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The Ultimate Guide: How to Launch an Indie Novel

There's something uniquely exciting about launching your first indie novel; the thrill of seeing your story morph from a manuscript on your desk to a tangible book that readers across the globe can enjoy. This journey, however, involves several essential steps that you need to master to ensure a successful launch.

You Can Learn How to Launch an Indie Novel, Too

open book

So, you want to learn how to launch an indie novel?

A study of the most successful indie book campaigns reveals a blend of exceptional writing, strategic marketing, and savvy use of social media and other promotional tools. These authors didn't just publish a book; they created a brand and connected with readers on a deep level. Let's look at some recent successful examples:

The Martian

One noteworthy example is "The Martian" by Andy Weir. Originally self-published chapter by chapter on his blog, Weir's novel quickly amassed a large following. The eBook release topped Amazon's best sellers list, which led to a traditional publishing contract, a blockbuster film, and an enduring career as a science fiction author.


Hugh Howey's "Wool" is another indie success story. After self-publishing the first short story as an eBook, reader demand led Howey to expand the narrative into a full series. His innovative use of the digital format and his engagement with fans catapulted "Wool" into the spotlight, resulting in international publishing contracts and film interest.

Fifty Shades

Finally, consider the explosive success of E.L. James' "Fifty Shades of Grey." Originally written as fan fiction, the eBook quickly gained popularity, leading to a traditional publishing deal and an iconic film adaptation. Some people might talk about this book's lack of prose, but success doesn't lie, does it?

These campaigns succeeded because the authors understood their target audience, harnessed the power of digital platforms, and used innovative marketing strategies to promote their books. By studying and learning from their methods, you can also increase the chances of your indie novel becoming a hit.

How to Successfully Launch an Indie Novel

All right, so you understand that it's actually possible to publish a successful indie novel. Now what? It's time to learn how to launch an indie novel, from conception to post-production marketing and beyond.

Step 1: Craft a Polished Manuscript

girl writing book

The journey begins with your manuscript. Write and revise until your story is as engaging and polished as possible. Consider enlisting beta readers to provide feedback; they offer a reader's perspective which can prove invaluable in the revision process.

Next, hire a professional editor. While it might seem like an area to cut costs, a professional eye can catch errors and plot inconsistencies you might have missed. There are several types of editing services available, from developmental editing to copyediting and proofreading. Choose one based on your manuscript's needs.

Step 2: Design a Captivating Book Cover

smiling girl book cover

The book cover is the first thing potential readers see. While it's important to convey the essence of your story, the cover also needs to fit in with other titles in your genre. Hiring a professional designer can be a worthwhile investment. A high-quality, professional cover can significantly increase the perceived value of your book, attract more readers, and boost sales. Here's how to go about getting one:

1. Identify Your Book Cover Needs: Consider your genre and target audience. Different genres often have distinct cover styles that readers have come to expect, so it's important to fit into your genre while also standing out. Make a list of what you want your cover to convey about your book.

2. Research Professional Book Cover Designers: Look for a designer who specializes in book covers, particularly in your genre. You can find professional cover designers on platforms like Reedsy, Fiverr, or 99Designs. Alternatively, you can reach out to a designer whose work you admire directly. Look at their portfolios to see if their style matches what you envision for your book.

3. Consider Your Budget: Rates for professional book cover design can vary widely, from a hundred dollars to several thousand. Remember that, as with many things, you often get what you pay for in design. If you're on a tight budget, consider bartering services or looking for up-and-coming designers who might offer lower rates.

4. Communicate Your Vision: Once you've chosen a designer, provide them with as much information as possible about your book and your vision for the cover. This includes the synopsis, target audience, key themes, setting, and any specific ideas or elements you have in mind. Remember to also communicate your preferred color scheme, typography, and style.

5. Review and Revise: Once the designer has drafted a cover, review it carefully. Is it eye-catching? Does it represent your book well? Is the title easy to read, even in thumbnail size? If there's anything you're not happy with, request revisions until you're satisfied with the final result.

6. Finalize the Design: Once you're happy with the cover design, the designer will finalize it and provide you with the necessary files. You'll need a high-resolution JPEG or PDF for printing, a lower-resolution version for online use, and possibly a 3D version for promotional purposes.

Remember, your book cover is an investment. A well-designed cover can attract more readers, set the right expectations, and ultimately lead to more sales, reviews, and success for your book.

Step 3: Make a Stellar Book Description

old book open

The book description, also known as the blurb, is a short but powerful piece of marketing copy that provides a glimpse into your story. Writing a compelling book description can be just as challenging as penning the novel itself, but its importance can't be overstated. A well-crafted blurb can pique reader interest, set appropriate expectations, and ultimately lead to more book sales.

Here are some tips on how to craft an enticing book description:

  • Hook the Reader: The first line of your description should grab the reader's attention. It should be compelling, intriguing, and make the reader want to learn more about your story. Try to distill the unique essence of your story into this one captivating line.

  • Introduce the Main Characters and Setting: Give the reader a sense of who your characters are and the world they inhabit. However, don't give away too much. The goal is to whet the reader's appetite, not spoil the feast.

  • Outline the Conflict: The conflict is what drives your story. What challenges must your characters overcome? What's at stake if they fail? Make sure this is clear in your description.

  • Maintain the Tone of Your Book: Your book description should match the tone and style of your novel. If your book is humorous, your description should elicit a chuckle. If it's a dark thriller, your description should convey that suspense.

  • Keep it Brief: Your book description should be concise, usually around 150 to 200 words. It's not the place to explain your entire plot but to give a taste that leaves readers hungry for more.

  • End with a Cliffhanger: You want the reader to be compelled to buy your book to find out what happens, so end your description on a note of suspense or with a rhetorical question.

  • Use Social Proof (If Available): If your book has received praise from authors or reviewers, consider including a quote or two. This kind of endorsement can increase the perceived value of your book.

  • Edit and Proofread: Like your novel, your book description should be polished and free of grammatical errors or typos. These can give a poor impression of the quality of your book.

Writing a compelling book description is an art. It takes practice, but by following these tips, you can create a blurb that will attract and engage potential readers, enticing them to purchase and dive into your story.

Step 4: Obtain an ISBN and Barcode

POS system

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a unique identifier for your book. It's like a social security number for your work, allowing it to be correctly cataloged and tracked in sales systems worldwide. If you're planning to sell your book through any retail or distribution channels, you'll need an ISBN. Here's how to get one:

1. Determine How Many ISBNs You Need: You need a separate ISBN for each format of your book. This means if you're releasing a hardcover, a paperback, and an eBook, you'll need three separate ISBNs. If you plan to publish more books in the future, it may be more cost-effective to buy a block of ISBNs.

2. Purchase Your ISBN: In the United States, you can buy ISBNs from Bowker through their website, If you're located outside the U.S., you can find your national ISBN agency through the International ISBN Agency's website. The cost of an ISBN varies depending on your location and the quantity you buy.

3. Register Your ISBN: After purchasing, you need to register your ISBN(s) to your book title. You'll provide information like the book title, author name, publisher name, and publication date. This information becomes part of the official bibliographic record for your book.

4. Apply the ISBN to Your Book: The ISBN should appear on the copyright page of your book, and for printed books, it's often included in the barcode on the back cover. You might need to coordinate with your cover designer or printer to ensure the ISBN is correctly placed.

Remember, while some self-publishing platforms offer free ISBNs, there can be limitations regarding distribution and listed publisher. It's generally best to purchase your own ISBN to maintain full control over your book. Consider the ISBN as a worthy investment in your book's success.

Step 5: Choose a Publishing Platform

amazon app phone

There are several self-publishing platforms to consider. Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is a popular choice due to its broad reach. IngramSpark, though it has setup fees, offers extensive distribution, including brick-and-mortar bookstores.

Step 6: Format Your Book

ebook ereader

Your book needs to be properly formatted for each type of e-reader. It's also crucial for print books to ensure correct text alignment and margins. You can learn to format the book yourself or hire a professional formatter. Formatting your manuscript for eBook publication is a crucial step to ensure a professional, readable result. Here's a brief guide on how to do it:

1. Start Clean: Before you begin formatting, clear any previous formatting in your document. This includes removing any tabs or extra spaces, and ensuring all chapter titles and headings are consistent in style and size.

2. Styles and Formatting: Use a program like Microsoft Word or Google Docs and their Styles feature to format your text. This allows you to ensure consistency throughout your manuscript. Use 'Normal' style for your main text and 'Heading 1' or 'Heading 2' for chapter titles and section headers.

3. Chapter Breaks: Start each chapter on a new page by using page breaks. This keeps chapters from running together in the eBook format.

4. Indents and Spacing: Set the first line of each paragraph to be indented, except for the first paragraph of a new chapter or section. Don't use extra lines between paragraphs unless it's to denote a scene break.

5. Table of Contents: Most eBook formats support a clickable Table of Contents (TOC). In Word, the TOC can be automatically generated if you've used 'Heading' styles for your chapter titles.

6. Cover and Metadata: Include a cover image in your manuscript, and fill in the metadata (information about your book, such as title, author, and publisher).

7. Convert Your Manuscript: Once your manuscript is properly formatted, save it as a .docx file, then convert it to an eBook file format. The most common are .epub (used by most eReaders) and .mobi (used by Kindle). There are several online tools for this, like Calibre, or Amazon's Kindle Create.

8. Test Your eBook: Before you publish, open your eBook on several different devices and apps to check the formatting. Look for any issues with the text, TOC, images, or metadata.

Remember, formatting is crucial for providing your readers with a good experience. If you're unsure about doing it yourself, consider hiring a professional eBook formatter. They can ensure your book is formatted correctly and looks professional on all devices.

Step 7: Decide on a Price

money from a jar

Pricing your book competitively can encourage sales. Research similar titles in your genre and consider your book's length, the prices of similar titles, and your publishing costs.

Step 8: Plan for a Pre-Launch Buzz

buzzing bees

Create buzz about your book before it's even available. You can share teaser quotes, cover reveals, or host giveaways. Building a mailing list and using social media can be effective for these pre-launch promotions.

Step 9: Assemble Your Launch Team

professional team

Your launch team can be invaluable for generating initial reviews and word-of-mouth publicity. This team usually consists of people you know, like friends, family, or dedicated fans, who receive an advanced copy of your book and agree to leave a review.

Step 10: Plan a Book Launch Event


A book launch event can be a wonderful way to celebrate the release of your novel, generate buzz, and kick-start sales. It can be a traditional in-person gathering, a virtual event, or a combination of both. Here's how to go about planning your book launch:

1. Choose the Type of Event: Depending on your budget, audience, and location, you might want to have an in-person event, a virtual launch, or a hybrid model. In-person events can be held in local bookstores, libraries, or community centers. Virtual launches can be hosted on platforms like Facebook Live, Zoom, or YouTube.

2. Set a Date and Time: Plan your event to coincide with the official release date of your book. Choose a time that is convenient for your target audience. If your audience is global, consider a time that works across different time zones.

3. Plan Your Activities: A book launch is more than just announcing your book. Plan engaging activities for attendees. This could include a reading from your book, a behind-the-scenes talk about the writing process, a Q&A session, guest speakers, or even live entertainment.

4. Promote Your Event: Use social media, your website, email newsletters, local media outlets, and word of mouth to spread the word about your launch. Create an event on Facebook or Eventbrite to make it easy for people to RSVP and get updates.

5. Prepare Your Presentation: If you're reading a section of your book or speaking about it, practice ahead of time. Make sure your speech is engaging and sheds light on the content of the book, the characters, or the writing process.

6. Organize Sales: If you're holding an in-person event, have physical copies of your book available for purchase. For a virtual launch, provide links where attendees can purchase your book online. Consider offering signed copies or bundle deals for extra incentive.

7. Engage with Your Audience: Whether in-person or online, interact with your attendees. Answer questions, share stories, and show your appreciation for their support.

8. Follow-Up: After the event, send a thank-you message to attendees. Consider providing a link for purchasing the book, if they haven't already, and a request for reviews. If you've recorded the event, share the replay for those who couldn't attend.

Remember, the goal of a book launch event is to celebrate your accomplishment, create buzz, and generate early sales. Make sure to plan an event that suits your book, your personality, and your audience.

Step 11: Post-Launch Marketing

analytics report

Congratulations on successfully launching your indie novel! However, the journey doesn't end with the launch. Post-launch marketing is crucial to sustain momentum, reach new readers, and maximize the success of your book. Here are some essential strategies to consider:

1. Engage with Your Readers: Interact with your readers through social media, your website, or email newsletter. Respond to comments and messages, show appreciation for their support, and build a sense of community around your book.

2. Leverage Reviews: Encourage readers to leave reviews on platforms like Amazon, Goodreads, or book review blogs. Positive reviews can attract new readers and increase your book's credibility. Consider reaching out to book bloggers or influencers who may be interested in reviewing your book.

3. Collaborate with Influencers: Identify influencers, bookstagrammers, or bloggers in your genre who have a significant following. Reach out to them for potential collaborations, such as guest blog posts, interviews, or joint promotions. Their endorsement and exposure can help expand your reach.

4. Guest Blogging and Podcasting: Offer to write guest blog posts or be a guest on podcasts related to your genre or writing. This allows you to tap into existing audiences and share your expertise or insights, increasing your visibility as an author.

5. Run Promotions and Discounts: Consider offering limited-time discounts or promotional campaigns to generate buzz and attract new readers. This could include discounted eBook prices, bundle deals, or giveaways.

6. Book Events and Readings: Participate in book events, festivals, or conferences. This allows you to connect with readers and industry professionals, build relationships, and potentially secure future opportunities.

7. Utilize Email Marketing: Maintain an email newsletter to keep your subscribers updated on new releases, book signings, and other author-related news. Provide exclusive content, such as bonus chapters or short stories, to reward your subscribers.

8. Continuously Grow Your Online Presence: Regularly update your website or blog with fresh content related to your writing, industry insights, or behind-the-scenes peeks. Share this content on social media to engage your followers and attract new readers.

9. Consider Advertising: If your budget allows, explore online advertising options such as social media ads, Amazon Ads, or BookBub Featured Deals. Target your ads to reach readers who are likely to be interested in your genre.

10. Seek Awards and Recognition: Submit your book for relevant literary awards or contests. Recognition can boost your book's credibility and attract attention from readers, agents, and publishers.

Remember, post-launch marketing requires ongoing effort and persistence. Keep exploring new avenues, experimenting with different strategies, and adapting to feedback and trends in the market. With a well-executed post-launch marketing plan, you can continue to build your readership and pave the way for future writing success.

The Bottom Line

Launching your first indie novel can be a thrilling and rewarding experience. The key to a successful launch lies in careful planning, a polished product, and targeted promotion strategies. With these steps, you'll be well on your way to seeing your dream become reality. If you're looking for more publishing and writing tips, check out my blog. You can also find my debut novella here.

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