Skip to Content

Publishing a Novel: The Definitive Guide

Publishing a novel in the digital age is complicated. And that’s a good thing.


Back in the “good old days” of publishing, before the Internet came along, you submitted a manuscript to an agent or publisher and either had it accepted or not. 199 out of 200 novels were rejected. And of the lucky few who became published authors, most never made a living from their fiction.

Today is truly a golden age for authors (as I wrote about in the article on making money from your writing).

How come? Three reasons…

  1. The Internet gives you all the tools you need to become a one-person publishing company. And often at little or no cost.
  2. Crucially, it also gives you the tools you need to promote your writing.
  3. If you prefer to take the traditional route to publication, the Internet will help you build an author’s platform. A platform is simply a way to reach potential buyers, and having one makes it so much easier to land your dream publishing deal.

In short, things look pretty darn rosy for aspiring novelists. Except for one thing…

It’s complicated!

And that’s where this definitive guide to publishing comes in.

The Business of Publishing a Novel

There are two ways in which getting published is a business.

First, it’s a way for you, the writer, to make money from what you do for fun. To be successful in this business, you need to think like an entrepreneur, not an artist.

Most writers make terrible business people. But that’s no excuse for believing that you can sit in your writing room all day and leave the publishing side of things to someone else.

The world doesn’t work like that anymore.

Whether you get your book published traditionally or become an indie author, you need to think and act like your novel is a product, one that you need to sell for a profit.

Here’s the second way in which getting published is a business…

In recent times, the world of publishing has become big business for folks teaching authors (like you) how to succeed in publishing…

  • Go to Amazon and you’ll find a gazillion books on how to get published. Yes, these books are cheap. But you can still rack up a huge bill if you feel the need to soak up as much publishing knowledge as you can.
  • Added to that, there are several comprehensive courses out there. And they are not cheap (hundreds of dollars minimum).

Don’t get me wrong – some of those publishing books and courses are great. Others are either regurgitated pap or full of “strategies” that will waste your time time and may even damage your writing career.

Aren’t I one of those people in the business of teaching authors how to succeed in publishing?

Kind of, yes. The difference is that I don’t charge and I don’t make any money from recommending products as an affiliate. (My site generates income from advertising, period.)

Here’s the deal…

In preparation for this definitive guide to publishing a novel, I’ve spent the last few years reading most of those books I mentioned. I’ve taken some of the expensive courses, too. Oh, and I worked in online marketing for many years, so I know a thing or two about what it takes to build an audience online.

What follows is a kind of distillation of everything I’ve learned. I’ve kept the excellent ideas, ditched the time-wasters and presented everything in an order that makes the most sense to me.

As we go, I may recommend some of those books and courses (for anyone who’s interested). Essentially, though, I plan to make this definitive guide to publishing a novel as, um, definitive as I can.

How to Use this Guide

At the time of writing (December 2017), I’m just getting started on the guide. I’ve set out everything I intend to cover below, but it will take time to convert it all into comprehensive articles.

The information on this page is a brief overview of publishing a novel. The “meat” is contained in the individual articles.

Click on the links to jump ahead to a particular article if you wish. But the best strategy is to keep scrolling down and read the entire series in order.

I’ve split the publishing process into five parts…

Part 1: The Two Paths to Publishing Success

Traditional vs. Indie Publishing

There are two ways to get published. You can find an agent, who will submit your novel to a publishing house on your behalf. Or you can manage your entire career yourself, with the help of all those online tools I mentioned above.

This article gives a comprehensive overview of the two paths to publication, and what it takes to succeed in each one.

Which Path is Best?

You’re now standing at a fork in the road. To the left is the well-trodden traditional path to publication. To the right the much newer independent path.

Which one is best?

I answered that question in the previous article: neither path is inherently better than the other, in the same way that a table isn’t better than a chair. They’re simply different. So let’s rephrase the question…

Which path to publication is best for YOU?

You may already have a strong leaning one way or another, but keep an open mind for now. Rule nothing in and nothing out until we’ve covered the factors you need to weigh up.

I’ve grouped them into four categories…

  1. How much do authors earn? A look at how much you can earn from a single novel in royalties (the percentage you earn on each copy sold) and advances on royalties (a sum paid to you up front by a traditional publisher). We’ll also cover how much you can expect to earn throughout your novel writing career, as both a traditional author and an independent one.
  2. Making it past the publishing gatekeepers. If you go down the independent path, there’s nothing standing in your way. Publishing a novel traditionally, on the other hand, means having to make it past a lot of “gatekeepers” (agents, publishers, and so on). Except it’s not as simple as that. Getting a book published is only the beginning. You don’t succeed until you sell your novel in meaningful quantities. And as we’ll see, doing that involves getting past the toughest gatekeepers of all – the book-buying public.
  3. What do publishers do for authors? Traditional publishers excel at getting your novel into bricks-and-mortar bookstores. As a self-publisher, you’ll most likely have to make do with the online bookstores. Is that a line in the sand for you (meaning you’ll go down the traditional path)? Or is physical book distribution a relic of days gone by? Besides distribution, what are the other advantages of having a traditional publisher on your side? What can they do that you couldn’t easily do yourself as an independent?
  4. How important is control to you? Control is great, but it comes with responsibilities. So you need to decide if having full control of your writing career is critical to you, or if you’re willing to surrender some control in return for fewer responsibilities.

Part 2: Decide on Your Publishing Strategy

Publishing a novel is the easy part (at least if you publish yourself). What’s tough is driving a sufficient number of potential buyers to your sales page. In short…

Publishing is simple, promotion is not.

There’s no shortage of advice out there on how to market books (and fiction in particular). Trouble is, if you took all of that advice on board and implemented every strategy, you’d need approximately 100 hours a day just to keep up.

And that’s not including time for the most valuable activity of all – writing more fiction!

In short, your biggest problem is a lack of time. Your second biggest problem is that most “marketing” is a giant time-suck that doesn’t work very well anyway.

In Part 2, we’ll look how to build a “book-selling machine” that pretty much runs on autopilot.

(Spoiler alert: Instead of wasting countless time-dollars on low-yield activities like blogging and social media, invest some real-dollars – in a controlled way – on building an audience through advertising.)

Part 3: Prepare to Get Published

Before we get to the nitty-gritty of publishing your novel and then promoting it, we need to deal with some practical matters. These include…

  • Editing your novel. Whether you’re publishing a novel traditionally or independently, having a professional product is critical to your success.
  • Adding supplementary pages. These are also known as “front matter” and “back matter”. And it’s not just about adding a dedication and a copyright page. Supplementary pages are a crucial tool in your marketing arsenal.
  • Formatting your manuscript. Again, we’re talking about professionalism. If you don’t give your customers the most polished product that you can, don’t expect them to rave about you or buy your next novel.
  • Writing a compelling description. This is the novel’s description on your sales page. It’s the equivalent of the “blurb” on the back cover of a paperback. And, yes, it’s critical to get right.
  • Creating a professional cover. There’s that word “professional” again! If there’s one thing all the self-publishing experts agree on, it’s that an amateur-looking cover will kill your publishing career before it’s even started.
  • Building your essential platform. This is the “marketing” or “promotion” side of publishing a novel. Before you go ahead and start selling your novel, it’s vital that you have things like a website and a way to collect email addresses in place.

What about if you plan to get published traditionally?

As you’ll discover in the in-depth articles, the best way to succeed in traditional publishing is to “tilt the odds in your favor”.

How do you do that? By starting out as an indie author (even if only to sell a short story or two) and building some sort of fan base before you approach an agent.

So, yes, the above points are relevant even if you ultimately have your heart set on a traditional publishing deal. (More on that in the first article in the series.)

Part 4: The Nuts and Bolts of Publishing a Novel

Novel all ready to publish? Got your broad strategy all figured out? The final two parts cover the all-important “how to” details.

Part 4 walks you through what you need to do to actually publish your novel. It covers the following areas…

  • How to publish a digital book on Amazon (i.e. a Kindle!)
  • How to publish a paper book on Amazon. (Even though most of your money will come from digital book sales, you will want to do this. It makes you look more professional.)
  • How to publish your novel in other online marketplaces. There are pros and cons to doing this, which we’ll look at in detail in the article.
  • How to use your online experience as an independent publisher to land a traditional publishing deal.

Part 5: How to Promote Your Fiction

Finally, a look at the nuts and bolts of how to actually sell your novel once it’s “live”.

This ultimately boils down to driving as many potential customers to your sales page as you can. We’ll cover the various ways to do that, including…

  • Promoting your novel to everyone you know. (This likely won’t be a huge number of people but, hey, every little helps, especially when you’re trying to get the ball rolling in the first place.
  • Advertising your novel on social media (especially Facebook) and on Amazon itself.
  • Promoting it on specialist sites such as BookBub.

Once you’ve driven book buyers to your sales page and start to shift a decent number of copies, the other thing to do is turn them from casual readers into fans who can’t wait for the release of your next novel.

We’ll look at how to get them onto your email list, and how to communicate with that list. We’ll also cover a few related topics, such as how to get your readers to leave reviews on Amazon.

Wrapping Up

And that’s it – a brief overview of everything you need to know to succeed in publishing fiction in the digital age.

I probably left a few important topics out, but the overview should at least give you a good sense of where we’re heading.

Like I say, the “meat” will come in the individual articles. Click the link below to dive in to the first one in the series…

Traditional Publishing vs. Indie Publishing.

You Are Here: Home > Definitive Guide to Publishing a Novel