steps to publish your book

Steps To Publish Your Finished Story


Congratulations reaching the end of your novel! It’s been quite an adventure, hasn’t it? All those words are on a page and now you want to take steps to being published. With this post, I’m going to save you a lot of time, money, and mental overwhelm by outlining steps you need to take to get your novel from Word document to a physical book that looks awesome.

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Resist The Urge To Publish Immediately

I know. It’s really, really hard. It’s so easy to just shoot your book off to the press through Amazon Createspace, but I want you to resist this urge with everything in you! Your writing career is important. Releasing a quickly made product could permanently damage your public image.

I want you to be successful. Take a deep breath and get ready to put in the grunt work to do something great. It pays off. Trust me.

Separate yourself from your book from a week, then download it to your Kindle or other favorite reading device. Read it like you would a library book. Take notes on your story. What needs to change? Go back to your original document and make those story changes.

Then gather your support team. Get your friends who can be honest with you, a complete stranger (that’s dedicated), or another person you trust that isn’t a family member. (As much as they want to help, family may coddle you instead of telling you the truth about your story.) Ask these people to read your book and give you honest feedback. If people think your book sucks, wouldn’t you rather know now than before it’s published or you try to send it to agents and editors?

I know it’s hard, but try not to take this feedback personally. Approach this as a way to make your story the strongest it can be. Your writing career, your future readers, and your final book absolutely need this kind of work!

Then, once you’ve crafted in the feedback (that you deem acceptable) from your early readers, it’s time to begin assembling the “extras” for your book. What are the extras? They include the following:

back cover book description

Gathering The Book Extras

Back cover description. Here’s a post from Jane Friedman’s blog to get you started if you don’t know how to do that. (She knows her stuff.) Whether you’re going to self-publish or query editors and agents, you’ll need this piece. It’ll either go straight to the back of your book or end up being the hook of your query letter. Be sure to keep your back cover description short and to the point. 100-200 words will work!

Pro tip: Before you start, research other books in your genre that are selling well. Study their back cover descriptions and see if you can follow the same structure for your book.

Synopsis. By “synopsis,” I mean the 1-3 page single-spaced description of your entire book. This is something you’re going to need if you’re sending queries to agents and editors. Not all of them will ask for a synopsis, but a lot of them will. Here’s a little bit more about writing a synopsis. 

Pro tip: Lots of writers dread writing a synopsis, but it doesn’t have to be something you dread! Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method is a great way to use a synopsis to write your story. 

Genre and Word Count. This is important for both self-publishers and traditional publishers. It’s something you should definitely mention in your query. No matter what publishing path you take, it’ll be important to know how your story gets classified with the rest of the market. Here’s a bit of a literary agent’s feedback about discovering other books to compare your story to.

Pro tip: It’s important to mention other books like yours in your query letter! This helps an agent or editor identify the market for your book. They care a lot about how your story is going to sell.

If you’re trying to publish traditionally, you definitely need a query letter. When I wrote my very first NaNoWriMo story, I used this nine-step formula to craft my query letter. Chase was picked up by Koehler Books a few months later!

Pro tip: Make sure your first three chapters are as shiny and brilliant as they can be! Lots of query requirements also ask for a writing sample.

working on the story guts

Next, It’s Time To Work On The Story “Guts”

At this point, you’ve either sent your book to agents and editors and are waiting eagerly to hear their acceptance OR you’re getting ready to self-publish. These next steps are necessary for self-publishing and optional for traditional routes.

The most important part of your story is the writing itself. Your editor should receive the biggest chunk of your publishing budget. There are different types of editing. Here’s more info about editing from The Creative Penn (another great self-publishing resource I trust). Ask other authors, gather prices and reviews, and ask the editors themselves for editing samples with a couple pages of your story.

It’s important to find an editor that gives you a good vibe. Freelancers are everywhere. I worked with Wil Scott for my second book Ariel: The First Guardian. Wil was prompt, encouraging, and gave me excellent developmental edits for a fantastic price. If you decide to work with her, make sure you let her know Sydney Scrogham referred you! (She gives discounts for referrals.)

After you’ve sent the story to an editor, you’ll usually have to wait about a month for them to get it back to you. During that time, you’re going to go find your book cover or book cover designer. You have the option of making your own cover (not recommended unless you’re a professional artist), buying a pre-made cover, or hiring an artist to work with.

There are a lot of great pre-made book covers if your book has a clearly defined genre. Research other covers in your genre and see what style seems to be working. Here are some more pre-made book cover selections here, here, and here. (If you want more options, you can ask Google.)

If you decide to hire a designer, approach this the same way you would an editor. Ask for recommendations from other authors, gather prices and reviews, and look at other covers the designer has created. Does it have that feel you’re looking for?

Pro tip: Once you have your cover, use it to start promoting your book to your audience! This helps people associate the cover with you and your story. That’s one of the many reasons why you want your cover to be professional.

Pro tip: Know the dimensions of your book before you buy the cover. Will you be doing an ebook, print book, both? The cover artist is going to need those numbers, and they can be very specific. Even a few extra pages in your book can change the width of the spine! You’ll have to stay on top of this during development.

By now, you should have all the guts for your story. Ready to put those guts into a structure? Here’s the final person you’ll need on your book development team – a formatter. There are many different digital types of ebooks and getting all the words lined up on the pages with your chapter headings in a print book can be tricky! You can tackle this yourself and spend a lot of frustrated time trying to get things exactly right and still not have the product you want at the end. I worked with Emily June Street and she turned around all of my ebook and print files quickly – plus they looked amazing!

Book signing at Barnes and Noble

Book signing at Barnes and Noble

Put Those Pieces Together And Publish

Wow, after all of that hard work, you either have a traditional contract developing your book for you, or you’ve made your book and are ready to self-publish! You have lots of options when it comes to self-publishing your book. Do some research and find out what’s right for you.

Remember, no matter what, NEVER PAY ANYONE TO PUBLISH YOUR BOOK. There are lots of vanity presses out there ready to scam you. Ask questions, stay humble, do the steps above, and when it’s time to publish you’re going to have an absolutely fabulous, professional book!


About Sydney

Sydney is writing happy endings. She loves connecting with readers and writers while helping them pursue their dreams. In August 2015, Sydney released her first novel Chase through Koehler Books. When she isn’t writing, Sydney can be found at the barn with her horse Snowdy.