Self-Publishing, a Work in Progress

Please welcome our guest blogger, Claudia Alexander, Ph.D., who studies the planets and flies spacecraft by day at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. By night she re-imagines the universe. She has served as a project leader on historic space missions to Jupiter (Galileo), Saturn (Cassini), and comets (Rosetta). She has written a number of steampunk short stories and a full-length elf-punk novel. Books 1 & 2 of her STEM education, picture book series titled: Windows to Adventure, will be re-released this Thanksgiving.

Instant riches! Yes. I interviewed a celebrity self-published author from my local RWA chapter (that’s Romance Writer’s of America), and she confirmed making enough to quit her day job. A modest $250K per year. Not large by New York Times best-selling author standards, but … I’d quit my day job for that.

Control of one’s style and voice! Yes. No need to feed the beast by churning out cookie cutter stories to a template, on an unbelievably compressed schedule. Time to build, tend, nurture, and grow one’s audience.

Do it yourself marketing! Yes. Exposure, promotion, marketing – financed out of your own pocket.  Well. You’d have to do that anyway as, unless you’re Madonna, no publisher is going to put up tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote you and your book.

Monster hard work to manage all your social media; the search engine optimization (SEO); the required editing and formatting to put a truly professional product on the market. Yes. But any business is hard work.  No small business owner goes to bed before 1 am, right? The instant riches don’t come without monster hard work. Everyone knows that.

And how do you make your product recognized even sought after, among millions out there so similar to yours? What do you do when you haven’t sold a single book, alone in your booth at the book fair? How do you handle not being able to find your book when, despite your best SEO techniques, the search engine top online book selling venue is simply not sufficiently up-to-date to find it? I mean, if you can’t find it, knowing that it's there, how is anyone else supposed to find it?

As I approach the one-year anniversary of my decision to launch my publishing business and publish myself and two other authors, I can say it’s been more work than I ever imagined. No sales. Long hours. Learning curve. Expenditures.

My first ever amateurish efforts produced an amateurish product. In spite of hiring low-budget editing, formatting, and illustration, doing as much as I could by myself, I got a product that was – meh. Since I am in the business of producing children’s picture books, I’ve learned to appreciate the ‘production quality’ of a book.

I have seen reports of self-published authors slogging along, going the low-budget path, doing loads of things themselves, ending up giving away tens of thousands of their product away for free just to gain exposure (and a higher place on Amazon product lists). There are paths to success going this route, to be sure.

For me, however, on this anniversary, my lessons learned include a greatly increased respect for the editing process. Interestingly, the very author I mentioned to open this blog never told me how important that aspect was to her success. As far as I can tell, it looms large in both the percentage of overall costs of book production as well as creating a satisfactory read. But I happen to know the woman she uses for her editor, and have my own take on what a great contribution their amiable collaboration has on the success of this author’s product.
Great editing is perhaps one of the biggest advantages that a traditionally published author has over an independently published author.

So I’ve recently abandoned my first product (I’ll soon be un-publishing it from Amazon) and hired, at considerable expense, a full-bore editing outfit (a business with more than a single editor on staff). I’ve hired a professional book designer, someone who has an eye for layout, for fonts, etc., who’s ‘cranky’ in her professionalism. (grins).

As I push into my second year, I’ll have to overhaul my website, add ‘Imprints’ to separate the divergent themes of my publishing voice, and develop coherent banners for the look and feel of that publishing voice across the many outlets of social media.

Dismayed? Discouraged? Yes. And then this happened...

Yesterday the book designer delivered an ad for my business that will go into the program for the World Fantasy Con.  It’s fantastic! Much better than anything I would have come up with on my own. And with that delivery, I know I’m on the right track that this enterprise will work. To cap off my sense of excitement, even as I write this, yet another person has signed up for my forum!

So whatever everyone says about self-publishing (so-called ‘vanity publishing'), these (expensive) baby-steps have opened up new vistas of creativity that are unlikely to have ever been otherwise realized. Is it fair to make the reading public deal with the baby-steps of my first foray into publishing? I’ll have to tell you next year, if the audience grows! After all, it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and there’s plenty of time to grow, build, and nurture the audience.


Claudia can be reached at