• Sofia Sawyer

Behind-The-Scenes: My Self-Publishing Process

Now, let me start by saying that everyone’s self-publishing process is a little different. That’s the beauty of self-publishing. Sky’s the limit. You can more or less do whatever makes the most sense for you and your budget. Of course, there are great tips of do’s and don’ts out there, but from what I’ve seen, everyone has their own style.


I’m currently finishing the process for my second self-published novel, Always, Ella. After publishing my debut novel No Place to Hide last October, I learned a few tricks along the way. For the most part, here’s how I roll.


Plotting/Planning


My planning process has varied from book to book. For my early books like Secrets of Serendipity (which is free, btw) and No Place to Hide, I pretty much pantsed it. But because I hate revisions so much, I started hardcore plotting for books like Saving the Winchester Inn, Tangled Up in You, and Always, Ella.


This meant spending a couple weeks to a month breaking down each chapter and plot point, writing detailed summaries about the characters and their motives, and doing setting research. Or in some cases, creating whole fictional towns.


What I learned is that revisions are inevitable, even if you plot the shit out of things. When you’re too close to the project, you don’t always see plot holes or things that don’t quite make sense. That said, I’ll ease up on my plotting for upcoming books. Sometimes, plotting things too much boxes you in. I’ve missed the creativity of letting things flow. For my next book, I’ll get a general outline of the characters, setting, and plot, but I’ll be open to seeing how it goes.


Hiring Editors


Here are a few lessons I learned from the first round:


Try to hire the same developmental editor and copy editor. It could potentially save you money because you already have an established relationship and they’re familiar with the story. I’ve either hired editors off of Reedsy or through word of mouth from other authors in my genre.


After that, hire a separate proofreader. This gets fresh eyes on your story to catch those pesky errors that seem to slip through no matter how hard you edit. I’ve used Salt & Sage for this (also for blurb rewrites and Amazon category selection).


Give yourself enough time to go through the editing process. Good editors might not have availability for about three months out. I learned that it typically takes me about three months to write a draft. Then I’ll let it sit a couple weeks before I do a first round of edits. With that timeline in mind, I know when to reach out to editors so the process flows seamlessly and I’m not waiting a million years to get to the editing portion.


Also, give yourself enough time to do revisions between developmental edits and copy editing. I lucked out on No Place to Hide because it didn’t require a lot of major changes. However, I needed to rewrite the ending for Tangled Up in You and Always, Ella. Both of those revisions came in at the same time, so it delayed my process. Couple that with demotivation thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, and I was really sluggish. Normally, I move fast, but this showed me it’s good to have a little buffer for the unexpected.


Beta Readers and Advanced Reader Copies


Somewhere through the process, you may want to tap beta readers and advanced readers to take a peek and make sure the book is hitting all the right notes. Again, everyone’s process is different and depending on your relationship with your readers, you might feel more comfortable looping them early in the process or would rather wait until things are polished.


I’ve seen authors reach out to a small group of people they trust for the first draft review, letting the readers tear into it before they hired their editor. I’ve also seen readers jump in between each edit or right before release to make sure errors were caught before going live. It’s whatever works best for you.


Personally, I haven’t used beta readers (yet). A few close friends are avid romance readers, so I’ve given them early copies. But I kept in mind their opinions are likely biased, especially since one of the books had characters based on them :-)


Hiring Designers


Same deal with the editors, good designers can sometimes have a wait of three months or more before they can get to your project. I found my designers by looking at the front matter of books in my genre or getting referrals from those who write in my genre. The designers I’ve used are L. Maggio and Qamber Designs (if you write romance). They both did such amazing work!


So far, I’ve preferred working with designers who do custom designs because I’m able to get specialized details about the book in the artwork. For example, the No Place to Hide design had the hair weaving through the words which I absolutely LOVE. And for Always, Ella, my characters look mostly how I envisioned them (the designer even added the tattoo on Jackson’s arm and they added in elements from Charleston in the background to give the setting some love).


However, custom designs can sometimes be a little pricey. If you’re looking to save some money, there are plenty of great premade designs available at a lower cost. Even with premade designs, you don’t need to compromise quality. Not only are some of these premades really exceptional, but the designers can make minor tweaks to the cover such as hair color, the font, background colors, and so on. You still can make it work for your characters and settings.


Formatting & Uploading to Retailers


There are a lot of options to format your book for eReaders and print. You can easily hire a formatter on sites like Reedsy or even use their free formatting tool! I’ve used this for my free stories and found it very user-friendly.


For No Place to Hide, I hired someone. I really loved how they pulled in the typography used in the cover art and applied it to the headings and page numbers. However, I hated not having control over things and the back and forth. For Always, Ella, I invested in Vellum. It’s easy like Reedsy’s tool, but it also gives you a lot more flexibility. For example, you can add in different artwork for your chapter headings.


Once your book is all ready to, it’s time to get it up on the retail sites. There are plenty of options out there, including iBooks, Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and IngramSpark (just to name a few). For the most part, getting your book up isn’t hard (but maybe a little tedious). It’s a matter of uploading your interior files and cover files, choosing your categories, writing your product description, and selecting your prices and sales markets.


After you upload your files, be sure to check them! For eReaders, you’ll review it right on your computer. For print, I highly recommend ordering author copies. It’s good to double check the color is right on the cover, that the margins aren’t off, and so on.


Once you’re happy with the results, you can approve it and launch right away (some retailers can take up to 72 hours to go live, so keep that in mind) or schedule it for preorder.


Another thing to note: make sure you set up your author page on things like B&N, Amazon, Goodreads, and BookBub. Although some won’t allow you to set it up until after your book is live, it’s good to prep for that so you can get your page up and running ASAP. Having those pages established can be a great way to connect with potential fans so they’ll be informed about your new releases down the line.


Prepping for Release (Marketing & Promo)


I’ll admit that I still suck at this, which is kind of ironic since my day job is all marketing and branding. Shayla Raquel has a great checklist to prepare authors for self-publishing and release that’s worth looking at.


However, the core things I did were:

  • Teasers: blogs, podcasts, email marketing, and social media posts talking more about the characters, details about the story, offering excerpts, sneak peeks of the process, a cover reveal, and calls for advanced readers.

  • Digital Updates: adding a “coming soon” or “now available” notice on my website and social media headers. Updating my BookBub, Amazon, Goodreads, and so on with the details of the book. Updating my author bio. So on, and so forth. There are so many touch points to consider, so check out Shayla’s checklist for reminders or keep a running list of where you have a presence so you know what to update.

  • Launch “party”: Now, I say “party” because the party was mainly for me LOL. That meant a fancy dinner, lots of wine, and social media posts celebrating my debut novel. For many authors, this means Instagram/Facebook Live videos, social media parties, giveaways, physical parties with book signings, and more. It’s really up to what you’re comfortable with. I’m introverted, so a lot of those things made me feel weird. I’m sure one day I’ll do it, but I didn’t want to add any more pressure to the publishing process.

  • Giveaways and discounts: To keep the momentum going, I supported other authors during their launch parties which included giving away signed copies, sending signed copies to book bloggers who requested it, sporadically doing free/discounted sales, offering the first three chapters for free, and so on.

  • Ads: I didn’t spend a lot of money on this because it was recommended to wait until you have a few books in your backlist because the read-throughs help you make the money. Since I only have one book out so far, I focused more on announcing my sale and/or trying to get people to subscribe to my newsletter. I mainly focused on Facebook, Instagram, and the Fussy Librarian. I haven’t dabbled in AMS yet because I want to wait until I have about three books out there.

Hopefully this gives you a little peek inside the self-publishing process with some helpful tips. Clearly, I’m a hot mess and not nearly as professional as some other indie authors who have this down pat, but I’m working with the bandwidth I have (which isn’t a whole lot). Everyone has their own style for publishing, so do what works best for you!


The process gets easier each time, and I’m sure I’ll get more efficient as time goes on. Until then, I’m just thankful that self-publishing is an option and that I’m able to reach new readers!


Have questions about self-publishing? Feel free to reach out. Contact me here!

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