Whodunnit And How: Self-Publishing a Romance Novel

Around 10 years ago, I almost gave up writing. Whenever I’m celebrating a publishing milestone, my good friend M. likes to remind me of the snowy Montreal winter’s night when, walking back to her apartment, I moaned to her that I had no new ideas, no talent, no drive to break into the publishing industry. How I was seriously considering giving it all up. I had been writing fan fiction for years upon years, and I had given it everything I had. My particular fandom, LoTR, was winding down, and I felt hollowed out. Being the awesome friend that she is, M. encouraged me to work through it and try again.


And I did.

(Imagine me doing the Rocky thing at the top of that staircase in Philadelphia.)

Stoker & Bash: The Fangs of Scavo, my second M/M historical mystery romance and my first self-published novel, has been out for a month now. My first book–a trial by fire if ever there was–was with a publisher. Before that, I had a short story published in a Canadian sci-fi YA anthology. But I first waded back into the writing world by joining and taking workshops at the Quebec Writer’s Federation. The first, back when I flirted with writing YA, was where I met my writing group, and some of us still get together to this day. (The others dropped away through a series of And Then There Were None-esque disagreements and life changes, a reminder that writing groups go through their own sorts of growing pains. If one’s not working for you, bow out graciously.)

To recap: eight years of fanfic, umpteen workshops, four years later a short story, three years later a novel, two-point-five years later a self-published novel, one eight-years-strong writing group… as you can see, I was an overnight success.

Moral of the story: You can do it. And it does take a village. More important than who to publish with or what platform to use, you’ll need friends, online or otherwise, to believe in you. Hone your craft by taking workshops, writing fanfic, joining a crit group, becoming part of the reader community in the genre you want to write in.

Once you’ve written, re-written, and revised a story or a novel or a something that you feel is ready for public consumption (and that you’re ready to be publicly consumed, because it will feel that way sometimes), explore your options. Self-pub is intimidating as hell. It can be expensive. It can be overwhelming. Learn as much as you can about it before you commit. Make sure it’s the right thing for you. Read every word of this incredible post by Heidi Cullinan before you make a final decision.

Mrs. Cullinan explains everything in minute detail and gives you lots of options. I’m just going to talk about the choices I made and why (a novella to her novel, you might say). So here’s how I did it:

-Hire an editor. Yes, you need one. Yes, even if you, like me, have over a decade of professional editing experience. If you need a lot of help, a developmental edit in the early stages is a great idea. If not, at minimum you need a content edit and a line edit, and that’s in addition to any betas. I used the incomparable Nancy-Anne Davies, who has over 10 years experience freelance editing for one of the most renowned romance publishers. And I forward every review that compliments the editing/grammar–of which there have been more than a few–to her.

-Hire a great cover artist. Do your research beforehand. I made a list of covers I loved and who designed them, and then had a think about whose style would work best with what I envisioned for my book. Not to mention what elements readers expect from a book in my genre. It’s no secret I’m not a big fan of models on covers. I also wrote a character who I knew would be next to impossible to find a model for. But in the romance genre, you’re dead in the water if you don’t have at least one character’s face or silhouette on the cover.

Enter the mad sorceress skills of the Lady Tiferet. Not only did she find a culturally appropriate model for my Hiero, she bibbity-bobbity-booed him into the proper period dress and facial stylings. *I* didn’t even really understand what she’d done until I saw this photo:

Hiero Magic Small

That is what an exceptional cover artist can do for you and your book. Because no matter what they say, some people still judge a book by its cover.

-Select an ebook publishing platform. After a recommendation from KJ Charles and exploring my options, I chose to use Pronoun. Not only do they offer the best rates and author agreement, but they have tools that do the formatting for you for free. They distribute the book to Amazon, Kobo, Apple, Google, Barnes & Noble, and to library services Bibliotheca and Overdrive. And they compile all your sales data, make recommendations about categories, let you list any published books you have, and give you a free author page. Their system is super easy to use. They answer any questions you have promptly and thoroughly. And they have a blog, The Verbs, that gives you writing and publishing tips. I can’t recommend them enough.

-To print or not to print? That is the next big question you need to ask yourself. I did a print release simultaneously. Some authors only self-pub in print format a couple of months later. Some don’t do it at all. This first self-pub experience was an experiment for me, so I decided to go for it. I personally didn’t find it a lot to take both on at once, but then I gave myself a good two months to get everything sorted (and I have a full-time job).

For print, you have two options: Create Space and Ingram Spark. This article and others like it are why I decided to use both CS and Ingram. As of right now, I don’t know if I would do both again, but I’m also reconsidering doing print at all because, as a new-to-so-many author, the sales just aren’t there they way they are for ebook. This could also be because I’m in the romance genre, or my publicity efforts so far. So do research into your genre to see if print is the right option for you.

If you do go the print route, you may need help formatting your book, like I did. Paul at BB Books is a wizard, and his web site has all sorts of information you’ll need to understand not only formatting, but the next steps in the process. His rates are competitive, and I found him an absolute pleasure to work with.

-Once your book is ready to go, go, go… you need to kick yourself for not doing any research about how to market it. I wouldn’t let this interfere with the writing process, but once you’re editing, start looking at what other authors are doing and reading up on trends in your genre. This is where joining author/genre Facebook groups and Twitter feeds is invaluable. If you have a community, interacting with people in it will help you learn what strategies might be right for you.

Also, all genres have their own go-to review web sites. Familiarise yourself with these: which are most popular? Which have the most traffic? Which do you see most referenced in your social media feeds? All of them likely accept submissions, so prepare a friendly cover letter and follow their instructions while submitting.

A media pack is a must when marketing a book. What should this include? Your blurb, an excerpt, your author bio, some kind of document with relevant social media and buy links, and your cover image. Make the process of setting up a blog post as easy as possible for the kind people willing to give you some free publicity by preparing this in advance. It will also save you time when responding to their emails.

Review sites have different kinds of posts that can help generate heat even a couple of months in advance: cover reveal, guest post, blog tour, review. If you want them to review your book, you need to give them at least a month’s notice–and if you’re new, possibly more. Read their submissions guidelines carefully.

You might also consider using a promotion company to do a lot of the legwork for you. They have long-established contacts and can get you access to blogs who might not otherwise answer your emails. The one I used is Signal Boost Promotions. Rachel, who runs it, is exceptional: organised, connected, gives amazing advice… a real champion for your book.

There are tons of other marketing tools/strategies out there–too many to mention. Remember that this is an essential part of self-publishing. I know authors are introverts by nature, but it’s the old “if a tree falls in the forest…”

As you can see by this blog post, if you put in the work and invest in your talent, self-publishing is not that complicated. We in the village have cleaned and readied a lovely little cottage, just waiting for you to move in.

So what are you waiting for?



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