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 Self-publishing means publishing and selling your own eBook on Amazon (or anywhere else) instead of relying on a literary agent or publishing company to do it for you. In return for doing all the admin yourself, any profit you make is all yours.

It might sound a bit intimidating, but it's actually a piece of cake. Getting an eBook published is super easy, and once you've published it you'll be earning passive income for years.

So how do you write and publish an eBook? We'll take you through it all step-by-step.

Before you can publish your eBook on Amazon (or any other platform) to start making money, there's just the small matter of having to write the book. Unfortunately, this is the part that takes some serious hard work and dedication – rush through it and you'll just end up with a rubbish book that no one wants to buy.

We'd recommend making a schedule to stick to, or you could end up spending years perfecting your masterpiece. More importantly, knowing when your book will hit the shelves gives you the best chance of maximising sales.

Divide your eBook into chapters, sections or anything else that makes the structure clear. Set yourself a deadline (be realistic) and divide the number of headings by the number of weeks until then: that's your weekly writing target. Stick to it.

Fastest way to write an eBook

Here is a fast and easy way to write your eBook:

  • Write your first draft – This can take anything between three months and a year (or more), depending on your other life commitments. Get your head down and focus on just getting the words on the page.
  • Get feedback (allow two weeks) – Stop tinkering with your book and round up family members to read it instead. Or, go swapsies with someone super talented on an English course and ask for an editorial critique. Not writing fiction? Go lurk in the relevant department to get a pro to give you feedback.
  • Editing (at least two weeks) – Use the best feedback to buff your masterpiece to within an inch of its life. Make it shine.
  • Proofreading (one week) – Glaring typos and inaccurate facts could cost you sales, so don't skimp on this bit. If you can't stretch to a professional editor, try and find someone on Fiverr. At the very least, give it to a couple of mates and ask them to be brutal. Don't ask anyone who doesn't know their 'its' from their 'it's' or you'll be wasting your time.

Once your shiny manuscript is complete, it's time to get it ready for publication.

Format your eBook

apple word document toolbar

Credit: Denis Dervisevic - Flickr

Begin with a clean document template and only set up the styles you want to use. For instance, 10-point, left-aligned, double-spaced Times New Roman for your main content, or bold, 22-point italic Helvetica for chapter headings.

Then, instead of clicking bold, centre or underline wherever you feel like it, use your pre-defined styles.

Once you've chosen your eBook publishing platform, use the free Smashwords style guide as your formatting Bible. It explains in (lots of) detail how to set your book up for the fewest conversion headaches.

As for file types, .doc and .docx files are the most commonly accepted, but you don't have to use Microsoft. Free alternatives like OpenOffice, LibreOffice, Google Docs – and anything else that lets you save your files with the right extension – all work fine.

Once you've uploaded and converted your eBook, always make sure to preview it on a few different eReaders and devices (definitely preview it on an Amazon Kindle). If you spot any terrible typos or formatting errors, make the changes and upload a clean version.

  1. The beauty of digital means you can even update your eBook's content after it's been published. But don't use that as an excuse to send out typo-filled or poorly written/formatted content, as readers and reviewers won't be impressed.

  2. Make an eBook cover

    Forget about not judging a book by its cover, because that's exactly what book buyers do, all the time. The good news is you don't need to be Picasso to design something good – you just need to follow our common sense guidelines.

    How to design an eBook cover

    • Check with the eBook publishing platform for any guidelines on cover size or layout – and follow them to a T! Typically, you'll just need to supply something as a .jpg (image) file.
    • Have a look at the covers of best-selling eBooks to see what makes the good ones work. Is it the colour, image, font or something else?
    • Make your title big, bold and easy to read (no squiggly fonts). It needs to be legible on even the tiniest mobile screen.
    • Your image should be eye-catching, work well with your title font/size, and should be appropriate for your book category.
    • Free image editing software like GIMP works just as well as the professional stuff.
    • Try sites like Unsplash to get your hands on top-quality, free-to-use photos.
    • If you buy images for your book, check how you're allowed to use them and whether you need to credit the photographer or illustrator.
    • If you're not confident about having a go yourself, you can probably find someone on Fiverr to whip up a cover for you for… well, around a fiver.
    • Share your cover with select mates or family members and ask them to be utterly honest with you before you make your decision.
  3. Add your book details

    Before you can release your book into the wild, you'll need to add a few details about you and your content. Here's the cheat sheet:

    Things you need to publish an eBook

    • Book title – Sounds obvious, but make sure your title is exactly the same as the one in your EPUB (a.k.a. your eBook file) and on the front cover.
    • Author name – Yours (or whoever wrote the book).
    • Publisher name – This might be optional depending on whether you're using a free or paid ISBN.
    • Rights – If you've written 
    • your own book from scratch this is usually pretty simple: you own all rights and can choose to sell your book anywhere in the world.
    • Language – Whichever language your book is written in.
    • Adult content disclaimer – Some platforms will ask you to declare if you've written something that contains graphic sex, violence or drug use (and there's not much point lying about it).
    • Description – This is the bit of blurb that readers see when they browse your book (and consider buying it). Make it really, really good!
    • Category – You may be able to choose from broad categories like Fiction or Non-Fiction, or drill down to something super specific like Fiction > Science Fiction > Space Operas. Consider picking less popular (but still appropriate) categories for your book to increase its chances of being spotted among the competition.
    • Keywords – Keywords give you the chance to be discovered by readers searching for books like yours. They can be words like 'thriller' or 'romance', or even phrases. Top tip: find a book in the store that you'll be in competition with and use similar keywords.
    • Price – Some platforms let you tailor your book's price for each country they sell to. If you're not sure, just stick with one price and let the platform work it out for you.

  1. Choose a publication date

    calendar on a yellow background

    Credit: Chutima Chaochaiya - Shutterstock

    Most of the time this is just whatever date you upload or publish your eBook. Some platforms now let you pick a date months in advance, too – what's that about?

    Commercial publishers announce (and market) their books before they go on sale to generate advance sales and reviews, or lots of sales the day the book goes live.

    Setting an advance publication date means customers can see your book in the store (and pre-order it) immediately, but they'll only be able to download and read it on the day it goes live.

  2. Publish your eBook

    Your eBook won't be available to buy until you make it live – so don't forget to hit the ‘Publish' button.

    If you change your mind later on, unpublishing your eBook is simply a case of making it not-live: that means it reverts to draft status and will stop appearing in online book stores.

    How long it takes for your eBook to start appearing on virtual bookshelves (or, if you unpublish, to disappear) depends on the publishing platform. For some, it's a matter of hours, while others can take weeks.