Colin Dunbar

How to get a book published: Here are the 6 proven ways



You’ve written an awesome book (of course ), and now you want to know how to get a book published.

In this article I offer 6 proven options to have a book published. Each has their own pros and cons, and it’s up to you to decide which is best for you and your circumstances.

The 5 options are:

Before you start looking at the different options to get a book published, consider the advice of Winter Thielen, “Before you dive into the process, consider what main goals you have for your book. Do you aspire to commercial success? Are you looking to supplement your speaking career or business? Maybe seeing your name in print is enough to make you happy.” [1]

Depending on what your goal is, it will affect the time and/or money you need to invest. Let’s get started…

Having your Book Published at a Traditional Publisher

What does it mean to have a book published at a traditional publisher?

The super-quick overview…

You submit your manuscript (through an agent) to one of the commercial publishers (also called trade book publishers) and they then take over all the production elements of your book. In a nutshell, after you’re written your book you only need to worry about promoting yourself and your book. You usually get paid a royalty for each copy of your book that is sold, and sometimes you’re paid an advance amount (there are a wide variety of conditions to determine this, and not in the scope of this post).

The Big 5 Commercial Publishers

The big five commercial publishers are:

There are also smaller publishers, and if you want to pursue this route, it may be worthwhile to try and get your book accepted by one of the smaller publishers. It could save a lot of frustration and disappointment.

The reality of having your book published by a commercial publisher… Click To Tweet

If you are a new and unknown author, get ready for a long and difficult road ahead. Always keep in mind that publishing is a business. It’s really a matter of “it’s nothing personal, it’s just business”. Difficult, but not impossible.

As publishing is a business, accept the reality that the publishing house is taking a risk on every new author. They invest a lot of money in creating your book, and if it doesn’t sell by the tens of thousands, they’ve lost a lot of money. I’m sure you agree that makes sense.

As award-winning author, Randy Ingermanson says… “Becoming a publishable writer is a multi-year project. When a publisher buys your book, they are risking tens of thousands of dollars that you will at least break even. Would you risk that much money on someone who’d only been writing a few weeks? Neither will an editor.” [2]

The Process to Getting a Book Published

There is no reason to start writing a nonfiction manuscript in earnest before you have written a book proposal. Why? Because no publisher will read your manuscript without first reading a book proposal sent to them by an agent.

Your book proposal is your entry ticket to get your book published by one of the big 5 publishers. Click To Tweet

If you go this route to get your book published, the first thing you need is a good book proposal. Don’t skimp on the time to write this. It’s your entry ticket to get your book published by one of the big 5 publishers. And you will need to submit your book proposal to an agent. This person will judge the viability of your book based on your proposal and then the agent will try and find a publisher that may be interested in your book. Make it good.

You can hear what bestselling author Ryan Holiday says about his effort with his book proposal for his book, Ego is the Enemy in the video here.

Aside from having an awesome book proposal, you need an author platform (fan base). Without a good author platform it’s almost impossible to find an agent or publisher interested in you. If the publishing house sees that you have a few thousand fans, there is a better possibility that they’ll be interested in your book. If you search Google, you will find many differing definitions of what an author platform is. In a nutshell your author platform is how far and wide you are known by your fans.

In a nutshell your author platform is how far and wide you are known by your fans. Click To Tweet

Forbes magazine offers the following definition…

“The New Author Platform requires a focus on developing an unobstructed back and forth between authors and their readers, with the authors — not the publishers — controlling the flow. Now it’s the author, not a publicist, who inspires readers to buy the book.” [4]

There are a multitude of resources you can use to build your platform, here I’m only going to mention 4 main platforms:

The publishing houses will be interested in seeing your number of followers and subscribers: this shows them the size of your audience, thus the potential number of buyers. Remember, it’s all about the numbers.

If you have the numbers of followers, the determination and patience to go the traditional publishing route, there are benefits. One of the biggest benefits of having your book traditionally published is that there are no upfront fees. All the production costs of the book are taken care of by the publishing house: editing, interior book design, cover design, distribution, etc.

One of the biggest benefits of having your book traditionally published is that there are no upfront fees Click To Tweet

A minus on the production side of things is that you hand over control of your book to the publishing house. They can make changes to the story, choose a cover design that they want, etc. But, if you don’t have the budget, and you’re eager to have your book published by a renowned publishing house, then that may not be a problem for you. That is 100% a personal decision.

Bestselling author Alan Jacobson offers a detailed discussion on royalties at his site. [5]

If the traditional route is not for you, then there are other ways how to get your book published. Read on…


The Self-Publishing Process

As the name implies, this is where you do everything yourSELF (or you can outsource the tasks that you are not experienced in). You are still in charge of what needs to be done.

“ProQuest affiliate Bowker reveals in its latest industry report that the number of authors who are opting to self-publish continues to rise, with a growth rate of 21% between 2014 and 2015 for print and Ebooks combined.” [6]

If you’re a numbers/stats kind of person, The Association of American Publishers (AAP) offers details of the publishing industry in this article. [7]

Self-publishing is a viable option to getting a book published for an unknown author, or if your book’s subject (topic) covers a narrow niche, or is very industry specific. For example, when I wrote a book on technical writing, the agent came back to me with, “the publisher feels the market is too small for a book of this type.”

Again, it’s the numbers thing ?

If you want more control over your book, want things to happen a little quicker, and want to make more money, then you should look at self-publishing. Note I said a little quicker. The waiting time to hear back from an agent or publishing house is avoided, but don’t think that self-publishing success comes overnight. You still need an author platform, you need the time to create your book (everything in this regard is now in your hands), plus you have to promote and sell your book.

The 3 P’s of self-publishing Click To Tweet

As an independent author (that’s what you are when you self-publish), you are 100% responsible for all these tasks. You don’t have to do everything yourself – you can outsource some tasks.

As an independent author, you are 100% responsible for all these tasks. Click To Tweet

“I didn’t just want to self publish. I wanted to do it successfully. To sit and watch it soar up the charts was the most wonderful and satisfying experience I’ve ever had.” – Tracy Bloom [8]

 “One day I decided to publish it to see what might happen, and that decision was life-changing. I’m now writing my fifth novel, have sold well over a million copies of the first four, and have a new full-time career as an author. Nobody, least of all me, could have seen that coming—but I’m loving every minute of it.” – Rachel Abbott [9] The question is “Where do I self-publish my book?”

Getting a Book Self-Published Offline

To self-publish your book offline, you will need a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. You may need to pay for part (or all) of your book’s production – some self-publishing services offer packages where this is included. Some of these costs are: book interior design, editing, cover design, printing, etc. Where these services are not included in a package, you will need to outsource these to freelancers. Three places you can have a look at is Fiverr (make sure of the quality), 99Designs, and Upwork. Links are provided at the end of this article.

Vanity Publishers

Wikipedia defines vanity publishing as: “A vanity press, vanity publisher, or subsidy publisher is a term describing a publishing house in which authors pay to have their books published.” [10]

These are two packages offered by self-publishing services provider, Xlibris (

Basic Package – $899
This economical package provides multiple options and includes all the elements required to turn your manuscript into a quality paperback book. Your book will be listed in the industry’s leading online book distribution network and will be available for order on our network of online retail outlets worldwide including,, and the Xlibris online bookstore.
One (1) Paperback Author Copy
Five (5) Paperback Copies

Platinum Package – $15,299
The crème de la crème of publishing, the Platinum Service offers an exclusive world of publishing privileges and benefits. You’ll enjoy true 24/7 ultrapersonalized service, up to 160 books plus two exquisite Ambassador leather-bound library-edition copies, the ability to set your own price and royalties, and an incomparable assortment of marketing options. This is a luxury service that delivers unprecedented opportunities including a book video, a Social Media Setup Guide and Social Media Training Video, bookstore returnability, and enhanced online exposure.
One (1) Paperback Author Copy
One (1) Hardback Author copy
One Hundred Twenty (120) Paperback Copies
Forty (40) Hardback Copies
Twenty Five (25) BookStubs
Two (2) Leather Bound Edition – The Ambassador

Brisbane Self Publishing Service in Australia, offers this (
Manuscript appraisal: $200–$950
Structural editing: 1.5 – 4 cents per word
Copy editing: 1 – 3 cents per word
Proofreading (review following typesetting stage and prior to printing): 0.5 – 2 cents per word
Editorial proofreading (in lieu of full copy editing service; best suited to memoirs and family histories): 0.5 – 3 cents per word
Blurb copywriting: $85 (copy editing of author’s current version); $150 (copywriting original content)
Author Biography copywriting: $55 (copy editing of author’s current version); $85 (copywriting original content)

These are just 3 examples, but as you can see, the services (and costs) differ widely.

Another cost that you will need to budget for is buying additional physical stock of printed books. As you’ll see in the examples above, there are only a small number of books included in the package price. If you want more books these must be paid for. Often the additional copies must be ordered in specified quantities. This can be anything from 25 to 500.

And then you will need to sell these books. You may have heard of authors who have stacks of books stored in their basement. A further cost in selling your books is the packaging and delivery. You could also sell books at a physical location (e.g. seminar, presentation, etc.), then you’ll avoid the delivery costs. If you decide to self-publish your book through a vanity press or self publishing service, always do your due diligence before signing up with a self-publishing service. Sadly, there are scammers out there. Writer’s Digest offers a Directory of Self-Publishing Companies. [11]

Getting a Book Self-Published Online

There are a number of reasons this is a great option. It’s by far my favorite option, and all my books are self-published online. In fact, it may be possible to self-publish a book online completely free.

It may be possible to self-publish a book online completely free. Click To Tweet
Colin Dunbar’s Books at Amazon

If there is just ONE cost you should budget for, make it editing. The quality of self-published books has a bad reputation, and in some cases it’s for good reason.

You may not be interested in undertaking any production elements for your book, then you will need to budget for the design of your book interior, and the design of your book cover. If you are a DIY type of person, you can actually undertake the formatting of your book’s interior yourself.

Apart from these three important costs, everything else to self-publish your book online is free. And you won’t need to order physical stock and have them stored in your basement.

Self publishing online makes use of print-on-demand (POD) technology, and that means your book is printed when it’s ordered. The biggest benefit of this is that there is no need to keep physical stock of hundreds of books.

“Print on demand (POD) is a printing technology and business process in which book copies (or other documents) do not print until the company receives an order, allowing prints of singular or small quantities. While other industries established the build to order business model, “print on demand” could only develop after the beginning of digital printing, because it was not economical to print single copies using traditional printing technology such as letterpress and offset printing.” [12]

An added benefit of self-publishing online is that your book will be available within hours of uploading your files, for example at Amazon or Smashwords. In some instances this will occur within 2 to 3 hours. A super benefit of POD technology. To improve your income possibility, you can have your book published as both a paper book and an ebook. There’s no reason to leave money on the table.

To improve your income possibility, you can have your book published as both a paper book and an… Click To Tweet

To self-publish your Kindle ebook, you need a formatted Word file, your book cover, and you’re good to go. You fill in your book details, and upload your Word book files at the Kindle Digital Publishing (KDP) site and within hours your Kindle ebook is available in the amazon Kindle store. Exciting stuff.

To self-publish your paper book, you need to design your book interior, and your book cover. You can upload your Word files at KDP Print, order a proof copy to approve, and after approval your book is available at Amazon within a day or two. In addition to your Kindle and Smashwords ebooks, you can design your paper book and upload the files to KDP Print. Again, there is no cost to upload your files here. A cost that you may need to budget for is the design of your cover (and as I mentioned earlier, really consider budgeting for editing).

Example Book Cover for KDP Print

After you approve your book, it will be available at Amazon.

If you self-publish your book as a Kindle ebook, or a paper book through KDP Print, you actually have the power of Amazon available behind you. Depending on your circumstances, you can order physical copies of your book, at a reduced price. If you’re a speaker, you can then sell these “from the back of the room”.

Self-Publishing an Ebook

Pew Research Center reports that, “A growing share of Americans are reading e-books on tablets and smartphones rather than dedicated e-readers, but print books remain much more popular than books in digital formats.” [13]

Even with the above comment, there are still very large numbers of ebooks sold. As the same Pew Research states, “34% of Americans have either read an e-book or listened to an audio book in the last year.” [13] Self-publishing an ebook can be done quicker and easier than a paper book. And an ebook will be available for sale a lot quicker.

Self-publishing an ebook can be done quicker and easier than a paper book. Click To Tweet

The 3 options covered here are

The formatting of an ebook (for Kindle and Smashwords) is a lot simpler than designing a paper book.

Example Formatted Pages for KDP Print (left) and Kindle

As can be seen from the image above, the formatting for the Kindle is very plain in comparison to the design of a paper book.

The same applies to formatting ebooks for Smashwords, with a little more technicalities, nothing highly complex. If you’re not a DIY type of person, or you’re not comfortable in Word, you can outsource the formatting of your ebooks.

Royalties from Kindle ebooks are 35% or 70% respectively, and these depend on various conditions, the two main criteria are:

PDF Ebook

If you create a PDF ebook you can actually offer it for sale directly from your website (payment can be, for example, through PayPal). This means that you only pay the small fee charged by the payment processor. For example, at time of writing, PayPal charges 2.9% plus $0.30 per transaction.

Example PDF Ebook Page

Formatting a PDF ebook can be simple, but depending on your subject, you can also be creative in designing a PDF ebook. Creating a quality and professional looking PDF ebook will go down well with your readers.

Self-Publishing an Audiobook

This is the publishing hotspot right now.

What could be easier than telling your story, and publishing the recording?

Ok, it’s not exactly that simple, but in essence that’s what an audiobook is.

If you don’t have a “recordable” voice, you can outsource the recording of your book. I’ve had a short ebook recorded using a freelancer at Fiverr, and the quality was great. Obviously it cost more than $5.

If you live in the US or UK, you can make use of Amazon’s Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX).

The basic process for ACX is:

“ACX authors and publishers can earn between 20%-40% of their title royalties through ACX.”

You can read up on ACX at their help site.

The neat thing about the audiobook option is that you can create your audiobook and then offer it for sale on your site. That way you earn most of the revenue, not only a royalty portion.

Not all books are suitable for the audiobook format: fiction is ideal, and narrative non-fiction can also work. The future of the audiobook looks bright. With our rushed lifestyle, people have limited time to read, even on an e-reader, and that’s where the audiobook is ideal.

Bonus Option: Blog to Book

Here is a bonus option to publish a book…

You can blog your book. I found that by doing this it helped me focus and actually get the writing done.

If you choose to go this route to publish your book, it’s wise to have a detailed outline before you start. Even though it can be done without an outline, you will very likely find that your writing and progress will be delayed. And this can result in you throwing in the towel with your book.

To blog your book you need a hosting account, for example, WordPress (you can use the free option at You then write and publish your book as blog posts.

A benefit of blogging a book is that your traffic grows to your blog (i.e. your book) and that way you’re building your author platform. The ideal scenario is that you have further books in the pipeline.

“Blogging a book, rather than just blogging, means you provide a continuous flow of posts. Most blogs have random, unconnected posts. A blogged book must have posts that follow a logical sequence, just like the content in any printed book. In fact, your readers will be waiting for their next installment.” – Nina Amir, How to Blog a Book [14]

That brings me to…

How do you make money with your blogged book?

You take your blogged posts and create a book (ebook and/or paper book) and you offer that for sale. There are people who will prefer to have the whole story in a book, instead of blog posts. The difference is that now you have a ready audience with the people who have been reading your blogged book. And they can be turned into paying customers. As I said if you have further books, this option is great. Your audience has read your first blogged book, enjoyed it, and when you publish your next book, they are there and ready to buy. It’s a win-win.


“Be aware that a bad agent is worse than none. A bad agent is defined as “one who does not work well with you”. Some agents work great with one author and terribly with another. You do NOT need an agent to sell your first book, but it does help – if you’ve got the right agent. The wrong agent will just slow you down, so don’t be in any big rush. And I believe that agents who charge reading fees are scammers, so I advise you to just skip those kind and deal with the ones who don’t charge.” [2]

Check out this article: Before entering into any agreement, always do your due diligence. It’s sad, but there are crooks out there.


There you have 6 (plus bonus) options on how to get a book published. It’s your choice. Your decision will probably be made depending on your budget vs. time.

What is your goal?

And no matter what promises are made to you, keep the words of Randy Ingermanson in mind, “remember that there are no guarantees in the publishing word.” [2]

[4] The “New Author Platform” – What writers need to know
[6] Report from Bowker Shows Continuing Growth in Self-Publishing
[10] “A vanity press, vanity publisher, or subsidy publisher is a term describing a publishing house in which authors pay to have their books published.”
[13] Book Reading 2016
[14] Amir, Nina (2012), How to Blog a Book, Writer’s Digest Books, Ohio

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