Comic book, cookbook, travel guide, children’s book, educational text, memoir, manga series, or the next great novel … 2021 is here and it’s time to finish the book you’ve been writing and present it to the world. 

Perhaps you’ve decided to publish your book and market it on Amazon, the world’s largest bookstore. In so doing, you will maintain creative control of your work and own your copyright. Print-on-demand means no minimum orders. You will not have to shell out money for boxes of books that live in your trunk and garage. And your book will never be out of stock as Amazon presents it to readers throughout a behemoth international distribution network. 

Since it’s owned by Amazon, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is a convenient self-publishing platform for many indie authors. Books published on KDP link directly to Amazon and can earn royalties of up to 60 percent of the list price (minus printing costs), and 70 percent for ebooks, depending on the type of book.  

There are many other self-publishing platforms, including Lulu, IngramSpark, BookBaby, Blurb, Draft2Digital—all offering author support for every step of the publishing journey. If your heart is set on selling your book as a hardcover, for example, IngramSpark would be a better fit than KDP. Before committing your time and money or signing any agreements, research your options and find the print-on-demand platform best suited for your objectives, or use a combination of services.   

To make a self-publishing income stream a reality, you will wear a lot of hats and accomplish the 25 tasks listed below. Read all before you start. Many steps should be worked on concurrently. Don’t worry about making some “mistakes.” The process is forgiving. Jump in!  

Decide which jobs you can do yourself, and which you will contract out. Use every business and artistic decision as an opportunity to reinforce your author brand.   

1.  Write the best book possible. If you need help getting started or finishing your manuscript, non-profit organization NaNoWriMo offers tools, structure, community and encouragement. Or you could hire a ghostwriter.  

Writing is rewriting. The process goes something like this: Write your first, second and third drafts. Submit pages to your critique group. Rewrite. Submit your manuscript to beta readers. Rewrite. Hire an editor. Rewrite. Polish your manuscript to a glossy sheen. Now you have the body of the book.

2.  Decide how you want your book to physically look and feel. Stack up books you admire and study them. Educate yourself to the particular trim sizes, fonts and other characteristics that are conventional for different genres. Notice, for example, that young adult fiction may have a more playful or graphic look to its layout and elements than does narrative nonfiction.

3. Hire an artist or graphic designer for illustrations, tables, maps or chapter heading designs. Or master Photoshop and do this yourself, ensuring all images are a resolution of at least 300 dpi (for print), 96 or 72 dpi for an ebook.

4. Prepare the Front Matter (most of which is optional): the frontispiece (illustration facing the title page), title page, copyright page, dedication, epigraph (quotation or saying intended to suggest a theme), table of contents, foreword or preface, prologue or introduction.  

The one requirement of the copyright page is the copyright notice, i.e. the copyright symbol © or the word “copyright”, the year of the first copyright, and the copyright holder’s name or identifier.  

Other elements of the copyright page may include:

• International Standard Book Number (ISBN). Acquire the ISBN free of charge when you set up your title on KDP (Step 12 below) or purchase ISBNs from Bowker.com (the company which handles ISBNs for the United States) and type the 13-digit number on the copyright page.

•  Library of Congress Control Number—Apply for one (no charge) at www.loc.gov/publish/prepubbooklink/    

•  Rights and permissions

•  Disclaimer

•  Edition information

•  Design, production, editing, illustration credits

•  Publisher’s address or city

•  Ordering information

•  Trademark notices

•  Author website

•  Country where the book was printed

5. Prepare the Back Matter. Much is optional and may include: epilogue or conclusion, appendix or addendum, chronology or endnotes, bibliography and references, list of contributors, copyright permissions and acknowledgements, glossary, author’s note (including contact invitation), and a teaser for the next book or the installment in the series.  

Link the Front Matter + Body + Back Matter = That’s Your Book!

6. Design the book or hire a book designer. This is a centuries-old art form, not pages slapped between a cover.  Every element from font type to chapter headings and scene-separating symbols is an opportunity to tell your story and reinforce your author brand.

7.  Format the book or hire a book formatter. Microsoft Word is capable of formatting many projects. Adobe InDesign is also a powerful design tool. Formatting is a detail-oriented task involving running headers, pagination, beginning chapters on a right-facing page, and banishing widows, orphans and unintentional blank space. Be thorough and consistent. Don’t be intimidated by terms like recto, verso, kerning and leading. You’re a publisher and an author – master the language! Kindle Direct Publishing has a Tools and Resources step-by-step formatting guide, and Kindle Create, a free desktop app that offers templates. The Smashwords Style Guide by Mark Coker is the boss for ebooks.

Turn your formatted book into a single pdf file, which is the interior of your book.

8. Design the cover or hire a cover designer. Write the back cover copy. Despite the adage, readers will judge your book by its cover. KDP offers Cover Creator, a free tool to design a simple cover that meets KDP specifications. Whatever your design method, choose simple elements so your cover will read well and stand out among Amazon’s thumbnail images. 

To get the exact dimension needed for the cover, you’ll need to know the precise width of the book’s spine. To know the precise width of the spine, you’ll need to know the precise number of pages in the book, and the interior paper type (white or the thicker cream color). When you input these details, KDP provides a cover template with the exact dimensions needed, and space for the barcode. Format your cover accordingly, and save it as a pdf. Note: the barcode will automatically be specific to your book’s ISBN number and (optional) the book’s pricing information.  

9. Plan the book launch campaign. Shall your release date dovetail with something significant to your subject matter? Plan virtual/remote events with readers during the excitement of your new book release by scheduling a calendar of promotions now. Write a press release and set up who will receive it and when. Prepare a list of reviewers who will receive an advance reader copy (ARC) of your opus. 

Amazon rankings are influenced by a flurry of sales activity in a short period of time, within your book’s specific category. So take advantage of the initial hoopla to affect a spike in sales, and definitely push pre-sales.

Build, maintain or augment your author platform, which includes your website, mailing list, social media activity, signings, readings, and reviews. You want your book to arrive hot-off-the-press to fanfare! Don’t let your social media presence lapse just because you are in formatting purgatory. Schedule six months of posts in advance.  

10. Use your email list to keep fans and readers in the loop, inviting them to pre-purchase the book, and let them count down with you to the release date and its celebratory events.   

Congratulations! If you have completed the above ten steps, you’ve accomplished the work of a team of publishing professionals. Authors who select Amazon’s KDP will find the platform to be straightforward and user-friendly. Other self-publishing platforms will have very similar next steps. 

Remember, as indy-author you are the ultimate and ONLY source for your book. If you’re new to this, you may make mistakes. Correct them. You are not Simon & Schuster. You offer an artisanal product. Put forth your best effort, and build ethical, personal relationships with your readers and publishing associates.

Writing and publishing a book takes effort. The result will be an asset that has legs, that helps establish your brand and defines your legacy.