Before we can talk about the steps to publish a book, we first need to explore the two main publishing avenues available to entrepreneurial writers like you: traditional publishing and self-publishing. Each is ideally suited to a different class of author.
Traditional publishing works best for authors that already have a track record and a strong following, because this business model is predicated on projected book sales. The more “solid” those sales projections are, the more likely that you’ll land a book deal.
How Hard Is It to Get Published?
It depends. If this isn’t your first book, you’ll have to supply publishers with a verifiable record of past book sales. It doesn’t matter how these sales were achieved (workshops and seminars, direct marketing, bookstores, etc.) as long as you can show records of legitimate sales.
If you’re a first-time author, however, it gets a bit trickier because you’ll have to convince the publisher that sales will materialize when your book comes out. How can you do this? Possibly by demonstrating that you have a sizeable email list that has converted in the past and/or a large following on social media.
How sizeable? For an email list, we are talking tens of thousands of opt-in email addresses and for social media a hundred thousand followers/subscribers or more.
The bottom line is, traditional publishers need to be convinced that you actually have a sizeable audience that’s ready to buy your upcoming book, and you’ll have to be more convincing that all the other authors that’ll be competing for the publisher’s consideration!
How Long Does It Take to Publish a Book?
If you’re an entrepreneur, a small business owner or a professional writing a nonfiction book to take your business or your career to the next level, traditional publishing presents another problem in addition to high barriers to entry.
The traditional publishing timelines are extremely long, to the point that from the time you successfully connect with a literary agent (they’ll submit your proposal to the publisher) to the time your book comes out, it’ll take an average of two years.
In my opinion, this timeline is not well-suited for most entrepreneurial authors because two years is too long a time to be leaving money on the table, especially when there’s a more viable alternative that can cut this time in half.
How Do I Self Publish My Book?
Self-Publishing has many flavors, from free online self-publishing platforms like Lulu.com through the do-it-yourself approach where you hire and project-manage all the contractors required for the publishing process, to assisted self-publishing through author services firms. Let’s look at all of them:
Free online self-publishing
These platforms aren’t really designed for entrepreneurial nonfiction authors because they put out products with an amateurish feel (i.e. you get what you pay for).
This is not well-suited for you because to publish nonfiction successfully you’ll need to meet the high standards expected in the industry – your self-published book will have to look and feel as professional as any traditionally published book.
This is actually a good bar to meet because your book will become an extension of your reputation and professionalism and you simply cannot afford to be perceived as amateurish.
This approach entails hiring all the necessary professional freelancers to produce a top-notch product. At a minimum you’ll need to hire a nonfiction editor, a book designer and a book marketing and promotion specialist.
If money is no object, you’ll be able to pursue this path. Where it gets trickier, however, is in that you’ll have to project-manage the entire process without having prior experience in book publishing.
You’ll now have to take on a parallel project on top of your day-to-day business tasks, while keeping a number of freelance contractors on a critical path that is likely foreign to you.
And you’ll have to troubleshoot issues that are bound to come up, such as scheduling conflicts, miscommunication between parties, slow response times, dealing with different personalities and so on.
The third option is in my opinion the most suitable for nonfiction entrepreneurial authors. In this option you’ll hire an author services firm, which already employs all the publishing professionals that are needed for your book project.
Since these companies cater to many authors, they have not only the required expertise and seasoned project managers on staff but also economies of scale that’ll lower your overall cost.
What’s key in this third self-publishing option is the reputation of the outfit, since being an unregulated industry it can invite unscrupulous operators. To help you weed out the bad players and find the top-tier companies, read my two companion articles: Self-Publishing Companies to Avoid: 7 Warning Signs To Look Out For and What to Look For in a Top Book Self-Publishing Company.
7 Timesaving Steps to Publish Your Book
Once you’ve secured the different trades, it’s time to focus on the actual steps that you need to follow to go from completed manuscript to books on shelves.
The goal of the seven steps below is to make sure you end up with a quality book that meets the high nonfiction industry standards so you can successfully compete with traditionally published titles.
Step 1: You Must Hire a Professional Nonfiction Editor
This is a requirement. You’ll find some very famous authors that can get away with not having a literary agent. But they’ll always, without exception, have an editor working for them.
Professional editors are not content creators (that’s your role) but they’re artists nonetheless. More specifically, they’re wordsmiths that know exactly the impact that words, phrases and literary structures have on readers.
A professional nonfiction editor will take your completed manuscript and not only fix grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors, but also remove any nonessential text that “clutters” your message while drawing your audience’s attention where it’s needed.
I like to compare book editors to music producers. The rock band may write the songs, but without music production they’ll sound like diamonds in the rough. All the chords and the harmonies are there, but the unproduced sound is just flat.
Until, that is, the music producer comes into the mix and adds his or her magic to create a polished sound that’s alive and full of body. In the same vein, a book editor will be able to make your manuscript truly shine.
Step 2: Create the Final Book Title and Write your Book’s Introduction
Now that you have a professionally edited, “print-ready” manuscript, it’s time to come up with the two most important parts of your book: your final title (and subtitle), and the introduction of your book.
These might even be more important than the content of the book, for a simple reason. If you have a bland or uninspired title, people just won’t pick up your book and your wonderful content will never be discovered.
And even if you choose an awesome title and people do pick up your book, the first thing they’ll read in earnest is your book’s introduction. If your introduction is uninspired, they’ll put your book back down.
Your title and subtitle must directly address the most painful problem that your target audience has and demonstrate that your book will solve this problem in a unique way.
Can this goal be achieved with just a small handful of words? Yes. You don’t have to look far to find evidence. Blockbuster bestselling nonfiction delivers millions of book sales with just a few simple words.
But they always manage to address the core problem of their target audience head on. Here are some well-known examples:
- Title: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People / Problem: I’m a procrastinator and I’m paying dearly for it.
- Title: The 4-Hour Workweek / Problem: I’m tired of the rat race and I want freedom.
- Title: The Mindfulness Code / Problem: I’m constantly anxious and don’t know how to quiet my mind.
Between your title and your subtitle you need to capture the imagination of your target audience enough that they feel compelled to pick up your book and open it. This can only be achieved if you truly know your audience.
You need to know their pain points, fears, hopes, goals and dreams, and hopefully have a manuscript that directly addresses their pain, allays their fears, gives them hope, and helps them achieve their goals so that they can live their dreams (click here to read my article on how to create a good nonfiction book title).
Let’s now talk about your book’s introduction. This section is not a bird’s eye view of your book, or a prologue of what’s to come. Instead, it’s a proper “sales letter;” a marketing piece whose only goal is to “hook” your readers into reading the rest of your book.
The reason this section has to be written last is because during the editing process, your manuscript will still be in flux and you don’t want to write your introduction while your content is still shifting around.
But once your manuscript is print-ready, you’ll be able to compose an introduction to compel your readers to buy and read your book. To get help creating a great introduction, read my article: How to Write a Compelling Book Introduction That Will Move the Needle.
Step 3: Do a Full Top-to-Bottom Line-by-Line Proofread!
Imagine if you saw an expensive full-page ad in the newspaper that was brilliantly written but that had a typo that stood out like a sore thumb – like using “It’s” when it should’ve used “Its” or “Whether” when it should’ve used “Weather.”
These are words that spellcheckers and in some cases grammar checkers won’t catch. As a nonfiction author you can’t afford to have any obvious typos in your book either, and there’s only one way to prevent them: doing a full line-by-line proofread.
This is no easy task for the untrained eye because you have to be able to read your book without getting caught up in the message.
Since you’re invested in the narrative, your brain will do anything possible so ensure that you remain invested in the reading. That’s why just reading a book won’t catch many typos but proofreading will.
I recommend that you hire a professional proofreader and not try to do this yourself or get an untrained family member to do it. This is the final quality check for your manuscript before it’s sent to your layout artist and it cannot be skipped – your professional reputation depends on it.
Step 4: Hire a Professional Book Layout and Book Cover Designer
Once your manuscript is print-ready (i.e. edited and proofread) it’s time to engage a book layout and a book cover designer. These professionals will help you design your book to a high standard of quality, and they’ll know the specific requirements for nonfiction books.
For example, there are thousands of fonts to choose from and to the naked eye many look the same. But professionals know which ones will work with your book and which ones won’t.
The layout artist will also know how to balance text and graphical objects around the page, they’ll know how to space the lines, how to lay out your images for maximum effect and how to create attractive chapter title pages.
The book cover designer, on the other hand, knows how to create a cover that’ll match the expectations readers have of what nonfiction books should look like. If a picture can tell a thousand words, a poorly designed book cover will tell a boring story.
For this reason, you should never attempt to create your book cover yourself using cover-making software or get a friend or relative to do it for you (unless they’re professionals themselves) because, once again, an amateurish book cover will reflect badly on your professional image.
Step 5: Create Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and IngramSpark Publishing Accounts
Your book is fully edited and designed. Now it’s time to make it available for readers to buy! Since I’m addressing this article to nonfiction authors I’ll only cover printed books.
Your nonfiction book will be your calling card to be handed out to:
- Prospective clients you meet in person
- Potential strategic partners
- Decision makers for important contracts that you’ll bid on
- Media producers looking for experts to interview
- Event managers looking for experts to hire for speaking engagements
When it comes to the best publishing platforms for self-publishing authors, there are two industry titans that command the lion share of the market:
- Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP): Amazon’s domestic and international online bookstores handle over 65% of all online purchases of printed books worldwide.
- IngramSpark: its parent Ingram is the world’s largest distributor of printed books for bricks and mortar bookstores and libraries.
You’ll need to create accounts in both platforms in order to cover all your bases.
Your KDP Account
If you’re using an author services company to handle your editing, proofreading, book design and book marketing, their project manager will handle this setup work on your behalf.
There are three important areas that need to be taken care of:
1- File Uploads: Your book designer will have to upload your print-ready files so they can be sent to the KDP’s printing facilities around the world. This is a very delicate task because the high-speed digital equipment they use has very specific requirements.
Don’t attempt to do this work yourself, because there’s a high likelihood that KDP’s error checking mechanisms will reject your files and spit out a long list of fixes that’ll probably read like ancient Greek. Leave the tech stuff to the techies.
2- Set Your List Price: Now you’ll choose a list price for your book in consultation with your marketing specialist. This price must be chosen strategically based on your nonfiction niche and it’ll drive the calculation of your royalties.
You’ll be setting a list price for your book in a number of currencies, reflecting where Amazon does business (KDP only prints books in paperback format).
3- Choose Your Keywords: Amazon isn’t just an online bookstore; it’s also a book search engine. Not unlike Google, a majority of users will search Amazon for their topic of interest, not for the title of a specific book.
For example, they’ll want to know what the best books to address X, Y, or Z are (say, a problem that’s afflicting them). Therefore, you’ll need to come up with a number of keywords with the assistance of your marketing specialist that reflect the type of searches that your target audience will enter into Amazon.
Your IngramSpark Account
IngramSpark is slightly different than Amazon’s KDP because their primary focus is the distribution of printed books to physical locations.
They also have three important areas that need to be taken care of:
1- File Uploads: Similar to KDP, they have an area where you have to upload your book’s interior and cover files, but unlike KDP they require two sets of files, one for your paperback version and one for your hardcover version.
This makes the upload process much more complicated and again, this is something that should be left to your professional designers.
2- Set Your List Price: This step is identical to the step above with the KDP platform except that you’re now going to be setting prices in multiple currencies for two separate formats: paperback and hardcover.
As always, choose these prices in consultation with your marketing specialist. Something important to consider is that Amazon doesn’t allow books sold through their online bookstores to be priced higher than books sold through any other outlets. So, your paperback list price in IngramSpark will have to match KDP’s.
Step 6: Set up Your Advance Reader Review Group
Now it’s time to get ready for your book launch. In preparation you’ll need to recruit a group of friends and associates to become your advance-reading group. Your goal is for them to purchase your book from Amazon, read it and leave a positive (hopefully!) review in the bookstore.
These reviews are central to how Amazon’s algorithm will rank your book among its competitors. It’s critical that your reviews be honest and not fake, since Amazon is constantly cracking down on fake reviews and removing them from their platform.
To make sure you comply with the terms and conditions for user reviews, follow the guidelines in my article: Self-Publishing on Amazon: Everything Nonfiction Authors Need to Know.
Step 7: Launch and Market Your Book
This is the last step and the longest to implement. It consists of marketing your book over the weeks and months ahead to make sure that your readers can discover it. Like anything else you want to accomplish, you’ll need to follow a plan.
This is an area where you’ll have to rely on the guidance of your marketing specialist in the author services firm you hire. Your specialist will be able to create a plan with you that takes into account your ideas from your niche and their ideas from the book trade.
By joining forces and relying on their support and coaching, you’ll be able to maximize your return on investment without spinning your wheels on activities that sound good on paper but that don’t produce results.
As you progress in your book-marketing plan, you’ll be able to easily track its impact on book sales as both KDP and IngramSpark have excellent sales reporting.
Congratulations for making it this far! By following the above seven steps, you’ll ensure that you turn your nonfiction manuscript into a book that will not only represent you in the best possible light, but also one that can compete effectively in the marketplace.
Best of luck on your book-publishing journey!
If you enjoyed this article and are in the process of self-publishing a nonfiction book, be sure to check out my free nonfiction success guide, drawn from years of experience editing books for bestselling authors (including a New York Times bestseller) and ghostwriting for CEOs and politicians. Simply click here to get instant access.
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.
Here are some related articles I highly recommend:
How to Write a Compelling Book in 12 Steps: A Must-Read Guide for Nonfiction Authors
The 10 Must-Have Writing Skills for Nonfiction Authors
How to Find the Perfect Writing Coach for Your Nonfiction Book
How to Become a Great Book Writer in Business Nonfiction
The 7 Key Rules for Writers of Outstanding Nonfiction Books
Self Publish? Traditional? Or… A Checklist for Authors
Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling authors (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder 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, marketing, printing and distribution.
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