So Raychel Rose asked me: "Do you have a self-publishing to do list on your blog somewhere? Or plan to..." And I thought, shit, what a brilliant idea. I need to write one and then check back on it to know what the hell I need to do before I publish a book so I finally hit all the dates without holding it all in my head and forgetting stuff, like forgetting to create a Goodreads giveaway on time, or forgetting that printing an IngramSpark proof takes longer than printing a CreateSpace one, and so on.
Well then, I'll attempt to dump all my wisdom here, and if I missed something, go ahead and add it in the comments, or just share what your to-do list is, or ask me to clarify anything in detail, and together we'll get this puppy good and proper.
1. Finalize your book title (3 - 4 months before publication).
Now, I do this before I start writing the very first draft, and I create a page on my site where you can pre-order the book before it's even published, but for every writer the process is different. Maybe the final title won't come to you until you're done with your book. Google it and try to come up with a title that yields almost no search results, then search Amazon and make sure there isn't another book by the same name. Your goal is to stand out and not to get lost in search results. Or at least try.
2. Send your manuscript to your editor, ask for the bio (3 - 4 months before publication).
If you can afford to hire an editor, hire an editor. If you can't afford to hire an editor, bribe a friend with cookies. Do anything you can to have another pair of eyes comb through your manuscript. If you won't do it, don't even think about publishing. Your book is not ready for reading. It's like a product that's half-baked. You wouldn't eat a half-baked pie, would you? Didn't think so. Oh, and the editor's bio goes in the back of the book. I always like to include it. Allow extra time for any fixing you have to do after you get your file back from your editor.
3. Send your edited manuscript to your proofreader, ask for the bio (1 - 2 months before publication).
This is a luxury that I have started enjoying quite recently. Until now I have relied on you, my readers, to point out mistakes (and republish fixed files later), but Spencer has graciously offered to fill this important role, and let me tell you, proofreading makes a huge difference. Every one of those misspellings is like a snag in your new dress. It's not a big deal but it's annoying as hell. Again, ask friends if you can't afford one. Same thing with the bio of your proofreader, it goes in the back of the book.
4. Write your author bio, introduction, dedication, your thanks, your book description; collect quotes for the back cover; buy ISBNs (1 - 2 months before publication).
The book description (or summary) is what you will need to paste everywhere you publish your book, as well as have it on the back cover. The introduction and the dedication and the thanks and the bio go into the manuscript itself (the bio also goes on all distribution sites like Amazon and so on). Some writers like to have different copy on the back cover as opposed to the book description. I always use same copy for both. Up to you. And I start collecting quotes the first time I put the first draft on my site for download and you lovely people start sending me feedback. In your case you can ask friends or writers from your writing group to give you some quotes or write editorial reviews for you, though I never do that. I also never get ISBNs for ebooks but always for printed books, free ISBNs for CreateSpace editions and paid ISBNs (through Bowker) for IngramSpark editions.
5. Send your proofread manuscript, the book description, the quotes and the ISBNs to your cover designer, ask for the bio (1 - 2 months before publication).
The cover designer is going to make your book into a sellable product. Sometimes writers do covers themselves, and I think it's a very bad idea, because generally writers suck when it comes to graphics. Unless you're a genius who can both write and design, please don't do it. Your cover designer will create a face for your product. It's the first thing people will see, and it's often why they will decide to check out your book or pass it by. It's also a good idea to ask your cover designer to read the whole thing to get the feel for the book before starting the work, and that might take additional time. And again, ask for the bio to add in the back, and if you publish via CreateSpace and IngramSpark like me, don't forget that their cover templates are different and you need to send both to your designer and ask for two versions back (with two different ISBNs).
6. Send your proofread manuscript (with intro and dedication and thanks and all the bios in the back), two ISBNs (one for the CreateSpace version and one for the IngramSpark version) and your final cover to your formatter (1 month before publication).
Your formatter will prepare your file for publishing in all the gazillion million places, and the cover is part of that file so it must be ready by now, but only the front cover. The back cover isn't included in the ebook files, so you can give more time to your cover designer to do the back cover with the description and the quotes and the ISBNs. The formatting might take a while as it takes time to print proofs (as you've seen me mention multiple times) and you can go through several before you're satisfied. I recommend you order printed proofs and hold your book in your hands before you approve it for publication. Making changes later is a real pain in the ass. And I would also say, allow for 1-2 weeks for each change. Plus, remember, every printing costs money.
7. Prepare your book for publication (1 month before publication).
This is the most boring part of the whole process. Here you have to decide how much you will sell your book for, what categories it fits, what will be the book's tags (for metadata), the cover file formats you need (different distribution sites ask for different formats in different sizes), the picture for your bio if you're publishing for the first time and need to create an author's account, or if you want to update your old picture, and other little annoying things, like do you want DRM protection or not, what the book prices will be in other countries (not all distributors convert US currency for you), will you offer your ebook for free anywhere or not (if you do it like me, you can't participate in Kindle Unlimited, for example), and will you make it into an audiobook or not (and so will you need to create a separate cover and an audition script and an enticing project description). Maybe there are more things to decide, but these are all I remember doing for my books.
8. Decide on the promotion for your book (2 - 3 weeks before publication).
I don't do much of the traditional stuff or stuff that people usually like to do, like blog hopping (or whatever it's called) and editorial reviews and sending books to book reviewers and stuff like that. I only do Goodreads giveaways, and it takes them about 1 week to approve each giveaway, and I give away copies on social media when I have the actual paperbacks in my hands, so it's spontaneous. I also write a newsletter and send it out every time a new book is published, but that takes me only 30 minutes, so I don't plan it ahead of time. As to the readings at bookstores and such, I find the planning so tedious that I do these spontaneously too, if a store invites me or if someone tells me about an event. Otherwise I don't bother.
9. Order lots of paperback copies (2 - 3 weeks before publication).
Once you got everything approved everywhere and your book is live everywhere, order lots of copies (allow enough time for printing and shipping) to give away and to sell. In my case, I sell signed copies from my site and so I order about 60 for the first run, 20 to give away and 20 that people have pre-ordered and 20 for stock. Lately I've been ordering only from CreateSpace. They are faster and the cover colors are crisp and correct. However, the text inside is not as dark and shiny as it is when you print with IngramSpark, but IngramSpark's covers are smudged a little (like look like they're a bit wet) and often the cover color is not quite right, and they are slower and a little more expensive.
10. SCREAM EVERYWHERE ABOUT YOUR NEW BOOK (DAY OF PUBLICATION).
This is something I'm still failing at, picking a launch day. I always seem to miss it with all those timelines I have outlined for you above. I have to adjust to the schedules of my team, and I choose to wait for a better product as opposed to rushing it and making it on time, so I stay away from picking a date. I shall try it with TUBE, maybe. We shall see.
Of course, what I've outlined here for you is bare bones. There is so much more to the whole process, I would have to spend a whole week thinking through it and organizing it and writing it all down. If you Google "self-publishing to-do list" you'll see lots of blog posts already done by lots of great writers, so go ahead and steal ideas from them. What I wrote here is more of a general checklist to keep your sanity (and mine, since I'll be checking back here from now on). And if you have any other ideas or questions, feel free to share. WE WILL ALL BENEFIT.
Thank you. I love you. Onward.