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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!

  1. Alec Rowel says:

    I finished a (more or less) final draft of a (more or less) literary (more or less) YA book today. Seems to me that genre books–particularly Romance and SF&F are great bets for Self Publishing. I’ve been working on an SF series in a shared world w/my spouse (we’ve got a couple of unpublished novels finished, probably two more to be done within 6-8 months). I thoroughly expect I’ll end up on the Self Publishing route with those (unless a NY trad publisher drops unexpectedly from the heavens w/an unsolicited six figure offer).
    But–back to the literary YA novel. Although it’s organized/architected such that I can break out 8-to-10 chapters as independent short stories/novellas, I’m very nervous about trying to sell/promote it myself. My gut tells me it will be best as a NY-backed work. And that’s not just laziness and $ signs that suggests this route to me. I simply don’t see a lot of non-Romance, non-SF, non-Fantasy fiction work doing well in Self Publishing on Amazon (I’ve been following it since Jeff Bezos was a pup).
    Don’t get me wrong. I don’t trust; I don’t like; I’m frightened by the NY boys & girls. I’ve watched my wife’s heart broken time and time again over the past decades in almost getting contracts. Sometimes after extensive “must do then we’ll go with it” rewrites. I’m too old to mess with that crap.
    So…any advice?

    1. A.C. Melody says:

      Hi Alec, thank you so much for reading and commenting. It’s true that SF and Romance seem to have an easier time with self-publishing, but I wouldn’t count YA out completely. If you haven’t tried Goodreads, I would highly recommend to look for both Indie and non-Indie YA groups, read their discussions, research the author members to see how they’re doing or if they have any helpful tips on their blogs. I know there are several advocate groups for authors, but Goodreads seems to be the central hub where they all go to talk and share experiences or new discoveries – plus it’s free to sign up. Members are usually open to being messaged and asked questions or often have ongoing discussions where they answer questions.
      Another thing to look at is platform. Amazon is a good measure, but they’re not the only online retailer for self-published books. Some authors sell better on iBooks, Kobo or even Google Play. I’m not sure if you’ve researched the self-published YA sales on those, but there could be a difference to Amazon.
      Unfortunately, I don’t have any experience with YA books, but I do know there’s a huge readership for YA in general and you’d be surprised at how many more marketing sites except YA over Romance. Hope this helps!

  2. David says:

    Well done. Great overview of your latest progress.

    1. A.C. Melody says:

      Thank you, David.

  3. Jim JW-Webb author says:

    Great blog– similar journey. A ton of marketing mistakes before discovering Nick S, Joanna P, and Mark D. Good luck!

    1. A.C. Melody says:

      Thank you, Jim! Yes, Joanna Penn has a well of resource links for writers on her site and that’s where I first saw the phrase “hybrid author.” Until then, I hadn’t even known it was an option. They’re all remarkably helpful!

  4. Jonathan Gunson says:

    What an extremely interesting journey.
    I notice you mention finding the right editor; Well, I’m never precious about my work, so when I’ve done a first draft I’m happy with, I send it off to the editor IMMEDIATELY. I can’t wait to send it. Editors are GODS! they bring a whole new level to the work.

    1. A.C. Melody says:

      Thank you, Jonathan, it has been quite interesting. A lot of learning in hindsight! I didn’t know I had a not-so-good editor with my ePub, until I found the editor I use for my Self-pub’d books and I completely agree – when they’re good at what they do – they are divine!

  5. Jenna Hodges says:

    The biggest disappointment for me working with digital-first romance publishers is the minimal marketing. Not that I don’t get anything, but it’s not as much as I’d expected my books would be given.
    That said, I’m not unhappy with my experiences. I continue to work with two romance digital-firsts even as I am putting together my first self-published novel. To others considering these publishers (and who simply don’t have the money for even rock-bottom prices), I definitely second ‘do your research.’ We tend to be a friendly bunch. Find us on Facebook and message us, or email us through our websites, asking about our experiences (and I don’t mean the publisher’s big names – talk to the smaller fish like me, as the big names are treated differently). Look on the AbsoluteWrite forums, but don’t just read who people like and don’t. Read WHY. What bothers one person might not bother another at all. Example: one of my publishers doesn’t give you much advanced notice for your release date, and this is a deal breaker for some people. It’s not for me, but if you want a month’s notice of your release date in order to enjoy your publishing experience, this publisher probably isn’t for you.

    1. A.C. Melody says:

      Yes, exactly, the why is very important to know when trying to decide on how to publish, or which publisher to use, if any. Like the short notice on releases would probably be a no-go for me. It would really depend on how great their pros were, but like you said, some writers may not have an issue with it at all. It’s good to read about a different, more positive experience with the same kind of publishing, thank you for your comment, Jenna!

  6. Kenzie Michaels says:

    My ‘publishing horror story’ was my own fault; I didn’t do my homework. I was having issues getting my 2nd book published, and on the advice of a trusted acquaintance, signed the contract with the publisher she worked for. Several other acquaintances were published with this company, so I didn’t bother to investigate them.. HOWEVER…..a month after I signed, those authors began leaving the company, with no word. By now, I’d approved cover art, and waiting on my editor to contact me. I found out his name, but all email requests went unanswered. In the meantime, this publisher signed up for a takeover day on the Yahoo group I moderated. The authors seemed to keep asking the same questions, since they were spread out across the globe. In exasperation, I typed, in capital letters, the link to Time.Org, so everyone could synch their watches. When it came time for the chat, everyone seemed to have an overabundant amount of typos in their posts, which at first, I forgave, since I myself am not perfect when typing fast on a chat. But soon it became apparent there were language issues. The next day, I went to that publisher’s loop and requested my editor contact me, since the release date was coming up. I received word that he was NOT my publisher, and another had been assigned. She contacted me later that day and asked me to resend my document, which I did. I received edits a few days later…..and we clashed. I’d been blessed with a wonderful editor with my 1st publisher, and my new one seemed clueless. I decided to question her on a few of them, and compromised on others. Two in particular we had major issues. I even sent the passage to my 1st editor, to ask his opinion, and he told me I was right, and to not budge. The second I felt so strongly about, I told her I’d take the heat if anyone complained, and she left it alone. The book was released, and I know I sold many books, but never received any royalties. By now, I’d worked up the courage to ask the authors who’d left about WHY they had, and three apologized for getting me involved. That company had some shady practices, and authors weren’t being paid. I stopped promoting that book, reread my contract, and waited two years (in the meantime finding another publisher, plus publishing three more books with my 1st one). After two years were up, I copied/pasted the part of my contract about being released for low sales, and sent a very polite email, asking to be released. Later that day, I received a cordial email granting my request…..I promptly resent my ORIGINAL manuscript for that book to my new publisher, along with the saga and the stipulation the book could not be released until at least four months from X date, and as soon as that date was up, we started to re-edit the book, which went a lot faster, since my new editor loved the story and made only minimal changes. That book was re-pubbed exactly 6 weeks after the four-month ‘quarantine’. Publisher X went out of business approximately one year later.

    Unfortunately, Publisher C and A went out of business in 2015 and 16, and I’m back to being self-published, with two books with two other publishers. Publisher D, because I had a book already for publication when C closed, and wanted it released ASAP, and last year Publisher E repubbed one of my orphaned books. They were going to repubb 4 of my novellas also, but that fell through last month, to my immense relief, since I found out too late they don’t let authors approve final cover art. I wasn’t happy with the covers they used, and nearly didn’t sign, but when the print version fell through, and I told them it was the express reason I’d gone with them, they released me from that particular contract.

    1. A.C. Melody says:

      Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that, Kenzie, what a tough situation. I’m glad you were able to get your rights back and get those books republished the way you wanted, though. I also didn’t do my homework with my ePub, so you’re not alone in that hindsight kind of lesson. My ePub didn’t end up being that horrible of a shady operation, I get my royalties no problems, but they don’t have any author friendly clauses in their contracts to warrant reverting rights, so I am quite legally stuck with them until they close for business.
      I hope your self-publishing and two other publishers do well for you, thank you for sharing your horror story. Best of luck!

  7. Amy B Wells says:

    I’ve never been tempted by traditional publishing, but the hardest part about self-publishing is not knowing what to believe when others give you advice. And not knowing whether the people giving said advice know what they’re talking about. So you still end up circling around until you figure it out yourself. Still working on it. I published my own books a year ago (five novels), and had the most awful covers you can imagine! NO sales! Changed the covers: much better. Have an email list of 2500 and working toward more. My end goal is to be able to sell directly on my own website as well as on Amazon and through other distributors. I’m obsessed with this goal!

    1. A.C. Melody says:

      Oh, you’re absolutely right, Amy. Advice can be very tricky and often misleading and it doesn’t even have to be purposely misleading, just individual experiences that don’t pan out for others. It really can take going through the trial and errors on your own to get the best results for your books, and it’s a good thing to have that experience even if it can be frustrating. You have a great email list built up and an admirable goal, I wish you the best seeing it come together! Thank you for commenting!

  8. Rajaratnam Abel says:

    I am from India. I published my first book as digital through Amazon. From time to I did get some royalties paid into my account. However, it was never close to what I had imagined. My email audience was different from the expected audience for the book. Plus my marketing was weak. With feedback from friends that the book was too long for young people, I revised and made it shorter and entered into an agreement with a self-publisher. I chose a US publisher as a large proportion of my potential audience was from the US. With book priced in US Dollars, I could not market it in India. Having taken a number of years with my first book, as soon as it was ready, it was distributed, without any marketing promotion. I don’t need to explain further my failures. For every marketing promotion, they wanted money, which, I did not have. My marketing was a flop. I suspected some shady deals by the POD printer as reported by Better Business Bureau, although I would like to take the blame for poor marketing from my side. I got one cheque for 14 books sold. The cheque was dropped in my open mailbox on my gate. I requested a net transfer. They declined. I terminated the contract. My last payment arrived as another cheque. I deposited in my bank. After a few days they returned the cheque saying that the amount was so low, it would not even cover the bank charges. In the meantime, I have submitted my second book to a up and coming traditional publisher in India. I did not do due check on their background, as I am a consultant to their parent organization. The process is slow, but we are moving ahead. After my first experience, I am not unduly worried about the delay, as we have a friendly relationship. Their quality may not be global level. But I am able to interact and work with them. In the meantime, I have been able to build my platform. Thanks for all your insights into the choices authors have to make.

    1. A.C. Melody says:

      You’re welcome, Rajaratnam and thank you for commenting! I hope your latest publisher does much better for you and your book than you experienced before.

  9. John says:

    Thanks, a really useful and timely article for me. Would your attitude change had the ePub company included marketing in what they do? I’ve had an offer that includes this, and I’m mulling it over this week. Thanks!

    1. A.C. Melody says:

      Hi John, that’s a good question and I think maybe it would have a little, but my biggest problem with my ePub was the timing. Waiting 3-4 years for them to publish a book after I’d signed a contract for it. I was struggling to building a readership with no new books coming out for the unforeseeable future.
      I would sincerely make sure that there is a time lapse or low sales clause in your contract that would revert rights back to you for one of those reasons. My biggest mistake was signing a contract with not reversion of rights clauses and my ePub refuses to release my rights back to me even for books they’ve had for 5 years which don’t sell. Good luck!

  10. Felicia Denise says:

    “The bottom line is, a publishing contract will never guarantee book sales.”
    That statement is spot on! I’ve met so many authors who jumped for joy when they signed publishing contracts, but months later they were disillusioned and angry as their books went nowhere.
    Some continue on the query-road, but several turned to self-publishing and are much happier… and selling books!
    Good in-depth look at multiple roads to publishing, AC! 👍

    1. A.C. Melody says:

      That was exactly me! I was too excited to get a contract to pay attention to what was missing from it. At the time, I was of the old school mindset still that I wasn’t a published author until someone in the industry told me I was. I can’t say that I don’t regret signing those contracts, but I don’t regret getting the experience. Had the wizard behind the curtain lived up to the hype, I might never have self-published and I’d have missed this entire adventure and all the people I’ve met along the way. Thanks for the comment, Felicia!

  11. Marina Costa says:

    I have published three novels up to now. Two others and a short stories anthology will follow soon, almost certainly all three to appear this year. I published with small indie presses, because this is what I have the possibility in the current book market conditions in my country. Many writers more seasoned than me published with the same two indie presses, so I am in good company. (And they aren’t vanity presses, printing and dumping the books in your arms. No, they assure launching events, participation at fairs, the collaboration of literary critics, etc.) But again, it doesn’t mean they really have marketing team – almost all the marketing is up to me.

    I am glad that I have started to become a little known among the contemporary writers in my city. If one googles my pen name (despite being quite common internationally) one can find something about one of my novels too. If googling the titles, there are few information about them, but they are, reviews and photos. I had good reviews from the literary critics at the book presentation events, I had my novels displayed at the bi-annual International Book Fairs… all these are successes for a junior writer, with only 3 novels published up to now.

    What’s more important as a success, is the fact that I have a senior writer’s support to get in the National Writers’ Union (union as in professional association, not what you understand generally by trade Union and we call Syndicates, which is work regulation-related.) It will happen, most likely, in 2019, after I get the required number of publications. My publishers also support this endeavour, and they will rally enough literary critics to get the required recommendations portfolio until then. (It has started building already).

    It sounds lovely, but…I have frustrations too.. And this comes with the warning that my national book market, unfortunately, doesn’t ressemble the English speaking books market, so most of the book marketing ideas I find online, in English speaking blogs, unfortunately do not apply. E-books, which seem to be the most popular in English speaking markets, and for whose promotion is most of the advice, here are almost not sought at all (and if sought, for free – torrents &co.) Paper books are the only option here.

    While the English speaking market is catering to nearly one billion people (there were, in Internet statistics, 400 million native speakers of English, to which to add 400 million speakers of English as a second language, in 2006, and I assume the population has increased in 12 years), the overall population of Romania was of 19.5 million people, out of which about 4 million are abroad, about 3 million too young to read my novels (below 14)… and from the remaining 12.5 million, about 40% or more are poor, too busy to survive and not reading anything else than an occasional newspaper or religious book. Sad, but true. Of course, from the remaining people who would read in principle (some regularly, some occasionally) not all are fans of historical adventures fiction/ YA, what I am writing. This is a realistic analysis.

    As far as I heard the publishers say (not only personally to me, but also in interviews on the internet) – and we have our “big fives” here too, plus a whole constellation of small indie presses (the equivalent of self publishing would be here dealing directly with the printing house without a publisher, which is recommended only for professional books which have already the distribution ensured, e.g. the ones published within a project, or for people who print one memoir book in their lives to give to 50-100 people, not needing ISBN or anything), in my country a book (written by a contemporary national writer, not translations of international bestsellers and not books required for school reading like our classics) printed in 1,000 copies is already considered a best seller. My novels were, 2 of them published in 200 copies, the first one in 300. It is the level generally the writers around me use.

    I have sold some, but the greatest amount was given freely. Now, to be honest, I knew from the start that I wouldn’t get rich from writing. I did it from my heart, and I loved when I received compliments about the books (not only from the critics, I appreciate more the readers’ compliments and questions, even if I know the critics’ are of importance for the accession to the Writers’ Union). This is when I felt they got their mission, to brighten someone’s day and to transport them to another time and place, offering them an insight on that way of living. But I would have appreciated if I succeeded to recover my costs. Some writers know business owners and get sponsors. (I had sponsors too, back in 1999, for my professional handbook in project management). I don’t know influent people who would be able to sponsor me, every cost is supported from my meagre savings (given that I am retired now). Yes, I sold books at various events… but the money received covered the expenses of the event, with very little margin (if any).

    My main frustration is that I can’t reach exactly my target group, the high-school and Uni youngsters. Until now, my novels were bought mostly by grown-up or older people who were nostalgic about the style of novels they use to read, because these were the ones coming to the literary events.

    I had also two interviews in English about my novels and one other would come soon, but I can’t reach my national book review bloggers, despite having seen some other writers getting several reviews. It’s not about the novels’ quality, it’s about whom you know in the field… and I don’t. Or, at least, not yet – I am still working on it. And praying for a bit of good luck.

    …And everything needs more money. Half, I understand this as in the fact that if I try to expand my marketing network, this doesn’t come for free because this is what those people gain their living from – organising things. I understand that some reviews/ forewords/ have a price too, because those critics are famous and listened to, on one side, and on the other side, this is what they are gaining their living from. In the rare cases when I made reviews (I hate making reviews, but I consider that if some people spoke in favour of my books at my launchings, I have to give it back to the writers’ community and do it whenever needed from me), I made them from the moral spirit expressed above, and it wouldn’t have occurred to me to ask for any benefit. (Well, I received the book free from the publisher in exchange of the review). I am lucky that I don’t have to pay my beta-reader/ first editor, because many people have to do it too. She does it from friendship, for free, and I am grateful to her.

    But in a world which wouldn’t function as upside down as it does, the writer should be allowed to write – like it was before the ascension of social media – and the others should do the marketing part. I am sure that Hemingway, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas weren’t the ones to do much more than writing. Yes, they received their money after the books were sold, but nobody asked them money for publishing, for book launching events organisation and other things. Or, if now shedding money is a must because there are too many books published and no publisher assumes the economic risks anymore in this crisis economy, at least they should want the money from the sales! Not before recovering the costs…

    One would say fame has a price. But I still have the feeling that things aren’t how they should be in this world…

    1. Jonathan Gunson says:

      What an amazing story Marina.
      I’m wondering given the tiny size of your market you could get a local sponsor for your work, or a grant, or even a patron for your books. Maybe they could be translated into English? (Not that expensive.) Then you could sell them on Amazon in the UK & US.
      I live in New Zealand (Middle Earth where Peter Jackson filmed the Lord Of The Rings Movies. We have a population of 5 million, so I’m acutely aware of the issues you face. In my case I will sell internationally (in English) on Amazon. I’m writing a series for that pathway.
      One other thing; I hope you don’t ever pay to have your books published. No publisher who is a real publisher will ever ask you to do that. The risk is always on them, not you. If they do ask this, then they are just a printer no matter how much ‘marketing, events, fairs and publicity’ they promise.
      All the very best with your books.

  12. Marina Costa says:

    Unfortunately, no. Jonathan. Things are different in various countries and different standards apply. (And yes, you are lucky to have English as mother tongue 🙂 )

    Here even writers with 20+ years membership in the National Writers’ Union and with lots of books published, they mostly pay the publishing costs, for having the books published. Maybe the few really big publishing houses wouldn’t require it, but they publish almost only international authors translated. Things they are sure they will be sold. The other writers are left with indie publishers, small presses who don’t have the financial capacity to take risks in these times of economic crisis.

    The two publishing houses where I published my books are, each of them, 3 people teams. They do graphics, editing, everything needed, including promotion. They have the right connections with good printing houses, writers, literary critics and book fairs presence. literary museum presence, etc. in order to be able to organise book-presentation literary events of various kinds. (And yes, I had several events with my first two books – the third is too recent, for the moment just had the official launching in late April, and in late May the International Book Fair will come, where my books have a presence too.

    One of the publishing houses has a 18 years presence in the literature and can boast with having published plenty of famous authors, and also to have supported debutants like me and many others. The other one is newer, but also set on promoting both consecrated writers, members of the National Writers’ Union, and debutants. They are definitely no vanity presses, helping their best with book promotion on various ways, but this doesn’t mean that they are able to take any financial risk. Bancrupcy can happen too quickly here, on an unstable market and with high fiscality (strangely regulated) – I am not talking only books now, but any small and medium enterprise.

    1. Jonathan Gunson says:

      Sounds like you have the measure of it Marina. All the best of luck with your books.

  13. Steve says:

    You have just made my year, Marina!!!!! Not only with your advice, but primarily with the steer towards, Deranged Doctor Design. Thank you so much. These are the people who will do my cover, I know. Looking at their website was a revelation. I’ve been stuck wondering how to proceed and you have solved the problem. So grateful 🙂

    1. A.C. Melody says:

      🙂 Well, I’m not Marina, she was one of the other commenters, but I am so happy to hear that my article helped and that you’ll be using DDD for your cover, I just love their work! They are the only designer I use when I don’t make my own covers, so I’m glad to turn other authors onto their business. I hope you have just as much luck with them as I have. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  14. Steve says:

    Hi, AC. So sorry to get you muddled up… I was so smitten, enthusiasm must have overwhelmed sanity. I thank you sincerely for setting me off in a direction I feel will pay dividends. 🙂 And great good fortune for your future and all that entails.

    1. A.C. Melody says:

      No worries, Steve, I’ve done the same thing before for the same enthusiastic reason – it can be difficult finding the right tools or sites, so I’m honestly just glad you found something in my article to help with your book. Thank you for the well wishes, I hope the same for you! 🙂

  15. Chloe Tzang says:

    Thanks for an interesting article. My own experience with an indie e-publisher has been great. They approached me (no me trying to sell my writing) after reading some of my “learning curve” stories on a website. After checking on them with a couple of authors who I knew published through them, I wrote a short story for them for an anthology, then signed to do 2 novellas, the first of which is now up on Amazon and which we’ve agreed to turn into a trilogy. They’ve been extremely helpful with the editing, the cover art has been free (to me) and great. A little marketing from them via their own website, through their author network and on different websites. Overall, it’s been a great experience and I found your article so helpful in thinking about the next steps I should be taking. Thanks a million for setting out your experiences so helpfully.

  16. Michelle says:

    I understand that to have a chance of getting into a bookstore you need an ISBN, and to get an ISBN, you need to be a publisher (or do you?). We are a nonprofit cancer organization that wants to publish a book but not start a new company as a publisher. Can we still get an ISBN just as an organization? Is there anything else that requires us to be a publisher beside getting an ISBN? Thank you.

    1. Hi MIchelle. Anyone can buy an ISBN or a set of them – that makes you a publisher straight away! In the US you can get them from Bowker and in the UK from Nielsen. If you’re using Amazon’s print-on-demand service (KDP), you can even use one of their ISBNs for free, though that then means Amazon is listed as the publisher, and other bookstores may not want to have anything to do with the book.

      (I wrote the post at this site about editing services that Nick linked to above.)

  17. Barbara says:

    I get the going indie. I quickly discovered that my books didn’t fit what the traditional guys wanted. They did me a favor. So I thumb my nose at them then use people like Nick and Derek and Author Media to learn and boy have I learned. The publishing houses have pushed those of us who do have something to write about into do it ourselves so we get the profits and hey loose. (Hey, if I’m going to be rejected, I’d rather get it from my readers than the publishing house. The book I can fix.)

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