Gargoyle Girl Productions

20 Steps in Self-Publishing

September 2014 UPDATE: It's been the Wild West in self-publishing for the last few years, so I thought it worth noting that if you've stumbled across this blog post in 2014 (or later), some of the information below is out of date (e.g. vendors handle pre-sales differently these days). Since my self-published book led me to two book deals, I'm not currently self-publishing, but there are a lot of great resources to help you if you're exploring this path.

It's been six months since I decided to publish my Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series myself, and it's also six months until the first book in the series, Artifact, comes out. Last week I got Advance Reader Copies off to the printer, so I think it's a fitting time to look back on everything that has gone into this process so far.

I already shared my reasons for self-publishing in detail here. The brief version is that my first mystery had already received multiple distinctions and I had signed with an agent who believed in my work, so I knew I was on the right track and was content to keep writing while I waited until the timing was right for a publishing deal—until a breast cancer diagnosis changed my mind. I no longer knew if I'd have time on my side to wait. Of course I plan on beating this thing, but it was a wake-up call that life's uncertainties necessitate taking action to get what you want out of life.

What I've learned in these past six months is that it's a hell of a lot of work to publish your own books. Publishers have a lot to offer authors. I already knew this, but now I've experienced it first hand.

I don't regret my decision at all, but it was right for me based on my particular situation. If you're thinking about self-publishing, you should be aware up front that it's not the easy path. It might be right for you, like it is for me, but you should know what you're getting into up front. I'm having fun, but also wishing there were more hours in the day.

(I should note that I'm not talking about authors who want to publish their back-lists as ebooks, but rather new authors starting out who want to produce both ebooks and print books.)

Here are the 20 steps I've taken, and what I've learned about each of them:

1. Research, research, research! 

This is the step I started with. No matter how many lists like this one you read, none of them will answer all the questions you'll have. Trust me; I read a lot of lists. I also read a lot of blogs and books. Many of them provided great information, and I hung onto the bits that made sense to me.

Besides practical information, I also read personal anecdotes about peoples' experiences with self-publishing, to get a sense of whether I had the right personality for such an undertaking. I decided that I did. It was a gut-level decision, but one that was backed up by knowledge about the hard work and up-front costs that would go into following through on the decision. 

2. Forming a DBA to have a publishing imprint.

I formed Gargoyle Girl Productions as a creative boutique to encompass my three creative passions: mystery writing, design, and mysterious photography.

GGP is serving as my freelance business for creative services, and also my imprint for my mystery novels. Forming a DBA ("Doing Business As") required some minimal legal set-up fees, but now allows me to officially do business as Gargoyle Girl Productions. This isn't necessary for everyone, but for my situation it makes my life a lot easier. 

3. Creating a business plan.

While I didn't create a detailed business plan, I did write down my goals and create a budget. Up front, it was important for me to put down in writing how I was going to define success for myself, and also decide how much money I was going to put into this endeavor.

I love my day job as a designer, and I don't want to write full time. I already have a situation that gives me two weekday mornings off work. I'm also fortunate that I'm part of a wonderful community of writers. But I came up with three things I don't have right now that want out of publishing: to hold a book I'm proud of in my hands, to finance extended foreign travels for both enjoyment and research, and most importantly: to share my stories with other people.

Based on those goals, I knew I wanted to produce both ebooks and print books, and I set about making a list of expenses I'd need to meet those goals. I put $5,000 of start-up funds into a Gargoyle Girl Productions small business bank account. If that money runs out, this particular experiment is over. Don't get me wrong; I don't expect that money to run out before it gets replenished, but I've learned that one never knows how life will turn out. All I know is that I'll definitely still write, because I love it.  

4. Drawing up a timeline.

When I drew up a draft timeline of all the steps I'd need to publish a book, I realized that publishers have a reason for publishing a book more than a year after they acquire it! All the steps below were in my timeline, and I've been working my way through them. 

5. Working with an editor.

I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. Even though I have amazing critique partners and a fantastic agent, all of whom have helped me revise Artifact, none of them are editors. Regardless of how good a writer you are, I'm betting you need an editor. As long as you make sure you find an editor who's a good fit for you and your work, the expense is definitely worth it. (I wrote more about finding a good editor here.)  

6. Seeking blurbs.

As soon as I made the decision to move forward publishing Artifact myself, I approached a few mystery authors with books I love in a similar sub-genre to mine, to ask them if they'd be willing to read my book and consider blurbing it if they liked it. I was sure to make them feel comfortable declining in case they were too busy, so I was pleasantly surprised by the generosity of the authors I contacted. I received blurbs from all four of them.

These were all authors who I knew to some degree through Sisters in Crime, so I wasn't cold calling authors to ask them to take time to read a book by a random person. However, there was also one mystery author I've loved since I was a kid who I don't know personally, but I knew I'd regret it if I didn't take the risk and ask him. He replied to my inquiry by saying that even though he turns down most requests these days, he was intrigued and he wanted me to send him a copy of the book to check out! It'll be with a fluttery stomach that I'll be mailing him Artifact next week.

Even if this whole publishing endeavor falls flat, the fact that one of my author heroes is going to read my book is one of the little things that makes it all worth it. The moral of this story: take risks. 

7. Designing a book cover. 

This was SO MUCH FUN. Since I'm a designer and I love good design, I always fantasized about having a beautiful book cover. I've created covers for other people. Now I had the opportunity to create one for myself. (I wrote about details about the cover creation here.)

If you're not a designer or artistically inclined, I recommend working with a designer to create your cover. It's also a good idea to study the sub-genre you're writing in to make sure you're creating a cover in the style that will signal to your potential readers that this is a book they'll like. Can you tell from the cover below that the book is a a lighthearted mystery adventure? The map, the illustration of the heroine, and the purple colors tell you that much even before you read the description of the book. 

Cover flat for the ARCs of Artifact.

8. Writing book jacket copy.

I found it difficult to write a compelling short description of Artifact when I was querying agents. It was even more difficult to shorten that description for the book jacket, and also to cut down the advance blurbs I received from authors who enjoyed the book. But authors, booksellers, and even reader friends convinced me this was a place where less is more. I left the full description on my website, but the back cover now reads:

Advance Praise for Artifact:
“Fans of Elizabeth Peters will adore following along with Jaya Jones and a cast of quirky characters as they pursue a fabled treasure.”
New York Times bestselling author JULIET BLACKWELL, author of the Art Lover’s Mystery Series as Hailey Lind

“ARTIFACT has it all...You’ll love Jaya, her old and new friends, and her witty, intelligent approach to life and love.”
—CAMILLE MINICHINO, author of the Periodic Table Mysteries

“ARTIFACT is a treasure...a page-turning, suspenseful story... I can’t wait to read more of Jaya’s adventures!”
—PENNY WARNER, author of How to Host a Killer Party 

When historian Jaya Jones receives a mysterious package containing a jewel-encrusted artifact from India, sent by her ex-lover the same day he died in a supposed accident in the Highlands of Scotland, she discovers the secrets of a lost Indian treasure may be hidden in a Scottish legend from the days of the British Raj.
But she’s not the only one on the trail....

Gigi Pandian is the child of two cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India. After being dragged around the world during her childhood, she tried to escape her fate when she left a PhD program in favor of art school. But adventurous academic characters wouldn’t stay out of her head. Thus was born the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series.  

[Block for ARC information; the same space will be for the bar code in the released version.]

9. Creating the design and layout of the book's interior.

I was able to do the book's layout myself, since my day job encompasses design and layout for various printed materials. It's definitely possible to do it yourself in Word, though. You can't do as much with Word as with InDesign, but it's something most people can do themselves as long as it's a book of text and not images. You'll want to do some research into fonts and good formatting practices. I like this book by Pete Masterson.

10. Copy editing and proofreading. 

Different than working with an editor on craft, copy editing and proofreading is necessary since there are always inconsistencies and typos that remain. Up until the very last proofread, I had two chapter eights!

Though I'd worked with a professional editor earlier in the process, I didn't work with a professional proofreader at this stage. It would have been ideal to do so, but based on my budget and having seen that the book was in good shape during my last round of editing, I instead relied upon two wonderful critique partners who each looked at it with an eye for consistency and typos. I also read it carefully myself. Again.

*UPDATE July 4, 2012: I did work with a professional proofreader for the final edits before the book will go on sale. My "uncorrected proof" Advance Reader Copies were in good shape, but not perfect. To make sure I'm presenting a professional finished product, I worked with a professional proofreader, and I'm very happy I did.

11. Designing a logo for my Gargoyle Girl Productions imprint.

This wasn't strictly necessary, but it was so much fun to design this! I've got the logo on the book spine. I love it to much that I need to think of other uses for it.

12. Buying ISBNs through Bowker.

An ISBN is the unique identifier for your book. It's possible to buy one ISBN number, and even possible to obtain a free ISBN number. But unless you've only got one book in you, or you want to only publish through Amazon, it makes much more sense to buy your own ISBNs and to buy them in blocks.

A single ISBN through Bowker (the official ISBN agency in the US) costs $125, but it's only $250 for ten. For ebooks, you do need a separate ISBN number (unless you only want to sell through Amazon), but the jury is still out on whether you need multiple ISBN numbers for different ebook formats (ePub and Kindle).

Once you buy your ISBN, you assign your book title to the number, as well as providing lots more information about your book. I haven't yet figured out where all this information gets pulled into, but I filled out all the information required.

13. Printing Advance Reader Copies (ARCs).

ARCs are the copies of a book made available for reviewers and booksellers to read prior to the book's release. There's a lot of specific information necessary for ARCS: publication date, ISBN, price, format, size, type of book, distribution, publisher, contact details, and a designation that specifies it's an uncorrected proof not for resale. And it can be called an "Advance Reader Copy" or "Advance Reading Copy"—but not AdvanceD.

My block of ARC information reads:

Publication date: August 28, 2012
$14.95  |  5.25x8 Trade Paperback  |  296 pages   |  Ingram distribution  
ISBN: 978-1-938213-00-7
Gargoyle Girl Productions
For more information, please contact: or

14. Creating accounts with vendors for fulfillment of print copies.

There are a lot of decisions to make about how you want to do printing and fulfillment, and a lot of paperwork that goes along with it. I've been doing a lot of research into the options, and haven't yet made a final decision.

I won't go into all the details here, since there's enough to say on the subject to fill several blog posts. The short answer is that Lightning Source and Amazon's CreateSpace are the big players in POD (Print on Demand) printing and fulfillment, each with benefits and drawbacks. One of the blogs that goes into great detail about all the possibilities is The Book Designer. 

15. Setting up pre-sales.

I'm in the process of setting up multiple avenues for pre-sales. As I write this, Artifact is available for pre-sale on Amazon. However, it's not yet available on B&N or elsewhere, and the book cover and product description haven't yet been activated. All of these things take time to set up and additional time before they go live.

16. Designing and printing bookmarks.

Bookmarks are a great promotional tool. I've just created mine, and I'll be bringing them to Left Coast Crime, the mystery convention in Sacramento taking place later this week. I'll give them out at the convention, and also have a lot of leftovers to keep in my purse and give out. I packed a lot of information into a small space: book cover, title and subtitle, line about an award the book received, short description, author blurbs, author photo, ISBN, publication date, imprint logo, website.

17. Formatting ebooks for different ereaders.

I'm seriously considering paying someone to do my ebook formatting. It's not too expensive, so I think this is one of the places where I'd be well served to have an expert's help. I know my strengths. I'm a print designer. While I share an office with a web designer and update my website myself, detail-oriented coding is not my strong suit. However, part of me thinks I should learn how to do it myself, since it's not too difficult. I think the decision will come down to how much time I have. 

18. Getting reviews.

I'm entering the stage where I'll need to seek out reviews. It's good practice to send your book out four months before release date in order to get book reviews. I've got my ARCs done six months in advance. I was done with editing, so I thought it would be nice to have them done in time for Left Coast Crime.

I'm in the process of making a list of reviewers that would make sense for me to contact, but it's still very much a work in progress. It'll definitely be more difficult to get reviews for a book I've produced myself, but I know that going in and am planning accordingly. I'm not taking it personally that many of the big reviewers won't consider reviewing the book. I'm focusing on the venues that are open to me and that seem like a good fit. 

19. Creating press kits.

These are the materials I'm pulling together: a one-sheet, a press release, blurbs/reviews, copy of the book cover, a book excerpt, and an author photo. I expect the one-sheet will be my main go-to item, since it's the most all-encompassing with a single piece of paper, and I don't want to overwhelm people with too much information; it's a single page that has a description of the book, a small image of the book cover, selected blurbs and reviews, author photo, author bio, purchase details, and contact information. The Indie Author Guide by April Hamilton has a helpful section on how to create a press kit.

20. Promoting my book.

Since my overarching goal is to keep writing fun, my promotional activities are limited to things that are fun. I'm going to work to get the word out about the book (see Steps 18 and 19), but I'm primarily going to focus on the most important thing: writing good books. I don't have time to do everything, so I'm prioritizing keeping my time for writing. I'm aiming to publish two books each year in the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series (some will be novellas). Once I have a few stories out there, I hope my readership will grow through word of mouth.

In the meantime, when I'm not writing I'll be hanging out with other mystery fans. I've been involved in the mystery reading and writing community for years, and it continues to inspire me. I'm active in my local Sisters in Crime chapter, where I served on the board from 2008-2011; I participate in online mystery communities such as the SinC Guppies; I'm on Twitter but not Facebook; I'm on Goodreads, though I'm not as active there as I'd like to be; I'm part of a wonderful group blog of writers, PensFatales, that has turned into much more of a community than just a blog; I started attending mystery conventions a few years ago and this year I'll be attending Left Coast Crime, Malice Domestic, and Bouchercon.

The past six months have been an amazing learning experience in so many ways. I learned I'm stronger than I ever thought I was, both for finishing chemotherapy and radiation healthier than I've ever been, and for navigating the complex process of becoming my own publisher while working and undergoing cancer treatments. I had no idea how much work it would be, but it's been empowering to be in control of this part of my life when other aspects are beyond my control. I don't know where it will lead, but I'm having a great time getting there.


It's Official!

I received the paperwork in the mail that I can start doing business as Gargoyle Girl Productions!

Even though it's been a lot of work to figure out how I want to create and run my own creative business for design, photography, and writing, I'm becoming more and more convinced that diving into this project is what has helped me stave off "chemo brain."

Chemo brain is the memory fogginess, related to fatigue, that lots of people experience during cancer treatments. Since I feel like I need to sleep at least 10 hours a day right now, at first I could see signs my brain wasn't functioning at full capacity. But I refused to accept that state of affairs. I started going on morning walks in the hills above my house for exercise, signed up for online French lessons to brush up on my French for a trip I'm taking once I'm well, and filled a notebook with research notes about forming Gargoyle Girl Productions and publishing my mystery novels. Next up: Setting up the website with more than a placeholder. And did I mention I'm also back to working full time at my day job?

So far, my plan to foil chemo brain appears to be working. I'm sleeping when I need to, but when I'm awake I'm exercising either my brain or my body. Speaking of which, I think it's just about time for my morning walk.