Self-Publishers Speak: Weaving Your Safety Net Mid-leap

by | Apr 15, 2011

by Tara Woolpy

I have a guest post for you today from novelist Tara Woolpy. Tara responded to my invitation to writers to contribute a guest article about their publishing experience. Tara, with both a doctorate in zoology and a degree in literature, brings a unique perspective to a moment all indie authors learn soon enough: waiting for the books to arrive. Here’s her story:

self-publishingThe advance copies of my first novel are due on my doorstep any minute now. At this point I have no way of knowing whether the reviews will be good or bad or whether I’ll even be reviewed. I also cannot predict how many books I will eventually sell (100’s? 1000’s? 4?). In other words, this is a very hopeful moment and may well mark the peak of my publishing experience. So it seems a good time to share some thoughts about the process of bringing this story to print. Who knows, later it may all be a bitter memory.

Getting to this point required me to surmount three internal obstacles – ego, fear and ignorance.

  • Ego: While we are entering the decade of the indies, there is no question a regular publishing contract with a big company is still considered proof of quality. I come from a long line of self-publishers. My grandfather put out a mediocre children’s book in the sixties and ended up giving them all away. More recently my father wrote a very good history of the struggle to save a locally important landmark and has sold thousands of copies without a website or marketing budget. Still, I resisted publishing my own work because I thought it would somehow mark me as second rate. Reading good books by indie publishers and bad books from mainstream presses has finally convinced me that whether my novel is worth reading has nothing to do with my publisher and everything to do with the story itself.
  • Fear: Still, lingering doubts persisted. How could I know my story was good enough? What if it failed completely? Not only would that be embarrassing, it could be financially difficult as well. It helped that the feedback I had received from agents and editors praised my writing style, even while lamenting the market, their work loads and all the other reasons they couldn’t/wouldn’t/shouldn’t take on my book. I have a few writing credentials, a decent short story publication record and friends who like my work. None of that guarantees success. I decided to minimize the impact of failure on my material life by setting aside as my publishing budget a chunk of money that I could afford to lose. Staying within my tiny budget has meant thinking hard about what is worth buying and what I can do myself. Which brings me to…
  • Ignorance: It has taken me about a year to learn enough about publishing to put out a book I can be proud of on a budget I can live with. There is so much out there on the internet that it is entirely possible to gather the information you need, but it takes hours and hours of reading and thinking to get there.

Here are the three things I think I did right.

  1. First, I started my own press. I did this in part to make it look a little less like I was self publishing (protecting my delicate ego) but mostly because I want to treat the whole enterprise as a business. Creating Bats in the Boathouse Press forced me to take the venture seriously.
  2. Second, I hired professionals for critical tasks. For example, I paid for an editor. Not only am I imperfect and unable to catch all my mistakes, there are certain reviewers who will not review a book unless it has been professionally edited. I contacted a number of editors, gave them all the same few pages for a sample edit and chose the one whose comments fit my sensibilities and whose estimate fit my budget. In the process I learned a lot about editing by noting the differences among editors working through the same text. Also, in the beginning I subscribed to this blog thinking I could design my own cover. Then I read it long enough to doubt that was my best strategy. I tried a few designs before asking a professional to give it a go. She took my best effort and transformed it from an amateurish attempt into something beautiful. Now I’m hoping people really do choose books by their cover.
  3. Third, I want my book to be taken seriously. That means finding reviewers willing to review independently published books. It has also meant developing a timeline that will put advanced reader copies in my hands at least four months before the scheduled release. Again, I asked for bids from various short run publishers and contracted with the one that best fit my schedule and budget. I ordered 200 ARCs and have compiled a list of reviewers. Midwest Book Review is a great source for reviewer suggestions. I am also recruiting reviews from the book blogging community. Many of them hang out at Book Blogs. And some of those copies will go to family and friends with a slip inside suggesting they post their thoughts about the book on Goodreads, Shelfari and Amazon.

In the end success is always a combination of luck and skill. I cannot know now whether my venture will be successful, but I do know that I will have done all I could to make my best book and give it the launch it deserves. Wish me luck.

Tara Woolpy‘s debut novel, Releasing Gillian’s Wolves, will appear August, 2011 from Bats in the Boathouse Press. She and her characters regularly blog at

Photo by Mark Setchell.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Carol Costello

    Tara, thanks for sharing the ups and downs of this journey. It’s not like memorizing the alphabet or even car mechanics. There are a lot of moving pieces to self publishing and also to internet marketing, and they KEEP moving! It takes time to absorb them and “grok” how they all move together and interact–especially if you’re not 30 years old. I think I’m about six months behind you, and took courage from your post. Thank you!

    • Tara Woolpy

      Thanks Carol, good luck with your project!

  2. Irene Vernardis

    I’m sorry, I forgot something.

    Here is a database, with book bloggers who review self-published/indie books. I discovered it yesterday, it has around 350 links and the author continues growing the database. :)

  3. Irene Vernardis

    Hi. I have to say that I agree with Michael N. Marcus on some points he made, from my point of view as a business professional.
    “Bats in the Boathouse” is too specific. If you don’t want to use your name or a “wording play” with your name, then make up a name to be more general. I suppose you will write and publish other books under this publishing company. At least, the title should give a more general hint about your genre/s and books, if you want it specific.

    Quote: “there is no question a regular publishing contract with a big company is still considered proof of quality” – I don’t agree, it’s not a proof of quality, it’s a proof of recognition and brand name. But, at the end of the day, it’s up to the readers. Many books by large publishing companies were trashed by the readers and many books by small or indie publishing companies were revered by readers. Readers don’t care about publishing companies and their names/brands, they care about authors and books.

    I wish you the best of luck with the book :) Thank you for posting this, it was very interesting to read.

    • Tara Woolpy

      Thanks for your comments, Irene. I agree that a regular publishing contract is not a proof of quality but all too often it is considered so. As I have been looking for reviewers I’ve run into plenty who will not touch a self-published book (thanks Christy for your incredibly valuable first edition of the Yellow Pages, it’s a life saver for the independent publisher) and I have also met a number of readers who express surprise that a self-published book could be well written. It is a deeply ingrained prejudice that will take some time to erode. Thanks again, Tara

    • Joel Friedlander

      Irene, thanks for your thoughtful comment. It looks like there are different camps on publisher names, but that’s not too surprising. And none of these options eliminates the possibility of being successful, which rests (in my mind) on only 2 things: the quality and usefulness of the book, and the author’s ability to market.

      On the “proof of quality,” I have a post coming out on this subject, but I will say that I think the offering of a contract by a traditional publisher is certainly proof of something, but it’s not “quality.”

  4. Keri Knutson

    Thanks for the post, Tara. I think one of the most important points you made is about the time commitment to learning. Two other writers and I decided to go the self-publishing route in February and it’s been really non-stop research on all the aspects of doing it well. There are days when I do a lot more researching than I do writing or revising. In fact lately that’s most days.

    Also, your comment about hiring out for what you can’t do. While we’re trying to do as much as possible ourselves, one of the biggest flaws I see in books that aren’t finding a market is the lack of professional polish. Either the book is not well-edited or well-proofed, the cover looks amateurish, or the blurb and other promotional materials are lackluster. (Your cover looks great, by the way.)

    Best of luck!

  5. Michael N. Marcus

    I apologize for raining on Tara’s well-deserved parade, and I do wish her luck.

    I am invoking my privilege as a sometimes-grumpy old man to say that “Bats in the Boathouse Press” just doesn’t seem very “serious” and it led to a long and awkward web address (URL). There must have been a better alternative.

    Also, Tara says that she started her own press “to make it look a little less like I was self publishing.” A publishing company name closely tied to one book is a common sign of self publishing. I may be wrong, but I think that the book cover image looks like a boathouse.

    Also, a Post Office Box address and a personal phone number being used for a publishing company do not put a self-pubber on the same level as Simon & Schuster.

    An address for a mailbox at a UPS store (e.g., 500 Union Street, Suite 307) and a separate phone number wouldn’t have been very expensive and would lead to perception of a more serious enterprise. Image becomes reality.

    And finally, it’s tough for a first-time author to make money with a printed novel that’s not about vampire sex. It could be easier to gain readers and make a profit with a sub-$5 eBook.

    Michael N. Marcus
    — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series:
    — “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),”

    • Tara Woolpy

      Thanks for your comments. While I did want it to look a bit less like I was self publishing, I’m not trying to trick anyone into thinking the press is something that it isn’t. What I really wanted to avoid was Tara Woolpy publishing company. Perhaps there were better choices than Bats in the Boathouse Press, but so far people have mostly found it charming.
      The cover image on Releasing Gillian’s Wolves is indeed a boathouse, and there is a boathouse in this book as well as in the sequel (hmmm, sounds like an obsession, doesn’t it). However, boathouses aren’t a central theme in either and I didn’t name the press after the boathouses in the book. But your point is well taken, there are probably too many boathouses in the mix (although, really, when you think about it – can there ever be too many boathouses?)
      I also take your point about epublishing as opposed to paperbacks. Releasing Gillian’s Wolves will be available in trade paper for something like $15 but also in ebook form for less than $5. Since the paper version is print on demand I shouldn’t end up losin money on it and it gives me something to sell and sign at readings.
      Cheers, Tara

    • Joel Friedlander

      I think Michael has a point, but for myself I found Bats in the Boathouse a delightful name for a small publisher. And maybe it’s just me, but I ran an entire publishing company (okay, it was a long time ago) out of a PO Box at the Grand Central Terminal post office in New York without any problems. These kinds of decisions are pretty personal and it’s hard to legislate what’s correct and what isn’t. The great thing is that it’s becoming less and less necessary to engage in any of these subterfuges as self-publishing comes out of the woodhouse.

      • Keri Knutson

        Michael makes some great points — I myself thought the name was a little unwieldy — but I think as the lines between “big” publishing and self-publishing become fainter, there’s something to be said with imbuing your imprint with your personality. You are your brand, and readers want you to be genuine while still being professional. So it’s a fine line. But I think you can make it work if you go in with your eyes open, armed with research, and make decisions that you feel best represent your art.

        (BTW, Michael, I really enjoy reading your website.)

  6. Christy Pinheiro

    The cover looks great. The 2nd edition of the Indie Reviewer Yellow Pages is coming out in a few weeks– just e-mail me and I’ll send you the PDF.

    Good luck!


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