How To Finally Finish (And Publish) Your First Novel

How To Finally Finish (And Publish) Your First Novel

Finally completing that story you have been working on really isn’t as hard as it sounds. Whether you are just starting to write a book and need some direction or have completed one and are wondering what your next move is, I am here to guide you on how to finally finish that book and turn it into a published novel.

Book image from Shutterstock

First and foremost, you need to finally finish writing it. It’s important to delegate some time to working on it, whether it be once a day or on the weekends. If it’s a shorter story (known as a ‘novella’) then aiming for one chapter per week is a good starting point.

Once you finish a chapter it’s important to stop and read over it and make the changes then and there while everything is still fresh in your mind. Make sure the narrative flows properly and fix as many spelling mistakes as possible while you can. (You will thank yourself for it once you come to the editing phase!)

If you decide to go through a publishing company they may offer to edit and proofread your story for you, but this is usually for an additional fee. If you can, get a family member or friend to read over your final draft and proof it for you. You never know what a fresh set of eyes can pick up on that you may have missed.

When you think you have finished writing your story I cannot stress enough how important it is to proof read, proof read, proof read! I lost count of the number of times I reread my story from beginning to end and I still found spelling mistakes and errors every time. There is nothing worse than finally getting your first copy into your hands only to find one silly spelling mistake that could have easily been picked up through thorough proof reading.

You will also need to come up with a title for your book and a blurb for the back cover summarising what it is about without giving too much away. Remember too that you own the rights to all of your works, so don’t be too concerned about copyright.

You might also want to think about if you want to include a dedication page and if you are going to have titles for the chapters of your book. Getting these done now will help the publishing process go a lot quicker.

Once you think you have finally finished writing and editing your story it’s time to think about a publisher. I personally went through a small, local publishing agency that helped me self-publish my novel. They were very hands-on and helpful throughout the whole process, which made everything so much easier and less stressful. There is an upfront fee that can range from an estimated $250 to $2000 (which would be for something along the lines of a large format textbook or recipe book.) These prices will vary depending on what company you decide to go through. Naturally, including illustrations or images will hike the price up significantly.

Your publisher will take a percentage of your earnings. Typically a traditional publisher pays 15% of the royalties to you. If you self-publish you could get up to 85% of the royalties for life, as I have. So it is very important to look around and do your research with as many publishing companies as possible to benefit you first and foremost.

Are you getting a cover designer or are you doing it yourself? It’s a good idea to have all this in the works before you hand over your manuscript to your publisher. If you don’t have anyone artistic in your family, it’s easy to commission a cover via a freelance-friendly website such as DeviantArt and Fiverr.

When you have decided which package is offered to you by your chosen publisher it’s time to hand over your manuscript whether it be through email or USB. Make sure you include any other relevant content (cover art, author photo, synopsis) and let them do the work! They may also ask for the calculated payment upfront before they can start putting it all together for you to cover all their costs.

Another important thing you will need is patience. It may take some time to get everything ready for print so don’t be surprised if this process takes a little more time than you thought. Expect many back and forth emails from any good publisher you go through. You have to remember this is your novel and they will do everything they can to make sure you are 100 per cent happy with it. If they send you suggestions and you don’t like them, tell them! You will be looking at this for the rest of your life so make sure it’s exactly what you want.

The layout and the setup of the book were included in the package I went with so that was one less thing to worry about. Once your publisher receives the files they check to make sure everything is there and in order before they can begin production. They are also responsible for barcodes, ISBN’s and National Library Categorisation. Basically, anything technical is their job to handle and sort it out for you.

Your publisher will collaborate with you to how you want the front and back cover of your novel to look. They will ask you:

  • Do you want a matte or gloss cover?
  • What colour do you want the spine and back cover to be?
  • The positioning and any editing to the front cover image.
  • What font for the text, size and colour?
  • Do you want white or cream coloured pages for your novel?

I chose cream as it tied in with the supernatural/fantasy type theme of my novel rather than white which I associate more with non-fiction. They then do the layouts for your book for print and/or e-publishing and send you through a digital proof for you to look over. After you have told them all of the necessary changes they will send you a second digital proof for approval. When you are finally happy with this they will send out for a print proof which may take up to a couple of weeks to arrive.

Something to think about while waiting for this copy to arrive is to sort out bank and payment details for when the royalties start to come through. They might also ask you to write a bio and ask for a standard photo of you for their website to advertise you as a new author. Think about how much you want to sell your book for. For a hardcopy of up to 75,000 words, $20 is a good starting point. For online options such as iBook and Kindle, $3-$6 is a reasonable price.

Once your print proof arrives you need to take your time reading over everything very carefully to make sure you will be happy with distributing this worldwide. If anything needs changing the time to do it is now; this may be the only chance that you get to look over your novel in its entirety before it goes to print. You may be able to request changes later on but again, this will be an additional fee that you can avoid by taking your time during this step. Once you’re happy with everything they send your book live and you become a published author!

Your publisher will set up the selling of your book online for you included in the cost. This for me included having my novel available for purchase on such sites as Amazon, iBooks, smashwords and booktopia. Basically, it’s available worldwide for download and purchase. It will get to the point where you can type your books title and your name into Google and it will come up with where it is available for purchase which is an amazing feeling in itself.

If your book starts to sell really well that is when book stores will decide to put it on their shelves for sale. You can choose the genre of your book for when it is advertised to purchase online or your publisher may offer to do this for you. They may offer to choose for you as when they set you up on the websites they are asked to choose from a set list of genres for that specific site.

As a self-published author you are responsible for promoting your own novel. Facebook is a great avenue to let your friends and family know about your amazing achievement. You can make a Facebook page for your novel and include links so everybody you know can purchase a copy. If you end up finding it hard to sell as many copies as you thought you would, you could always try setting up a competition where you get all of your Facebook friends to share a status you make promoting your novel and whoever does goes into the running to win a free copy. Each person who does this now has your book advertised on their page for their entire friends list to see.

You could also ask your friends and family to write reviews on your Facebook page or the site where they purchased the book. The more people see that others have taken a liking to it, the more likely they are to purchase it themselves. I personally made a bulk order through my publisher of 50 copies working out to be around $6 a copy for me to purchase. Selling these individually at a higher price is just another way you can make some extra money.

When will you see your first payments from the sales of your novel? This may take up to a few months, so be patient. You may also have to wait until a certain amount is made before you can see your first payment.

So now you have the ins and outs of how to publish your first novel. It doesn’t sound as hard as you thought right? So what are you waiting for? Pick up that pen (or keyboard) and finish writing that novel you have been working on for so long and gain the amazing experience of becoming a first time author.


  • As an author, I have to say that this publishing model is a really, really terrible deal for any author. You are paying these people to “publish” your book, that is, put it up through Smashwords, Amazon, CreateSpace, etc. YOU are PAYING them FOR A SERVICE. (A service which you can do yourself, for free, should you be so inclined). Proofing, cover design, editing – you pay extra for all of those too, from what I can tell on the website.

    And then they take a cut of your royalties! Usually, royalties are paid because the publisher is taking a financial risk on the book. Here, you’re paying them to do this work, then they take a cut for… what? This set-up is as scummy as it gets.

    Any would-be authors reading this, do yourself a favour and go down another route. There’s so many options out there:
    1. Self-publish, and do it yourself. Find a cover artist you like and hire them for a flat fee – the artwork will be yours. Find an editor to edit for a flat fee – you pay them once for their service and that’s it. Put your book on CreateSpace, Lulu, Amazon, all those places. Print on Demand means that yes, you CAN still get your book in print. You can do it yourself, and guess what, it’s free! And, you keep all your royalties.

    2. Go with a self-pub company that doesn’t take any royalties or rights. You pay them for the service, and that’s it. No more skimming off royalties because they are not taking any financial risk. Publicious and Mill City Press are examples.

    3. Go with a small/indie press. Any respectable one will NOT take your money upfront. Many of them take unsolicited submissions and if your piece is accepted they will do the proofing, cover art, printing, and provide marketing support. Because you are not paying anything upfront and they offer additional support, they will take a cut. In this case, that is okay because you are not out of pocket.

    4. Get an agent and target the big publishing houses. That’s a whole ‘nother can of worms, but for many people, worthwhile. Again, YOU ARE NOT PAYING ANYTHING UPFRONT and anyone who charges you is a scam artist.

  • So, I have a concern: Nearly every reference to a publisher is actually talking about business practices that are close to the activities of a self-publishing services. It’s a mistake a lot of people make, and it’s a problem because it can lead people into making expensive mistakes given the myths that surround the publishing industry.

    Publishers, in the traditional sense, pay you for your work. They handle and pay for the production of the book, do much of the promotion, and handle distribution. They are financially invested in your books success and you’re in a business partnership with them, which is why you’re getting that 15% of the cover price.

    Self-Publishing means acknowledging that you will do all the publishers jobs yourself, or you’re hiring people with expertise to cover your lack in skills. The best self publishing services are great at what they do, stepping into gaps in a writer’s skill-set when it comes to editing and production in exchange for a fee. They will frequently offer their services separately or as part of a package, and they will make it clear that what they are doing is work-for-hire.

    The worst self-publishing are little more than scams or re-branded vanity publishers preying on people’s desire to get a book out there. Exorbitant fees are the norm and, while they aren’t promising anything they can’t deliver, there will be all manner of upsells and opportunities.

    There are all manner of resources around to educate writers and avoid the scams. One of the best is Writers Beware, although its warnings are largely American based:

  • Probably sounds really, really blunt, but next time you ask someone to talk about self-publishing, ask someone to write the article who actually has a bit of a track record in self-publishing and has halfway decent sales.

    Putting up a book is something everyone can do. Besides the really terrible deal with a vanity press already mentioned by the other commenters, badgering your Facebook friends for sales is emphatically NOT the way to sell books. Sorry, the author of the article doesn’t have the faintest clue what it takes to self-publish–and SELL–successfully.

    This article is painfully misleading.

  • This is not self-publishing. This is VANITY publishing.
    Next time you want to run an article on self-publishing, find someone who knows what they are talking about.
    It’s articles like this that lead new authors down bad roads.
    Vanity press is a blight on the publishing industry.
    This author has been taken for a ride.
    If someone is paying for services like layout and such, then they need to retain 100% of the royalties.
    If a publisher is retaining royalties, then they need to take responsibility for the financial side of the process. The author should pay for nothing in that case.

  • OK, First of all, for any would-be author out there reading the above article, stop.

    Paying anyone to self publish your book on your behalf is nothing but a scam. A big fat scam. The whole idea of SELF-publishing is exactly that, you do the work YOURSELF.

    Paying for anyone else to do it for you, is a big no, and that goes for the traditional publishers too. You should never, absolutely never, CATEGORICALLY NEVER have to pay anyone to push that button marked “publish”.

    By all means, pay for an editor, a cover designer, someone to format your manuscript, advertisers and the such, (if you want to) but for actual publishing, no.

    As for the rest of the information in the above article, it’s totally up to you whether or not to follow her path, my advice would be, don’t.

    DO your own research.
    DO look at a number of alternatives.
    DO make up your own mind on which path to follow.

    There are no set rules and every traditional publishing house will have their own set of guidelines, just as every self-publisher who does the proper research, will find the best path for them self.

    And my last thoughts, it’s not a good idea to ask family and friends to edit/proof read for you. Their opinion is highly biased and they will be reluctant to tell you the truth about your writing.

    It’s also not a good idea to ram your book down your family and friends’ throats by getting them to buy it and write you a review. Just like your choice to read ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ or ‘Treasure Island’, reading your book, is a free choice, not an obligation of your friendship.

  • There is so much wrong with this article and I heartily support all the comments above. Here are some more points to ponder

    If you decide to go through a publishing company…
    Firstly you need to understand the difference between publishers like HarperCollins, Hachette etc. who will decide if they want to publish your novel and pay YOU for the privilege and the various ‘indie author’ publishing platforms where the author pays the platform to publish their novel. While many of these platforms are reputable, there are also many who will rip you off, so you need to really look at what you are being offered in terms of editorial, cover design, distribution and promotion AND how much this will cost you. You also shouldn’t ignore the many free ‘do it yourself’ sites such as Kindle Direct and Smashwords which don’t cost you anything to self-publish your novel.

    Self-editing and ‘getting a relative’ to proof read…
    Self-editing is a really bad idea, and your mum is not going to be the best proof reader either. Editing is a profession and not just something you can do yourself. As an author you only get one opportunity to make the best impression you possibly can. If money is tight, economise in other areas, but do not skimp on editing. There are lots of freelance editors you can engage directly to work on your novel. See the Australian Institute of Professional Editors ‘editor finder page’ –

    Small, local publishing agency
    While it’s nice to buy local, you really need to think about worldwide distribution and who is best placed to distribute your book anywhere in the world as cheaply as possible. Small and local will not do that for you. Go big – Amazon Create Space or Lulu for print books, Amazon Kindle Direct or Smashwords or Apple iBooks are all of them for ebooks, or Ingram Spark for both.

    Be very careful about going with a publisher that assigns an ISBN for you. Whoever owns the ISBN owns the rights to distribute that edition of your work. If you don’t own the ISBN and you fall out with your publisher, you are stuffed.

    $6 a copy for 50 copies
    Yes, maybe if it’s a 300 page hardback with a wraparound sleeve cover. For the book in the picture, that sounds like a rip off.

    Go to the Indie Authors Alliance pages for some good advice

  • I self-published my book in Australia, which is a completely different landscape to American publishing because in Australia, you need to be registered under the US tax system to receive your payments without being heavily penalised. The company I went through to publish my book does not advertise themselves as a publishing company – they’re a self-publishing facilitator because they help people with the self-publishing process, rather than acting as a traditional publisher. I chose use this method of publishing because self-publishing completely solo in Australia is expensive and difficult – having a company worry about the tax and currency conversion for you is a blessing

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