How I Assembled My Own Self-Publishing Team

by | Mar 21, 2014


By Tatiana Boncompagni

Initially reluctant to move from traditional publishing, in the article below, Tatiana Boncompagni tells us why she switched to self-publishing her own books and how she put together her self-publishing team.


 
I’ll say this first: Going Indie was my husband’s idea. He brought it up for the first time in the kitchen. I was grilling a pair of steaks for dinner, sipping a favorite red wine and listening to vintage Radiohead. I was in a celebratory mood—my third novel, a mystery entitled Social Death, had just landed me an agent at one of the big Hollywood-based entertainment agencies.

My husband wasn’t impressed. “Self-publishing is the future,” he insisted, referring to an article he’d seen (I’d seen, too) about Amanda Hocking and her tremendously successful fantasy series and the handful of Indie books he—a sci fi fan—had read on his Kindle. The quality of those books was, he said, just as good if not better than the traditionally published books he bought.

He also knew that my last two novels hadn’t been the blockbuster hits I’d hoped they would be, and that my publisher, while incredibly nice to work with, hadn’t treated my books as priority titles.

One demoralizing afternoon I’d walked into a Barnes & Noble in Denver, where I’d done a signing at the Ritz-Carlton, and found zero copies of my latest release, Hedge Fund Wives. They’d gotten five copies, the manager told me, and they’d sold out of them all. Were there replacements on the way? He shrugged. “I sure hope so.” Most likely, there weren’t.

Making the Decision to Self-Publish

Still, I balked when my husband brought up the idea of self-pubbing. For starters, I had liked working with my previous editor, publisher and publicists. Their correspondences offered me a welcome break from the inveterate solitude of a life spent writing fiction. I had finally felt like I wasn’t all on my own; I had a team on my side. Second, there was my ego (yes, that), which craved an editor’s stamp of approval. I’m a typical author; the refrain that plays in my head is this: Am I good enough? And if not will I ever be? Will I ever do anything truly great?

These were not the only issues I had with going Indie. The upfront financial investment seemed like a big gamble. What if my work would debut to the sound of pins dropping and crickets chirping? I’d never make it back.

But then a few things happened. My big-time agent dropped me, the self-pub industry continued to grow (and grow), and a bestselling Indie author expressed interest in publishing my mystery when I submitted the first chapter in an online contest she was running. That last one was just the kick in the pants I needed.

I spent the next month ice-picking my way up a very steep learning curve. I wanted to know everything about everything. Lighting Source vs. CreateSpace, this formatter over that one, paperback size, keywords, you name it. In economics, they call it “perfect information.” It’s a theory because it doesn’t exist in the real world. You can’t possibly know all the relevant facts when making a decision. But I tried.

Working with a Cover Designer

Eventually I worked up the nerve to start pulling some triggers. I hired a cover designer through a girl I met at a Gluten-free bakery. My copy editor and proofreader came to me via a member of my writing group. The interior formatters I found after price comparing online.

It took two months, perhaps more, to decide on my cover. That wasn’t the fault of the graphic designer I hired, but my own indecision. From the beginning, I’d envisioned a cover that was visually arresting and different. I was inspired by one of my favorite books, a dystopian sci-fi called Jennifer Government. Its stark white cover featuring one female eye and a barcode tattoo was clean, graphic and unforgettable.

When I found an image of a red lip imprint, I thought I had found what I wanted. It was glossy, sexy and eye-catching. We played with different fonts for the title, added some blood splatter and drips and experimented with a few different tag lines. I took those covers to my writing group, plus another set designed around a red shoe and a shadow that had a noir feeling.

The group didn’t like any of them (not the images, not the tag lines, not anything) and I went back to the drawing board. My designer came up with several other options, but I didn’t love any of them. They weren’t risky, bold or memorable. One recalled the cover of Gone Girl, another featured a woman in a party dress peeking behind a door. I kept returning to the red lip imprint. It was still my favorite. That’s when I learned lesson number one: Trust your gut. No second guessing.

Hiring a Publicist

At the end of the summer, I met Allison Winn Scotch, a bestselling novelist whose books I’d read and loved and who was going Indie with her next publication. She introduced me to her publicist, whom I hired, and invited me to join a group of authors on Facebook called “Something Collective,” where we exchange equal measures of information and encouragement. I also joined an email loop of mostly romance writers moderated by the supremely successful novelist Marie Force. Both groups have been a source of information and inspiration.

A Team of My Own

Suddenly, I realized, I had a team, and not only a team, but one of my own assembling.

From there I got to work on the marketing and publicity for Social Death as if it were no different than either of my novels published by my previous publisher. In fact, I decided to start my own imprint, and came up with the name Tudor City Press. I paid my book cover designer to turn my hand drawn imprint logo into a more professional looking graphic.

A few months before my launch, someone suggested I send out red lipsticks with galleys of Social Death as a cute gimmick. I knew I could do one better. Why not find a beauty company that would make a Social Death lipstick? Cross-marketing is, after all, as much a part of the book world’s future as self-publishing is.

Votre Vu, a beauty company based in Illinois, stepped up to the plate. They sent three lipsticks, all red, and I chose the one I liked the best. Then we worked together to create the limited edition packaging, which references Social Death’s Manhattan setting, and drummed up ideas for giveaways we could both promote through our social media.

Inspired by our partnership, the website Style Bistro announced that they are starting “a monthly book club of stylish reads matched to an equally fashionable item.” More media coverage followed. Nanette Lepore, the fashion designer, offered to host my book party at her Upper East Side boutique. Manhattan magazine ran an excerpt—the first full chapter of Social Death—in their March issue. And just last week, another fashion designer proposed we do an event for my book in Greenwich, Connecticut.

So far, I’m happy. But the Indie game isn’t a mad dash. It’s a marathon. And that’s okay, because I’ve got my running shoes on.

If you’ve gone from being traditionally published to self-publishing your books, tell us about your experiences in the comments.

Tatiana Boncompagni photographed by Melissa Lynn copyright 2007Tatiana Boncompagni lives in New York City with her husband and three children. She is the critically acclaimed author of Hedge Fund Wives and Gilding Lily. Social Death, her third novel, was released in March 2014. Her writing has appeared in dozens of publications, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Town & Country, Vogue, and Marie Claire. You can learn more about her at www.boncompagni.net.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com Amazon links contain my affiliate code.

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21 Comments

  1. Tatiana

    Janice, I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Anita, I also thought about doing an e-book exclusive but it seemed like adding paperback was such an incremental expense. I used Lightning Source, which was fairly reasonable, but Createspace is even less expensive. You also need a cover designer to do the wraparound book jacket design, but there are so many designers out there who offer really inexpensive covers, almost turn-key, and the quality is high. I definitely would consider trying it. I know I’ve been moving a good number of paperbacks and that I would be losing precious sales if I didn’t have that alternative available for readers. It also comes in handy for book signings and getting reviews. Many reviewers prefer hard copies.

    Reply
    • Anita

      I am thinking of going CreatSpace in spite of some of the negative things I’ve read about it. Like having to use their ISBNs. That was a hang up for me for a while as I formed my own publishing entity after that bad experience with our publisher, and wanted to be known as the publisher on record. But I’m almost reconciled to it as I haven’t the means to get another block of my own numbers anyway. And I would like to do some paperbacks, and possibly hardcovers for those who’d like them.

      I do my own covers as I have the tiniest budget at the moment. I’m hoping that the new year will be better financially for us. I get help and feedback from a professional cover designer–who I would hire if I could.

      A long while back, I bought a book cover creator that did the whole print book thing for me. I can’t remember the name of it. Book Cover Pro? Something like that. I hope I still have it, as it worked very well, although I’m not sure it’ll run in Windows 10. I think I was running XP when I got it. At the time, I tested it out on one of my novels using . . . hmm . . . either CreateSpace or Lulu just to see if it would actually do the trick. And it did. I never actually published through either though, as I felt I’d have to charge too much for the books. Especially the first one as it’s about 480 pages, give or take. So I just stuck with ebooks.

      What I really need help with is promo and marketing. That’s where I wish I had a bigger budget. Maybe next year!!

      Reply
  2. Anita

    After a bad experience going the traditional route with a book I co-authored with another writer, and papering walls with rejections for my own work I decided to jump into the self pub scene. Most of those rejections had hand written notes on them encouraging me to keep trying. So, it’s what I’m doing. I just need to learn to wrap my head around the promo and marketing aspects. . .

    No team yet. I am solo.

    I am doing ebooks right now, print will follow eventually. I will use templates. Don’t have time to learn new software either. Got a boatload of stories that want to get out of my head. I’d rather be writing!

    Reply
    • janice

      I am just thinking about publishing on my own and LOVED this article.I have enjoyed the process so a marathon is ok for me too. I love the cross marketing idea how clever !!!! I wanted to ask Anita is it going with the ebooks seems like an easier place to start.

      Reply
      • Anita

        Hi Janice,

        Sales are slow, as I am still figuring out the promo and marketing end. The free stories are doing well! And most of my readers are in European or Asian. A few paid US readers . . .

        As for getting the stories converted into ebooks–that part is the easiest for me! I signed up with Draft2Digital.com, a similar place like Smashwords, because, not only do they do the conversion for me, they let me use the files anywhere I want to. Smashwords doesn’t let you do that–even if you’re not using one of their ISBNs.

        There’s a new face in the game called Pronoun, but I think I’ll stick with D2D. I love that I don’t have to do a ton of tweaking before uploading my Word files like you have to do with Smashwords. I did use their guide for a few things though.

        D2D says they don’t have any style guidelines, and they don’t–more or less. They have a few tips to follow–which to me is a style–but nothing so complicated and confusing as what Smashwords wants.

        Also, they have chosen to do conversion using Garamond only–which is fine for most of us. I’m okay with that, but I would have liked the option of a different font for Chapter headings. But bigger and bold ones work well too, so that’s what I did. The end result is a nice Epub and Mobi file. And really, that’s what I want. Maybe I’ll do something different down the road, we’ll see. I use the Mobi file on Amazon for my KDP account.

        Because they let you take your generated files anywhere you like–as long as it doesn’t have one of their ISBNs attached, you can generated sample chapters and offer them wherever. It’s made my life so much easier than when I was trying to do the conversion myself. Doesn’t cost anything, btw. And they have a helpful blog.

        There is an option to generate a PDF to take to CreateSpace, but that software needs work. I make much better looking PDFs with Word, and for print versions, the formatting will be just as I want. Plus, some people still prefer them. I took them off the site, just offering Epub and Mobi, but find I have to put them back!

        Hope that helped!

        There are 7 US stores they distribute to, and 15 or so European and Asian places.

        Reply
  3. JJ Bach

    While it won’t do publicity or design a good cover, I can’t resist putting in my .02 about Joel’s Book Design Templates. With Photoshop and Illustrator in hand and years of web design and dev experience, I debated going down the InDesign path. But first, I decided to try a template from BookDesignTemplates.com. I use Open Office Writer, not MS Word and am happy to report that the template I picked (Focus) had everything (and then some) that I wanted. It worked well with OOW in lieu of MS Word.

    I think using a template from Joel and his partner is a great first step for doing the interior part of a book. Having gone through it this first time, I now have a much better perspective on the process and the workflow. At this point I’m still leaning towards another template, because the first go round felt good. It makes me want to do another. The thought of yet one more software learning curve, and I hear InDesign is a big one, does not make me feel good.
    For you first timers give a template a try, it is a great introduction to the book design world. Who knows? It may be all you need for your book interior ideas. It certainly was for me. Now if finding an editor could only be as easy!

    Reply
  4. Spike Pedersen

    I too believe the future is in self-publishing. I don’t have a team, I went it alone, but I see the wisdon in going with a team.
    Spike

    Reply
  5. Tatiana

    Being able to format my own books is next on my agenda. After I finish writing book two, I’m going to take a break and learn how to do that. I’m sure it won’t be easy, but I think it is something you CAN learn and it was a significant expense for me. Plus, one thing I didn’t like is that if you want to jump in and make changes to your files, you have to pay someone to do that. A number of successful Indie authors I know like to update their “back matter” all the time. You can do that more easily if you know how to format your own books.

    Reply
    • C.H. Norwood

      Yea. I have a few formatters I could use, including the great Joel, the book designer. I, eventually, want to create a very ornate Hardback omnibus as a collector’s edition of the my first three books in my series. I want full control of that project. It is brilliant. Well, at least in my mind it is. There will be crimson page numbers, black white illustrations with shot of color, maybe columns too.

      I need to find a good typeface though. Wish me luck.

      Good luck in all of your endeevora, Tatiana. I wish only that you reach the holy grail of publishing. (New York Times Bestseller?)

      Reply
      • Tatiana

        Thanks C.H.
        From your lips to God’s ears!

        I like Georgia for typeface, but it is such a personal choice.

        Reply
  6. C.H. Norwood

    I always knew I needed a team to do this self-publishing thing. Luckily my publishing “A-Team” is almost complete.

    George Evangelista- My art guru- http://www.artofgeorge.com
    Harry Dewulf- Content Editor- http://www.densewords.com

    No copy/ line editor yet.
    No publicist… yet.

    As far as formatting, I will try to tackle that monster myself. I have Indesign CS6 and for the past few months I’ve been pushing myself to learn it with the help of lynda.com.

    So my team is coming to together slowly, very slowly.

    Reply
    • Mary Caldarelli

      Hello C.H.
      I would love to be included as part of your team. I have been line editing and proofreading for a healthcare trade publisher for the past seven years and want to start working with self-published writers. I also have a doctorate from Penn State and am well-versed in many subjects. Please contact me if you are interested in working with me. I will offer you a ridiculously reasonable rate as I work to build up my resume. Thanks.
      Mary

      Reply
  7. JL Oakley

    Team, indeed. I’ve got a good one going: book designer, editor and a growing number of beta readers. It’s hard work, but the results are very satisfying and fun. Hope to get my next book out today.

    Reply
  8. Carole Brown

    Great article. Loved the evolution of your going Indie. For my part, I worked tirelessly w/an agent for years to get into the trad field, and finally landed a contract for my debut novel. It was then I realized it wasn’t enough. I wanted more and faster. Working w/a friend who started her own business I’ve pubbed the first book in a cozy mystery series, and looking for two more out this year! Couldn’t have chosen a better route. :)

    Reply
    • Tatiana

      Carole, Would love to know the names of your books so I can look out for them. What are some practical lessons you’ve learned? What was the hardest part of the process for you?

      Reply
  9. Amy Collins

    I love this article! The point of this being a marathon is so true and needs to be repeated at every opportunity. Building a business is hard work and it looks like you did it one step at a time. Congrats

    Reply
  10. Tatiana

    Cynthia, it’s amazing how things like that, health scares especially, can give you the perspective and nudge you need to follow your dreams. Self-publishing is definitely a leap of faith. It takes courage…and persistence. The authors who are most successful have a lot of quality material available for their fans, which is why I’m working so hard to get my second book out. It seems like the opposite is true for traditional publishing–if you don’t hit it with book one or two, you’re damaged goods and no one wants to touch you.

    Reply
  11. Cynthia Woolf

    Great article. I decided to indie publish after a scare that put me in the hospital with an anxiety attack from stress at work. I finished the book I was working on and published it three months after the attack. It was never a big seller but it led to more and more books. Now I have 14 titles out and I make a decent living from my writing and my stress level is much lower. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.

    Reply

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