Preparing a Novel for Publication

There are a lot of posts covering the hundreds upon hundreds of little things an author needs to do to write and edit their novel in preparation for publication. However, the endgame world of publication is often left alone, kicked off in a far corner to gather dust. This isn't a good thing, as the endgame of novel publication can make or break your sales.

I'm not talking about editing — polishing edits are endgame for publication, but it is something that is part of the general writing process. No, I'm talking about the business of preparing the manuscript for actual publication, be it print form or e-book form.

Whether self-publishing or traditionally publishing, this is something every author should be aware of. There is a lot involved in getting a novel prepared for the big, scary world of publishing. Knowing what you're getting into will make a big difference on how well you handle it, your stress levels, and quality of your finished product.

Traditionally published authors typically do not participate much in any of these phases, as it is handled by their publishing company.

Set aside your love of your book. It has no place in the business of writing and getting it ready for publication. Right now, your book is a product. It is something you will be selling to your customers — your readers — and having the right packaging is important if you want to make sales.

(I know, this is hard. It's your baby! You want to show your baby to the world, you want the fame, the glory, and the love of your fans. That part comes after you've done the hard work.)

It's also important so that you can make your book the best it can be. Save your gushing and excitement for when all of the hard work is done, when you can sit back, and take a good, long look at all of the things you've done in order to give you and your book the best chance possible to succeed in an increasingly crowded marketplace.

Cover Art

I'm going to start with cover art. Cover art is something that can be created while you're drafting, rewriting, or editing your novel. Since you can have your cover art commissioned prior to completing your novel, it's a logical first step.

In fact, I wholly recommend having your cover artist queued while you're in the editorial or the rewrite phases. Why? Cover artists tend to be booked. This means you may have to wait for months to get your cover art worked on. Getting into the queue early makes certain your cover art is done on time.

This is really where you need to set aside your love of your book and consider your art very carefully. Yes, we all want to believe our book is so good that it can sell without the help of cover art. Unfortunately, people are visual creatures. While some people take ‘Don't judge a book by its cover' seriously, many don't. I don't. In a day and age where the authors get to influence their cover art, the cover art is even more of a reflection of the interior of the book.

In other words, if you have a sloppy, cheap cover, there are many people who are going to believe that the interior of the book is also sloppy and cheap. You don't have to spend thousands of dollars on good cover art, either.

Chris Howard, my cover artist, prices his covers roughly between $200-500 a cover. Deviant art has cover artists who will work for $50. Just be careful to watch out what rights you have to the art. Some artists only permit their art to be used on the cover, and that is it!

Chris Howard is very lenient on what I can use the commissioned cover art for, which is something I definitely appreciate.

When considering your cover art, remember that the text layout is as important as the art itself. Graphic designers and cover artists are two different types of people. Don't be afraid to learn about text layout on your own and make suggestions on things. If your cover artist doesn't handle the text layout in a way you like, hire a graphic designer. Many will do text layout for a very reasonable price.

Either way, take a few moments to ask a graphic designer you know for tips, tricks, pointers, and general no-nos. This will help prevent you from making an amateur mistake with your cover art.

Print cover art requires a front, a back, and a spine. Many cover artists working with e-books will not provide a spine and back layout. Artists and graphic designers will charge more for the full design of a print cover.

Interior Layout

Since I just discussed the exterior layout for a book, the interior layout is the next logical place to go. There are two types of interior layouts: Print layouts and E-Book layouts.

Print layouts require a special type of margin formatting. The left page of a book has to be set at a different spacing than the right page of the same book. This is what gives the pages balance when you're turning the real, physical pages. If you don't stagger the margins, your text will either fall too far toward the spine of the book or be too close to the edge of the page and may get cut off during the printing process.

While many of the print on demand printers offer guides on setting your novel up for print publication, I strongly recommend hiring a professional to do the formatting of your printed novel. This will make certain that the kerning (the spacing between the letters and words of your book) is correct, and will also ensure that your book is attractive on the inside and the outside.

E-Book formatting is a slightly different beast. Unlike print layout, e-book layout tends to be simpler. Many people can handle the formatting for an e-book without help. However, I still recommend asking for help, as there are three major formats you need to work with: PDF, Mobi, and e-Pub. Each format has different quirks, especially if you need the file to be compatible with Apple's e-book store.

Like with print formatting, e-book formatting requires a good eye for detail.

Dust Jacket Blurb

Once upon a time, when books were sold only in dead-tree format, the dust jacket blurb is what sold the book. This is the description of the book. What your book is about. A compelling description can really help drive sales, especially when combined with a good cover and an intriguing, well-written opener.

Your description will be one of the hardest things you've ever written. Like a query letter to an agent, it needs to be short, sweet, and to the point. I recommend no more than 3 paragraphs and 150-200 words. It needs to be catchy. It can't spoil the book. It needs to intrigue as many readers as possible.

This is an extremely difficult task. Recruit some friends to help you write a compelling blurb for your book. It really will make a big difference on your sales.

Now that I've talked about three of the more obvious parts of the novel endgame, I'm going to dig a little deeper. This is where you start getting a lot of choices. This is where you can also rack up a lot of expenses, if you aren't careful.


ISBNs are often considered demonic by many self-published authors. At roughly $100 a pop for people in the United States, ISBNs are outside of the average budget — especially when you need one for each type of formatting. So, if you're releasing a book in print, as a mobi, as a pdf, and as an e-pub, you will need four different ISBNs. If you don't buy in bulk, that is $400 of investment.

What are the benefits of ISBNs?

While many self-publishing venues offer free ISBNs, these bulk ISBNs are much harder to get into brick and mortar stores. Many stores just won't accept a book with an ISBN from amazon's blocks. This can make breaking out difficult for self-published authors. Having your own ISBN can avoid this problem.

However, it won't lessen the amount of work it takes to get your book in brick and mortar stores. The unfortunate truth? If you're self-publishing, don't expect your book to make it to the stores. If it happens, great. If it doesn't, you're prepared for that reality. It can happen. But, you'll have much better luck getting your book into independent stores in your area. Libraries and independent book stores are more likely to support local authors than big-name stores looking for a profit and only a profit.

As a general rule, if you can afford an ISBN for your print edition, it might just be worth it. However, for e-book editions, you may be better off going with the free ISBNs given out by the distributors of the self-publishing networks.

Author beware: You may not use the ISBN from Amazon on any old mobi file you distribute. These ISBNs are only intended for books bought and sold on Amazon. Distributing mobis outside of Amazon's system using Amazon's ISBNs can sink you in a world of trouble. Don't do it.

If you want to distribute .mobi files outside of Amazon's network, you will need an ISBN specific for that purpose. The ISBN, when issued by Amazon, does not belong to you. This is why having your own ISBNs is extremely useful.

You can use your own ISBN across all distributors for the same format. For example, if you have a .mobi you wish to distribute from your own website, through smashwords, and through Amazon, you can use the same ISBN for all of those formats.

Amazon's ISBN block is only valid for .mobis distributed through Amazon's system, per Amazon's user agreement.

Fortunately, because most distributors do offer free ISBNs, it is possible to get the ones you need for distribution on all the major self-publishing networks.

Canadian citizens and residents are permitted to acquire free ISBNs through collections canada. In order to take advantage of these free ISBNs, you must provide a copy of all formats to the national archive.

Copyright Registration

Whenever you put words to the page, you're granted an inherent copyright. The work belongs to you. Legal copyright, however, offers a few extra protections of your work. If you're a published author, you want to acquire legal copyright. In Canada, the fee is approximately $65. In the US, the fee is approximately $65-125 dollars, depending on a few factors. From my basic understanding of the US copyright system, expect $65 for a novel's copyright registration.

The Benefits of Copyright Registration

Without proper copyright protection, if someone infringes on your copyright, it is extremely difficult to proceed with a court filing. With proper copyright protection, the filing process is extremely simple. There are a lot of other benefits, including cease and desist letters that can be used in court against infringing parties.

That said, the best person to talk to about the benefits of legal copyright is an IP (intellectual properties) lawyer.

Personally, I'll be spending the $65 for my novel — for every last one of my novels. My novels are worth it.

You will want to start the filing for your copyright prior to the release of your novel. However, if you haven't filed the copyright but have already published, you can file the copyright after the fact. If you're in this situation, I really recommend talking with an IP lawyer about potential ramifications of registering your copyright late.

The Disadvantages of Bypassing Copyright Registration

For a struggling author, $65 is a lot of money to put down for a book that may never earn that much back. However, without the official copyright, it is rather difficult to prove that the book (and inherent copyright) belong to you.

A sealed envelope with postage stamp is not a legal way to prove a copyright.

The only legal way to prove a copyright is through legal copyright registration. You can make a strong case in court that the copyright does belong to you, but there is no free, easy gimmick to prove your copyright. If you choose to bypass your copyright registration and someone does try to register the copyright, you may be in for a very long and expensive legal battle — a legal battle that will cost you far more than the $65 to register the copyright.

Sounds scary, but frankly, it is. Those words are something you worked hard for, and they're worth protecting.

Even with protections in place, there is still a chance you may need to take copyright issues to court should someone fail to respect your copyright and any cease and desist letters you may send. What copyright registration does is simplify the process for you as the prosecutor. Once again, I recommend a consultation with an IP lawyer if you have questions regarding copyright in your country.

Tax Documentation

If you're a US citizen, whether or not you're living abroad, and you're self-publishing with Amazon, you may be required to file a w-9 with Amazon. A w-9 is a tax document issued by the IRS designed to prove you're eligible for exemption from tax withholding. This document needs to be turned in at least 10 business days prior to when your novel is supposed to be sold, else Amazon will withhold 30% on behalf of the IRS.

Anyone not a citizen of the US can fill out a different form (I believe it is one of the w-8 series documents) to be able to avoid the 30% tax withholding.

There are several ways you can find out more about these documents, but the most efficient way is to directly contact the IRS. I've found Amazon's customer service representatives can get easily confused regarding tax documentation, especially if you're a US citizen living abroad, as I am.

Yes, before you ask, all of the major distributors will require your w-9, including smashwords. Get used to the idea, and print out a lot of copies and neatly hand write the different vendors in the box provided for that information.

Note: This document is only valid for a period of three years. After this time, you must submit it again. Create Space and Kindle publishing each require a copy of the form. Other companies may require copies of the w-9 or w-8 as well, so make certain you're aware of which businesses require this document so you can have it prepared on time.

Tax Deductions

Welcome to the world of business. Now that you're selling a product — your book — you're eligible for tax deductions. There's a reason authors often fit into the ‘starving artist' category. It's time for you to take advantage of a few perks unpublished authors don't get to take advantage of.

ISBNs, copyright registration, distribution fees, and similar things are all eligible tax deductions. They're required investments to make your book a reality. This also includes any formatting fees you paid, your cover art, your office space, and any necessary office supplies to make your business a reality. You can even claim the base price to print your books for sale as tax deductions.

You must keep copies of these receipts, as you may be audited to prove your deductions. I recommend against abusing your tax deductions, as the penalties for tax fraud are extremely steep.

Do yourself a favor and file your taxes on time. (US citizens living abroad have a 3 month window of leeway due to requiring a copy of resident country's tax documentation to support income earned abroad and waive Social Security contributions.)

What's next?

Depending on your situation, this may cover everything you need to do before your book is ready to be published. However, some people choose to do additional things, including create a newsletter for users to sign up for, and plan marketing strategies. These things could take up several blog posts on their own, but normally don't happen until after you have a book published, which is why I'm not giving it a lot of space in this post.

Here is a quick (and likely incomplete) checklist of the things to remember when you're working at getting your book ready for publication:

  • Tax Documents
    • W-9/W-8s submitted to Create Space
    • W-9/W-8 submitted to Kindle Publishing (Amazon)
    • W-9/W-8 submitted to Smashwords
    • W-9/W-8 submitted to Other Vendors
  • ISBNs
    • .PDF
    • .EPUB
    • .MOBI
    • Print (One per Format/Size)
    • Archive copy submitted if required
  • Copyright Registration
    • Form / book submitted
    • Payment made
  • Cover Art
    • Art commissioned / completed
    • Text layout completed
    • Allowed rights understood and verified for use of art
  • Layout
    • E-book layout
    • Print layout
    • E-book cover design
    • Print cover design (including spine and back)
  • Blurb
    • Back cover blurb
    • Amazon/Distribution description blurb (May differ from back cover blurb)

A few things to also remember:

Editing is a part of the writing process, thus isn't covered. Please edit and proof your novel prior to publishing it.

I am scratching the surface on these things — this is not a complete guide, but an overview of what to expect when you're prepping your novel for publication. There is a lot of information you need, and a lot of things to learn.

Do not be afraid to ask other authors for help. This stuff can be seriously daunting and confusing, and there is absolutely no shame in asking for help.

If I've missed something you feel is really important, feel free to mention it. I might not update this post to include it, such as is the case with marketing, which is often done after the fact, and doesn't actually impact getting the novel on amazon.

Good luck!

Leave a Comment:

divinebird says July 2, 2013

This is really interesting and useful! I had not thought about a lot of these things, and I’m glad you covered them here. I’m trying the traditional route first, but if I end up on the self-publishing route, this will be SUPER valuable. Heck, it is anyway, because there’s a lot that a publisher handles that the writer doesn’t know about. It’s all good to know!

Thank you!

AmyBeth Inverness says July 3, 2013

That “Don’t be afraid to ask other authors for help” is very true! And thank you for being that author I’ve asked for help many times.

One question: on the W9 can I just use my Social Security Number? Or do I have to apply for whatever that other number below it is?

    RJBlain says July 3, 2013

    All you need to do is fill in your address and your SSN on the form. In the box that says “Requester’s name and address (optional)”, write in the name of the company and reference your account number or reference number. That’ll help them associate the form with your account.

    Smashwords has a slightly different system of how they do it, so you’ll need to watch out for that.

LJ Cohen says July 3, 2013

Having just formatted a short story anthology for both print and eBook distribution, I can say from experience that print formatting is far more complex and nuanced than eBook formatting. For the most part, this is because you have far fewer choices in eBook formatting and don’t have to worry about the inner (gutter) margins, nor do you have control over running headers or footers.

These are all issues in print book formatting. I would recommend looking at professionally published books in your genre and studying the formatting used. There is an entire art and science to choosing a font family. In addition to kerning (the space between characters), you also need to choose proper leading (the space between the lines). Neither single, or double spacing from your document will work well in a printed book.

The blog, The Book Designer has a lot of info on this. (I’m not afiliated with them in any way, I’ve just found their resources extremely useful).

Will Laws says July 3, 2013

Excellent advice as usual. Thank you for covering some of the often over-looked categories – tax filings, copyright, etc.

Great checklist!

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