Thursday, January 30, 2014

Lessons Learned from Self-Publishing

By Julie Musil, @juliemusil

Part of the Indie Author Series

Wouldn’t it be grand if we could do things perfectly the first time? No bad first dates, no awkward photos, no bad hair days. The reality is, sometimes things work well the first time around—sometimes...not so much.

My YA novel, The Boy Who Loved Fire, recently made its way into the real world. *gulp* It’s now in the hands of readers, which is thrilling and terrifying at the same time. As I move on from this project to the next, I’m reflecting on what lessons I learned from the process. Today I’ll share with you two lists: what I did right, and what I could do better next time.

What did I do right?

Studied those who’ve gone before me:
I was an absolute rookie with no idea how to even begin. I searched for veterans of indie publishing, and soaked up their wisdom and expertise. In my opinion, the best place to start is Susan Kaye Quinn’s blog and her Indie Survival Guide. These resources gave me a starting point.

Hired a professional editor: My manuscript had been beta read. It had been edited twice by my agent. Still, I knew it wasn’t ready. I hired the fab editors at A Little Red, Inc. Bethany gave me a no-nonsense edit and helped me prep this book for prime time.

Hired a professional cover designer: Covers are so important. I wanted an eye-catching cover that could compete with a publisher’s cover. I was referred to J. Allen Fielder, who created a cover that I love. You don’t have to spend a fortune to have a professional cover. See my post Cover Design 101 for tips on how to work with a cover designer.

Learned how to format: You’ll also see this under Things I could do better next time. Formatting isn’t for everyone, but I was determined to learn the ropes. The Smashwords Style Guide teaches authors how to create a clean document. I’m glad I took the time to learn.

Uploaded ebooks well in advance of release date: By uploading the book over a month in advance, I was able to preview my documents online and fix glitches in all formats. I was able to buy my own book and scroll through it on my Kindle. I wasn’t worried about someone buying a funky copy, because I worked through the issues quietly.

Linked the release to something bigger than me: I’m very uncomfortable with shouting, “Me, me, me!” I linked my release to two worthy charities—Grossman Burn Center and Carousel Ranch—which are loosely connected to my book’s theme. I wanted to shout about my book simply so they could receive the proceeds from my first two days of sales.

What could I do better next time?

Formatting: There was a steep learning curve with formatting, and it took a lot of time. Next time around I’ll do it faster and with know-how. Formatting is definitely not for everyone!

Don’t obsess too much about perfection: I worried to much and too long about making things perfect. Once I got the editing, cover, and formatting right, I still fiddled with it for way too long. We want professional books for our readers, for sure, but once I got it right I needed to move on.

Secure guest blog spots sooner: Again, I waited to do this until I had everything just right. I could’ve secured dates further in advance.

Secure reviewers sooner: I realized too late that reviewers need ample time to set up the book in their queue and read it when they have the time. I didn’t do this soon enough, so I didn’t send out review copies. Hopefully that won’t hurt me too much.

As writers, we’re always learning and growing, right? Same with publishers. Indies are are running their own businesses, and will go through learning curves as well. Thankfully there are countless resources out there to help guide our way.

What do you think about both lists? Have you indie published? What did you do right the first time? What would you do differently next time? Please share!

Julie Musil writes Young Adult novels from her rural home in Southern California, where she lives with her husband and three sons. She’s an obsessive reader who loves stories that grab the heart and won’t let go. Her novel The Boy Who Loved Fire is available now. For more information, or to stop by and say Hi, please visit Julie on her blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

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About The Boy Who Loved Fire

Manny O’Donnell revels in his status at the top of his high school food chain. He and his friends party in the mountains on a blustery night, sharing liquor and lame ghost stories around a campfire. The next morning, as a wild fire rages in those same mountains, Manny experiences doubt. He was the last of the drunken crew to leave the cave, and he’s uncertain if he extinguished the flames. Within hours, he becomes the number one arson suspect.

Santa Ana winds + matches = disaster. You’d think he would've learned that the first time he started a fire.

As he evades a determined arson investigator, Manny, a modern-day Scrooge, is visited by ghosts of the past, present, and future. He’s forced to witness the fate of his inadvertent victims, including Abigail, the scarred beauty who softens his heart. Manny must choose between turning around his callous, self-centered attitude, or protecting his own skin at the expense of anyone who gets in his way.


  1. Great release day! It's hard to hold a book back from publishing while waiting for reviews! :) But you can still query reviewers even though your book is out! It's nice to build up some that like your work, ready for the publication of the second! And, formatting is a hard curve. But it's a nice hurdle to get over.

  2. Janice, thanks so much for having my on your blog today! I'm loving your Indie Author Series.

    Laura, that's a great idea…I didn't think about reaching out to reviewers now. Thanks!

  3. I'd echo what Laura said: Keep querying reviewers. A certain percent who say yes won't ever get around to writing a review, in my experience. So prepare from some attrition and keep on sending requests. I love the idea of teaming up with organizations close to your story theme. Awesome idea!

  4. What a beautiful cover! Your premise is very compelling. Thanks for your advice, especially about formatting and covers.

  5. My favorite part is about perfection. It is the enemy of good. I have seen perfectly written stuff with no life in it at all. Good article Julie!

  6. Great post Julie! I really enjoyed the interview with J. Allen Fielder on your blog too. The cover process is really interesting and it's great to hear from a designer who specializes in cover art. Thanks also for the link to the Smashwords Style Guide!

  7. Laurel—teaming up with the two amazing charities was a really great experience. Thanks for the advice about reviews.

    LinWash—You're welcome! Cover design was a blast. Formatting…not so much. But now I know what to do!

    Harry—You are so right about perfection. I get stuck in the wanna-be-perfect trap every once in a while. I have to force myself out of it!

    Leila—The Smashwords Style Guide was a really great place to start. It all sounds intimidating, but it's not bad once you dig in. I'm glad you enjoyed the interview with J. Allen Fielder. He was so great to work with.

  8. Julie -- I hear you on the formatting. Steep learning curve. Smashwords was invaluable. Congratulations! Your book sounds great. All the best success.

  9. I love that you linked your release to charities. Cheers to you on that! And also on going indie and also for sharing your journey. I really appreciate it. BEST of luck to you!!! Questions....When you're querying for reviews or lining up reviews through a service, is that for on blogs or just for them to post their reviews online whenever they've finished the book? Is this also how authors get their blurbs on their covers? By querying reviewers? That'd really have to be done well in advance to have that ready for the cover designer, right? Sorry if this is an inappropriate place to be asking questions.... Thanks again, so much, to you for this series and to the authors for sharing! Christy

    1. Chiming in on the blurb question here...

      Typically, the manuscript is sent out to authors who might be willing to blurb the book. People in the same genre, those who reach the same audience, etc. You ask if they're be willing to read it for a possible blurb and cross your fingers.

      Not every author says yes, and of those who do, not everyone agrees to blurb it. It's a time-consuming process to read and comment on a manuscript, so it's really asking for a favor, often from a total stranger.

      Usually the books (ARCS, advance reader copies) are sent out months in advance of the book releasing.

  10. Anne—thanks! Yes, formatting was a bugger. Now that I know what to do, the next book will be much easier.

    Christy—I don't mind the question at all! Obviously I'm not an expert, since I didn't do this right. I searched for lists of YA book reviewers. I looked at their review policy and sent requests. Most of them were no longer taking books to review. Some of them no longer review indie titles. Some never got back to me at all. I'm not sure how normal that is?? As for blurbs, I didn't even try for that since I started so late. By the time I'd started looking for reviews, my cover was done. I'm sure it's helpful to have reviews already "in the bank" so to speak, but I didn't want to hold up the process for months to make that happen. As for a book release service, I never looked into that at all. I have no idea! If you have more questions, feel free to email me directly! julie at juliemusil dot com

  11. Thanks, Julie! I appreciate your kindness and time! I just bought your book and can't wait to dive in to it! Christy

  12. Happy Release! And thanks so much for sharing your experience. Some items I already had questions about and others I didn't realize I should ask! Great resource and timely since I just found out my launch is delayed from late March to early summer.

  13. writerrobynlarue—I'm glad it was helpful! And best wishes with your launch. Just in time for summer reading :)

  14. Great tips, Julie. I really liked how you shared the resources you found helpful and also what you wished you'd done differently.

  15. Natalie—thanks! It was a great learning experience.

  16. Best of luck, Julie!! Thanks for the insight into indie-publishing!!

  17. If I ever go down this road - I will be double stick taped to your coattails, Julie. I admire your professionalism, methodic attention to detail, and more than anything else - your gumption.

  18. Traci, thanks for the good wishes. I hope the post was helpful!

    Leslie, thank you for your kind words :)