So all that traffic I generated was—at least in terms of book sales—for nothing.

It ultimately helped me land this gig writing for DabbleU, though, so I can't say it was a waste of time!

Utilizing Amazon's Marketing Tools

If you are self-publishing with Amazon, make full use of the tools they provide. These are severely underleveraged by newer writers, so consider getting to know them better.

Amazon Author Central

Create a comprehensive author page on Amazon Author Central. This page should include your biography, photo, and a complete list of your books. 

Optimize your book description with keywords and carefully select the proper categories and subcategories to improve your book's discoverability on the platform.

It's important to understand that Amazon constantly updates their backend, tools, and basically everything in KDP. Keep your finger on the pulse of what's new in Author Central to make the best use of it.

Amazon Advertising

If you have the dosh to spend, consider using Amazon's advertising options, like Sponsored Products, to increase your book's visibility. These ads target readers browsing similar titles or searching for specific keywords. 

Additionally, promotional tools like Kindle Countdown Deals and Free Book Promotion can be effective in driving sales and visibility.

As always, think about your budget when spending money on marketing. If your book pulls in $50 a month with a $200 ad spend, you need to revisit the drawing board.

Engaging with Offline Marketing

While online marketing is crucial, don't overlook the power of offline marketing strategies. Not only can these be effective, but they're a lot of fun and give you a chance to interact with your fans!

Hosting book readings or signings at local bookstores, libraries, or community centers can be an effective way to connect with readers. 

Attending writing conferences or local events also provides networking opportunities with other authors, publishers, and potential readers.

While I haven't done it myself, genre fiction writers can check out expos and conventions to rent a booth at. There's an upfront cost involved, but it's a good way to get in front of hundreds, if not thousands, of potential readers.

Consider splitting a booth with another author, too. It'll save you money and give you a friend to chat with throughout the slower periods.

Get Those Reviews

Positive reviews and word-of-mouth are the bee's knees in the book industry.

Encourage readers to leave reviews if they enjoyed your book. Consider sending free copies to bloggers and reviewers in your genre. Reviews only sometimes happen on their own, so you need to let people know you rely on them.

Engaging with readers through your email list and on social platforms will encourage them to leave reviews, too.

At the same time, that sort of engagement can turn readers into advocates for your book outside of traditional reviewing platforms. Don't discount what good word-of-mouth can do for your self-publishing career.

Paid Advertising Beyond Amazon

Explore advertising opportunities beyond Amazon for a broader reach. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram offer targeted advertising options, allowing you to reach specific demographics, interests, and locations. 

BookBub, a popular platform among readers, also provides advertising options to help you reach a large, book-focused audience. However, it has some very stringent requirements to advertise with them.

I want you to promise me two things when it comes to paid advertising, though:

  1. Do your research - Advertising is complex. Spend the hours you need to understand the intricacies of the platform you're advertising on and the best practices for advertising your type of book.
  2. Don't overspend - Spending money on ads and hoping for the best is tempting. That's a sure way to burn money. Start small and scale when you find success. If your spending doesn't result in profit, think about ways to improve your advertising.

That second point leads me to…

Analyzing and Adjusting Your Strategy

A crucial part of marketing is analyzing the results of your efforts. Use analytics tools to track the effectiveness of your marketing strategies. Monitor metrics such as sales, website traffic, social media engagement, and email open rates. Be prepared to adjust your strategy based on these insights. 

Don't be afraid to make changes, either. If a particular social media platform isn't yielding results, consider reallocating your time and resources to more effective channels.

Marketing a self-published book requires a combination of creativity, persistence, and adaptability. Marketing is an ongoing process that requires all three of those things, all while staying engaged with your audience, being responsive to trends, and remaining flexible.

But if you can master one or two marketing avenues, self-publishing success will come.

5 Tips for Cost-Effective Self-Publishing

Self-publishing a book is an exciting journey but can also be costly if not approached strategically. As an independent author, balancing the desire for a dream product with the reality of self-publishing costs is a critical skill to master. 

So, to finish our guide, here are five tips for keeping your self-publishing cost-effective without compromising on quality.

1. Plan and Budget Meticulously

Effective planning is the cornerstone of cost-effective self-publishing. Start by creating a comprehensive budget. 

This budget should include all potential expenses: editing, cover design, formatting, ISBN purchase (if necessary), marketing, and any additional costs specific to your book, like illustrations or special formatting. Research average costs for each service to set realistic expectations. 

As you plan, prioritize expenses based on their impact. For example, a professional cover design might be more crucial than an extensive marketing campaign for your first book.

2. Embrace DIY Where Feasible

Doing things yourself can save significant costs. With a literal world of resources available, learning basic skills in areas like formatting or even cover design is feasible. 

Tools like Canva for cover design or Vellum for formatting can be cost-effective alternatives to hiring professionals. 

However, be mindful of your limitations—a poorly designed cover or a manuscript riddled with errors can cost you more in the long run in lost sales and damaged reputation.

3. Utilize Free and Low-Cost Marketing Strategies

Marketing doesn't have to break the bank. Leverage free or low-cost marketing strategies to promote your book whenever possible. 

Utilize social media platforms to build an audience and engage with potential readers. Create compelling content related to your book's worldbuilding for your blog or as guest posts on other websites. 

Email marketing is a powerful tool, and building an email list doesn't require a significant investment. 

Networking with other authors and participating in online groups can also effectively promote your book without incurring high costs.

Until you're at a point in your indie author career where you know how to spend effectively, save where possible.

4. Be Smart with Professional Services

While some aspects of self-publishing can be handled independently, certain steps in this process require professional assistance, like editing. Instead of opting for a full suite of professional services, be selective. 

If you're confident about your manuscript's structure, you might only need a copy editor rather than a comprehensive developmental edit. Similarly, for cover design, consider working with upcoming designers or design students who might offer competitive rates. 

Always—always—request and compare quotes and check portfolios before making a decision.

5. Set Realistic Expectations

This is by far the most difficult of these five tips. Writing a book, especially your first one, is exciting. It's what we dream about.

That excitement can lead to us justifying expenses we really shouldn't.

It's improbable your first couple of books will generate more than a few hundred dollars a month—if that.

I don't want to bum you out. That's not the point of this tip. Rather, I'd prefer you set your sights properly at first, then use your momentum, experience, and growing fan base to propel you to new heights where you can justify spending the big bucks on marketing…

Because you're making the bigger bucks on book sales.

Bonus Tip: Start By Writing a Great Novel

At the risk of sounding cheesy, you can only find self-publishing success by writing a dang good book. And that starts with you.

Luckily, I've got a few more things to help with that (and they're all free).

DabbleU has hundreds of articles on the craft of writing, ranging from character development to writing fight scenes to guides just like this one. Our non-spammy newsletter also delivers story craft goodness right to your inbox.

But we also have this free e-book to help you take your idea to a full-fledged first draft (getting you through the first three steps of the self-publishing process). It's over 100 pages and designed for writers just like you.

Finally, you need a writing tool worthy of a future bestselling author. Dabble offers all the features you need in an easy-to-use, modern writing platform. And you can try everything it has to offer for 14 days, absolutely free, without even entering your credit card info.

Now go get your story out into the world. We can't wait to read it.

Doug Landsborough

Doug Landsborough can’t get enough of writing. Whether freelancing as an editor, blog writer, or ghostwriter, Doug is a big fan of the power of words. In his spare time, he writes about monsters, angels, and demons under the name D. William Landsborough. When not obsessing about sympathetic villains and wondrous magic, Doug enjoys board games, horror movies, and spending time with his wife, Sarah.