Publishing books is quite simple and can quit stealing time (and money) away from your creative writing process.
That's if you narrow down to what simply works - simply.
I've heard that it's not uncommon for authors to spend $2,000 or more to get a book published. And it can take over a year to get one of these into the book distributors. Or a minimum of three months for a 50,000 word book.
That's not been my experience.
I've produced over 240 fiction books in just under four years, and meanwhile published another 48 non-fiction books during that time period. Generally, i produce a short work every week, and a collection of those every month or so. And while I have some monthly expenses, each new book is produced with no additional outlay.
It's quite simple to do it now. I've occasionally joked that it gets easier after you publish the first hundred.
You can save your own time and money, too. The success in this is streamlining your production to only the most robust and proved essentials, plus ignoring a great deal of what goes around as "best practices".
You'll need three free programs that are available and run on any computer (other than smartphones):
You can find these as free downloads.
LibreOffice is built as a Word replacement, and can both import and export those formats. Most ebook formatting services accept LibreOffice .odt files - but it can output .doc files if needed.
I will occasionally simply write into a simple text editor and then format it with LibreOffice and add in the backmatter with links from a template file. TIP: You use the standard headers so that your formatting program will build the table of contents for you. TIP2: Format your pages to 6"x 9" as they will be easier to read - and this is the standard trade paperback size. LibreOffice will output directly to PDF, so this can give you a book-sized ebook that will import to most ereaders for easy viewing (unlike the standard 8.5" x 11" letter format).
GIMP is a graphics program that replaces the expensive and complicated Photoshop. This builds your covers. Of course, if you have no real graphics background, you can get someone to build these for you. (I have a graphics design background, to be transparent.) Still, you can find a good artist on Fiver for low cost. And pre-made covers are available for purchase as well - just add your title and author...
The simplicity to any effective cover is that it needs a big graphic and big text that can be read as a small thumbnail. Look up the "big name" authors to see what their covers look like. You are looking for common rules across genres. Trying to copycat existing covers won't get your book noticed.
TIP: Build your cover in 6"x 9" format to be accepted everywhere.
I use the great public domain artwork on Pixabay.com - and be sure to acknowledge and/or "buy them a coffee" when you do.
Technically, you can use LibreOffice to build your cover, but GIMP does a better job once you get used to how it works. Well worth the learning curve.
Calibre organizes your books on your own computer. It keeps everything in one place, and can also convert between formats. You can build your book with the cover and blurb, plus keep all the various ebook formats all in one place. This also makes updating your books easier. And keep all your data for publishing or updating in one place.
It's extendible with plug-ins, One I use is for merging epubs, which is a great way to build your anthologies. Of course, you have to go back through and delete the backmatter pages in them, but it's simpler and faster than copy/pasting your LibreOffice versions into one big document.
It also has an ebook editor, which will check your book for internal errors. Removing these in advance streamlines the process of submissions.
General Success Patterns to Adopt
Write and produce only those books that you'd like to read. If you're proofing your book and get bored, then so will your reader. The better time to catch this is when you are writing. Back up and revise as needed to keep the pace and dialog lively.
Work to make your book better than anything else out there in those genres. Always work to make this book better than your last. It's a constant journey to improvement.
Always strive to make a perennial-selling book. Avoid hack-writers like the plague. They set a bad example and their works are forgotten whenever they quit advertising.
Read and write daily. Read what you love, write what you love to read.
How to Publish Simply
I've been this route of trying to publish directly to the four or five main American book outlets. It just burns your time. Particularly if you want to update a book. Spending as little as a half-hour on each site to publish a prepared ebook will end up taking at least a day. Because it always takes longer than you expect - each site has its own eccentricities.
And, simply, I got tired of the nags from Amazon and Apple when a book didn't meet their specific requirements - different than anyone else's.
Draft2Digital is what I use as an aggregator. Aggregators do all the publishing to various book distributors for you. There are two or three others that are also good, particularly for Europe. They take a percentage of the sales, but only get paid when your book sells.
Gumroad is my own site. And I mean that this is where I do my blogging and sales. And where I send people to get their free downloads. It also gets paid based on your own sales. My ads use this book link - because I get the buyer's email when they buy or get their free download from here.
(One marketer noticed years ago that "Amazon only works as well as you send traffic to it." Why promote to Amazon when they won't send you the buyer's emails and have some 200 other links on every book's sales page? Promoting to your own Gumroad site promotes your other books.)
Additional Bells and Whistles
These are tools I use that make the book sales pages more enticing.
DIYBookCovers.com - this is a free service to create 3D mockups of your book covers that you can use so that people will see your book as if it is on their own tablet or smartphone, as well as print. They give you the option of downloading an image with a transparent background so you can add one in with GIMP.
Picotry.ai can build your book trailer for you and output as a video. If you have that 3D cover above, then you can upload your short blurb and use their text-to-speech voices, as well as background music to create a nice, short video. Such a video can be used on your Gumroad book sales page to promote your book.
See an example here: https://store.livingsensical.com/l/SSC-Giveaway
I use Rurmble.com for video hosting.
Draft2Digital also creates and distributes your print on demand paperbacks as well. This can be as simple as building from your ebook with an additional 15-minute step, and they take care of the formatting - just like the digital version.
Findaway (recently acquired by Spotify) can be accessed through D2D to get your audio book up there.
Courses for non-fiction books can be hosted on Gumroad, as well as memberships.
How Long This All Takes
Yes, I've been doing this for years, and I've gone through so many learning-curve processes that it's not funny. Still, once you get the main areas worked out, it streamlines down.
Right now, I can generate a 6,000 - 8,000 word short story with cover and blurb in about two days. And have it revised and proofed during that time. (That process is the subject of a later set of posts.) Publishing it will take another half-day (an afternoon) to get the extras like the 3D graphic and video trailer generated. D2D then sends it out to well over a dozen major book outlets.
That's two and a half days to both write and publish a book.
Oddly, when I collect up several books as part of a series, it only takes less than a day for the whole process of publishing them.
And that includes publishing a paperback at the same time. (These need to be at least 64 pages long for Draft2Digital POD. Or about 24,000 words.) The 3D cover is part ot that - and that new book trailer might take another hour.
You'll also note that you can get started with little or no monetary investment - it won't cost you much if anything to get started. Sure, videos and audio books are the next step up - but the above will get you going in that direction for nearly no cost.
This means you can produce books faster (and with less cost) than ever before - and spend the bulk of your time the creative process itself, instead of burning your time in wrestling through the self-publishing process.
Best of luck to you.