Q&A: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Self-Publishing

A few weeks ago, Michelle Everson wrote a great article highlighting the victories and struggles of Self-Published authors. The article is published on Next Avenue, a publication for ages 50+. I still have five more years before I hit that mile marker, but I'm definitely looking life right down the middle if I follow an average-ish lifespan. It was so enjoyable to read the other authors whose answers were included in the article.

For a sneak peek into my process as I transition from "self-publishing" to 3+1 Publishing, to an "indie" publishing house, see the full interview below:


What has been your experience in the self-publishing industry and what made you decide to choose that route to publish your book:

When I was looking into self-publishing (my children’s book series), I had a good idea of how difficult it would be going into it. Being in the print, web and design business for years, I already knew a small part of the publishing business, but the marketing aspect was the biggest unknown for me. So I hired a marketing coach. Best decision ever. She’s helped in every single way– (Melanie Herschorn at VIP Digital Content), has especially helped me think through all aspects of the book as a marketable product and positioning it to sell to my particular market. Self publishing has been every bit of the hard work I thought it would be (and more), but since I could use so many of the skills I already had, I jumped right in and never looked back.

What platform did you use, if you don't mind sharing? (Amazon, etc.) What made you choose that platform?

I use Amazon, my own Shopify site (momsnotshop.com) and I have a distributor who does wholesale. Choosing to run my own site is an easy fit for me with a background in web design. So it’s fairly easy for me to quickly set up a shop with my brands and products. My distributor handles both fulfillment and shipping for my site and Amazon. I have 2500 books in my first print run plus ancillary products and I was definitely not interested in packaging and shipping myself. Amazon is a given. I’m not sure many authors “love” Amazon, but it’s a necessary evil. It has the exposure and the reach that no other platform has. My distributor lists my books and products under Amazon “Vendor Central” and controls all of the fulfillment, but I am expected to direct the marketing efforts.

What have been some perks and benefits of self-publishing? Would you do it again?

The most surprising thing is: all of the friends I have met along the way. Even though we’ve never met face-to-face, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and help so many other authors. Being a full-time mom of four littles, I’m able to work around the kids’ schedule and work on publishing in short spurts. And also, in this oft-maligned age of digital relationships, one of the benefits is actually being able to have a community, even if only virtually. I would have never had this opportunity 15 years ago.

Self-publishing is gratifying in every way for me. I use all of my skills I have learned over the years as a design business owner and as a mother to create a successful publishing company. Now that my first book is published, I am getting the next book ready and have another one in the works apart from the series. The sky truly is the limit. In terms of a job, I have found my calling in life and my husband and kids are cheering me on.

What were some challenges or pitfalls?

One of the biggest challenges is the up-front financial investment and the risks involved with that. It’s a proven fact that a hardcover children’s book (printed overseas) will give you the highest return on investment as a children’s book author. But that also means that you become a product designer, an investor, a fulfillment and logistics manager and possibly a shipping agent. That is A LOT of hats to wear. I draw the line at accounting because that would just kill all of the fun for me. So I contracted with a bookkeeping service who helps keep everything on the straight and narrow for me. From book sales to illustrator royalty payouts and taxes, they help me keep track of it all.

Money, in general is the biggest challenge for any business. From the very beginning, I had planned to run a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the actual product printing and shipping. Boy, what a challenge. From appearing ad nauseam on social media to constantly strategizing new ways to get the campaign in front of people, that month was the longest month of my life. But I’d do it again because of how necessary it was to be able to achieve my goals and grow my audience.

What advice would you give to someone considering the self-publishing route? Essentially, what did you wish you knew going in?

Being a self-published author means A LOT of business management, self-promotion and hands-on marketing. It means creating your own “online following” using traditional marketing methods and social media. For anyone considering being a self-publisher I would suggest the following exercise: Examine your goals. Do you want to just publish a book and sell a few copies on Amazon, or do you want to make a profitable business out of it? Use that goal to drive all of your decisions. If you want to crate a business out of it, hiring a book marketing coach is a great decision. They will push you to get that audience and appear online, even though it may not be the most comfortable for those of us in our 40’s and 50’s. And if being a self-published author just proves too much, you can always take that audience and online presence you’ve cultivated and use it as leverage to query traditional publishers. You just can’t lose with the experience you gain from diving into self-publishing.

Even though I have book keepers, it’s very important to helm my own business in terms of forecasting all of my costs versus profits, etc. I wish I had put together a P&L sheet at the beginning, to help me better estimate my costs and margins. Also, I wish I had spent more time working on setting up the Kickstarter campaign. But as an “above-45” mother with four young children, my energy and time are at an extreme premium. Sometimes, my “good” is good enough for the sake of my family and my own mental health.

Do you intend to continue self-publishing?

Absolutely! And once I get a little more experience under my belt and my youngest goes to school, I’d like to upgrade “Three Plus One Publishing” to an Independent Publisher, helping other authors get their books to market. It’s been a joy in every way.

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