Confession time. When I self-published my first book, “Layoff Reboot: How I Skipped the Job Search and Discovered What I Love,” I didn’t know much about writing or marketing books.

I wrote, edited, and launched the book on Amazon in only two months. I had a blast, but I made a bunch of mistakes too. My book performed better than I ever expected, reaching #5 paid bestseller in the job hunting category.

The book was a huge learning experience and I ended up addicted to self-publishing.

Ever dreamed of being an author? The good news is, there’s never been an easier time to get a book published. In the U.S., your copyright extends 70 years after you die. What better way to leave your mark on the world?

Amazon has made it easy for anyone to self-publish, but there are important quality standards in place including formatting requirements. Readers can report your book if it’s crappy and has typos which can lead to Amazon removing it. You don’t want this to happen to your books.

And, if you’re taking the time to read this, I know you want to put your best work out there.

Here are the basics that you must get right.

#1 – Publish quality content. 


This is a no-brainer, but it’s the hardest part.

There are heaps of books and blogs with advice about what to write. I’m a big fan of self-help books and for my first book, chose to tell my personal story of how I got laid off.

It was immediate and backed up by emotion. Conventional wisdom is “write what you know.” For non-fiction, this makes sense. You have a unique experience that is new to others. The more niche you can make your topic, the better. I happened to be a type-A project manager who got laid off and always wanted to write a book. I went with it.

Whatever you choose to write, read at least 3-5 top-selling books in your genre. Do this by logging into Amazon and selecting “Kindle Store” to search for science fiction, romance, etc. You can drill down into sub-genres using the screen at the left.

Look at book length. Read the reviews to see what others said they liked and more importantly, what they hated. As you read the top books, what strikes you as wrong or incomplete? Do you have a different perspective that’s compelling?

Then, start writing. Write every day for best results (writing is like working out–you have to develop the muscles over time and repetition helps).

Start with an outline (I mind mapped) and plug away at creating content every day. It was tough, but I kept track of my word count every day and pushed myself.

#2 – Hire an editor.

I’ve read numerous how-to books on self-publishing, listened to podcasts, and paid for webinars. Every author stresses the importance of getting an editor.

You’ll have to shell out money. I used and found a grad student who did excellent work and was reasonably priced.

She was able to pinpoint areas that were vague, and removed content where I was repeating myself or overusing words.

Believe me, it’s worth every penny to get an objective person reviewing your work, picking up typos, and enhancing your story. Bonus—you’ll learn more about your writing style.

If you can’t justify the expense, there are free and low cost editing tools available. I recommend

#3 – Hire someone to design an amazing, stand-out cover.

So many books on Amazon, so little time. A well-done cover can market your book on its own.

Having a cover that pops can help your book stand out from the crowd. Like editing, spending money on a cover is an investment. In fact, cover design is one of the more expensive elements of my books. It’s worth every penny to have a fantastic cover.

The biggest mistake I see some self-published authors make is a below average cover that does not complement the brilliance of the pages inside.

Try using to hold a book cover contest. At first, I was disappointed because the covers submitted seemed amateur. Through the website, I searched for designers whose work I liked, and asked them to submit for my contest.

Whenever I’ve used 99 Designs, I’ve ended up with outstanding covers. You don’t buy a design unless you’re happy.

Layoff Reboot Book Cover

Layoff Reboot Cover (Book #1)

can creativity make us happier

The Cover on Book #4

The key is to make sure your title stands out in big print so people see it clearly when browsing the tiny cover images on a Kindle. I keep my designs simple. A cover that shows your title in clear, big text is better than having a busy image that no one can see.

#4 – Get people to read your book in advance.

Do you have relationships with other authors or people with a platform (e.g., blogger or business owner)? If so, ask them to read your book in advance.

It’s easy to send them a PDF version of your book. In exchange for you reviewing one of their books, ask whether they will read and leave a review on Amazon. You can also use your best reviews as editorial reviews (or endorsements) and it’s a good idea to have a few in place within your Amazon book description.

Have “beta readers” whose opinions you trust, read your work in advance as well.

I got my parents to read my book in advance, too. Hey, they can be honest with me. Always good to have someone close to you take a read before you publish to the world.

#5 – Select the right Kindle categories on Amazon.

This is super important. Amazon lets you choose 2-3 categories for your book when you upload it. Choose carefully.

According to John Tighe, author of Crush it With Kindle, you want to have at least one category where it’s easy to achieve top 10 bestseller status. Go to Amazon and search for books within the Kindle store.

How are other books categorized in your genre? Look at their overall sales numbers (if a book is ranked #10,000 in paid Kindle store, it’s selling about 10 copies per day, #20,000 is 5 copies.) At 70% royalty for books priced $2.99 – $9.99, that adds up.

Try to find a category where the top three books are lower-ranked for overall paid sales. Aim for #10,000 or higher in paid sales. That’s likely to be a realistic category where you can jump in and rise up through the bestseller rankings. I’ll share more on marketing in a later blog.

I did better than I ever expected using John Tighe’s techniques and highly recommend any self-publisher read his work. I made it to #1 when my book was free…

Reached #1 in Free Job Hunting

Reached #1 in Free Job Hunting

And, later reached #5 paid in job hunting.

Reached #5 in Paid Job Hunting

Reached #5 in Paid Job Hunting

Update 2017: My fourth book, Creating Space to Thrive reached #1 within its Amazon categories. Since publishing my first book, I now run my own author consulting business. Check out how I use book pre-orders to manage NY Times bestselling launches.

Self-publishing requires tough work to get it right, but is well worth it. The best part for me in this author journey has been hearing from readers who were also going through job loss or career transitions, and knowing that my books have helped them.

I hope these basics will not only help you get ahead of the e-book competition, but also realize how attainable self-publishing is. For me, the hardest part was overcoming my fear of the unknown. I knew nothing about the industry when I first started. I jumped in anyway and learned from trial and error.

Now every time I go through the publishing process, it gets easier.

Don’t wait too long to start your first book. I wish you success in your writing journey!