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Self-publishing surprises

Perkins_D_cylinder_printing_press_in_the_British_LibrarySelf-publishing can be rewarding, but also overwhelming. You have to be the author, publisher, and promoter all in one.

Turns out this works pretty well for me. I like the control of hiring my own editor, cover artist, and proofreader, and having complete discretion over my book release timeline—subject to my ability to write the books, of course! That also means I have to take time away from writing to find and work with the aforementioned professionals.

I also have to front the money to pay them.

For me, it’s been worth it so far. Here are a few of the things I learned along the way to releasing my first self-published novel.

1. Every online retailer has their own time delay before your book goes live. Amazon had BLIND FURY up within 24 hours, Nook and Kobo were close behind. CreateSpace took 3-4 days, iBooks almost ten. So plan for that when determining your release schedule.

(According to the iBooks rep I spoke to last weekend at my chapter retreat, someone actually reads through every book to ensure quality of formatting, etc. Their timeline is usually 5-10 days.)

2. It takes time to line up and schedule editors, artists, and proofreaders. My editor—whom I adore—usually needs about three weeks to get me on her calendar for each round, so I have to build that into my plan. The cover artists take 10-14 days. My proofreader about three.

What I’m doing now is working with the cover artist while my editor goes through her second round of suggested edits. This will allow me to have a cover reveal before the book is fully polished.

3. It takes me longer to write than I think it will. (Duh, right?) I recently wrote 25K in a week in order to meet a date I set with my editor for round one. Mistake. Next time, I’ll have the book finished before I scheduler her. That way the manuscript can simmer and I can look it over before turning it in, but I won’t be tearing out my hair and turning in crap that I’m paying her to look at.

On the plus side, I found that I can write 25K bad words in a week.

4. Even though I don’t have to meet a publishing company’s deadlines, my goal is still to publish books. So I’m setting my own long-term publishing goals to keep me on track. But I have the benefit of being able to move the dates up or back as needed to save my sanity (what’s left, anyway).

5. For some reason I didn’t expect to get returns on my ebooks. After talking to a friend, I found that my return rate (which is under 2%) was at or below normal rates for my subgenre. Apparently some genres (like Young Adult) have really high rates, so you might want to check before you hit Publish so you can be prepared.

6. Amazon reports are addictive. Big surprise, right? But they’re beautiful because I get up-to-the-minute sales info. I can immediately see whether something I did had an impact on my sales.

Of course, it can be frustrating to have an increase in sales and not know why too. If I don’t know where they came from, how can I repeat that performance in the future?

7. Keywords are key, at least at Amazon. According to the iBooks rep, when a reader searches, Apple doesn’t use keywords, only title, subgenre, and author. But Amazon uses keywords. So think about how someone might find your book and enter that word or phrase as a keyword.

For example, just to test this out, I added the keyword phrase “best friend’s sister romance” (which only counts as one keyword). Now, if you type that into the Amazon search bar, my book will show up in the list. I’ll also show up under “pararescue romance” and “special ops romance.”

You get seven keyword phrases, and you can change them at any time to experiment. I recommend you use all of them. It takes about 12 hours for Amazon to make an update any time you revise your metadata.

That’s a quick hit of things that I learned. Please share your own!

Image credit: By takomabibelot (CC-BY-2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons.

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  1. Reply

    Thanks for the tip about returns– I knew to expect some, but didn’t know YA had a high rate. One less thing to sweat over if it happens. 🙂

    • Reply

      Kate: It really threw me when the returns started stacking up. One of my friends said she has to return things periodically because she accidentally hits the “one-click buy” button. I hadn’t thought of that either. Anyway, it’s definitely helpful to know what to expect. 🙂

  2. Reply

    This is great info, and is pretty similar to what I’ve learned. I also learned I need to make a strict calendar of drop dates. And I learned that I sell as much at All Romance eBooks as I do at Amazon

    • Reply

      Glad to hear your experience has been similar, Lynne. Good to know about ARe. I haven’t listed my book there, but I’ll have to look into it. Thanks! 🙂

  3. Reply

    You may have noticed this. There is a different tone and timber in your voice. You went bungy jumping. Not only did it work, your hooking up for the next big go. “Ain’t but a thang. Your, “what I learned” list has more than a tinge of excitment hidden in there. It is propelling you forward. You really want to find out what’s behind the green door now. Feels good doesn’t it? The edge is a fun place to live. Go for it.

    • Reply

      Hi, Curtis! Well, as one of my earliest followers, you’d definitely be in a position to notice a change. It’s true, I’m loving being in charge of my writing career from draft to publish. Some of the best rewards come from taking a leap–metaphorically, at least. This is one I’m really glad I took. Thanks so much! 🙂

  4. audraharders


    Thanks for the tips on key words, Gwen. I went back into my account changed some of my one-word key words to phrases. The description makes more sense to me, but for the person looking for a book, does the phrase have to match exactly? This is a great blog. I appreciate all the information you share with us!

    • Reply

      Audra: I’m not sure if the keywords have to match exactly, but it helps. For example, if you search Amazon Kindle for “best friend’s little sister romance” (adding “little”), my book doesn’t come up (which when looking at what does, maybe that’s a good thing ;-)). I believe that if you have the combination of words across your keyword phrases, cover copy, and title, that’ll do it. Also, I’d recommend checking out sknicholls link above. Good stuff there too. 🙂

  5. Reply

    Thanx for sharing your info, Gwen. Occasionally I meet with a group of writers who discuss their current projects– some with ebooks, others with physical-bound prospects. And though my sales on Amazon have been weak, the personal satisfaction of at least submitting my works– whether it be short stories or illustrated poems– has at least motivated me to continue with writing, if only through my blogging efforts. Peace.

    • Reply

      loujenhaxmyor: I’m glad to see you have a writing group. I think that’s key in so many ways. Support, feedback, help on technical aspects, etc… I agree, it’s a good feeling to know your work is out there. Just keep writing! 🙂

  6. Reply

    Love these tips, Gwen! Thanks so much for sharing. More and more I am considering going the indie route and this is just the kind of information I need to know. Thanks again! 🙂

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