(I posted this as a comment to a goodreads thread. Then I read it again and thought, hmm, that might be useful information to save or share.)
Book already written? So here goes…
1) Revise and edit the book. Many people pay for good content editing, copy-editing, or proof-reading (three different things). Up to you to decide whether this is necessary or not — readers will complain about errors, but it’s still your decision as to what your work needs.
2) Create a cover. Many people pay for designers. I did mine with Powerpoint and public domain artwork. Whichever route you go, bear in mind that the thumbnail of the cover is the most important size — make sure the thumbnail is appealing and does a good job of representing your book’s genre.
3) Write a marketing blurb, a short paragraph of text that describes your story. Make it good. IMO, this is the single most important sales tool you’ve got, so make sure it both sells the book and doesn’t have any errors.
There are lots of options from here. You can go the Smashwords route: personally, I am not loving Smashwords, but basically, you style your Word document in the Smashwords-approved way (using their style guide) and upload it to their site. Once you pass their review, they’ll take care of distributing it to B&N, Apple, and other places in exchange for a share of your royalties.
You can also directly upload your file to Amazon through Kindle Direct and to B&N through PubIt. Amazon, at least, is a remarkably easy process. You download the free Mobipocket Creator software and use it on your document to turn your file into a Kindle file. You’ll need to do some tweaking and reading to get it formatting properly and to make the table of contents work, but it’s not difficult. Then you upload your file to Amazon and within a few hours usually, you’re published. You can use a software called Calibre to convert your Kindle file to an epub to post to B&N.
If you decide you want a dead-tree version, you again have choices. I went with CreateSpace. You download their template, apply it to your document, tweak a bit to make sure your pages are as you’d like them, download a cover template and revise your cover so that it’s a traditional print book cover (front and back) and then upload the files. CreateSpace will send you a proof of the book — in my case, it took about five days. If it’s okay, you click the button and two days later, Amazon will have a record for a print version of your book that links to your Kindle version.
As for the marketing, eh. I personally think the best marketing you can do is to write another book. And then another. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
That said, KDP Select is a worthwhile 90-day investment, IMO. I published my book three months ago, and I would have expected to have sold maybe 30 copies by now if I was doing well. I know that sounds small, but that’s how it’s supposed to work — you start off small and slow and write steadily and sales grow over time. I had hoped that five years from now (or from September 2011, really, which is when I decided to try this) I could earn $1000/month from my writing. So far in March, I’ve sold 675 copies at $4.99 each and earned something around $2000. I haven’t done any marketing except KDP Select, so yeah, I think it was probably worth letting Amazon having my book exclusively for 90 days.
So far my total costs are 0 — I’ve done everything myself, paid for nothing. Total sales are about 1250, total giveaways are about 17,000. I’m not sure how much I’ve earned, but definitely over $3000. Given that the average advance for a first-time author is $5000, I’m on a pretty good track to earn more through self-publishing than I would through traditional publishing — not to mention that if I’d started looking for an agent in December instead of self-publishing, I’d probably be getting my first rejections back right about now.
People talk a lot about how hard it is and how much effort marketing and promoting is, but it really doesn’t have to be any harder than you want it to be. If you’re in it for the long haul, just keep writing. Make your writing as good as you can, keep improving, try not to obsess about your sales numbers, and trust that over time–years possibly–you’ll build an audience. And enjoy the freedom and the fun of it — really, that’s the most important part.