4 Phases of self-publishing & where to begin



Knowing the 4 Phases of Self-publishing keeps the Gremlin of Overwhelm at bay. When you break down self-publishing into phases with a detailed step-by-step action plan, it will ensure success. Planning is essential when a project has many moving parts. Some authors like an unstructured approach but can potentially add additional and unnecessary time, energy, and expense to your writing project.

Writing a book presents enough authors' challenges without adding confusion or wondering "what's next." I've noticed the Internet is full of advice such as "Just write (insert number) of words a day." The problem with this advice is, it doesn't provide a framework from the beginning to the end. Many authors are still "just writing" (some for 20 years) and yet don't have a completed book.

Writing a book is a big task. I want you to know how to get from your multitude of ideas to a published book. To do that, you have to understand what's involved before putting pen to paper.

With all of that, I learned the lesson of "too much information, too soon." In my eagerness to ensure an author has everything, including all the details. They were overwhelmed and stepped back from their writing project.

Lesson learned. Below is my overview of the journey broken down into four phases. There is a brief overview of what each phase covers and where to focus your efforts.

Planning Phase:

This stage is all about researching and gathering information for your book's content and the publishing process. Planning is the foundation of your book. It may be the shortest phase, but it is a mighty one.

Many authors mistakenly skip this phase because it's tedious. I get it. It isn't exciting compared to writing or designing your book. However, if you take the time to plan (in a way that works for you), you'll have a much easier time in the writing phase. You'll find fewer roadblocks, plot holes, and inconsistencies, and have a more substantial structure.

Plan well and set yourself up for writing success.

Key Objectives of the Planning Phase are:

  • Research (test and validate your idea with the potential readers of your book)

  • Research Publishing Options and packages

  • Create a budget that works for you

  • Understand your available time & energy to get the book project done (Be realistic)

  • Set up a Writing routine

  • Outline your book (for Nonfiction & Fiction)

  • Set a deadline, timeline, and smaller goals (Then, double the time. It will take you longer than you think.)

Writing & Editing Phase:

The second phase is where you write your book. The first draft is a shitty first draft. It will have all kinds of problems, and that's okay. You want progress, not perfection. Too many writers (fiction and nonfiction) get caught up in writing a perfect first chapter. Forget about it and move on! If you've outlined your book the way you need it, you'll know exactly where your book is going.

The second draft of your manuscript will include your self-editing and polishing your manuscript to the point where you've said what you wanted to say and you kept the reader in mind. Now, it's ready for Beta Readers and Critique Partners. You are looking for feedback on the story itself, not detailed editing. When you get the critiques back, make the changes that need to be made.

With the final manuscript, it's time for a professional editor. If you're Book Witching on a shoestring budget, I highly recommend you find the funds to hire a professional Content Editor. Learn what that is in this article. They will be able to make your manuscript sing. Once you receive their feedback (and take their input seriously), you'll be ready to get your manuscript ready for design with design notes, illustration instructions, and notations about the different design elements in your book.


Key Objectives in the Writing & Editing Phase are:

  • Keep your deadline sacred.

  • Write First. Edit Later.

  • Write to your outline and planned structure. If the book needs to deviate, do it.

  • Fill your book with conflict, tension, and resolution, even for a nonfiction book.

  • Write for your reader, not yourself.

  • Don't quit in the middle. The middle of the book (fiction or nonfiction) is a marathon, not a sprint.

  • End your story or book with a bang, not a whimper.

  • Self-edit aggressively. Polish your manuscript because one draft is NEVER enough.

  • Have Beta Readers, Critique Partners, and a professional editor critique and edit your work. EVERY AUTHOR needs an editor, no exceptions...not even an editor who is also an author...raising a hand.

  • Make all major edits at this phase.

Cover & Layout Design Phase:

Cover and Layout Design is a specialized field within graphic design. With the right designer, this is where your words come to life. Design is another phase I highly recommend spending some money on. You know the old saying: "Don't judge a book by its cover." Yeah, everyone judges a book by the cover. If your book doesn't look like it was designed by a professional, a reader won't pick it up. Unread books were the biggest problem with self-publishing when it first started taking off. Anyone and Everyone could publish a book, and the designs looked like it. At the very least, hire a professional cover designer (and not one for $5). You get what you pay for when it comes to Cover and layout design.

Key Objectives in the Design Phase are:

  • Prelim design - each book designer is different, but with the prelim design, you'll receive several options for the cover and interior layout. There are usually two rounds at this stage.

  • Layout 1 - in this layout, you'll receive the book's interior layout (usually a PDF), but not the final cover. This stage allows you to edit the text further. Optional: You may want to send this stage to a proofreader.

  • Layout 2 - in this layout, all changes from Layout 1 have been made. You'll also see the final cover. At this stage, a hard copy proof is ordered. You can make further edits (less than a paragraph of changed text). If you have someone writing a forward, send this layout to them.

  • Final Layout - In this layout, all changes from Layout 2 and hardcopy proof are made. This layout is your last look through the book for typos and significant grammatical errors. If you didn't send Layout 1 to a proofreader, it is good to send this final layout to a proofreader for any major problems.

  • Final Files are uploaded for publication.

  • Pub date is about 1 to 2 weeks before you launch.

Marketing & Promotion Phase:


I know many writers don't want to hear it, but if you publish a book, you're in business. Many writers love writing the book, but find the marketing of it tedious, and then wonder why their book sales don't amount to much.


Of the authors who are successful, they begin planning their author platforms and creating their marketing plan in the planning phase. And that's not a bad idea, however, don't get stuck creating your platform and forget to write the book. Grow your platform slowly. You get to decide what your marketing presence looks like.

Key Objectives in the Marketing & Promotion Phase:

  • Create an author website

  • Are you going to blog? Write articles? Be on Podcasts? What will you talk about? How does this relate to your book?

  • Will you be on social media or not? If so, what platforms will you use?

  • Will you create a podcast or YouTube channel of your own? Do you have the time & energy to be consistent with this?

  • Are you going to offer advice, personal experience, or entertain people?

  • What are your strengths and skills that you're bringing to the marketing & promotion table?

  • How will you promote your book after it is published?

  • How do you want your book launch to look and feel?

Wondering where to start?

  1. Start by getting clear on your book idea and why you want to self-publish this idea. Share it with your audience to validate the idea. If you're met with blank stares, refine your idea and validate it again.

  2. Understand your time, energy, and money. Get clear on how much time and energy you have available for all of the phases and stages in self-publishing. How much time and energy do you have? Be realistic. How much are you willing to spend to get your book published?

  3. Know yourself, specifically your weaknesses. Do you need an accountability partner, or are you disciplined to get it done? Where is your area of expertise? Who will you need to hire? Who will be part of your Book Team?

  4. Research publishing and your genre. You don't have to make a decision, but know where you're heading.

  5. Set a schedule, deadline, and writing routine that works for you.

  6. Create a writing space and gather your writing tools.


Hi there, I'm Heather Dakota . . .
. . . a Book Witch, alchemizing confidence, coherence, and clarity for soulful entrepreneurs. Sign up for my monthly Full mOOn newsletter.
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