What's Your Publishing Personality?

Last month I attended Left Coast Crime, and I've been thinking more about an interesting discussion that took place during one of the convention panels I was on, Alternative Paths to Publication.

The focus of this panel was the ups and downs of self-publishing vs. traditional publishing. The five of us on the panel had each published both ways. Chuck Rosenberg and I started our writing careers self-publishing and moved to traditional publishing contracts, whereas Cindy Sample, Claire Johnson, and Barbara Hodges are currently self-publishing after previously having publishers. (If you're reading this blog, I'm guessing you already know my story and how it evolved -- if not, you can click those links.)

Left Coast Crime Alternative Paths to Publication panel:
Gigi Pandian, Cindy Sample, Claire Johnson,
Barbara M. Hodges, and Chuck Rosenberg. 
An interesting theme emerged in our panel discussion: much more than our situations, it was our personalities shaped how we felt about being involved in different aspects of publishing.

It wasn't simply a matter of each of us assessing our goals to decide what type of publishing was best for us (though goals are still  important). Instead, regardless of what we each wanted to get out of publishing, it was the way in which we approached tasks that mattered most.

Cindy and I were the starkest examples. Where she absolutely loves being responsible for every last aspect of producing her books, I hated that part of publishing when I was doing it.

Now that much of the stigma of self-publishing is gone, what remains is authors making the right choice for their own circumstances--but a lot of that "right choice" has to do with what a person enjoys doing on a daily basis.

I could never be as successful as Cindy at self-publishing for a gazillion little reasons, all of which have to do with control and responsibility ("control" being the positive spin on "you're-responsible-for-every-single-thing"). Cindy is currently responsible for every aspect of producing her books, just like I was when I formed Gargoyle Girl Productions to publish Artifact in 2012. I learned so much about publishing by being my own publisher, and for that I'm thankful. But I learned even more about myself. Sure, it can be great to have control over exactly what your cover looks like; but it also means you're responsible for making that vision happen, including all the little details you never imagined were part of producing a cover. I learned that I'm not someone who enjoys being in control of the never-ending list of tasks associated with producing a book--I want to focus on writing the next one!

Artifact's book covers:
Gargoyle Girl Productions (left),
Henery Press (right).
I'm an incredibly organized person, but that wasn't enough. A comprehensive list with due dates is no good if you procrastinate on the tasks you don't want to do--and procrastinating was what I did with 90% of the things that had to be done. It didn't matter that I had the skills to pull of being my own publisher. What mattered was that because I didn't enjoy the non-creative side of the writing business, the mental drain was hurting my writing. You bet I jumped at the chance to work with Henery Press and Midnight Ink.

I should note that it's true authors often bemoan the fact that they need to publicize their books in addition to writing them, but the promotion you do as an author with a publisher backing you is nowhere near the amount you need to do without a publisher behind you.

There are many resources for writers considering what type of publishing is best for them, and the times are changing quickly, so I'm not going to go over nuts and bolts of either type of publishing in this post. Instead, I'll leave you with the best advice I gave give you: be true to yourself, and the right answer will emerge.

I'm getting ready for Malice Domestic, where I'm looking forward to many fascinating conversations with readers and writers over the long weekend. If you'll be there, be sure to say hello!


My Evolving Path to Publication from 2012 - 2014

Next week, I'm attending Left Coast Crime, the west coast's big mystery convention. One of the panels I'm on is "Leap of Faith: Writers Who Took Alternative Paths to Publication." I love this topic, because the more I talk with other authors, the more I'm convinced that nobody's path to publication is the same. It's a road of unexpected twists and turns, and if you don't speed too quickly and rush the process, it can lead somewhere great.

In 2012 I self-published my first mystery novel (details here). It was the right decision for me at the time, and it's what ended up kick-starting my writing career more than I anticipated. But at the same time, acting as my own publisher pulled me in more directions than I wanted to deal with.

Some writers find self-publishing empowering and fun; I agree it's empowering, but for me it wasn't so fun. I missed being able to focus my energy on writing. That's why I was thrilled to receive offers from two publishers for three-book deals in 2013.

It's now been exactly one month since my second novel, Pirate Vishnu, was published with Henery Press. I'm now even more certain it was the right decision to sign with Henery Press (for the Jaya Jones treasure hunt mystery series) and Midnight Ink (for the Accidental Alchemist series). I'm gobsmacked--gobsmacked!--by the month I've had. A few highlights made possible my kick-ass publishers:

Hitting the USA Today bestseller list! 
(It was the extended list, but I was next to James Patterson!)

Climbing the Amazon charts.

Receiving these reviews: 

“Pandian’s second series entry sets a playful tone yet provides enough twists to keep mystery buffs engaged, too. The author streamlines an intricate plot….[and] brings a dynamic freshness to her cozy.”
Library Journal

“A delicious tall tale about a treasure map, magicians, musicians, mysterious ancestors, and a few bad men.”
Mystery Scene Magazine

Plus a feature in Mystery Scene.

Getting great feedback on my next book, The Accidental Alchemist, from my editors at Midnight Ink. 

And now that I only have two jobs (my day job and this writing job) I have time to make revisions this spring as well as finish a draft of Jaya Book 3! The winding path continues, and I love the curve I'm on right now. 

5 Things You Really Need To Know Before Deciding Whether To Self-Publish: Workshops and a Cheat Sheet

Four months ago I wrote a blog post with 20 Steps in Self-Publishing, to share what I learned in the six months after a scary cancer diagnosis made me decide to throw myself into forming my own imprint to publish my mystery series myself.

Since that time, I've learned a lot more and have had many people ask me for details about the process. Most recently, two writers organizations asked me to speak about what I've learned over the course of this year. For those of you in the San Francisco Bay Area or the Portland Oregon area who might be interested in attending, here are details about those two events. And for everyone, here's a preview with some key things that are part of what I'll be talking about in the workshops: 5 things you really need to know before deciding whether to self-publish.

Adventures in Self-Publishing
Saturday, August 4, 2012, noon2 p.m. 
Berkeley, CA
Details and directions on the SinC NorCal website. This is a free event.
Speaking to the Northern California Chapter of Sisters in Crime about the pros and cons of self-publishing and traditional publishing, and answering questions about the nuts and bolts of self-publishing.

Different Paths to Publishing: Which is Right For You, and How To Do It Right
Sunday, September 16, 2012, 1 – 5 p.m.
Lake Oswego Fairfield Inn and Suites, OR (near Portland)
Details on the OWC website. Registration is necessary. There is a fee, but scholarships are available.
I'm excited to be teaching this 4-hour workshop with my mom! Sue Parman is an anthropologist who's written numerous academic books in addition to fiction, plays, and poetry. We've each had experience with multiple types of publishing. The first half of our workshop will focus on what you need to know to make a personal decision about which type of publishing to pursue. The second half will delve into publicity and marketing.

5 Things You Really Need To Know Before Deciding Whether To Self-Publish

1. Self-Publishing is not necessarily a shortcut. It's a temptingly lovely path of roses you see off the main highway. When you pull off the interstate, you'll see the beautiful roses are covered in thorns. A few people will have the talent and luck to avoid most of the thorns, many others will be annoyed by the extent of their scratches but will ultimately be happy with the garden, and some people will become stuck in the brambles, never finding their way to a successful spot on the path that was once so tantalizing.

So far, I fall into the middle camp. It's a hell of a lot more work than I thought it was going to be to publish my first mystery myself, but it's also been rewarding in many ways.  It's important to note that even though technology has made it possible for publishing shortcuts to exist, there's not a shortcut to learning how to be a good writer. It's never a good idea to publish shoddy work. The general public is not your critique group. Make sure you've got a damn good book before sharing it with the world. Spend the time you need to write a book that's good enough to be traditionally published, and then decide what type of publishing is right for you.

2. Are you up for dealing with the nitty gritty details of publishing that don't involve writing? I went over many of the the steps involved here, including getting ISBN numbers, designing a book cover and other promotional materials, deciding on a printer and distribution, creating the layout for the printed book, formatting the book for different ebook formats, and creating accounts to sell the book. Whew! And that's not even everything. There are more forms such as copyright and PCIP data blocks, if you decide to get these things.

It's true that you'll keep a lot more of the profits from book sales if you publish your books yourself, but you'll also be doing all the hidden work yourself. Maybe you love having control of all of these things and have the time to do them, in which case self-publishing is probably a great path for you.

3. Do you want to focus on writing above all else? Unfortunately there's no way for a writer to focus exclusively on writing these days, whichever route to publishing you chose. But if you don't want to think of yourself as a business person as much as an author, you might want to stick with having someone else as your publisher.

Fortunately, there are lots of business people who love books, so I've been hearing about many wonderful new small presses popping up. With publishing in flux right now, these aren't the most stable of times—but they're also pretty exciting times with lots of options.

4. Have you thought about your goals? No, really. Will you be disappointed that the vast majority of bookstores won't stock your self-published book, regardless of how professional it looks? Or will you be thrilled to check out your eBook sales directly and see that people who don't know you are buying your book? Any goal is a valid one, as long as you're sure you're being honest with yourself. Otherwise you might end up disappointed later.

5. The books are still the most important thing. This point circles back to the first one. It's easy to get swept up in all of the back-end details of publishing a book and the front-end marketing, both of which could easily be a full-time job. It's all to easy to forget that what you really need to be doing is writing the next book. All of the successful self-published authors I've spoken with agree that having multiple books out is the best way to generate word-of-mouth.

I admit that for a couple of months I got side-tracked and spent too much time focusing on the publishing and marketing side of things. I even joined Facebook! (Gah! Yes, that should show you how crazy things had gotten.) But ultimately I realized I wasn't doing myself any favors. I know I can't do everything. As of two weeks ago, I'm back on track. I need to keep writing the next chapter in the series—and that's is exactly what I'm going to get back to doing after I publish this blog post.

I hope to see some of you at the workshops, and in the meantime feel free to leave a comment below with any questions. I've learned a lot from so many generous people that I'm more than happy to pass along what I've learned.

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.


Five Tips from Boot Camp for Self-Publishers

On this week's President's Day holiday, I attended Self-Publishing Boot Camp in San Francisco. I've already done a significant amount of research into the best ways to publish my books myself, but aside from attending an ebook panel put on my my local Sisters in Crime chapter, my research has primarily been online. Since I'm publishing Artifact: A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery in both ebook and print formats, I wanted to hear and speak with people in person to fill in the gaps in my research.

The workshop was led by Carla King, who has been self-publishing since 1994. I heard about it through one of the speakers, Joel Friedlander, aka The Book Designer, who has a terrific blog about making the right choices if you're going to publish your books yourself. Even though I already knew a lot of what was covered that day, successfully publishing your books yourself is such a big undertaking that I still learned a lot.

My top 5 take-aways from the day:

1. It's the Wild West out there in publishing right now. 

Whatever is true today might be totally different three months from now. While I already knew that, what I realized at the workshop was that the great thing about this uncertainty is that it's also an exciting time to experiment. When you're publishing independently, you can learn new things and change course at any time. Try what you think is best right now. If it turns out it's not working out as you expected, try something else.

I'm letting go of the idea that I need to get everything right. I'm learning as much as I can, having some fun, and I'll see where that leads. 

2. Once you've decided to go the indie route, what do you do first? Set goals. Specific ones.

Ask yourself what you want out of publishing your book(s). Once you figure that out, that's when you'll be ready to think about strategy.

My own goal is to have fun writing a whole mystery series. I'm in this for the long haul, so I need it to stay fun and not use up all of my energy. Otherwise it won't be worth it to me to stick with it. Therefore I'm not going to spend time doing things I don't enjoy. For example, I decided I'm going to pay someone to do my ebook formatting, because that expense is more than worth it to further my personal publishing goal. But if my goal had been to maximize profits as much as possible so I could quit my day job, paying someone to do something I could learn to do myself wouldn't necessarily be a good strategy.

3. The stigma of self-publishing is fading, but you still need to package your book in a way that looks professional and appropriate to your genre. 

People do judge a book by its cover. But it's not enough to simply have something you think is beautiful. Study book covers in Amazon's Top 100 lists in your genre.

As graphic designer, I've been having fun playing with cover design options. Some of my ideas have been really fun, but I realized how important it is to stick with genre conventions. I'm going to have a cover I love, but it's also going to be one that immediately tells my audience this book is for them.

4. Decide which parts of the process you need help with. No, you can't do it alone.

Through ebooks and print-on-demand technology, publishing independently has become less expensive, but it's still not free—not if you want to do it well.

Does your book need an editor? Unless you have the world's greatest critique group, the answer is yes. Do you need a book cover designer? Unless you're a designer or have an eye for design, the answer is yes. Do you need someone to format the interior of your book? Maybe, maybe not; it depends how much time you want to spend learning how to do it. Do you want to buy your own ISBN numbers? Do you want to print copies of your book to give away? The list goes on—and I'll talk more about my own specific decisions in a future post (which I'll write just as soon as I'm done with my own book design!).

5. Build your author brand. Not a book, not a cute handle, but YOU.

People who've promoted themselves as clever names that aren't their own often regret it later. Carla King gave the example of herself. On Twitter and in some other places, she's MissAdventuring. Cute, but many people won't remember MissAdventuring is Carla King.

And unless you're planning on writing just one book, you don't want your identity to be completely tied up with your first book. Some people use their book covers as their social media image, but a head shot of yourself that you use everywhere will allow a better connection to your readers.

I had been debating how much to use my "Gargoyle Girl" brand. I'm still going to use it for my business name and my mysterious photography blog, but I'm not going to use it in place of my name. I had previously wondered if I should Tweet as Gargoyle Girl, but I'm glad I stuck with @GigiPandian.

Before the workshop, I'd been suffering from a bit of information overload. But now that I've thought more seriously about my goals—to have fun writing the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series along with some locked room mystery short stories, connect with readers and other writers, and to structure my life in a way that allows me to keep writing—I'm back to having fun with this crazy undertaking.