How-To Guide for Authors

Step-by Step Guide to Getting Yourself Published

Books and websites on self-publishing abound. Here is a tiny sampling to get you started:

—Bruce Batchelor: Book Marketing Demystified (2007). This excellent book guides you toward a marketing program that best fits your needs. Filled with examples of each concept.

—Brian Jud: How to Make Real Money Selling Books (2009). This covers the many ways to sell books NOT through bookstores. An impressive list. Some of the websites listed are out of date, but in general this information is very valuable.

—Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual, (2007, and vol. 2, 2009). The best-known book on self-publishing. Comprehensive.

—Fiona Raven and Glenna Collett: Book Design Made Simple: A Step-by-Step Guide to Designing and Typesetting Your Own Book Using Adobe InDesign (2016). Design the book yourself, maintain control, and save money!

—Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier: The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing (latest edition). Packed with creative book marketing tips. Also gives a good, detailed overview of the publishing process. Many resources are listed on every subject.

—Aaron Shepard: Aiming at Amazon (2009). If you want to sell your book only on Amazon (or, be sure to check this out. Full of practical pointers and insider's tips plus more technical advice for the computer-savvy. Available as a free PDF on the author's website. (Alliance of Independent Authors)

The Steps

Let's say that you have written your book and have a nice, neat manuscript that you are ready to publish on your own. Good for you! Already you are making progress. Now let's focus on the steps you will need to take to turn that manuscript into a book. The list below outlines the process step by step, although some of the steps occur within the same time frame. A timetable appears below this list.

1. Get organized and start hiring. You are going to be hiring several vendors: designer, editor, marketing consultant (optional), book printer, illustrator (optional), proofreader, and indexer (optional). The role that each of these professionals plays is outlined below. You can download a checklist to you keep you organized by clicking here.

2. Get your permissions in writing. If you have quoted from anyone at all in your book, or used a snippet of artwork, a photo, or song lyrics that are not your own, you must get permission to use it, and this information needs to appear on your copyright page. Write to the owner of the work and get permission in writing. Keep all correspondence, including e-mails. Sometimes the permission arrives on the very last day before printing, so it is important to start early. Without the permission, you will have to remove the material in question from the book.

However, there is a fair use doctrine in the U.S. that allows for certain material to be used without permission. Go to Wikipedia ( for an introduction to this concept and to see if the material you want to use passes the test.

3. Make a marketing plan. Who is your audience? You need to come up with a plan to get your book into their hands. Do you want to sell through and other online vendors? Are you planning to set up a booth at local fairs? Will you be going in person to local independent bookstores? Will you send out postcards, brochures, greeting cards, calendars? How many will you send and to whom? Will you distribute bookmarks and flyers, and use direct mail? Will you depend on a website to do the selling, or will you seek publicity through radio, TV, podcasts, in papers, or online? Do you have a handle on all of the social media you will use to reach readers? Will you market directly to libraries? Come up with a plan to sell out the entire first printing of the book. Making a marketing plan helps you determine how many copies of the book you will need, and when. Consult the books mentioned above or the marketing consultants listed on this site to help you.

4. Apply for your copyright. Apply for a U.S. copyright by going to In Canada, the copyright is automatic.

5. Obtain an ISBN. Some printers will want to know this number up front. Go to R. R. Bowker in the United States or the Library and Archives Canada for this. Obtaining the bar code (also known as Bookland EAN) is a separate step (11).

6. Apply for Cataloging-in-Publication data. CIP data, found on the copyright page, is used by librarians for assigning a catalog call number, but it is not available for self-published books in the U.S (but read about the LCCN, below). The Canadian CIP program, on the other hand, encourages writers to get this record. Click here to see if you are eligible.

7. Get a U.S. Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN). If you want to sell to libraries, you will need one of these numbers, which is a substitute for the CIP data (above). It costs nothing, but you should start on this fairly early. All requests must be made online. Start here.

8. Find a printer. This probably seems as if it should be the final step in the process, but it's not. You must make several decisions before you can take the next steps in making a book, and most of the decisions have to do with printing. Once your marketing plan is in place, you should have an idea of how many books you want to have printed. You also should know whether you want the books printed a few at a time on demand (this is called POD), all at once, or something in between. Also consider having some books printed on demand as advance review copies (ARCs) to send out for reviews before you print your full run at a "real" printer.

Once you have decided these issues, you can start searching for a printer. See the list on the Resources page of this site to get you started. Browse until you find a few that might suit your needs, but be sure to research only printers that specialize in book printing, or at least that print a great many books. For the most part, the geographical location of the printer is not an issue, unless you would prefer to pick them up yourself. When you find the best companies, bookmark their sites because you will be making frequent return trips.

Printers need to know what trim size (horizontal by vertical dimensions in inches) you want the book to be. Look around your home or in a bookstore or library and choose a trim size that matches books that are similar to yours. Most book printers have standard sizes that they use, but some are very flexible and will print a book that is practically any size.

The printer will also want to know how many pages your book is going to be. Once you decide on a trim size, figure out the page count with your designer. Then you can go back to the printer(s) of your choice and make good progress toward getting a price from them.

Decisions must be made about the book cover, too. Do you want a paperback? A plain hard cover with a jacket? A printed hard cover with—or without—a jacket? Paperbacks have a glue binding (less expensive), but hard cover books are usually sewn (more durable). Do you need special binding, such as wire or plastic spiral binding? Click here to find an excellent explanation of all the binding options.

Feel free to call the printer's customer service department. The reps are usually helpful and very patient about answering even the most elementary questions. Finding a person you are comfortable with is important. Ask the rep if the company has a booklet or PDF that will guide you through the printing process for the best result—you will probably find it on the printer's web site. You should also ask for some samples of the printing papers your press uses.

9. Work with an editor. Finally, you can get back to working with your words. Every author needs an editor. I repeat: every author. Best-selling authors rely heavily on their editors to keep them up to snuff. You should, too. On the Resources page, I list the three types of editing, and I will repeat that here:

• Content editing consists of advice on writing style, suggestions on overall suitability for your audience, the best ways to get your point across, organization of your book, as well as corrections to your consistency, grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
• Editing involves corrections to your consistency, sense, grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
• Copy editing involves only corrections to grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

Find a good editor from the list on the Resources page. If you plan to have illustrations in your book and don't know quite where to put them, ask the editor to point out the best places and give suggestions as to what should be illustrated.

10. Find an illustrator. If you need illustrations, start looking for an artist if you haven't already. There are thousands of artists out there just waiting to hear from you. If you find someone online, don't be intimidated by a dazzling portfolio! Be inspired and imagine what such wonderful artwork could do for your own book. Artists are always delighted to hear from authors. You can start the search by visiting the sites listed on the Resources page of this site.

11. Design the book cover. The cover is a major part of your marketing program. If you are planning a web site for the book, you need the cover to be designed as soon as possible. Gather artwork (see above if you need an illustrator) or photos. Look at other covers to find ideas. Be open-minded.

You'll need a bar code to go with your ISBN (step 5). Some printers provide a free barcode. Or go to Barcode Graphics to get one for $10. You may include your book's price in the barcode, or not. See step 13 about setting a price.

12. Come up with a name for your press. At the bottom of the title page of almost every book, you will see the name of the press or publisher. Think up a name, then go online to make sure nobody else is already using it. Also check in Literary Marketplace, the Small Press Record of Books in Print, and the publishers section of BIP. If you want a colophon (logo) to go with the name, work on it with your designer.

13. Return to marketing. Now that you have a cover (or almost), you need to return to your marketing plan. You might decide that the whole idea of marketing is too overwhelming, and if that is the case, do what many others before you have done: hire a marketing consultant. On my list you will find services that range from the minimum to the maximum. Or read up on the subject (see the list of books above) and get started.

Start looking for people to review your book so you will have some good quotes to put on the book cover. At least three months before publication, contact Pubishers Weekly magazine so they will review your book. Follow their instructions very carefully when you submit materials to them.

Part of a marketing plan involves setting the price you will charge for your book. Price is sometimes figured at 7 times your unit cost—how much each book will cost you, including editing, design, printing, and binding. But price is also dependent on your competition. Go to a bookstore to check the prices of similar books. If you want to charge $5 more than your competitors, be sure that you have something extra to offer and that the difference is obvious to the casual browser. Remember to calculate both U.S. and Canadian prices.

At this point you might also begin to consider whether you will want to be your own distributor or if you will use a book distribution service to fulfill orders for books.

14. Design and typeset the interior of the book. Finally it's time to give your book a particular look. By now, you have probably come up with some ideas of your own as to the general style you would like. Should it look formal and serious? Informal? Friendly? Does it need a style from a historical period? Be sure to let your designer know if you are planning to produce an ebook, as she or he can make the process easy (and less expensive) by planning ahead. You and your designer will discuss your ideas, and using the trim size that you decided on, she or he will give you two or more options to choose from. Once you are happy with the design, she or he will take the edited manuscript (and any finished illustrations) and lay it out in pages, starting at page 1. (You will deal with the material before page 1 a little later.) The designer will send page proofs to you (and your proofreader) on paper or as a PDF file—whichever you prefer.

15. Remember to proofread. You do need a proofreader. Please, please don't skip this step! She is your last line of defense before you go to print. Would you play soccer or hockey without a goalie? Find an excellent proofreader on my list on the Resources page. I guarantee that you will be glad you did. After the proofreader sends you her corrections and you look them over, pass them on to your designer, and she or he will fix all the problems before moving on.

16. Have an index made. Many nonfiction books are more useful if they contain an index. The indexer (find one here) can start working as soon as the first set of page proofs is ready (see step 15). Discuss which elements of the book are most important and how detailed it should be. The index will most often be typeset just before the book goes to the printer.

17. Get back in touch with your printer. Remind the customer representative that the book will be arriving on a specific date and confirm the trim size, number of pages, number of copies that will be printed, and the delivery date and address the books will be shipped to. If the printer needs technical information, ask the designer to supply it.

18. Finalize your front matter. If it goes in the front of the book, why do we do this last? Because (1) you need to find out how many pages of the total are left to work with once the main body is finished, and (2) some of this material, such as permissions and book reviews, arrives late. The front matter consists of everything before page 1—in this order: quotes from book reviews, list of previously published books, title page(s), copyright page, author's note (usually declaring the book to be a work of fiction, or a notice that names have been changed), dedication, contents, list of illustrations, foreword (written by someone else specifically for your book), and preface (written by you). You probably don't need all of these elements. The bare minimum would be title page and copyright page. While the proofreading and indexing is going on, the designer will put all of this into place.

19. Prepare for printing. Once every single piece of the puzzle is in place and approved by you, the designer prepares PDF files to the printer's specifications and sends them off. You will receive a CD with the files too, so that if you need reprints or want to prepare a later edition, you will be free to use the files as you wish.

20. Check the printer's proofs. You will receive a set of proofs from the printer, normally with a turnaround time of 24 hours or less. It is vitally important to check these carefully. Look for colors that are off, mushy-looking type or artwork, pages that are out of order, and any color material that is out of register. Do not proofread, as any changes you make to the text will cost quite a bit to correct. If you find corrections of this type, wait until the next printing or the next edition to fix them.

21. Start working on the e-book version. The file that your designer created can be converted to a MOBI file (for Kindle) and an EPUB file (for all other digital readers). Contact an ebook conversion service to have this done.

What to Expect from Your Vendors

Vendors are professionals in their field and draw on a wealth of experience. A good vendor will listen carefully to what you want and then will work hard to meet your specific needs and expectations. They really care about doing high quality work. Trust them to have your needs in mind, and listen to what they have to say.

Here is a list of the services you may have contracted for, along with the approximate amount of time you should allow in the schedule for each service.

Content editing

up to 3 months with a lot of back-and-forth


up to 6 weeks

Copy editing

up to 4 weeks


Varies tremendously from one project to the next

Cover design

Starts at the same time as editing. A few days to a month.

Interior design

up to 2 weeks

Page layout

up to 4 weeks, depending on page count


up to 4 weeks, depending on page count


1 to 3 weeks

Preparing final files

up to 1 week

Print production

1 to 8 weeks

ebook preparation

Can start at same time as printing. 1 to 8 weeks.

To develop a schedule, work backward from the desired bound book date, if you have one. If not, we will work forward from the start of the process before you let your printer know what bound book date you would like.

What Your Vendors Will Expect from You

Vendors expect that you will complete your work on schedule and will be open to suggestions. If they ask you questions that you do not understand, ask for clarification to avoid any misunderstandings.

Be sure to give all your vendors the schedule, the page count, and the trim size. Other questions they will all ask you: What is the topic? Is there a previous edition? Is the book part of a series? Who is the audience?

If you hire an editor, be ready to communicate how much editing you want. The three levels of editing are outlined in step 9 above. You could send a sample chapter before hiring an editor so you can talk it over. Once the editor has done her job, do not second-guess her work. She is the professional who works with grammar, punctuation, and other people's writing in general every day. Her opinions and suggestions should be taken seriously. Of course she can make mistakes too, especially if there has been miscommunication or lack of information somewhere along the way.

The designer will do her best to give you something you will be happy with. Clear communication is essential.

The same goes for the illustrator. Art is subjective and sometimes challenging to talk about, but most artists are used to communicating with authors. It might take some patience from both parties.

The proofreader is a special person with a very sharp eye for detail and an excellent ability to concentrate. Appreciate her special talents—they will pay off for you.

The indexer has an admirable ability to organize material. You need to talk about your needs and expectations with the indexer so that the results will not be too sketchy, too detailed, or aimed at the wrong audience. You also will need to tell him or her how many pages the index should be.



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