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Self-publishing; What I learned

I will start right here by stating that I am not going to guarantee you’ll retire from self-publishing your own books (ex: How to Make $7K Every Month Self-Publishing), but I can say this . . . with a solid story idea, and the dedication to work through promotion, I believe you can open up to your own creativity. Who knows; you may even earn a meaningful yearly income from eBooks and/or printed books.

I have always loved to read (my dream job would be a full-time author) and in 2020 I was struck with an idea for a short story that wouldn’t give up. I wrote it, and set up this web page, using Wix tutorials, and a Facebook page to match. The story was well received by the handful of people who read it, and their encouragement moved me onto a second chapter, and then a third. You can read all about it HERE.

There are so many misconceptions about how difficult self-publishing is, so I am here to share my journey from story idea to sales.

(Also it is really hard to come up with blog ideas that are interesting, informative and not-wanky.)

Why self-publish? Because it’s a legit business model, dammit. Let’s explore.

Traditional publishing looks super glamorous. Book tours. National TV appearances. Lovely and large royalty advances. A publisher going crazy over you and catering to your every whim.

Nothing to do but turn in a manuscript and all the layout, design, promotion, and sales will be taken care of for you. Ballin’. Money rollin’ on in.

Wrong! My research told me to expect lots of rejection letters and accept a small advance if I was lucky. It sounded very likely that I would have to do a lot of my own promotion, and tours and crazy publicity opportunities seemed unlikely in 2020. Thanks Rona.

Also. The ballin’? Please let me break down the numbers for us.

The reality of profits in self-publishing vs. traditional.

As a new author, if you get a $12,000 royalty advance, you’re doing well. And that’s a beautiful thing, getting $12,000 dollars all at once for your hard work of writing a book. Yay. Money in the bank 💰.

Note: I learned that typically, advances aren’t paid out all at once like people think they are. You might get 1/2 on signing and 1/2 on approval of your book. Or, you may get 1/3 when you sign the contract, 1/3 when you submit your book to your publisher, and 1/3 when your book is published.

But. Either way. That $12,000 is a royalty advance. Meaning you won’t make another cent off of your book until you earn that $12,000 back in your royalties (which are a percentage of the book’s price or your publishing company’s profits).

Thanks to the interwebs I looked at examples, such as a soft cover book that sells for $20, like The Clothesline. If my imaginary publishing company gave the standard 7.5% royalty, then I’d make approximately $1.50 per book.

I’d need to sell 8,000 copies of my book to pay the publishing company back that advance. That shook me…

Those who know me also know that patience is not something I’m good at. I wanted (and still want!) to write the stories, refine them into something that people enjoy reading and then play around on Canva designing cute covers.

I want to read other books, travel, faff about on social media AND get all opinion-y on this blog. I don’t want to beg a business to publish me, represent me or even stock me. (By me, I mean my books… assuming there’ll be more than one 😊)

That’s why I chose self-publishing as my business model.

I’m not really suited for the fame and reach that traditional publishing can offer, (even if it was on offer… although “Hi Hollywood. The Clothesline would make a brilliant edgy of-the-times movie blockbuster. Call me!”)

But this post is for those of you who want to use self-published printed books (pBooks) as a business model and way for you to make part or all of your living, as I hope to do.

I started writing The Clothesline in March 2020, and launched it for sale on September 1. I am writing this blog post at the end of September so no one is going to mistake me for an expert. Hell, I’m barely a writer at this stage, but regardless here is what I did and with who, for anyone wanting to follow along at home. Just remember I love to read so if this helps anyone get published flick me a copy!


Step 0: Build a Platform

For me my Facebook and Instagram ( @kristaschadewriter) pages came into fruition around the same time as my book was published. I launched FB first and did some pre-publication promo. I enjoy FB because I use it myself and I use Facebook Pages Manager to schedule posts when needed. I share stuff about my book, and anything else that I think may interest those on my page.

My website came next and I chose Wix because I find it easy to use and set-up. I am still using their domain name but have purchased my own, and will get around to upgrading to a grown up, adult website name soon (ish).

After that I launched an Instagram page, and I try to keep the content of FB and Inst different, so as not to bore those who follow me on both (Person opinion only but I find it tedious if I switch platforms, and re-read stuff I’ve already seen). I find Insta is really (like REALLY) good for checking out other writers, authors, publishers and creatives and I follow a tonne of hashtags, such as #AustralianAuthor #DebutNovel and #TheClothesline (ha!). Following hashtags has led me to a lot of interesting people and businesses to follow, and learn from.

I don’t do much on TikTok but I am fiddling around with their filters and video creation options, which I then save and upload to FB or Insta. I’m certain that isn’t what TikTok is actually for, but, meh.

My newsletter game is lame af. I know I need to build it – and I will – but that one is taking time. I find it hard to coax people to sign up and the pressure to put out a regular missive is real. I have chosen to use MailerLite and I had a practice run contacting regional book shops, but haven’t had much success … Yet! I will get better.

According to the experts, the newsletter is my way to keep a connection to a reader or fan (gasp!) because it is owned and operated solely by me. It is not at the mercy of Mr Z, who can – at any time, mind you – shut down any FB or Insta page. So it is kind of a necessity and I will get onto it.


Step 1: Your Book

This process will be different for every single writer, no matter what the project, so I’m not going to spend much time here.

For me, I loosely plot out the entire book, making notes on what happens when and to whom. I write a paragraph or so on each main character, such as their name, age and purpose to the story. If they are inspired by anyone, I jot that down too (but won’t ever tell!) Let me tell you, the hardest part is finding the perfect name to suit my characters and I agonise over it. I have a page of notes in my phone and when I hear a great name (like Aunty Fern Morgan) I jot it down to use later.

For me, it is a variation of the Snowflake Method, that I read about some years ago, and printed to keep in my desk drawer. I like to concept of the story building, and often this happens when I am travelling alone. To avoid spearing off the edge of the highway in the Australian outback somewhere, I use Siri as my personal assistant, and record ideas, phrases I have in my head or bits of dialogue.

Fun Fact: At the end of each voice recording I say “And I promise not to cringe when I listen back to this.” The disclaimer fails.

I write each chapter on Google Docs and use that editing tool to look for obvious typos. I tend to do a first edit on each chapter, then transfer it to a cumulative Word document. After running it through the word editing tool, that becomes my beta reader copy slash first draft.

My beta readers were my mum and two work mates, who had encouraged me on from the first chapter. I asked them to note any bits that weren’t easy to read and highlight any typos that slipped through the net. I also asked them to pick out any parts that they especially loved, or thought would be enticing and suitable for promotional material.

When I had their edits back, I did a final version, where I re-wrote some passages that they had struggled with and fixed bl*ody typos.

Step 2: The Publishing Part

Ingram Spark was recommended to me by a new-to-the-family member and I have found it an easy process. You’ll need to set up your account and download, sign and upload a bunch of US taxation forms, regardless of where you live.

In Australia you’ll need an Australian Business Number (ABN) which you can apply for online, and for free. Don’t get caught on one of those websites that charge you – it’s really not that hard.

You’ll also need “ISBNs” – the International Standard Book Number. This is the address for your book in the world and you can buy direct from Thorpe-Bowker. I have a few projects on the go, so I bought a block of 10 numbers for $88 (Pricing – AU September 2020). The numbers were emailed to me, and I used an online barcode generator, which I saved as a jpeg and added to my print book cover. I cannot remember which website I used, but there are literally hundreds available online. I didn’t include pricing info in the code, so prices can change, and I keep all 10 numbers in a spreadsheet, so I no which ones have been used, and where, and which are still free for me to use.

You will need separate ISBNs for eBook and print books, so The Clothesline used up two of the 10 I purchased. Obviously, an eBook doesn’t need a barcode, because it won’t be scanned in a shop. (I realised that after…)

Using Ingram Spark it costs $25 to create an eBook, $49 for a print book or $49 for both (Pricing – AU September 2020). I’m a sucker for a deal so I chose to publish in both formats. Ingram Spark has a lot of really informative tools and guides, and it does seem daunting at first, so this step did take some time, and to be honest, the formatting on the print book could be improved, but I figure it’s already on sale, so I’ll improve in #2.

eBooks are a little tricky, and you need to create your PDF version somewhere other than Word, because it just doesn’t work. I used Cute PDF, which is free online. You’ll need to remove any page numbers or headers that you used for you print version, and take care to embed your fonts. Ingram Spark has info about this too, so don’t stress. I then used Online Converter to save into epub format.

I created the front and rear cover as a wrap around as my novella didn’t give me a weighty spine and I used Canva. I have the Pro version because it opens up a lot more graphics but the free version is great as well. Ingram Spark has an Excel tool that calculates you cover size, depending on page numbers, so don’t (like me) race ahead and design a cover that then won’t fit. D’oh.

Covers and interiors are uploaded separately, Ingram Spark then checks for errors and you’re away. You have control over pricing internationally, and your publication dates.

Ingram Spark distributes to major retails and wholesalers, so in just a few clicks I was listed with the kind of retailers I have spent so much moola with in the past. It is a special kind of thrill to search your own name on Amazon or Booktopia and have your book appear 😊

Step 3: Sell Your Book

Your author portal also allows you to purchase copies, and I ordered 10 for family and friends. Then my daughter offered to sell the books in her salon in our town, so I ordered another 20. My local newspaper and bookstore ordered 10, so I had those ones shipped directly to their office. My daughter sold out, so I have ordered another box.

Retail outlets can order directly from Ingram Spark, and receive a hefty discount on the recommended retail price, but feedback so far has been that it quite a process for them. I don’t want people put off by a difficult process, so I am going to re-contact bookshops and offer to sell them via me instead.

I still have a lot of work to do on promotion, and I am in the middle of designing some flyers for retails outlets to use, and I plan to purchase them in A4 and A3 size from Vistaprint. I have used VistaPrint many times and have always been happy with their products.

So, what’s the verdict, might you try publishing a book of your own?

If this wandering post has been useful let me know, either via my socials or you can send a message on this website and join my mailing list. At some stage – soon? – a newsletter will happen.

Promise x

NB - I have no relationship with any of the businesses named, except as a customer, and received no affiliate payment for including their links. I am, however, not too proud to get involved in affiliate programs! If this interests you, email me :)

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Very interesting. So much involved, well done.x

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