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How to Self Publish – Tales from Both Sides of the Fence

Ever wondered which publishing route to go? Here's the lowdown...



by: A.C. Melody

The beginning of my writing journey isn’t unique. I started out much like all other aspiring writers; with a manuscript and big dreams, determined to take the book industry by storm. It was what followed that turned into something a bit more rare for this business.

On Mother’s Day of 2013, I received my first publishing contract after years of rejection. You bet, I jumped right on that opportunity without a second thought. The process of getting my first novel to publication was exciting and came about sooner than it could have.

Per my contracts, my publisher has up to 4 years to get my books to market, yet they got my first book out in just 18 months with no hassle. I even loved the first draft of my cover and never asked for changes. My first taste of disenchantment came at the very end, when I learned I would be responsible for all of my own marketing.

Yet, I was still happy and blissfully unaware that the experience had given me expectations which would never again be met.



After the publication date…

…for my second novel was repeatedly pushed out, I decided I’d wasted enough time. In June of 2016 – three years after signing that first contract – I became a hybrid. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean I’m half-alien or fuel efficient, as either of those would be epic. The term ‘hybrid’ describes an author who publishes more than one way. 

The publishing fence had always dissected three clear options in my mind: Traditional, ePublishing and Self-Publishing. Now, there was a fourth: Hybrid Publishing. My journey is in relation to the combination of ePublishing and Self-Publishing.

Unlike the scams known as Vanity Presses, who charge you to publish your books, an ePublisher is a legitimate company that deals strictly in eBooks, rather than paperbacks. Along with the allure of no upfront costs and no Literary Agent requirements,

I was drawn to getting 40% royalties where some Traditional Publishers won’t offer royalties to unknown writers, they only buy books outright for a set amount.

Many Traditional Publishers have since jumped on the ebook bandwagon and opened ePub options of their own, offering the same agent-free, royalty paid contracts. Harlequin, for example, has multiple ePubs that cover different genres. I know, because I’ve been rejected by them. See? You’re not alone.



While that makes ePubs sound like an attractive option…

I would caution that some of them have already gone out of business, and there’s a high risk more will follow. With the increasing number of Indie Authors making the USA and NY Times Bestsellers lists, the attitude toward Self-Publishing has shifted.

The previous negative stigmas attached to Independent Publishing have been being proven wrong – and not by those nameless superiors within the industry, but by consumers.

Readers don’t make their purchasing decisions based on whether or not you have a publishing contract.

I’m only mentioning this, because I feel it’s an important detail to weigh while making a publishing decision. A contract might seem prestigious and validating, but those things aren’t based on profit margins or readerships. The bottom line is, a publishing contract will never guarantee book sales.

In my experience, my Self-Published books not only sell better, they have triple or higher the amount of reviews, because they get ten times more exposure to readers. How and why, is where my story really begins…



When I started Hybrid-Publishing in 2016…

…it opened my eyes to all of the things a book has to go through just to get to market. My ePub experience had only exposed me to cover art, editing and marketing and while those are major things, they only scratch the surface. Self-Publishing gave me the chance to walk through each step and take note of the pertinent differences, those that effected my book’s success, like sales and exposure.

Toss in some mad observational skills, and it became clear that a writer’s publishing decision typically boils down to just two key factors: Cost and Control. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of those differences from my experience.

*Please note that not all ePubs are created equal. Other ePub’s services may differ.



As you can see, both sides have their share of pros and cons. From one side, a publishing contract sounds promising, because it’s all Free. From the other, you can see that ‘Free’ is at the cost of all your control. Rarely, are things that cut and dry, though, so allow me to break each step down with my detailed experiences to shed more light on the real differences.




With my ePublisher, I was assigned an editor for my genre, who was friendly and supportive. She never tried to alter my voice or style, but I later learned she was only experienced in one area of editing. Toward the end of her career, I was making more corrections and alterations than she was. This was largely in part to the massive time lapse between when I submitted my manuscript and when my ePub actually started working on it.

While my ePub was pushing my publication dates out, I was honing my craft and picking up crucial editing habits thanks to beta readers and my Indie editor. On top of that, my ePub has a tight publication schedule, so my editor was getting pressured from the higher-ups to hurry it along, because my book still had to be sent to the line editor, then onto publication.

We never had the time to polish my 3+ year old manuscripts to their shiniest potential, due to this rushed chaos.

And I’d like to say it was just with one or two books, but it has been the same procedure with all 5 of my contracted novels.

For my Self-Published books, I found my Indie advocate editor, Monique, on Goodreads. She offered to edit a sample of my work free of charge, so I could get a feel for her style, and we really clicked. She’s ridiculously inexpensive for how good she is, but the best part is how well we fit as a team and aside from cost, that is the most important thing to consider when you’re shopping around for an editor.

[Note from Nick: for more on how to work with editors (and what they do) check out our ultimate guide right here]

Though Monique is super fast with her editing, we don’t have any pressure to rush through the process, because we’re on my publication schedule, which is whenever my book is ready and not a second before.



Cover Art 

I’ve only had two really great experiences with the cover art department for my ePub, and those days are long gone. There’s no way to sugarcoat it, this is a bone of contention between us. I don’t think their covers are competitively marketable; they don’t think I get an opinion, because I’m not the one signing their paychecks. Unlike hiring an outside designer, my ePub artists know that I’m stuck in a contract and can’t take my business elsewhere, so they get really prickly when I want changes made.

One cover in particular was so horrendous, I ended up dedicating days combing through stock photo sites to fix it, even though that’s their job and the reason why they get 60% of my royalties.

I can’t even describe what it’s like to look at a book I wrote, filled with characters and moments I absolutely love and not feel a single ounce of joy, because of the cover.

For my Indie books, I have two DIY covers, though one hasn’t been revealed yet, and 4 custom, one-of-a-kind covers created by the best and most inexpensive designers you could ever find: Deranged Doctor Design. Every member of their team is brilliant, friendly and extremely easy to work with. I would recommend them to everyone.

When I was trying to find a suitable cover for my first Indie novella, I really had no money to spend. I couldn’t even afford a $45 pre-made cover. I found Derek Murphy, who has an entire website dedicated to DIY book covers with an extensive collection of video tutorials and articles on how to design best selling covers yourself, without skimping on the professional quality.

He even has a free online graphic designing tool with unique features you won’t find in many other programs. Not having any previous experience with graphic design, I took advantage of his video tutorials and was able to make my own cover for the cost of the stock photo. Fortune was in my favor at that time and I found a site that was having a new membership sale. My first DIY cover cost a total of a nickle to make. Yes, 5¢.



Interior Layout Formatting

My ePub does all of the interior formatting for my books, and they always turn out nice. There are no fancy embellishments, but they truss it up a little with fancier title fonts and the whole book is easy to ready, which is the important part.

I made the mistake of hiring someone to do the interior layout formatting for one of my first Indie novellas. I ended up spending $85 dollars for files I never used. There were no different fonts for title page, headings, etc., it was all the same boring font. So, I downloaded the free Smashwords Style Guide and did all of my own interior formatting. I still use that guide to this day, because it works for all retailers, including Amazon, though they also offer their own free style guide.

Paperbacks are not provided by my ePub, unless I become so popular that bookstores demand copies. For the Self-publisher, there are a couple of POD (Print On Demand) platforms available, some that charge a fee, like IngramSpark, and some that don’t, like Amazon’s beta print option through the KDP Dashboard, or their sister site CreateSpace.

I chose CreateSpace after researching the pros, cons and author testimonies.

There are countless free templates online for the interior formatting of paperbacks. CreateSpace offers some when you’re uploading books to their platform. Derek Murphy offers packages for the cost of signing up to his newsletter, which is no hardship. When I took three of my Indie novellas and put them into a box set, I went back to Deranged Doctor Design, because they’d created the original covers.

I could have saved money by doing my own interior layout formatting for both the eBook and paperback, but I wanted the same font and design element they’d used on the cover to be included in the interior formatting. Sometimes the cost is well worth getting exactly what you envisioned for your books. The best part, as an Indie published novel, it was all my choice to make.



So, that wraps up the largest portion of the Cost differences between having an ePublisher and Self-Publishing. Though Marketing is a major expense, it’s not provided by my ePub, so I’m responsible for advertising and promoting all of my books, regardless of how they’re published.

The rest of the steps have to do with Marketing Control, rather than creative control. The choices, freedoms and restrictions that enable books to actually sell in such a competitive marketplace. If you’re already here, on a Nick Stephenson site, then you might already be at this point either in your publishing process or at least in your research, which means you’re already off to a better start than I had.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the other factors:



Beta Readers

I had never heard of Beta Readers, until I started Self-Publishing. Author opinions vary, because everyone’s experience is different. I’ve been fortunate to have more positive results with betas, than negative. I’ve learned a lot, and honed my craft in ways I never would’ve thought of before, thanks to their invaluable feedback. I would recommend every writer give them a decent try.

While there are some betas who charge, there are more who don’t. I’ve never paid for a beta reader, because Goodreads has entire groups dedicated to beta reading for free. My ePub doesn’t give me the time to take advantage of beta readers. As a rule, you’re not supposed to give a beta reader a book until it’s completely edited and ready for market. My ePub doesn’t allow me to make any changes after the final line editing, so beta readers simply aren’t an option for my contracted books.


My ePub distributes my books to all of the major online retailers, plus sells them for a small discount on their own website. For my Indie novels, I started out uploading them to Smashwords, who then distributed them to all major online retailers, taking the hassle out of that process for me. After noticing that 99% of my sales were only happening on Amazon, I switched them over to the KDP Select program.

Now, I get paid for both downloaded purchases and pages read, while gaining more exposure through Kindle Unlimited members and the Lending Library. KDP Select is not an option for my contracted novels, as I have no control over where they get sold.



Pricing & Promotional Sales

One of the first things I noticed after publishing Indie, is that my ePub’s pricing is a little higher for the length of my novels ($4.99 for a 100,000 word novel), plus their lack of using any kind of promotional sales has resulted in low to no book sales and zero exposure. I asked my ePub editor once if they would be willing to mark my novel down for a limited time to boost sales. She said she’d ask, and never got back to me.

By enrolling my Indie books in the KDP Select program, I’m limited to which royalties they provide for their price brackets, but to stay competitive, I can’t just choose the higher royalty prices. I could, but my books would never sell.

It takes researching similar length novels in my genre to get the best pricing.

I could also have my own e-commerce enabled website to sell my books at 100% royalties to me. However, I’d have to remove my books from the KDP Select program, as it is an exclusive agreement. I might attempt that later on, even if it’s just to get the experience, because as a Self-Publisher, I could always change it back if I’m unhappy with the results.

When it comes to paperbacks, pricing is less controllable. There’s a minimum amount CreateSpace won’t allow me to go under, because that’s how much it will cost them to print my book. Again, I research the going price for similar length books in my genre to choose a competitive price. It’s advised that you try for the highest competitive price and then lower it, if that isn’t working too well.

The royalties offered for paperbacks is the difference between CreateSpace’s minimum price and the price I choose, rather than a percentage. Author copies are offered at a very nice discount.




As I mentioned, my ePublisher doesn’t cover marketing. They send my books out to their list of reviewers and occasionally mention me on their social media sites. Out of 5 books in 5 years, I’ve only ever received one review with their help.

Marketing can be expensive and is a lot of trial and error. I’ve used a few different book tour promoters, with prices ranging from $75 on up to $250 or more.

I also paid $45 for a Teaser graphic one time, then I found Pixabay and Canva, and now make all of my own graphics for free. As far as ads go, I only have experience advertising on Goodreads. My results were that it only paid for a little more exposure, which never resulted in any actual book sales or new reviews.

If getting added to a TBR (To Be Read) list for all eternity is your only goal, then Goodreads is a good start, but at $50 minimum for their cheapest ad, your money is probably better spent elsewhere. Other Indie Authors I know have had much better success using either Amazon or Facebook ads, and I will be trying those out next.



Keep On Learning

When I came across Nick Stephenson’s site and signed up for his free introductory videos, I learned about things I’d never considered vital to marketing before, like having an author newsletter, having a funnel book and using key words in the descriptions of my books on retail sites. I’m still in the process of implementing all of the things he covers, because it’s a lot, but each new step shows results.

The greatest part is that his site is always current with new methods he’s tried and found success with, so I know I’m not trying to apply old strategies which are no longer viable. The market trends are always evolving, but he’s on top of it, and I wish I’d known about his site from the start.

The industry will never seem more overwhelming than when you’re trying to market your books, and there’s no “Start Here” map to point you in the right direction, but that’s how I view Nick Stephenson’s site now that I’ve found it and will continue to put his methods to use with my own books.

[Note from Nick – as well as the videos linked above, check out this post for a simple way to start building a readership without spending a fortune on ads]



That’s it, readers. Two sides of publishing from one author’s experience. I can’t deny that I’m a much bigger fan of Self-Publishing, than having a contract. It used to be, going Indie could cost thousands of dollars, but every day more and more professionals from the “traditional sector” are offering their services to Indie authors at rock-bottom prices.

If you’re still planning to ePublish because of the no upfront cost it offers, some final friendly advice: Do your research of each company well. Not just how big the staff is, how their site looks, how often they release new books, but their authors. Do they have any best selling authors? Do their authors’ books sell, or get reviews?

Make sure the company appears to be up to date on all the current marketing trends, their cover art is from the 21st century and they have a decent presence on social media. Last but not least, don’t be afraid to let your voice shine, no matter which way you choose to publish. It’s intimidating, but not impossible to fight for your work and though it’s competitive, we’re not competitors.

The writing community is one of the largest and most supportive in existence. Find your tribe, achieve your dreams and then make those dreams work for your overall career goals. Best of luck to all!


A.C. Melody is a hybrid author of Erotic Romance and its many sub-genres. Confessed javaholic, introverted geeky girl with a twisted sense of humor and a wretched muse. A lifetime lover of Fairytales, Myths, Legends and ancient pantheons, she spends more time researching than writing. A.C.’s biggest goal is to provide new, captivating angles on old, favorite tales with very naughty twists and characters that redefine preset expectations. Find out more about Melody’s books right here.


And now we want to hear from you – what experiences have you had with different publishers or with self publishing? Would you ever try a different route? Let us know in the comments!

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