After weeks or months of weighing the pros and cons of traditional versus self-publishing, you’ve finally made your decision: You’re going to go the indie route. You want the creative and financial control that you would never find with a publishing house and are excited to strike out on your own.
I can definitely relate to this decision, given that it is one I made myself a few years ago when I published my first novel on Amazon. And while it was a thrilling experience I wouldn’t trade for anything, figuring out how to get your book published online can be a difficult task. In many ways, Amazon seemed like it would suit my needs best, but I had a lot of questions. As someone who wasn’t rolling in dough at the time, one of those most important questions was: Is it free to publish a book on Amazon? The answer is “sort of”, which we’ll get into more below.
From someone who has been through the trenches, here is a step-by-step guide that will hopefully help your dreams of self-publishing on Amazon come true.
1) Complete a polished book you can be proud of
This first step is the most important, and a tough one to get right. Once you type “The End” after thousands of words of typing and hard work, it can be tempting to try to push the book out into the world right away. But that would be doing you and your story a disservice. You owe it to yourself to make sure you’ve polished your manuscript up to a professional level before you share it with potential readers.
If you’d like some tips on the entire novel-writing process, click here to read a series I’ve written about the subject on Fictionate.Me. You’ll find that I am a big fan of taking breaks to give yourself enough distance to properly judge your own work. The process of writing a book is a marathon, not a sprint, after all.
2) Get your book critiqued/edited
Once you feel like you’ve spruced up your manuscript as much as you can on your own, it’s time to call in some outside help. Who exactly that outside help turns out to be depends on a few factors. One is whether or not you can afford to hire a professional editor. If you can, I say go for it. It’s always worth it to get an expert opinion, and you can find one at a reasonable price on a site like Upwork.
But if you can’t afford the added expense, never fear! As long as you have a few trusted writer pals—and ideally at least one regular critique partner—you can rely on them in place of a professional editor. It also helps if you have some editing experience of your own. No matter what, though, make sure you are not the only person who has read your book by the time you self-publish it. Even the best writers can have some pretty big blind spots when it comes to editing their own work.
3) Write your flap copy/description
“Flap copy” is what you would call the description on the back of a book or the “flap” of a hardcover’s dust jacket. Whether or not you’re planning to publish a physical book, you will need to write a description that will draw readers in. If you’ve ever written a query letter, it’s very similar to what you would write in one of those. This is where you hook a reader, and convince them that your story is worth their time.
A good exercise for writing flap copy is attempting to explain your story out loud to someone who is unfamiliar with it. If you can’t find any friends or family who haven’t already heard more than they ever cared to know about your story, you can simply talk aloud to yourself or the recorder on your phone. It can also be helpful to find successful books on Amazon in your genre and study what makes their descriptions work.
4) Make some cover design and formatting choices
After you have a polished manuscript and some knockout flap copy, you can start figuring out what you’d like to do regarding your cover and formatting. Like your description, your cover will be one of the first things your potential reader will see. It’s also essential that it looks good when reduced to a much smaller size, as it will be when people find it in their search results. An attractive-looking format is deeply important as well—a reader isn’t going to stick around for long without one.
This is a situation where I would recommend saving the money to hire a professional. You may have some great ideas or even a brilliant artist friend who could make a cover for you, but it’s unlikely you’ll be able to produce something that can compete with the other gorgeous covers on Amazon on your own. A site like Ebook Launch will handle your cover design and formatting. But if you really can’t spare the cash, Canva does have a great free book cover maker, and you can also use a free image from a site like Unsplash and paste your name and title over it.
5) Upload your book to Amazon
Now it’s time to upload your book! The process is extremely simple and only takes a few minutes. Make sure you have a list of keywords ready to input—these are the words you imagine readers will search on Amazon for a book like yours (phrases like “female protagonist” or “coming of age story”). Just remember that these keywords should be distinct from the genres you choose for your novel.
After you have the chance to preview your book, you may want to order a paperback proof copy to make sure everything looks good. Amazon really does make this process incredibly straightforward, but they do also have a “Create a Book” guide available if you have any questions.
6) Press “Publish”
And we’ve finally hit the point when your cursor is hovering over the “Publish” button, and all you have to do is click it. After that, you will be a published author and your story will have the chance to find readers all over the world! It is truly amazing how easy it is now for an author to share their work without worrying about losing out on most of the profits or creative control.
After reading this guide, you may decide that Amazon is too costly an option for you, or that you’d rather post your book as you write it. And that’s totally fine! There are plenty of other options out there for you to self-publish online—Wattpad and Royal Road are both popular sites for authors to post their stories as they go. A site like Fictionate.Me will even allow you to make money as you post each chapter and pocket all the profits.
No matter what you choose, I hope you see now that the self-publishing process is nowhere near as complicated as it seems from the outside, and incredibly achievable.
Author’s Bio: Jillian Karger was born in Ohio but has lived in and around New York City for over a decade. Since graduating from NYU in 2009, Jill has had a long string of jobs doing things like scouting books to be adapted for film and researching trivia questions for “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”.
She has done freelance writing as well for sites like Cracked.com, and had her Twitter jokes featured on BuzzFeed and funnyordie.com. Jill has also self-published two novels on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Jillian-Karger/e/B07B894DNW).
Follow her blog posts about books and writing advice, read books and publish them for free at: https://www.fictionate.me.