You have spent weeks, months, even years writing a book. You have awakened in the middle of the night with new ideas, plot twists, characters, and research paths to follow. The words, at times, poured quickly out of your fingertips to the keyboard and onto the screen and, at other times, you were pulling out your hair from the lack of them. You’ve had self-imposed deadlines and grand visions of seeing your book on the bestseller shelves at Barnes & Noble or coming up high in Google or Amazon search results.

But as you type the ending to your book and make the decision to get it professionally edited, a strong sense of overwhelm begins to overtake you. What next? Formatting, book cover design, writing query letters, setting a price, coming up with keywords, writing metadata, uploading to sites? “What do you mean I have to market my own book?” you think. Ugh. The to-do list gets longer, your patience gets thinner, the costs rack up, and your hopes start to plummet.

It’s okay. It will all be okay. Take a step back, let reality sink in just a little, and take one step at a time.

You have options, even if it’s like going to a restaurant with a 17-page menu (sometimes too many options). And, if money is an issue, you might be surprised at how much you can accomplish with a limited budget.

Let’s shovel through some of the avalanche of choices.

Start with your goals. Do you just have this one book? Maybe some other writing, but not necessarily another book? Or do you have several books clamoring for attention in your brain? Are you hoping to hand your manuscript over to a major publishing house and let them handle everything, maybe changing the title, having you rewrite parts you already spent months working on, omitting ideas or characters you feel might be critical to the book, and scheduling you at marketing events that require travel? Or do you want to maintain a certain amount of control over this baby of yours? Are you hoping to recoup the money you have spent on the book and make fistfuls of money through royalties? How much time, energy, and money are you willing to invest in getting your book “out there?”

Your goals will determine the directions you take. But know that even if you keep it super simple, you still need to roll up your sleeves and take care of a few details.

Of course, the easiest, least-intrusive route is to not publish at all. Keep the book to yourself. Send a PDF of it to your closest friends and family, and then move on.

The next step up would be to have a blog – easy enough to set up – and you can share your writing with whomever finds the blog. Post a chapter a week or something like that. If it is something related to your work life, maybe it could be treated as supplemental material for workshops and seminars.

Maybe, just maybe, you are ready to put yourself “out there” as an author. You are curious to find an audience for your material, test the waters on its viability, and work with the feedback you might get from reviews. If so, it is time to dive deeper and work a little harder. You just need to decide how hard you want to work.

Do you want to put in a little bit of effort and hope for the best? The simplest “working” option would be to take what you have and upload it to Amazon as an ebook. With Amazon’s Kindle Create, you could have an ebook uploaded in less than a day, depending on how computer savvy you are. Kindle Create is a free app, and uploading your book to Amazon is free. It won’t have a fancy cover, and the layout will be basic, but you will have just published a book.

Take it a step further, and write a fantastic book description using strong keywords/terms. Finding those will require some sleuthing on your part but is doable. Good keywords used correctly will help potential readers find your book. Have an attention-grabbing cover designed. And set up your Amazon Author page.

Before we get to the middle-of-the road option, let’s look at the other end of the spectrum—submitting your labor of love to some of the big publishing houses. As with any step you take, it will require some research on your part. Each publishing house has its own criteria for submitting a manuscript. It could be how to format your manuscript; it could be the genres it will consider; it could mean certain mailing or email addresses to which you send it. To increase your odds, you want to adhere to each publishing company’s guidelines. One might want to see your manuscript along with your query letter; others might want a couple of chapters. Some might prefer email; others might want a hard copy. If you fall outside of their submission guidelines, your manuscript will most likely be ignored at best or tossed out completely. If it makes it into someone’s hands for consideration, be prepared for rejections. Know that these rejections are par for the course. Maybe the rejections will include valuable information from which you can learn; maybe they won’t. There is always a chance that your manuscript will be accepted, and then you will have to navigate new territory with your assigned editor.

When it comes to publishing, though, many writers fall somewhere in the middle. They want to offer more than an ebook but don’t want to go through an endless cycle of trying to get a big publishing house to accept it. They would like to engage with their audience at a certain level but might not be ready for a whirlwind book tour. They might want wide distribution, with the hopes of maybe getting into bookstores or libraries, but aren’t sure the direction to take beyond Amazon.

The world wide web has A LOT of information available to self-publishing authors, but parsing through it to figure out what fits your goals and your needs is a new level of overwhelm. And the price tags at some places with packages to help with some of the tasks (formatting, distributing, marketing, etc.) may be above your budget. So, let me boil it down for you in one fairly-comprehensive action plan:

  1. Once your book is written, have it professionally edited, proofread, and formatted, and have a cover designed with enticing back-cover copy. This will cost you some money, but will give your book the polished, professional look it deserves. [If you need to justify the cost of this step, read Lisa Poisso’s blog, “Your Editing Budget: How Much is Your Creativity Worth?”.] I can help you with the formatting; just have the editing and proofreading completed first!
  2. Upload it to Amazon, IngramSpark, and Draft2Digital. Amazon is a leader in the book and ebook industry, so you should not miss being there. You can upload to Amazon for free and offer your book as a paperback, hardback, and ebook. IngramSpark will give you wider distribution opportunities beyond Amazon. You can offer your book as a paperback, hardback, and ebook there as well. Most major retailers – both online and sticks/bricks – use IngramSpark when purchasing new books for their stores. Draft2Digital is one of the leading ebook distributors and can get your ebook distributed to various online outlets that sell ebooks. One notable inclusion is Overdrive, which provides ebooks to libraries. There is a one-time setup fee of $49 at IngramSpark, but uploading to Amazon and Draft2Digital is free. Or, if this seems to make you slip into panic mode, there are companies that can help you with this step (see our Menu of Services).
  3. Create Author pages at Amazon, Goodreads, and Bookbub – these are excellent ways to connect with potential readers. And it’s free to do. Again, feeling panicked? There are services to help you with this for a fee (see our Menu of Services).
  4. Create an author website with an author bio page and book information with buttons connected to places where people can purchase it. You can also include an excerpt, or if you want to continue writing, include a blog. Set up a “Subscribe” button on your website to collect emails from your audience so that as you write more, you can let them know. Advertise new books as you write them. You can have a basic author website developed starting at $199 (see our Menu of Services for details and demo sites).
  5. Promote your book and/or website and/or author pages through your social media on a regular basis – at least once a week. Let people know where to find you; how to connect with you; tease them with snippets from your book – maybe a hot-and-heavy piece of dialogue or a motivational sentence. And remember to include hashtags!
  6. Check in to Goodreads, Bookbub, and Amazon regularly to see if you need to respond to reviews or if there is a way to engage with potential readers.

Even though there are other tasks to do within each of these six steps, such as obtaining and using ISBNs, researching and coming up with frequently-used keywords, and writing an engaging book description using those keywords, this action plan will give you a solid footing in the book world. It won’t take long for you to find your book in various online places. The key, then, will be to figure out how to get readers to find your book. The plan outlined above will make it easier because you will have created a strong foundation. And, if and when you are ready, you can take it to the next level by creating and following a robust marketing plan.

For more information about other steps you might not want to overlook, look over our Checklist for Self-Publishers.

“I Just Want to Write!” [Navigating the Publishing and Marketing Steps Post-Writing]