How to self-publish a Novel in 5 (deceptively) simple steps! (+ Free KDP checklist)

So you've finished your novel. Now what? How to actually get this thing out to readers? This is the (deceptively) simple path to self-publishing a novel.

Time is the only mandatory investment. Money is optional depending on your skills & finances. Blood, sweat & tears are also optional -- but highly likely.

1. Edit It

Good editing is more than just tidying up grammar and spelling mistakes -- it's seeing the big picture and making sure every scene, every word, fulfils its goal and holds the tension. 

Can you do this yourself?

Yes & No.

All writers need to learn to self-edit to an extent. 

But even if you're experienced and willing to put in the painstaking hours to revise, rewrite, and polish -- you can't go this process totally alone. You will struggle to ever catch every hole, awkward moment and typo by yourself.

Hiring a good editor is more than just tidying up mistakes -- it's someone who can see our work objectively, and so understand the big picture through an analytical lens, not just a creative one. (Because it's our own work, we're too close to it. It can be hard to see it clearly without a guide.) An editor is experienced in helping you tighten up your writing, make it come alive, and flow, and keep the reader gripped from start to finish.

A good editor is unbeatable. They will not only make your story better, but they will make you a better writer over time. (A bad editor -- or one that you don't gel with -- can be damaging too of course.)

But if you can't afford this yet -- and that's a distinct possibility, since it's a lot of work, and so not cheap to pay someone to do it -- then at the very least get beta readers. These are people who read some late stage draft of your story and point out holes, mistakes, boring bit, inconsistencies -- basically anything that makes the story flabby, icky or a flop. Then you can rework these things.

And then - PROOFREADERS. This is the part you absolutely cannot do all by yourself. Sometimes your beta readers will double as error-spotters, but you may change things after that. So you need someone to check the final copy of your manuscript before you upload it anywhere. Preferably, several people. And at least one who is a professional or experienced, for fixing punctuation errors that others might not notice.

I also get my computer to read my story out to me when I'm self-editing -- you really notice the mistakes that way, when you hear them out loud. The things your brain glosses over when reading in your head.

2. Cover it

This is another one of those areas where you can spend nothing and do it yourself, but it really does pay to get a professional in for the best results. 

Is the cover important? Abso-bloody-lutely. Maybe we're not meant to judge a book by it, but what else but the cover do we first see? Especially online, where the little thumbnail picture might be the only thing people see. They have to click to read your blurb, which is what will sell your book to them. But they won't click if your cover doesn't grab them.

Cheap options include buying a premade -- these are covers a designer had made already & will just add your title & name when you buy. These range from around $30-$150.

Anything custom will see you in the hundreds range. And if you want completely original illustrations or artwork instead of stock images, or are hiring the best of the best, you can venture into the the thousands range.

Can you do this yourself? 

Yes. By all means have a go.

Research the best covers in your genre & mimic them. You don't want it exactly the same obviously, but there are conventions to certain genres for a reason. Look for the patterns and common themes in your genre. These elements tell a reader what to expect. Even if your book is the greatest crime thriller ever written, if the cover doesn't say 'crime thriller', you've lost your audience.

Stock photos can be come by reasonably cheaply, and there are free or affordable photo editing and design programs around. So have a go at making your own. Keep it simple. But then get honest feedback on it - from people who know your genre, not just any old Joe.

And if you just don't have any design flare - or don't have the patience to learn - at least go for a premade.

3. Format it

This means the layout, fonts etc of the inside of the book.

If you use Scrivener, the compile function is your friend - just a bit of a fiddly one. With a little bit of learning (there are tutorials) you can be spitting out all the ePUBs, mobis, PDFs and even print book interiors your heart desires. 

A program like Vellum or Atticus will make this process way simpler, though. I've just started using Atticus, switched from Scrivener and I'm hooked - you can write your book in it too, or import your book written elsewhere. Then the formatting for eBook and Print can literally be done in 5 minutes using their templates!

You can also format in Word, Google Docs (to an extent) or InDesign, but will need to have a bit more know how. And print books are a little tricker. But...

Can you do this yourself?


It's a learning curve, but once you know how, you're set. (And really, with a program like Atticus, the learning curve has almost been done away with too!)

Don't forget about the front and back matter. Copyright and dedication at the front, and then things like a "More from the Author" list, Mailing List sign up links, and sneak peaks of the next book at the back.

If you have more complex needs though, or can't work out how to do it yourself, hire someone. You're probably looking at a couple of hundred dollars, but maybe less if you find someone with the equivalent of premade covers - templates that they plug your content into.

4. Blurb it

Ah, the dreaded blurb. (Also known as the back cover copy, or the description when you're uploading to Amazon.)

Copywriting is hard! You might think writing a whole novel was hard, but it turns out the fewer the words, the trickier it is to get just right.

Can you do this yourself?


Research other blurbs in your genre. Make notes of their features. How do they hook you? (Find some more tips here.)

Then write, rewrite, refine, and rewrite. Then maybe rewrite again. You'll want to practice. A lot.

Less is usually more in a book description. Use white space -- not too many words, or blocky paragraphs.

You just want to intrigue people, to ask a question that can only be answered by reading the book. It is NOT a summary. It's a hook.

Get feedback. And don't get too attached. (The great thing about e-books is that you can change the blurb whenever you want.) So revisit all your book descriptions every so often and see if you can improve them.

Or pay someone else to do it. You can probably find a copywriter to do this for not too much money, and usually they don't even need to read your book. You just describe it to them, and they do the rest -- in fact, being detached from the book & knowing less about it actually helps!

5. Upload it

So you've got a polished, formatted file, an eye-catching, genre-relevant cover & a less-is-more, attention-grabbing blurb. Time to set your baby loose on the world.

Can you do this yourself?

Yes, definitely.

The uploading process is the easiest part -- I use Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) to get the book on Amazon & Draft2Digital to distribute it everywhere else. You literally sign up for an account and follow the easy on screen process -- upload your book file and cover file in the right places, copy and paste in your carefully crafted blurb in the description box, and choose your categories and keywords. Publisher Rocket can help with that. And choose a price. (Research is key here again. What are comparable books priced at?)


kdp checklist for uploading your ebook to Amazon

Hopefully in all your research and planning, you've made all these decisions before hand, so this part can be done in a few minutes. Use the free checklist above to have all this info ready to go!

Then you're just playing the waiting game for your book to go live.

And you're done. All there is to do now is sit and obsessively refresh the sales screen to watch your millions pour in...

jks Now you actually have to market your books/self and get your work seen (a process that really needs to start before you even put your book up for sale.) But that's a whole 'nother story....

If you've got any more questions, feel free to comment below - or come join the free FB group - and I'll help you however I can!

Get the Free Self-Publishing Roadmap workbook to walk through it all step-by-step!

Enjoyed the article? 

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About the author 

Jessie Renee

Tea drinking, fiction writing, tarot reading, unschooling mum of three.

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