The 6 stages of non-fiction book publishing

Non-fiction book publishing

As you would imagine, there’s a bit involved in writing and publishing a book. There are also many misconceptions about how things work. The aim of this post is to allow you to go in with ‘eyes wide open’ and ensure your expectations of the process are realistic. This will allow you to extract maximum enjoyment from what is a very exciting and fulfilling venture.

If you’re stuck at any of the stages below, I’ve also mentioned the type of professional you’d seek out to help.

Stage 1: Ideation and market positioning

When deciding to write a book, it’s not enough to have a ‘big idea’ you want to share with the world. You must also consider:

  • Who is the market?
  • Will it resonate with the intended market? (Are they ‘ready’ to hear it?)
  • Can I access that market? (There’s no point having a big idea that will help real estate agents if you can’t get your book in front of those people.)
  • Will writing a book for this market allow me to achieve my personal and business goals?
  • Do I even know what those goals are?

At the end of this stage, you need clarity around:

  1. The book’s title
  2. A working sub-title
  3. The book’s premise (The presumption upon which your book is based. Eg. ‘Most overthinkers are so busy trying to stop their overthinking, they don’t realise there might be a better way to go about things.’)
  4. The book’s promise (How you’re going to make the reader’s life better, in the context of the book’s premise. Eg. ‘I will show you how to work effectively with your overthinking brain instead of constantly fighting against it.’)
  5. Who the target market is (As you should be actively engaging with them and priming them for the fact that the book is coming from the moment you start writing the book.)
  6. What outcome the book needs to deliver for you (Does it need to bring you new clients? Give you credibility in your field? Increase your profile? Bring speaking gigs? Sell 1 million copies?)

Who can help at the ideation stage?

It’s admittedly hard to find help at this point because there is no industry-accepted term for an ‘edit’ at this stage of the game. Realistically, you want to speak with someone who has both publishing and editorial experience, and understands the nuances of self-publishing a non-fiction book (i.e. Your goal may not necessarily be to sell as many copies as possible (the goal of most traditional publishers). It might be to attract the attention of a very small, but very lucrative niche audience.)

The service I offer for this stage is called a ‘Developmental Edit‘. But! Be careful if engaging someone else for a ‘developmental edit’ because many editors use the term to describe a structural edit, which is something else entirely!

Essentially, to determine whether someone can help you at this point, ask them if they’re going to be able to leave you with firm clarity around the six points mentioned above.

Helpful resources for the ideation stage

If you’d like to work through this stage by yourself …

Stage 2: Marketing

Some important things you need to know about book marketing:

  • It doesn’t matter how amazing your book is, if you can’t get it into the hands of your target readers, your ideas won’t spread
  • If you wait until your book is written and produced to start marketing it, you’re making things very hard for yourself
  • There’s no book marketing formula that will guarantee the success of your book.
    • Every book is unique in who it’s trying to appeal to.
    • Every author has different sized email lists, fan bases, connections and budgets. (i.e. Every author has a different set of advantages and disadvantages.)
  • It takes as much as, or more, energy to market your book as it does to write it (book marketing needs to be ongoing)

Who can help you market your book?

Ooh boy. There are a LOT of people out there who promise the world and don’t even deliver a suburb in this regard. As mentioned, there is no real unshakeable book marketing formula that works for everyone so anyone who suggests they have one … best you run far away in the other direction from them.

The best person to help you at this stage is you. (Sorry, I know this is not what you want to hear!)

First step, read both these books:

Second, start building an email list.

Third, create a Facebook group of people who are interested in what you’re writing about. (Ask to join my Overthinkers Anonymous Facebook group if you want to see how it works.

Fourth, tell people you’re writing a book. Tell them what the title is. Check their reactions to it. You’ll know you’ve nailed your title if the person you’re speaking to is your target market and there’s an instant glint of recognition in their eyes. You’ll know you’ve really nailed it if they say, ‘Tell me when your book is out, I need to read it!’ If people look at you blankly when you tell them your book’s title, or if you have to explain it to them … change your title because your book’s title is its most important marketing tool.

Finally, get your head around the fact that marketing your book is something you’re going to need to find a LOT of time and energy for when your book is finally written and published. SO many self-published authors get to the end of the book writing and publishing process completely burnt out and just don’t have the energy to market and promote themselves. I know I’ve been guilty of this. And it’s a huge shame because if you don’t have the energy, your book won’t get in enough hands to achieve the critical mass it needs to spread on its own (via word of mouth).

Stage 3: Writing

So, how do you write a book?

The way most people think it works is:

  1. You create an outline
  2. You knock out the first draft to that outline
  3. Once that first draft is done, an editor steps in to polish it up and yay, finished book!

The truth is, the above is rare and the writing process is usually much more frustrating and iterative than that.

  • You might start writing to your outline and find you don’t have as much to say about certain parts of that outline as you thought
  • You might complete your first draft, send it to an editor, and find out the 30,000 words you’ve written are actually just the introduction (and those 30,000 words need to be condensed to 3000) and now it’s time to write the rest of the book (this actually happened to me)
  • You might complete your first draft and realise the punchline of the book is completely different to what you originally thought it was, and now you have to re-write the book to deliver on that new, better punchline (this also happened to me)

This is why I tell the authors I work with to call their ‘first draft’ a ‘content draft’ instead. I want them to accept the idea that most first drafts are nowhere near being editable. And while this sounds harsh, it’s actually really freeing. It releases them from the need to be super-coherent and they get to do massive brain dumps instead.

Sometimes they brain dump to the rough outline we’ve worked up for their book.

Sometimes we don’t even create an outline. Sometimes we go to the premise and promise of the book, brainstorm all the questions a book with that premise and promise should answer … and then start brain dumping the answers to those questions.

In my experience, the whole ‘brain dumping thing’ is what produces the strongest book the author is capable of. Mainly because once I know what kind of content the author can produce, and, most importantly, what kind of stories they have to illustrate the points they’re making, I can structure the book to optimally deliver their thoughts and ideas to the reader in a satisfying (i.e. highly readable and actionable) way.

Who can help during the writing stage?

  • Joining a writing group for accountability is always helpful. The people in that group can also act as beta readers and sounding boards.
  • You might hire a book coach to mentor you through the process. (They will also do some beta reads and act as a sounding board.)
  • If you’re someone who writes well, but slowly, you might engage an editor to act as a co-writer to speed things up.
  • If writing is not your preferred form of communication, but you have all this great content in your head just crying to come out, a ghostwriter will both extract that content from your head, and assemble it into a marketable entity (a book).
  • Once your content draft or first draft is finished, it might be worth getting a manuscript assessment done to find out just what shape the manuscript is in.

Helpful resources for the writing stage

Stage 4: Editing

There are four editing stages every book should go through to ensure its quality is at the level the discerning reader is looking for:

  1. Developmental edit
  2. Structural edit
  3. Copy/line edit
  4. Proofread

1. Developmental edit

As mentioned above, this is the term I give to the ‘idea’ edit. It should be done at the start of the book writing process and at the end of it you should have:

  • A clear understanding of who the market/audience/reader is
  • A strong working title and sub-title
  • Clarity around the premise of the book
  • A clear understanding of the ‘promise’ you are making to the reader
  • The confidence you can deliver on that promise
  • The confidence the proposed book can deliver on your personal goals

2. Structural edit

This edit can be done at the ‘content draft’ stage, first draft stage, or both.

It’s the edit that asks:

Does this book flow nicely, build the author’s argument in a logical way, and deliver on the promise the title is making?

It’s important not to skip this edit and go straight to a line edit because a line edit can only sharpen up what’s already there. A line edit doesn’t point out where something needs to be expanded on, or moved somewhere else, or deleted entirely because it’s surplus to requirements. A structural edit does.

There are two kinds of structural edit:

  • What I call a ‘high-pass’ structural edit will provide high-level notes only. The editor won’t go into the manuscript and move things around for you, or make any changes of their own.
  • What I call a ‘granular’ structural edit will see the editor moving things, deleting things, smoothing out transitions and doing whatever fixes they feel necessary to ensure flow, idea delivery and reader satisfaction.

3. Line editing

Even if some line editing has been done during the structural edit, it’s still crucial for a line editor to go through the entire manuscript once it’s ‘done’.

As mentioned, where a structural editor looks at things on a macro/flow level, a line editor goes super-micro. They literally go through and sharpen up each line: correcting grammar, cutting long lines into two, fixing up awkward syntax etc.

4. Proofreading

While I understand a book is expensive to produce, and while I understand how tempting it is to get your mum, dad and five great friends to read your book and assume that between them all, they’ll pick up any proofing errors … a professional proofreader is worth their weight in gold. The things they pick up are more than just typos, they also pick up formatting errors your book designer may have made when typesetting the book and often do fact checks too. The things a professional proofreader picks up are often the difference between your book being ‘publisher quality’ and not.

When do you get your book proofread? Once it’s been laid out/designed. If you do it before that, your proofreader won’t get the chance to pick up on any formatting errors that might occur during the design phase.

Who can help during the editing stage?

Search online for the specific editors outlined above. Or, even better, speak to other writers about who they use as personal recommendations are golden when it comes to editors. If an editor is very good, they’re also usually very booked up. So be prepared to wait 🙂

Helpful resources for the editing stage

If you want to get better at self-editing (and you should), it’s worth your while reading:

And listening to:

Stage 5: Design and printing

So your manuscript is finalised and your book is ready to be produced. Hurrah!

In order to make your book available for sale worldwide, you’ll need to format it in at least two ways:

  1. Paperback
  2. Kindle/e-book

Perfect world, you would also produce an audiobook as audiobooks are becoming increasingly popular.

But let’s just talk about paperback and Kindle for now.

Despite there being many DIY tools out there to help you design your book yourself, discerning readers will spot a DIY effort a mile away, and all the effort you put into writing the book will be wasted. Short story – make sure there is room in your budget for professional design.

Design consideration 1 – Cover (Paperback and Kindle)

The adage is true – people really do judge books by their covers. A professional designer won’t just ensure your cover looks fantastic, they’ll ensure it’s genre-appropriate too. (If you’ve produced a business ‘thought leadership’ book but the cover makes it look like it’s a cookbook, it doesn’t matter how beautiful the cover is, your book won’t sell. Not to the intended market anyway.)

Design consideration 2 – Interior (Paperback)

An invisible part of the reading experience is your book’s interior design. When a book is easy to read (font selection, font size, line spacing, presentation of bullets and tables, sub-headings etc) you don’t notice all the things the designer has done to make it so. When a book is hard to read (the font is small and the lines aren’t spaced well, for example) – you do notice. And you think unkind thoughts about the book even if it’s well-written.

Your book’s design also impacts how seriously the reader takes you. If your book is well-written but your book’s design looks like a 1980’s school report, you’ll lose credibility in the reader’s eyes.

Short story, get a professional to design your book’s interior. That professional should also know how to navigate the KDP and Ingram Spark interfaces (as this is who will likely be printing your book) and fix any problems they throw up on file submission.

Design consideration 3 – E-book

There are tools out there that say ‘upload your Word document here and we’ll convert it to Kindle for you’. KDP and Ingram also offer tools to convert your paperback design to Kindle. Please don’t use these tools. They produce an inferior Kindle book that will impact the reading experience for your reader. Get a professional Kindle Formatter to do it. If you want the details for one, send me an email and I’ll hook you up.

Printing your book

A key part of your book production process is printing. Where and how you print your book will depend on how you intend to sell copies of the book, how many you want to have on hand at any one time and how many copies you want to print.

For most authors, using the print-on-demand services of Ingram Spark (Australian authors) or KDP (US authors) is the most cost-effective way to go about things. When using those services, the price per book is the same whether you print 1 copy, or 10,000 copies. When printing small quantities of your book (500 and under), using a print-on-demand service is going to be cheaper than sourcing the printing of your book locally.

  • Ingram Spark book pricing is here.
  • KDP book pricing is here.

If printing more than 500 copies, I usually recommend Australian authors print locally as the quality is slightly better than Ingram/KDP for the same price. For larger quantities, or for printing books that are full colour throughout, it’s cheapest to print with a China-based printer, but I don’t have any personal experience with that.

Stage 6: Distribution

Ok! So your book has been written, designed, printed/converted to e-book, and because you’ve done such a good job marketing it, people want to buy it. Where can they buy it from and who delivers the book to them? And what if bookstores and libraries want to buy your book?

How and where you decide to sell your book from depends on a range of variables, (where you’re based, how much you want to make from each book, how willing you are to store books at your home or office and mail them to buyers yourself etc.) I’m not able to cover all those variables here so I’m just going to cover off the ways you would distribute your book and if we work together at some stage, I can offer advice that is more specific to your situation.

1. E-book

Your e-book designer/formatter should provide you with a .epub file and that’s the file you would upload to Amazon KDP in order to make your book available worldwide on Amazon in Kindle format.

If you want to make your book available worldwide on Apple iBooks and Kobo, you’d upload your .epub file via Smashwords.

Whenever any of these online retailers sell the e-version of your book to a reader, they pay you a royalty. The royalty amount varies depending on the book price, and which online retailer sells it.

2. Paperback

There are a few ways people can buy your paperback from you:

1. From your own website

To sell books from your own website, you’d purchase copies of the book at author pricing from KDP (US and UK authors) or IngramSpark (Australian authors). The average business book (6” x 9” in size, full colour cover, black and white on the side, up to 250 pages) usually costs around $5-6USD, $7.50-8.50AUD delivered.

You’d then mark up the book price to whatever you want to sell it for ($17.99-$24.99 is the usual range), add postage and sell it for that amount from your website. Remember though, the con of this option is that it involves you putting books in envelopes/mailers, addressing said envelopes/mailers and going to the post office to get them in the mail. The big pro is, it’s the option where you make the most per paperback book.

2. Direct via online retailers

US and UK authors would upload their paperback file to Amazon KDP. Readers can then buy the paperback direct from Amazon. Amazon takes care of the printing and delivery of the book, and pay you a royalty per book sold.

Australian authors would upload their paperback file to Ingram Spark. Ingram Spark then makes the book available to Amazon (and other online retailers like Book Depository and Booktopia) as well as Australian bookstores and libraries. The reason Australian authors would use IngramSpark is because KDP won’t send proof copies of paperback books to Australia anymore. Nor does KDP make paperback books available to

(Yes, I know, this is all very confusing. But the short story is US and UK authors can upload both the e-book and paperback book to Amazon KDP and have their books distributed to their major markets. Australian authors whose primary market might be Australian readers, and need their paperback to be available on … only IngramSpark can make that happen.)

3. Brick and mortar bookstores

If you’re a self-published author, and you want your book stocked in brick and mortar bookstores, you need to either engage a distributor (which means your book will be one of many books that distributor is offering to a bookstore to stock) or go into bookstores yourself and ask them to stock your book. How? This article is old, but still accurate.

The other way that can work is to get friends to go into bookstores and request your book. The bookstore will then order your book from IngramSpark at a wholesale price, mark it up to retail price, and sell it to your friends. If enough people request your book, the bookstore might order an extra copy or two to have on their shelf.

Whenever a bookstore orders a copy of your book from IngramSpark (or a library), you get paid a royalty via Ingram Spark.

4. Airport bookstore distribution

Don’t we all want to see our books in airport bookstores?! Unfortunately, this usually involves having a bestselling book, being with a traditional publisher, paying a large fee … or all three.

What does it all cost?

You may not need all of the items below, but I’ve listed as many of the costs as possible to help you budget for self-publishing a book at a professional level. All prices below are in AUD.

PHASE 1 – Ideation and market positioning
Developmental edit $750
PHASE 2 – Marketing
Public relations, Facebook ads, Google ads, Amazon ads, newspaper ads Hard to budget to be honest. I’ve always preferred to do free things like building my email list and a Facebook ambassador group (see Tim Grahl’s book).

The other thing I’ll tend to spend money on is sending paperback copies of my book to influencers.

PHASE 3 – Writing
Writing coach $2500
Writing partner (coach + editorial help) $5000+
Ghostwriter – not the whole book, no interviewing, just research and write 60c/word
Ghostwriter – content extraction + structure and write the entire book $30,000+
PHASE 4 – Editing
Manuscript read $150/10,000words
High-pass structural edit (follows a manuscript read and offers high-level comments only) $500 (up to 50,000 words)
Granular structural edit (usually follows both a manuscript read and a high-pass structural edit and will produce a manuscript ready for line editing) 4-6c/word
Line edit ~$3000-4000 for 30,000 words
Proofread ~$800-1000 for 30,000 words
PHASE 5 – Design and printing
Cover design $650+
Cover photography (if needed) $1000+
Interior design – simple typeset $1100+
Interior design – magazine style/full colour $2500+
E-book formatting/creation $250USD +
Printing – small quantities via Print on Demand services like KPD and Ingram Spark $7.50-8.50 for a 6”x9” book – full colour cover, black and white interior up to 250 pages
STAGE 6 – Distribution
IngramSpark paperback upload fee $50USD
Purchase of 2 ISBNs (one for the paperback version, one for the e-book version) + new publisher fee with Bowker $143