What’s so cool about being an aspiring author today is that there is literally nothing standing in the way of you having a book in the world. You don’t have to receive permission from the Great Gods of Publishing anymore. You can simply DIY and self-publish!
That said, there are a lot of things aspiring self-published authors don’t know about how the book biz works. And unfortunately, in too many cases, this inexperience shows up like a blinking neon sign in their finished book.
But you need not fear, my self-publishing friend. For you have me, and this article. I’m going to give you a precise checklist of all the stages you need to put your book through in order to avoid this fate. Let’s go!
The Traditional Publishing Gauntlet
The first thing I need to point out is how much most readers don’t know about what goes into making a great book. What we don’t see when we pick up a favorite tome is the veritable obstacle course of professional editing and design input that went into creating the finished product that’s in our hands.
Before it ever hits the shelves, a traditionally published book is put through acquisitions meetings, concept meetings, title meetings, cover design meetings, launch meetings, and sales meetings. (I get tired just remembering how many meetings I used to sit in!!)
Then once the manuscript is delivered, it goes through developmental editing, line editing, copyediting, interior design, descriptive copy writing, endorsement requests and no fewer than three, but as many as six, proofreads. All of this before it ever hits the press!
This is literally what happens for every book, at every publishing company. And those meetings I mentioned are packed with power. Sitting around the conference room table are dozens of humans who have devoted decades to understanding what it takes to publish a successful book. Same goes for the editorial process. Those many, many editorial rounds are provided by professional, career book editors. Why so much effort, energy and attention? Because this kind of it-takes-a-village-of-badasses production process bears a particular type of fruit.
A Standard of Excellence
Readers have come to expect the results of this publishing gauntlet. In a nutshell, readers have come to expect excellence. It’s the only standard a traditional house will accept. If you’re not holding your own book to this standard, your readers will know. Immediately.
The good news is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the publishing process. The publishing giants have done the due diligence for you. They’ve already got it figured out, over the course of many decades, many trials and many errors. They have learned, the hard way, what it takes for a book to clear the bar of readability. (Readability of course leads to word-of-mouth sales, which leads to bestsellerdom, which leads to more impact in the world.)
In other words, the big publishers have failed—over and over, for years and years—and you get to learn from their mistakes! The publishing process that prevails in the industry today is the result of decades of refinement. If you want your book to compete with the books that come out of the big houses, you’ll need to apply this wisdom, too!
Your Step-by-Step Self-Publishing Checklist
The Self-Publishing Checklist below is based on my 20 years in the publishing industry, working for and with some of the largest publishers in the US (HarperCollins, Penguin, Hyperion, Sounds True and Hay House). It contains all the steps I would recommend for taking that glimmer in your eye from a solid book idea to an actual book—one that clears the standard of excellence.
Too often I see indie authors skipping steps in the process. It makes sense: often the authors did not even know these steps were a thing!
But the result is a book that is poorly designed, difficult to read and full of distracting formatting errors. I do not want this to be your fate! So I’m making sure you know ALL the steps. I’ve even boiled it down into a handy little checklist. (Download it here.)
If you are planning to self-publish, please promise me one thing: Do not go to press without checking every single box on this list!
Without further delay, here is the Self-Publishing Checklist I want you to follow.