Publishing is a business and when you choose to self-publish, you become the owner of that business. A book is a product and, like any other product, manufacturing it (production) and disseminating it into the market (publishing) follows many of the same rules that govern other products on the market. You need a marketable product, you need to know that whatever is invested financially will be recovered, and hopefully you want to make a profit on sales for the time and effort you have put into writing the book and promoting it. To help you make a success of your publishing venture, we have provided a typical publishing process as followed by traditional publishing houses. Some of the steps detailed below may or may not be necessary for your particular book. For instance, some authors require illustration services, whilst others do not.

When reading through the steps, bear your particular book in mind and make a list of the services you require. We have highlighted the essential publishing processes in bold, so these should be on your list. Since this website is geared towards professional book publishing, we’re going to focus on the steps involved from this perspective.

Step 1: Assessing your market and the viability of publishing

Before embarking on any kind of publishing project, it is important to do research and assess the viability of publishing your book. This includes checking whether there are other books out there on your topic, and if there are, how your book is different. Why would readers buy your book and not another similar book? 

You also need to look at your marketing options – who is your book aimed at and what demand is there for it? Also, how will you market and distribute it?

Lastly, what will it cost to produce and print the book, what can you sell it for, and what kind of profit can you expect to make assuming the book sells? This will involve approaching various service providers and getting an estimate of costs, or using one provider to handle all the processes for you.

These are important questions that need to be answered. Publishing a book is no different to producing any other commercial product – you will want to recoup your costs at the very least, if not make a profit. You must also have a very clear idea of who your target market is because this will drive the editorial and design processes, as well as the distribution and marketing.

Step 2: Completing and preparing your manuscript

It will be impossible to get an accurate production and printing price on an incomplete manuscript, so the first step, before you approach an author services or book production company for a quote, is to get your manuscript as near to completion as possible or have an estimated word count if that’s not possible. This is because production prices are usually based on a page rate and in order to determine the approximate number of pages, a fairly accurate word count is needed. Text-based books that are A5 in size can usually accommodate 300-350 words per page.

The author services or book production company will quote on the following:

  • publishing consultation
  • manuscript evaluation
  • editing (complex edit or standard edit, depending on the quality of the writing; multiple edits may be needed)
  • artwork commissioning (if applicable)
  • photography or photo library images (if applicable)
  • book interior design and typesetting/formatting
  • cover design and makeup
  • ISBN application and barcode generation
  • insertion of copyright
  • proofreading
  • litho or digital printing and/or ebook creation
  • submitting books to places of legal deposit
  • Nielsen Book Data listing for global distribution

Step 3: Choosing the right service provider

Your choice of service provider (usually an author services company) will depend very much on your vision for the book and the level of production expertise you require. Good author services companies do not come cheap, but you can usually be assured of an end product that will be accepted by book marketers and bookstores for resale, and that will receive positive reviews. Book marketers and bookstores do not take on products that look self-published, so if the bookstore route is the one you wish to take, an experienced author services company is essential.

Step 4: Editorial process

This step involves taking a manuscript from its raw state through to the point where it is ready to be handed over for typesetting (interior formatting) and design. The editorial process can take anything from one to three months, depending on the extent of editing required, how quickly you respond to the editor’s queries, and the number of edits required. If your book needed a complex edit, it will almost certainly require another edit. Traditional publishing houses give their books multiple editorial passes. Proofreading is also part of the editorial process although it usually happens after typesetting and layout and at the first page proof stage (see Step 5).

Step 5: Design, layout and production

Step 5 is often simply referred to as ‘production’. The interior look and feel of the book is designed (book interior design); the manuscript is formatted (typeset) according to the design templates; the ISBN is obtained and the barcode is generated; the cover is designed; PDF proofs are provided for the author and proofreader to check; corrections are implemented; and the document is carefully checked before final print-ready PDFs are generated.

In terms of PDF proofs for checking, most service providers offer up to three sets, but some offer only one and all corrections thereafter are for the author’s account. Quickfox Publishing, for instance, offers multiple sets of proofs as part of the typesetting fee. It would be best to check on this beforehand and budget accordingly.

Step 6: Proofreading

This step usually happens after first page proofs have been provided by the typesetter. Not all services offer this step (Quickfox Publishing insists on it) as this is your last opportunity to give the text another walk through; it’s amazing what slips through the cracks. This is where inconsistencies are standardised (e.g. 100 000 vs 100,000; 5am vs 5.00 am); punctuation is corrected; footnote numbers are checked; table of contents page numbers are checked; remaining grammar errors are corrected; captions accompany the correct images; orphans and widows are eliminated; and so on. All traditional publishing houses include this as a vital step in the production process.

Step 6: Printing

You have three printing options available: 1) long-run litho printing, 2) short-run digital printing, and 3) print-on-demand (POD). Your choice of printing method will depend on the quantity of books you require, your budget, and whether you require specialist finishes or not. To find out more about litho and digital printing, visit our Printing page on this site. True print-on-demand (printing one book at a time as and when orders are placed) is not readily available in South Africa, however, it is offered by certain platforms such as IngramSpark, CreateSpace and Lulu.com, among others. 

Step 7: Ebook conversion and distribution

Your book is converted into the two major ebook formats – ePub and Kindle – and prepared for global distribution. They are then uploaded onto key distribution platforms and made available for sale through the world’s largest ebook retailers, such as Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Diesel, and others.

Step 8: Local and international distribution

Distribution is the physical act of making the book available to the customer, and is usually done through a distributor. Distributors supply all bookstores (online and bricks-and-mortar) as well as the customer, and usually hold copies of your book in stock at their warehouses. When orders are received, they pick, pack and ship the book.

Distributors usually charge a monthly fee for warehousing and insurance, as well as a pick-and-pack cost on each order. If you go through a bookstore marketer, however, this cost is usually carried by the bookstore marketer.

Since distribution costs are quite high, many self-publishing authors choose to hold stock of the book themselves and to approach the major online and physical bookstores directly. Unfortunately, only the independent bookstores are willing to purchase directly from authors and smaller publishers. The big chains, such as Exclusives, require authors to work through a distributor. The large chains will supply a list of their approved distributors on request.

Quickfox Publishing offers publishing consultations that will take you through the ins and outs of bookstore distribution. It is best to have all these facts on hand before investing large sums of money publishing books intended mainly for distribution through bookstores.

International distribution is primarily done by way of print-on-demand through international platforms. International customers place an order on Amazon, for instance, and Amazon feeds the order through to the print-on-demand company for fulfilment. Larger runs can be ordered from printers abroad but authors need to source and secure affordable distribution agreements with overseas distributors.

Step 9: Book marketing and publicity

This is the process of making customers aware of your book. It involves sending your book off to newspapers and magazines for review, and approaching retailers and bookstores to show them your book and get them to commit to stocking it. It also involves getting your book listed in various national and global book catalogues. Bookstores refer to these catalogues when ordering books – it helps them to source books that are specifically requested by their customers.

There are bookstore marketers who specialise in bookstore distribution – they not only market your book to the bookstores, but they handle the entire distribution and administrative function for you as well. The distribution of these books are normally outsourced to partner distribution companies and the bookstore marketer and distribution company work closely together.

As a self-publishing author, it is your responsibility to explore other sales avenues and opportunities, and create marketing campaigns for your book. These could include social media campaigns, book signings, talks and lectures, roadshows, and other initiatives. If you see a gap in the corporate market for instance, you could try approaching corporates for bulk book sales.