Top 10 Things to Do Before Publishing Your Novel

As I’ve mentioned on my past few posts, I recently celebrated my first publication anniversary. I’m a pretty nostalgic person, so I’ve been pondering over all the good and bad things that happened with that first release, and I realized that the Me from one year ago really could have used a publication checklist–some sort of guideline to make sure I was on the right track to releasing the book the right way.

So I decided to make one–not for the Me from one year ago, obviously, unless a Me from several years into the future happens to come across a time machine–but for anyone who is currently struggling with their very first book release. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s a good starting point for beginners.

1. Choose a publication route.

Do you want to pursue a book deal with one of the Big 5 publishers, or maybe sign with an agent who can make that happen? Or maybe you want to seek out a smaller publishing house who can give you a little more personalized attention. Self-publishing is also an option.

This detail determines a lot about how you will move forward once you’ve finished your manuscript. If  you’re looking for a publishing house, either Big 5 or independent, you’ll need to start sending out queries and submissions to houses and agents currently accepting. You can find out more information about that route here.

If you decide to self-publish, shop around and pick a reputable site. I highly recommend CreateSpace, which is a print-on-demand subsidiary of Amazon, and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

Remember: You should never pay a company anything other than printing costs when self-publishing. There are a lot of predatory sites out there that promise a lot of things to authors who are desperate to publish their work–things like movie deals and spots on the NYT bestseller list–in exchange for thousands of your dollars. Don’t fall for their schemes.

If you’re unsure of a publisher or printer’s legitimacy, look them on at http://pred-ed.com/.

2. Acquire an editor.

This is especially important if you are self-publishing, since you won’t have access to an editorial team like authors who work with publishing houses. At very least, you need a copy/line editor. Depending on the complexity of your story, you may need a content editor as well. Learn the difference here.

If you’re like most writers, you don’t have a large stash of cash just sitting there, waiting to be spent. That’s okay! Many editors will work with your budget by knocking a little off their usual rate or instituting a payment plan. Some might even be willing to trade their services in exchange for beta reading, or if they’re new on the scene, a reference. Whatever you end up paying, it will be worth it.

3. Cover Design

Most self-publication sites have cover creator tools, but I recommend you use these as a last resort. The templates and tools found on these sites are used by literally millions of people worldwide, and if you use them, your book will lack a unique look. You also won’t have much control over a number of elements, like font type, size, color, and placement.

If you have room in your budget, hire a cover artist. There are several sites with affordable covers listed for $100 and less, specifically geared toward the self-published author.

If you want to have more control over your cover, learn how to use Photoshop. There are hundreds of free tutorials on YouTube and all over the blogosphere, and honestly, you don’t need to know much in order to make the perfect cover. If you can’t afford the full version of Photoshop, you can download the free version, GIMP, which has many of the same capabilities.

The cover on the left was created using the cover creator tool on CreateSpace. I used the same photo to create the cover on the right in Photoshop. See the difference?

4. Select a varied panel of beta readers.

Think about your book. What demographic(s) do you consider your audience? If there is more than one category (and there should be more than one), make sure you consider all of them when selecting your beta readers. If, say, your book is aimed at women ages 18-50, don’t just ask 25-year-olds to read it. Readers of different ages, races, careers, interests, and levels of life experience bring their own flavor of wisdom to the table. You will need as many points of view as you can get.

5. Learn how to format.

Whether you’re publishing your book in print or electronic format (or both!), making sure that your files are formatted correctly is vital to putting out a professional product. CreateSpace has a great formatted template that is easily updated and personalized for every trim size they offer. KDP has a great handbook that teaches you how to create the perfect eBook. Once you get the hang of it, you should be able to put out a dynamite interior file in just a couple of hours.

Not tech savvy? No problem! Most self-publishing sites offer formatting services for an a la carte fee. (Psst, shameless plug: I do paid formatting services for both CreateSpace and KDP. E-mail me for a quote at ofa.author@gmail.com.)

6. Spend time thinking about how you will market your book.

Is your book even remotely similar to a mass market book, one that is most likely a household name? If the answer is yes, use that to your advantage! See who the author follows on Twitter. See who follows them. Ask friends who are fans of that book what exactly they like about it, and  what you could say to make them excited about reading yours.

Contact book bloggers once your manuscript is complete and you’ve chosen a release date. Ask them to review your book on or before release day. If you give them enough warning, they most likely will agree if you send them a free copy of your book. To avoid the possibility of piracy, create .ePub and .mobi files of your manuscript using eBook management software like Calibre and send them directly to the blogger’s Kindle account.

Learn how to use Twitter and other versions of social media to your benefit. Join online writing groups like this one and connect with other authors and industry professionals. Conversation can lead to collaboration. There is almost always someone not only able to answer your questions, but willing to help you!

7. Pick a release day.

You should do this well in advance, and give yourself plenty of wiggle room. Advertise the release day as much as you can, plan an online or in-person event, and start sharing those pre-publication reviews. It will get potential readers excited about you!

8. Make friends with your local library.

Don’t worry about being a bother–trust me, they want to meet you! You’re a local author. They don’t care if your book was published under your own name or by HarperCollins, they think it’s pretty darn cool that someone in their ZIP code has their name in print. Swing by and introduce yourself if you’re not already acquainted. Ask them if they’d be willing to host a meet and greet for you. If they don’t already have a copy, consider donating one and ask them to recommend it to their patrons. This is a fantastic way to gain new readers, and they are wonderful resources to have!

The same goes for local newspapers. Contact a lifestyle or community reporter and ask if they’d be willing to read and review your book, and agree to an interview if one is requested. This is great publicity!

9. Order promotional materials.

This is especially important if you are selling your books at an in-person event. People probably won’t stop just to say hello, but if you ask them if they want a free bookmark–which just so happens to have your book synopsis, Amazon buy link, and all your contact info on it–nine times out of ten, they’ll snatch it right up. Adding something like, “This is my latest release, I write romance!” will probably make them pause and look at your table more closely.

10. Be prepared to talk about your next project in detail.

Nothing sells book number one like book number two! Even if your titles are standalone, people love to hear you have another project in the works. You don’t have to finish it or be able to give a blow by blow synopsis, but definitely know enough about the main character, the basic plot, and the themes to answer questions and get people excited!


Are you an author? What would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments below!

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