Self-Publishing: Tools of the Trade

self publish

On Saturday, 21st May, Blue Mountains City Library and Varuna, The Writers House hosted a panel discussion on self-publishing in conjunction with the Sydney Writers’ Festival. The event managed to sell out very quickly which left many interested persons disappointed and without a ticket.

The panel discussion turned out to be hugely successful with many enthusiastic, question-loaded participants and lots of answers on anything and everything to do with the self-publishing world. It was information we deemed so valuable that we have decided to upload a detailed synopsis of the program here on the blog. So grab a cuppa and a pen, and settle in, here’s what happened on Saturday.

The panellists:


Link to larger version of image: Profiles


The panel started at 10am and went for 3 hours. It was split up into two sessions: Discussion 1: Editing, Submission and Publishing, and Discussion 2: Sales, Marketing and Promotion. Each discussion was hosted by a panel of writing and publishing professionals.


Panel One: Editing, Submission and Publishing



Carla: Is a writer and a teacher for the Mountains of Stories workshops that the Blue Mountains Library is hosting. She is fond of Kindle Direct publishing and thoroughly enjoys self-publishing.

Kit: Started out as an editor in traditional publishing. She noticed that the industry was changing and became less geared to publishing books and more into the business side of things. Editors in traditional publishing houses these days work less for the editor and more for the publisher. She found she was disappointed in having to turn away great works just because there wasn’t a market for it at the time. Now she works for the author, and is passionate about making sure authors’ books are the best they can be. She works with both traditional published and self-published writers.

Jody: Worked in editing with traditional publishing which was very exciting until the market changed. She experienced the same disappointment as Kit when publishers geared more toward business. She is now an editor for self-published authors. Her advice: “Storytelling is key in publishing!”

Jenny: Went right into the self-publishing industry. She helps writers on their journey to self-publish. She notes self-publishing is much more acceptable today than it ever has been in the past. There are so many outlets to publish ranging from print runs to print on demand to eBooks and Kindle publishing. The world is moving toward self-publishing.


Question 1: What is editing and why is it important?

Kit: People tend not to understand the editing process which is a shame because it’s so important. There are different types of editing:

Appraisals- a general overview or appraisal of your manuscript.

Copy Editing- ensuring content is accurate. Flows. Free of errors etc.

Structural Editing- checking the content, plot, flow, themes etc.

Proof Editing – making sure everything is ready for publication.

It’s hard for an author to know what’s working and what isn’t in their manuscript. Having it looked over by an editor is essential in picking up on everything you didn’t. Your first port of call should be having an appraisal done. It’s a necessary step in getting your work ready for the world.

Jody: Editors help create the relationship between writer and reader. An unedited book is like a table with a wobbly leg, it’s irritating! Faults in a book lose the reader. Think of the reader! Editors can be brutal but they know how to connect your book with your audience. You owe it to yourself.

Carla: “To have an editor look at my work is so useful. It’s great to have another eye.”

Jenny: Editors make you push your boundaries. They help you to be a better writer.


Question 2: What do authors want out of their writing/publishing process?

Jody: As an editor you end up in the writer’s head . Your job is to say things that are and aren’t working (for your book). You’re also acting as the reader and asking questions about the book that the reader would ask.

Kit: A good editor is both your friend and your foe. Editors help the writer through the process and make them comfortable. But they also say when things aren’t working.

Carla: “I love writing. And I love getting word back from the editor.” When you do get word back, and it won’t always be what you want to hear, be sure to go away and think on it first before confronting the editor. See the changes they suggest as a game or a challenge.

Jenny: Constructive criticism is heart breaking so (most) editors try to be gentle. As a self-published author, you can actually reject the editor’s suggestions, which is a luxury that traditional publishing houses don’t normally offer. If that’s the case, get a second opinion.

Jody: Editors are facilitators of your work. The key is having a positive working relationship with them. They work to get the author’s point across as clearly as possible.

Kit: Your editor needs to be someone you’re comfortable to work with. You are entrusting them with your baby.


Question 3: How do you provide information and advice on publishing?

Kit: Most want to go down the traditional route and that’s fine. Part of establishing that professional relationship with the author is seeing what path they want to go down and helping them reach that goal.

Self-publishing is not a lesser goal. Publishing houses want things to fit to a mould. Self-publishing is freer and more open. The possibilities are endless, but you also have to build up your audience.

Carla: If you want to publish independently, Google (research) it and see what other writers are doing in your chosen genre.

Jody: As a self-published author, you need to build your social media network. You have to be on places like facebook, Instagram, blog websites, etc. Be aware of where you’re pitching your market. You become the publisher. You’re responsible.

Jenny: Not everyone wants to sell their book. Some just want to publish to tick something off their bucket list or share their work just with family and friends. This includes family history and autobiographies.

All books published with an ISBN go into the National Library so they can be found and read by people in the future. Your book could become a valuable literary asset one day.


Question 4: How does the National Library get my book?

Jenny: By law you must send them a copy if your book is published with an ISBN. Generally you send them a copy of your book along with a cover letter.

If you don’t have a print edition of your book, then they want the eBook. If you have both then they prefer the print edition.

Jody: It’s also a great idea to register your book with TROVE. It’s an Australia-wide online database of books catalogued in libraries.



Q: What’s the difference between working with a fiction author and a non-fiction author?

A: The story arc is key whether your work is fiction or non-fiction. It needs to be readable to your audience. Think of your reader market. Editors adapt to whatever the author is writing. Another key component is physical layout and design. Whether is made for print or eBook.

Q: How important are face-to-face meetings between editor and author?

A: Depends on the author. Some like face-to-face and others prefer email only. It’s nice to meet the author but not necessary. That being said, doing a ‘cold read’ by not actually knowing the author prevents bias. You tend to not see what’s missing in the manuscript if you already know the author.


Final Comments

Carla: You can put ANYTHING on Kindle and sell it for however much you want. You are welcome to get in touch with me if you need help with that.


Kit: We do a lot of editing and author support.

The Manuscript Agency.

0422 783 313


Jenny: I help people self-publish through IndieMosh.

1300 644 380


The Blue Mountains Library is a supporter of aspiring writers by providing writing workshops and our own ‘editor in residence’ program. Visit the library website or your local branch for more information.


Panel Two: Sales, Marketing and Promotion



David: Delved into the purpose of this panel this which was centred on two assumptions.

  1. You’re here because you want to be in the business (of writing).
  2. Your book has been edited/designed and is print ready.

It all costs money! So how much will you commit? Can you (or do you desire to learn to) pull this off?

He then turned to the remainder of the panel to gather their introductions.

Gabriel: Has self-published several books but knows this industry is not for everybody. Though it does open the writer up to unprecedented possibilities. It’s very rewarding and it is possible to be successful.

Sarah:  Also goes by the author name S.L. Mills. She is a self-published author who feels self-publishing is a fantastic journey and a marvellous industry!

Amanda: Started out writing just because she could and she enjoyed it. After several unsuccessful attempts to break into traditional publishing (though she received some invaluable feedback), decided to delve into publishing eBooks. After that she was also able to publish with a traditional publishing house. She feels the advantages of self-publishing are the fact that you have complete control over your work. The advantage of traditional publishing is that you have access to resources you normally wouldn’t as a self-published writer.

Steven: Published both traditionally and self-published. He makes a living from his writing and selling his self-published books on He has found it to actually be a better seller than he thought it would be.


Question 1: Why did you go with self-publishing? What’s the big buzz about it?

Sarah: “I have the patience of a gnat and I’m fiercely independent,” laughed Sarah. She started out on the traditional publishing route by sending her work to an agent and when she was rejected (after waiting a long time to hear back from them) she decided this was taking too long, she would be old by the time she got anywhere. And she didn’t like the idea of having to plead with them (agents and publishers) to get her book published. So drawing on her experience in journalism and decades of marketing experience, she set off on her self-publishing journey. And she had the sufficient funds to back her (which is incredibly important because it’s an expensive endeavour. Sarah reports to have spent around $15,000 on getting published as she opted for a print run).

Gabriel: It was always Gabriel’s dream to be read by as many people as he could. That was his motivation to write. He also brought out a valuable point that when someone reads your book they are, in effect, giving you their most valuable resource. They are giving you their time.

Self-publishing is liberating and brings with it incredible potential. You are in control and you stay in control. Also keeping in mind, you stand or fall, are either praised or condemned by your readers by the quality of your book. He couldn’t emphasise this enough. Success rests on quality and finding that niche in the market.

Amanda: Writing for her started out as a hobby, but she then figured, “Why leave it on your hard drive when you can get feedback for your work?” The process of self-publishing takes you to a whole new level of “Oh my god! I have to make this readable!”

Goodreads is a great platform to get your work read and reviewed, as well as a great platform to reach out to and connect with your audience.

Steven: Wanted to change genres but didn’t believe traditional publishing would be keen on the idea as it was completely different to what he normally wrote. He also expressed that he was curious to explore the market.


Question 2: How far ahead (of launching your book) do you have to start the marketing process to be launch ready?

Gabriel: “If no one knows it exists then no one will read it.” With self-publishing you don’t have the luxury of relying on a publishing house to market you. You are on your own. It takes about 6-8 months at least to prepare for the launch.

Your tools? Social Media! Best sellers are made possible through marketing on social media and social media marketing strategies.

Personal appearances are important. Get out there and meet potential readers.

Amanda: Putting it out and seeing what happens is sometimes successful. Most times it just doesn’t (happen). Start with the title. Make sure it’s unique and searchable on Google. You need to be findable! If you don’t have a unique name then make yourself a unique writer’s alias.

Steven: “My author name (and the fact that I had been traditionally published before) didn’t help at all.” (Writing different genres will do that). Make sure you have a REALLY GOOD blurb with Amazon. Make sure the first 20% of your book is also REALLY GOOD as it is downloadable for free on Amazon. Amazon does the rest of the work in the ranking system.

Sarah: Get your book launch ready. Book the venue 3 months in advance. Organise marketing collateral, business cards, banners and of course a great cover for your book. A great cover is important! Join organisations and make reviews on Expect a 6 month to a year timeframe to do all of this in.


Question 3: So you’re launch ready. How are you going to sell your books?

Steven: Amazon currently holds 74% of the eBook market. They’re the biggest. They even provide a lending service (in some countries) where they ‘loan’ your book out to readers and you still receive a royalty for every loan. Amazon does the selling for you.

Sarah: “I’ll sell anywhere I can, as long as it’s legal and appropriate!”

+Book stores.

+Popup events like at supermarkets.

+My website.

+Other websites such as booktopia.

+Schools (as it is a childrens/teen book).


+Holding writer and publishing workshops.

+Conventions like Supernova/Comic Con/Ironfest.

+Rotary and Linked in.


+Fairs and stalls.


David’s response: “This is the business of being an author!”

Amanda: Went the least effort route. She published with Kindle. Though even that was still a lot of work. Word of mouth. Get it into book shops – which is difficult so take the time to get to know the owners. Have a business card ready to give to people who you mention your book to. And make sure you have your website ready.

Gabriel: You must have a KILLER website! It’s your window into the cyber world. Make sure your social media presence funnels traffic to your website. This is the gateway to people learning about you (the author), your work and where to purchase it. Your website is your centrepiece.

Also making appearances is important. Meet new potential readers. Being in a book club or two (or more) is great.


Question 4: So you’ve launched. You’ve generated sales. How do you keep it going?

Steven: “Amazon’s rankings did it all for me.” Be active on social media and get involved in groups that are associated with the genre of your book. It is (hopefully) your interest after all. Make it (the subject you’re writing about) your life.

With traditional publishing you sell a lot on the onset and then it fizzles. Self-publishing takes time to build up sales but then it takes off.

Writing multiple books is great for keeping sales going because if people like you, they will search for more by you. Series’ are popular nowadays.

Keep writing books!

Amanda: Agreed. Write another book. Make writing a top priority in your daily time allocation.

Gabriel: Agree. “Strive for excellence. Keep writing. The rest will come.”

Sarah: Agree. Good products sell for years. Also people like novelty. Build your brand and make sure you keep yourself in the spotlight and at the forefront of people’s minds. Be a regular at events and get inventive. As hers was a fantasy book, Sarah took the initiative to have trading cards made up. Set yourself up to have repeat business ie, readers want to buy your books for friends and family as presents etc.


Audience Q&A

Q: Is it possible to self-publish a school text book? How would I go about doing that?

A: It’s not impossible if you can devote resources to the market and distribute. Speak to distributors who distribute to schools like Scholastic.

Q: How do I navigate the legal minefields in self-publishing?

A: You are on your own when it comes to the legal side of self-publishing. A proper disclaimer in your book is always useful. As is taking out public appearances insurance for when you make appearances. And remember if you want to quote songs or other sources you need permission and it can get expensive on royalties etc.

Q: How do you improve your rank on Amazon?

A: Some people like to cheat. They will get their friends and family to give them 5 star ratings and great reviews. On a side note, if you get a bad review, you can get it bumped off the top of the list by getting a friend or family member to provide or ‘like’ a good review.

Q: How do you get a good review the honest way?

A: Give away your book to people (who will review it) for free or get onto review websites who will review it for you. Writers and reader groups such as the Australian Women Writers. If you get a bad review, DON’T ANSWER IT. Just let it be. It’s more professional and dignified that way.


Final thoughts.

Think ROI. “Return on investment!” Invest time, money and emotion. And you will be successful!

Gabriel: Has published a guide on self-publishing called ‘Going it Alone; a case study. A personal guide to self-publishing.’ It can be found on his website:


Steven: Can be found on his website:


Amanda: Can be found on her website:


Sarah: Can be found on her facebook page:



Steven’s top tips for self-publishing

  1. Choose a genre that suits your knowledge and abilities. RESEARCH ebooks in your genre – what works and what doesn’t.
  2. If you have time to write 60,000 words, time to learn the process of self-publishing. You don’t need ‘experts’ – just patience and application.
  3. Download FREE ‘Building your book for Kindle’- Amazon leads you step-by-step.
  4. Visit Catherine Ryan Howard’s blog – it has everything you need on self-publishing.
  5. Use an online photo editor to design your cover- iPiccy or Picmonkey. Make sure you have a thumbnail!
  6. Design your manuscript like a real book – title page, copyright page, ‘about the author’, TOC, dedication. The more it looks professional the better.
  7. Manuscript ready? Nope! Loading it on Kindle Direct Publishing and Amazon will highlight spelling errors and typos for free! Not grammar though. Now go back and fix each one.
  8. Now go to CreateSpace and load your manuscript. Get a paperback proof copy posted to you so that you can re-edit!
  9. Publish on Kindle and CreateSpace. Join Kindle Unlimited.
  10. Amazon Author Central.
  11. Reviews – get as many as possible from friends and family.
  12. Be active on social media, NOT just to sell your books but also contribute to the issue/subject that you are writing about.
  13. The answer is on Google. Just work on the correct questions.
  14. Self-publishing takes time to build up sales but then it takes off.
  15. Evaluate your progress after 3, 6, 12… months. List your successes and failures. Don’t repeat your mistakes, repeat your successes!




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