How to Publish Like a Pro

How to Publish Like a Pro

Here’s where things get tricky.

Most writers will agree that writing a book is not inherently an easy thing to do. However, if you ask most published authors, especially self-published, they will typically tell you that they prefer the struggles of writing a book to the myriad complications and roadblocks when it comes to publishing and marketing.

But where there is great struggle, there is great reward. You may capture a reader’s heart with your dazzling prose and stellar character development, but you capture their money with informed publishing decisions and clever marketing strategies.

On a side note, if you missed the first part and want the lowdown on how to write a bestseller, be sure to check it out now!

I’ll let you in on a dirty secret, though. If you play your cards right, you can launch a book that’s published as professionally as they come without working yourself to death.

But here’s the rub: You will have to spend some money.

You Have to Spend Money to Make Money

Continuing the theme from part 1 of this series, we’re assuming that you’ll be self-publishing your book. And if you are, you’re going to have to shell out some money to make your book the best it can be.

The old adage “You have to spend money to make money” still rings true, and especially so when it comes to publishing. If you want to produce a bestseller, you’ll need to pay for many things, including but not limited to:

  • Editing.
  • Formatting.
  • Cover design.

It’s infinitesimally rare for a writer to make any significant amount of money without spending anything on publishing or marketing. And for those of you who think you’re the exception, consider that relying on dumb luck is not a good business model.

It’s never fun to hear that you’ll be asked to spend hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars on launching your book. Many authors become even more determined to do it cheaply when they hear such advice, as a matter of fact. Some are under the impression that they’ll do the bare minimum for now, and they’ll put whatever money they make back into the book and make it better later.

But why would you expect anyone to invest in you and your work if you won’t do it yourself?

Launching a book, starting a business, investing in the stock market . . . it’s all the same. If you want a big return, chances are that you’ll have to make a big investment. Of course, your chances of succeeding increase exponentially when you make informed decisions, and if you’re reading this article and taking notes, you’re on the right track.

Why Pay When You Can Do It Yourself?

The vast majority of authors take a look at the expenses they’ll need to make in order to have a bestseller on their hands, and they’ll instantly scoff, saying, “I can do that myself.”

After all, if you wrote the book, you might as well edit it. You speak English, don’t you? Should be common sense. And if not, your second cousin’s babysitter teaches high school English. She’ll work in a pinch.

Formatting? Piece of cake. Just insert a new page for each chapter, and BAM! Done.

As far as cover design goes, you may not be terribly artistic, but you can learn easily enough. And if you do have some experience in graphic design, there is absolutely no reason to pay someone else to do it.

Wrong. Wrong. Doubly wrong.

Refusing to pay for services that will make a book better is by far one of the biggest mistakes I see in authors around the globe. They’ll read endless books on writing and publishing, and they’ll take everything seriously . . . except for the part where they have to spend money.

Forget for a second that there are people who edit, format, and design covers for a living. All that aside, you are the single worst person to do it.

You’re the Worst

Let’s get one thing straight: You will have to self-edit your book, to an extent. You’ll always want to take a few weeks off, then come back to your manuscript with fresh eyes and trim the fat.

But once you’re happy with the second, third, whatever draft, you are not the person who needs to go over it with a fine-toothed comb and prepare it for publication. I don’t care if you have a degree in English.

Further, you may have a degree in graphic design, but you still shouldn’t be trying to make your own cover.

I’ll give you three compelling reasons why you shouldn’t attempt this kind of work yourself:

  1. Unconscious bias is a powerful drug that keeps you from seeing your own shortcomings.
  2. Personal taste can result in a book that looks perfect to you, but won’t connect with others.
  3. You have better things to do with your time. Say, I don’t know, writing?

Unconscious Bias

Our minds tend to interpret things in very subjective ways. It’s why confirmation bias exists; you’ve already decided something to be true, and your mind can’t help but find more reasons to back you up.

Likewise, when you try to edit your own words, your mind knows exactly what you meant to say, and it will try to fill in the gaps. You know very well that the sentence should read, “They knew their time had come,” and so when you come across it written as “They knew there time had come,” your mind has a nasty habit of automatically fixing the their/there error before you even notice.

There are a number of ways to counteract this, such as reading the book out loud, reading it backward, even changing the font so you’re forced to look at it in a new way. But at the end of the day, you’re the one who wrote the book. As such, you’re the one most familiar with the content. Therefore, you’re the worst one to edit it. Of course you’ll be able to spot a lot of these errors yourself. It’s just that much harder for you to do it than someone else.

You need someone with fresh eyes, someone trained in such work, someone who will read your words for the first time and spot errors with much more ease than you can. It’s not that you’re a poor writer; it’s that your mind can’t help itself.

Personal Taste

I mentioned in part 1 of this series that authors have a terrible habit of putting their own fantasies above that of their readers’, and that problem is not just limited to the writing process. Personal taste, or subjective preference, can be an absolute death knell for your publishing career. It’s what keeps you from making the right choice for your book because you like it better another way.

Maybe you don’t like the fancy fonts used on fantasy covers, so you opt for a modern sans-serif look that you feel is more appropriate. Or worse, you don’t think the font is fancy enough, so you choose one that’s nigh unreadable.

Back to the writing itself, perhaps you’ve forgotten that pleasing the reader is the easiest way to write a bestseller. If you refuse to hire an editor who will tell you the hard truth that the book isn’t working as-is, you may never know your crucial error. You’ll hit the Publish button, and you’ll spend years wondering why the reviews are mediocre and no one is buying book 2.

You Have Better Things to Do

We all wish for more time in our day to write. Novice writers want time away from their day job so they can finish the book they’ve always wanted to write. Career authors wish they didn’t have to spend so much time writing their newsletter and marketing on social media.

No matter what stage of the journey you find yourself in, buying back time to write is a beneficial side effect to hiring other people to prepare your book for publishing. It’s a huge advantage that many writers refuse to consider.

Writing is a lonely career, infamously so. We’re used to doing it ourselves. But if you want to publish the best book you can, find experts who can make it better, and start writing book 2.

But It’s So Expensive!

I won’t lie to you. It can be pretty expensive to publish a book. That’s why it’s especially worth considering whether you really want to do this for the money.

As we discussed last time, there’s nothing wrong with writing because it’s your escape, or because you have a special issue on your heart. But if you want to make a career out of it, you have some hard and costly decisions ahead of you.

For those willing to brave the journey and pay the price, keep reading. And for those still on the fence, keep reading anyway. With each aspect of publishing, I’ll include cheap alternatives so you can still produce a quality book without breaking the bank.

The Aspects of Publishing a Bestseller

While there can be a lot that goes toward preparing your manuscript into a book that you can be proud of, I’ll break it down into three major areas that are crucial when it comes to publishing a bestseller:

  1. Editing
  2. Formatting
  3. Cover Design

Editing

Yes, you need an editor. Everyone needs an editor.

I cringe anytime I hang out with a group of authors, and someone proudly says, “I don’t pay for an editor. I write pretty clean drafts.” I write clean drafts too, but you can bet that I have multiple eyes on my books before they go live (for reasons stated earlier).

For a lot of readers, there’s nothing that breaks immersion like a glaring typo. Or worse, structural issues like continuity errors, redundant sentences, plot holes, and redundant sentences.

When a reader is in the thick of the action, engrossed in the dialogue, and on the edge of her seat, there’s only one thing you want her to be concerned with: what happens next. If there’s anything else that stands in her way, you compromise the experience and leave a bad taste in her mouth.

Within the overarching subject of editing, you’ll need to invest in three different kinds in order to make your book as clean as possible:

  1. Developmental editing
  2. Line editing
  3. Proofreading

Developmental Editing

This is where an editor looks at big-picture issues. Does the story flow? Do the characters’ actions make sense? Does the plot drag on for too long in the middle?

It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture when you’re in the middle of a draft. You don’t fall prey to this as much if you’ve outlined your book beforehand, but it can still happen.

Here’s where personal taste can really hurt you, and where “kill your darlings” comes into play.

Perhaps your favorite chapter is one where you take a break from the action to write a 5,000-word backstory for your villain that really fleshes out his characterization. Can it work? Possibly. But in the vast majority of cases, this is a jarring change of pace that turns a raging bonfire of conflict into a heap of cooling embers.

I’ve cut thousands upon thousands of words from my books in the name of making it better. Sometimes I’ve added thousands. It all depends on what the story needs to make it better for the reader.

Do I do it perfectly? No. But I don’t hold back when my editor gives me negative feedback on an aspect of my work. I ruthlessly cut and add where necessary. I’m one of the few writers who actually enjoys revising their work. Why? Because long ago, I realized that I’m making my book better.

And that’s what really matters.

What you can expect to pay:

$0.07–$0.10/word.

DISCLAIMER: The prices suggested in this article are very rough estimates. Editors vary wildly in rate, but a good rule of thumb is that if you’re paying on the very low end, the work will be of a very poor quality. I’m also not including the rates of the most in-demand editors, sought after by big-name authors and publishers.

Developmental editing is typically the most expensive kind of revision. Your editor will be reading through the entire book at least once, usually two to three times. They’ll be pointing out specific issues and sometimes suggesting a number of ways to solve them.

I advise you to very carefully select an editor, and I insist that you find one that primarily works in your specific genre. A developmental editor can work miracles on your book, and if they know your genre like the back of their hand, you’ll have found your new best friend.

Super Saver Strategies

If you’re a seasoned author, or if you’re desperate to save money, you can rely on your beta readers for developmental feedback.

You may not know what beta readers are, and that’s a conversation for another day, but if you have a reliable team of ATD (attention-to-detail) readers who don’t mind reading messy drafts, they can be utilized as a form of developmental editors.

I recommend selecting only a handful of readers for this kind of work. You don’t want too many opposing opinions, or it’ll just make your life harder and more confusing. Be incredibly picky when you’re selecting this special team of readers–you want those who regularly read your specific genre and who know it inside and out.

It’s not the same as an expert helping you polish your narrative, but you can squeak by if you have a particularly stellar beta team.

Line Editing

Here’s where we get a little more specific. A line (sometimes “copy”) editor’s job is to go through your book, line by line, and clean up everything from missing words, extra words, misspellings, improper grammar–basically everything that most people think of when they think of an editor. They’ll even handle things like continuity errors if they see them. Gotta make sure your main character’s hair stays blonde throughout the book!

Hiring an editor should be a no-brainer, but many authors skip this step entirely. Or (only slightly better) they’ll either do it themselves, which we already established as a poor choice.

I won’t stress this point more than I already have because it’s really not that complicated. Get an editor.

What you can expect to pay:

$0.03–$0.07/word.

Super Saver Strategies

The program ProWritingAid is a lifesaver for those desperate to save money on line editing. It’s far, far better than most options on the market (including the overrated Grammarly), and it will do a fine job of identifying a whole host of issues with your manuscript. I use it when self-editing (before an editor even lays eyes on it), and I particularly like the “Repeats” function so my characters aren’t smiling every other paragraph.

I would never rely on any program to take the place of a human editor, but ProWritingAid is a far sight better than nothing if you’re truly broke. It’s definitely better than just running your manuscript through a word processor’s spelling and grammar checker.

Proofreading

This stage of editing technically takes place after formatting, but while we’re here…

Proofreading is vital, and it serves as the last line of defense before publishing. A proofreader’s job is to catch any small issue that the line editor might have missed, such as missing punctuation, similar words like your/you’re, and capitalization errors. They even look at a proof copy of the book and examine the front and back covers.

I would go so far as to say that the vast majority of writers skip this step and go straight from a line edit to publishing. To many, it sounds redundant, like a waste of money. But as someone who’s worked in the industry, I’ve heard way too many horror stories of when authors either skip the proofreader or hire an amateur. I know of one case where an incredibly famous book (you’d know it if I told you) was missing a word on the spine when it went to print.

I know it sounds like yet another expense that you could live without, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

What you can expect to pay:

$0.01–$0.03/word.

Super Saver Strategies

While a proofread seems like a redundant step, it is still quite crucial. So before you neglect it entirely, I’ll begrudgingly offer a few alternatives.

  • ProWritingAid (5/10)

    • Its weakness here is that it can’t read a formatted document. But at least it can take a final manuscript and do a somewhat comprehensive search for any issues that snuck by you and the line editor. At the end of the day, it’s still a program and sometimes gets confused by there/their/they’re.
  • Beta readers (6/10)

    • If you have a beta reader that is incredibly ATD and catches just about anything, they can serve in a pinch (if they really like you).
  • A trusted ATD friend (7/10)

    • If you know someone with the patience and the eagle eye needed to proofread a book, this can kind of work.
  • Just publish it anyway (0/10)

    • To be fair, the easiest and cheapest way to know that there are typos in your book is to just publish it and let the reviews warn others. It’s very effective, but I can’t say I recommend it.

Formatting

Another popular pitfall for authors is formatting. If you buy a book, you can tell in seconds whether or not it’s self-published.

Tell me, which one do you think looks more professional?

Book formatting example - 1 Professional book formatting example

You see, it’s uncanny how many authors will take their manuscript from Word and immediately upload it, thinking it looks fine the way it is.

But this is why there can be such a stigma toward self-publishers. So many novice authors don’t put in the minimum effort to look professional.

Do the right thing. Hire a formatter.

What you can expect to pay:

$100–$500.

Super Saver Strategies

Here’s where I’ll cut you a break. You don’t have to hire a formatter.

But if you don’t, you’d better do the next best thing and purchase Vellum, another program that can generate beautiful books with the press of a button.

No, I’m not sponsored by them, despite my weekly emails begging them to give me money.

In all seriousness, Vellum is by far one of the most useful programs I own. It’s so easy that a child could do it, and it creates professional-looking books with very little effort. You can literally take the Word document your manuscript lives in, put it in Vellum, and have a beautiful book in seconds.

There’s obviously a little more work you’ll need to do before it’s perfect, but you really can’t ask for much more. I’ve never hired a formatter, and I don’t think I ever will unless I need something extremely custom. Vellum’s just that good.

Cover Design

If you ever want a good laugh, go on Facebook and look in author communities where people submit their covers for feedback.

As I’ve said, some authors are hell-bent on not spending a dime when publishing their book. So they’ll go on Canva, Amazon’s cover creator, even Microsoft Word, and they’ll try to design their own cover.

The results are either hilarious or depressing, depending on how you look at it. It truly boggles the mind to think about how someone hits Save on something like this and thinks it’s a good cover:

Example of bad cover design

And I’m barely exaggerating.

I’m not one of the people who finds it funny. I honestly get frustrated. I don’t know if it’s because these people are giving indie authors a bad name, they’re doing their book a disservice, I’m offended by poor design . . . I honestly don’t know what it is, but this is one of my pet peeves.

You could write the best book in the world, but if it has a cover like that, it will not make any money.

While we’re here, another thing authors hate to do is turn complete creative control over to a cover designer. They’ll give their designer a very specific vision that they have in mind for their cover. But 99% of the time, that vision will not be the right choice. It’ll be too limited by personal preference. This is why authors who are skilled with graphic design typically don’t make genre-appropriate covers for their books. They’re blinded by preference.

You’re far better off giving the synopsis to a designer, maybe with a very vague suggestion of composition or style, and letting them work their magic. They know the genre. They’ll make a cover that works, whether it fits your preconceived vision or not.

But that’s assuming you hire a designer at all. Which you should. If you want to make a living as an author, this is one area where you will have to suck it up. Pay someone to design it for you, or pay the price later on.

What you can expect to pay:

$50–$1,000.

This one’s tricky. You can get a perfectly suitable cover for $100, or you can get an amazing one for $1,000. You’ll also find very skilled artists who undercharge for their work. If I were you, I’d find a bestselling indie author in your specific genre and ask them who does their cover art. That tip right there is worth the price of admission. To pay me, go buy my books or something.

Seriously. No matter what advice you get on Facebook, no matter what author refers you to what designer, the best designer for your book is probably the person who designed the cover of the #1 bestseller. They know what works.

Super Saver Strategies

No. Just no.

If I were to hypothetically recommend an alternative way to save money on a cover, it would be to find a premade cover. But they’re rarely good, and they’ll rarely fit your book, but it probably looks better than something you design yourself. So I’ll let that hypothetical remain a hypothetical.

I’m breaking my pattern of offering cheap alternatives. Just hire someone.

Other Expenses

What? Still more things to pay for?

Shhh . . . we’re almost done.

Thankfully, there isn’t much more you’ll need to spend money on in terms of publishing. Marketing is a completely different story, of course, so be sure to check back soon for the final part of this series.

But as far as publishing goes, you may need to pay for a few more things.

  • ISBNs

    • If you only publish ebooks via Amazon, you likely won’t need to purchase ISBNs since they provide one for you. But if you want to publish paperbacks, audiobooks, etc., you’ll need to procure some.
    • Be sure to purchase these in packs of 10/100. Chances are you’ll need several throughout the course of your career, and they are insanely expensive when you buy them one at a time.
  • Audio

    • If you really want to make an audiobook, you’ll need a narrator. I don’t recommend doing it yourself since it’s a huge time suck. It’s also a very specific skill set that many don’t have. Some narrators are paid via royalty share, but typically the good ones are not.
  • Copyright

    • Technically, you have copyright as soon as you put words on a page (I’m not a lawyer, so don’t quote me to a judge). But if you want to be extra safe, you can purchase a copyright, and it’s not terribly expensive.
  • Therapy

    • This is hard work. Keep your head on straight, please.

Hitting the Publish Button

Once you have all your ducks in a row, you’re just about ready to release your book! We’ll talk later about the marketing you’ll need to do before you launch, but as far as managing the publishing, you’re just about done.

There is some nuance when it comes to setting up the metadata (keywords, etc.) on your book, and I’ll leave that for another article or to your own Google-fu. It may be worth hiring a professional to help you get through this part of the process as well if you’re not keen on spending the time.

Before I leave you, there’s one more element you’ll need to consider that plays a huge role…

A Brief Word on Title

What you name your book can have a pretty big impact on how easy it is to find. It also can affect reader perception in a way that either encourages or discourages a sale.

It should go without saying that the title needs to spark intrigue. I also discourage you from putting a bunch of made-up words in the title. “The Myrxian Chronicles” doesn’t really mean much to someone looking for a fantasy series, and it therefore won’t generate much interest. You’d think a unique name is more important than connecting with potential readers, but you’d be wrong.

Keyword Stuffing

If you’ve spent any amount of time on Amazon, chances are you’ve seen titles like:

  • Wilder West: A Historical Action/Adventure Cowboy Western
  • Boys Just Wanna Have Scrum: A Coming of Age Sports Comedy
  • A Weekend on His Private Island: A Tropical Billionaire Erotic Romance

The authors of these books are employing a strategy called keyword stuffing. Basically, they’re jamming as many keywords related to their book as possible into the title so that anyone who searches those words are bound to come across their books sooner or later.

It’s kind of tacky, I know. But data seems to suggest that this tactic works. And at some point, you need to ask yourself if money or class is more important to you. I believe there’s a balance you can strike where you make good money without sacrificing creative integrity, but you have to decide where that line is for yourself.

As for me, I want to experiment with my next series, so it will probably have the subtitle An Urban Fantasy Mystery. I’ll let you know how it works out for me!

Pricing

And finally, you now get to decide exactly how much money you want to make. Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy. Whole books have been written on how much you need to price your book in order to make the most money.

Do you want to offer it for a low price and get more readers?

Or are you okay with fewer readers, but offering your book at a premium?

Again, the amount of thought people have put into this question is staggering. And rightfully so! This is not an easy question to answer, but I’ll give you a starting point: Look at similar books in your genre (independently published), and set your book around the same price. Obviously, if your book is much shorter, it’s hard to do this without backlash. But comparing similar books in your genre should give you a good starting point.

Beyond that, I highly recommend reading something like Pricing Strategies by Craig Martelle for a thorough treatise on the subject.

You Can’t Relax Yet!

And with that, we’ve come to the end of our discussion on publishing. I hope you’re much more comfortable with the idea of spending money now; if you never make that jump, it will be incredibly difficult to launch a profitable career.

Now what? Well, passive bestsellers aren’t really a thing anymore. There was a sweet spot several years ago where, if you launched your book properly, you would get love from the Amazon algorithm for the rest of its shelf life. It was somewhat rare, but still quite possible if you knew what you were doing.

Today, the market is far too saturated. People have caught on that it is more possible than ever to make a living as an author, and everyone’s trying it now. Yes, the vast majority of them are uninformed and will see nothing for their efforts. Of course, I applaud those who put in the work to write a full-length book and publish it. I respect their dedication, even if their covers are painful to look at for more than a couple seconds at a time.

But the damage is done, if you will. The market is oversaturated, and it takes some serious effort to stand out and consistently sell.

However, if you’re reading this, you are not uninformed. You know what it takes to write and publish a bestseller. So be sure to stay tuned for Part 3, the epic conclusion where you will get a crash course in marketing and find out how to keep your book selling for the rest of your life.


How to Publish Like a Pro
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