In Step 3 we looked at budgeting, and talked about what you can expect to pay to self-publish your book, and how soon you should expect to break even – and, more importantly, break into profit! Today it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty, and come up with a workable plan to make sure you don’t miss out any important parts of the process.

I did all this wrong the first time. I didn’t buy my ISBNs ahead of time, so I had to pay more for them to be rushed through (I’d set a publication date and I was loath to miss it). I didn’t list it on Nielsen’s early enough either, so the information didn’t filter through in time for it to show on Amazon etc by the launch date. I didn’t realise that I wouldn’t be able to get my paperback cover sorted until I knew the exact number of pages after typesetting, so that was a last minute rush too! And I failed to do a ‘soft-launch’ of the ebook – more about that in a bit.

Now I have a super-duper spreadsheet with all the timescales laid down, and from this I can see what I should be doing and when. Your timescales will be different to mine – some writers will need to start listing information while they are at the editing stage, others may be happy to wait until their book is proofread and ready to go. Really it depends on your own deadlines – but what you must do is be sure to set a date for your launch that is achievable! And the following information will help you do just that.

Lead Times – Paperback

So, let’s assume you are going through the usual process of planning, writing, and editing your manuscript. If this is your first ever venture into publication, I’d wait until you are ready to send your work off for final proofreading before starting the publishing process detailed below. Nine times out of ten you will find stuff you want to change even at this stage, and everything takes longer than you expect. There’s nothing worse than telling all your friends and family that you are launching on a particular date, and then feeling the horrible pressure as that date approaches and you’re not … quite … ready. Argghhh!

If you’ve done it all before, you’ll likely have a better idea of how long the final editing stages will take you, and you can start planning the process accordingly. Let’s start with the task that needs to be completed first, and work our way up to launch date from there.

Launch minus 8 weeks –  Buy ISBNS. Only necessary if you are planning a print version and want your own publishing name listed as the publisher of record. In the UK at the time of writing, ISBNs are available in batches of 10 priced at £126. Click here for more information and to order. Takes about 2 weeks for the list to come through – and you need this before you can register with Nielsen.

NB: If you are publishing a paperback with CreateSpace you can use their free ISBN (the publisher of record will be CreateSpace). Ebooks also need ISBNs, but Amazon assign their own ASIN, and Kobo will also let you use a free one. If uploading via a distributer like Smashwords you can also use a free ISBN. This is a major expense, so think carefully whether you really need them. I bought them because I was printing via Lightning Source, but for my next book I’m moving to CreateSpace so they may well be redundant!

Launch minus 8 weeks – Source Cover Design. You will want to start using your cover image as soon as possible to build pre-launch interest. It’s also nice to upload the cover to your Nielsen listing (see below), but this can be added later. Allow a couple of weeks for your cover to be completed. Although the designer will no doubt be able to produce something a lot faster than that, if you are paying for a couple of rounds of changes this will take time. If you have a really popular/busy designer you’d like to use, remember to book them up in advance! It’s a good idea to ask for the ebook cover first (you’re doing an ebook as well, right?). This is the most time-consuming part for the designer, and once you are happy with the main cover image, the back and spine can be designed to fit. Anyway, by this point you will have to be ready to provide a title and brief synopsis. A blurb is even better, but this can be added at paperback template stage (see below).

The cover of Can’t Live Without was a collaborative effort – sourcing the right photo took ages!

Launch minus 8 weeks – Beta Readers. The other thing to do around about now is get your book out to some Beta Readers. These are wonderful people who will read your book pre-publication and let you know if there’s anything that doesn’t work so well – great for the wider view that an editor may lack. And if you’ve done all your own editing then Beta Readers are essential. You don’t want to be putting your book up for sale when the only people who’ve read it are you and perhaps a member of your family. Get other opinions – it’s better to find out about holes or inconsistencies now, and not from reviewers on Amazon (who can be very cutting indeed). How to find Beta Readers? Just ask. On your blog, on Facebook, on Twitter – try to get at least 6 and a wide cross section. By the way, if you just said I don’t have a blog, Facebook or Twitter account you need to go back about ten steps and set them up!

Launch minus 6 weeks – Notify Nielsen. Again, only for print books, but it’s worth notifying Nielsen as this is the database bookshops, wholesalers and eretailers like Amazon pick up their information from. For a basic listing you need the ISBN (see above), meta data (publisher, title, author, category etc), list price, trim size and number of pages. Nielsen listings are managed via their portal PubWeb – it’s really easy to use.

A note on number of pages: If you are scheduling this before typesetting your book it will be hard to know exactly how many pages it might be for paperback. As a rough guide, a 5 x 8 inch paperback at 260 pages contains a 70,000 word novel. Obviously if you choose a large typeface, larger or smaller trim size (book size) the pagination will be different. You can always change this data later.

A note on CreateSpace: If you are using CreateSpace’s free ISBN you won’t be able to list with Nielsen until you start the process of uploading your book to CreateSpace. You can get around this by uploading a file you don’t intend to use, get the assigned ISBN, then simply replace the file with the real one when the time comes. Just don’t press publish!  

Launch minus 6 weeks – Advance Information Sheet & Marketing Materials. If you are planning to try and get stocked in bookshops, you need to send out AI. Ideally you’d send it 2 to 3 months before, but you can’t send it until you’ve got the ISBN. For a great example of an AI sheet see here. It’s also a great idea to order any marketing materials around about now. Think bookmarks and postcards – places like VistaPrint are cheap, but they charge a lot for quicker delivery, so you can save money on postage by ordering in plenty of time.

Launch minus 6 weeks – Proofreading. So, you’ve got your manuscript back from the Beta Readers and made any necessary changes. Now it’s time to get it proofread. This is non-negotiable, to be honest. Get. It. Proofread. Expect this to take from 1 to 2 weeks.

pen and ink

Launch minus 5 weeks – Blurb. While the book is with the proofreader, work on your blurb. Take your time over this – it’s the product description on Amazon and the stuff that will go on the back cover. Make it sing.

Launch minus 4 weeks – Typesetting. Once you’ve had your book proofed, and made any necessary changes, you have your master copy. Don’t make any other changes to it after it’s been proofread! Don’t suddenly decide to change a character’s name, or anything else. I see this so many times and it drives me insane. It’s really easy to avoid – just don’t send the thing to the proofreader until you are 100% happy with it. Okay, end of rant. Now is the time to typeset it for print. Coming up next time is my template for doing this easily in Word – anyone can do it, and you can save a packet and make your book look amazing. Once it’s typeset you’ll have the number of pages and you can pop that in your cover template calculator and get the spine width. Check out CreateSpace’s cover template and spine calculator – it’s brilliant.

NB: If you are producing an ebook, you can format for Kindle and epub at the same time, albeit in different programmes. More on this below.

Launch minus 4 weeks – Paperback Cover. As soon as you have the spine width and cover template – with barcode including ISBN (don’t worry, CreateSpace or Lightning Source produce this template for you), send it to your cover designer so they can produce the final paperback cover. Remember this needs to be a pdf, not a jpeg (the ebook cover will be a jpeg), and must be in CMYK, not RGB. If you don’t know what that means you cannot do your own cover. Also remember bleed. Ditto comment above it’s that foreign to you.

Launch minus 3 weeks – Upload Files to Printer. We’ll go with CreateSpace here, as the lead times are slightly longer than if you are using Lightning Source. That’s only because of shipping times to the UK (I’m in the UK, which is why this guide is written from that perspective, but of course the information here is universal). You’ll need to upload an interior file (pdf) and an exterior, or cover, file (also pdf, see above). CreateSpace have a brilliant online proofing widget, but if it’s your first book, or your first time with CS, or you just want to be doubly sure it’s perfect, order a physical proof copy to be sent out.

Launch minus 2 weeks – Approve Proof and Order Author Copies. Wow, we’re getting so close now! Once you’re happy with the proof (you can make changes and upload a new file to CreateSpace for free – Lightning Source have a fee), you should order your author copies for your launch party etc. Remember we are allowing for shipping times here – LS in the UK are super fast, so this can be done later if necessary. But there’s another difference to take into account, covered next …

Such a brilliant feeling when your box of books arrives!

Launch minus 1 week – Publish. This is the moment. You are basically clicking a button and telling your printer that it’s fine to start distributing to Amazon and elsewhere. Once you’ve done this, people will be able to order a copy of your book when it shows up for sale.

CreateSpace: Once you approve your copy and click publish, your book will show up on the Amazon sites very quickly, usually in a day or possibly up to three days.

Lightning Source: It takes longer – sometimes much longer. Once you approve your title with LS it goes into their distribution network, but this takes a while to filter through. My first title printed via LS showed up for sale on Amazon in 2 weeks; my second took nearly 2 months! This, by the way, is one of the reasons I’m moving to CreateSpace next time. But LS do have lots of benefits. There are other posts on the blog about this, so I won’t go into it now.

So, give yourself plenty of time to get your book available before your big launch. The same goes for the ebook, of course, but that’s a lot easier. Let’s look at that next.

Lead Times – Ebooks

If you are publishing both a paperback and an ebook, and want them to hit the market at the same time, you can incorporate this timetable into the one above. With my first title I did the ebook first, then worked on the paperback; with my second I got them both out at exactly the same time. The second way was much more stressful! In future I’ll probably do the ebook-followed-by-paperback model, but each route has its benefits and downsides.

A note on ISBNs: Remember that ebooks also need ISBNs, but Amazon assign their own ASIN, and Kobo will also let you use a free one. If uploading via a distributer like Smashwords you can also use a free ISBN.

Let’s assume you’ve decided to use Beta Readers, and already had your book back from them, and made any changes based on their feedback. Okay, so …

Launch minus 4 weeks – Proofreading. As above. Get. It. Proofed.

Launch minus 4 weeks – Cover Design. Also as above. The ebook cover should come to you as a jpeg and be the right size/ratio for Amazon and other eretailers (1:6 is a good ratio to aim for). Get the cover right. It needs to work as a thumbnail – i.e. really small! Study your genre, and try to get it fitting the genre, but not copying. Fresh, but recognisable. Tricky, but that’s what you’re paying for, right? Expect to pay from £50 up for a cover.

Tiny, but still striking!

Launch minus 3 weeks – Write blurb. As above. Also start thinking about categories. This applies to paperback listings on Amazon too – choose the best categories, and remember that if you are publishing via Amazon’s KDP interface, you can only choose 2 categories.

Launch minus 2 weeks – Formatting for Kindle, epub and others. This is called formatting because it is distinct from typesetting. Formatting is harder, and should be done by a professional if possible. Ebook text is reflowable – readers can change the font size and orientation, and will be reading your book on so many different types of ereader it’s impossible to be too precious about how it will appear. Simple and user-friendly is the way to go. There are conventions which should not be broken – for fiction you should have the first line of a paragraph not indented, subsequent paragraphs indented and no line breaks between paragraphs, for example. A new chapter should start on a new page.

Nepotism Time! My brother-in-law, Bryan Hamilton, offers a brilliant ebook formatting service, starting from only £50! Save yourself the nightmare and contact him.

Launch minus 1 week – Upload to KDP. And other eretailers if you are planning on opting out of Amazon’s Select programme. You’ll need your interior file – a mobi for Amazon, epub for others – and the cover. This only takes half an hour or so to do, it’s very easy, but it’s still best to do it a good week ahead of the launch for a number of reasons. 1: You can check it’s all working properly by downloading it yourself. 2: It gives you time to refine categories and your product description. (Use Amazon’s Author Central US for this, wherever you’re based – it has more options.) 3: It allows you to do a ‘soft launch’.

Soft Launch

Phew, bet you’re exhausted after reading all that, but there’s just one more thing I want to talk about. Launching softly, or quietly, a couple of days ahead of your official launch is a great idea. Not only can you check the stuff mentioned above, you can also get some good early reviews, which will show up on Amazon and encourage new readers. Who do you get these reviews from? Well, not friends and family, obviously. No, they come from your Beta Readers. Ask nicely, and your early readers will no doubt be happy to post a review. You can also stagger sales a bit for extra exposure in Amazon’s rankings – but that’s a topic for another post!

Next time: Self-Publishing Guide Step 5: Typesetting in Word/Formatting for Kindle Explained.