Writing and self-publishing your book. It’s the ultimate lifetime dream for those with a passion for writing. For most of us the path to our dreams is not a direct, linear line but a weaving, scattered journey. This blog post is the story of my own childhood dreams getting lost and being found again after my own children were grown. This narrative also bullet points the practical steps I discovered which lead me to achieving my life-long dream of writing and self-publishing a book.
If you don’t have time to listen to or read my story right away but want to get the abbreviated checklist, be sure to click on the Publishing Cheat Sheet button above or at the bottom of this post. I’m happy to assist other writers in finding their way to their own dream fulfillment as well.
My own desire to write a book started in grade school as I digested volume after volume of Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon mysteries. I even went so far as to bring a manuscript to school and share it with my teacher who took it home and brought it back with editing. My excitement wilted at the red-inked underlines, circles and suggestions. All of a sudden it felt like a school project and the fun disappeared.
Another time I announced to my mom that I wanted to write a book called “Who Am I?”. She looked perplexed and gave me an answer along the lines of “You know who you are…insert Bible verse”. Scrap that idea.
In high school, after my step-dad died, I started expressing my sadness in poetry. I showed it to my teacher who took it to my mother which started an awkward conversation. I WAS depressed and people were concerned, but for me it began to feel as though expressing myself in writing wasn’t safe.
As an adult I had similar experiences. I showed some writing to an English major friend who picked it apart mercilessly in the clinical fashion of a professor and again I wilted inside. Another adult who I shared my writing with described it as “sensual” which had a negative connotation to me. There was nothing sexual in what I had written but it was very feelings and experienced-based, so I figured that was what she meant. The problem was, I didn’t know how to write any other way.
There were a few readers over the years who encouraged me with zero criticism and promises to buy my book one day if I published, but I was so sensitive to negative…even constructive criticism that I would feel keen disappointment, even shame, and file away my desire to write as either too hard, emotionally complicated or not worth the effort.
The desire to write never left. It just got lost in the realities of every day life my focus on activities that felt “safer”. Still, writing is so much a part of life, that little opportunities presented themselves and I would write from my heart. More and more it was spoken over me that I needed to write a book but I no longer wanted to write mystery novels and had a sense that in order to summon the focus to write an entire book on a subject, I needed a strong inspiration on a special topic.
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Waiting on inspiration is tough but worth it. If I was going overcome my fear of criticism…both of my ideas and my writing, then it needed to have a strong, passionate purpose to sustain me. If I was going to invest a significant amount of time into a project and then expose my work to scholars and critics, then it needed to be for a “reason”. As with all my writing, I needed to live through an experience in order to write authentically.
If you look at most non-fiction writers in the self-help or inspirational category, they often have a “life message”. It’s a central theme that drives their life and thus their writing. My mother found hers in the writing of “The Cross” and “101 Reasons to Live a Cross-centred Life” after watching the movie, “The Passion of the Christ” and the revelation that unfolded afterward. It changed and marked her. Brene Brown found her writing niche in the area of discussing shame and the importance of Connection in her bestseller, “The Gifts of Imperfection”. Her work was heavily research-based but stemmed from her own struggle with shame and need for connection.
It wasn’t until I had my own “life-marking experience” that I discovered my voice and the beginnings of my “life message”. For me, inspiration came in the wake of significant disappointment and painful suffering.
Writing is an intense creative process and requires TIME. It wasn’t something I could schedule neatly in a 30 to 60-minute segment at the end of a busy day. Inspiration to write would hit at very inopportune moments when I was supposed to be doing something else. If I had an idea and jotted it down, the thoughts behind it would dissipate like mist when I returned to it later. No, if I was going to write then I was going to have to create a huge buffer of space that allowed me to stop and focus when writing inspiration hit. Ironically, that space was part of my “message” and as soon as I created it, inspiration descended. Writing a book didn’t happen “by accident”. It was very purposeful from start to finish and creating the mental and physical space to write was a huge part of initiation.
I had time and inspiration but found myself in a “what do I do now?” space. I had preconceptions in my mind of what writing and publishing a book looked like and I didn’t know who to go to or where to start. Since my faith is important to me and I believed my desire to write and the message I wanted to communicate were a gift from God, I simply prayed for guidance. Within a week I received an email with an invitation to a free writer’s conference by Flourish Writers. I signed up and listened to every session while making beds, doing dishes and cleaning my home. So many questions I had were answered and concerns allayed. It was as though someone had scribbled down some important directional milestones for me to follow. I didn’t have the GPS but these landmark descriptions put me on the right path.
One recommendation for an unknown individual like myself was to start gathering readers by starting a blog. This lead to me accepting an invitation to join a “Build Your Blog Bootcamp” on Facebook. Me and hundreds of other writers. When the bootcamp was complete, a group of us beginner bloggers started a Facebook group. This group became an important community of inspiration, support and practical resources both in starting my blog and writing my book. A handful of ladies from this group were very instrumental in the gentle editing of my book.
I also connected with a local writers group that meets once a month. Although many of the writers in that group embrace a different belief system and writing genre than I do, their experience and support were very helpful. One practical application of their guidance was the participation in a virtual writers camp called “NaNoWriMo”.
NaNoWriMo is a free, online writers camp that ensues three months a year. April, July and November. Writers are organized into groups called “Cabins” where they can communicate and encourage one another. Every participant has to set a writing goal of some kind and update their progress throughout the month, preferably daily. I tentatively participated in April’s NaNoWriMo setting a modest goal of writing four blog posts consisting of 1500 words each. It was a reasonable goal and I was successful. At the conclusion of that month I decided that my book was going to be written during the July NaNoWriMo session. It was a hefty goal of 50,000 words in one month. The date was set.
Another practical help I received from my NaNoWriMo experience was hearing other writers talk about their writing software. That is where I heard about Scrivener for the first time.
I hadn’t really researched what format book manuscripts needed to be submitted in but I assumed Microsoft Word or Adobe PDF files would be sufficient. I was right on that fact. What I hadn’t taken into consideration is how I would create those files as I wrote my book. Scrivener is a writing software program that has preset formats for fiction, non-fiction and play scripts. It organizes the files like sticky notes that can be rearranged with a simple click and drag motion. I purchased Scrivener for my desktop computer and for my iPad. The files save in Dropbox so as long as I closed out my work properly at the end of a writing session on one device, I could open it on the other one with all the latest changes in sync. I found the ability to reorder the sequence of chapters and sections during the writing and editing process along with the word counts and file labelling to be instrumental in keeping me organized and productive throughout the entire writing process.
I wrote every day in July with a goal of 1200-1800 words a day. Scrivener statistics on how many words I’d written in a session and how many total in my project kept me feeling motivated and productive.
When I felt my manuscript was ready to edit, I used Scrivener’s “compile” function and it created a MS word file with the book as one single file from beginning to end.
Ultimately I had to face the most potentially painful part of writing a book which was allowing a select few people to read, edit and provide feedback on my work. A lot of people hire editors or receive that service via their publishing company. I had read somewhere that in the absence of editing resources it could be helpful to ask for volunteers. I put out a request in my blogging group and had a handful of women volunteer to help me. I also approached a few key people locally who I trust. They were asking for nothing in return but a signed copy of my paperback, my appreciation and perhaps my reciprocation in the future. I sent them the PDF file of my manuscript via dropbox and they downloaded into the program of their choice, highlighted and made notes on it digitally and sent it back for me to update the original manuscript.
The yawn of space between the manuscript being sent out and getting the final feedback felt like an eternity. I want to say that this process was painless but it was not. When I had over 500 edits presented to me along with some awkward conversations and some non-responses, all the fear and insecurity of my grade-school self rose up. This was my most discouraging stage. I was embarrassed not only over my grammar lapses but I began to feel as though my ideas and summaries were childish and insignificant as well.
Instead of wilting and letting the discomfort of editing and feedback paralyse and kill my book project, I decided to view the editing and feedback as valuable gifts. I had to assume that their feedback represented the impression my book would have on others and that by addressing it, I was avoiding more permanent and painful criticisms later. Everything that was given to me by these ladies who were brave enough to give honest feedback would make my work stronger and better.
The process of editing took two full weeks of my time.
Once the phrasing, grammar and notations were improved, I set about designing the look I wanted my book to have. Once again, I was opting to do this part on my own so I set out selecting fonts and layout options. I utilized Microsoft Word’s table of contents wizard, headings, headers, footers, tabs and section breaks. I wanted to make sure that this book had the aesthetic feel that one would expect from a book marketed to women for individual and group study. In the end, I was very pleased with the appearance but formatting took a few solid days to complete.
Many people hire someone to design their cover and again here, I was working on a limited budget. I also didn’t have access to Photoshop or other high quality desktop design software. I have been using Canva for my blog image design so I decided to use it for my book cover as well. Canva is a free web-based image design program and I’ve enjoyed using it so much that I upgraded to Canva Pro early on. Designing a book cover proved to be more challenging than anything else I had designed because the size was very precise to not only the front and back cover but the thickness of the spine due to the number of pages in my book. Canva has some limitations and I’m not talented in design in the first place so this was another part of the project that almost sent me into a meltdown.
The cover is a crucial part of people’s decision to read or not read your book and I wanted it to look great. I almost decided to hire out but thanks to some very helpful people, I was persevered and completed the project alone. My sister-in-law, Sherianne Ciaramitaro, who is a design wiz took a look at my early cover designs and sent it back with her interpretation of my titling. It was love at first sight. I asked for the font names and then set out to try and duplicate it myself in Canva.
As for the background image on my cover, I sent numerous cover prototypes to friends and asked for their favourites. Eventually I found a cover image that had unanimous appeal and which I loved.
It’s important to note that the cover design should be done in tandom with the publishing process on KDP to ensure the dimensions line up with your book size choice and spine thickness.
In the actual publishing of my book I found that I had three options:
- Traditional publishing
- Traditional self-publishing
- Self-publishing with print-on-demand
Initially I had preferred the idea of sending my manuscript to a traditional publisher because I viewed self-publishing as too risky. I didn’t have a significant platform from which to market my book so I had visions of spending thousands of dollars and having a pallet of my books stored in my home. We didn’t have the money or the space. I learned however that publishing companies can sometimes dictate that you change your manuscript to better fit marketing demand and take a significant amount of your book profits leaving you with less royalties. The benefit of using a traditional publishing company is the sheer number of books that they have the power to bring to market. Even the diminished royalties add up if thousands of your books are being purchased. I thought the speakers at the Flourish Writers conference did an excellent job explaining the pros and cons of each publishing approach.
I liked the idea of print-on-demand self-publishing the most. This minimized the risk for me because I didn’t have to pay for a large number of books in advance. The book is literally printed after purchasing. This method of publishing allowed me to maintain rights and control over my work and maximize my profits. It was also conducive to me to moving my book to market as quickly as possible.
Having said this, there are some limitations with KDP being US-based that have inhibited (not prevented) my book circulation in Canada and there are likely other perks of being taken on by a traditional publisher that I may be missing out on. I decided early on that this would be a trial-by-error process that I could learn from in the future.
In the end, though, I decided that for this first book, print-on-demand publishing was the route I wanted to take so I googled Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and began the process of signing up and uploading my manuscript and cover design to their website.
Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)
The first stage of publishing on KDP is reading and agreeing to their terms and completing the title, genre and other information about your book. If you have obtained your own ISBN (purchased in the US or requested for free from the government of Canada) you can enter it here or you can receive a complimentary ISBN from KDP with stipulations attached. Once you’ve completed this preliminary book information, you can move on to the content portion. I didn’t realize that Canada issued free ISBN’s so I opted for KDP’s free ISBN in an effort to save money. This was a decision error that can only be corrected by re-publishing my book so I decided to leave well enough alone unless it became a greater issue later on.
eBook Publishing Process with KDP
For my ebook I downloaded Kindle Create (free) from the KDP website. I uploaded my MS Word manuscript to Kindle Create which allowed me to edit my book within very strict limits to suit digital reading. It was a relatively short process with a clean, well-formatted manuscript. It helps to be intuitive with learning computer software. Once the manuscript was finished in Kindle Create, I uploaded it to KDP and examined what it looked like there.
Since you only need a front cover image for digital books, it only took moments to upload and approve the image for publishing.
Once the manuscript and cover are uploaded and approved, KDP then suggests a market price based on the manuscript size and genre. They also tell you what your royalties will be based on the price you choose. Once you have decided on the business details and click “publish” the ebook is listed on Amazon and ready to buy within hours.
Paperback Publishing Process with KDP
The paperback publishing is similar to the ebook process. You upload your manuscript in PDF and KDP tells you what dimensions your cover needs to be. After you upload your cover, then you have to look at their preview to make sure everything lines up. This part was tough as a first-time publisher. The previewer only shows the front cover view so I had no preview of the spine or back cover. In the end I decided to order a proof copy and I’m so glad I did. I worked with my husband to fix the cover issues and a quick reading revealed even more edits were necessary in the content. I uploaded and previewed many times with 24 hour waits before I could view the finished product only to repeat the process again.
Once I was finally happy and confident in the book appearance I approved it for the last time. KDP then tells you how much it costs to print your book and based on the amount you choose to sell it for, how much your royalties will be just like with the ebook. After 24 hours, the paperback was available to buy on Amazon.
Once your book is published, you can share the Amazon link with your friends and family and they can order directly from Amazon. KDP has a reports area that charts your books sales and royalties. KDP also allows you to buy unlimited amounts (maximum 999 books per order) of your book at the printing price they set for you. You are then free to sell those copies to friends and family and at your live events. This is the best way to sell them because you get to keep all the profit from your book. You just need to be careful in the advertising of your special price because Amazon retains the right to lower their price of the book to match yours to stay competitive in sales. Once you order your authors copies, you are free to sell them within the KDP guidelines.
This is where I am going to end this blog post on how to publish a book. I am currently waiting for my first author copies to arrive and am in the marketing stage. I will definitely have a follow-up segment on marketing in the months to come.
This was a long narrative on how to self-publish a book so I have condensed the how-to portion to a single page cheat sheet just for you.
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Photo by VNagomyi from Getty Images via Canva Pro
Excellent article. Thank you for this. And congratulations on your fabulous book. Almost finished. Wonderful read.