How Long Does It Take to Self-Publish a Book? Typical Timeline and Factors

Weeks? Months? Years? What's your guess?

How Long Does It Take to Self-Publish a Book? Typical Timeline and Factors
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Nothing beats the feeling of self-publishing your first book and seeing the royalty payments start hitting your bank account, but what if you’re really busy? How long does this whole thing take? 

Every book has to go through the same process regardless of its genre, so the self-publishing timeline will depend on your familiarity with hiring a ghostwriter or drafting the manuscript, editing and proofreading it, and then designing and formatting everything. It’s not unrealistic for these steps to take some people a few months, especially for a 30,000-word manuscript. At the same time, it’s 100% possible to take an idea, execute it, and start publishing in as little as 7 days (we’ll prove it below)!

Generally, you should prepare for a multi-week process to factor in room for any bumps in the road and to give you time to execute the level of professionalism you’re aiming for. A rushed book will never sit well with readers, and let’s be honest—they deserve better than that. This blog post includes the most realistic estimates for each step of the process, so keep reading!

Would you rather see the #1 Amazon method for self-publishing in action? Join the thousands of others who found the confidence to give publishing a try from our free webinar!

Determining Your Book's Purpose

Before diving into the self-publishing process, you should ask yourself why you're writing the book in the first place

  • To Inform or Educate: If your goal is to share knowledge or teach skills, your content should be thoroughly researched and presented in an easy-to-understand format.
  • To Entertain: A book meant to entertain will prioritize compelling storytelling and character development.
  • For Personal Fulfillment: Perhaps you're writing a memoir or a passion project. Here, the focus is on personal expression and legacy.
  • To Build Credibility: If you're an expert in a field, a book can enhance your professional standing and open doors to new opportunities (like podcasts, radio shows, conferences, etc.). 
  • To Make Passive Income: There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make extra income from publishing, even if that’s your primary motivator. You can still inform, entertain, and find fulfillment along the process. 

No matter what you decide your purpose is, you’ll need to answer the following two questions: 

  1. Who is my target audience?
  2. What value does my book offer them?

We’ve had students try to skip over these questions, but the truth is that it just doesn’t work. 

The person who understands their audience inside and out will always be ahead of those who don’t—even if that’s your competition. 

Why? These intentions set the stage for all of your content, design, and the way you promote your book.

How long does this phase take? The ideation phase might take you a couple of weeks, but with AI tools, most people don’t need that long anymore. You can generate hundreds of ideas in minutes and spend just a few hours vetting them. 

Writing Your Manuscript

It’s all about the manuscript (which is really just a fancy word for “book draft”). Generally, the more time you spend at this stage, the more time you can save later down the road. 

Creating an Outline

Assuming you vetted your idea and you’re positive it can be profitable based on your competitor and market research, you’ll need to start delineating the structure of your book with a detailed outline. This roadmap should hold all of your main ideas and subpoints for every section and chapter, which are typically organized in the order they will appear. Think of your outline as a table of contents prototype; it might change over time, but it will guide your writing process and make sure you cover all intended topics.

How long does this phase take? AI book writing tools can help you create a solid outline in just a day or two!

Developing Content

With your outline as a compass, it’ll be time to start developing the content. This is typically where you’ll need to decide whether to bring on a ghostwriter. They can also help you generate book outlines, but it’s best to have heavy involvement upfront and vet all their ideas before starting content production to avoid any major rewrites later on. 

How long does this phase take? Realistically, ghostwriting a 30k-word book can take anywhere from 1 to 3 months, but the timeline will ultimately depend on your ghostwriter’s experience with your particular niche. There are ghostwriters and companies who will produce quicker content while maintaining high quality, but they’ll typically charge a premium fee for the rush. 

Editing and Revisions

Even the best books on the market go through multiple rounds of edits and revisions. Your initial pass should focus on high-level things like structure and clarity. Afterward, you can hire a freelance editor or use AI tools like Grammarly to proofread and polish your narrative. 

How long does this phase take? Grammarly is a one-click tool, so you might only need a week or two to sort out your revisions as long as your manuscript is in a good place and really high quality. If the manuscript needs reworking or re-ordering, this will obviously take a little longer, but try not to panic! Once a book is published, it can go on to earn royalties forever, so it’s worth all the upfront work to put out the best book you can. 

Design and Formatting

Design and formatting can impact your book's marketability and readability, for better or for worse. Here’s what to look for (and how long they should take): 

Book Cover Design

It’s usually pretty easy to spot the professional covers from the thrown-together ones, and readers WILL leave poor reviews about that kind of thing. Your book’s cover design is its first impression, so it makes sense. 

How long does this phase take? Some Fiverr designers can get your cover back to you in under a week, and AI tools like Dall-E and Midjourney can speed the process up even more. 

Interior Layout, Typesetting, and Formatting

The interior layout affects how the text in your book looks. Every element, from margins to line spacing, should contribute to a seamless reading experience. AKA, the reader shouldn’t notice them. If they do notice something, it’s likely because it’s off. 

How long does this phase take? You might need to hire a different designer who can put your entire book together from cover to cover. Otherwise, you can use sites like Reedsy to do it all yourself in a matter of days. 

ISBN and Copyright Registration

Every new book product needs a new ISBN (Yes, even book bundles). 

Acquiring an ISBN:

  • Purchase from an ISBN agency, like Bowker in the US, with a typical cost of $125 for one ISBN, 10 for $295, or 100 for $575. This is a unique identifier for your book and is necessary for distribution.
  • Free ISBNs may be available through some publishers and distributors (like Amazon!)
  • You’ll also need separate ISBNs for different formats of your book (e.g., paperback book, eBook).

How long does this phase take? You can buy and assign a new ISBN to your books in just minutes. 

Copyright Registration:

You aren’t required to submit your manuscript to publish the paperback or hardcover versions, but you might need it for the audiobook. 

How long does this phase take? This usually takes about six months on average but can extend up to 16 months for processing via mail. You CAN publish your book while you’re waiting for it to process. 

Creating a Marketing Plan For Your Self-Published Book

A marketing plan for a self-published book determines how many readers you reach and how well your book sells, but it’s also not a “set it and forget it” sort of thing. That makes it a bit trickier to define how long some of these tasks can take, but we’ll do our best to be transparent!

Defining Your Audience

By the time you’re ready to start marketing your book, you should already have a pretty solid idea of your ideal audience, but these are the demographics you might want to stay on top of: 

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Interests
  • Geographical Location 
  • Income Level 
  • Education Level

How long does this phase take? Your audience probably won’t change significantly over time, but dips and peaks in things like geographic location can clue you into where you should increase your advertising spending. This research will only take a couple of hours each month/quarter. 

Running Amazon Ads

Here's a breakdown of the steps involved in a successful Amazon Ads campaign:

  • Crafting Your Ad Strategy: Define clear objectives for your campaign to shape your approach, like increasing book sales by a certain percentage.
  • Selecting Keywords and Targets: Use Amazon’s search bar to find new keyword ideas to reach potential readers. Mix broad and niche keywords relevant to your book's content and comparable titles.
  • Budgeting and Bidding: Establish a daily budget and choose between Amazon's automatic or manual bidding strategies to manage your ad spend.
  • Creating Compelling Ad Copy: Write ad copy that grabs attention and makes people want to look at your book description to learn more (and hopefully purchase the book). 
  • Monitoring and Adjusting: Regularly review your campaign's performance metrics, like impressions, click-through rates, and conversions. Use this data to refine your strategy by adjusting keywords, bids, and ad copy.

How long does this phase take? The initial setup of your Amazon Ads campaign can be accomplished within just a few hours, but you’ll want to allocate time each week or bi-weekly to analyze and adjust your campaign to make sure your advertising is actually bringing you more money. 

Distributing Your Book 

With traditional publishing, the process of getting your book published and distributed can take even longer than the time it takes to write the book. It may take years to get it to the market. With self-publishing, you can instantly distribute your book.

If you decide to self-publish your book on a platform like Amazon’s KDP, which offers print-on-demand services, they’ll handle 100% of the inventory management, shipping, and customer service. 

Basically, they’ll print copies of your book as orders come in. This means you don't have to pay for inventory storage or handle fulfillment logistics. Some POD services can also make your book available to brick-and-mortar bookstores and online retailers. 

How long does this phase take? Getting set up with different distributors might only take a few hours of your time. 

Pricing Your Book

Your book's price should reflect its value but also be competitive within your genre. Remember, pricing isn't fixed; you can adjust it over time based on market response and sales performance. 

Consider the following when pricing your book:

  • Production Costs: Calculate your costs for editing, cover design, formatting, and other services. Keep in mind that production costs can vary widely depending on the complexity of your needs and the length of your manuscript. You may spend between $500 and $4,800 on these services.
  • Book Length: Larger books and printing in color cost more to print and ship, which can affect your pricing strategy if you offer paperback or hardcover editions.
  • Competitor Pricing: Research books similar to yours. What are they charging?
  • Royalties: Digital platforms, like Amazon KDP, offer various royalty options. Take time to understand their payment structures, because it will impact your net earnings.
  • Reader Expectations: Your price conveys value. Too low may suggest lower quality, while too high might deter potential readers. Interestingly, just slightly higher than the competition seems to be the sweet spot. 

How long does this phase take? It doesn’t hurt to check on your pricing strategy monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly and adjust as needed. 

Book Launch Preparation

The perfect book launch consists of three phases: the pre-launch, the actual launch, and then the post-launch. Here’s how long each phase generally takes: 

Building a Launch Team

Your launch team is a group of individuals who will help spread the word about your new book and write honest reviews to get some momentum going as soon as your book goes live. 

How long does this phase take? If you’re new to Facebook and online networking groups, there might be a bit of a learning curve here. But ultimately, it’s smart to set aside a few weeks to find your ARC team. The good news is that once you have a team of readers established, many of them will be willing to read your future works, too. 

Planning the Release Date

Selecting the release date for your book is a strategic decision that can affect sales and visibility. Consider aligning your release with relevant events or a time of year when your target audience is most engaged. For example, if your book is related to personal development, the beginning of a new year might be the perfect time due to the common theme of self-improvement and setting New Year's resolutions.

How long does this phase take? A lot of first-time publishers can get really hung up on perfectionism. While some launch days might be slightly better than others, the important thing is sharing your hard work with the public. Just get it out there, even if you have to mark a random day in your calendar! As you become more familiar with the publishing industry, you can craft your future launches with more data and experience to back them up.

Listen to James talk about how he overcame his perfectionism to publish full-time and even leave his full-time banking job: 

Post-Publishing Considerations

Once your book is published, the journey isn't over. Here’s what you’ll need to scale your business: 

Monitoring Sales

You should regularly check your sales data to understand your book's performance. This information often comes in a report from platforms like Amazon's KDP or IngramSpark, which shows which channels or book formats are most effective.

How long does this phase take? You’ll want to build a habit of checking these reports pretty regularly but try not to let it take over your life, either. Many first-time publishers check their sales data a dozen times a day, just waiting for the first sales to come in, and while it can be exciting, it can also feed into self-doubt, stress, or fears that won’t serve you or your business well in the long run.

Gathering Reviews

You’ll want to keep encouraging readers to leave reviews, as these are HUGE for your book's credibility and visibility, especially as a first-time publisher or with a brand-new book.

How long does this phase take? This step's timeline can vary greatly because each niche and audience is different. Even if it takes several months to get to 50+ reviews, this time is well spent for a book that basically starts to sell itself afterward. Slow and steady wins the race!

True Stories and Experiences of First-Time Publishers 

As an indie author or publisher, you’re fully in control of your own schedule and timeline. There’s no boss micromanaging you over your shoulder or an HR team denying your PTO requests. Some people come into self-publishing full force right from the start, determined to replace their full-time income. For others, self-publishing brings in extra “fun money” and grocery money on the side. There’s no right or wrong way to go about it—do what works for you and your family! 

These are just some of the amazing students in our community to demonstrate what’s possible. 

After going into some major debt when the pandemic thwarted his cheesecake business, Jamie really had nothing left to lose. Self-publishing quickly helped him recoup over $6k in royalties, and now he’s a full-time team member, too!

As a single mom of 3 boys, Carolina knows all about distractions and insane schedules. Hear her talk about how she juggled everything and why self-publishing is the best decision she ever made: 

Savera was a med student who needed to find a way to support herself. Here, she dishes all her best secrets for connecting with ghostwriters, gathering reviews, and crafting a good book launch: 

7-Day Publishing Challenge: Publish a Book in As Little As a Week!

For a long time, we kept our 7-Day Publishing Challenge a secret and only allowed our AIA students to access it as proof that anyone on the planet can publish a book in as little as a week. 

After thousands of success stories (click on 7DPC Succss), we decided to open it up to the public. At the time of writing this blog post, we haven’t announced it anywhere else yet, so you’re first in the loop! 

The challenge is completely free and covers everything you could possibly need to be successful: 

  • How to come up with book ideas 
  • How to write, edit, and format a manuscript
  • How to create a front cover, back cover, and spine 
  • How to upload your polished manuscript to Amazon and GET PAID 

Now, this isn’t a 30k-word book and is more for things like pocketbook travel guides, but the whole point is to get over that initial hump or hesitation that’s standing in the way of your income goals and dreams. 

The next challenge is dropping in May, so gear up and follow our Facebook page for updates. 👀

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