Five Steps to Self-Publish a Quality Book

July 9, 2019 § 9 Comments

By Mandy Wallace

Like most people, I’m hesitant to get excited about a self-published book before seeing its quality.

Sure, subpar books occasionally squeak through the gates of traditional publishing. When they do, we shrug and say ‘it happens.’ But when we pick up a lackluster self-published work, we roll our eyes and say ‘of course.’ There’s a vetting process behind traditional publishing—teams of experienced, full-time employees green-lighting each book—making books from the traditional model more likely to hit the markers of professionalism readers expect.

But these larger teams and distribution networks make for slower publication timelines and smaller royalties.

I created my self-published book, Landing Your First Publication, as a tool for new writers in my community at Write or Die. I wanted the book out there helping them faster than it ever could through traditional routes (if a traditional publisher even picked it up).

I didn’t know it was destined to become the main text for a college creative writing classroom.

But looking back, I made a number of decisions while creating Landing Your First Publication that helped it hit markers readers consciously and unconsciously look for. Since then, I’ve noticed both traditional publishers and highly successful self-published authors following a similar process to ensure a quality book.

These five steps had the greatest impact:

01 Survey Readers

Having direct access to my target readers through my online platform gave me insight into what they sought in a writing instruction book. Many were overwhelmed by conflicting advice. Questions, comments and survey answers about cover letter “rules,” grammar technicalities, writer’s block, and issues like developing voice and style revealed they felt intimidated by the theories and storytelling techniques in existing writing references. Many were looking for a way—or an excuse—to write what they felt excited to write about.

In response, I approached writing as an exercise of curiosity and exploration rather than “work.” I used writing prompts, worksheets, and submissions trackers to make writing more approachable.

02 Invite Beta Reader Feedback

Rounds of beta reader feedback can function like market research for self-publishing authors. It was especially important to select beta readers from or close to my book’s target audience. Writers of different skill levels have different needs. Readers from a different skill level were likely to produce feedback that didn’t serve the new and blocked writers I want my book to help.

I sent surveys to these beta readers with questions designed to elicit specific, honest feedback. Phrasing was important. Asking “This book would be a lot better if…” and “If I really, really had to complain about something in this book, it would be…” elicits more helpful feedback than questions like “was this book helpful?” or “what did you like about this book?”

Had I known the book would end up in front of so many creative writing students or if it had been a more complex project, I would have invested even more time into beta reader rounds with more readers invited from my platform’s email list.

03 Hire a Professional Editor

(Because even professional editors need help editing their work.)

Landing Your First Publication went through multiple rounds of editing, and still those pesky little typos and errors popped up during the review and book launch phases. In my editor’s defense, I made changes to the “finished” manuscript as feedback filtered in, leaving her pristine edits open to errors. I reassure myself that even traditionally published works carry the inevitable typo. We’re all human.

But like traditional publishers, I still worked to get my text as close to perfect as possible through professional edits and multiple points of feedback.

04 Adhere to Cover and Interior Book Design Best Practices

I was genuinely excited to learn about book design. I told myself I had plenty of experience from designing my author platform website and graphics. How hard could it be to design a book?

Cue facepalm.

I purchased an InDesign subscription, pored over the designs of books on my shelves, and unearthed guides from successful self-published authors. I learned about ISBNs and barcodes and that many fonts are copyrighted and can’t be used in a book sold for profit. And while traditional publishers have pre-existing relationships with book reviewers, Publisher’s Weekly might review a self-published book submitted through their Booklife arm.

Even with all this foreknowledge, I made so many mistakes  I had to redo the book design at least three times. From too-small margins to cover-spine misalignments and font-based icons that refused to embed, this is why many self-published authors outsource to professional book and cover designers. The time saved is often worth the cost.

05 Ask for Peer Reviews from The Book Launch Team

Besides the obvious promotional boost a book launch team supports, many of the reviewers and peers who read ARCs of Landing Your First Publication came back with comments and feedback that improved the book. A few caught typos, too.

It was amazing to work with people who cared so much about my baby project and wanted to help it succeed. The self-publishing process reflects what’s true of anything that helps people or creates an impact: you can’t do it alone.

The difference I see between traditional and self-publishing, and between self-published books that succeed and those that don’t, is the community behind the book. Self-publishing may be the leaner model, but it isn’t a loner model. The way to ensure a high quality self-published book is not to do it by yourself.


Mandy Wallace shares writing tips, resources, and industry interviews with the 20k monthly readers of Write or Die, named one of the 100 Best Websites for Writers. Her book, Landing Your First Publication: The Writing Prompts + Publication Strategy for Writers Who Refuse to Rely on Luck, is available on Amazon.

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§ 9 Responses to Five Steps to Self-Publish a Quality Book

  • Taking the time to edit and to make the hard corrections and to incorporate editing advice is a major barrier for many self-publishers. I often trade editing and find that some allow mistakes to pass because authors are unwilling to address flaws—and they are flaws. On the other hand, most writers are eager to pursue perfection, and will slog through that sticky landscape to achieve a better book.

  • Joanne says:

    Fantastic advice here. Will be referring people who want to self-publish to this post.

  • mandycorine says:

    That’s true. Self-publishing means the author has total creative control, and it can be harder to make less biased decisions about the work. Getting some distance between edits helps.

    I can understand, too, why many writers don’t want to project manage their book after doing the work of writing it. But with this model, it’s definitely necessary.

    Thanks, Jan!

  • heyannis says:

    It’s turned out to be an amazing book that will help many. I’m proud to have been part of your process, Mandy! Love this line: “Self-publishing may be the leaner model, but it isn’t a loner model.”

  • Wahyudi Yudi says:

    Pada tanggal Sel, 9 Jul 2019 18.20, BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog menulis:

    > Allison K Williams posted: “By Mandy Wallace Like most people, I’m > hesitant to get excited about a self-published book before seeing its > quality. Sure, subpar books occasionally squeak through the gates of > traditional publishing. When they do, we shrug and say ‘it happens.’ Bu” >

  • […] via Five Steps to Self-Publish a Quality Book — BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog […]

  • Such important info here. I’ve worked as an editor but I would never be my own editor. Fresh objective eyes are always best. Control is another thing to consider when deciding or not to self-publish. Friends who have been traditionally published complain about the lack of control they had over their work. No say in the book design. No say in how their books were marketed. In one case, the author turned to self-publishing; in the other, to a small press. Given my age (time running through my fingers), I can see myself choosing self-publishing, but even with my age, I believe in taking the time to making sure my book is the best it can be and, yes, that means I can’t and won’t go it alone.

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