It’s easier than ever to self-publish mystery, science fiction, fantasy, erotica, romance, and other popular fiction genres. At the same time, there’s a bewildering array of advice online about how and where to e-publish. If you’re a writer who wants to self-publish your book, here are some best practices to consider.

The 3 Most Important Factors

A High-Quality Cover

An Engrossing Story

A Great Book Description

To some extent these are each a matter of personal taste, but it’s worth making sure yours are competitive. If you have funds to invest, a professionally designed cover and professional editing are the best places to start. In fact, aside from a good story, they are the two most critical components to a best-selling book, e-published or print.

The Book Cover

You want a book cover that looks sharp and appeals to your target market. Look on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, Barnes & Noble, or wherever you buy books for the highest-selling titles in your genre or subgenre (i.e., Science Fiction, Steampunk).

Bestselling books must look like what your readers expect from your genre, and as a reader you naturally have a sense of what those book covers should look like. Get a feel for the style of art and font choices that cue the readers to your chosen genre. Then once you know what you want, consider hiring a professional cover designer. You can find “premade book covers,” but that shouldn’t be your first choice.

An Engrossing Story

You want a story that meets or exceeds reader expectations for the genre you’re working in. That means tight pacing, compelling characters, and a plot that keeps readers up late. A developmental editor can help make sure the story is strong, and the plot and its subliminal break points are where they need to be to increase your confidence that you’re putting out your best work.

E-publishing does not put a limit on how few words are in short stories, or how many are in novels. Traditionally published novels tend to run between 80,000 and 100,000 words, but electronic publishing has made it common for writers to publish shorter or longer works. The only real limit is driven by the fans. When researching your genre, do you see that 5000-word stories, or 300,000-word stories, are languishing at the bottom of the lists? Perhaps more, or less words are in order. Add some, or split the book, maybe divide it into three parts (this gives you more shots at the fans, too, to build your following).

The Book Description

Again, you want to study what’s popular in your genre, and make sure your book description conveys the core conflict of your story. Helping my clients with the book description is fun because I know the story, and the back-and-forth tweaking is like an encore performance of a good story.

Book Marketing

How to get your book in front of readers

Play the long game; if you put out high-quality e-books, you’ll develop a following. For most writers, the most practical choice is to focus first on e-books in order to establish a readership. These days, readers are accustomed to reading on screen, and many are happy to try new authors because it’s inexpensive.

Your goal is to have e-books for sale on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Google Play, and other markets. KDP has 80% of the e-book market, and you have the option of working with it directly, or using a self-publisher that will put your books on KDP.

Draft2Digital seems to be the best self-publishing company (at this moment) for creating and publishing your e-book to most places where readers download books. Smashwords is another solid option to go from manuscript to finished e-book.

Self-publishing companies like Draft2Digital and Smashwords are generally free for indie authors to use (in exchange for a percentage of book royalties). If you go with Draft2Digital, make sure you list your tax information before e-publishing a book, as KDP will reject books without an author’s tax information.

Note also that some distributors (Playster, Scribd, OverDrive, and Bibliotheca) do not distribute erotica. You can work with more than one company, or move your books from one to another as things change in the industry.

For writers who want print books, Ingram Spark is worth considering, but Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing is currently the most popular option.

Simplified Self-Publishing

What makes e-publishing easier than ever is that it can be as simple as uploading a manuscript, writing a book description, and uploading a cover (or using an in-browser tool to create a cover). Choose the price, which two genres (aka: categories) you want to list the book in, and what key words you want readers to be able to search for, and hit “publish.” The distributor (e.g., Kindle Direct Publishing, Draft2Digital, Smashwords) will generally do the administrative work of creating the e-pub, assigning a unique identifying number, listing the book for sale, and sending you money from sales.

Buying Your ISBN

In the old days (e.g., circa 2014), to publish an e-book we would bring in a professional to design an epub, buy ISBNs, and handle other tasks that are now increasingly automated and free or cheap for indie authors. Some of the hybrid writers I know will still buy their own ISBNs, so they are listed as the publisher of their work, but it’s often not necessary if you’re working with companies like KDP, Draft2Digital, and Smashwords.

Correcting Your Mistakes

Don’t worry about making mistakes (unless you leave them unchanged). With e-books you can change the price, upload a new version of the book, the book description, and the book cover, etc. As you get more comfortable with the process, you might want to take more control of various aspects.

Depending on your appetite for DIY, you can buy your own ISBNs from Bowker (which will list you as the publisher of your book and allow you to use the ISBN anywhere). You can hire a book designer to design the interior of your book to make it look exactly as you want it to, rather than using an epub created automatically by software. You can set up individual accounts directly everywhere readers can download books (like KDP, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Google Play) instead of using a company like Draft2Digital or Smashwords that does the work of listing your e-book for sale with their chosen e-booksellers. And you can test out pricing.

When you set your price, look at what other writers are charging and how long their works are so you can see what’s competitive in your genre for your book’s length. You have the option of making one book free to attract readers, and then putting in the time to promote that book to build a reader following.

You may find the administrative tasks challenging, and the array of choices overwhelming. You care deeply about your book, and the process of publishing may cause you to feel exposed or insecure. Writing a book takes dedication and guts, so I trust that anyone who can finish a book can navigate the process of publishing it.

Consider your book editor a partner in the self-publishing process. If you want some support, we’re here to help.

Theodora Bryant
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