5 Things I’ve Learned About Self-Publishing in the Last 5 Years

Signing at the Monte Cristo Bookshop in 2012. Photo by Kate Randall.
Signing at the Monte Cristo Bookshop in 2012. Photo by Kate Randall.

Today marks five years since I started self-publishing, when I hit publish on my award-winning short story, “Moon Prayer.” To this day I still get that feeling of anticipation and excitement when I publish a new book. It’s a feeling that never gets old, one that I think will be familiar throughout the rest of my career. It’s crazy to think that five years is such a short and long time; it’s only a blip on the timeline of a lifelong career, but it’s also the hardest period when starting a new business. And I’ve accomplished a lot.

In the last five years, I’ve:

  • published nine novels, with my 10th coming out next month
  • been signed by a small press publisher (now closed)
  • done several signings at book stores
  • made a lot of lifelong friends
  • done several interviews—including a podcast

Since I want to look back on posts like this, I’d also like to mention what I’m currently working on:

  • My 10th novel, standalone NA romance Just One More Minute, comes out November 18th. It’s part of a duology; the other book is a standalone about another couple.
  • Throughout the next couple of months, I will be writing and editing the fourth book in my rockstar romance, the South of Forever series. I hope to release it in early 2017.

I’m extremely proud of everything I’ve done in the last five years, and I know that the next five will be just as fun. I’ve learned many things so far, but here are a few of the most important.

Self-Publishing is an Agile Business

In this industry, change happens quickly. No one knows the formula to an overnight success, and what catches fire in the market changes with the wind. Billionaires, for example, are out, but small town farmers are totally in. You can write to market or you can write what’s in your heart and wait for the market to catch up. (It will eventually.) In that same sense, marketing tactics come and go, too. Amazon could tweak one algorithm tomorrow and your marketing plan could come crashing down.

It sounds kind of awful, and though it can be, it’s mostly exciting. I’m always looking forward to what changes will occur in indie publishing. New markets are opening all the time (see Joanna Penn’s comments on the booming industry in India and Nigeria), and people and companies are forging ahead with some really cool storytelling innovation (like Radish and Night Vale).

Good or bad, you have to be ready to pivot and apply everything you’re learning to what you’re doing in the trenches. Sometimes I’ve had to make decisions on a whim based on new information. This business has been one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done.

Publishing Exclusively With Amazon is Super Risky

You know how your grandma always said “Never put all of your eggs in one basket”? She was right.

Before I started building my empire, I was a web designer. I ran workshops and did presentations all the time, where I advised clients not to rely on free websites or social media—they needed their own domain where they could control everything. Facebook, for example, could change their terms of service at any time, completely destroying everything my client had built. With their own website, though, they owned their content and held the keys.

When I came to self-publishing, I applied this same philosophy to the retailers I sold at. Being wide—avoiding programs like KDP Select—put the control in my hands. Many a horror story has been told on Kboards about authors who were Amazon-exclusive and one single algorithm tweak brought their income to a screeching halt. Kindle Unlimited can be great to get a new author started—you can make a lot of money in a short period of time—but it’s not a good long-term business plan.

If I was a brand new author just starting out, I would release a trilogy straight to KU. After 90 days, I would go wide and stay wide. Then I’d repeat it with my next series. As I started seeing income rise at the other retailers, I would start publishing directly to all of them—skipping KU entirely.

Setting Up Multiple Honeypots is a Great Way to Maximize Your Income

For the longest time, I was lucky to make $10 a month at Amazon. I was publishing short stories, which I later discovered aren’t the best length for steady sales. However, even with shorter works, when I published consistently, I was able to make at least $10 a month at each of the retailers. This multiplied my income, especially once I joined Kobo’s promotions email list (which is now a tab built into the KWL dashboard for select indie authors).

Each retailer has really great assets. Finding and leveraging those strengths to your advantage is the key to success. For example, distributors like Draft2Digital and Smashwords have reps from Apple and Barnes & Noble that will merchandise your books. I’ve even heard of authors who publish direct being contacted by reps and having their books featured. And Kobo’s promotions, as I mentioned, are a fantastic tool for reaching more customers.

But having honeypots doesn’t just mean being wide. It also means finding related streams of income, like writing nonfiction, speaking, and teaching. I even know indie authors who are also ghostwriters. Another honeypot is doing signings, conventions, book festivals, craft fairs, and art shows. Basically anywhere there’s going to be a crowd of people willing to spend money. There are so many avenues and opportunities—especially in this exciting digital age.

It’s Ridiculously Easy to Burn Out Really Quickly

All of this excitement can easily become overwhelming. After all, indie authors have a lot of work to do on any given day, and that can become stressful. It’s even worse when you get a case of comparison-itis. I often find myself comparing myself to other self-published authors, wondering “How come I’m not making a living?” and “Why can’t I write that fast?”

This is why it’s super important to do two things on a regular basis: put things into perspective, and fill the well.

You can’t compare yourself to someone who’s been writing for decades, for example. I catch myself wondering why I’m not more like Tarryn Fisher or Colleen Hoover all the time. In reality, they’ve been self-publishing much longer than I have. It took me a few years to find my voice and niche—I only just started consistently releasing a series last year—so realistically I’m at a completely different place.

I used to try to jump straight from one project to another. It took me some time to figure it out, but I’m much more productive if I take some time off in between and fill the well. This can mean reading a couple of books and binge-watching a series on Netflix. It’s especially beneficial if I just focus on relaxing.

It’s also important to write a business plan and keep strict business hours. I revise my business plan every six months or so, and usually write a separate marketing plan for each book. I only work Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm. It took me a few years to realize that even though I wanted to work a lot of hours and even enjoyed it, those long days were wearing me down. Occasionally I break this rule—like when my publisher closed or when I wrote a novel in two weeks. Otherwise, I’m super careful about how many hours I put in—especially since I have a chronic illness. YMMV.

Writing Doesn’t Have to Be a Solitary Career

The best thing that’s happened to me in the last five years was hooking up with other authors who write in a similar genre. I met J.C. Hannigan back in the day when we were both aimlessly blogging through our twenties. After a few years of me harassing her, she came over to the dark side and started self-publishing too. I call her my “work wife” and love her to pieces. I also happen to adore her books! For a long time, I was pretty much on my own, but when she started self-publishing, I was thrilled to finally have someone I could really talk to.

I met my critique partner, Molli Moran, on Twitter. I liked her a lot right away and fell in love with her books. We chatted more and more frequently, sharing story ideas and marketing tips. Eventually we started swapping manuscripts for beta reading, and it was a perfect fit. It only made sense that we become critique partners.

With these two lovely ladies and the sweet Rebecca Paula, I co-founded Romance Readers Anonymous on Facebook. Just the simple act of coming together to do something nice for our readers keeps the ugly loneliness away, but we also bounce marketing ideas and plots off each other. Our group is so lovely in the sense that we respect and take care of each other. Recently we all realized we were a little overwhelmed and decided to make October a roll with it kind of month, rather than scheduling themed posts and games. It’s so easy with these three ladies and I’m so grateful to have them in my life. Eventually we have got to have a meetup!

The last five years have been quite a ride, but I’ve far from reached my destination. In the next five years, I hope to:

  • be making a full-time income ($5,000 a month is totally all right with me)
  • publish at least two memoirs (one about my chronic illness and the healthcare system, the other about PTSD and the mental healthcare system)
  • have several series in genres ranging across YA, NA, and adult fiction
  • train Dragon or some other speech-to-text program so that I can save my poor wrists 😂
  • be losing my mind because maybe I’ll be trying to write books while raising babies

It’s all within reach, because the magic is already inside of me.


Thank you so much to all of my readers, family, and friends for your unwavering support and love throughout the past five years! This journey has never been easy, and many have doubted me—including myself—but your faith has carried me through. As a thank you for being there, I will be sending my email list a FREE copy of “Moon Prayer”—that award-winning short story that I self-published five years ago.

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10 Years Together, 3 Years of Marriage

Singing karaoke at our wedding.
Singing karaoke at our wedding.

Sometimes I marvel that this man is mine—even when he’s driving me absolutely bonkers. Especially then, actually. I look into those soft blue eyes and I feel like I’m living a real-life NA romance. We’ve had plenty of our share of the back-and-forth.

Fire, meet gasoline.

When Mike and I first met*, I’d just started working at Toys R Us and also just exited a series of bad relationships. I was the heroine just looking to have a good time. Or so I thought.

All 6’3″ of him strolled up to me one night at work and asked me what my plans were. I hadn’t heard from my friends about our tentative plans, so I smiled up at him and shrugged. One night of drinking vodka and beer in a friend’s garage quickly turned into seeing each other almost every night for three months straight. I was giggly-drunk when he dropped me off that first night.

“Who do you like at work?” he asked in that low voice.

It was sexy as hell but I still managed to play it cool. “Oh, I don’t know,” I said, planting a sweet kiss goodnight on his cheek. “Someone.”

Still, the more time we spent together, the less nonchalant I was able to be. No matter how hard I tried not to, I wanted more of this guy who was a mind-blowing kisser and could kick my ass at Scrabble. He, however, did not appear to want more; brat wouldn’t even hold my hand in public.

As the end of the summer neared, I started to accept that we would not end up boyfriend and girlfriend. Too bad, too, because I could actually see myself dating him—really dating.

Right around my birthday, he called me and asked me if I wanted to go out to dinner. A real date. I was surprised. This was the same guy who’d told me he wasn’t looking for anything serious. Thus he has been confusing me for the last decade: when we’re ordering food at a drive-thru; when he stops painting a piece halfway through and starts another; when he changes the song right when it’s getting good and switches to an entirely different band while driving. But even though he can be extremely indecisive, he’s always been loyal.

That night, when we went out to dinner, he officially asked me to be his girlfriend. That was August 31st, 2006. Five years later, on the same day, he took me out to dinner to celebrate our anniversary. I was a nervous wreck; I just knew he was going to propose. I couldn’t decide what to wear or if I’d even say yes.

I mean, marriage? For real?! Getting married was for adults. People who knew how to be in mature, serious relationships. I couldn’t even decide what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, never mind who I wanted to wake up next to.

After we finished eating, I went to the ladies’ room to pee and collect myself. As I washed my hands, I stared at my reflection. This is it, I told myself. When I go back out there, he’s gonna drop to one knee. Practically shaking, I walked back out to our table.

But all he did was pay our check and tip our waiter. Stunned, I followed him out to the parking lot. I’d been so sure. He’d been acting so weird all night. It was our five-year anniversary.

I exhaled and let it go. At least now I could stop being nervous and just enjoy the night.

We got into the car and headed toward the highway. As we drove into the dark night, we talked about things the way we usually did. Just content boyfriend/girlfriend chitchat. Nothing serious or heavy. We were on I-84 when he glanced over at me.

“So you wanna get married?” he asked. It was our inside joke, our thing. We’d talked about doing it eventually. We always said things like “I like you. I might marry you someday.” It was always casual, no pressure.

I responded automatically: “Of course.”

“Okay,” he said. “We have to go to Britt’s. She has the ring.”

I blinked into the night through the windshield. Slowly, I turned toward him in my seat. “Wait, for real?”

He’s always surprising me.

He once made these crazy good New York strip steaks. I hadn’t even known he could cook—not really, anyway. They were the best steaks I’d ever had, which says a lot because that particular cut isn’t the easiest to cook.

I could count a million things I love about him, but I mostly love his sense of humor, the way he cheers me on with my writing, and how good he is with kids. He doesn’t even blink when I get goofy, and sometimes he even joins in. Even when I burn dinner, he eats it without complaint. (Alien.) He’s been kind, patient, and supportive from the moment my arthritis set in, never making me feel bad and always taking care of me. Through years of setbacks and hardships, he’s never left my side and has always been there for me. I never even had to ask.

Like every real couple, we have our ups and downs. Sometimes I want to choke his beard (and do). Sometimes he needs a break from me and my intense personality. At the end of the day, though, we go to bed with kisses and “I love you”s.

He’s my alpha male hero, always taking the wheel when we have somewhere to go—even if his knee is acting up. We’re both stubborn and have that “my way or the highway” mentality, but he is rarely the one to budge. I’ve met my match.

And he’s still a devastatingly good kisser.

Three years ago today we said “I do,” and I’d do it again.

I love you, bearded man.


*He swears we met years before that at my first job, but I honestly don’t remember meeting him. Which he will never let me live down.

Six Years Passed

via Unsplash
via Unsplash

It seems absolutely crazy to me that six years ago, cancer took my grandfather. Popi was a huge part of my life, and even now, the hole in our family is gaping. I think I was in denial throughout the entire time he was sick, up until the moment I woke up and he was gone. Even then, it took my brain and heart quite some time to catch up.

Grief is weird like that.

Six years later, I’m okay. We’re all okay. But sometimes that ache sneaks right up on me—especially during this time of year. Late at night, tucked in bed, I’m not an almost 28-year-old woman; I’m a little girl who misses her Popi.

I wonder what he’d think about everything going on in the world right now. I’m especially curious if he’d like Machete or how he would’ve looked in a suit at my wedding. My Popi loved those crazy explosive action movies. They’re the ones I usually roll my eyes at but every now and then, our interests would intersect. We could watch Mortal Kombat and The Crow together. Popi was a huge martial arts movies fan, too. Unfortunately, there haven’t really been any lately.

Popi also had a great sense of humor—and an even better laugh. It was a contagious kind of laugh; if he laughed, you couldn’t help but burst out laughing too. I can actually still hear his laugh without trying too hard.

Popi was also a musician. He could play anything on his guitar by ear. Way back in the day, he was actually in a band. I didn’t inherit that gene, but it’s totally his fault that I love music so much and write rockstar romance.

There are a million things I could say about my Popi and it still wouldn’t be enough to really give you an idea of who he was. He passed on his stubbornness, fiery passion, and goofiness to me. He also had a soft, tender side. The older I get, the more I see myself in him—which is kind of funny, considering when I was younger, I never quite understood him. He seemed so complicated to me, yet I still loved him to pieces.

He was one of my favorite people in the whole world.

I miss him so much. Eventually, when I can afford it, I really want to get hummingbird tattoos just under my collarbone. Popi loved to sit up at the lake and watch all the birds, but the “hummers” were his favorite. They move fast, and half the time I was never quick enough. But my Popi saw everything—even hawks and eagles soaring far above the car as he drove us to the lake.

I’m not religious, I don’t believe in any kind of god, and I have no idea whether there’s any such thing as heaven, but I really hope someday, somehow I see him again.

Cotton candy sky. Every time I see a sunset, I think of my Popi. #nofilter

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