How to Publish a Book (Basic Flying Instructions)

You might think after traditionally publishing three books and self-publishing so many I have to stop and count them up that I would have a pretty cut-and-dried, easy-to-read list of rules that, if followed closely, will help any writer get to the same point.

I don’t.

The truth is, every writer’s individual journey is different, and because I sort of felt like writing poetry but decided to write this instead, I’m going to get a little lyrical on you. Imagine being on a magic carpet. Imagine how you’d have to move in order to “drive” that magic carpet. You’d lean forward to make it go faster, lean to the side to make it turn, lean back to slow down (or flip over backwards if that’s your thing). All the time, that carpet would be moving with you, folding around you, turning and dipping according to your weight and the idiosyncrasies of your movement.

Now imagine if someone else wanted to drive the carpet for a while. You wouldn’t be able to give them exact instructions, would you? Even if you’d been flying around for hours, you could only give them basic instructions and hope it worked for them.

Anyway, in case you didn’t get where I landed with all this, writing and publishing is like flying a magic carpet. It’s a lot of work, sometimes it’s exciting, and you really can’t be certain you’ll know how to land the thing. (At least that’s been my experience.) Oh yeah, and it’s different for everyone, but hop on my carpet for a minute and I’ll show you the basics.

  1. That book you want to publish? Write it. The whole thing. Seriously. If you’ve never been published, you can’t query a publisher with an idea for a book you haven’t written. I know this seems like you might be wasting your time, but hey, I always say write what is in you, not what a publisher thinks will sell, anyway. Writing, like it or not, is an art. If there’s a story inside you wanting to get out, you have to write it. Then figure out what to do with it.
  1. Edit, edit, edit and then edit again. And if you’re uncertain at all about your own editing abilities, hire an editor. There are some great freelance editors out there. (See the bottom of this article for some links to places online to find qualified ones.) And trust me when I say, no matter how good you or your editor are, no matter how many passes you make, you are still going to find things in the published book that you wish you’d seen before.
  1. Here’s where you come to a fork in the road. On the left, a paved highway with road signs and pit stops. This is the road to traditional publishing. Here is where you find an agent or a small press that doesn’t require an agent. You learn to write query letters and wait. There’s a lot of waiting, a lot of yielding, a lot of sitting at never-ending stoplights while your masterpiece waits in the slushpile.

On the right, however, is a wild, unpaved, overgrown path of sorts. This is self-publishing. There are no speed limits here. No stop signs, no lights and no clear direction, either. It loops and turns and you can drive on either side of the road. However, it is important to note, this is not a toll road. You can self-publish a book for next to nothing. Amazon’s KDP program will publish your book for Kindle and print-on-demand softcover for no charge. You can even obtain a free ISBN from them. If that’s not enough for you, head over to Smashwords, where your ebook can be formatted and distributed to multiple retailers. Both Amazon and Smashwords offer step-by-step tutorials on how to do this. I have managed both. I am confident you can, too.

  1. Now here’s the part I haven’t yet mastered. I sometimes think I might be happy if I could sit in my house and write. If I could imagine my words streaming out my window to an eagerly waiting crowd of readers, I would write all the time. But it doesn’t work that way. You have to find your readers, not wait for them to find you. How do you do this? Let me count the ways…no wait, there are too many. There are Amazon ads, blog tours, book launches, Facebook pages, word of mouth, contests, social media campaigns, book promoters—you get the idea. You will have to decide on your own how much time, energy and money you can put into marketing. And if you find the magic formula, please let me know. I’m still working out the alchemy of it.

And this is where we land. That’s all I’ve got, truly. Now, go find your magic carpet and take flight on your own. You’ll figure out the controls. I have faith in you.

Here are a few online resources to help you out: (or a professional writers organization of your choice)

Have a specific question about writing or publishing? Email me at If I can help, your question might be featured in a future “Magic Carpet” column.

Submitted by: Michelle Garrin Flye