• Shannon Aardsma

What I learned from Self-publishing

Updated: Dec 16, 2019

Self-publishing has been quite a journey. When I began this journey, everything was new and exciting. Quickly, I realized how little I knew about what I was getting myself into. Self-publishing ended up being for more expensive, complicated, and stressful than I ever would have dreamed– but it was worth it.


Today I hit "publish" on my first novel ever. What a feeling to see my book available on Amazon! It's unreal and incredible. And now I'd like to reminisce about my journey with "Here's to the Underdogs!" and maybe be able to help some other up-and-coming authors on their journeys so they don't have to plunge into this voyage completely blind as I had (for the most part).


My journey as an indie author really began in high school. Though I've loved creative writing ever since second grade, it was with my high school teacher's encouragement that I decided to pursue a career in writing. "Here's to the Underdogs!" became my first project. It took me...well, I honestly don't know just how long the first draft took me. Many, many months though. I completed the first draft (the first full-length novel I've ever written) in early January of this year, 2019. It then took me until the end of the summer to finish several more drafts. By October, I was ready to find an editor, and I had already selected December 15th as my prospective launch date (I also started putting together my launch team during this time). I learned that there are actually three types of editors (at least) that can be hired, but I didn't have the time, money, or energy to hire all three. So, I decided to only hire a line editor to check for typos and inconsistencies. I was blessed to find my editor through a friend. Her price was far less expensive than any other line editors I had looked into.


While my editor was going over the novel, I looked into a cover designer. I really didn't have a good idea of what I wanted the cover to look like until just before I settled on a cover designer (who I will refer to as CD as it is far shorter). I asked my dad to draw Ben and Colette (my MCs), and he gladly obliged. Then I worked with my CD to produce a gorgeous cover. (If anyone is looking for a cover designer, I will definitely recommend this person to you: she was so great to work with for several reasons, and I will definitely contact her when I'm looking for my next cover).


I realized some time in October that I would need a formatter. Not expecting to find a formatter before the final edits were made to the book, I reached out to a few people. It was soon apparent that my timing was completely off as I quickly found a formatter but then had to put them on hold for a week or two.


The edits were finished by the end of October, and I made my own final edits before shipping the final manuscript off to my formatter. It was about a week before this that I realized I needed some "extra" pages in the book: copyright page, author bio, dedication, and launch team page.


Not for the first time, I realized I had no idea what I was doing. Do indie authors need a copyright page? How does one "get" a copyright page? Can I make my own? Is there a particular format or outline I'm supposed to follow? What's it going to cost me (because everything seemed to cost something and generally more than I wanted to pay)? I did some research and asked some friends who had been through all of this before me and found that, while a copyright page isn't required, it can be helpful and it doesn't have to cost you anything. I followed some tips that I'd found online and created my own copyright page! That was a pretty cool milestone. :)


Before I continue, I'm going to take a moment to review the milestones I'd already passed:

1) Finished all drafts

2) Found an editor and finished the final edits

3) Had the cover designed *though that wasn't completely over with yet*

4) Made a copyright page, wrote an author bio, and completed any other extraneous pages


Ok. Moving on. It was either the end of October or the beginning of November when I had author photos done (a birthday gift from my sister). That was a fun step. :D Oh, and I did a cover reveal on my Instagram and Twitter on November 15th.


My formatter finished formatting the book for print and ebook around Thanksgiving, and I promptly got paperback and hardcover templates from Amazon and Lulu respectively based on the number of pages the novel was so that my CD could finish the covers for the print versions of the book (though I currently don't plan on publishing hardback ): ). She did very quick work, but it was still a couple of weeks before I got the author photos back.


Here I came to yet another roadblock that I wasn't aware of when I started this endeavor! I now had to look into an ISBN and barcode for each format for the book! While Amazon did provide a free ISBN for the paperback copy, I was still planning to publish hardback at this time, so I needed to get a separate ISBN and barcode...which I had to pay for...and am now not using. BUT I will be more organized and prepared next time, AND I can pass on this info so other first-time indie authors don't make the same missteps that I did.


Ok, I now had the ISBN and barcodes and author photos, so the cover could finally be finalized! Another item checked off. During this whole process, I was constantly updating my "projects" on Amazon KDP so that I wouldn't have to rush and put all of the info in at the very end. Honestly, once the cover was finished, there wasn't much else to do. I made a poster to hang in the window of our local grocery store (also where I work) to get the word out about my upcoming launch, and then...I waited. Finally, at 8:20 this morning, I hit publish on Amazon! The paperback and ebook are still being linked, but here are the two links:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1713025361

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B082S2W3XK ;)


Now, I realize that all of that was pretty jumbled and might not have been the best way to outline all I went through. But I'll try to give you some clear tips:

1) If you're going to give yourself a deadline, either set it far in the future (more than a few months, because those months go by fast, and if you get bogged down on an early step, the stress builds quickly) or don't set it until you have all of the edits completed, both by you and your editor. Or, don't set a deadline for the launch date at all, and just go along at your own pace.

2) Decide before you do a bunch of your own edits whether you want a developmental editor (to look for structural ways you can improve your story). By the time I looked into editors, I didn't want to do much more with my book. I had read and edited it over and over again, and I wanted to be done with it. Look into and decide what editors you want after the first or second draft. That's my advice.

3) Be prepared to put a lot of money into your book. If you can design your own cover, do your own formatting, and are brave enough to not hire an editor (which I thought I'd be fine without, but I am so glad I followed my friends' advice and had a professional take a look at my book) then your journey certainly won't be as costly, but I can almost guarantee it will be more stressful and time-consuming. Unless you know a lot about graphic design and formatting. That would be very useful. But if you've never formatted a book before, then save yourself the stress and possible embarrassment of having a terrible looking book and hire a professional.

4) Don't skimp and settle for cheaper work that you won't be happy with! I had a few formatters I was considering, and I ended up choosing the more expensive of the bunch, but I am so pleased with the work! The extra money "paid off" big time.

5) Get some people behind you who will cheer you on throughout the whole process. My alphas were such a big help as I was writing and editing, and my launch team members have been awesome! The online writing community I'm a part of gave me great advice when I needed it too. You don't have to be alone on your journey! :)

6) For any service you hire (editor, formatter, book designer, etc.), if you have the option, I highly recommend including unlimited revisions in the contract. This generally costs extra, but it's better than having to pay a fee for each extra edit you realize you need. And, trust me, the first draft is 9 times out of 10 not going to be perfect.

7) This final tip applies to all areas of life: when setbacks or obstacles arise, don't immediately freak out. Take a step back, breathe, pray, and then approach the problem with a clear mind. This is something I've been trying to do lately, and I'm generally pretty good about approaching my problems calmly. So many times on this journey I felt discouraged and like I was in way over my head, but I persevered. Only once did I completely break down. I came up against a major obstacle that would have made it impossible to publish. When I uploaded the paperback format to Amazon and previewed it, the formatting was completely off. It couldn't have been worse. I was at a loss of what to do. I didn't want to be charged another extra editing fee by my formatter (see tip 6), but I also had no idea how to fix the issue on my own. I broke down and cried. My sister urged me to at least reach out to my formatter and make them aware of the issue, and the solution was actually incredibly simple! I wasn't charged an extra fee, and if I had just taken a step back to calm down, I probably would have had a far less stressful morning. But, in the end, everything worked out. :)


So. That was my journey. Those are my tips. Please, if you're considering self-publishing and have questions, contact me! I certainly don't have all of the answers, but I have a few and am happy to share what I can. If I can make your publishing journey any smoother than mine was, I would love to help! Like I said in tip 5, you don't have to go it alone. Do some research before you start, talk to people who have done all of this themselves, and make your journey as smooth as possible.


Good luck with whatever you're tackling right now! Whether it's writing, art, music, school, a boring job, or...well, whatever! You can make it through. And it always helps to have a friend or two (or dozen) along the way. :)


Have a productive day!

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