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How to Publish Your Novel (The Right Way)

The majority of the clients I work with have decided they want to self-publish their book, which is no big surprise, considering the whopping increase in the number of self-published novels compared to several years ago. The indie author industry is growing, and it shows no sign of stopping. According to, the number of self-published titles compared to traditionally published titles jumped 40% in 2018 from just the year before. And it’s no big surprise, considering that authors have figured out that, not only can they maintain their rights and creative control if they self-publish, but they can keep much more of the sales (royalties) that way. I personally know several former traditionally published authors who have made the switch for these exact reasons. 

But the problem with this is that so many writers are overly anxious to see their books in print, they skip some of the most important parts of the publishing journey and simply upload their recently finished manuscript to Amazon or Ingram Spark. And since (as of time of print) Amazon and Ingram Spark have very low thresholds as to who and what they’ll publish, there’s no stopping anyone from publishing nearly any book under the sun. Yes, it’s great that there is no government agency or red tape telling us what we can and can’t publish (I mean, this IS the USA, after all). But I think most of you can agree that there are some people (read: a lot of people) who publish books that are nowhere near ready. The problem there is that people who simply slap their books up on Amazon for sale without really doing all the hard work it requires to publish a novel make the rest of indie authors look bad. I’ve heard many readers make comments to the effect of, “I don’t read indie books. They’re always poorly written.” That is so not true, and it breaks my heart. But I can see why so many people think this is true. There are a lot of authors out there who, for one reason or another, just will not take the necessary steps to successfully publish a book. 

So what are those key steps? They’re really quite simple.

  1. Hire a professional editor to do a thorough and complete edit of your manuscript; and
  2. Hire a professional cover designer to create a custom cover for your book.

Before you close this article or start screaming at me through the computer screen that you don’t need to follow these steps, hear me out. Because I know every conceivable objection to hiring professionals to finalize your book before publishing. I’ve heard them all. So let me address the top concerns and reasons people have given me as to why they can’t (or won’t) hire a professional editor, cover designer, or formatter, and bear with me while I present my counterarguments. You may just read something you hadn’t considered before. 

Reason #1 – I don’t NEED a professional (editor, designer, formatter)!


Many authors feel they can perform these services on their own to save money, time, or aggravation. Or all three. Or, possibly, they don’t trust someone else to keep their vision intact. They feel like they’re smart enough, creative enough, experienced enough, etc. But nothing could be further from the truth. And I have scientific studies to back me up on this one. (Of course, if you’re already a graphic designer or formatter, this part won’t apply to you). For one, you’re too close to your own work. Ever heard of “can’t see the forest for the trees?” Same theory applies. Instead of actually making your brain look more carefully at the words, your brain starts to gloss over and fill in the errors the more you look at a page. Also, you develop blinders to your own creation. And you’re not objective. Think of it this way. There’s a reason traditional publishers like the Big Five REQUIRE every single book they publish to run through an editor. Hell, even Stephen King has his books edited. I’ve always wondered what makes some indie authors think they know better than The King himself. Anyway, there have been scientific studies done to show that our brains are simply not built to catch our own mistakes. We build what are called “brain maps” that allow us to take short cuts when we already know the destination, and trying to proof read your own story is a perfect example of a place that the brain is confident of the ending. It’s what calls “a fight between your brain and your eyes.” Your brain literally fills in what SHOULD be there, not what IS there. Bottom line…you’re not trained to edit, and your brain is not built to self-edit.

Book Covers

The same concepts apply, in general, to designing book covers (unless you happen to be lucky enough to be a trained graphic artist). Even if you teach yourself to use do-it-yourself programs like Canva, Adobe PhotoShop, etc., you still don’t know what the industry is looking for in good covers that not only catch the readers’ eye but accurately portray your story. You don’t know what size and style of font looks best in a thumbnail size (which is what most readers will see when scrolling through Amazon). You don’t know which color schemes work best in each given genre. You don’t know what the market is leaning toward when it comes to trends for covers in your chosen genre. Again, it’s not enough to teach yourself a software or program that allows you to technically create a cover. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be a good, quality cover. And let’s keep in mind, no matter what people say, they really do judge books by their covers. Be honest with yourself for a moment. If you were scrolling through Amazon or even strolling through a bookstore, and  you saw a cover that was not professionally created, that had blurry lines around images, that had a horribly written title, or a cheesy effect on the front…what would you do? Honestly? Would you want to invest your money in that book? No. You’d make the assumption (right or wrong) that the author didn’t care enough to hire a pro or at least learn graphic design, so they probably didn’t care enough to write a quality book, either. It’s a sad but true story, and it’s more common than you’d imagine.

Reason #2 – I can’t trust (editors, designers, formatters).


I was appalled to learn recently that there are hundreds if not thousands of authors out there who have paid an editor to edit or proofread their manuscript (as they well should), only to get back a few added commas here and there or, in some cases, never even get their manuscript back at all! Of course this makes it hard for many authors to trust editors. Who can blame anyone who’s been through this experience? But that’s like saying all authors are bad at writing just because a few authors are. It’s not fair to editors who have spent years and lots of money training and learning their trade so they can actually help authors put their best book forward. One (or ten) bad apples shouldn’t spoil the bunch. Yet, somehow, that’s what’s happened. The truth of the matter is, a lot of authors don’t do their due diligence when hiring an editor. Do not trust or hire an editor who will not do a FREE sample edit of at least 5 pages for you. Do not trust or hire an editor who will not give you names and contact info for several previous clients. Do ask the potential editor how long they’ve been editing. Ask them what kind of training they have under their belt. Again, it’s ultimately these scammy editors who are to blame, but if you ask all the right questions and insist on the right information from any editor you’re considering, you’re much less likely to get ripped off. And as far as worrying about trusting your vision to an editor or worrying that they’ll change your voice, keep this in mind. A good, professional, quality editor will never change your vision or your voice. They may make suggestions, but that’s their job. Ultimately, a real pro will never make you feel pressured in any way to change your vision or your voice. But do keep their advice and feedback in mind and take it to heart. 

Book Covers 

A lot of authors don’t trust that some random cover designer they don’t know from Adam can actually capture their vision for their novel or represent their story in the right way when creating a cover for them. But a really good cover designer will ask you for a blurb or to fill out a questionnaire. They might even ask you for some example covers you like whose feel you want to emulate (not copy). Or they may ask you to send some pictures that represent what you see when you envision your characters. Bottom line, a good cover designer will work with you to come up with a cover that both looks professional and sticks to your vision as much as possible. But as with editors, you do want to listen and take their advice as much as possible since just because you see your cover one way doesn’t mean it’s the best way for it to look in the end. 

Reason #3 – I can’t afford (editors, designers)!


I completely understand this issue, as much as anyone out there. And I know exactly why authors assume all editors are expensive. True, there are some highly qualified editors out there who charge way too much for editing. I get it. But not all quality, professional editors will charge you $2,000 or more for a book edit. For example, when I first started Top Shelf Editing, and I went about setting my rates for each service, I spent days researching my competitors’ websites. Some wouldn’t even list their rates (a sure sign they’re very expensive). Others listed their rates at .06 or high per word. After doing the math and realizing it would cost most authors $3,000 to $5,000 to hire these editors, I decided to keep my rates well below everyone else who had similar experience and training to me. After all, I was an author before I was an editor. And I know what it’s like to be a single mom and a single working mom. But the reality is that hiring a professional editor is an investment in you, your book, and your career. I wish I could find and quote the statistic, but I remember seeing somewhere a study that showed that some huge percentage of authors who did hire pro editors not only made their money back, their royalties soared as a result. Hiring a pro editor can not only keep you from being ostracized by brutal reviewers just waiting to tear your book to shreds, but it can also help you see an increase in book sales and therefore a return on your investment. So before you write off the idea because you don’t think you can afford an editor or justify the expense…you can. On both fronts.

Book Covers

The same goes for finding a quality, experienced cover designer. There are plenty of designers out there who work with authors at affordable rates. A decent book cover made by a pro with lots of experience can cost you as little as $100. In the grand scheme of things, isn’t your book and your career worth at least that much? Again, you can and should justify the expense because readers will notice that you took the time and the expense to have a good, quality, professional cover made. They’ll know instantly that you care enough about your craft and your book to put a little bit of money behind it. And as I said with editors, you will not only make your money back, but you will most likely make more than you put into it and then some. But if you can’t find a way to have a professional-looking cover made, be prepared to read some harsh reviews and see low to no sales. It’s a sad fact of our industry, but it’s true.

To sum it up, show your readers not only that you care about their experience, but that you’re about to give them a product that they will feel confident in purchasing. And they’ll thank you for it by telling their friends and leaving positive reviews. For every reason you can give me that you don’t want to hire a professional to help polish your book before you slap it up on Amazon or Ingram, I can give you ten more as to why you absolutely should. Don’t fall int the trap of assuming the worst about author service providers, either. Yes, there are some scam artists out there, as there are in any industry, waiting to take your money and take advantage of your situation. But they are a minority, and they by no means represent our profession. The reality is that professional editors, designers, PAs, formatters, marketers, etc. are all in this industry not just to make money but because we love authors and we want to help them write, edit, publish, and market their best book.

If you want to put my words to the test and let me show you how a real, professional editor can and should treat you (and charge you), please email me at I’ll do whatever it takes to prove to you that I deserve your trust and that I truly am here to help you put your best book forward. And check out our website at Look at our Success Stories page, where you can see just a few of our happy, satisfied, successful clients. Every one of them would be more than happy to talk to you and tell you what you can expect from every staff member at Top Shelf Editing. I stand by my word. I will do everything in my power to help you. That is why I’ve built this business. It’s why I put out a free author podcast and it’s why I’m working to bring you some quality but affordable online courses in the very near future. And it’s why I offer all my clients much more than just editing. I walk them through the entire publishing process, I refer them to dependable, trustworthy, and affordable cover designers, PAs, marketers, formatters, and even help them with marketing. 

Talk soon,

Christina Kaye


Top Shelf Editing