Adventures in Self-Publishing

I’ve been writing fiction as a hobby for years, and like many other authors, I wanted my short stories to be published by an established magazine or website. For most of that time, to say self-/vanity publishing carried a stigma was an understatement. Sure, if you were a crank who claimed that Elvis revealed himself to those wearing tinfoil hats, you might self-publish. But if you produced Real Writing, you sweated it out, researching markets on or, sending out your manuscripts, waiting months in the slush pile, all in the hopes of $0.05 a word from a professional market.


Well, I sweated it out. I researched markets. I sent out those short story manuscripts that I thought were worthy. At the last place to which I submitted a manuscript, I waited nine months in the slush pile — only to receive a form rejection slip.


I had two choices, it seemed. Spend months more working my way down the list of magazines to those that pay little or nothing, or let my stories die in obscurity on my hard drive.


Instead, I opted for a third choice. Self-publishing.


Several factors drove my decision:

  1. Ebooks are finally getting traction in the marketplace, driven by Amazon.
  2. It’s now very easy to publish an ebook, again courtesy of Amazon and its ilk. As a result…
  3. The self-publishing stigma is ebbing rapidly. Every other month, the media will run a story on an ebook author who’s made it big. Obviously these aren’t representative of every ebook author, any more than JK Rowling is representative of what traditional authors can look forward to, but it shows that self-publishing is becoming more mainstream.
  4. Lastly, I had nothing to lose, since the markets that most interested me had already rejected my manuscripts.


I didn’t pull the trigger straight away – it took me months to iron out a structural issue with the manuscript that I most wanted to publish. But other than that, the process was remarkably straightforward:


  • Which platforms to use? Submitting to Amazon was a no-brainer given its market share. People on the Forward Motion forum had also used Smashwords, which distributes to pretty much every e-bookstore that isn’t Amazon. Smashwords seemed legit and offered a decent cut of royalties, so I went with that as my other venue.
  • Cover art: Just as in olden times, banks signalled their trustworthiness by investing in elaborate stone buildings, I wanted my cover to immediately signal that my story wasn’t Generic Farmboy-Meets-Princess Extruded Fantasy Product #457892. Over the last week or two I trawled through stock photo websites and finally found an image I was happy with on I looked at the covers of my non-fiction library for inspiration as to layout, used Powerpoint to produce a cover mockup, and when I was happy with everything, bought the stock image for $25 (or, to be precise, I had to buy $25 worth of Dreamstime credit, then spent $16 on the photo), loaded it into Powerpoint, and saved as JPEG.
  • Formatting: Smashwords provides a detailed style guide for how to format a DOC file so that it’ll look good as an ebook. It is MUCH more detailed than Amazon’s style guide, and it appears to me something formatted to be Smashwords-friendly can be made Amazon-friendly with minimal effort. This step was actually less painful than I thought it would be, but it still took me several hours of work .
  • How (and how much) do I get paid? As I live outside the US, Smashwords will only pay me via Paypal (for which I had to register), while Amazon will only pay me via cheque. Given that I’m selling a short story rather than a full novel, the minimum possible price of $0.99 seemed appropriate. Amazon will pay me a cut of 35%, whereas Smashwords gives me around 55% or 60% net of transaction costs. I obviously don’t expect to become a millionaire on the back of one $0.99 short story, but I would like to make at least a few hundred bucks (what I could have made by selling the story at the pro rate of $0.05/word). At a bare minimum, I’d like to break even on the cost of the cover photo!


Once I had formatted the manuscript, added a cover, etc., it was time to upload it! Amazon takes around 24-48 hours to send the ebook live, and as I write this, it hasn’t yet gone live on the Kindle store. However, it appears after only a few minutes on Smashwords. And so, I present…



Artorius of Cairbrunn hates being dead.


In life, he was a hero, protector to emperors and scourge of the barbarians, before he was betrayed and killed. Now, hundreds of years later, he’s been summoned back to the world of mortals — and telling hero from villain is not as simple as he once thought.


A heroic fantasy short story about right and wrong; fallen kingdoms and rising upstarts; love, loss, and the lengths to which we’ll go for those we care about.


You can buy the story (just $0.99!) or read a free sample at the Smashwords store, here. You can also buy from Amazon, here.


I hope those of you who check out the story will enjoy it enough to recommend it to your friends. And if you’re thinking about ebook self-publishing, I hope you’ll have found this thread useful!

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