Here's what you need before you start to publish:
• A book description. Smashwords requires a long and short description, so have both ready. (I usually combine the short and long descriptions in my Amazon publication).
• A list of seven keywords. I recommend checking Google to research common keyword searches used to for the type of book that you use. For example, "science fiction" is fairly broad and will probably put you on page 1,000,000,000 or lower. However, "alien invasion colonization" will narrow that down and put you higher on a search list – and yes, people do search that way. You'd be amazed at the keywords they use.
• A book cover. If you're blessed to be more savvy with graphic arts than I am, then you can buy images from iStock or Shutterstock for this. MorgueFile has free images available, but I would recommend asking the photographer's permission to use their photo for a book cover, as a courtesy (I've done this a couple of times and they're usually flattered to allow it, if you send them a free copy of the book). If you're like me and your skill is limited, then you can hire it out. Check Smashwords to get a list of reasonably priced graphic artists who can help.
Once your novel is complete, get a copy of the Smashwords Style Guide, by Smashwords founder Mark Coker. Go to Smashwords to create a free account to download the eBook. I highly encourage you to follow their formatting steps carefully, as it's critical to get through their "meatgrinder" process for inclusion in their Premium Catalog. This is an intensive evaluation process to make sure your book is going to appear correctly on ereaders and ereader apps, and the guidelines are strict. Don't be discouraged if you get declined a couple of times and have to reformat – it sometimes takes me several reformats and downloads through the process to be approved for the Premium catalog. Inclusion in that catalog distributes your book to pretty much everybody but Amazon. There's a different process to publish on Amazon, but it's easy. I'd recommend publishing through Smashwords first, because if you get through their process and get accepted for the premium catalog, then you can rest assured that it will appear on Amazon without a hitch. Set up a Smashwords account to publish, and go to "Dashboard" to start the publication process.
The process to publish through Amazon is easier. I recommend reading Make a Killing on Kindle 2018 Edition: Without Blogging, Facebook or Building a Platform, by Michael Alvear. It gives tips on categories and keywords to enter while publishing so your book will be "seen" by more people searching for it. To publish, you start by going to Kindle Direct. If you have an Amazon account, then you can use your Amazon login to enter. From here, they walk you through the process. It can take up to 72 hours for your book to publish, but my experience has been that it's up for sale on Amazon within 24-36 hours.
The best news is that publishing this way is free.
Here are a few more notes on self publishing to make the process smoother:
• I suggest having your manuscript professionally proofread by somebody who doesn't know you personally. Of course, if you know somebody who you feel is willing to give it an objective read-through then go for it. If not, you can check Goodreads for beta and proofreader groups that might be able to point you in the right direction of a proofreader for your genre. Be forewarned, this process can be a bit expensive, but once you get in with someone then they'll usually lock you into a lower rate.
• A price point between $0.99-$2.99 is standard for eBooks, and usually generates the most sales. $2.99 allows you 70% royalties, however, I found that my book sales increased when I dropped the price to $1.99 for my full length novels. I usually price long stories or novellas at $0.99.
• You can't enter your book in KDP Select if you also publish through Smashwords. The KDP Select program is only for books that are published through Amazon and nowhere else. It's up to you if you choose to only publish through Amazon. While most of my sales are there, I also get a fair amount of sales through the Apple iBooks store and occasionally through Barnes & Noble, so I don't want to alienate those crowds.
• If you publish on Amazon, you'll also need to set up an Amazon Author Page. Again, you can use your regular Amazon login, and they pretty much guide you through the process. You'll need to go to this site to claim your book once it publishes – that isn't automatic.
• If you're on Goodreads, you'll also need to claim your book there. I recommend claiming it on your Amazon Author Page and Goodreads at the same time, so you'll have all the ASIN number from Amazon to enter on Goodreads so they can link it.
• If you don't have a PayPal account for book royalties, set one up before you publish. Both Amazon and Smashwords can transmit your royalty payments quick and easy through PayPal. Be sure to get the app for your phone so you can process those payments quick and easy (I use a personal account).
• I also recommend converting your manuscript to a PDF so you can download it for your copyright and to send as a review copy to reviewers. Do a search online for "Free PDF Converters." Most of them will allow you to convert a few documents a day for free.
• If you want to formally apply for a copyright for your book, you can do so by going to https://eco.copyright.gov. It costs $35, and you have to publish the book first. Be sure to have a credit card handy, and to be ready to download a PDF of your manuscript for them. Don't be surprised if it takes 6 months or more to get it – they're slow.
On a final note, I have no experience with self-publishing a paperback book. I haven't sold a paperback book since 2012, and I'm realistic enough to know that the handful of people who asked me about it wouldn't really buy the book anyway if it were available in paperback, because they're the types looking for a handy excuse. But I'm also a tree hugger, so I love eBooks and and happy publishing solely in that format.
That's your quick primer on self publishing. Once it's published, you're ready to shift from writing and publication to promotion of a published work.
Self publishing is great and offers you a lot of freedom to run specials on your books to boost sales, but 100% control also means 100% responsibility. It's on YOU to get this book out to the world. But having been published through a vanity press and epublishers, I can tell you from experience that promotion would be completely your responsibility anyway. They don't do that for you. They simply deliver the book to the world and take their cut when it sells.
When it comes to promotion, a web search for eBook promotion in the genre you wrote is your best bet. Social media (Twitter and Facebook) also have a lot of promotional posts for this stuff. Sorry I can't be more exact in offering specific places to look, but reaching readers really is a needle in a haystack, as so many things come and go. I often share things I run across on social media, but here's what you need to know when you do your own search:
• Watch out for scams. There are a lot of places that will be glad to take your money for promotion, but they won't deliver anything in the way of sales. Use a lot of discernment in deciding whether the promotion you're considering will truly reach your target audience.
• Book sales have yielded the best results for me. You can change the price easily when you self publish. Consider running sales from time to time. For example, I often put one of my $1.99 novels on sale for $0.99 for three days (usually a Tuesday -Thursday). Be sure to promote it on social media (Twitter gets the best results for me, but maybe your Facebook friends will actually pay attention to those post better than mine do).
• Book reviews have been another good sales spur. Unfortunately, reviewers can be picky, and many of the better ones charge a fee to review it. For example, I'm a reviewer at Reader's Favorite. You can apply for a free review, but you're more likely to get picked up if you pay the $59 for an express review. But if you get a five star review, then you get a special seal you can use, and permission to use a blurb from the review on Amazon.
• November and December are a big time for holiday ads. May review services run specials to include your book in an "advertising blitz" along with others. They may ask you to provide a prize for a raffle or drawing – I usually offer a free copy of the book I'm advertising. Some may ask you to participate in discussions or social media events on certain days. You can do this from home, but be sure your schedule will allow you to be available online for a few hours. Be sure you understand what they're asking. I'm finding that more and more don't allow you to passively pay the fee and advertise – they usually want you to do something interactive with participants online.
• If you don't have a profile on Goodreads, get one. This is a social media site exclusively for books, and the best place to reach readers and other writer's. Set up a profile both a reader and author, link up your books to the author dashboard, and participate in groups in your genre. This is a great place to find readers, reviewers, beta and proofreaders, advice on reading and writing, etc. Plus, you can get advertising and promotion tips as well. This is where I find a lot of my promotional information!
• Don't waste your time and money on book awards, unless you're a literary writer. Most of them are geared in this direction, and nothing else really stands a chance. Sure they encourage everybody to enter because they want your entry fee, but you don't really stand a chance at an award or even placing unless it's that high-flatulent stuff that you read in English class. They really don't like plot and characterization. And they especially don't like sci-fi, even if they have a category for it.
• Consider using a social media manager like Hootsuite to schedule posts. I like Hootsuite because I can sit down and schedule up to 30 posts at a time to deliver at a time that I choose, so I don't have to be online all the time chasing it down. It's pretty sweet to have them sending a promotional post while you're having supper or doing your workout.
• Remember that your priority is to sell your book to people you don't know. So often, I see new writer's get frustrated with family and friends who lose their enthusiasm over the writing. Be realistic: they have their own life, and can't do this for you. It's tough, but success means reaching readers that you don't know who will buy, like, review, and recommend your book to others who they know. You have to grow that circle through these promotional efforts.
There is one more thing I'd like to note: don't expect to quit your day job. I'm amazed that people still have the vision of the writer padding around their home in their PJ's with a cup of coffee and their laptop for a living. That's a beautiful picture that brings tears to my eyes, but the real picture of the writer is one typing furiously on their lunch break, or extremely early or late because it's the only writing time we can squeeze in after work, family, home, and housework time. True story: I never experienced that "flow" when writing The Tenth Dimension because I literally had to force my writing time in between other tasks, from beginning to end. Fortunately, I saw on rewrites that it still came out OK, but I had to power through a lot of distractions and disruptions to write that novel. It's truly a labor of love, and this is no casual interest. You have to be 100% committed to this and willing to work more for personal satisfaction of writing and delivering a story that readers like than monetary award. Maybe you'll be lucky to get that big break and become another Dan Brown, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, or Hugh Howey, but I'll bet every one of them could tell you stories of clawing their way through years of work for their "big break." eBooks are still fairly new, and we're on the wave of a new revolution here. Think "grass roots." It's going to take time, patience, love, and dedication to build. Do you have enough of that to stick with it after everybody around you isn't excited for you anymore? You need to!
So that's my guide to self publishing. Yes, it's a lot of work, but it's worth it if you love your writing and want it to remain truly yours, instead of handing it over to others who have their own selfish interests at heart.
I'll also say that this isn't for everybody. If you've decided that this isn't the path for you, then that's OK. I've also been published through epublishers, and can tell you that if you go that route, then you'll still want to bookmark this for promotional tips because they won't promote for you. I'll also recommend that you check out these three books to help you prepare your manuscript and get your submission materials ready to query a publisher:
The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, by Noah Lukeman. I can't believe I found a hardback version of this book in a discount bin, because it's been extremely helpful in crafting a story that "pops." Read this book while writing your novel so you know how to "hook" them in your submission materials to want to read more!
The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully! By Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry. I credit this book with getting Blurry, Anywhere But Here, and Splinter accepted by epublishers. I've read a lot of books on publishing, and this one is by far the best. It takes you step by step through the publication process to help you tighten up your book and submission materials to put your best foot forward.
Writer's Market 2018, by Robert Lee Brewer. This is the ultimate guide to publishers on the market. It gives listings for book publishers, magazines, contests and awards, and literary agents. If you don't want the full guide, then they do have smaller volumes for novels and short stories, poets, and literary agents available. I do recommend getting the full volume if you're just starting out, so you can get a feel for what's out there. They release a new volume every year.
Good luck on this journey! I hope this information is helpful and informative to you on your journey to becoming a published writer.