You’ve decided to go the self-published route for your book. Great! Self-publishing has come a long way in the last decade (thanks mostly to print-on-demand technologies) and has made publishing and marketing a book easier than ever before.
However, easier doesn’t always mean faster. While it is true that self-publishing is faster than traditionally publishing a book because you don’t have to spend all that time writing a book proposal and finding a book agent, it is still a process that requires expertise and patience if you want to get it right.
We use a very specific self-publishing formula that can typically take anywhere from 4-6 months, and our average clients probably spend at least five months with us.
You could do it faster, but we don’t advise it. Why? Because publishing your book should require just as much detail and care as writing your book. Getting sloppy during the publishing process could be short changing your book and not giving it the chance it deserves to sell.
Now, with all that rambling out of the way, how long does it really take to self publish a book? Let’s look at each step of the process:
Copy Editing: 1-3 Months
The copy editing process is vital, and while this time could be categorized as writing the book, we like to think of it as part of the publishing process. A lot of authors are tempted to skip this step because it takes time and money, but nearly every traditionally published book in existence was copy edited first, and self-published books deserve the same standard.
If part of your marketing plan is to try and get your book into bookstores (which is highly difficult for self-published books) you will almost certainly be required to copy edit your book first.
The first step to copy editing is finding a professional copy editor who is experienced in your genre. You will want your manuscript to be as complete as possible, and as free of any errors as you can make it out to be. Having this unbiased set of eyes on your work is valuable in so many ways because they can pick up on plot holes, missing attributes, repetitive language, and grammatical errors that might have slipped past you.
Depending on the length of the manuscript, the copy editor will likely do a single read through after discussing things with you like tone, style, and expectations.
All of their edits should come as track changes. You as the author ultimately have the final decision making power to either accept or reject their edits. Depending on your relationship and agreement with your copy editor, you might have more than one round of edits to review.
Interior Formatting: 4-8 Weeks
After your manuscript has been professionally copy edited it is time to format it into a book. There are all kinds of softwares on the internet that can do this for you, however our advice would be to go with a professional formater. This is someone who is expertly trained to take a word document and flow it into a professional looking book, taking into consideration things like your book genre, complimentary fonts, trim size etc..
Ideally you can work with your formatter to pick a style guide – things like fonts, running chapter headers, table of contents layout, chapter pages, etc. Once you agree on a style they can get to work formatting your entire book.
Again, depending on the length, this could take anywhere from a month to two months not including additional time to make edits after the book has been formatted.
Ebook Conversion: 2-3 Weeks
As a self-published author a majority of your sales are going to come in the form of e-books. This is particularly true for those authors writing genre fiction. That means having an e-book available is a necessity for self-published authors using print-on-demand platforms like Amazon KDP and IngramSpark.
You can format an ebook yourself, however there are a lot of technical pieces including making it flowable for every kind of e-book reader on the market, and linking the contents page. If you hire an interior formatter it is likely they will also be able to convert your print book into a comprehensive e-book for both Kindle readers and other e-book devices.
Cover Design: 6-8 Weeks
Arguably one of the most important pieces of a self-published book is the cover. Gone are the days when we could claim not to judge a book by its cover. The truth is that all readers do it, and readers purchasing books online are even quicker to judge and move on. That’s because unlike in a book store where a reader can look at a cover close up, read the blurb on the back and any endorsements, online shoppers only get to see the thumbnail version of your cover to decide if they want to learn more.
Book cover design is both an art and a science. You need an artist that can take your ideas for the cover and turn it into something that speaks to the content of your book while also following best design practices for books, your particular genre, and online shopping habits. Your artist also needs to take into consideration the margin of error for print-on demand books when designing the front, spine, and back.
Find a cover designer who has experience in your genre and with print on demand technology and limitations. Give yourself a lot of time for this process – more than you think you may need. It will take at least four if not six weeks for the artists to produce the initial concepts after you give them some initial ideas, and then another several weeks of back and forth to get it exactly right.
The good news is that book cover design can happen simultaneously with your interior design. The only part you have to wait for is creating the final cover templates for Amazon KDP and IngramSpark, as those will require an exact page count from your final interior file.
Marketing Copy & Metadata: 2-4 Weeks
Before you can launch your book you will need to write some marketing copy for both Amazon and IngramSpark, as well as an author bio for your Amazon Author Central Account, and you will need to make make some decisions about the metadata for your book.
Writing a book description for your book listing is a little different than what is on the back of your book, and should be written with your reader in mind. Amazon will only give you a few sentences before the reader is required to click “read more” so draw them in with a compelling hook, then tell them what the book is about, and finally a little bit about yourself. Make sure to include a clear call to action.
Writing your marketing copy is also a good time to think about your keywords and categories (also known as metadata). Amazon will give you up to seven keywords and three categories to select when you upload your title. How important these are is up for debate, and Amazon will choose your sales ranking categories based on their own algorithm, however we still recommend taking some time to research book categories and make the best possible decision.
Start by choosing a category you think fits with your book and then search for that category on Amazon. Do the books that come up in the top 10 list look like your book? If they do, that’s a good thing! You don’t want your book to be the odd man out in a category, because if you are trying to attract western romance readers then you want your book (the cover, marketing copy, and contents) to be similar to what people who read that genre are used to seeing. Continue this process until you’ve found three categories for your book.
You’ll also need to decide if you should enroll your e-book in KDP Select to make it available for free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers. Again, quickly skimming your book categories to see if the majority of other books are available in Kindle Unlimited will help you determine if it’s a good fit for you or not.
And finally, when choosing keywords, think about certain search terms people might use when looking for books like yours. If it’s a cozy mystery novel, that might be a good keyword to include.
The last piece of metadata that you will need to decide is your book price. We wrote an entire article about how to price your book you can check out.
Ordering a Printed Proof: 10 Days
Once you have a final interior and cover template you can upload those to both Amazon KDP and IngramSpark and order a printed proof. Do not skip this step. A printed proof is your chance to check and make sure your cover art prints well, and that Amazon’s print-on-demand printers read your interior file correctly. Check your margins, the typography, and page numbers. Give yourself at least a week to go through the book from start to finish and make sure it is ready for its public reveal.
Soft Launch: 2-4 Weeks
After you’ve checked your printed proof and have made any adjustments to your cover and interior, it’s time for your soft launch. This is a period of 1-2 weeks where you make the book live but don’t promote it yet.
Why? To double check that everything is working. Are your ebook and paperback book linking correctly? Is your Amazon Author Central account live and connected to your book? Are your sales ranking categories showing up and are they reflective of your book, or do you need to request that Amazon adjust them? Are you including any Amazon A+ content for your book, because now would be the time to get it uploaded. This is also a good time to collect customer reviews from friends and family members so that your book has some ratings before you start actively promoting it.
If there are any issues with your book listing you can contact Amazon KDP customer service to get it fixed, which can take 7-10 days.
Expanded Distribution: 5-10 Days
After your book is live on Amazon you can enable distribution on IngramSpark, which will distribute your book to the Ingram catalog and other major retailers like Baker + Taylor, Target.com, Barnes and Noble, and Bookshop.org. Give it at least 48 hours for those sites to start populating from IngramSpark and double check a few of them to make sure all your metadata is converting.
Create an Audio Book
This one is optional, but audiobooks are continuing to grow in popularity. However, most platforms that distribute audiobooks require a version of your book to be for sale somewhere (or at least for presale) so typically you can’t start the process until your book is already live. Then, depending on if you use ACX or Findaway Voices for distribution, it can take anywhere from 10 to 30 days or the audiobook to start showing up for sale.
Of course the process for creating an audiobook takes much longer than that, but don’t worry, we have an entire article on how to record an audiobook.