How to Get Started with Self-Publishing Online

If you love to write and have great ideas to share, you’ve probably thought about starting a blog. Blogs are almost as old as the World Wide Web, but for years, they had a somewhat well-deserved reputation as an online journal rather than “real writing.” In time, many of these digital musings evolved into robust venues for spirited discussion. Now, blogs have become nearly synonymous with online publications that adhere to editorial standards, and many bloggers use hosted platforms such as Medium to share their work. In fact, there are so many options that self-publishing online can seem quite daunting. The good news is that it’s easier than you think to get started.

Step 1. Decide what you’re going to publish.

This decision isn’t as straightforward as you might imagine. Many of us have a wide range of interests we like to write about. Unfortunately, narrowing it down is crucial to your success. It’s important to think of your publishing as part of a personal brand — and as with any brand, having a well-defined niche and audience helps you gain loyal followers. No one follows an “everything blog” that is unpredictable and scattered. Choose between one and four topics for each digital channel where you publish your work.

Step 2. Develop a template.

Many self-published writers skip this step, but it’s extremely helpful both for ensuring a consistent experience for your audience and helping you produce content quickly. If you decide that you are going to focus on publishing film reviews, for example, you can form a basic outline that you can revisit for each new piece. And don’t forget to build your call-to-action (CTA) into the template if you’re going to use one! Common CTAs include requests to join your mailing list or download your e-book.

Step 3. Choose your platform(s).

Setting up your own blog is easier than it used to be, but for those starting out, it’s a great idea to use a hosted platform such as Medium, Vocal, or Bard to start publishing. There are already thousands of readers on the platform looking for something to read, and each platform’s algorithms will show your content to new readers. That’s a built-in audience you can’t afford to ignore.

Plus, each of these platforms offers a way to make money off your work, which can take months or even years to achieve on your own blog. Here’s a quick overview of how each one works:

Medium: You can join the Medium Partner Program, in which you are paid based on readers’ engagement with your content. People can follow you to see your content, and you can also submit your work to publications where your work will appear alongside others’. A group of editors called “curators” will choose some pieces to recommend under topics that readers can browse, which further boosts your visibility.

Vocal: When you publish on Vocal, you get paid for reads and likes on your work, and you can also receive tips from readers. By joining Vocal Plus, you can boost your earnings multiplier. Vocal also features “Challenges” that you can join for the chance to win prizes.

Bard: Bard allows you to earn money from your work through a tip system; readers can send you a one-time donation for an article and follow you to see more of your work. You can also offer subscription-only content for those who pay you a monthly donation — similar to Patreon.

Patreon: Yes, Patreon doubles as a publishing platform! If you’d like to monetize your work, there are few better places than Patreon to build a loyal community around your work. Patreon works by allowing you to offer subscriber-only stories in exchange for perks such as shoutouts and exclusive content.

If you’d like to go for all four, we recommend sticking to just one or two topics per platform. For example, the Medium community prioritizes content about writing, marketing, self-help, and productivity, so if those are some of your target topics, write about those on your Medium profile. Note that it can take some time to build up your following on each of these, especially Patreon. You not only need to drive traffic to your channel(s) but you also need to spend time engaging with people on each platform. Which brings us to…

Step 4. Form a marketing plan.

If merely putting your work out into the world were enough to make money off it, everyone could quit their day jobs. As with any business, you must promote your offerings. There’s no one-size-fits-all marketing plan. What works for one person may not work for you. That said, there are guidelines you can follow to boost your chances of success.

Your marketing plan should always entail a way to organically build a following. Never, ever buy followers or use the follow–unfollow method. You need to engage with people on the platform if you want them to engage with your work. Reciprocity is key to successful self-marketing.

Second, ensure that you have a way to generate cross-platform traffic. Many bloggers maintain a Twitter, Instagram, or another way to drive traffic to their self-published content. Try drawing quotes from your work and tweeting them with a link to your story, or take photos that illustrate your story and share them on Instagram. It’s also worthwhile to share moments from your writing life, such as your favorite coffee mug or the notepad where you jot down notes, so that your audience feels like you’re an authentic person.

Step 5. Create a content schedule and stick to it.

This is the hardest part for many bloggers. Your readers respond well to consistent, predictable publishing, which can be challenging to do if you’re doing this as a side hustle. Try your best to develop a content schedule. If you have limited time to write, create your drafts in advance and schedule them so that they can go live even when you’re away from your computer.

Your content schedule should also dovetail with your social media schedule. While you can always share your stories on social as soon as they’re published, it’s also a good idea to let them gain a little momentum, then promote them again. Many bloggers share links to their work throughout the year, perhaps by tying them into commemorative days or holidays or in accordance with social media themes (#marketingmonday, #wisdomwednesday, etc.)

Wrapping Up

Self-publishing can be highly rewarding, both monetarily and psychologically. However, under no circumstances should you consider it a “get-rich-quick” scheme. It takes dedication and strategy to make even a little bit of money. Follow the steps above, publish consistently, and you’ll be well on your way to success in self-publishing.

Need help with your personal branding and marketing strategy to support your new writing business? We’re here to help.

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