The Ins and Outs of Self-Publishing

If you’ve known only rejection by every publisher and agent under the sun, and you’re wondering what to do next with that book you wrote. That story you poured your sweat, your blood and tears over. That kept you up day and night, away from friends and family gatherings. That plot hole that had you downing Pepto-Bismol like it was the antidote. That made you gain or lose 20 pounds, depending on your constitution. Had you staring at a bright, white screen or a dull white page for hours on end, forcing your mind to produce a smidge of an idea, and have it swim by that gelatinous goo that had become your brain. Then you most definitely do not want to toss all that hard work away, right?

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So, here you are, thinking the hard part is over. You finished your book. To self-publish will be child’s play compared to the self-torture that is writing a book.
Ha! Think again, sunshine! There is a reason, and a good one, that several players enter the arena when publishing a book. There’s your editor, copy editor, blurb writer, book designer, photographer, marketing expert, and probably a few others I’m forgetting. When you self-publish, guess who gets to do all of that work? That’s right! You! Tiny, insignificant you against the Titans in the business to try and get your book noticed.
You might think, well, easy; I’ll hire all of those people. Unless money is not an issue, all of those beautiful people cost a pretty penny. So what to do? Well, not that I’m an expert or anything, but in the interest of full disclosure, here’s how I went about it if ever you’re interested.

Editing
Editing is a long and painstakingly annoying task. Now, some of you might try to edit as you go along writing your book. Don’t. Do it when finished. When the creative juices are flowing, do not slow them down by editing. This is probably what’s going to take most of your time. My advice? If you can afford an editor, hire one. Or at least find a beta reader. I did neither. I edited my book alone. It took months. Months.

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Copy Editing
I don’t know how many times I reread my manuscript on my laptop, but you would think I would have spotted all the typographical errors present in my writing. Boy, did I have a surprise when I bought my first copy of my paperback book after it was published! Yeah. The book was out with all those embarrassing mistakes that I only noticed once my copy arrived at my house. I can only thank my lucky stars for not advertising early in the sea of books that Amazon publishes for anyone to notice. So my advice? Print your manuscript! Yeah. Sounds crazy, right? But believe me, it’s much easier to spot mistakes on paper.

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Book Design
The design of your book should reflect the story it carries. It needs to catch the reader’s eye. It needs to tell information about the mood and style of your book. It needs to stand out on a bookshelf because you’re competing against professionally manicured books.
In my case, my book is a thriller that tells the story of a home invasion that happens one Halloween night. I had a clear vision for my book cover. And so, I naively thought I could pay for at least the book cover design. Guess what? I couldn’t afford it. So to the stock images, I went. There are several websites out there selling stock images. Heck, I sell stock images! So I selected a picture of a house at night with all the lights inside turned on. If you read my book, you’ll understand why I chose that picture—wink, wink, nudge, nudge. See what I did there? No? Sigh. Nevermind. Where were we? Ah! Yes. The cover picture. The image I selected gives you the impression that someone is spying on the house from the outside. It’s a good image for my book. Not exactly what I wanted, but it will do.
For reference, here are some stock images sites where I might or might not sell images myself.
Shutterstock
Getty Images
Can Stock Photo

So once you have your picture selected, what now? Well, depending on where you’re publishing your book, you can either use the website’s templates for the book cover or create your own. However, there is always a risk the picture you selected will not be compatible with the book cover design you want. That’s what happened to me with Amazon Kindle. The stock image I picked didn’t fit properly with the book design I wanted. Therefore, I had to either change the image or change the book design. I settled for the book design. And it turned out pretty good. True, the title does not appear on the front cover, but it makes it more interesting. Besides, on a bookshelf, you only see the spines of books.

Curiously enough, Barnes & Noble also has templates, and I couldn’t transfer Amazon’s one onto their platform. I had to create one using their models, and this time, I was able to put the title on the book cover. And yes, I used the same stock image. That paperback edition is still in review, and once it’s published, I’ll let you know. The only slight downside was that I had to assign it a new ISBN. No big deal.

The book design also includes the back cover, usually containing a brief author bio and book blurb. Both those items need to attract the interest of a potential reader. I am of the position that your author bio needs to include something whimsical or funny about yourself. You want your readers to be able to relate to you. As for your blurb, it needs to contain enough of your story so people would like to read it but not so much that you give anything away and still add a little mystery to the mix. It’s a delicate dance, and not all writers are good at it. I don’t think I am. But for my first time writing a book blurb, I think I did okay.


Another fun aspect of self-publishing is that different self-publishing platforms accept different formats of your manuscript. Swell, huh? Some take Word documents, others only PDF. Some insist you convert your file into an epub before submitting it. You need to make sure you have your manuscript under at least those three formats before you start hunting for a place to sell your book. It’s a lot of tedious and technical work, but you need to do it if you want your novel to appear on several book websites. And trust me, you do. The more exposure your book gets, the better. Remember the Titans? Yeah, there’s hefty competition out there.

Your Author Picture
Your photo will appear on your book’s back cover for all to see and judge unless you’re publishing under a pseudonym. Again, this is an area if you can afford the expense, hire a professional photographer. You want a clean, neat picture that says: “Why, yes, I write interesting stories, and you should read them.” Since I’m somewhat an amateur photographer, I took my picture with my old Sony camera. I added a black and white filter to give it a little panache, sophistication, augustness. Either way, I’m proud of that picture that I took against the brick wall of my parent’s balcony right next to their garbage can. Fancy, huh?

Marketing
And we have come to the whale of self-publishing. The mighty beast you need to tackle and defeat to get you and your book noticed out there in the raging sea that is the world of published books. Now pay attention because this is the most critical advice I can give you about self-publishing your book. Do not go into self-publishing if you do not have a budget established for marketing because you will get crushed by the competition with deep pockets. Announcing on your social media accounts that you published a book will get you nowhere unless you have an insane following. It’s time to swim in the big pond with the big fish and market your book where the Titans do. And to do that, you will need to lay down the cash.

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Where to market? Amazon Kindle has an ad campaign for authors. Barnes & Noble has partnered with BookTrib. There, you can get your book reviewed and have it appear on their social media, where they have thousands upon thousands of followers. Kobo has partnered with BookLife, where you can have your book reviewed by a Publisher’s Weekly professional reviewer. Goodreads has book giveaways that put your book front and center to their followers. The options are endless. What you need to determine is how much you’re willing to spend on them. Who knows? You might end up with a bestseller.

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To conclude, read as much as you can about self-publishing. See what worked and what didn’t work for other authors before you head out there. But most importantly, have faith in your novel and your ability as a writer. And have faith that an audience does exist for your story. If not, well, the good news is you’re a writer, and you can always write a better story.

Oh, and if you do all of this, remember, there are no guarantees that you will be a successful self-published author. There is an element of chance that enters the equation as well. I mean, I’m not. So far, I’ve only sold 13 books and five of those I bought.

Good luck out there!

Goodreads Giveaway

Are you in Goodreads? If so, I am hosting a giveaway starting today! Enter for the chance to win a paperback copy of my book, Dark Was the Night.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Dark Was the Night by Tania Lorena Rivera

Dark Was the Night

by Tania Lorena Rivera

Giveaway ends October 31, 2021.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads. Enter Giveaway

That’s all I got for this post. I know! The shameful self-promotion! Disgusting, right? Bear with me this month, folks. I promise that by November, I will have moved on to other subjects. American Thanksgiving at the latest. Maybe after Christmas. New Year’s Eve, tops!

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Google Play Store Promotion

And let the self-promoting continue!

My book is now available in Google Play Store! I am hosting a promotion for all my followers starting this coming Monday, October 4th, and ending on Halloween day. You will be able to purchase my ebook via the Play Store for 50% off. Here is the link to use the promotional code:

https://play.google.com/redeem?code=002LXNF0XGX26

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Why not give it away for free, Tania? Good question! And to that, I will give the same response someone gave me when I asked something for free: because I can’t live off love and freshwater!

I thought that was funny.

I self-published a book!

So here it is, the self-promoting! Ugh. I’m not a fan of the “read me, love me” scenario, but let’s face it, if I wrote a book, I certainly want people to read it.

The journey here certainly has been an interesting one. Not wanting to repeat everything I wrote in my other posts (for the precious few of you who are following me) but I guess self-publishing my book was somewhat inevitable. A dark thriller written by a mom who only published personal essays about parenting is not marketable, especially if said thriller is not the conventional length.

So here I go with my marketing lingo. Dark Was the Night is now available on Amazon in paperback format and will be available as an ebook on October 1st on Amazon and KOBO. I am still trying to release it on other sites, namely Barnes & Noble, Google Books and Goodreads. Once my book is available on those sites as well, I will duly post a notification. Please, don’t ask why I decided not to release both formats at the same time. I’m not sure. But the paperback format is nice if I do say so myself.

They say if you’re an unknown author, your name should not be the prominent part of your paperback book cover. As you can see, my book cover is all dark but for the image of a well-lit house. The title of the book and my name appear on the spine of the book. I thought the design was attractive. In a later post, I will describe how I found my way around this whole self-publishing world. The ebook, being a digital book, has a slightly different book cover.

So, let’s continue the self-promoting, shall we? Below, you will find links to my Book Life page, where you can find a book blurb, a book excerpt, and links to the Amazon page to buy it. You will also find a link to my very first review by Susan Sewell for Readers’ Favorite. Not to toot my own horn, but this 5-star badge given to me by the Team at Reader’s Favorite should give you a hint about how that review goes.

Book Life

Reader’s Favorite Book Review

So there you have it. The obligatory self-promoting of a self-published author. Wow, author. It feels weird to say it. I don’t really think I deserve the title yet. But somewhere out there is a book I wrote with my name on it. A whole story and characters and plot I invented. And I hope you give my novel (or novella) a chance, that is, if you’re really into dark fiction.

Ebook cover

I’m Pulling the Plug

That’s it. Time’s up. I’m pulling the plug on the life support holding my dream alive of having this book traditionally published. Everyone answered no or didn’t bother to answer at all, which in the publishing world means no nonetheless.

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Only one publisher has not answered, but, uh, I’m not holding my breath on that one. It’s the publisher I sent my manuscript to twice by mistake. I’m still kicking myself for that ‘stoopid’ mistake. That’s right. Stoopid with two ‘o’s because the error is so embarrassing that the adjective used to describe it shouldn’t even be written correctly.

So, I will begin promoting my book on Amazon tomorrow, September 1st, and publish it on October 1st.

I will admit I am a little nervous. It’s never easy putting your work out there for all to see and judge. If the Internet has taught us anything, it is that people are really mean when not immediately faced with the consequences of their words. For that reason alone, I seldom read the comments people leave for my essays. Good or bad, I don’t want to know. My words are out there. Do with it what you please. My work is done.

This book is lightyears away from what I usually write. It’s dark fiction, and when I mean dark, I’m talking sinister. This story is not for the faint of heart, but if you enjoy horror, give it a whirl. I must warn you, there are graphic depictions of physical violence, and profanity is used. It tells the tale of three intruders who penetrate the house of a woman who is alone with her four-year-old daughter on Halloween night. What ensues next is a night of horror for the mom, who must escape her own home with her daughter once she realizes they did not come to burglarize her house.

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No, it’s not the next bestseller, far from it. It’s what I call a “popcorn book” where you immerse yourself in the story like in a movie purely for entertainment. No big life revelations or answers to Earth’s mysteries will be found in this story. But there is a slight moral like every tale should have.

I hate to promote a book I’m selling. It feels wrong and dirty for some reason. “Just leave the money on the nightstand and go!” I stole that from Jim Carrey when he promoted his movie Lemony Snicket’s A series of Unfortunate Events. I’m a fan; what can I say?

So, there you have it. Here is the end, or the beginning (it depends on how you look at it) of this particular novel or novella (it depends on who you ask).

And for those of you still in the nitty-gritty of finding an agent or a publisher, I wish you my most heartfelt good luck. I’ve started writing another novel. I might be joining you in a few months.

So I Submitted Twice to the Same Publisher!

I know. Stupid, careless mistake or like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman would say: “Big mistake! Big. Huge.” And I know what you must be thinking: But Tania, how can you have submitted twice to the same place if you have that Query Tracker thingy? 

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Good question! The thing is, this particular publisher is not on Query Tracker. I sent my manuscript to them in June, and I found them through an article talking about publishers accepting novellas. I sent the same manuscript with the same bloody cover letter to them again in July! This time I found them through a different article. I need to start writing my submissions down! And guess what? They noticed. They sure did, and they sent an e-mail saying that they had already received my manuscript but that a decision on my submission has yet to be reached.

But it has. Of course, it has. Do you think any publisher will accept a writer who can’t even remember to which publisher she sent her manuscript? So learn from me. Please do not make the same stupid mistakes I do.

So the question now is, what should you do if this happens to you? First, if you realize your mistake before they do, quickly send them a reply with your second submission saying they shouldn’t bother rereading this one since you’ve already sent it and that you are sorry. Keep it short and sweet. Agents and editors have enough to read as it is.

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Second, if they send you a message like an editor did to me, reply! You must. A short and sweet answer along the lines of, I am sorry for my careless mistake, it’s just been one of those weeks and thank them for letting you know because they sure didn’t have to inform you. They did it out of professional courtesy, and you should acknowledge that and not stay silent. If they took the time to point out your double submission, you owe them a sincere apology for wasting their time.

So if you’re wondering what I did, I, of course, sent in the apology letter. And even though I pretty much ruined my chances with this publisher, I will share a link to their web page if you are also looking for a publisher interested in novellas. Who knows? Maybe some good will come out of this after all. 

Fairlight Books

Three Months Left

Three months till my deadline. At this juncture, it’s become clear my book won’t find a home with any publisher. As we speak, I’ve given up on publishing houses and started to submit to magazines who publish novellas in installments, and even that road looks dim at best.

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Self-publishing isn’t the end of the road; it’s just a fork. Either you put your work out there or forget about this manuscript and concentrate on your next one. I can’t just throw this one down to the oubliettes. It’s a story I’ve been working on for a long time, and I believe there is an audience out there for it.

What’s more, a few agents and editors have said the story does have potential, but it was not to their liking for so and so reasons. Therefore, I believe that my story isn’t awful if it sparked people’s interest.

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So, these last few submissions will be my last, as many of these online magazines have a response time of twelve weeks. I’ve already started to format my manuscript to publish it online in October.

According to Erica Verrillo, a writer who helps other writers get published, manuscripts between 40 000 and 60 000 words are deemed “unmarketable” by agents and publishers alike. So if you’ve written a story whose word count falls into that godforsaken bracket, Erica Verrillo has done the work for us and searched quite a few places which might be interested in your novella or short story, or whatever you wish to call it.

31 Places to Publish Novellas and Long Short Stories — Paying markets | by Erica Verrillo | Curiosity Never Killed the Writer

Here’s to us, mavericks! 

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It’s a Crying Shame, Uh, I mean, Waiting Game

So, I sent in my manuscript on the 24th of May to another publisher, and they answered on the 28th! Now, before you start popping the champagne, let me inform you the answer was a resounding ‘no.’

Now, a publisher that answers that fast is never a good sign. There are only two possibilities when you receive an answer this fast after sending in a synopsis and your full manuscript with your cover letter.

First possibility: they read your synopsis, didn’t like the premise of your story, moved on to the next manuscript, which is fair. Not ideal because, as I have mentioned before, synopses are boring résumés of your novel, so they don’t contain all the intricacies of your work but still fair.

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Second possibility: they read nothing. Nada. Niente. Rien. Zip. Zilch. Not your synopsis, not your bio; they barely glanced at your cover letter. They took one look at the first line of your cover letter and decided you weren’t worth their time. It happens. It’s not fair, and it’s unprofessional on their part, but it happens more often than they would like to admit.

Why do they do this? Because they want to lower that sludge pile. A ginormous pile of manuscripts all sent in by hopeful writers wanted to ‘get discovered’—the poor, delusional things. What’s more, when you get refused this fast, odds are a senior editor didn’t even get a chance to look at your work. That person didn’t even get to see the colour of your avatar accompanying your email. Why? Because all publishing houses (the big ones at least) all have readers, junior editors, or assistants who are in charge of going through that pile and digging out something worth the real editor’s time. So, if junior over there didn’t like your cover letter, your synopsis, your bio, heck, your avatar, you’re not getting through.

So, more and more, it’s looking like I’m going to self-publish. We are already in June, which means the following submissions will be my last. I only have three months left. That’s fine. I’ve made my peace with that eventuality.

Rejection is the Name of the Game

Another submission, another rejection. By now, I’ve learned to recognize the rejection letters even before opening them. The text is formatted and almost always the same. For those of you wondering, a rejection formed letter goes a little something like this:

Dear [insert your name],

Thank you for your interest in [insert name of publisher or literary agency] and for allowing us the opportunity to read [title of your novel]. Unfortunately, we don’t feel the manuscript is a good fit for us.

We wish you the best of luck placing the manuscript elsewhere.

Sincerely,

[Name of person in charge of reviewing and rejecting your submission.]

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I don’t know what an acceptance letter looks like for a novel, only for an essay. When I do, you best believe I’ll share that baby here! Three editors actually took the time to give me a personalized response. In the world of literature, editors who take the time to write something personal about your work are few and far between. So, appreciate them. Thank them for their time, and most importantly, take their suggestions under advisement. I did, and my manuscript was much improved.

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No matter how many rejection letters you get, remember, many famous writers got their big break by sheer luck. When J.K. Rowling’s manuscript was sent to Bloomsbury, an editor’s daughter read the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. She insisted her father read it too. And that’s how J.K. Rowling got her big break. Of course, it helps that she’s a good writer. But there are a lot of good writers out there who are not that lucky.

So, keep submitting, don’t give up. Who knows? One day you too might catch a shooting star.

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Only Five Months Left

And what have I done? Well, lately, I’ve submitted my manuscript to a contest and to a small publisher who only publishes horror. And now I wait. The results of the contest will only be divulged in late October. Their guidelines didn’t specify a timeline for the publisher, but I’m giving them three months.

It’s the most challenging part, waiting. It’s not my favourite. I distract myself by writing essays, but I always find myself checking my email multiple times a day. 

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Countless rejections I have had, and I’m expecting many more. It’s part of the gig, isn’t it? Of being a writer? You have to get used to, heck, even comfortable with rejections. If you don’t, well, you’re in for a rough ride.

To wait and see has been a recurring theme in my life. Like an old friend, I greet it with a calm familiarity. I sit with it and let its quietness fill the room. It follows me like a shadow teaching me patience and airiness. Part of it is knowing that once I click that send button, it’s out of my control. Doris Day was right, que será será.

Whatever the outcome of this whole process, I rest in confidence that my novel will be published one way or another. Would it be nice if it was picked up by a publishing house? Of course. Isn’t that what we’re all looking for, validation? Validation that these words we lay down on this white canvas mean and are worth something to someone. That we have, in fact, created art?

But either way, whether my work is validated or not, it’s something I did. I wrote a novel. How many people can say that? And with that, I leave you with a favourite citation by one of my favourite storytellers:

Jean de La Fontaine

Je vais t’entretenir de moindres Aventures,

Te tracer en ces vers de légères peintures.

Et, si de t’agréer je n’emporte le prix,

J’aurai du moins l’honneur de l’avoir entrepris.

I seek thine ear to gain by lighter themes,
Slight pictures, decked in magic nature’s beams;
And if to please thee shall not be my pride,
I’ll gain at least the praise of having tried.

English translation is done by Litscape.com.

To Monseigneur The Dauphin, Jean de La Fontaine (litscape.com)