This post is part two of a three part blog post series on writing and self-publishing a book on Amazon. In part one, I shared the first three steps of the process, which I called the Pre-Writing phase. These steps were setting goals, mindmapping, and outlining your book.
If you haven’t yet, you can read part one of the series here. It’s super important that you don’t skip the pre-writing phase. In my opinion, the steps in that phase are some of the most important to writing a book. They lay the solid foundation for setting you up for success. So please don’t continue reading if you haven’t completed the pre-writing phase. Otherwise, if you’re ready, let’s move on!
Phase two of writing and self-publishing is all about creation. It’s where you’ll actually write the book, get it edited, and design both the inside and outside of your book. This is the phase that you’ll spend the most amount of time in and can be the most stressful, since you want your book to be the best it can be.
While you don’t want to rush this phase, it’s important to stick to the deadlines you set for yourself in the pre-writing phase. You’ll never have a perfect book, so don’t get stuck aiming for that! Stay on track with your goals and focus on completion over perfection. I get it, that was tough for me too!
Writing Your Rough Draft
By this step, you should be out of your head – figuratively and literally. You should be feeling confident, your ideas are in an organized plan and not scattered in your brain, and you’re fingers are ready to go to town typing! This step is what it’s all about, but you want to make sure you’re really ready for it.
Set up a good writing area where you’re free from distractions and comfortable. Surround yourself with things that energize and inspire you. For me, I put Bible verses, motivational quotes, a countdown tracker, and photos on the wall in front of me. I always made sure I had water or coffee (lots of coffee), and anything else I needed to ensure I could stay focused for as long as possible.
Most importantly, I kept my phone on “Do Not Disturb” mode and hid it across the room so it was out of site. I also closed every browser on my computer so I didn’t have my email, Facebook, or any other websites fighting for my attention.
I set aside dedicated writing time each day, which was critical to sticking to my deadlines. I chose to write first thing in the morning, after a work out. This was when I felt my mind was most clear, I had the most energy, and I didn’t have any other obligations. For you, it might require getting up early before your family, or staying up late. Find the time that you’ll have the most success with sticking to, schedule it on your calendar if need be, and show up every single session.
As I mentioned, I set a target word count that I wanted to reach during each writing session. It helped me keep track of my progress to ensure I was on target for my deadline. However, I never forced my writing sessions either. If I was tired, not feeling well, or experiencing negative thoughts or stress, I gave myself permission to either skip a session or reschedule it. While you want to stay on track, you don’t want to sacrifice the quality of your book and you certainly don’t want to burn yourself out.
You can choose which program you prefer to write your manuscript in. I chose Google docs because it automatically saved as I wrote. The thought of losing my work in Microsoft Word or any other program because I didn’t click “save” freaked me out. Google docs also makes it very easy to share your manuscript with your editor and even if your editor prefers to work in Word, like mine did, they can easily convert it. It also has editing features like comments and mark ups so you can communicate and see suggestions from your editor.
Scrivener is another tool authors like to use that I chose not to go with only because I didn’t want my energy going towards learning a new program. But, it’s definitely something to look into and has a lot of benefits.
When you sit down to write, just write. Don’t edit and don’t go back and reread (although it’s tempting and sometimes necessary to remember where you left off). And whatever you do, don’t question the process or what you’ve accomplished as you progress. Just keep going no matter what. Write until you just can’t write any more. Even if it sounds like nonsense as you type it, let it flow and know that you can make changes later.
Your brain uses two different parts for writing and editing and it’s really difficult to switch back and forth between the two. It’s called a rough draft for a reason and its likely going to be very rough and that’s okay. As you write, you may come across things you’ll need to come back to, facts you’ll need to check, etc. Write yourself a little note or highlight that section and come back to it later. But don’t interrupt your writing flow to do research or some other task.
Eventually you’ll get in your writing zone. You’ll amaze yourself with how much you can write in one sitting and you’ll quickly build up your stamina. Celebrate every chapter you finish writing and enjoy the process as much as possible. In my experience, each writing session got better and better.
There will be hard times where it takes an hour to get one paragraph done. You’ll have to fight through some sessions and others will be a breeze. Embrace the ups and downs, don’t let it discourage you, and stay focused on and true to your why!
Many authors will be tempted to not hire a professional editor to save money. I’d highly recommend not skipping this step. You’ll be so involved in the writing phase that it will be really difficult to catch your own mistakes. It’s extremely helpful to have an outside set of eyes, or two, to give your book a fresh perspective.
Errors in your book can really crush your credibility and can have a huge impact on your reviews as well. You’ll have much greater confidence in your book and feel more proud of sharing it with the world knowing that a professional editor has gone through it.
Before you select an editor, though, it’s important to do your own self-editing. Remember, this is after you’ve completely finished your rough draft. Don’t try to self-edit while you write!
Self-editing is not just using spell-check and fixing those parts underlined in red. While that’s a good place to start, you need to take it a step (or ten) further than that.
Self-editing is a time for you to go back through your entire rough draft and read it cover to cover. You can choose to print your manuscript or just read it electronically on your computer. Either way, you want to go word-by-word and as you read it aloud. Reading it aloud will keep you from “skimming” it too quickly and you’ll therefore be much more likely to catch errors. You’ll also be able to determine when things don’t sound right, when sentences are too long, etc.
As you read, use a red pen to mark and correct errors on the paper, or fix them right away on the computer. At this time, you can also add in notes to your editor on things you’d like feedback on. You may also find yourself deleting entire sections of text, moving sections around, or completely re-writing or adding certain parts.
Re-writing is extremely common as you self-edit because you’re starting to look at your book as a whole, rather than by its parts like you did when you were writing. You’ll be able to evaluate how it flows together, where there are holes, and how well you conveyed your message.
Self editing can also save your editor a lot of time, which might also save you money. So try to make as many corrections yourself. Try to catch as many grammatical errors and typos as you can. It’s also helpful to make sure most of your writing follows the Chicago Manual of Style, although it’s also okay to insert your own voice and break the rules a bit to show personality. But, if I wasn’t sure about the proper way to write something, like whether or not I needed spell out every number rather than use the numeral, I would google “Chicago Manual of Style + spelling out numbers”, for example.
The more editing you can do yourself, the more your editor can do his/her job. You can find a lot of common writing mistakes and tips for self-editing online to help you. Here are a few good articles that I found to be helpful.
- Self-Editing Basics: 10 Simple Ways to Edit Your Own Book
- How to Edit a Book: Your Ultimate 21-Part Checklist
The final thing I’d highly recommend doing before passing your manuscript off to your editor is to run it chapter by chapter through The Hemingway App. It’s very simple – all you have to do is copy and paste some text in and it will give you a readability score. It checks for overuse of adverbs, use of passive voice, and will determine areas you can make your manuscript easier to read. Anything highlighted in red are areas that need your attention.
Once again, you don’t want to get stuck in the self-editing phase. Yes, there is always more you can do, but you’re also paying someone to do the job. They will give you such great insight, and will be able to help you through the areas you’re struggling with. Don’t drive yourself crazy like I almost did! Stick to your deadlines.
Once you’ve edited your first chapter, you will have a better idea of how much time the self-editing process will take you. Based on that estimate, you’ll want to start reaching out to an editor right away to get on their calendar. Many editors can book out months in advance, especially the good ones.
It will also take some time to communicate back and forth when you’re selecting an editor. Efficiency is key so you don’t waste any time moving your book along. You can be self-editing while you’re selecting an editor. Contact three or so right after you start self-editing with a date you plan to have your self-edits done and when you’ll be ready to pass off your manuscript to them. I’ll share more about what to say when you contact an editor in the next section.
Selecting an Editor
There are different types of editing: content editing, copy editing and proofreading. Proofreading is the most basic level of editing and includes spell checking, grammar, word usage and consistency within your text. Copy editing includes proofreading but also your sentence and paragraph structure, flow, and word choice. Content editing, also known as developmental or substantive editing, is what I chose for my book. It’s where the editor will give you their highest level of editing and in addition to copy editing, will help with the overall order of your book, messaging, clarity, and format.
There are lots of places to look for editors, but I’d start with asking for referrals from people you know who have self-published. The important thing is that you find an editor that is comfortable and experienced in editing books specific to your genre. You’ll want to connect with your editor and feel their commitment and excitement for your book.
I highly recommend my editor Nancy Pile from Zoo Write. I did my research on her first and scoured her website, which I found to be very professional and thorough. I felt like her portfolio and her personality matched mine and my books. When I contacted her, she expressed her eagerness to work with me and even rearranged her schedule to fit my timeline and I knew she was a perfect fit and would be invested in my book.
You can also find a wide range of editors on sites like Upwork and Fiverr. It can be a bit challenging to get a real “feel” for their work and connect on a more personal level, but you can also find much more affordable services. Regardless of who you choose, listen to your instincts and check reviews. A bad experience with an editor can really be a challenging obstacle to overcome and it’s important to choose one who will really improve the quality of your book.
When you reach out to an editor, you’ll want to include:
- A brief description of your book and your goals for your book or your “why” like I discussed in part one of this series.
- Your total word count.
- What type of editing you are looking for (content editing, copy editing and proofreading). Be sure to check their website or services description to verify what they offer.
- Your timeline for publishing. When are you hoping to have your book published by?
- Questions and concerns you might have with your manuscript.
Some editors also ask for a sample chapter from your book before they can fully determine how much editing your manuscript will require and therefore, the cost and timeline they can agree to. So you can also send a chapter or two
Depending on who does the editing and how much work needs to be done, you can generally plan on three weeks for that phase. Most editors will have 2-3 rounds of edits, where they’ll make suggestions, you’ll make corrections, then they’ll continuing refining and the back and forth will continue as necessary.
6. Designing (formatting, cover)
You’ll need to ensure that your editing is 100% complete before you begin this step. While you can make small tweaks here and there (adding, omitting, or changing a word or sentence), you won’t want to make any major changes once you’ve began formatting the text.
Designing your book will require a great deal of involvement and is a bit tedious. There’s two different phases of the design process: creating a cover and formatting the inside. The processes are slightly different for ebook and paperback.
I’d first recommend browsing books online or at a bookstore and finding examples of books that stand out to you. Look inside and notice each page. Check their title page, their table of contents, their font size and spacing, where the page numbers are, how each chapter page looks, etc.
Also notice which books catch your eye based on their cover. Good book covers have big fonts, aren’t too busy, and have clear messaging so a person can quickly determine if the book is for them. Select 2-3 books to use as examples for you to copy the styling from.
The design and formatting phase will greatly depend on how involved you want to be and how much you care about the overall look of your book. This step can be really easy if you give full control to a designer that you hire and go with whatever they come up with. But even then, it can be super helpful to have a sample book to guide the decisions they’ll need you to make.
For me, being that my book was my own personal story and something I was so passionate about, this step was quite difficult. I cared probably too much about every little design feature and did most of the work myself, which wasn’t easy.
With paperback, it’s best to start with the interior formatting of your book before you begin designing the cover. The total amount of pages will impact the size of your paperback cover and you won’t have a page count until you’ve formatted.
You can do the formatting yourself, if you feel confident in your technical abilities. My husband Dan formatted mine, but looking back, we both wished we would have hired someone. It’s a very frustrating process to figure out on your own and much easier for someone who is experienced to do it. It’s also a pretty affordable service and you can often purchase a package deal for editing and formatting services.
Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) provides some helpful tips for this step that you can review and get guidance with on their website if you choose to do it yourself. There are also many YouTube videos you can find that are helpful as well. One benefit to formatting your book yourself is that you can eliminate the back and forth and get the job done quicker. This is ultimately why I chose not to hire someone and had my husband help me instead.
My book was also pretty straight forward with the formatting. I didn’t have any graphs, charts, or images, which can be extra complicated when it comes to formatting. We simply found books that we liked the formatting of and copied the style rather than trying to come up with it ourselves, which also saved time. So it helps to factor in the level of complexity of your book, your timeline, and your own abilities when determining if you should hire or DIY.
Again, you can quickly hire someone on Fiverr or Upwork to do the job if you don’t feel comfortable tackling it yourself. I decided to hire a cover designer on Fiverr since I had little experience with Photoshop and felt that the cover was incredibly important to my book’s success. After all, everyone judges a book by it’s cover. So don’t cut corners on this step!
I knew I wanted one of my own photos on the cover and I had a very clear vision for what I wanted it to look like. So I created a sample in Canva, which I then gave to a designer I hired on Fiverr to recreate in the correct ebook and paperback dimensions using Photoshop. Since I am very meticulous, my covers took two weeks to complete even with my sample.
The length of time to complete this step again will depend on who is doing the work – if you’re hiring or doing it yourself. But plan for at least two weeks to get your book formatted and designed. There’s a lot of loose ends you’ll need to tie up before your book is complete and ready to be published, so give yourself some flexibility.
Once you’ve completed the writing, editing, and designing phase of your book, you need to celebrate! You’re done!! While your book isn’t yet published, it’s still DONE and that’s a HUGE accomplishment. The hard part is over and you’ll be so eager to keep pushing forward to the end. The publishing, launching, and promoting phase will be more enjoyable and less stressful. Way to go!
Have you read my book yet?
Hope to see you in the third and final phase of the writing and self-publishing your own book on Amazon blog series!
I’d also love to hear your experience, advice, or tips for writing, editing, and designing a book. Leave a comment!