So you’ve decided to independently publish your book rather than pursue a traditional publisher? I know how difficult that decision can be. Publishers know how to sell books. Without their support, how will you reach your readers?

How to Sell Books Without a Publisher

One of the great benefits a traditional publisher brings to the relationship is a network of agents and bookstores designed for the purpose of selling books. Like sailing a small boat into the ocean, without that pre-established network, self-publishing is scary. When we are first drifting into open waters, there is so much we don’t know.

Here is the good news: It is possible to sell books without a publisher.

You just have to learn how to sell books.

How to Sell Books: The Self-Published Author's 7 Step Guide

There are seven general steps to selling books without a publisher. While the minutia within each step is hotly debated and constantly changing as indie authors innovate new ways to connect with readers, the basic steps an indie author has to take to sell books remain unchanged.

With this post, my hope is to get a good look at the forest of selling books, not to dive in and argue which of the trees is the best tree.

1. Build Your Reader Base

We sell books to people who want to read them. The first step of selling books is to start finding those readers.

This will likely involve you giving some of your work away in exchange for their attention. This may be blog posts you write that establish your voice, short stories that leave readers wanting more, or even free novels that pull them into a series.

The key is to get a way to contact these readers in the future. The most popular currency at the moment is a reader’s email address. Think of this as building a future client list. Services like MailChimp, Book Funnel, and Instafreebie exist for this reason.

It is difficult to give work away for free, so don’t think of it that way. Instead, think of it as using your work to buy a reader’s most precious commodity — their time.

2. Routinely Connect With Your Readers

Building a list of future readers is just the beginning. You need to keep them interested.

Publishing books can be a slow process. If you are only churning out a book or two a year, you need to help the reader base you are building not forget about you.

This means staying in contact with them.

A routinely published blog will do this. Other writers lean heavily on occasional newsletters that remind readers of what you are working on. Whichever method you decide works best for you, it needs to be predictable and often.

3. Write Your Book

Notice I left this for step three. The hardest part of selling books is not writing or publishing the book. Rather, it is earning readers’ attention.

It can be a slow and tedious process, which is why you need to start that before you have finished writing your book. If you wait until your book is finished to start building your reader base, then you are too late.

4. Finish Your Book

Writing a manuscript is a fantastic accomplishment, but it is only the start of having a finished book. Next comes editing. You can get friends and family to help you with this, but if you have money to invest in your work, editing is not a bad place to spend it.

There are multiple other components you will need for your book including a cover and a blurb. Like editing, while you can do these finishing touches on your own, you may want to think about hiring professionals to help you with this.

We say don’t judge a book by its cover, but that is exactly what we do. If you have a bad cover that doesn’t match your book’s genre, it is unlikely you will sell any copies. That’s why hiring a professional to help you can give you a huge boost.

5. Choose Your Distribution Channels

Once your book has been written, you need to choose your distribution channels. Distribution channels are the places you are going to publish your book. Currently, the primary choice most authors struggle with is going “exclusive” to Amazon or going “wide.”

The biggest channel by far is Amazon. To publish your book on Amazon, go to KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). You can create both an ebook for Kindles and a paperback book there that will be posted on Amazon for sale.

Amazon would like it if their site was the only place your book was for sale. To incentivize you to go “exclusive,” they offer a program called Kindle Unlimited (KU for short). Readers who subscribe to KU are given KU books to read for free. If a KU reader chooses your book to read, you are paid per page the reader sees.

This deal is only available if your book is exclusive to Amazon. It also works better for some genres than others. It is important you investigate what other indie authors are saying about books in your genre before you make a decision to go exclusive or go wide.

Going “wide” means distributing your book through multiple channels. Other popular distribution channels include:

  • Kobo, which can be accessed through Kobo Writing Life
  • Barns and Noble, which has their own self-publishing site.
  • Draft-to-Digital, which will distribute your book to multiple places at once, including Amazon and Apple.

6. Let Your Readers Know and Market Your Book

Now that your book is finished and you’ve decided where you are going to distribute it, it is time to tell readers your book is in the world and ready to buy.

Remember that reader base you were building? Now is the time to leverage them to purchase your book.

There are also tons of sites that carry their own lists of readers you can pay to advertise your book on.

Additionally, you can invest in PPC ads (Pay Per Click ads) on sites like Amazon or Facebook. These ads are usually purchased in a bidding system. If an author doesn’t know what they are doing, they can lose a lot of money in PPCs and see very little return. This may be another place you want to consider hiring a professional to help you.

7. Write Your Next Book

Here is a hard truth: it is virtually impossible to build a writing career with one book.

The good news is that sales build on each other. If a reader finds one of your books, reads it, and enjoys it, that reader is likely to go and see if you’ve written anything else.

Building a back catalog by writing and publishing multiple books is a great way to sell more books. So after you’ve finished your first book, get started on your next one.

It's Time to Sell Books

Venturing into the world of publishing can be scary. The good news is, it is possible to sell books without a publisher. Like anything else, selling books is a skill, and you'll learn how to sell books as you go.

Find your readers and engage them so that when you are ready, they will want to buy your books.

Have you sold books without a publisher? What has worked for you? Give your fellow authors suggestions in the comments.


Today, your challenge is to draft a short piece that you can give away for free to your readers. Maybe you'll write a blog post to publish on your website. Maybe you'll start a short story you can email to your readers or offer as a free download.

Whatever the case, plan from the beginning to give it away.

Take fifteen minutes to get started on your short piece. When your time is up, share your first draft in the comments to receive feedback. Be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers, too!

Once you're happy with your new writing piece, share it for free to add readers to your reader base.

Jeff Elkins is a writer who lives Baltimore with his wife and five kids. If you enjoy his writing, he'd be honored if you would subscribe to his free monthly newsletter. All subscribers receive a free copy of Jeff's urban fantasy novella "The Window Washing Boy."

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