Lessons Learned in Self-Publishing by Cheryl Mahoney

Many of you know I love supporting new authors. Today I’m thrilled to have a blogging buddy guest post. Cheryl and I met a few years ago via our blogs and she’s published a novel called The Wanderers. I can’t wait to read it! Today she shares the lessons she learned while self-publishing her book.

Lessons Learned in Self-Publishing

The wandering adventurer in my novel has a series of Rules for survival, which he takes very seriously.  I have not (so far) put together a serious list of Rules for Surviving Self-Publishing, but if I ever do, I know what Rule #1 will be: Everything must be done twice (or three times or four times or…)

This was my first time self-publishing, and there was a definite learning curve!  Pretty much every step of the process had to be done and tweaked and done again—although I hope that on a second novel, I can cut some of that down…

I’m not mentioning the challenges to scare anyone off, but because I hope I could save you some time.  I’ve put together a list of the major things I learned, calamitously or otherwise.  These may just be my particular quirky missteps, but I’m guessing they could happen to anyone…so perhaps a warning can come in handy!

1) Mind Your Pixels

Wanderers Cover SmallMy biggest formatting crisis involved my cover.  If you get one done professionally, you may be able to sidestep this.  I created my cover myself in my photoediting program, and exported it as a JPG.  CreateSpace wants it as a PDF (which my editing program won’t create), so I used a free online conversion site.

My first proof looked terrible—because I didn’t realize that when the conversion site promised to keep the “original size,” they didn’t mean the original pixilation, and I couldn’t tell by looking at it on a screen.  I had to get access to Photoshop and make the conversion there…and the second proof was a huge improvement.

2) Stare Down the Smashwords Style Guide

If you want to make your book available in a wide variety of ebook formats, Smashwords is an effective way to go.  But—every writer I know agrees that the submission process is, shall we say, challenging.  They’re very particular on formatting, and provide a very long Style Guide to walk through the process.  That should help—but I found reading it absolutely harrowing!  It wasn’t so much the process, but the attitude of the guide.  A little too much of “this is WRONG, don’t do it that way,” when everywhere else seemed to find it a perfectly acceptable method.  It’s disconcerting!

However—the Smashwords Style Guide did give me the solution to a format problem (see #3) that I hadn’t been able to find anywhere else (I looked).  And when I finally submitted my file to Smashwords, I got through their famous “Meatgrinder” on the first try.

3) Tabs, Indents, First Lines

Maybe it’s me, but I don’t usually pay attention to whether I hit Indent on any given paragraph, or whether Word tried to be helpful and made it automatic.  This is fine when you’re printing a document normally…but ebooks get upset about inconsistency, and start showing the indents differently.

Trying to manually correct tabs is…well, it’s not impossible, but trust me when I say it’s very time-consuming.  After far too much time manually manipulating tabs, I finally found out (thank you, terrifying Smashwords Styleguide) that you can use “Find/Replace,” enter “^t” to select all tabs, delete them, and then use the automatic “first line indent” for everything.  A very useful tool that is strangely hard to find out about. 

4) Save As, Save As, Save As

Basic, but it bears repeating—with any major change in formatting or content, Save As to create a new document, and title clearly.  If you’re submitting to multiple publishing platforms, CreateSpace, Kindle and Smashwords will all want the files formatted differently.  Save as.  Nine times out of ten I did this—the tenth time I thought I did it, and then discovered I hadn’t, and had stripped formatting out of my CreateSpace file, when I thought I was in a new Kindle file.  After some frantic hunting about, I found another copy of the original on a thumb drive.  And while we’re on that subject: back up, back up, back up!

5) Pulling Books Off the Shelves

To wind up with something that actually wasn’t a crisis or misstep, but was just fun…I did a lot of informal research on how I wanted to format my novel, especially the print version.  By that I mean I pulled stacks of books off my shelves and tried to figure out what the common formatting features are!  It’s strange the things we don’t notice when we’re reading words on a page.

A few suggestions I gathered from those piles of books—justify your text, keep a blank page at the front of the paperback, provide an adequate gutter, and don’t indent the first paragraph of each chapter.  And then there’s room to play with header text, page numbers, chapter headings…it’s not a bad idea to pick a few favorite books from in your genre, and see what formatting they used!

That covers some of my clearest lessons, and brings me to what would probably have to be Rule #2 (if I was writing rules), which is Learn from what other people have done.  I did a lot of that too—and I’m sure it saved me from even more challenges along the way!

About the Author:Author Photo

Cheryl Mahoney is a fantasy writer, living in California and dreaming of fairylands.  Besides novels, she also writes a book review blog, Tales of the Marvelous, and is on Goodreads (MarvelousTales) and Twitter (@MarvelousTales).

Her first book, The Wanderers, is a Young Adult Fantasy novel, loosely inspired by fairy tales.  It’s the story of Jasper, a wandering adventurer; Tom, a talking cat; and Julie, a witch’s daughter.  They pursue quests and fight monsters, such as a sea serpent, an ogre, and a very dangerous Good Fairy.  There are a lot of elements from familiar fairy tales…but generally with a bit of a twist!

The Wanderers is available on Amazon (paperback and Kindle), Barnes and Noble (Nook) or Smashwords (alternate ebook formats).

Thanks so much for all the useful tips Cheryl! I wish you the best of luck and happy holidays.

Have any of you dealt with any of the issues Cheryl mentions? Do you have any useful tips to share?

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American who's recently returned to the US after a seven-year stint in the UK and Ireland. When she isn't writing, she's traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs in New England, or reading. Not necessarily in that order. Her novels have hit Amazon bestseller lists for lesbian fiction and lesbian romance. She cohosts the Lesbians Who Write Podcast (lesbianswhowrite.com) with Clare Lydon. TB also runs I Heart Lesfic (iheartlesfic.com), a place for authors and fans of lesfic to come together to celebrate lesbian fiction.
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35 Responses to Lessons Learned in Self-Publishing by Cheryl Mahoney

  1. Colline says:

    I found it interesting to read about her trails. Not something I thought self published writers would have problems with.

    • TBM says:

      I’ve heard it can be a challenge to format your own files. Currently, I’m struggling with getting the paperback of my first novel out. I may write a post about it. Let’s just say, it’s been a frustrating process.

      • Colline says:

        Your should write about your publishing experience. I would find it interesting and it would show people that it is not as easy as it seems.

      • TBM says:

        I’ve been writing snippets here and there. I plan to write more about it, but I think I need to get a little more experience first. You’re right, it’s not easy and can be a lonely journey.

  2. This is a fabulously helpful post. Thank you, Cheryl. And thanks to you, TBM, for the introduction. I’ve not tried self publishing, yet, but if I do these tips will be helpful. A lot of folks I know have resorted to hiring a formatter.

    Hugs from Ecuador,

    • TBM says:

      I hired a formatter since I’m completely helpless when it comes to computer stuff. Glad you enjoyed Cheryl’s tips! Her blog is pretty cool–check it out.

  3. Sherri says:

    Great interview TB, and very nice to meet Cheryl and read about her self-publishing journey. I wish you every success Cheryl! Great tips, for when my time comes, many thanks 🙂

    • TBM says:

      All of the tips are wonderful and I bet the next time she publishes it won’t take nearly as long or be as frustrating. How’s the writing coming along Sherri?

      • Sherri says:

        Well…..not much happening at the moment, got one, maybe two more blog posts before Christmas then a break and then…the new year and it will be write, write, write, you better believe it… 🙂

      • TBM says:

        I totally understand. After this week I don’t think I’ll blog until the new year. I’m getting sentimental as I get older and I think the holidays should be spent with loved ones and not work. Life’s too short not to spend special time with those we love.

        I wish you all the luck in the new year. And I’ll be keeping an eye on your progress 😉

      • Sherri says:

        Yes, I totally agree! And thanks TB, I know you will and I’m so glad that you will 😉

      • TBM says:

        It helps to have friends supporting you. And I hope you keep track of my progress as well. It’s a two-way street 🙂

      • Sherri says:

        Absolutely…and yes I certainly will, you can count on it 🙂

  4. I can’t imagine formatting myself. I downloaded the smash word style guide and started to bang my head against the wall. I never googled anything as fast as I then googled book formatters!

    • TBM says:

      You got one step further than me. I just went straight to a formatter. I had heard horror stories and I remembered that I didn’t watch a DVD since my player was “broken.” Turned out the cord was unplugged for three months. I’m not good with technology.

  5. Big thanks to Cheryl for sharing her experiences. It’s always good to read about what’s involved with self-publishing for those of us who have yet to take the plunge. I wonder if it is worth goiong through the process with a short version of some text just to see how easy/difficult it is? I don’t feel like hiring a formatter. Having worked in print and graphic design I would feel I was letting myself down. Are these things Mac friendly or do they only acknowledge Windows I wonder?

    • TBM says:

      That’s a good question. Hopefully Cheryl will pop in and answer your question.

      I know some people have published a short story or article to test the waters before diving in with a book. Are you close to publishing?

      • No, I’ve got one that could be tarted up as an experiment, but I’d rather put up a good first attempt.

      • TBM says:

        Keep me in the loop! Would love to know how it goes and best of luck.

      • I do know some people who have tried self-publishing a short story as a way to dip into the process. Most of the crises I encountered weren’t all that impacted by the length of the book (it matters when you’re manually manipulating tabs, but once you figure out the automatic option, it’s just a few clicks regardless of length…) so it might be best to just give it a go with your full-length work.

        I’m afraid I don’t know how the various platforms handle Mac, as I have Windows myself–but considering Mac has such prominence in the designer/artist world, I’m guessing they must work together reasonably well!

      • TBM says:

        I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t be compatible with Mac since they are so popular. I know some people who will only own a Mac.

  6. Thanks for sharing Cheryl’s self-publishing lessons. These are great tips that would benefit anyone with self-publishing in their future. I’d have to quit my full-time job if I ever tried to self-publish. 🙂

  7. Thanks for posting this very helpful information!!

  8. Pingback: Blog Wander: Making My Mark | Tales of the Marvelous

  9. bulldog says:

    This one I’ve saved for future reference…. thank you very much…

  10. 2unpublishedgirls says:

    Great post. Tweeted via @authorrbaustin.

  11. benzeknees says:

    I only know I tend to shy away from anything showing up as Smashwords because of terrible experiences in the past. I purchased a few e-books by Smashwords & found them unreadable because of spelling & grammatical errors! So now I just avoid it altogether.

    • TBM says:

      I’ve had terrible luck with Smashwords when I buy books from them. Their services, when they work correctly, are brilliant, but they can be very frustrating.

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