A Newbie’s Guide to Self-Publishing — Guest: Julie Musil

by Jami Gold on February 6, 2014

in Writing Stuff

Picture of Julie Musil with text: A Newbie Guide to Self-Publishing with Julie Musil

More writers are considering self-publishing than ever before. Even traditionally published authors who love their publishers are taking the step to become hybrid authors—a mix of New York and self-published—as they release related novellas or new series on their own.

Yet the prospect of self-publishing can be overwhelming. Self-published authors have to oversee more steps and find more partners to help bring their work into the world than they do when working with a publisher.

So when my friend and self-published author Julie Musil asked if she could guest post on my blog, I suggested she could share a step-by-step plan for self-publishing. She delivered with this great post for us today, so please welcome Julie Musil!

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Self-Publishing Isn’t Overwhelming—I Promise!

You’ve watched indie publishing from afar. You’ve considered it, but the idea overwhelms you.

I know exactly how you feel.

When I signed with my agent, indie publishing was just taking off. I’ve watched the revolution with great interest, knowing I might someday take the plunge. I was always open to the idea.

Now, as I’ve humbly sent my YA novel into the world, I wouldn’t come close to calling myself an expert. I’d call myself a student teacher. Indie publishing isn’t overwhelming at all. If a rookie like me can do it, so can you. I promise.

Here’s my newbie guide to indie publishing:

Step 1—Take the Leap

I’d just had a frustratingly close call with a publisher when I read this post by Susan Kaye Quinn. By the time I finished the post, I was excited about the road ahead. I knew I’d indie publish.

Step 2—Lead with Your Best Work

In that same post, Susan answered one of my persistent questions…What book should I indie publish first? Her advice? Lead with your best work. That made my decision easy. I’d lead with my agented novel. I spoke with my agent about my decision. She was so supportive.

Step 3—Tell Others about Your Decision

I was tempted to keep my decision a secret. After all, if I didn’t tell anyone then no one could hold me accountable. If I failed, I’d fail quietly. Then I realized I needed accountability. I announced my decision. I couldn’t back out.

Step 4—Learn the Process

There are a lot of resources out there, but I learned from a familiar writer. I began with Susan Kaye Quinn’s For Writers section of her blog and her Indie Author Survival Guide. In my opinion, both are must-reads for indie writers. She’s not giving me a dime to say this. I do so as a public service. Most of your questions or concerns will be addressed by Susan. I promise.

Step 5—Hire a Freelance Editor

Here was where I spent the bulk of my indie publishing dough. I didn’t want to put out an inferior product that screamed amateur. I wanted to put out a product that rivaled a traditional publisher’s product. My manuscript had been edited several times, including twice by my agent, but I still hired a freelance editor. There are plenty of editors to choose from, but I worked with Bethany at A Little Red, Inc. The Indelibles blog has a list of resources for indie publishers.

Step 6—Hire a Cover Designer

Here was where I spent another chunk of dough, but boy was it worth it. Sure, we can buy stock covers that are used by other authors, but why do that? Your baby deserves a grand entrance. A professional cover helps you achieve that. I worked with J. Allen Fielder, who was amazing. More deets on working with a cover designer in my post Cover Design 101.

Step 7—Format the Book

I chose to format the book myself. It was challenging, but I’m so glad I learned the process. Susan’s Indie Author Survival Guide goes into the process in great detail. She also lists reputable freelance formatters if you’d rather pay someone in order to avoid a few headaches. Either way, make sure your book is formatted beautifully. Test it out on a Kindle or iPhone. Make sure your readers get a clean, easy-to-read copy.

Step 8—Don’t Go Broke

You can spend zero dollars to indie publish your book, or you could spend a zillion dollars to indie publish your book. My advice is to spend only what you need to. I only spent money on editing and cover design. I may spend money on promo, but not large amounts. I’m taking a wait and see attitude with that.

Step 9—Track Your Expenses

Keep track of whatever you spend. It’s likely you’ll earn money with your indie published book. You’ll be better off if you can give a list of expenses to your tax man.

Step 10—Don’t Rush

Take your time. Edit your manuscript until it’s shiny. Format your book until it looks great on any device. Keep designing your cover until you love it. Don’t set a release date until you know you’ll be ready. No need to add unnecessary stress.

Step 11—Reach Out and Spread the Word

When you’re finally ready, let others know you’re doing a cover reveal. Let them know you have a book coming out soon. Create a media kit for fellow bloggers who’ll help spread the word. I used Crystal Collier’s format as a guide. Don’t spam. Don’t annoy. Simply inform and offer value.

Step 12—Enjoy the Process

It’s easy to become stressed or worried about your indie journey. I had a couple of those moments myself. When I felt tension rising (not the good story kind) I reminded myself that this is a choice. I reminded myself that I was lucky to be a writer in a time of so much freedom and opportunity.

Step 13—Start Your Next Project

As soon as The Boy Who Loved Fire was released into the wild, I turned my attention to my next indie project. Nothing sells books better than the next book. Nothing stops your obsessive tendencies about one book more than the next book. Repeat after me: Release the book. Move on.

If you make the decision to go indie, embrace the journey. Enjoy it. And share what you’ve learned with others. It’s exciting. It’s unpredictable. It’s fun.

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Book cover of The Boy Who Loved FireJulie Musil writes Young Adult novels from her rural home in Southern California, where she lives with her husband and three sons. She’s an obsessive reader who loves stories that grab the heart and won’t let go.

Her novel The Boy Who Loved Fire is available now. For more information, or to stop by and say Hi, please visit Julie on her blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

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Thank you, Julie! We all enjoy feeling like we have a mentor to walk us through complicated situations, and your post is like a virtual friend we can look to for inspiration.

That said, we’ve talked a lot here about the difficulties of putting out a product we can be proud of, and I know not everyone can afford a professional cover or editing. At the very least, we can use multiple beta readers and brainstorm other ways to save money.

The goal, as always, is to do the best we can. Hopefully, Julie’s insights will help us see that we’re capable of more than we might think. *smile*

Have you considered self-publishing? Why or why not? Are you overwhelmed by the idea? Did Julie’s summary help? If you’ve indie published, are there any steps you’d add to Julie’s process? Do you have any additional advice or insights for those considering self-publishing? Do you have any questions for Julie?

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42 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Julie Musil February 6, 2014 at 7:39 am

Jami, thanks for letting me hang out on your blog today! It’s a pleasure to be here.

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Jami Gold February 6, 2014 at 9:06 am

Hi Julie,

Thanks for being here and sharing what you’ve learned! 🙂

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Melissa Maygrove February 6, 2014 at 10:13 am

Great post, Julie. And just in time. 🙂

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Jami Gold February 6, 2014 at 10:36 am

Hi Melissa,

Just in time? 🙂 Does that mean you’re ready to make the leap? Good luck and thanks for the comment!

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Julie Musil February 6, 2014 at 2:29 pm

Melissa, does this mean you’re venturing into indie publishing? If so, I’m happy for you! Feel free to connect with me directly if you have further questions. Good luck!

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Robyn LaRue February 6, 2014 at 10:36 am

I’m saving a bit by doing multiple beta rounds. One of my CPs is an editor and another is a Masters student in Linguistics, so that helps a TON. My daughter and mother-in-law are artists, so asked them to get involved with the cover and give me a few ideas to pass along to my mentor, who is a marketer. I’ve been so blessed this way and might keep below my budget of $500 (including web site).

Julie, do you recommend putting the book up early to work out possible bugs, but having a formal launch date a month later?

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Jami Gold February 6, 2014 at 11:28 am

Hi Robyn,

Ooo, that’s a great question, Robyn. I know Julie’s planning on stopping by later today to answer questions, and I’ll be interested in her answer on that. I’ve wondered whether it’s better to have a “soft” release to make sure all the outlets have the book up in their system at the right price, and then do an official release later, maybe even a week or two rather than a month.

If others who have self-published already have thoughts on this, I’d love to hear their insights too. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Julie Musil February 6, 2014 at 2:34 pm

Robyn, that’s great! A $500 budget is totally reasonable, in my opinion.

I absolutely recommend putting the book up early, long before the release date. I knew I’d wanted to release some time toward the middle or end of January. I uploaded my book to the Kindle as early as December 12th! Once I saw that the formatting was good on my Kindle, I used the same nicely formatted document to upload directly to Barnes and Noble (nookpress.com), Kobo (writinglife.kobo.com), and Smashwords.com (Smash can be used to distribute to all the other retailers, such as Apple iTunes).

By uploading so early, I was able to really dig in and review the book in multiple formats. I even tweaked the front matter and back matter a little, since I had time.

What pushed my release date back was print. I’d created a clean document, but wanted to receive the proof before the release. Print was important to me, because I’d attached the book release to two charities. I didn’t want them to lose any donations because my book wasn’t in print.

I hope that helps!

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Robyn LaRue February 6, 2014 at 2:42 pm

Jami and Julie, thank you so much! Web sites are always soft released (love that term) and I’m glad I’m on the right track thinking it’s a good way to work out the bugs. Thank you!

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Julie Musil February 6, 2014 at 2:56 pm

Exactly! I released it quietly…didn’t tell anyone. Each of the publishing platforms (Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Smash) offer previewers. You just click on preview and you’ll be able to see how your book will look on the device. For instance, I had some early trouble with my page breaks. Seeing it in the preview format allowed me to fix that before a reader paid to see it that way.

Good luck with your own publishing journey 🙂

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Jami Gold February 6, 2014 at 2:55 pm

Hi Julie,

Great information! Thanks! 🙂

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Maryanne Barsotti February 6, 2014 at 10:53 am

Thanks for sharing this great info with us, Julie. Your post is very timely. I’m getting ready to self-pub a book that was previously published under a pen name. Since I’ll be using a different name, do I need to change the title, or should I use the same one? It has a different cover due to copyright issues.

Thanks again!

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Jami Gold February 6, 2014 at 11:44 am

Hi Maryanne,

Another great question! Is the old version completely removed from all retailers? If so, then I don’t think keeping the same title will matter. Titles aren’t copyrightable, so multiple stories can have the same title. But if anyone else has other insights, please chime in! 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Julie Musil February 6, 2014 at 2:37 pm

Maryanne, I’m not an expert in this. It seems to me that if the rights have reverted back to you, you can do what you want with it. You know what might be helpful? You can search the KDP forums (kindle direct publishing) for answers.

One thing I learned is this: if I had a question that needed answering, I could always find what I needed in a forum. Authors have just about been through it all and posted what they learned on forums.

If that doesn’t work, how about connecting with your former publisher? If you have a nice relationship with them, even if it’s just the editor or owner, maybe they could help you?

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Jami Gold February 6, 2014 at 3:02 pm

Hi Julie,

Great tip to go looking on the forums. I bet there’s a post of the pros and cons of this question. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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Maryanne Barsotti February 13, 2014 at 7:53 pm

Thanks, Julie, I give it a try!

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Tracy Campbell February 6, 2014 at 12:34 pm

Hi Jami and Julie

These are awesome tips. I will be keeping this post to read the links.
I also plan on self-publishing.
Julie, I was also intrigued that your agent was all for you publishing the same book. Perhaps Jami or Julie that could be another post.

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Jami Gold February 6, 2014 at 1:36 pm

Hi Tracy,

That’s a good point! Many agents don’t support their authors going self-published. I firmly believe that agents can help self-published authors expand their reach through library distribution, foreign rights/translations, etc. (I have several self-published friends in that exact situation.) But too many agents aren’t interested, or they have conflict-of-interest issues with their own publishing company, in-house editors, etc.

So I’d love to see a “master” list of agent’s attitudes toward self-publishing. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Tracy Campbell February 8, 2014 at 6:44 pm

Jami and Julie, thanks. And yes, I’d love to hear what other agents think about this. Julie, sounds like you have a wonderful agent for sure. 🙂

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Jami Gold February 9, 2014 at 9:29 am

Hi Tracy,

Yes, I agree on all counts. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Julie Musil February 6, 2014 at 2:40 pm

Tracy, excellent comment!

I have to say, I was a little nervous about approaching my agent about this. But she is THE nicest person in publishing. If anyone has met my agent, they’ll agree. Her response was so enthusiastic. Her goal with this book has always been the same as mine: get it into the hands of readers. She supported my decision 100%. No conflict at all.

Fun fact for Jami’s readers…my book title was not always The Boy Who Loved Fire. It used to be “Redemption.” I knew I’d probably have to change it at some point, because Redemption is too generic.

That editor? The one who came “this close” to picking up the book? She gave it the current title. My agent even asked if we could use the title. She was also very supportive and enthusiastic.

Amazing people.

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Jami Gold February 6, 2014 at 3:03 pm

Hi Julie,

Awesome! That’s great to hear. 🙂

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Rhenna Morgan February 6, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Great Post! Lots of good info.

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Jami Gold February 6, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Hi Rhenna,

I’m glad I could bring Julie here for us. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Julie Musil February 6, 2014 at 2:41 pm

Rhenna,

Thanks for stopping by! I tell ya, I truly appreciated all the writers who’d gone before me on this journey. Like Susan Kaye Quinn. They paved the way for newbies like me and made it doable.

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Serena Yung February 6, 2014 at 6:17 pm

Nice way to summarize the whole process. My greatest personal concerns would be having enough money to pay for professional editing and cover design, haha. At the moment, since I’m still a non-working student, I won’t be able to do that, but HOPEFULLY I’ll be able to do something about that in the future. But for now, I’m drawing and designing my own covers, and doing all the edits myself. The advantage of DIY is that I’ll get the good feeling that “I did everything myself”, lol. I do really want to DRAW my covers myself, though, because only I know EXACTLY how my characters look like. However, I have a feeling that cover artists wouldn’t mind if I drew my characters, then sent that picture of my characters to them to touch up, elaborate, and professionalize. I’m not very good at drawing things beyond the head and face anyway, lol, so I could consider this in the future.

Of course, it’s easier for me because I’m only aiming to please my friends and family, not strangers. But I do hope to have something very professional-looking one day. Fingers crossed that I’ll be able to save up that much money in the future.

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Julie Musil February 6, 2014 at 6:35 pm

Serena, it’s cool that you can design your own covers! I can only draw stick figures, so I knew I’d have to sub that out. You make a great point…that if we’re selling to a wider market—outside our circle of friends and family—we should apply a higher standard. My family would love anything I put out. Other people? Not so much.

Good luck with your writing adventure!

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Serena Yung February 7, 2014 at 10:05 am

Thanks for your encouragement, Julie! 😀

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Jami Gold February 6, 2014 at 6:35 pm

Hi Serena,

I actually found a really interesting resource earlier today for making good-looking book covers in MS Word. I was surprised at everything we can do with graphics in Word. 🙂

So even if you paid someone to “professionalize” the drawings, you could still do the rest yourself. I hope that helps. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung February 7, 2014 at 10:35 am

Hi Jami,

Wow those tips on how to create an impressive cover on Word are amazing! I never would have thought you could do it without a graphics software like Photoshop, which is expensive.

And I really like the graphics resources suggested on that site. I didn’t imagine that DeviantArtists could charge such a low price (relatively)! Maybe I could hire a DeviantArtist if I need to professional help too.

And ooh I’ll check out those cover templates!

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Jami Gold February 7, 2014 at 2:15 pm

Hi Serena,

Ditto! I thought you’d get a kick out of that. 🙂

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Leslie S. Rose February 6, 2014 at 8:06 pm

Wow, Julie. You are so organized! It gives Indie publishing a doable perspective. Your dose of courage to put yourself out there is admirable.

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Julie Musil February 6, 2014 at 8:08 pm

Leslie! Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m so grateful for all the information out there. Bonus: each time I indie publish, I’ll get better and better at it.

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Jami Gold February 6, 2014 at 8:30 pm

Hi Leslie,

Yay! That’s exactly what I was hoping for with Julie’s guest post–doable. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Tyrean February 7, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Truly excellent and timely post!!! I pushed to get my first book out because I set myself a date before I had all the formatting finished. This time around I’m getting all my ducks in a row first. I really appreciated your detailed description of your process, and the detailed information you’ve given in the comment responses. Thank you.

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Jami Gold February 7, 2014 at 3:16 pm

Hi Tyrean,

Yay! I’m glad you found this helpful. Good luck with your story, and thanks for the comment! 🙂

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Julie Musil February 7, 2014 at 7:34 pm

Tyrean, I’d heard about that happening with other authors, so I was careful not to rush the process. The only thing I wished I’d done differently is send out books for reviews earlier. I didn’t have reviews “stacked up” before the release. They’re trickling in now.

Best of luck with your next release!

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Jemi Fraser February 9, 2014 at 12:15 pm

Great advice as always Julie! I’m bookmarking this for when I’m ready! 🙂

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Jami Gold February 9, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Hi Jemi,

Good luck on your publishing path. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Julie Musil February 11, 2014 at 3:52 pm

Jemi, when you’re ready, I’ll be there if you have any questions at all!

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