Self-Publishing: Where To Start

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This question has come up among my friends and my writing groups – when you want to self-publish where do you start. It’s overwhelming – not because there’s not advice, there’s too much.

There’s advice on what to do. When to publish. What format to use. How to market. Everyone has advice, and there’s so much of it, for many people it’s overwhelming.

So I’d like to talk how to start with self-publishing. I’ll probably improve this over time and re-publish it.

The Split

So first of all, there’s really two sides to writing. First there’s creating the book and all that entails, then there’s marketing it. One of the biggest problems is how this all gets so overwhelming – because marketing is way different than writing the book.

So my first advice? Get to writing. You can’t market without a product, without something to sell. You want to be able to get something done, after all – otherwise there’s no reason to do all the marketing and such.

For a first timer, I would get your work to a first draft (or even a zeroth draft) if it’s a book. If you want to do smaller works like serial fiction, get 2-3 smaller pieces done.

Remember it’s not done. it’s ready for edit. It’s proof you can get something to sell.

Plus you can focus.

While You Write

While you write, take time to do research on marketing – websites, ads, etc. Don’t do anything with it. Just record ideas, get them into your head.

To make it easy on you, set aside a timeframe. Read one article a week. Finish one book a month. Make it paced, relaxed, and with no other goal than knowledge – not things to do, ideas of what you can do.

Also remember a lot of the advice is survivorship bias, repetition, 101 stuff, and so on. That’s fine, we’ll sort it out later.

Editing – And Formatting

So next up is editing your book. This is probably less pressure than writing the damn thing. Set yourself a timeframe for editing to get it done and get it off to an editor. Yes, you want an editor.

At this time, focus about 70% of your time on the first edit or two and the other 30% on learning how you’ll do your cover and how to use publishing tools like Jutoh. Learn enough that you can make a temporary eBook copy in your chosen formats.

By the way if you plan to hire someone else to format, great, less stress for you.

Also figure out how you’ll get a cover. I strongly recommend you hire someone or go with premade covers like you find at GoOnWrite. If you want to do your own, then make sure you can. I do a lot of my own, or do them partially, but I learned some hard lessons.

You don’t have to have it ready, just know how you’ll do it.

Why do this? Again, by the time you got through an edit and are sure you can publish, you’ll know there’s something ready. Then you can focus on marketing.

Off To Edit – Off To Market (ing)

Somewhere when you’re sure a book is about to get published, when you’re ready to do it, it’s time to market.

For your first book (or books if you have smaller stories), when you send things to final pre-readers or editors (depending how confident you feel), start working on actual marketing plans. I recommend planning marketing during the editing phase of a large book, and the prereader phase of small works.

So what do you do? Take inventory.

  • Write down all the different distinct things you want to do in marketing.
  • Next, rank them in order of importance as far as you know.
  • Now rerank them by how able you are to do them and how well you can handle them. It’s OK if that violates whats important or what people tell you – you have to evaluate what you’re capable of.
  • Decide the minimum you have to do out of these.
  • Figure out the minimum you need to do for each.

How are you going to use this list? Simple. Start at the top while you wait for feedback, and do one after the other. If that’s setting up a Twitter account, fine. If that’s getting a website, well that may be a little longer. Either way focus on one item at a time.

By the way, it’s fine to outsource or ask for help. In fact if you can do that and have the friends, money, etc. do it. Again, reduce stress.

What Do I Recommend?

So what’s my minimal recommendation for self-promotion? Here you go, in “least stressful order.”

  • Register a domain for yourself. If it’s a one attached to your real name, just point it at your Twitter or LinkedIn Profile.
  • Set up an author twitter if you don’t have one already. If you’re using a pen name, now’s the time to direct your new domain at it. Figure out a Tweeting plan.
  • Set up a website if needed. You can use something like Wix if you’re in a hurry, but I do recommend a blog, so you can go with or a good host like Dreamhost. Start with one page.
  • Look at how to use Amazon ads and Google ads to see if they’ll help (if you want to blow the money, they can be low-stress).
  • Consider a newsletter like MailChimp. This may not be something to start, but you will want one anyway.
  • Consider promotional sites like Prolific Works for giveaways.

There’s a good starting point. You can do all the other stuff you need later. Heck, three of these are maybes.

Back At It

So at some point you get the book back from pre-readers/editors and are getting it into shape ready to go. At this point, you probably need to start engaging your audience.

This could be as complex as setting up a Twitter feed and starting to post on a blog and blog tour. This could just be setting aside money for online ads.

But at the same time don’t you have to edit and prepare for publishing? Yes. So you may need to split your time.

I do this by setting aside goals and blocks of time. So maybe you edit for X hours a week and once a week take an hour to blog. If anything gets too stressful, re-adjust.

One important thing – do not announce any dates until you’re quite sure. At best, do general announcements.


When you publish, if its your first time, my advice is to focus as much on the publishing as you can. If you have some regular newsletter, website updates, etc. be sure not to take on anything you can’t handle.

I usually line everything up then just spend all my time on publishing- which even at my best is still probably 5-15 hours of work on ensuring files work, getting things published, putting it on my website, etc.

Now, once that’s done and the book (or first of your smaller pieces) is out . . .

Market It

Now that you have a work out, you can tear into marketing. Set aside time in your post-publishing schedule to do the marketing, set up ads, whatever. It may be you got such a good schedule and a good plan that it’ll be surprisingly unstressful.

A note if you’re putting out smaller works, you may interlace their release with publishing. That’s fine. In this case alternate – spend time to publish, then market. Break things up.

Develop Your Rythm

Finally, with works out, with you doing the marketing that you can handle, find a rhythm for the future. Do you put out regular tweets? Blog once a week? Write three times a week and market one?

Find what works for you. And it’ll take time. Experiment. Learn.

In Conclusion

Everyone is going to tell you the right way to self publish. The right way to market. The right way to do all of this.

But you need to find your way. And the first thing you do when you start is to find a way that won’t drive you crazy.

Your way.

Steven Savage