August 21, 2014

3 Tips for Self-Publishing Success — Guest: Julie Musil

Julie Musil with text: 3 Tips for Publishing Success with Julie Musil

It’s no secret in the industry that many authors are considering self-publishing on some level. Some authors are starting off as indie publishers, some are switching from traditional publishing to self-publishing, and others are releasing books under both methods and becoming hybrid authors.

So I was happy to host my friend Julie Musil earlier this year, when she shared her “Newbie’s Guide to Self-Publishing.” Now Julie’s back today to discuss some pitfalls of self-publishing and provide tips for avoiding those issues.

Honestly though, I think her advice is applicable to every author, no matter our publishing path. I’ll share my thoughts on that below, but first, please welcome Julie Musil! *smile*


3 Pitfalls of Indie Publishing
(and How to Avoid Them)

I’ve become a huge fan of indie publishing. When I first decided to publish my debut YA novel, The Boy Who Loved Fire, I was nervous. I studied and analyzed everything I could about the process, and the more I read, the more I liked. As I prepared to publish my second novel, The Summer of Crossing Lines, I’ve had even more fun than the first time around.

But indie publishing is not all sunshine and daffodils. There are some gaping pitfalls that remain, and it’s up to professional, career-minded authors to avoid them.

Pitfall #1—Poor Quality

Indie publishing has come a long way since the early days of cheesy covers and wonky formatting. Still, we should strive to create a quality product—one that can compete with, and even surpass, that of traditional publishers. Indie authors have raised the bar and are now creating work that is difficult to distinguish as self-published.

Avoid the Poor Quality Pitfall by…

  1. Hire a professional editor. Bethany from A Little Red, Inc. edited both of my books. More resources can be found at the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog. For tips on hiring a professional editor, click here. Make sure your manuscript has been through the ringer before you pay someone for edits, otherwise it’s a waste of time and money.
  2. Hire a cover designer. Covers are the first impression a reader has of your work. Don’t waste that first impression on a poor cover. I’ve worked with Jeff Fielder on both of my covers. Whoever you work with, make sure your cover is a simple, clean design that captures attention in a thumbnail. Click here for more information about working with a cover designer.
  3. Format ebooks and print versions properly. I formatted both of my books myself, and if I can learn how to do it, anyone can. Seriously. It was a steep learning curve, but I’m glad I took the time to do it. Now it’s easy for me to make changes to the book and upload new versions. Other authors hire formatters and swear by them. Susan Kaye Quinn has a comprehensive list of freelancers on her blog.

Pitfall #2—One Egg in a Basket

Authors who have only written one book are likely driving themselves crazy. They’ll doggedly check emails as they’re waiting to hear from agents or editors. The same can be said about indies with only one book out. Perhaps they’ll watch their sales graph all day long and obsessively check their rank. Why add that much stress to our lives?

Avoid the One Egg in a Basket Pitfall by…

Working on the next book. As I mentioned in my guest post at Fiction University, Marketing Strategy: The Next Book, it’s important for authors to move on to the next project. Nothing helps an obsessive writer more than obsessing about the next project. Indies must steadily work to create their own back lists.

Pitfall #3—Giving Up

Too many indie authors rush to put out a book and then obsess over sales. They then throw their hands in the air and think, “Why bother? I tried and failed.” Their high expectations were not met.

Avoid the Giving Up Pitfall by…

Having realistic expectations. You’re a small business now, so treat it as such. Make goals, work hard, and put out quality products you can be proud of. Connect with people on a personal level. Know before you leap into indie publishing that this will take time. Think of yourself as a wannabe Steve Jobs, tinkering in the garage, working on big ideas that you’ll passionately share with others.

Indie publishing has a lot to offer authors, mainly control. If we avoid the pitfalls, we can remain nimble, enjoy the now, and look forward to what’s next.


Book Cover of The Summer of Crossing LinesJulie Musil writes 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 Young Adult novels, The Summer of Crossing Lines and The Boy Who Loved Fire, are available now. For more information, or to stop by an say Hi, please visit Julie on her blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

The Summer of Crossing Lines

When her protective older brother disappears, sixteen-year-old Melody infiltrates a theft ring, gathers clues about his secret life, and falls for a handsome pickpocket. At what point does truth justify the crime?


Thank you, Julie! And as I mentioned at the top, I think every one of those pitfalls and tips can apply to any author, regardless of our publishing path.

Why Every Author Should Watch Out for These Pitfalls

#1: Poor Quality

If we take the traditional publishing path, we still need to ensure that our work is as good as we can make it before we start querying. But even beyond the query stage, we can use these same tips for judging a potential publisher.

Purchase a couple of their stories (if you know the name of the editor you’d work with, target stories they worked on) and check:

  • Is the editing good quality?
  • Are the covers attractive?
  • Are the books free of wonky formatting?

If the answer to any of those questions is “no,” we can ask ourselves what value the publisher adds to justify their royalty cut. We might be better off rejecting a contract than getting involved with an unprofessional publisher.

#2: One Egg in a Basket

Obviously, traditionally published authors should work on their next book too, but they can also think about diversifying their baskets. Maybe they’d start another series with a second publisher, maybe they’d write in a new genre, or maybe they’d become a hybrid author. The point is that no one will ever care about our success as much as we will, so we should never make ourselves too dependent on one publisher or company.

#3: Giving Up

Going along with Pitfall #2, success will take time with traditionally published authors too. We don’t want to give up—or be forced out by canceled contracts, etc.—and feel helpless. There’s almost always another thing we can do or try. As Dory says in Nemo, “Just keep swimming.”

The fact that these same pitfalls can apply to self-published and traditionally published authors alike reinforces the idea that there’s no “perfect” approach. There are pros and cons to either path.

The important point is to recognize which path will work best for us (and that might be different from story to story). No matter how we decide, we can educate ourselves on how to avoid any pitfalls we might encounter. *smile*

Julie wants to know, have you indie published? Can you think of any pitfalls she missed?  Do you agree that these pitfalls and tips can apply to authors regardless of their publishing path? How else might they apply? Do you have any advice to add, or questions for Julie to answer?

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Julie Musil

Thanks, Jami! You’re so right…these pitfalls remain for both indie and trad. published authors. Same with marketing. A lot of authors choose to go the trad. route because the publishers will offer marketing, but the lion’s share of marketing still falls in the author’s lap.

No matter what path authors choose, I just appreciate that we’re in such a time of change, when authors DO have a choices. It’s liberating!

Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc

Hi Jami & Julie!
I’m not Indie published, but I have an agent and she’s in the process of putting my novel out there…but it’s not been picked up yet and the process is slow. I love her and believe in her and my own writing, but I dream of being published and I’m thinking about becoming a hybrid. I want to publish traditionally, but I also want to begin making some money sooner than later. The hybrid route might take me there quicker (I hope)
The points you made here are valuable!
Thank you, both of you for the info and wisdom!

Julie Musil

Tamara, I know exactly how you feel. That’s the position I was in. My agent is so amazing and she worked hard to find a home for my first release. It just wasn’t meant to be. Isn’t it funny how life works? I now feel as if I was meant to indie publish. However, I will never say never to traditional. I’ll take my publishing journey one step at a time.

Taking the leap into indie publishing is a huge decision, and not one to be taken lightly. But it sure is fun. For many indies, money was their deciding factor. 70% is much better for the bank than other percentages. But hopefully royalties aren’t the only deciding factor for authors.

For me it was all about forward movement and control. I love the fact that I’m always moving forward now. Now that SUMMER has been released, I’m already jumping in to edits on the next book.

If you have further questions about the agented to indie process, feel free to shoot me an email at

Shah Wharton

Some great tips here, and as an author/publisher I concur. I’ve heard too many good TP authors IP authors say it’s not worth all the effort to finally get published only to see your book ignored by readers. I know that pain. But I say, if you wanted to earn the big bucks, especially in the short term, you shouldn’t have become a writer. Our average earnings suck! Lol. It’s a steady climb rather than a flat sprint if you’re in for the long haul. I’ve decided to concentrate on improving my craft (I’ve found ghostwriting has improved my ability to plot and to write quick first drafts, for example. Plus those projects pay for my editors and cover design) rather than increasing sales and ranking. 🙂

Where there’s a will…

Julie Musil

Shah, “steady climb” is an excellent way to describe it. One thing that’s great about indie is that you don’t have to rush sales into your first week or two to avoid the book being pulled off the shelves and returned to the publisher. You have time to build relationships and for word to slowly trickle out there. Some indies have rolled in the dough, but its after years of writing quality books and steadily putting them out there. Or they’re former TP and they’ve gotten their rights back to their backlists and put those out there, too. It’s a mixed bag out there, and we all have our own path.

Jill Kemerer

Great tips, Julie! And, Jami, I’m with you–every author should apply them. I also think it’s important to connect with other writers to get a realistic view of the publishing world. Expectations are easier to check when we have more information!

Julie Musil

Jill, such a great point about realistic expectations–in both worlds. I remember reading a blog post a couple of years back from TP author who was struggling. She’d hit the jackpot of publishing–a deal with one of the biggies, but she was feeling let down. Same with indie. If the expectations are too high–like you’ll be the next Hugh Howey within a month–you’ll likely be disappointed. Your head has to be in the right place. You have to know it’ll take a lot of work to create a quality product. You have to know you’ll be doing all the promo yourself. And you have to know it’ll take a long time to build this business you’ve created. If you know all that, and you want to share your stories with others, it’s such a fun option. Thanks for stopping by, my friend <3

Denise D. Young

Of these three pitfalls, I worry about the first one the most. When I first started, I submitted a manuscript a couple times–got good feedback, but it was ultimately rejected. I know now that I submitted too soon–my book wasn’t ready, and neither was I.

I think it’s especially tough for indie authors because you don’t have that gatekeeper there to give you the stamp of approval. Instead, you have to rely on your own instincts or the opinions of your critique partners or beta readers to know when a story is ready. And making that decision can be tricky.

You raise a good point about checking out the quality of a publisher’s books before signing a contract with them. We want to know that our books will get good editorial guidance, formatting, and cover design.

Julie Musil

It’s true that without a gatekeeper, it’s up to the indie author to decide when the manuscript is “ready.” Sometimes I feel as if the work will never, ever be ready. But Jami’s right–an editor helps the indie author know they’re ready. I’m a slow writer, so I revise then wait for a while before going back to the same manuscript. Each time I recognize issues that need to be addressed. Once I’ve read through it and like it as a reader, and once I’ve cleaned up the junk, then I know I’m ready to pay the freelance editor.

Even TP authors look back on their early work and wish they could changes some things. I think that’s the artist in us…never satisfied with what we’ve created. It can always be better. But the nice thing is we can take what we’ve learned and use it in the next piece.

Joanna Aislinn

Both of you provide great food for thought, ladies. I know the indie route has it’s fun side, but every time I turn around I realize there is one more thing to learn. Good article! Thank you!

Julie Musil

Joanna, I know how you feel! There is SO much to learn, and other writers are so great about sharing what they know. I sat on the indie fence for a loooong time before I knew I was ready. There’s no rush, though. Writers should only do it when and if they’re ready.

Tahlia Newland

Oh yes, please, do avoid the poor quality trap. As a reviewer for the Awesome Indies, I far too often face the consequences of self-published authors who have for some reason thought that they can produce a book without going through the process that is basic to publishing ie editing. And I mean a full edit, not just a quick copy edit. I can’t stress how important that is, because every poor quality self published book gives the industry a bad name. If you can’t avoid that trap, then it’s best you don’t avoid the other two as well ie give up and don’t write another book. Sorry if this sounds harsh, but that’s how important it is.

Julie Musil

Tahlie, I agree that writers are better off not putting out their books unless they can put out a quality product. Our names and reputations are on the line, and those are priceless.

Taurean J. Watkins (@Taurean_Watkins)

Tahlia, while I get what you’re saying, you need to remember that compromise is inevitable, but that doesn’t stop me or other writers from being professional. I’m concerned you’re confusing professionalism with perfectionism and that’s dangerous to your self-worth as much as your business. Just because your professional doesn’t mean you magically attain what some businesses have. This is why I feel Jami contradicts what she says at times because I used to feel as rigid about quality as you do, but no one would ever publish ANYTHING if we let fear and overly rigid standards stop us from doing something besides stall and stagnate. There’s a BIG DIFFERENCE between can’t and won’t that you need to understand when it comes to indie publishing in particular and writers in general. (Please cast aside the “hacks” you’ve come across a moment) I don’t close my blog off to self-published/indie books because I know there will ALWAYS be good stuff despite the “bad” stuff which is subjective on some level, but you’re right that too much junk hides the good stuff, but being snobs only makes us more immature than the people you’re talking about who don’t take this seriously. But if writers are practically going to build a back-list, we can’t always put a few grand or 1/4 million dollars (much of that going to the ideal of pro freelance editors, cover design, and for those of us who write children’s books or comics, we also factor in illustrators when we…  — Read More »


[…] Three Tips For Self-Publishing Success – Guest Julie Musil at Jami Gold’s Blog -and the advice is good for more than just self-pubbers. 🙂 […]

Jackie Crawford
Jackie Crawford

What a fantastic article! The opportunity to self-publish is one that is available to everyone, however I don’t think people really know how to go about it, what to look out for, or what questions to ask. There is a very helpful book out there called “Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook” by Helen Sedwick. Here website, has a lot of really great info along with more about her and the book. Not only is she a business lawyer, but she is also a self-published author; it’s definitely a book worth checking out for other self-publishers

Julie Musil

Jackie, thanks so much for the tip! I think I’ve heard about that author and her book before. I listen to indie publishing podcasts, and someone asked about legal issues and it was suggested that they download something like that.

Jackie Crawford
Jackie Crawford

You all are very welcome! Glad I could provide a helpful resource!

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

I agree that we should get professional quality editing and cover art, but what if we don’t have that much money to hire professionals? For editing, I’m thinking of relying on beta readers for now to help me find problems, and for the cover art, I’ll draw and use design programs for now too. These aren’t professional, of course, but at the moment I can’t think of a better plan…

Any tips for people who wish they could hire professional artists and editors, but can’t because of the huge prices? Yikes. D:

Julie Musil

Serena, this is definitely a common problem, and causes many authors to wait for the traditional deal–so that the publisher handles the editing and cover costs. Jami listed some great resources for covers. I’ve also heard of authors getting pre made covers for about $50. Another option would be to connect with students at a local college. Perhaps a graphic artist would be willing to work on your project in order to gain some experience and exposure?

I’ve heard of other authors using beta readers before putting out their indie titles, and that can definitely work. I do gain a lot of insight from my beta readers, but I feel a sense of ease when I’ve hired a professional editor who gives me great, unbiased notes.

There are lots of start up editing services out there, who might offer to edit your book for a reasonable price. Editing costs run the gamut from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. If your manuscript has been through several rounds of editing–especially after using many beta readers–your final editing costs probably wouldn’t even be that much because you’ve done the clean up work ahead of time. I have not spent a fortune to put out my books.

I hope that helps!

Julie Musil

Serena, I hadn’t used 99 Designs so I didn’t realize the minimum price was $299! I didn’t pay that much for my covers, and of course I think they’re cool. My cover designer’s name is Jeff Fielder. Here’s his web site: Super nice guy, really talented (and patient!) and reasonable prices. I went through my old notes and found another cover designer who has inexpensive pre-made covers available for a reasonable price. It’s author Allie Brennan. Her site is Here’s her Facebook page: One thing to point out: pre-made covers will likely include stock photography that you may see on other covers. Heck, that even happens with big publishers, though. But it’s something to keep in mind. Also, the Insecure Writer’s Support Group and Susan Kaye Quinn’s blog have cover designers and editors listed there. Before hiring anyone, I highly recommend getting referrals from their existing clients. As for the editor, be sure and have them do “sample pages” for you. That’s how I chose my editor, Bethany at A Little Red, Inc. Once I read her notes on my sample pages, I knew she was the one for me. A note about editing prices: my editor charges by the hour. Some charge by the page, I believe. But back to by the hour…if your manuscript is super clean (meaning it’s been beta read and you’ve gone through it for pesky issues like redundancy, typos, “slash and burn words” like “I knew” or “suddenly” and stuff like…  — Read More »

Julie Musil

Oh, and one more thing…about an editor’s honesty. I think that goes back to recommendations. They wouldn’t be in business for long if they had a trail of unhappy clients. My editor was referred by Crystal Collier, who’s a wonderful author. Bethany at A Little Red gave an estimate based on the size of the novel and the time she “thought” she’d spend on it. I paid a deposit..half of the estimate…and then she billed me for the balance once she finished and knew the exact amount of time spent.

There are also different types of edits you can choose. You can do developmental, copy-editing, etc. Or all of the above. It depends on you and what you want them to do. You may even ask for her to edit sample pages and ask her to guide you toward what type of editing she thinks you need. Bethany was really honest, and I know there are plenty of reputable, honest editors out there like her. That’s where recommendations come into play 🙂

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

Oh I have another question that you may not be able to answer (because it’s a weird one), but I’ll ask anyway. As Jami already knows, I’m trying some writing in my second language (Chinese), to improve my Chinese, lol. Problem is, I have no idea how to say “beta reader” in Chinese, and Googling “how to say beta reader in Chinese” and similar searches didn’t get me anything relevant…So, I’m not sure how to find Chinese beta readers, haha.

I went on some Chinese online story sites (they’re like Fictionpress,, and on their discussion boards, you can ask for feedback, but they only give you OVERALL feedback. No idea where I can find actual beta readers…

Any tips on how to find beta readers for non-English language stories?

Julie Musil

Serena, you’ve stumped me! I went on to Google Translate, but I notice that’s for text to text and not for audio. My son had the idea to search for an app on my iPhone, so we did. We saw a free app “Translate Voice.” It came in a free version, plus paid versions, but it says “instantly speak 10+ languages.” I’ve never used this, but since it’s free, it might be worth a try.

Are there Chinese writing circles you can connect with? Or even contact someone using Google + hangouts? Other than that, I’m stumped!

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

Haha, yeah, it’s a nasty question. ^_^”

Mmm, so far I only know of the aforementioned Chinese online story websites for Chinese writing circles. Hopefully I’ll find people willing to exchange manuscripts for beta-reading one day! I’m sure every language has its online beta readers out there…eh, fingers crossed! ^_^”


Y’know…I actually don’t know what beta-reader would translate to in Chinese. :/
However, there are a couple options, you could always post something and say that you’re trying to improve your Chinese and that you are looking for a detailed critique rather than macro level stuff. 请求评语,希望越详细越好,谢谢!<– for example, would probably do it.
For that matter, I'm fluent in Chinese and I would be happy to look over things for you.

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

Thanks, Katje and Jami!

Ok, looks like networking is the way. ^^”

Katje, aw thanks! Well my story (series) is pretty long. It’s a 武俠小說 so the series is 900 ish pages now and still far from finished…I’ll need to edit it first before I dare show it to anyone too, lol. Would you be okay with such a long story?

Apart from my general curiosities about what my reader thinks about each of the main characters and the story, I’m looking mostly for plotholes, character inconsistencies (out of character moments), and anywhere where my sentences were confusing, so these would be annotated on the manuscript itself (to point out which specific moments these plotholes, character inconsistencies, and confusing sentences occurred.) So no need for line editing/ copy editing types of beta reading. 😀

Are you okay with this type of beta reading? (General character and story comments, plotholes, out of character moments, and confusing sentences.) I would also be more than happy to beta read for you, whether for English or Chinese stories. 🙂

Kristen Steele

If you want to avoid the “poor quality” pitfall you need to understand that an investment is required. Good editors and designers aren’t cheap!

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