From NaNoWriMo to Novel on Amazon in 7 Steps

As I write this, people around the world are preparing to embark on a literary journey, many for the first time. Like me, they have hopes of writing a novel in November as part of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, although it's definitely international now). The challenge of being a "WriMo" is to craft at least 50,000 words in a new novel during November. Not starting ten minutes before, not finishing half an hour past... but writing at least 50,000 words in November. Thirty days, at around 1700 words a day. Easy? For some, maybe. For many, it's a challenge to fit that amount of writing in amongst daily non-writing demands.

In this blog post, I will share some information about the path I have taken multiple times, a path that will take you from being a NaNoWriMo novelist to having your book for sale on Amazon (and other retailers) for people around the world to read and enjoy. But don't get me wrong. I'm not going to tell you how to win awards, or become rich and famous, or write something that will endure for centuries. Those are paths I have not walked (yet) with my books, so what value would there be in my advice on those matters? None, to be sure. But as for the mechanics of it all... completing the book and seeing it available for sale to friends, family, and complete strangers? That I have done, and that I can walk you through. While this blog post won't hit every detail, it will give you an idea of what lies ahead. Interested? Read on!

Step 1. Write the book. It seems obvious, but some people never get past this first obstacle. I absolutely guarantee you this one thing: If you never finish the book, you will never sell copies of it, whether that means to Mom and Aunt Gertrude or a million strangers. So sit down, take the time, and write the best book you can possibly write. And if you're doing it as part of NaNoWriMo, try to get to the 50,000th word before the end of November 30. (Ideally you want it done by 11:30pm on November 30 to allow ample time for verifying your word count, including any system or other glitches that might occur.)

Step 2. Edit your book. Your first draft is a great accomplishment, so feel free to dance around and celebrate the wonderful feeling of reaching the end. But you're not done, nowhere close to it. Along the way, you probably skipped things you planned to fill in later, made logic errors, wrote "you're" when you meant "your," and countless other things. So edit it yourself once, as a starter. Then see if you can get someone else to edit it, whether for free or for pay. Another person's eyes on it might find continuity errors, dialogue problems, and all kinds of concerns that make your book not the best it can be. And trust me, I know from experience, releasing a not-the-best-possible book will result in pretty lousy feelings later. Do not rush. Nobody owes you their money or even time to read your book; you earn both by providing a valuable product.

Step 3. Prepare the manuscript for distribution. We're going to pretend that the content of your book is flawless by this point (hey, don't feel bad, even acclaimed authors with works published by major publishers can have flaws in their books). Now it's time to take that content and prepare it for distribution, which means creating the technically-valid files to upload to distributors. You need to decide: Will this book be in print? In e-book? In audio? Each format requires different things. For print, you will want a PDF where the page size matches the physical dimensions of the printed page (e.g., 5x8 inches) and the content on each page is exactly how you want it to appear on paper. For an e-book, I highly recommend building an ePUB 2.x file, which can be converted into whatever format is needed by each distributor. For audio... well, I haven't done audio, other than a little do-it-yourself project, so I can't give specific format recommendations, but you'll need to have your book narrated and the content prepared in a digital format that matches your distributor's specifications. If you're not comfortable preparing files for print and e-book editions, contact me via Crenel Publishing.

Step 4. Create an account with every distributor you plan to use. For print, you will probably want to consider CreateSpace and/or Ingram Spark. For an e-book edition, you will almost certainly want to use Amazon KDP, and you may also want to use NOOK Press and Kobo Writing Life, and possibly a service like Draft2Digital or Smashwords. For audio... um... well, I did say I hadn't done audio, so you'll have to do your own research on that!

Step 5. Get a cover image. And don't just get "a" cover image, get the absolute best cover image you can possibly manage. Who cares about the old "don't judge a book by its cover" saying, this is the real-world marketplace and you can absolutely bet that people judge books by their covers. If you don't have a compelling cover, potential readers won't take a closer look, and your sales will suffer. And that's putting it mildly. If you think you might "only sell a couple hundred copies," you might find it's closer to "a couple copies" if you have a mediocre or bad cover. Your cover requirements will vary by format. E-books only need a front cover image, and the height/width ratio can be whatever a distributor suggests. A print book needs the front, back, and spine, and they must match the physical dimensions of the book. An audio book is more like an e-book (but, again, do your own research into cover options for audio books).

Step 6. Upload your prepared files, check them with the online preview offered by your distributor(s), and resolve any problems the distributor identifies with your files. At this stage, you will also provide other information about your book. This includes the author name (your name, which could be a pen name), description, categories, etc. Wait a day or so (often less), and then... bask in the glory of having your book on the market! Hmm, "market," that sounds like...

Step 7. Start marketing. There's no way I could fit a comprehensive guide to marketing in this blog post, but there is a lot of information available online to help guide you in your marketing. Be wary of sharks. There are many who see the popularity of indie publishing as a way to take advantage of novices and fleece them for large sums of money for things an author can do for himself or herself. Ask other writers, ask friends who are willing to be honest, ask on writer forums, ask me... whatever. Just don't lay out a bunch of money based on somebody's promise that they'll market your books for you, unless you really understand exactly what is being offered and how it compares to alternatives.

That's it! Er... that's quite a lot. But you can do it! The basic mechanics of self-publishing are pretty straightforward. That doesn't mean your book will sell a lot, or at all, but these basic steps will at least get your work out to the general public. To make significant sales, you need to have a product that people really like. If you think you'll do that on your first try... well, many people have that dream. Realistically, I advise being ready to repeat the above steps several times, because each time after the first you can use lessons learned from prior experience to make better and better books.

Good luck! And feel free to leave comments about your books, your process, your experience with audio editions... I enjoy hearing from other writers about their experiences.

Photo credit: Alvimann on morgueFile.com. Used under license.