How to Publish a Novel: A Start to Finish Guide


So you wrote your novel. You put in the time, got your story structure down, and are likely finishing up revisions or self-editing while working on the next phase in your author journey: publishing.

But how do you take your novel to the next level? What do you need to prepare for and set up.

The fact is that you know you want to publish this piece of work and I’m here to steer you in the right direction, being a published author myself.

If you’re actually ready to learn how to successfully market and publish your book today, this training is by far the best place to start.

Here’s what you’ll learn about how to publish a novel:

  1. What to do after you’ve written a novel
  2. Pros and cons of self-publishing a novel
  3. How to self-publish your novel
  4. Pros and cons of traditionally publishing a novel
  5. How to traditionally publish a novel

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What do you do after you’ve written the book?

In the writing world years ago, you only had one option: find a publisher who wants it. If no one wanted to buy and publish your book, you were out of luck. Onto the next manuscript, toss that one in the bin.

Fortunately, things are different today.

The great thing about being a modern author is that you’ve got options! Gone are the days of mandatory querying, submitting, waiting, rejections, and repeat. Now you can take your book and your publishing experience into your own hands with self-publishing.

So which one is better? Traditional publishing or self-publishing?

It really depends on your goals and resources. In this blog, we’re going to discuss the differences between traditional and self-publishing, the pros and cons of each, and what you should consider when making this decision.

Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing: A quick overview

Self-publishing vs traditional publishing is a hot debate among authors-to-be everywhere. Let’s cover self-publishing first, as this is a new ever-growing industry.

Self-publishing might seem like way too much work! Or maybe it seems like an amazingly fun adventure of choosing your own fate, expressing your creativity, and making your own choices.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of self-publishing your book.

Pros of self-publishing a novel:

  1. Creative control. With self-publishing, it’s all up to you! You maintain all creative control. Write any story you want, include whatever characters you want, market however you want, put your own face as the book cover if you want—it’s all your decision.
  2. Business control. You get to decide everything on the business side too! Cover design, marketing, book trailers, promotions, advertisements—you’re in control and can do whatever you’d like.
    For example, I was able to offer a free ebook of my short story collection to encourage people to stay home during the COVID-19 outbreak. My goal was to calm people down and provide a distraction. But some unexpected benefits for me were extra Amazon reviews, hype about my next book, purchases of the physical copy, and word-of-mouth advertising that I couldn’t have created on purpose. This isn’t something I could have done with a traditionally published book, because the publisher has control of pricing and promotions.
    NOTE: Business control could be a con if you don’t have a background in business, don’t take the time to research beforehand, or if you’re just not interested in running the business side of a writing career—so keep that in mind.
  3. Higher royalties! Book royalties for a traditionally published book usually range between 8% to 12%. For self-published books, the range is much higher. For example, publishing a paperback with KDP gives you a royalty rate of 60%. That’s a significant difference, and certainly something to keep in mind.
  4. You don’t have to do it alone! You can have hands-on help from Self-Publishing School to guide you through the self-publishing process, from planning your book, to writing, to editing, to publishing, to promoting! 

Cons of self-publishing a novel:

  1. You pay for everything.Editor, cover art, marketing, copyright—all you, boo. There’s no publisher there to pick up any of the financial slack.
  2. No advance, so no guaranteed payment. With traditional publishing, as we’ll cover in a little bit, you typically receive an advance, which is an upfront payment for your book. This guarantees you make something for your efforts, at least so long as your book sells (otherwise you often have to give that advance back). No such luck with self-publishing. You either sell enough copies to recoup costs, or you eat the loss.

Self-publishing your novel might be the route for you if you:

  1. Want to retain creative and business control
  2. Have the money to invest in producing the book

How to publish a novel

If you’ve discovered this is the right direction for you, here are some steps to get you there.

FREE Fiction Training! Learn the craft...  Learn how to write a strong fiction story readers love and launch your fiction  career...without compromising on quality (or taking YEARS to make it happen)!  YES! GET THE TRAINING!

#1 – Produce the book

Write the book

Whichever publishing path you choose, ya gotta write the book. There are many processes and strategies, and it will look different depending on the author and their preferences.

Edit the book

Just like writing, there are several different processes and strategies available for editing your book. Ideally, you’re going to go through multiple rounds of edits. For example, a lot of writers will edit their book in this order: developmental edits, line edits, and copy edits.

You might try in-house editing. This isn’t recommended. Even writers who are also professional editors would be better off hiring an editor for their book. It’s just so easy to miss things when you’re close to a story. It takes an outside perspective to spot mistakes, especially in developmental edits.

Cover design

You might do this in-house, or you might hire someone to do it for you. If you have the ability to invest in something, I recommend investing in a cover. This is your customer-facing element and a major marketing tool, so investing makes sense!

Interior format

This is something else you could do in-house, but you should consider your skill level and amount of time you’re able to invest. Think about what you have more of: time or money. If you have more time, maybe it’s worth it for you to learn to format the book yourself. If you have more money and less time, it might be worth the financial investment.

Publish the book

There are many options for indie authors to self-publish with. KDP, IngramSpark, iBooks, Kobo, and more. Each has different levels of accessibility, different learning curves, and different requirements. There are also differentiation between your publishing and licensing rights between them, so research carefully before making your selection.

Self-Publishing School also has step-by-step processes for publishing through each of the above in their Become a Bestseller program so you don’t have to waste the time learning on your own.

#2 – Market the book

Build a platform

Possibly the most powerful marketing tool to sell your book is having an audience—your author platform—ready to buy it before you’ve finished writing it. There are many things you can do to build a platform for your book. Jenna Moreci’s Skillshare class is a great place to start.

Book launch

The most crucial time frame to market your book is before and during its release. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to hype the art you’ve been working so hard to create! Jenna has another great SkillShare class all about book launches.

Giveaways and promotions

Hosting giveaways on social media is a great way to build hype for your book and platform. 

Advertisements

You might buy ads to run where your demographic might see them. For example, if you’re writing romance novels for the age demographic of 40+ readers, a Facebook ad might be a great investment. If your target demographic is teenagers, a Facebook ad would be virtually useless (unless you’re targeting their parents!).

Does self-publishing work? Of course! Is it worth it? That’s up to you. Let’s look at traditional publishing to see if that’s a better fit for your writing goals and resources.

Pros and cons of traditionally publishing a novel

Traditional publishing might seem like an unattainable dream. Or maybe it seems like the PERFECT way to launch your writing career! Let’s look at it objectively with some pros and cons.

Pros of traditionally publishing a book:

  1. Less financial investment up front. Your publisher will cover expenses like editing, cover design, and interior formatting. You don’t have to worry about putting your own money on the line. If your book doesn’t sell, you still make off with your cashbag.
  2. The cashbag (guaranteed paycheck).
    While self-publishing provides you with significantly higher royalties, traditional publishers often offer the incentive of an advance payment, which typically ranges from $5,000 to $20,000. Advances are not a guarantee with every publisher, so always be sure to read your contract. Royalty payments for traditional publishers kick in if and when the book has sold enough copies to surpass the advance. (Most books never meet that threshold and never start paying royalties to the author.)

Cons of traditionally publishing a novel:

  1. Traditional publishers don’t have your best interest at heart.
    They’re a business. They have goals and standards that have nothing to do with you. Sure, they’re there if you have questions, and they have the industry know-how, but your book is just another product and you’re just another writer.
    In some cases, publishers will buy rights to a book they never intend to publish, just to keep another publishing company from getting their hands on it. This is a business practice in many industries—it’s a way to minimize competition. While this isn’t the likeliest drawback of traditional publishing, it is an example of how they’re not “on your side”. They’re running a business.
    NOTE: Vanity presses are technically publishers, and they certainly don’t want what’s best for you and your book. Vanity presses are publishers who charge writers to publish their book—they don’t care about quality because they’re not making their money off of readers: they’re making their money off of you.
  2. Publishers maintain creative control. If you have specific ideas about how you want your book to be presented or marketed, if you have a picture of what you want the cover to look like, if you want to write about something extremely controversial or that there may not be a market for—you’re going to be disappointed. Publishers know the industry, and they have their own goals with your book: they’ll do what they want with it. They can even control the content of your story. If that bothers you, this probably isn’t the publishing option you should take.
  3. Publishers maintain business control. Just like creative control, the business control lies with your publisher. Like I said earlier, I was able to offer my ebook free, just because I felt like it. With traditional publishing, you don’t have a say in how your book is sold.
  4. While you typically have a guaranteed paycheck in that initial advance, it often isn’t much! If you’re getting $10k per book, and that’s all, you have to have a day job or make sure you stretch that $10k until you can rip out another book fast. While self-publishing doesn’t promise a lucrative life right away either (unless you know how to work the algorithm and gain exposure, which is taught in Self-Publishing School’s Sell More Books program), keep in mind that advances—especially early on—just aren’t that much.

Traditionally publishing a novel might be for you if:

  1. You don’t mind giving up creative and business control
  2. You don’t have the money to invest up front
  3. You’re okay with receiving smaller royalties in exchange for the publisher covering production costs
  4. You understand that they don’t have your best interests at heart, and you’re ready to proceed with a business frame of mind, taking the necessary precautions to protect yourself and your work

How to traditionally publish a novel

If you think traditional publishing might be the right move for your book, let’s look at the steps to do it!

1. Write the book.

Gotta do this either way! A drag, right?

2. Gather application materials

This includes:

  1. A clean manuscript of your book
  2. A strong query letter
  3. A high-quality book synopsis

3. Apply for a literary agent

Here’s Meg Latorre, writer and former literary agent, teaching us how to get a literary agent and how NOT to get a literary agent.

4. Wait

Most of the traditional publishing process is spent waiting. Some writers can wait for months or years trying to snag a literary agent. You might even end up tossing your manuscript and trying again with the next one.

TIP: Try to use this time productively, like by working on your next manuscript! 

5. Edit!

If/when you find an agent, you’ll go back and forth with your agent and editor to edit your manuscript over and over again, until it’s right!

6. Market

Once your book is edited, you wait for publication. Again, this could be months or years, but once it happens, time to market.

Unfortunately (and contrary to popular belief), being traditionally published does not guarantee that your publisher will market the book for you. In fact, they almost definitely won’t.

Unless you’re an established author, publishers really don’t benefit from spending money making sure your book sells. They’ll invest their marketing budget on authors who have already proven to be profitable.

The one guaranteed element from a publisher that you might consider marketing is the book cover (which you have no say in designing). This doesn’t mean publishers are evil and they want you to fail, but they have no incentive to spend any of their marketing budgets on a new author or a debut book—it won’t make them any money, and they’re just running a business.

To sum up, there’s no one-size-fits-all publishing solution that will work for every writer. Consider your goals, your expectations, your strengths and weaknesses, and the amount of time and resources you’re ready to commit to publishing your book.

Do you want to invest less time and money for a smaller reward? Traditional publishing might be your route.

Do you want to invest a little more initially for potentially a more profitable long-run? Self-publishing might be your route.

Here’s how to get started on your self-publishing journey if you’re ready to become an author and publish your novel.

Disclosure: Some of the links above may contain affiliate partnerships, meaning, at no additional cost to you, Self-Publishing School may earn a comission if you click through to make a purchase.

Hannah Lee Kidder

Hannah Lee Kidder is a contemporary and fantasy author, writing coach, and YouTuber. She has published two bestselling short story collections, Little Birds and Starlight. Hannah is currently minding her own business, streaming a variety of writing and life content on Twitch, somewhere in the Colorado mountains with her roommate, Saya, who is a dog.

https://www.facebook.com/HannahLeeKidder

What is Self-Publishing School?

We help you save time, money, and headaches through the book, writing, marketing, and publishing process by giving you the proven, step-by-step process and accountability to publish successfully. All while allowing you to maintain control of your book–and its royalties.
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