This is my handy to-do list for self-publishing a book.
This is something probably everyone is aware of and doesn’t really need much explaining. Still, there’s research to be done. The main focus should be on your own genre, to know what is the most likely to capture the attention of your target audience.
When to take care of: Once you get to beta stage, you should have at least a rough idea how you want it to look like, by having a look at the typical covers in your genre. Look primarily at other self-published covers as trad-published covers are often very bland. You need to catch the eye of your target audience. Then, when you have the time (as the process will demand your attention) and the money, hire a designer and make sure to answer any questions they might have. Anything to give them a better idea might help – doodles, stick figure drawings, examples of other covers…
A tip I’ve just read somewhere else: ask the designer for the cover graphic not only in e-book and paperback variant but also a ‘blank’ graphic without any text, to potentially use for promo uses (such as the background of ad picture).
Another major part you can’t skip or neglect. Same as the story, getting it done well takes iterations – but it’s easier to get feedback on it because it takes just a while to read a blurb draft. For me, asking for feedback on Goodreads was easy way to get it done – people who read know what they want a blurb to tell.
When to take care of: Between drafts. You’ll need at least an early version when searching for beta readers. You can then ask the beta readers for their opinion after they’ve read the book.
Maps and sketches
This won’t apply to every story. Longer stories, especially with a lot of world-buildings, would make it easier for the readers to get their bearings with a map attached. Doing it yourself might be time consuming while hiring someone to do it for you may be expensive. Two of my beta swaps wrote a guide on how to create your own map, and there will be more on the internet. Link to Rebecca’s guide and Ed’s guide.
Apart from maps, you might want some other drawings/sketches – such as a coat of arms, layout of an important building (I’m considering a simple layout of the Royal palace for my story), or a weapon of mystical power.
When to take care of: In spare time – between drafts, when waiting to hear from betas…
Front and end matter
This is the stuff in a book that is before and after the main story. In case of e-books, there should be as little stuff before the story as possible (usually only a copyright page and a map) because it affects how much a reader can see in the free sample.
As for end matter, there’s a lot of what you can put there – a thanks to your beta readers, blurb/sample of the sequel, some look behind the scenes… but what should have a priority is to let your readers know where to find you and information about your books such as: your website, Amazon author page, newsletter sign-up (if you go that route) and so on. Updating it once the sequel is released is recommended.
When to take care of: This should take a little time and it’s something you’ll only need when you finalize the file so you can leave it for the very last stage.
Your online presence
Whether you decide that your main online presence will be a web/blog, Goodreads, Facebook, or anything else… make sure they’re working well and easy to navigate. Don’t neglect your Amazon author page (and the equivalent on other retailers if you go wide).
When to take care of: As for the webpage, that can be done well in advance and I guess most of the people reading these words have already taken care of it to some degree. As for Goodreads or Amazon, you can only take care of those after you ‘evolve’ from an ordinary user to an author – which makes it a late-stage job. But it’s mostly one-time job you don’t have to repeat whole for sequels, just update.
Amazon exclusive or wide distribution? Simultaneous launch of e-book and print, or staggered? Will you consider hardcover – or audio? What price will you sll your book for? You should ask yourself those questions and have at least rough idea before you get to finalizing the book.
When to take care of: Think about it when you have time, do some research in spare moments, but get closer to the final call by the time you’re ending the beta stage.
The moment you decide to publish, you’ll have some legal stuff to take care of. You’ll need to get a tax registration done, which means even more to research for non-US residents (and the details will vary by country). You should have some idea what becoming a published author means for your legal responsibilities – as soon as you sell a single copy, you have an income that is likely to be a subject to a tax.
I can’t really give any specific advice on this matter – it might vary a lot depending on your country of residence. If you have an accountant or a lawyer friend/relative, they might be able to help you – or at least point you in the right direction if your questions are not their specialization.
Publishing a book might be a big step for some. Even if you don’t turn it into a stable income, it’s something not everyone manages – something to be proud of. There are myths about writing and you should be prepared to face some questions, some affected by those myths.
Managing your expectations will be important in the early days – it may be easy to stay on your Amazon page and hit F5 on your report every minute, hoping to see that someone had invested their precious money into your book. You might refresh your e-mail just as furiously, hoping for the first fan mail ever.
Don’t. Overthink it.
Easily said, hard to actually do it.