An interview: The World of Self-Publishing and Promotion (Jen Cervantes)

I have several author friends who have decided to self-publish--some in addition to traditional publishing-- and found their journeys fascinating and their reasons intriguing. I decided to interview the very talented (she writes AND designs--just look at these gorgeous covers!) Lena Goldfinch. I know you'll find this as transparent and thoughtful and eye-opening as I did. thanks, Lena!

Self publishing has really changed over the last few years. What methods are available for writers who want to take this route?

I went directly through Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon KDP) and Kobo Writing Life, but I also used Smashwords, an aggregator as well as a bookseller, to distribute to the iPad iBookstore, Nook, Sony Reader Store, Diesel, among other retailers. I use them to distribute to iBookstore because I don’t have a Mac (you need a Mac to run Apple’s publishing software iProducer). And I’ll likely go directly through PubIt at some point. (Note: I'm still very new to this myself, so can only speak from my own experience!)

You can hire out certain tasks to flat-rate freelancers (ex. editors, cover designers, and book formatters). For that, I’d ask within your writers’ sphere for recommendations. (I don’t recommend going with any service that’s going to take a permanent percentage cut of your royalties.)

For print-on-demand books, I've been happy with CreateSpace. I like their quality. I also like the fact that the resulting book isn’t so prohibitively expensive that no one can afford it, not even my mom. ;) With CreateSpace, your book will be distributed via and can be linked to your ebook version (so reviews are cross-populated). For an additional 25 dollars, you can get Expanded Distribution, which means your print book will be available on Barnes & Noble online and for libraries to order, etc...

If your heart is set on hardcover or the format demands it (ex. a photo book or a children’s picture book) then I’d look into Lulu or search around.

There are companies with publishing packages popping up all over the place. For example, seems to have a good vibe, for writers who want more assistance.

Why did you choose this route?

It was sort of like the perfect storm, in a good way.

I’d published a fantasy novella, The Language of Souls, through a small press and my contract was coming up for renewal. I’d evolved as a writer and wanted to rewrite the story as YA. Although I’d had a positive experience with my small press, they don’t publish YA. So it seemed appropriate, career-wise to part ways.

I’d been watching self-publishing for some time. I saw the big stories of Amanda Hocking and others. I saw attitudes shifting toward self-publishing, but even then I wasn’t ready. Then I saw some of my writer friends were having good success self-publishing, enjoying it even, and that encouraged me to think about it. It wasn’t something I jumped into lightly.

Other factors:

My background is in software engineering and web design, so I felt comfortable (well, at least “relatively optimistic about” :)) tackling formatting an ebook/print book and uploading it. Honestly, you really only need MS Word, a can-do attitude, and time.

I had an artistic bent in high school and have been creating mock covers for my works-in-progress for years. Because of my web design work, I had the tools to do my own cover design (primarily Photoshop). Design is something I enjoy, so I wanted—really wanted—to take a stab at creating book covers.

Also, I had the novella coming back to me. It had already been published and professionally edited, which was a huge plus. And it was a nice manageable 30k words, which seemed perfect for learning the process.

So, I had the novella.
I had the Big Idea to revise it as YA.
There was really no viable market to submit a 30k romantic YA fantasy novella to.
I was becoming intrigued by self-publishing.
I had an itch to do cover design.
I had my toolkit of skills.
I wasn’t getting any younger. ;)
And I had time.

With that, I was primed.

Then I made two connections that brought it all together:

1. I connected with my wonderful proofreader/copyeditor, Thyra. This was key. I’m of the strong opinion that writers can’t always see their own errors, because their brains substitute what’s supposed to be there. Or maybe that’s just me? ;)

2. I also connected with YA author Lisa Amowitz on a group blog we belong to (The Enchanted Inkpot). In addition to being an author, Lisa is a graphic design professor and book cover designer. At some point, we discovered we both loved cover design and she (amazingly, very generously) offered to mentor me. (That’s still kind of overwhelming and I’m so grateful and blown away by her generosity.)

Do you think there is room for a hybrid of traditional and self publishing?

Absolutely. But it could be tricky. You’d have to keep an eagle eye on your contracts (especially non-compete clauses). For more on this, I’d advise checking out Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog and reading her series The Business Rusch, on the business of writing. This series is very informative, accessible, and interesting.

I’d also scout the web for articles on how others have successfully combined traditional and self-publishing.

What steps does a writer take to begin this process?

Determine if you’re in a good, can-do emotional place.

This is more about emotional preparedness, but spend a little time meditating—by that I mean deep concentrated thought, with paper, and maybe fun colored markers—and explore your feelings on self-publishing and traditional publishing. Think about the project (or projects) you want to self-publish and why. Make little bubbles with the pros & cons and best & worst case scenarios of both sides. (If you self-publish and find it’s an “epic fail,” as my teenage son would say, will you be able to accept that?) Be realistic. Be open. Be honest. This paper is just for you. (And can be burned later if you wish. ;))

In this, write down how much money you’re willing and able to spend. Write down the skills you bring to the table. Write down what tasks you’d have to hire out. So, do a kitchen-table feasibility study right there.

If, at the end of this, you feel a little effervescent and hopeful, then this is an awesome place to be. Nerves are okay, but a sick, bad feeling is not a good sign.

The most important thing is to have a polished manuscript that has promise. One you love and have faith in. One you’ve work-shopped with critique partners and have gotten great feedback on. Objectively, you also need to have some idea that there’s a potential readership for it.

Then, dive into research. I’ve read tons about self-publishing and continue to follow about a dozen blogs. The industry is changing so rapidly it’s amazing. Books about self-publishing can be out of date the moment they’re published. Even ebooks. It’s crazy. But it’s also fun and exciting. I find it all fascinating too, so research isn’t a chore. I’d suggest reading a few books. Maybe download a sample, check out the authors’ blogs, and look for voices and attitudes that resonate with you.

What are some of the pitfalls?

Self-publishing can be a grand time suck, especially early on. Ramping up, formatting, uploading, re-uploading, designing covers, designing print book covers & interiors (a related-but-different thing from ebook formatting), locating good business partners and hiring out tasks all take time away from writing. It’s a juggling act. You’re now a small publishing company: Me, Inc.

There’s an even bigger pitfall:

The Reality of Self-Publishing—of any publication, really, because traditionally published books are not immune—which is the problem of obscurity vs. discoverability. How do you connect with readers? Thankfully, there are ways to do this online (that are, serendipitously, free). For example: You can participate in  Read & Review requests in Goodreads groups, which means you offer up free copies of your book in exchange for fair and honest reviews. The best groups are genre/age specific. You can use your own blog, become a member of a group blog, do guest posts on other people’s blogs, connect with book bloggers, etc...

I started out contacting a couple of bloggers who’d reviewed and loved The Language of Souls when it first came out through my small press. I went back to them and asked if they’d like to host a giveaway. That was universally well-received. (If a sample of two qualifies as universal? ;)) I also did a couple of Goodreads Read & Review requests to get started.

At a certain point, you start getting reviews from people you’ve never heard of. I remember seeing my first sales to New Zealand, Australia, Germany, and England. Which was beyond cool. I had no idea how they discovered my book. (I know my mom didn’t call them. ;)) So did they simply bump into my book on an online bookstore? Did they see a review on Goodreads or read a blog review?) That was a rush. It’s also humbling, amazing, and mind-boggling. This is a global publishing world, people.

I also plan to do Goodreads Giveaways and to contact more book bloggers.

Going “indie” is fun, but it can also be anxiety inducing. Say, you’re the type of person who has a low-threshold for the unknown, for not really knowing what you’re doing. Or maybe the inability to predict your success drives you crazy. Hypothetically. My suggestion is to get over it. Lighten up. (Someone please repeat this to me in the spring when I release my next book, Aire, a romantic YA fantasy—shameless plug).

Or maybe you’re afraid of the (inevitable) negative reviews, which can feel like another form of rejection. (I say inevitable, because not everyone is going to like your book. I know, crazy talk! But do you like every book you pick up? Remembering that helps. So, that girl who gives your book a 1 or 2... Maybe she’s really into Vampire/ Shapeshifter/ Urban Fantasy, with love triangles—and you don’t write that. That’s okay.)

What are some realistic expectations for a writer who chooses this?

You need to go in with your eyes wide open. So re-read, understand, and accept the pitfalls. Be aware that self-publishing will consume a chunk of your time and energy.

And here’s a random list I came up with:
  • You can spend almost no money or you can spend a lot of money. There's really quite a spectrum. It depends how much you can do yourself and how much time you have to invest.
  • You may not make money right away (if ever). How can you possibly predict this? You can’t. But you can accept it, whatever happens.
  • Your sales (i.e. readership growth) will very likely build slowly. Maybe glacially. ;)
  • So, don’t watch your sales daily. (I mean, after the first month, of course, when the novelty begins to wear off. ;))
  • If you want it done well, self-publishing will take time and effort. Don’t rush the process of getting your book ready. Think of it as lovingly crafting your book. I love the term "artisanal publishing" (from APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur). I’ve come to embrace the label “indie author” too. (Plus, it sounds cool, like an indie recording artist. :)) 
  • Predicting how long it takes to release a book is hard. (Soft dates are your friends, for example, Spring 2013 or, say, Coming 2014 ;))
  • Don’t pin all your hopes on one book striking gold. And don’t promo it to death and in so doing neglect creating new works. Keep writing. Work on a slow steady stream of new books (not rushing). Each new book, theoretically, can drive sales to your other books, but only if you have other books. So, I’d take a long view at 5 years down the road. 10 years. Where do you want to be?
  • Taking the Long View: think of your first year of self-publishing as a time of discovery and trial & error. Think of it as an adventure. Like joining the circus for a year, maybe. A career is not made in a year. Possible? Perhaps. Likely? No.
  • A traditional publisher may offer for your self-published book. Or not. You may have other projects out on sub that get picked up. It’s not all or nothing. There’s always the possibility of mixing it up. Just watch those contract clauses.
  • You can only do so much (to ensure the success of your book). Some of this is luck. You do not have permission to beat yourself up—or to allow anyone else to—if you have to revise your goals/expectations.
  • You need to make some effort to connect with readers, whether that's on Goodreads or blogs. Don’t let that part of the plan consumed you, but enjoy connecting with readers.
  • I’ll repeat that thing about “you are a small business”. It’s going to be on you, 100%, to track your expenses and income, to plan release dates, to select your cover, to find and pay a freelance editor. All. On. You. (Embrace Excel. :))
  • You may love having all this control. You may not.
  • You will gain a great appreciation for all that publishers do. Seriously.

Why do you think self-publication has become so popular?

I think because self-publishing has become so accessible. It’s also become more mainstream and there is so much information online about people who have done it. These mavericks very generously have shared their experiences either on their blogs or have written books. On the flip side, because it’s easy, the ebook market is supersaturated. How are you & your books going to stand out?

I also think there are many rewards and people are finding out it’s fun and really not that hard:

If you wanted, you could polish your novel, create a simple but attractive cover, do some relatively simple formatting, and upload it via Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing as an ebook only and be done with it (or via Kobo Writing Life or Nook or...). You could publish it to only that one outlet. And you could do that in a very short time. You click & then your book is available to an international market.

That’s a reality.

That’s amazing!

There’s another thing I’d like to say about rewards. One big moment for me was showing my freshly-printed proofs to my kids. It was so meaningful and fun too. They know I write and that I've been writing for years. They were excited when I had an ebook published with a small press, but it was different for them to see a paperback book and hold it, for them to participate in my writing in a more tangible way.

I could see their kind of stunned pride in having a mom who wrote a book, something they could share with their friends. Seeing that, it really meant a lot to me.

Are there resources a writer can turn to?

Tons! There’s a wealth of info out there. As I said before, browse around and find voices and attitudes that resonate with you. I don’t think there’s any one definitive guide. You have to find what works for you, maybe combine and modify.

One book I read recently was Guy Kawasaki's APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book. A lot of what he says is just good stuff for any writer and some applies to launching a self-published non-fiction title, but it’s all worth reading.

I love what he says about self-publishing as “artisanal publishing”:

"Self-publishing could change from stigma to bragging point—maybe we should change the term to 'artisanal publishing' and foster the image of authors lovingly crafting their books with total control over the process."
Guy Kawasaki, in APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book, by Guy Kawasaki & Shawn Welch)

My own personal how-to Bible when I was going through the process was Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing, by Catherine Ryan Howard. (Billed as: everything you need to know to successfully self-publish your own POD paperback and e-book in a how-to guide that doesn’t sound like anti-Big Publishing propaganda produced by the Ministry of Truth…) I found the author’s realistic, non-bitter attitude refreshing. Plus, she’s super funny.

She also blogs about “self-printing” at Catherine, Caffeinated

Let’s Get Digital, by David Gaughran was also super helpful and very accessible to read.

The Book Designer (This blog contains must read info on designing books inside and out, with special attention to what makes an effective ebook cover.)

The Passive Voice (I use Google Reader to keep track of my blogs and when “Passive Guy” posts something new, I always click there first. He collects snippets of articles on publishing and may or may not comment on them, but he always links to the original article, sort of like a collective digest of interesting stuff you might want to read about publishing. Here you’ll find fantastic leads to great articles and possibly new blogs to follow, without having to search for them yourself.)

Creativ-Indie (Helpful advice, tips, and Zen-like perspective on being an author/artist and how to make a living at it, without losing yourself or all of your friends)

Dean Wesley Smith for articles on self-publishing and indie publisher (as in becoming your own small press with multiple authors) publishing. Ex. advice on how to price your ebooks.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s series The Business Rusch on the business of writing for consistently great articles on publishing (Another blog that I click on first when it pops up on my Google Reader).

Smashwords Blog (All their self-publishing guides are great and are free.)

Indie Author Lindsay Buroker who posts articles on self-publishing

The Creative Penn another indie author who also posts on self-publishing

Karen McQuestion (hers is one of the early success stories and her collection of past articles on her experience are worth reading)

The Book Deal: A Publishing Blog for Writers and Book People

The Writing Bomb: Navigating Through the Indie Publishing Universe

Freelance Editing: Amber Stokes is a freelance editor for (mostly) YA and Christian Fiction. She's recently started her business, and I can highly recommend her.  She's a pleasure to work with. (And she's currently running a proofreading special for indie authors.)

Where can we find your work?

My novella, The Language of Souls, is available (almost) everywhere books are sold (at least online :)).

To find out more about my books and future projects visit my author page on Goodreads or my website at


  1. Thanks for sharing all your advice on self-publishing. There was really lots of great advice here and it sounds like a well thought out decision for you. Good luck with your book.

  2. FANTASTIC post. Your covers are BEAUTIFUL.

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  4. This was an awesome post, Lena! Lots of helpful information here. :) It's been my privilege being a beta reader for you!

    And thank you so much for the mention! I would LOVE to meet and be of service to some new authors! :)


  5. Loved this post -- inspiring *and* informative!


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