So, you want to write and self-publish a nonfiction book? Fantastic – you’re in the right place!
After I published my first Amazon bestseller (back in November 2015), folks kept asking me how I did it. I found myself explaining the exact same steps over and again. Which is why I decided to create this guide.
Warning – this is a long read. It covers EVERYTHING you need to write, publish and launch a bestselling nonfiction book. It’s the same system I’ve used to publish five titles and reach over 10,000 readers.
If you’d like a summary of all the action steps plus some bonus goodies, check out the “Zero To Bestseller” workbook. It summarizes my step-by-step system and gives you action items so you can get your book done and published in the next 90 days.
NOTE: This guide teaches you how to self-publish on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform. Yes, there are other ways to get your book out there. But, with over 300 million active user accounts, Amazon is the best way to get your book into the hands of thousands of readers.
How To Self-Publish A Bestseller
Let’s start with the big picture. This is important. Yet it’s something most self-publishing courses, books and articles don’t talk about. Here’s what you need to know…
There are three key ingredients to a best selling book. If you miss any one ingredient then your book won’t keep selling after launch.
And that’s what you want – ongoing sales of your book. Because ongoing sales generate ongoing book royalties and ongoing business growth (e.g. if you’re writing your book to get leads into your business or to build your credibility).
Okay… the three key ingredients of a bestselling book are:
- Write a book people want to read.
- Package your book to sell.
- Launch your book effectively.
This may seem obvious, but stick with me. Lots of people teach you how to do #2 and #3. In fact, if you get these two right you can still get thousands of downloads and have a bestseller on Amazon.
BUT if you miss #1 then your book will eventually disappear into obscurity. It will slip down the Amazon rankings to languish in nowheresville.
This means no more book sales, no more leads, and no more happy author.
But don’t worry, writing and publishing your book doesn’t have to be difficult! In this guide, I’m going to show you how to do all three things: write, package, and launch your nonfiction book.
Here’s an overview of all the steps in the end-to-end system:
Some Amazon Self-Publishing Terms
One more thing before we get to the meat of the guide. There are some terms you need to know. If you’re already familiar with Amazon’s publishing platform then feel free to skip this section. But just in case you’re new to self-publishing, here’re the basics:
Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP): This is Amazon’s platform which allows you to self-publish your book and offer it for sale in Amazon’s store.
KDP Select: A program in which you agree to sell your digital book exclusively through Amazon for 90 days. Enrolling in KDP Select grants you access to Kindle Countdown Deals and Free Book Promotion (more on these below).
Kindle Countdown Deal: A limited-time discount promotion on your book. Customers see the regular price and promotional price on your book page. A countdown clock shows how much time is left at the promotional price.
Categories: Customers shopping for books in the Kindle Store can browse by genre and subgenre. These are called browse categories. You may select up to two categories for your book.
Keywords: The search terms an Amazon user may enter into the Amazon search bar when looking for books on your topic. Keywords can be a word or a phrase.
Okay, now you’re ready. Let’s jump into the detailed steps.
Step 1: Research Your Book Topic
Research is essential. This is something many authors fail to do. I know authors frequently skip this step, because I’ve done it myself.
For my fourth book, I was in a hurry to write and publish it. I thought I knew what people wanted and didn’t research the market. That turned out to be my weakest book launch. I barely managed 1000 downloads (though it still became a #1 bestseller in its category – which shows the power of my launch system).
Don’t make my mistake. Before you start writing, make sure there’s a viable market for your book.
The easiest (and most obvious) place to research your book idea is on Amazon itself. Here’s how:
- Head over to Amazon.com and type a search term relating to your book topic into Amazon’s search box. Make sure you also click the arrow on the left of the search box and select “Kindle Store”. This narrows your search to just the Kindle store and not the entire Amazon platform.
- Select 4-6 books on a similar topic or in the same genre as yours. Try and find books with fewer than 20 reviews not by big name authors (this means you can compete with these books).
- View the book pages for the 4-6 books you selected and find the overall ranking for each book. You can find this by scrolling down the page to the Product Details area (see image below).
- Make sure there are some books with a ranking less than 100,000 (#1 is the highest-ranking book in the Kindle store). A ranking below 100,000 means the author is selling at least one book a day.
- If your first search is unpromising, repeat the process for related search terms. Keep going until you’ve identified a niche already selling in the Kindle store.
Your goal is to make sure there’s an existing market for your book. If people are already buying books on your subject or in your genre, then yours can sell too.
For bonus points, read the reviews for the top selling books in your genre. Identify the things readers like and don’t like about these books. This will give you ideas for when you start writing your book. It will tell you what to include and what to leave out.
Step 2: Create An Outline
Now you know your book will sell it’s time to get writing. But hold on a second.
If you sit down and start writing without a plan, your book is going to take a long time to finish. And it isn’t going to give your reader the best experience.
So, how can you improve your book AND write more quickly?
It all comes down to having a solid outline. A great outline takes your readers on a journey, from where they are now to where they want to end up. The final stage in the journey is the outcome (or big promise) your book delivers on.
Here’s how to come up with an outline for your book:
- Start by brainstorming everything you want to include in your book. This can be sub-topics, examples, stories, case studies, etc. I like to create a mindmap when I brainstorm (which is just a big circle in the center of the page with lots of connecting circles). Use whatever brainstorming process works for you. The idea is to get your ideas out of your head and written down.
- Next, group related ideas into chapters. I do this by numbering related ideas on my mindmap. If you have ideas that don’t fit then discard them. Maybe you’ll include them in your next book!
- Finally, put your chapters into a sequence that makes sense to your reader. Remember, a strong outline takes your reader on a journey. It starts where they are when they pick up your book and finishes with your book’s promised outcome. Keep this journey in mind as you determine the best sequence for your chapters.
Step 3: Write Your Rough Draft
Got your outline done? Great – it’s time to start writing.
You’ve probably heard this before – the best way to guarantee you finish your book is to create a daily writing habit. And part of your daily habit is to commit to a writing goal.
For example, your goal might be to write 1000 words each day. Or it might be to complete one chapter a day. Or to write for 30 minutes.
I like to complete a chapter in a single sitting. If I’m not able to commit enough time to complete an entire chapter, I split a chapter into two sessions. On the first day, I outline the chapter and on the next day, I write the rough draft.
Now, set a daily writing goal and share it with someone. Be realistic about how much you can do each day. Writing 500 words every day is much better than writing 5000 words whenever you feel like it.
Then WRITE EVERY DAY (or every Monday to Friday).
Here’re some more tips to help you write your rough draft quickly:
- Outline each chapter before you start writing. Just as you created an outline for your entire book, do the same for each chapter. Brainstorm the detail of the chapter, organize into a logical sequence, and then write it.
- Don’t stop to edit as you go. This one is important. You can improve your manuscript, add extra research, etc., once you have the first draft out of your head and written down.
- If you don’t like writing, record your book. Grab your mobile phone and record yourself speaking each chapter. Then, transcribe the chapters (or send them to a transcription service like rev.com).
For most people, writing the first draft is the toughest step. It takes persistence. But you can do it! In fact, if you follow the tips in this section, you can write your rough draft in just three weeks.
Also, if you miss a day’s writing, don’t be hard on yourself. Forming a new habit is hard. Simply, start writing again the next day. And make sure you celebrate finishing your first draft. It’s a huge milestone.
Step 4: Revise Your Book
Once you have a rough draft, you want to revise it and add the finishing touches. Revisions or self-edits can take as long as you allow. Try not to get too bogged down at this stage and don’t give in to your inner perfectionist.
Here’re the main things you want to do in this step:
- Read through your manuscript and make sure it flows. Remember the transformation or promise your book delivers on. Make sure you’ve delivered on your promise.
- Add in the front and back matter. This includes: Book title page, Bonus page (optional), Copyright page, Table of contents, Acknowledgement and/ or dedication (optional), Author about page, Resources/ Index (optional). If you’re not sure what to include on any of these pages, check out a few published books on Amazon.
- If you plan to use your book to generate leads for a business, offer your readers a bonus. Here’s how the bonus works… In your book (I suggest at the beginning and then in several relevant chapters) tell the reader you have bonus material for them. Then send the reader to a website page where they can enter their email address in exchange for the bonus. Some good bonuses include free audio, video, workbook, templates, etc.
Here’s the sign up page for the bonuses from my third book Make Money from Kindle Self-Publishing.
Step 5: Create A Compelling Book Title
Once you’ve finished your manuscript, it’s time to package your book to sell. Your book title is an important part of your book’s packaging.
Here’s what you want to do to create a compelling book title:
1. Start by brainstorming five or more titles for your book. Write your ideas down and keep coming back to the list. It may take several days (or even weeks) to come up with a great set of title and subtitle combinations. Your first idea is rarely your best. When brainstorming, you can use any of the following methods to come up with ideas:
- WYSIWYG: This stands for What You See Is What You Get. In my WYSIWYG strategy, you name your book after the exact outcome it delivers. EXAMPLE: I Will Teach You To Be Rich.
- Curiosity: The second strategy for coming up with your book title is to use intrigue. This works because it entices people to click on your book to find out more. EXAMPLE: The Upside of Irrationality.
- Controversy or “Shock Value”: In this strategy, you capture your reader’s attention by making an outrageous or controversial statement. EXAMPLE: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.
- Inspirational Titles: Inspirational titles create desire in the reader. They tap into some deep-seated need or bring hope to the reader. EXAMPLE: Carry On Warrior.
2. Next you want to brainstorm subtitles. Regardless of which approach you take with your title, the subtitle is your opportunity to sell. For a nonfiction book, this is where you make your big promise. Ask yourself these questions:
- How will someone’s life be changed by reading your book?
- What significant outcome does your book offer?
Once you have between 5 and 10 subtitle ideas, play around with the wording. Try to fit one or more keywords into your subtitle. Keywords are the words or phrase a user types into the Amazon search bar when looking for a book on your topic.
SUBTITLE EXAMPLE: The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future
3. When you’ve exhausted your title and subtitle ideas, select your favorite options and test them out. The following are three tests you can use to finalize your title and subtitle.
- The Flow Test: Start by saying your title and subtitle out loud. Ask yourself: Is it awkward to say, or does it flow easily? Are any of the words difficult to pronounce? Tweak or discard any titles that don’t flow easily.
- The Book Cover Test: Next, make sure your title and subtitle fit your book cover. They should be easy to read when the cover image is scaled down to thumbnail size. NOTE: Per Amazon’s terms, the title and subtitle fields in KDP should contain the actual title of your book as it appears on your book cover.
- The Ideal Reader Test: Finally, make sure your title appeals to your target reader. You can do this by asking people. Make sure you ask your ideal readers, rather than those who would never buy your book. Join Facebook Groups or forums where your ideal readers congregate. Make a post and ask people which title and subtitle combination they prefer. This is a quick way to gather a lot of feedback.
Last of all – if you’re like me and struggle to come up with something creative then remember – simple titles work just as well as clever ones. All of the books in my Paid to Stay Home series follow the same simple formula:
All five of these books reached bestseller status in at least one Amazon category. And all of them continue to sell today.
Once you have your winning combination, go ahead and move on to step 6.
Step 6: Work With A Cover Designer, Editor and Formatter
Your professional team help turn your book into a polished end product. You can hire a great team for less than $500 and it’s worth every penny. Here’s how…
1. Work with an editor
Your editor provides a professional and objective view of your book, spots errors you could never find on your own, and guarantees you publish a high-quality product.
Here’re a few places to look for an editor:
- Ask in author groups. There are many author groups on Facebook. They are free to join and a great way to meet a community of helpful people. Search for “author group” or look for groups your author friends have joined.
- Hire a contractor via Upwork. This is a popular service that connects freelancers with jobs. You submit a proposal and different freelancers bid to do the work.
- Look on Fiverr. But be careful… not all Fiverr freelancers deliver quality work. If you decide to go with Fiverr, try and get a personal recommendation and look for a high volume of positive reviews.
A professional editor may charge anywhere from $50 to $5,000 for a 20,000 word book.
TIP: Request a sample edit from at least 3 editors you like the look of. Ask each one to do a sample edit of the same pages. Some editors do this for free. Others may charge a nominal fee (less than $30). The sample edit will help you pick an editor who you want to work with.
2. Get your book cover professionally created
Your cover is the exterior packaging for your book. A great cover gets people to click on your book in the Amazon store. A bad cover puts potential buyers off.
If you know a graphic designer who can create an amazing cover for free, then great. Just make sure they read KDP’s book cover guide for dimensions, file type, etc.
Otherwise, you can find a cover designer on Fiverr or Upwork (see section on editors above). If you have a larger budget, you can also use a site such as 99designs. I like 99designs because you can vote for the designs you like best and request changes to the initial submissions.
A good book cover will cost anywhere from $50 to over $300.
TIP: Provide your designer with examples of book covers you like. This is the fastest way to communicate the look and feel you are aiming for.
3. Get your book formatted
Formatting does two things. First, it ensures your book has a readable font, properly formatted lists, clean looking chapter headings, etc. Second, it converts your manuscript into a format that can be uploaded into Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform.
Again, you can find a formatter on Fiverr or Upwork. Expect to pay between $40 and $250, depending on the length of your book and your requirements. For example, you pay more if your book has a lot of images.
For a list of editors, cover designers, and formatters I recommend, download the “Zero To Bestseller” workbook (you’ll find a list of recommended professionals in the Appendix).
Step 7: Select Categories and Keywords
You now have a professional cover and a final manuscript. It’s nearly time to upload your book to KDP. But first, you want to collect some more information so your book has the best chance of reaching the most readers.
Categories and keywords help browsers find your book on Amazon. When you set up your book in KDP you can specify two categories and seven keywords for your book. Here’s how to select your categories and keywords…
Customers shopping for books in the Amazon Kindle Store can browse by genre and subgenre. These genre groupings are called categories. Each category has a best seller list. Your book’s ranking in a best seller list is based on sales of your book relative to the sales of other books in that list. When you appear high in a category’s ranking, more people see your book in the Amazon store.
To determine the best categories for your book:
1. Start by looking at books in the Kindle Store similar to yours. Focus on books with a high ranking. To do this, go to the Kindle store on Amazon.com and use the navigation bar on the left to drill down through the various book categories.
2. The books in each category are displayed in ranking order. Make sure you start by drilling down to the lowest relevant sub-category. Then select a book like yours.
3. On the Amazon book page, scroll down to the “Product Details” section. You can see a book’s ranking and the Kindle Store categories in the “Product Details” area. For example, look at the below screenshot:
The Kindle Store categories for this book are:
Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Business & Money > Skills > Business Writing
Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Business & Money > Entrepreneurship & Small Business > Home-Based > Sales & Selling
4. Copy any relevant Kindle Store categories into a blank document. Then repeat the above steps to look at the categories for a different book.
5. When you have five to ten possible categories, sort them into priority order. Sort your categories by applying the following rules:
- Start with categories most relevant to your book topic.
- Next, drill down to the lowest sub-category in each relevant category tree. You want to select the lowest sub-category because your book appears in the sub-category you select and every category above it. So, by selecting a low level sub-category your book appears in more places in the Amazon store.
- Finally, prioritize low competition categories above more competitive categories. To establish competitiveness, look at the book ranking for the top three books in your target category. If the number three book has a ranking greater than 50,000, your book can easily break into the top three.
NOTE: Having said this, you want to avoid unpopular sub categories, these are sub categories readers aren’t interested in. An unpopular sub category is one where the top-ranking books are not selling (ranking for the #1 book is over 100,000).
Once you have chosen your categories it’s time to select your book’s keywords. When you set up your book in KDP, you can enter seven keywords. These should be terms your ideal readers search for when looking for a book on your topic.
Relevant keywords can boost your book’s placement in Amazon’s search results. Below is a step-by-step guide to help you select your seven keywords.
1. First identify keywords using a tool like KW Finder. You only get three free searches each day with KW Finder so use them wisely.
2. In KW Finder, type in a possible keyword, for example “Passive Income.” Think about what word or terms a user might type into Amazon’s search bar when looking for a book on your topic. The tool tells you the number of monthly Google searches for that term. It also suggests other related terms. These are all candidate keywords for your book. You are looking for keywords with high search volume and relatively low competition.
3. Once you have ten or more keyword ideas, visit Amazon.com. Click the button to the left and select the Kindle store (so you are searching within the Kindle store). Start typing a keyword into Amazon’s search bar. Amazon gives you suggestions ordered by popularity. For example, if you type “Passive,” you see “Passive Income,” “Passive income ideas” and “Passive aggressive.” Add any suggested terms that look promising to your list of ideas.
4. Now you have a list of keyword ideas you want to test them. Your goal is to find popular keywords your book can rank for in Amazon’s search results. Search in Amazon’s Kindle Store for each of your terms. Look at the books on the first page of Amazon’s search results. You want to find keywords with:
- fewer than 4 or 5 books with an Amazon Best Seller Rank below 10,000;
- no more than 4 or 5 books with the keyword in their title or subtitle;
- fewer than 2 books with the orange Best Seller tag.
You can see example categories and keywords for one of my books in the “Zero To Bestseller” workbook…
Step 8: Write a Book Description That Sells
Browsers read your book description before deciding whether to buy. You want to make the most of this opportunity to sell your book. Here’s my simple, four-step formula for creating a compelling description.
- Start by defining the problem your book overcomes or the dream it fulfills. This tells your ideal readers you understand their problems, and helps you form an immediate connection.
- Next, paint a picture of the end result people enjoy after reading your book. What is the outcome or promise your book delivers?
- Give proof your book can provide the promised outcome. For example, share specific results from your own experience or case studies from past clients.
- Finish by including a call-to-action. Say something like “Scroll to the top and click BUY NOW to get your copy today.”
Step 9: Set Up Your Book in KDP
You’re finally ready to upload your book to KDP! If you are new to KDP, visit Amazon’s KDP site and create an account. The process is straightforward and only takes a few minutes.
Next, upload your book and enter all the relevant information. Here’s what you need to enter:
- Book Title and Subtitle
- Book Cover (.JPEG or .TIFF)
- Formatted Book File (.MOBI or .DOC)
- Book Description
If you get stuck, read the KDP online help. It tells you everything you need to know about setting up your book in KDP.
Price your book at $4.99 or higher. We’ll talk more about pricing in the next steps.
When you’re done, click “Save and Publish”. (You can also save without publishing if you want to upload your book but are not ready to publish yet).
Note, Amazon can take 12 to 24 hours to review your book and publish it. Don’t wait until the last minute to hit publish! And don’t worry too much about people finding your book before you’re ready… nobody is likely to see and buy your book until you start promoting it (see steps 11 and 12).
Step 10: Get Book Reviews
Book reviews matter. Positive reviews encourage other shoppers to buy your book. Think about it… what’s one of the first things you look at when you’re shopping online? For most of us, it’s the customer reviews.
But how do you encourage people to review your book without being pushy?
Unfortunately, doing nothing isn’t an option. Few people leave a review without being asked. Especially if your book doesn’t have any other reviews yet.
Begging your family and friends to review your book isn’t an option either. Not only does this feel icky, it’s against Amazon’s terms and conditions. Amazon’s Review Guidelines specify that “family members or close friends of the person, group, or company selling on Amazon may not write Customer Reviews for those particular items.”
The most effective way to get the ball rolling is to form a launch team.
Now don’t be put off by the term “launch team”. This is straight forward and needn’t take a lot of your time.
Here’re the steps to form a launch team.
- Start by creating an email list or closed Facebook Group for your team. Recruit members by asking in online groups and emailing your subscribers (if you have an email list).
- Plan your launch team communications in advance. Be careful when deciding what you want to ask your team to do. I like to keep things simple. In exchange for a free copy of my book, I ask my team to download it and leave an honest review at launch. NOTE: I ask my launch team to download as well as review, because this ensures their review is tagged as a “verified review” in Amazon. Verified reviews are where Amazon can determine the person downloaded a copy of your book. They carry more weight than unverified reviews.
- Engage your launch team members by sharing your progress. I send around five emails spread over a two- or three-week period.
- Not everyone follows through and leaves a review of your book. This is normal; people get busy or they forget. I suggest you recruit at least 40 launch team members. This should be sufficient to attract between 10 and 20 reviews when your book launches.
Step 11: Plan Your Promotions
Finally, we answer the big question… how to get your book into the hands of readers.
If you don’t already have a large audience then the easiest way to reach LOTS of readers is through book promotion sites. For a small fee, these sites will promote your book to their followers. On the days I’ve booked a promotion, downloads of my book have skyrocketed.
My second book was downloaded 3357 times in the first week after launch. This is largely due to a few carefully selected book promotions.
You typically submit to promotion sites the week before you launch your book so you have promos scheduled out through your launch period. But it’s a good idea to figure out which sites you like ahead of time.
I suggest you browse the promotion sites and look for sites that promote books in your genre (do this by looking at the books they are currently promoting – are there any similar to yours?). Aim to select four or more sites you want to submit your book to.
To help you out I’ve created a list of promotion sites I use. You can see the list in the Appendix of the “Zero To Bestseller” workbook…
Step 12: Launch Your Book
The following is the same strategy I used to get my first book to the top of multiple categories. It also reached the top 2,000 of all paid books and continues to sell every day.
Start by offering your book for free and then switch to 99 cents (you’ll raise the price higher after your launch is done). Unless you have a large audience, starting out free is the best way to attract reviews at launch. It also helps you reach more of your ideal readers and make a bigger impact with your book.
Here’re the exact steps I follow during a book launch…
Stealth Mode (week prior to launch)
This is the period before your official launch day. When your book is in stealth mode, it’s live in Amazon’s Kindle store but you’re not actively promoting it.
The goal of stealth mode is two-fold. First, you check everything is uploaded correctly to Amazon. Second, you encourage select people to download and review your book. You do this by emailing your launch team.
You want a handful of early reviews to help you submit your book to promotion sites (the better sites require at least 5 book reviews). Stealth mode ends on your launch day. This is when you’re finally ready to tell the world about your new book.
Also, make sure you set up a KDP Select Free Book Promotion. This should be scheduled to start on your launch day.
Finally, submit your book to the promotion sites you researched in the previous step. I like to have my book free for three days (with two scheduled promotions) and then at 99 cents for at least five days (with two or more scheduled promotions).
Below is a visual overview of the book launch timeline. Stealth “week” runs from DAY 1 to DAY 4. Launch day is on DAY 5. The book is then free for two days before switching to 99 cents on DAY 7. The book is priced at 99 cents for one week. You can tweak the timeline to fit you and your book.
On launch day, check your book is free on Amazon (i.e. make sure your KDP Select promotion automatically kicked in). Amazon operates on Pacific Time, so your book should automatically become free at around midnight Pacific Time on your launch day.
Then start telling the world about your book. Email your launch team and tell them your book is now free. Remind them to download and review it if they have not already done so. Also, spread the word about your book via social media and in any relevant online communities. Emphasize that your book is free for a short time only.
If you don’t have a big following or hate promoting your own book don’t worry too much about this step. As long as you schedule a handful of promotions with book promotion sites, your book is going to do just fine.
Post Launch Day
Of course, your launch doesn’t end on launch day. Three or four days after launch, you want to set the price of your book to 99 cents and manually end your KDP Select free promotion.
Over the next few days, make sure any 99 cent promotions you scheduled go ahead as planned. Ideally, you should have two or more promotions lined up over several days.
NOTE: The Amazon free and paid stores have separate ranking systems. Amazon’s ranking system takes historical sales into account. So, once your book is in the paid store (i.e. priced at 99 cents or higher) you don’t want to “lose” your sales history by offering it for free again. In other words, once your book is in Amazon’s paid store you want to keep it there.
After a week or so at 99 cents, increase your book price to $2.99. The exact timing depends on your scheduled book promotions and how well your book is doing in the paid charts. The optimal time to increase your price is when your book is still climbing the rankings.
By this time your book should be a bestseller in one or more book categories. Congratulations, you’re now a bestselling author!
You now have everything you need to finish and publish your nonfiction book. So, what next?
First, if you enjoyed this post and want to get your first 1000 readers make sure you download the “Zero To Bestseller” workbook for free right here…
Writing a book gives you instant credibility in your space. It demonstrates you’re an expert. And you automatically generate new business every day.
Many readers check out your website, sign up for your email list, and follow you on social media. These are people who’ve already spent the time and money reading your book. They are your ideal clients – the people who are most likely to buy more books, products, and services from you.
So, go finish your book and get it published. Your readers are waiting to hear from you. I’m cheering you on!