What Comes First, Second, and Third?

This article was written by Susie Schaefer. Known as The Book Angel for cause publishing, Susie believes that books are the gateway to creating a movement. Her love of books goes far beyond the feel of a fabric cover or the smell of a library. Whether writing a book helps an author heal trauma or raises awareness for a global crisis, Susie honors and empowers storytellers to be part of the global conversation and create a ripple effect of social impact. Susie’s understanding of social impact, or “cause” publishing, enables her to offer a unique foundation for publishing by building community, creating connections, and serving as a catalyst for change. Find her at Finish the Book Publishing and Rogue Publishing Partners.

Let’s say you’re mapping out the plan for writing and producing your book as a self-published author, but you’re not sure how the process is going to flow. It’s important to understand the timeline for publishing. Some of the steps will overlap, which will save you days and weeks while working with your team. 


The editorial phase can take 2-4 months, depending on how much your manuscript requires and how quickly your editors get back to you. I highly recommend a book evaluation or manuscript review, which can knock off an entire round of developmental editing and shorten the process by several weeks. Because this is such a flexible phase in the publishing cycle, you can work on other portions of the process at the same time.


When your manuscript is with your editor, you can create your publishing imprint (your publishing company name), secure a logo, draft your copyright page, set up your publishing accounts (i.e., KDP and Ingram Spark), and purchase your ISBNs. Any tasks you can accomplish while waiting on your editor will keep the project moving forward.

Cover Design

Once you’re into your final round of editing is a good time to define your title and subtitle and to get in touch with your cover designer for samples. There will be some back and forth; however, once you and your editor have a final title, you’ll have the foundation as to what you’d like the cover to look like. In addition, you can register your ISBN and title with the Library of Congress and receive a Preassigned Control Number (PCN) to list on your copyright page. Once your book is published, you simply send a copy of your book to the Library of Congress.

One of the most important reasons to use a professional cover designer is that they understand the types of covers appropriate for different genres. For example, if you’re writing a memoir, the book cover shouldn’t look like a sci-fi novel. Just like if you’re writing romance, a cover that embodies a business book won’t sell. Your cover designer will give you design samples that fit both the message of your book as well as the genre, so you’ll have better traction in the marketplace. Working on your cover design will usually take about 2-6 weeks. 

Formatting and Proofreading

Now that you have a front cover, you can request samples from your interior layout designer, also known as formatting. It’s important to have your front cover done, so that elements from the cover can be used in the interior design, such as font choice. There are a LOT of decisions regarding interior layout. In addition to fonts, you’ll look at the design for your chapter pages, graphics, headers, page numbers, etcetera. Once you’ve determined your choices for the interior and your manuscript is back from the proof editor, the layout process usually takes about two weeks.

When your book is finished with the developmental edit, you’ll send the manuscript to a proof editor. We use a different editor for the proof edit because your manuscript needs a fresh set of eyes to review and catch any errors. Your manuscript should include all of the following elements: the copyright page, table of contents, dedication, all the chapters and resources, your acknowledgments, the “about the author” (long bio) and, if appropriate, your business page. You’ll want the proof editor to see the entire book interior to ensure that any mistakes are caught before going to print. Your proof editor will usually require 2-4 weeks to complete the proof edit.


When the layout design is finished, you’ll know the page number count. The cover designer will need this information to create the correct size for the spine. When you have time between the back and forth with your manuscript, be sure to write your back cover content. I would recommend your editor take a peek at your back cover content to make sure it is well-written and in third-person. Your back cover is a key marketing piece for your book, so it’s critical to have a great description that will make the reader think, “I’ve gotta read this book!”

The back cover should also include a short, two-sentence bio, your headshot, your publishing logo, and a barcode with readable price. My personal preference is to include a header at the top of the back cover or use a great testimonial from an advance reader or someone in your industry.

When your two files are finished (cover file and interior file), you’ll proof everything again. This can take 2-3 weeks, depending on how fast you are. And a tip: When proofing your interior file, read the book out loud (or get a reading buddy). You’ll catch any mistakes missed previously. Reading out loud triggers a different part of your brain, and, guaranteed, you’ll say, “How did we miss that before??” Then, you’ll send any changes back to your designer. When you receive your final files, you can upload them to your platforms (such as KDP and Ingram Spark) and order proof copies. The final proof process takes 3-5 weeks, before approving and going live.

Once your books are live, it’s time to announce your book and plan your launch party. Congratulations! You’re a published author!

Learn even more tips and tricks about creating success and influence with our Author to Influencer Accelerator. Our unique program not only helps authors take advantage of DIY publicity opportunities but provides a supportive group of other authors and industry professionals to aid their success. The Accelerator is a proven five-step pathway that takes the pain out of promoting your book — and allows you to fly from Preparation to Promotion. Access over 60 workshops and join the private Facebook group!