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The Lever #018: Book Publishing Lessons Learned

I just published my first book!

I ran into some unexpected challenges during the process.

Today I'll share the main lessons learned.


My book went live on February 25th.

48 hours later it had done 159 units and was the number 1 new release in multiple categories.

The launch was pretty successful, but getting to this point wasn't always pretty.

Here are the three main lessons learned that I wish I'd knew before starting:

1/ Filing and Formatting

Writing the book is one thing. Getting it formatted for publishing is something else entirely.

I wrote the manuscript using MS Word. That has been my go-to word processing program since Windows 95. In my day job I've used it to write technical reports for almost ten years.

When I say "fluent in MS Word" on my resume, I mean it.

So you'd think that the step between "finished writing" and "published on Amazon" would be a small one.


Here is what I wish I'd known:

You need three separate files, each with different formatting.

You need a file for delivering the book as a PDF.

You need a file for printing a physical book.

You need a file for publishing on Kindle.

The content is the same. The formatting is similar.

But its not the same.

Which then creates a new problem:

How do you manage these files so that any new updates, additions, or corrections get rolled through all three? Because believe me, you'll be making small tweaks right until you hit publish.

Fortunately, my background in technical writing and quality assurance came to the rescue. I retroactively put together a filing system that helped manage changes and updates effectively.

But this part of the project would have been much easier if I'd done that right from the start.

2/ All About ISBN's

An ISBN number is a unique identifier that gets applied to your book.

I've heard it compared to naming a baby. You've gotta do it.

Online publishing houses like Amazon will give you a free ISBN. The issue though is you won't be able to sell it anywhere else. If you ever want your book in a store then you'll have to purchase one.

Except you can't buy just one. (Well you can, but its not cost effective.)

The trouble is that every type of book needs its own ISBN number:

  • Ebook

  • Soft cover

  • Hard cover

  • Audible book

What about different digital formats you ask?

I asked too.

Articles written by company's that sell ISBN's say you need a different ISBN for each digital format as well:

  • PDF

  • ePub

  • MOBI

That means six numbers for just one title!

It seems that used to be the case, but further research found that the updated best practice is ONE ISBN for ALL digital versions. So that's what I did.

Back to the cost.

ISBNs can be purchased from Bowker (the only reputable source) for $125, or ten for $295.

You'll need two at a bare minimum (one for ebook plus one for soft cover) so buying the ten-pack is mandatory.

This was an unexpected cost that I'll be better prepared for next time.

3/ Amazon KDP

Amazon KDP, or Kindle Direct Publishing, is an amazing service.

Upload a manuscript and a cover, and you can have a physical copy of your book delivered to your home in a few days. Its truly revolutionary.

It also has a learning curve when setting up for the first time.

There is an excellent reference library to help walk you through formating requirements, cover size and file type, adding barcodes… But some of the other nuts and bolts weren't as clear.

The first thing is selecting what categories your book will be published under. Advice online says to pick those before you upload the book, as this is a required step.

But when you get to that step, the categories were DIFFERENT THAN THE ONES ONLINE!

Turns out those aren't categories at all. They are BISAC codes.

BISACs are part of your books metadata, and are a widely accepted classification system used by distributors. They decide where your book will sit in the bookstore.

But they do not match 1:1 to the 16,000+ Amazon categories. And KDP only lets you select two.

The solution? Choose the most obvious two BISACs and hit Publish. Once the book is published you can submit a request to update your categories to whatever you want.

The second thing about KDP is whether to enroll in the Amazon Select program.

Part of the deal with Select is that you waive your rights to sell the book off platform. This was a deal breaker for me.


Reading the fine print, you are able to cancel at any time. As I wasn't actually ready to sell the book myself in alternate locations yet, I opted in to the Select program to take advantage of the book giveaway feature.

This allowed me to make the Kindle version free for a day, which increased initial downloads and reach.

The DIY Approach

Could I have hired someone to navigate this step for me? Sure. But I wanted to do it all myself.

There is so much to learn at every step in the publishing process. And learning the hard way is usually the fast way.

There is no shortage of advice online surrounding the creative act of writing your book. And there is also a lot about marketing that book once its published.

But there is not a lot of guidance on the nuts and bolts of this crucial middle step. The actual self-publishing process.

Fortunately, I took a LOT of notes the whole time. The next book will come together even faster.


Your next steps:

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