If you’re an entrepreneurial writer wondering: how can I self publish my book? this article was written for you.
Self-publishing nonfiction books today is more accessible and cost-effective than it’s ever been, but it’s also quite an involved process, and to succeed you’ll need to know the right steps to follow. In this article I’ll show you the steps required to go from book idea to books in hand in the most effective way.
If you’re a first-time author, you may have several questions, like:
- Where can I self-publish my book?
- What’s the best approach to self-publish?
- How do I self-publish on Amazon?
- What are the steps to self-publish a book?
I’ll answer these questions in detail and I’ll also show you the strategies and tactics that will ensure that your nonfiction book is the best it can be.
I’ll begin with the most important step of all. If you nail this step, you’ll be off to a great start. If you don’t get this right, you’ll struggle with your book.
Let’s get started!
Step 1: Know Your Audience
The most successful nonfiction books are created for a very specific audience. Those authors deeply know their readers’ hopes, dreams, fears, and most importantly: the main problem that is afflicting them (which their book will help them solve).
For individuals, the problem could be related to issues with their physical or psychological health, finances, careers, etc. For businesses, it could be issues related to revenue, profits, management, efficiency, culture, and so on.
In short, your audience has been experiencing a high level of pain for quite a while and your nonfiction book’s job is to make that pain go away.
What’s the Pain You’re Solving?
People experience problems with different degrees of pain. Some problems cause a relatively low level of pain – let’s call this a level 1 pain (say, someone wants to lose a 10-15 lbs. over the next six months for their summer vacation in Hawaii).
At the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find problems with level 10 pain (say, someone needs to lose 10-15 lbs. over the next six months because their doctor told them that they’re at very high risk for serious health consequences).
When you solve a problem for your readers, a greater urgency of the problem makes your book more critical to them. The difference between an average nonfiction book and a compelling one is the level of pain that you’re helping your audience solve.
In other words, the difference isn’t dependent on your specific solution (in this case: your fool-proof technique to lose 10-15 lbs. over six months) but the audience that you’re targeting with that solution.
Create your Audience Avatar
Let me reiterate this point: your book will find success when it can solve a level 9 or 10 pain for your audience. If you’re only targeting a level 1 or 2 pain – even with the exact same solution – your book just won’t be as compelling.
Therefore, your job now is to identify the perfect audience for your solution. You’ll need to research what type of level 9 or 10 pain your solution can solve and then you’ll need to find out who these people are.
Some of them may be current clients. Some may be other people you know in your circle. Some may be groups of people covered in the news.
You’ll need to interview clients (tell them you’re doing research to write a book), visit forums and Facebook groups, do searches on the web, etc. in order to find out as much as possible about your target audience.
You need to learn about their hopes and dreams, their fears and worries, and you need to compile all this information and use it to create the profile of your perfect audience member.
Let’s call this profile your audience “avatar.” Create a document listing all this information. Give your audience avatar a name, gender and age and get a head shot from a free stock photography website to give them a face.
Give them a profession, a marital status, a household income. Do they have children? What is their age and gender? Are the children single, married, do they still live at home?
Why so much detail? Because when you write your book, you’ll be addressing it exclusively to this individual (if your audience is made up of women as well as men you’ll need to create two separate avatars).
Step 2: Define Your Book Idea
Now that you know exactly who you’re going to be writing your book for and what their level 9 or10 pain problem is, it’s time to define your book’s central idea.
What’s this idea? Simple: it’s your unique solution addressed to your perfect audience suffering from a level 9 or 10 pain problem.
Continuing with the above example, your main idea might be: “Effective Weight Loss for Diabetes Sufferers.” A big mistake first-time authors make is not doing this research work ahead of time, and targeting their solution to a broad audience instead – for example: “Effective Weight Loss.”
The reason they don’t find success is that they’re jumping headfirst into a massively competitive playing field where they instantly become a tiny fish in a huge pond. There’s a saying in the marketing and sales world that reflects this approach: “Market to everybody and sell to no one.”
Make sure that your main idea addresses a specific sub-group of people who experience a common high level of pain and you’ll find a vein of gold.
Step 3: Write Your Manuscript
Now it’s time to write your manuscript. You’ll never have to fear facing a blank page because as an expert in your field all the ideas for your book are already stored in your brain.
They’re built into the years of experience in your industry, the years of solving problems for your clients, the years fine tuning your craft, and so on. Your goal now is to simply “download” this information from your brain onto the written page.
Create Your Mind Map
The technique that you’re going to use is called “mind mapping.” This is a simple but very effective methodology that consists of writing your book’s main idea in the center of a large piece of paper (or a whiteboard if you have one).
Then, you’ll draw branches coming out radially from the center that list all the key topics that are required in order to support your book’s main idea. Next, you’ll draw sub-branches coming out of the topics to break them down into subtopics.
Repeat this branching process until you feel you’ve reached the depth that’s right for your book. This diagram will be the “mind map” of your book.
The reason mind mapping is so effective is that it mimics the way your brain naturally stores and retrieves information. Now you’re ready to use this information to structure your book.
Create Your Book Outline
The next step is to convert your mind map into a book outline. In essence, your main idea will become the basis for the title of your book, the topics that support this idea will become the basis for your chapters and the sub-topics will become the basis for your sub-chapters.
Write down your book outline as a numbered list using your favorite word processor (remember to hit the tab key for each sub-topic to create a sub-numbered list under each main topic). You’ll now use this outline to write your manuscript.
To begin, pick the topic or subtopic that inspires you the most and start writing. Nonfiction books don’t need to be written in sequence – your ordered list will take care of the flow.
You’ll notice that by following this technique you’ll never be at a loss for words. All the outline is doing is jogging your memory to open the floodgates of thoughts and ideas so that they can come down from your brain to the keyboard.
Step 4: Create an Advance Reader Group
Now it’s time to assemble your advance reader group. You’ll need to enlist a group of members of your target audience you know and trust so that you can pass on each chapter to them as you complete it to receive early feedback.
These people could be your clients, clients of colleagues, or people you know that could benefit from your book. It’s critical that your advance-reading group is not made up of family, friends and colleagues, unless they happen to be members of your target audience.
The reason you want to develop this early feedback loop is to ensure that what you think your audience needs actually resonates with them. If your book is written to address areas that don’t fully resonate with your audience – even if your content is perfect for them – your writing will fall on deaf ears.
By receiving this feedback while you shape your book you can ensure that when your writing is done it’ll be a perfect match for your target audience.
Imagine if you wrote your entire manuscript first and only then circulated it to test readers. If it didn’t resonate with them, you’d be forced to restart from scratch resulting in a lot of wasted time and energy.
Step 5: Hire a Professional Editor
Once your manuscript is completed to the best of your abilities (this will require at least a couple of top-to-bottom rewrites to clean it up), it’s time to enlist the help of a professional nonfiction editor.
As I’ve mentioned in several other articles, since every single successful author uses an editor, so should you. After all, you’ll be competing with traditionally published books that are professionally edited and you should do no less.
Also, your book will represent your professionalism and your reputation, and this is an area where you can’t afford to cut corners.
When it comes to the editing process you’ll have to go through three distinct passes, as follows.
Content editing will take care of the structural aspects of your manuscript, such as:
- The logical flow of ideas
- The relevance of those ideas
- Your presentation
- Overall strengths and weaknesses
The editor will mark up your manuscript with recommendations for those areas that you need to rewrite in order to create a better reading experience.
The next pass, copyediting, will take care of:
- Incorrect spelling
- Grammar and punctuation
- Awkward use of words and phrases
- Removal of nonessential words and so on
The final pass, proofreading, will take care of quality checking your manuscript so that it’s ready for layout. It includes:
- Scanning your manuscript line by line looking for typos
- Formatting inconsistencies
- Incorrect references
- General fact checking
Step 6: Hire a Professional Book Designer
Once your manuscript is print-ready, you’ll need to hire the next set of professionals – book layout and cover designers. They’ll take care of designing the inside of your book as well as creating a strong book cover that matches the quality of titles you’ll be competing with.
Your book layout designer will take care of:
- Choosing your book’s fonts
- Laying out the text and any graphic elements that may be required
- Designing the headings
- Subheadings and chapter pages
- Inserting headers and footers
- Front matter (e.g. copyright page, table of contents, etc.)
- Back matter (e.g. afterword, index, etc.)
They’ll make sure that your book is up to nonfiction industry standards. For that reason, this is a function you don’t want to outsource to non-professionals, such as family and friends.
Nonfiction layouts are very specific and require a deep understanding of the rules of the trade. Anything that falls short of that will look amateurish in the eyes of industry gatekeepers – even if it looks okay to you.
These folks could be radio-show producers that are considering you for an expert interview, decision makers that can open doors for you in your industry, or event managers that book speakers for conferences.
They’ve been pitched thousands of books in their careers and will know an amateur design when they see it.
The same goes for your book cover – it must be professionally designed.
The nonfiction genre requires a very specific type of book cover and only professionals understand the rules of the trade. Now, there are many book-making software tools that create pretty-looking covers. But pretty doesn’t mean professional.
You don’t want decision makers and gatekeepers to disqualify your book before they even open it – don’t try creating the cover yourself or giving it to a nephew that knows how to use Photoshop.
You need to create a product that competes with successful nonfiction authors, and that includes hiring a professional cover designer.
Step 7: Publish Your Book!
Now, you’re a finally ready to self-publish! Your book layout and book cover designer will produce print-ready files. These files will need to be uploaded into self-publishing services that will make your book widely available for distribution.
The two best services for self-publishing nonfiction authors are shown below.
Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)
KDP is the self-publishing arm of Amazon, the largest online bookstore in the world. This service will make your printed book available for direct ordering through Amazon websites in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Japan.
KDP has on-demand printing facilities in those regions, which allows it to receive an order of your book, print the number of copies ordered immediately and ship them the same day they’re printed.
This advanced printing technology allows them to deliver books as if they had them in stock without any inventory cost and without taking up space in warehouses.
For worldwide distribution to brick and mortar bookstores as well as online bookstores not owned by Amazon, you’ll need to use a different service, as shown below.
IngramSpark is a division of Ingram, the largest book distributor in the world for bookstores and libraries.
IngramSpark works in a similar fashion as KDP: your designers will upload print-ready files into their platform, and these files will be distributed to the various on-demand printing facilities that they operate around the world.
Now that you have all your distribution bases covered, you can consider yourself self-published!
If you follow the above seven steps to go from book idea to books in hand, you’ll be able to self-publish a nonfiction book that’ll resonate with your audience, that’ll meet the quality standards of the trade and books you’ll be competing with, and that’ll be widely available for ordering throughout the world.
Your job now is to begin promoting your book and give it all you’ve got to reach out to your audience so that you can be of service to as many people in your niche as possible.
All the best on your self-publishing journey!
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to just to generate additional leads for their businesses.
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Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of 6 books published through Harper Collins (NY) and Titan Publishing Group (UK). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press and the founder/CEO of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, printing, distribution and marketing.