13 Things No One Tells You About Self-Publishing

Self-publishing is awesome. But also kind of crazy.

I’ve self-published two books in the last year.

The first one, “My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy” was a train wreck, to put it in the nicest terms. Literally, it was one headache after another. I could list them all out, but that’s a whole other post in itself.

This second book was… better. Or at least not as bad. Hopefully by book 4 or 5, I will get it down to a science and skip the whole “lets freak out over every little problem for the next three weeks” thing.

Self-publishing has a rather steep learning curve. And I’m finally starting to get the hang of it… so I wanted to share my knowledge.

These are the 13 things no one tells you about self-publishing (or at least no one bothered to tell me).

Books_final_5 cover self publish japanese husband thinks i'm crazy

1. Anyone can do it.

In theory, at least. It’s not like you have to take a test, pass some sort of gatekeeper, or win the luck of the draw. Self-publishing is one of those things that if you want it, you can do it.

Yes, of course it’s really hard. And you do have to have some amount of skill, or you won’t be able to make a worthy book… but every step of the way is up to you. No one is going to swoop in and be like “Sorry, a comic book about penguins plays jazz is stupid. You’re not allowed to make a book like that.”

2. It’s complicated.

Remember all the warm and fuzzy feelings from point number 1? Keep those in mind for the rest of this post. Because self-publishing is unbelievably complicated.

I’m sure I spent about 1600% the work on my first comic book because I had no idea what I was doing. I read hundreds of articles and like six Kindle book about self-publishing… and still ended up being clueless. And overwhelmed.

I sent out more than one hundred press releases (not proud of that), wrote twenty-something guest posts on other people’s blogs (am proud of that – but those didn’t drum up any sales), and tried every marketing tactic/”make your book pop!” trick on the internet.

My husband can verify that I nearly went crazy.

Why did I go so crazy? Well, quite a few reasons, especially…

3. You have to make lots of different accounts.

To sell my books on Amazon, I made an Amazon account (of course), an Amazon Advantage account (for preorders), an Amazon Author account (so I could be a verified author), an Amazon Affiliate account (so I could advertise the book on my blog), an Amazon Kindle account (so I could upload a Kindle version of my book), an Amazon FBA account in Japan (so I could sell the books in Japan)… and probably something else. And that’s just for selling on Amazon.

I had a document with all my various accounts and logins on it… but I probably burned it. Or lost it. Or something.

I’m not going to lie, I totally understand why people go with traditional publishers. I’d be tempted to sign on – just to avoid this heartache and stress. And, you know, to bask in the glory of being a “real” author (but more on that later).

amazon author page grace buchele mineta

4. But it’s also really easy.

Everything you need to know about self-publishing a book can be found online. It’s confusing, of course, but very manageable.

There are countless (free) resources on the internet that can teach you everything you need to know.

5. You can spend as much (or as little) money as you want.

Personally, I chose to go down the “let’s try to bootstrap the heck out of this book” route. I paid for the ISBN, barcode, proof copy, family/friends editing (for cheap), and a couple Facebook ads (for the first book). In total, everything was less than $800 – which I totally made up in the first five month of sales.

For the second book, I only paid for a barcode and proof copy. I was able to use a leftover ISBN from the first book. I outsourced editing to blog readers and got lucky when a couple friends offered to do it for free. In total, everything was less than $100.

You can spend as much (or as little) money as you want.

6. If you’re completely broke, crowdfunding can help

I ran a Kickstarter campaign to fund my first comic book. It was funded 220% (about $14,000 – a lot of which went towards taxes/printing/shipping). Crowd funding was a lifesaver.

kickstarter self publishing japanese husband

But… it is a lot of work. Six months later, I’m still fulfilling rewards. So. Just be warned.

7. Editors are necessary.

Even for comic books.

Editors are incredibly important. They’re also incredibly expensive. So… just pick your poison.

8. You might actually make more money going with a traditional publisher.

I’m not joking.

Back in July, I was approached by a company that wanted me to write a book. I would get a $5000 advance… and 5% royalties (from the list price) after. They were very specific about what they wanted, though. No comics, just text, and lots of research.

In the end, I said no. And decided to self-publish a comic book instead.

While writing this post, I did a bit more research into the world of traditional publishing. Most new authors get an advance of $1,000 – $10,000 (depending on the company, genre, and following). After, they get royalties of 5% – 10%.

Let’s assume I have a $5000 advance and 8% royalties. If my book sells for $15 a copy, I make $1.20 per sale. Which means I would need to sell over FOUR THOUSAND books to break even and start making (more) money. The publisher takes a huge cut.

I eventually figured out the “break even” point for me was around 900 books. If I sold more than 900 books, I would make more self-publishing. If I sold less than 900 books, I would make more from a hefty advance from a publishing company.

I haven’t sold 900 (print) copies of my book yet. Sadly. But at this rate, I should hit that mark by mid-summer.

My case is rare… because I have a blog and fricken awesome people who (regularly) read it. Most of my sales come from blog readers (I can tell through the affiliate links how many people found either book through my blog). If I didn’t have this blog, there is no way I would ever pass that 900 book mark.

9. But self-publishing has a MUCH quicker turnaround (than traditional publishers do)

In December of last year, my second book had its’ own Amazon page, for preorders. It had a cover, title, ISBN, and looked very official.

On the other hand, I was still only about 3/4 of the way through writing the book – and hadn’t even hit the “editing” phase yet. But still, people pre-ordered. It was magical.

On February 16th, I hit “publish” and the book went live.

All in all, it took about 4 months (from start to finish). Granted, I had been laid off from my previous job, so I had more time to work on the book… but seriously. That’s quick.

10. There is a stigma against self-publishing.

“What do you do?” seems to be one of the most common questions these days.

I typically reply “I’m a blogger and author.”

“Really? That’s so cool! What kind of books?”

“Comic books about my life in Japan. It’s really fun!”

“Wow. Are you signed with an American publisher? Or a Japanese company?”

“Actually, I self-publish.”

“Oh… Ohhhhhh” (followed by a disappointed head shake and sigh).

There is a very real stigma against self-publishing. Probably because (as I mentioned in point 1, anyone can do it). The trick is to just not let it bother you.

11. But just by looking at your Amazon page, no one can tell your book is self-published

Can you tell? Because I certainly can’t.

Amazon page my japanese husband self publishing

12. Unless you tell them. Because you’re proud of all your work!

I’m proud of my self-published comic books. I think they’re great fun – and I honestly don’t care if people look down on me for it.

I enjoy it and make money from it – that’s all that matters.

13. Amazon.com reviews are the gold of the industry.

Amazon reviews are worth far more than you could ever imagine. Authors will check their Amazon and Goodreads pages every week, bracing themselves for the worst (and secretly praying for a sudden influx in great reviews).

If you’re a self-publisher, you don’t have a giant, experienced publishing company behind you. The only thing you have going for you is reviews. And hopefully those reviews will motivate an impulse shopping to add your book to their cart.

Amazon page my japanese husband self publishing

And that’s what I learned from self-publishing! I have a whole “everything you need to know (and more) about self-publishing” post in the works… but that one requires an obscene amount of research. And I really just don’t feel like doing that right now.

If you were on the fence about self-publishing, I really hope this article helped push you in the right direction (whatever that is). Or at least that you found it interesting.

About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

32 Comments on 13 Things No One Tells You About Self-Publishing

  1. Melody L. // 5 February, 2016 at 2:51 am //

    Hi Grace,

    You mentioned there were countless free resources that teaches you all you need to know about self-publishing. I just googled it and you’re absolutely right, there are TONS. I was curious if you would feel comfortable sharing the sites that you found helpful and actually used?

    Also, do you know anything about academic textbooks or dictionaries being self-published? My undergraduate Speech Language Pathology (SLP) program has this very unique course that teaches bilingual Spanish speakers how to be better pathologists. Sadly, there’s barely any good books with the “better” translation of some of the “technical” terms we use in our field (executive functioning anyone?).

    We have a small list going, and I happen to be a big language/culture nerd, so I wanted to include cultural snapshots of Spanish-speaking countries with their indigenous languages, culture, and geographical/political information (I promise you, they’re not all the same).

    Of course, I also am thinking not everyone would appreciate it, and would rather pay a cheaper price for the Spanish-English dictionary part only… So I’m still trying to figure out the logistics, you see.

    Anyways, I totally love your blog and your Youtube channel. Your comics and videos are hilarious (and touching, that family video made me cry) and helped me out when I was going through bleaker times [so sad about Line Webtoons not working out, I even made an account and hearted every comic too :(].

    If you made it this far in my comment, thank you so much. I look forward to the next comic book and yours and Ryosuke’s adventures on Youtube. ^^

    Sincerely,
    Melody

  2. In reading this post (from the link in today’s post) I learned about needing an Amazon Affiliate account. Thank you! And the answer to the original question is, “Millions, or you could go in the red.” You’re right about it all, from ease to difficulty. But I, for one, am hooked. Glad you are too.

  3. Grace, thanks for posting about this. I’m in the (stressful, humbling, insert word of choice here) process of editing my novel and I’ve started to think about getting it out there. Your experiences are a great insight into something I really need to research more on. Also, congrats on the second book, I hadn’t said that yet! Way to go!

    PS- Gosh, I realize this is a little old, sorry for commenting on it! I found it after an editing session!

  4. Waaahhh….this is helpful but sad. I figured that’s about how it is but still. I love writing and have a couple book ideas written down, one fleshed out and actually waiting for me to write it but I’m planning on maybe starting it after I’ve grown more as a writer. Even though the published date is still years in the future I’ve thought about publishing companies vs self publishing and its a pretty tricky one.
    My thing is if I published and it miraculously became so big it warranted a movie (okay, so this is a fantasy on my part, but still!) I would absolutely HATE if I had gone with a publishing company and not get any rights as to if they change the story or they choose terrible actors. Although it’s not like I know how the processes work anyways. On the other hand, I don’t exactly want responsibility of every little thing in the movie, either.
    Haha obviously I’m getting ahead of myself and dreaming big but a girl can dream :)

  5. I got your books! Can’t wait to start reading them! My thesis, reports and Finals are coming up over the next two months, so I will turn to your books when I feel like punching someone/crying.
    I’ve kind of needed something interesting on my phone that I could read offline, because I just don’t have the space in my satchel to carry around my reading book. That waits for me at home…
    Mataneh! (Correct me if I am wrong – I thought that meant goodnight, used in a farewell sense instead of a greeting).

  6. Thanks for this post, especially the financial part is pretty interesting – I didn’t realise that publishers take such a large chunk out of the sales. This alone could be a reason to self-publish. Why let someone else take all the earnings out of your hard work?

  7. Congrats! I thought the book would be free might have mistaken links…I personnally wrote a book I still need to work on it but dream I could self publish it just to get a copy :) I also wish I could swlf published comics but I am a mom and do not have mich free time( she says before sitting on the couch draw to draw while listening to youtube instead of cleaning the dirty floor of her living room)

  8. Seems like selling in Amazon is a real pain in the a*se. Good to know! I guess I’ll just stick to publishing eBooks only..

  9. Thanks Grace, this was very interesting and I am really looking forward to the “everything you need to know about self-publishing” post. I’m learning tons from you and I will be applying it all when I self publish my pattern book. You’re my inspiration.

  10. Thank you for writing this post! I hope you will eventually find the time to write the “everything you need to know (and more) about self-publishing” post, too. The sea of information out there can cause a whole lot of confusion in itself.

    In the mean time I have 2 questions:
    1) What were the functions of your editors for the comic books?
    I can somewhat imagine what an editor does when dealing with the standard text material, even if there are case-to-case differences, but when it comes to comics I am drawing a blank. Aside from correcting spelling errors, if the drawings are already there, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for editing. Or is there?
    2) Do you get more profit from the printed or the Kindle version?
    And does providing your book for free to KindleUnlimited users get you anything other than publicity(?)?

    • Good questions :)

      1. My editor(s) mostly just do spell-check. I have horrible grammar and spelling – so that was a huge part of it. A couple of people offered suggestions (ie, do a general theme – so this book followed holidays and stuff). But for the most part, it’s just spelling and grammar.
      2. I get WAY more from the printed version. Amazon charges me a downloading fee… based on the size of the book. Since this comic book is mostly just pictures, it has a pretty large file size. So with downloads, I get 70% of the list price minus the (HUGE) download fee, and end up only making about $1.20 per sale. Which sucks, but it is what it is.
      KindleUnlimited gives me between $1 and $3 per download (depending on how many people download books that month), so that actually ends up being a better deal for me :)

  11. I actually came hunting for humorous posts about Western women dating Asian men. (I’m checking to see how much weirdness is cultural and how much is just my significant other’s Chinese family being as uniquely weird as my white family.) This self-publishing post was so interesting it completely sidetracked me. Loved it. Pithy, funny, and informative. Also, I am sucker for lists. Thanks. I’ll have to backtrack now and hunt up the stories of you and your husband in your dating days.

  12. I’m writing a book with my fellow members from my denomination. One member lives in Florida, one in North Carolina and I live in Los Angeles. I’m going to share this link with them too.

    Grace, is there a way to contact you?

  13. ActualArtist // 18 February, 2015 at 2:46 am //

    Crazy? Perhaps… “Crazy like a Fox”!

    I can’t wait for the third MH(S)TIC book… and then, the special, limited edition *Omnibus* edition!

    Keep on being “Crazy”, and please know that a lot of us out here are “Crazy”, too… about your books. It’s good to know that there are folks out there doing the right thing(s), and willing to take the time to talk about it with honesty and humor.

    • Thanks :D
      I’m glad to hear that.

      Hahahaha, I haven’t started thinking about the title for the third book yet… there are so many options. But I’m glad to know you’re still interested in a third book (instead of “ANOTHER book…? Really…? -.o )

  14. I am still trying to post a review on amazon…well lets say reviews as I have postponed doing so for a long time now for several books, but I will work on that eventually :p

  15. I can tell it’s self-published but it depends on how knowledgeable the viewer is. When you scroll down to publisher, it’s generally fairly easy to tell if it’s a traditional publisher or not. But the stigma for self-publishing is starting to shift so don’t let that discourage you too much. Frankly, the only reason there is a stigma is too many people publish poorly edited material. So long as you make sure your books are the best quality possible, the reviews will reflect that & you’ll gradually build a following and no one will care. It’s like a snowball effect, it takes time and books but you’ll see results!

  16. Definitely found this interesting! I was all ready to ask if you’d ever consider traditional publishing at some point, but I think your case for nr 8 answered it!
    Number 10 is probably a combination of knowing nr 1 and not knowing anything out of that listーI really admire you for going through all that work with the accounts and marketing and *everything* all by yourself. It’s amazing! *You’re* amazing!

    • Oh darn, I remembered a question that wasn’t answered! Would you ever consider doing a mini book tour of sorts? ^^

      • Honestly… I hadn’t really thought about that. I think it’s my ego. I’m scared to set something up if the day arrives and the only one out there is Ryosuke holding a huge sign and like 1-2 people who wandered in and are too embarrassed to leave. Hahaha.

        But that actually sounds fun. I’m going to try to set something up for next month in Tokyo :)

  17. Thanks for writing this, Grace!! It will come in handy when it comes time for me to consider what to do when I am finished writing my book.

  18. #3 sounds like a needless complication on Amazon’s end.

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