How to Self-Publish a Novel Using Leanpub

For years Leanpub has offered a powerful way to write and self-publish that has appealed to people writing technical or programming books.

Earlier in 2017, we released a new writing feature intended specifically for people writing novels. It’s called our Visual Editor and you can read about it here.

In this post I’m going to set out how you can use that feature to write a novel and self-publish it on the Leanpub bookstore, as well as using it to produce the files you’ll need to self-publish on the major book distribution channels, like Amazon and iBooks.

This post is long because I’m going to go into some detail to prevent anyone from hitting any unnecessary blockers, but the process is actually dead simple, because you use one easy tool to write your book, format it automatically, and get the files you need to sell both an ebook and a print book using platforms like Amazon, Lulu, iBooks, and Smashwords.

- Len

Create A New Book

Go to, give your novel a title and select a URL for its Leanpub landing page. I recommend choosing a short URL.

Our Visual Editor mode will be selected by default, so you can just go ahead and select the Fiction book style.

Next you’ll need to fill in your payment information. It currently costs $99 to create a Leanpub book. We made the decision to start charging just over a year ago and we think Leanpub’s worth it. We spelled out why in a very long wall-of-text post here:

Just like you can get a refund for any Leanpub book you buy within 45 days of purchase, you can get a refund if you pay to create your own book and decide Leanpub’s not right for you.

Start Writing

As soon as you create your book you will be taken to our Visual Editor and you will see some default content. This is where you will write your novel.

Our Visual Editor is very opinionated. Here is a complete set of writing options:

  • chapters
  • sections
  • subsections
  • paragraphs
  • scene breaks
  • italics

You can find some formatting options in the Book Theme section of our Book Tools menu, which you’ll see in the next step when we upload a cover, but what I’ve listed above is all you can do here. That’s because it’s all you need for a conventionally-formatted novel.

To start writing, select all the text you see and hit delete. Now all you have to do is start typing, or paste in your text if you’ve already started writing elsewhere.

I pasted in my first chapter. Here’s what it looks like in the Visual Editor:

Upload a Cover

To upload a cover, click on the word “Menu” at the top left of the Visual Editor. You’ll be shown some options, including the ability to navigate to the other default chapters we provide when you create a new book, and a + button you can use to add your own new chapters.

Click on the “Overview” option to go to your Book Tools.

Click “Upload Book Cover” near the top of the menu on the left.

Here we automatically show you the details you’ll need to create your cover image based on the Book Style you’ve chosen.

To upload your cover, click on “Choose File,” select the the file on your computer and click the blue “Update Cover Page” button.

Create a Preview

With a cover uploaded and a chapter already started, it’s time to generate a “preview” copy of your book — a private copy of your novel just for you to review from time to time as you write.

In your Book Tools menu on the left, click on “Preview”.

Click the blue “Create Preview” button, and your book will generate in PDF, EPUB (for services like iBooks and Smashwords), and MOBI (for Amazon). You’ll also see an option to read online.

Here are download links for the previews I created while writing this post:

Customize Your Novel’s Web Page

If you look at the top left, above your Book Tools menu, you’ll see your cover (you can see this in the previous screenshot). Click on it to go to your novel’s landing page.

As you can see, Leanpub has already created a landing page for your book where people can sign up to be notified when your book is published.

One of the most important aspects of self-publishing is of course marketing. Using Leanpub, even before you’ve written a word, you can use this landing page to start directing readers to your novel. Interested readers can choose to share their email address with you so you can build a list, and yet not lose the ability to contact people who don’t want to opt in to disclosing their address.

To customize your landing page, go back in your browser to return to your Book Tools, click on “Book Web Page” and then select “About The Book.”

Here, you can add information about your book that will appear on your landing page and let readers know more about your novel.

You will also want to add personal or professional information and an avatar to your author profile, which you can do here:

Pro Tip: If you write your novel on Leanpub, that does not mean you have to publish your novel on Leanpub. Instead, you can simply use Leanpub to write and create the files you need to take your novel over to Amazon, iBooks, Smashwords, or anywhere else you want to sell your book when it’s complete.
If you don’t want a landing page on Leanpub because you only want to use Leanpub to write and create your ebook files, you can put your book in “Stealth Mode” by clicking on the “Admin” option at the bottom of the Book Tools menu and selecting “Stealth Mode.”

Write Your Book and Market It at the Same Time

As you can see from our Book Tools menu, we have a lot more features than I’m showing in this bare-bones post, but at this point you’ve done all you really need to do to get writing and market your book at the same time, sending eyeballs to your landing page where people can sign up to be notified when you hit the publish button.

Optionally Publish Your Book on Leanpub and Sell It While You Write

If you are going to sell your book on Leanpub’s bookstore, once you’ve got a couple of chapters written, you can start publishing and selling it by clicking a single button. Every time you want to publish a new version, you just hit that publish button again, and the new version will be made for sale on your landing page. It will also be made available to everyone who has already bought your book on Leanpub.

To publish your book and sell it on the Leanpub bookstore, click “Publish Your Book” in your Book Tools menu.

Scroll to the bottom and click the blue “Publish Book” button.

The first time you hit this button, all the people who signed up to be notified will get an email. You can include a message to them if you type one into the “Release Notes” box above the button.

When you click this button again in the future — perhaps after you have added a new chapter or just fixed a typo — no one will be emailed unless you add Release Notes. To avoid spamming your readers, we recommend only adding Release Notes when you are publishing some meaningful new content.

It may seem straightforward, but this ability to easily keep in touch with your readers as you write your novel — including those who have not shared their email address with you — is a very powerful self-publishing feature pretty much unique to Leanpub as far as I know. (If I’m wrong, please correct me in the comments.)

Pro Tip: There is an unresolved debate in the self-publishing world about whether or not you should put all your eggs in one basket — that is, should you put your book in just one distribution channel and focus all your marketing efforts there, or should you use multiple distribution channels?
Using Leanpub, you can adopt a “hybrid baskets” strategy as follows:
1) Set up a landing page for your novel before you start writing
2) Build a list of interested readers before you publish your first chapter
3) Publish your novel on Leanpub serially, as you write it
4) “Unpublish” your novel from Leanpub when it’s completed and you’re ready to put it up on Amazon and focus all your attention there. (All your Leanpub readers will of course still keep their copies of your completed novel in their Leanpub Library.)

Export Your Book and Upload It to Other Services

When you’re done writing your novel, you can use our Export feature to generate the files you’ll need.

In your Book Tools menu, click on “Export” and then “Unbranded Ebook.”

Click the blue “Create Export” button.

Now you will see download links for ebook files that do not contain pages with any Leanpub-related information, like the “Other Books By This Author” feature that you can use to automatically create a page in your book with a list of other books you have published on Leanpub.

If you want to export a print-ready PDF file to upload to a service that will allow you to sell print copies of your book, like CreateSpace or Lulu, click on “Print-Ready PDF,” which you’ll find just under “Unbranded Ebook.”

This battle-tested page is pretty big as there are a few settings you need to tweak to get the file to fit the requirements of whatever service you’re uploading to.

When you’re ready, click the blue button at the bottom of the page to generate your print-ready PDF file.

When our book generators are done, you’ll see a download link to the file at the top of the page.

Below are some links to places where you can upload the book files you generated on Leanpub, so you can sell your novel through all the big famous platforms.

Please note this list does not represent an endorsement or even really a recommendation. These are just some of the more well-known services available. There is a vast literature out there about how and where to sell self-published novels. I do recommend that you set aside some time to poke around and get to know the basic issues.
If you want to know my opinion, it is that you should experiment, and you should keep in mind that Leanpub pays a royalty of 90% minus 50 cents per sale, and provides you with the ability to easily update your book, contact readers, make coupons, use variable pricing — I’ll stop now.)


Producing a conventionally-formatted novel does not necessarily involve using all kinds of dedicated products, including complex word processing tools, and connecting them together in a complex toolchain.

With our simple Visual Editor plugged into our powerful platform, you can write and do almost everything you need to do to self-publish a novel with Leanpub alone. This makes Leanpub a great foundation for your self-publishing efforts through other bookstores and distribution services too.

Now that I’ve set out how to write and self-publish your novel using Leanpub, in a future post I’ll share some thoughts about how to use Leanpub strategically to sell self-published books.