Regardless of whether you publish your book traditionally or self-publish it, the process of getting your book into the hands of the reader involves the same steps: editing, design, production, distribution, marketing, and sales and fulfillment. Let’s take a quick look at each step.
Editing is the process of ensuring that what the reader comprehends lines up with what you intended to put on the page. This can happen at the content level and at the writing mechanics level. For example, if you intend for your main character to be optimistic and inspiring but he comes across to readers as naïve and annoying, something went amiss in the process of getting the character out of your head and onto the page. A good developmental editor (sometimes called a content editor) can work with you to flesh out the character, identify places where the writing undermines your intentions for him, and help you convey the vital information readers need in order to understand the character the way you do. At the writing mechanics level, a line editor (sometimes called a copyeditor) ensures that when you intend for your main character to defiantly enter the room, he’s not definitely entering the room.
Design is the process of taking what you’ve written and setting it up to be turned into forms that will be accessible to your reader. In terms of books, this generally involves laying out your manuscript in book form for print, converting the text into ebook form, and designing a cover for the book. The design process largely takes place after the editing is complete, but parts of it can take place while the book is still in editing, such as designing the cover and deciding on the basics of the print book (trim size, font choices, paper color and thickness, etc.). After the book has been laid out and before it enters production, there is often a round of proofreading, the level of editing focused solely on correcting errors.
Production is the process of taking what the designer set up and fixing it into its final physical form. This generally means printing and binding the book; however, other forms of a book might need to go through a production process as well. For example, an audiobook version being delivered to listeners through physical forms such as CDs and thumb drives will also need production.
Distribution is the process of taking all accessible forms of the book and making them available to retailers. This could mean working with an actual book distributor to reach retailers or working directly with booksellers yourself. Many print on demand companies offer basic distribution services to help you reach booksellers, and several of the larger bookstore chains and online retailers have their own programs for selling self-published books.
Marketing, defined broadly, is the process of making readers aware of your book. This can include publicity campaigns, advertising, social media campaigns, blog tours, and a myriad of other strategies. Marketing can begin at the start of the publishing process, and generally is most effective before the book’s release.
Sales is the process of selling the book in all of its forms to readers. You can do this in many ways: through online stores, through brink-and-mortar stores, directly through your website, and in person. Most sales services available to self-publishers also include fulfillment services, but keep in mind that if you sell directly, you will also need a plan to fulfill your customer’s orders. You are not limited to one sales model, and in fact are wise to use multiple models at once. The sales process can begin before the book is officially released through presales.