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Thursday, April 1, 2010


My Self-Publishing Journey

I was thrilled when Gracen Miller said she’d let me do a guest post on Moonlight, Lace and Mayhem. After all, I love the blog, and I love the comments, so I’m sure I’ll enjoy “virtually” conversing with the readers. But I hadn’t reckoned with my major failings in that interesting area of deadlines. So here I am, almost up to April 1st, suddenly realizing I’ve ignored five calendar reminders to send something in. I’m really sorry Gracen.

Still, a quick search through emails answers the most important question: What on earth did I say I’d write about? And the fact that I’m frantically trying to meet a self-publishing deadline makes self-publishing seem a suitably timely topic.

I guess I should mention, though I’m “only” self-published, I’d dearly like to be professionally published one day. I started self-publishing because I went to a Willamette Writers’ Conference (my one and only) and learned

1) If you want to get an agent or publisher you need to have a platform—i.e. internet presence.

2) If you want to be published you have to prove you can sell. And

3) It’s a really bad idea to try to get published in more than one genre.

Putting 1) 2) and 3) together, I decided to self-publish in one genre (my “Bible stuff”) and keep sending my novels and short stories out to publishers and agents. That was around Christmas 2008. I’ve still had no luck with the publishers and agents, but I do have six books and four free downloads on my Lulu website, and three new books coming soon. And it is kind of fun…

So, in case anyone out there is interested in learning how I got from there to here, I’ll offer a brief description of my self-publishing journey, and hope it’s not too long or too boring for a lacily moonlit slice of mayhem.


Every journey starts with preparation, in this case writing, which I’ve been doing since I learned to hold a pen.


Motivation is what was missing from age 7 to… well, never mind. (Seven’s when I learned to hold that pen.) Creating an internet presence and proving I can sell were my biggest motivating factors in getting self-published. Plus there was a local Christmas Fair coming up, which gave me a deadline to work to. Did I mention—I’m deadline-challenged?

The next step was to find an internet publisher, since I wanted an internet presence. I Googled “self-publishing” and picked Lulu because:

1) There’s no set-up fee: Lots of publishers charge an up-front fee then help with editing, formatting etc. and probably give you some “free” copies. If you time it right and your requirements are fairly basic you can get a great deal. I wanted pretty gift books in time for Christmas, which didn’t fit either requirement.

2) They have lots of options: Some publishers only do black-and-white printing, or only certain shapes and sizes of books. Lulu has tons of options—great for self-publishing picture-books, story-books, books of paintings, poetry, photographs, whatever you can think of.

3) You get a free web-site: Lulu gives you an internet “store-front” which became my first ever blog—you can personalize it, advertise your books, post pictures etc. I migrated the blog part to blogger after a while, and got a “real” website with a much more memorable address, but it’s still nice to have my Lulu storefront tied in to my site. I’ve even tried to make the banner-heads match.

4) International sales: Lulu sells abroad. That felt important to me since most of my family’s in England.

5) Free distribution: This one was really a distraction rather than a plus. I thought it would be nice to get my books onto Amazon and into bookstores, but I’d have to price them out of the market because of Lulu’s wholesale pricing calculation (‘retail price’ must be at least 2 x ‘wholesale,’ and ‘wholesale’ is something like ‘print cost’ minus three dollars). I might get distribution for my storybooks (lower ‘print cost’) one day, but seriously, Amazon’s a pretty huge haystack and my books are very small needles; I’m not convinced anyone would find them even if I put them there.


Next I had to format and upload my books. There are lots of places where you can download Word document templates for different sizes of paper, including pre-designed measurements for margins and gutters. I just had to cut and paste from my original doc to get the right shape. But my books had pictures, and nothing ever converts as precisely as you’d like, so I had to go through the upload, convert, download, edit and re-upload cycle a few times before my PDF files looked right. Once I found the lists of approved fonts, and got used to the idea that “PDF conversion failed” might just mean “timed out, please try again,” it all went okay.


Then I had to design a cover. If formatting and uploading took lots of time, this took even longer, drawing pictures with precisely the right number of pixels in Microsoft Paint, adding text, removing text, trying to match text in shades of blue to write on the spine and back… Lulu’s new cover creator’s pretty good though, and even adds barcodes for you.

Proofs were another of this month’s deadlines—Lulu offered free proofs for a few weeks (plus postage and packing—their mail charges aren’t cheap but they do a good job with prompt and well-wrapped shipping). Lulu strongly recommends you buy proofs before making orders, so you can see how those glorious colors in the PDF file work on paper, but I’ve never had any problems. And that smooth printed cover in your hands does wonders for your self-esteem, until your best friend points out you mis-spelled “man” on page fifteen. It’s amazing how much easier it is to spot paper mistakes than ones you read on the screen.


Lulu helpfully lets you fill in copyright dates on your work, but there’s a nice bit of small-print on the government copyright site that says as soon as something’s published (i.e. offered for sale or rent) you have to send two copies to the Library of Congress. I’m still trying to work out what that would mean if you self-publish short stories on Kindle—I can’t imagine they really want tons of identical CDs of Kindle miniatures. But the thought of having a real copyright for just $35 more (after paying for the books I had to mail) was pretty tempting. I wish I’d known how long it can take though; I’m still waiting for the copyright on one of those first three books.


Luckily you don’t have to wait for the copyright to sell books. Lulu gives deals on bulk purchases (5 or more black and white, 25 or more if your book’s in color), so I invested slightly more than I could afford and set out eagerly to the Christmas Bazaar, where lots of people said lots of nice things and left “to get their purses.” Yes, and never returned.

At this point I had to remind myself of my motivation: get an internet presence and prove I can sell books; nothing to do with making money. If I price the books to make a profit, I’ll price them out of the market. If I put them on Amazon, I’ll price them out of the market. But if I take a minimal online profit, and accept a loss off-line, I’ll gain experience and maybe (maybe, maybe) look like a good risk to an editor or agent.


So now I now have one publisher telling me I’m just the author he wants “if only you’d write a mystery.” Another says he hopes to publish me “soon” but I’ll believe it when it happens. And the internet’s addictive. I have three blogs, one website, several squidoo lenses and numerous ning pages in addition to my Lulu storefront. You can visit me, virtually, at but I’ll probably try to sell you a book.

7 Moonbeams (comments):

Sheila Deeth said...

Just dropping by to say hi. I met my Lulu deadline yesterday, so today I'll be catching up on housework, yardwork, shopping and all those other wonderful things that I've been putting off. But I'll drop in on the Moonlight from time to time and Lace my Mayhem with coffee.

Molly Daniels said...

Hi Sheila:) You're the third person I know who went with Lulu. And of the other two, one did get a contract with Red Rose; the other with Black Bedsheets (he writes horror).

I also self-pubbed my first two books and am now pubbed with Freya's Bower under another pen name. So yes, self-pubbing CAN help get your foot in the door; it helps hone the marketing part.

Sheila Deeth said...

Hi Molly.
That's really comforting. Thank you. So I should keep dreaming and trying (or trying my family's patience, depending on your point of view). I guess I have to keep sending stuff out there too - it won't happen by osmosis - and on improving my writing.

Linda Kage said...

I always hear such bad things about self publishing. It's nice to actually hear the perks to that venture. Thank you for numbering them out like that.

Sheila Deeth said...

Now if I could just turn those little perks into something more. Thanks Linda. And I am enjoying the ride.

Mary Russel said...

Thank you for sharing your journey. After managing somehow to get published, whether it's POD, traditional, or self, I found the most difficult aspect of being an author, is getting the word out. News releases are on their way to the local media. Assuming any of them express an interest, I am in the process of putting together a press kit to send out next. If nothing else, it is helping me to organize my thoughts regarding the purpose of the book.

If I ever get an interview, I should be able to answer questions without sounding like a total idiot.

Sheila Deeth said...

Wishing you luck Mary, and following your journey with interest. You're much more organized and media-savvy than me.