Self-publishing checklist for indie authors: self publish your book with confidence

Commerce Writers
18 min read
In this Article

You’ve spent the past several months writing your book. Now it’s time to switch gears and go from writer to publisher/marketer.

You’re eager to get your manuscript into the hands of your future readers, but you just don’t know how to do it. And while the thought of self-publishing a book used to be exciting, it now feels overwhelming.

Luckily, it’s easier than you think to self-publish your book.

To help you get there, I’ve put together a self-publishing checklist with the 12 essential elements you’ll need to cover when publishing your book.

Let’s jump in.

Your official self-publishing checklist

self publishing checklist

1. Polish your manuscript

You can polish your manuscript two ways: either by hiring an editor, or by editing it yourself.

Hire an editor

Many new authors wonder if they really need to hire an editorisn’t that what spellcheck is for? However, unbiased eyes will catch more errors and tighten your writing.

Nancee-Laetitia Marin is a professional book editor at The Language Agent. Beyond editing your work, she notes that good editors also know about publishing standards—something you might not be familiar with:

Not everyone knows publishing standards or conventions. Trained editors know them. We follow industry standards to make books the best they can be. Different genres and different varieties of English have different conventions and standards as outlined in style guides. For example, The Chicago Manual of Style (or Chicago for short) sets the US standard in trade book publishing and is the bible of the Big Five (soon to be Big Four) publishers, while New Hart’s Rules is used for UK publications. Each genre or niche also has its own terminology.

Nancee-Laetitia MarinLanguages evolve over time. English in particular undergoes rapid changes, which are also covered in style guides and other guidebooks or resources. Professional editors are up to date with the changes. They're also trained to make judgment calls. They can advise writers on when to follow the rules and when to break them. That's why an editor's guidance is indispensable in publishing the best possible book.

– Nancee-Laetitia Marin

Edit your manuscript yourself

If an editor isn’t in your budget, turn to free writing tools to help you catch errors and spot mistakes:

  • Grammarly offers basic edits and grammar advice.
  • Text-to-speech apps read your work back to you. Your ears may pick up things your eyes miss, like sentences that don’t flow or missing punctuation.
  • OneLook Reverse Dictionary and Thesaurus helps tighten your prose by suggesting power words you can use to replace weaker phrases. An easy way to spot weak phrases is to search for “-ly” adverbs in your work, like quickly, slowly, or loudly. For example, typing “quickly run” into its search bar shows us better words to use like sprint, flee, and dash. These words paint better scenes for your readers.
self publishing checklist
Give your readers vivid imagery with powerful words. Image via OneLook.

2. Write your author bio

An author bio usually appears at the front of a book, your website, and any platforms where you sell your work.

  • A great author bio gives readers a glimpse into who you are and builds a connection between you and them. Include things like:
  • Credentials that help signal expertise in your topic
  • Achievements, such as other books you’ve written
  • Personal facts like where you’re from or what you do in your spare time

When writing your author bio, use third-person—your name and she/he/they. Here’s an example from bestselling author, Liane Moriarty:

“Liane Moriarty is the Australian author of eight internationally best-selling novels: Three Wishes, The Last Anniversary, What Alice Forgot, The Hypnotist’s Love Story, Nine Perfect Strangers and the number one New York Times bestsellers: The Husband's Secret, Big Little Lies and Truly Madly Guilty. Her books have been translated into over forty languages and sold more than 20 million copies.

Big Little Lies and Truly Madly Guilty both debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list – the first time this was ever achieved by an Australian author. Big Little Lies was adapted into a multiple award-winning HBO series with a star-studded cast including Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon. Hulu is adapting Nine Perfect Strangers into a limited series starring Nicole Kidman and Melissa McCarthy for release in 2021.

Her new novel, Apples Never Fall, will be released in September 2021.
Liane lives in Sydney, Australia, together with her husband, son and daughter.”

Liane’s bio starts by listing her achievements and other books she’s written and finishes with a personal fact. As you write more books, consider adding them to your author bio to help readers find them.

Tabitha Hibbert’s bio focuses less on her accomplishments and more on her personal story:

“Talia Hibbert is a New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestselling author who lives in a bedroom full of books. Supposedly, there is a world beyond that room—but she has yet to drum up enough interest to investigate. She writes steamy stories of passion, love, and sarcasm, then hawks them online because she just can't help herself.”

Your author bio gives you endless options for sharing your story and attracting more readers. You can get more inspiration from your favorite authors and other authors in your genre.

3. Write any dedications

Your dedication is an optional brief 1-2 sentence page that comes after the title page of your book. It’s a nice way to credit those who supported you during the laborious writing process.

You can dedicate your book to whomever you wish:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • People who inspired you while writing your book
  • Peers
  • People who offered insight or information to supplement the material in your book

Dedications can be heartfelt or humorous. Take Ben Philippe’s funny dedication in his book The Field Guide to the North American Teenager:

“To my mother, Belzie.
I would have made a terrible doctor, mom. People would have died.”

4. Write your acknowledgements

Unlike your dedication page, your acknowledgments don’t need to be brief, and can span several pages. It’s your chance to delve into specific reasons why certain people deserve thanks.

For example, “thanks to my editor” isn’t specific enough. Try, “thank you to Karla, my wonderful editor and sidekick. Without your keen eye and grasp on grammar, this book wouldn’t be where it is right now.”

Not all books contain acknowledgments, and if you don’t want to include this, you don’t have to. If you want to include an acknowledgments page, put it before your author bio or after the table of contents.

5. Create your copyright page

The copyright page comes directly after your title page. This legal disclosure makes it easier for you to prove ownership of your book’s material, which is useful if someone plagiarizes your writing.

Sam Vander Wielen, a former lawyer turned legal entrepreneur, says:

It's so important that author's assert their given copyright protection. By doing so, you'll put readers on notice that not only are you the author and creator of this work (who therefore owns the copyright to it), but you can also guide them on how and when to seek your permission for sharing and distribution. By giving clear direction, you'll avoid any accidental misuse of your work AND make it hard for a ‘bad actor' to say he or she didn't know they couldn't illegally share your work.

– Sam Vander Wielen

Sam even has a free copyright disclosure you can use for your next book.

self publishing checklist
ConvertKit creator and legal entrepreneur Sam Vander Wielen has a free copyright disclosure you can download to self-publish your book. Image via Sam Vander Wielen.

If you have any specific questions regarding copyright law, it’s best to reach out to a lawyer.

6. Get a headshot

Your headshot accompanies your author bio and lets readers “put a face” to the book they’re reading.

Hiring a professional helps capture your personality—and your best angles! If a professional photographer is out of your budget, take your own headshot with a high-quality camera. You can always hire someone to retouch your photo so it’s print-ready.

Author Sofía Segovia has a simple black and white headshot:

Sofía Segovia
Black and white headshots are always classic. Image via Amazon.

But don’t take the word “headshot” literally. As Anthony Horowitz shows us, you can still have a great headshot, even if it includes your full body.

Anthony Horowitz
Anthony Horowitz’s headshot is relaxing and inviting. Image via Amazon.

Here’s one last example, this one from Jasmine Guillory.

Jasmine Guillory
Jasmine Guillory smiles straight at the camera. Image via Amazon.

You can find plenty of headshot inspiration on Amazon and from the books on your bookshelf.

7. Select your book’s typography

free book fonts

The right typography improves readability, so more people read your book from start to finish.

IngramSpark, an independent publishing platform, polled their book designers for the best book fonts. The results?

  • Caslon
  • Garamond
  • Jenson
  • Minion
  • Palatino

They also discovered that serif fonts—fonts with strokes or lines on each letter— improve readability, making them the best for books.

serif vs sans serif

However, if your book has headers, you can use a contrasting sans-serif font.

8. Edit your book’s layout

Like your font choice, the layout of text and images on your pages affects readability. For easy reading, remove orphans, runts, and widows:

  • Widows are when the last line of a paragraph doesn’t fit at the bottom of a page and instead sits alone at the top of the next page
  • Orphans are the opposite of a widow and occur when the first line of a paragraph sits at the bottom of a page by itself
  • Runts happen when the last line in a paragraph ends with a single word

If your book includes imagery, make sure the images fit on the page properly and aren’t cut off.

Check your book’s layout before uploading it to your publishing platform and after to make sure nothing has changed in the process.

9. Write your blurb for the back cover/book summary

Your blurb is a mini-sales pitch to convince your readers to buy your book.

If you print your book, the blurb appears on the back cover. For ebooks, your blurb—or summary—goes in your product’s description.

Great blurbs:

  • are between 100-200 words;
  • hook readers with the first sentence; and
  • don’t give away the plot, but tell readers a general synopsis so they know what to expect.

The blurb for American Dirt, a book with over 45,000 reviews on Amazon, grabs readers without giving away too much information:

“Lydia Quixano Pérez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.

Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with a few books he would like to buy—two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.

Forced to flee, Lydia and eight-year-old Luca soon find themselves riding la bestia—trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place Javier’s reach doesn’t extend. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to?”

Read blurbs and summaries of the top-selling books in your niche for ideas and inspiration.

10. Design your book’s cover, back cover, and spine

People will judge your book by its cover, so take the time to design an eye-catching cover.

If it’s within budget, reach out to book designers to help you come up with a professional design. If you plan to design your cover yourself, you can:

  • Search through the best sellers on Amazon, Kobo, and Google Play to see if there are any design trends in your niche
  • Use a tool like Canva, BeFunky, or Snappa to bring your design to life
  • Find imagery for your cover on places like Unsplash or Pexels—just make sure it’s available for commercial use by reading through the Terms of Service

Don’t forget: If you’re printing your book, you also need to design the spine and back (with your book summary).

11. Gather reviews

As a new author, getting reviews from well-known authors in your niche helps build credibility and trust for potential readers. You can add these reviews after your book’s blurb, inside the front cover, or display one short review on the front cover.

It might feel intimidating at first reaching out to established authors—but if you don’t do it, they may never come across your book. It’s up to you to gather—and then show off!—these glowing words.

To gather reviews, list out your favorite authors in your niche, and try to find a point of contact. It could be their:

  • Personal or business email
  • Publicist’s email
  • Assistant’s email
  • Publisher’s email

Next, you need to write an email asking for a review. In your email, include four elements:

  1. Tell them what you loved about their book—be specific so they know you read it
  2. Give them a synopsis of your book
  3. Describe how they inspired you
  4. Let them know how grateful you’d be if they left you a review

Don’t forget to thank them and attach a sample chapter—or the full copy of your book.

On top of gathering reviews before launching your book, set up a system to gather reviews from people after they purchase your book.

To automate this process, create a tag in ConvertKit for people who purchase your ebook. Go to Grow > Subscribers > + Create a Tag.

Create a tag for people who buy your ebook.

Next, create an email sequence that contains the email asking for a review. Head to Send > Sequences > New sequence.

Write a short email asking for a review from people who bought your book.

Next, create a delayed automation by going to Automate > Visual Automation > + New Automation > Create Automation.

Select Is added to a tag and choose the tag you created for people who purchased your book.

This step lets you create an automation for anyone who buys your book.

Now, create a delayed automation with the email sequence you created earlier. It should look something like this:

Here is an example of a delayed automation.

I’ve used a 21-day delay in the above example (grab the automation from here!), but I recommend experimenting with different delays to see how long it takes someone to read your book. If you send it out too soon, they might not finish and won’t give you a review—but if you wait too long, they might forget how they felt reading your book.

12. ISBN

An International Standard Book Number is a 13-digit numerical identifier for your book. If you plan to print your book, you’ll need an ISBN to sell your book in places like libraries, bookstores, and retailers. Where you purchase your ISBN is country-specific, so search on Google for “your country + buy ISBN” to help you find the right place to buy your ISBN.

You don’t need an ISBN if you plan to sell your ebook via your website or with print-on-demand services like Kindle Direct Publishing.

What to do after your book is ready, before launching

As your tick items off our self-publish checklist, don’t forget to plan your book launch. A well-planned launch gives your book the greatest chance at topping the charts!

Grow your author platform

An author platform is the sum of all your audiences. Things like:

Before launching, spend a few weeks building your author platform so when the time arrives, you’ll have people interested in buying your book.

Build a landing page

You can sell your book through multiple avenues, but if you want greater control—and profit—selling it via your own website is the best option.

Plus, if you’re planning on selling your book as an ebook and using ConvertKit Commerce, you can automate this entire process! No need to worry about manually emailing people your ebook every time they make a purchase—we handle everything for you.

First, create an author landing page for your ebook by going to Grow > Landing Pages and Forms > + Create New.

Select Landing Page.

Filter the landing page templates by ebooks to find ones we’ve designed specifically for authors.

After choosing your template, use our intuitive editor to add your own text and images, and change the colors and font to match your brand.

It’s easy to edit our landing pages to suit your style.

Pair your landing page with one of your automated author templates to build a waitlist of eager buyers or offer a free sneak peek into your book.

Use ConvertKit’s automated templates to drum up excitement for your book’s release.

After your landing page is ready, you need a place to direct all your excited fans to buy your ebook after it goes live. You can do this, too, within ConvertKit Commerce!

To access these templates in your ConvertKit account, go to Automate > Visual Automations > Templates.

Create a new product by heading to Earn > Products > Create a product.

Fill out your product name and price.

Next, upload your ebook so when people buy it, they get immediate access.

Then, create a custom URL.

Lastly, customize your ebook’s product page, checkout, confirmation, and receipt email.

Change the colors and add your own text and imagery for your product page, checkout, confirmation, and receipt.

Change the colors and add your own text and imagery for your product page, checkout, confirmation, and receipt.

After publishing it, you’re ready to sell your ebook!

Self-publish your book with confidence

Writing your book was the fun part—but marketing, launching, and getting your book ready to publish can be equally as exciting when you know how to do it.

As you check items off this self-publishing checklist, you get one step closer to becoming a published author.

Confidently sell your first ebook with ConvertKit Commerce!

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As a creator, you deserve to get paid for your work. ConvertKit Commerce is ready-made to help you sell digital products.

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Dana Nicole

Dana is a freelance writer who works closely with B2B SaaS brands to create content people enjoy reading. When she’s not working, you’ll find her sipping on a warm cup of tea and reading a good book (the scarier, the better). See what she’s up to at www.dananicoledesigns.com

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