The P Word

These are the faces of three cats who were not on board with letting me make my bed.

It’s time for everyone’s favorite activity: paperwork!

No, I’m serious. Being a self-published author is a business, and it has to be maintained like one if you want to see where your money is going and how successful you really are from a monetary perspective. Even if you hire an accountant, you should always have your finger on the pulse of your business.

These are the things I personally recommend, and this comes not only from the perspective of an author but as someone who has managed small businesses:

Profit and Loss Sheet & Tax Worksheet

It’s easy to see sales come in or sell out of your books at a market and feel like you hit the jackpot, but did you really? Do you know how much went into the making of the books you just sold?

Your profit and loss worksheet is vital for tracking how much you actually spend versus how much you make on your books and how to plan accordingly when it comes to your marketing efforts and necessary purchases. You need to factor in every penny you spend, even if it’s just for one time purchases. This is also a good way to really figure out where you can cut costs and shop around, especially for marketing material and shipping material if you ship your books out yourself.

In addition, keeping this sheet will make it so much easier to do your taxes because all of your income and expenses are in one place, and they’re already broken down. The image to the right shows how I break mine down, but you can tweak it for your own expenses and revenue streams.

Transaction Tracking Software (I love QuickBooks Self-Employed)

Most banking apps have some kind of tracking and budgeting capability, but if you can do everything in one spot, that makes your life a lot easier. Software like QuickBooks tracks your business credit card and bank account so you can assign expense and revenue categories, maintain a budget, and track your spending. Plus you can share it with your accountant and export the data.

QuickBooks (and undoubtedly other software too) also lets you track mileage, which, if you do a lot of markets, cons, readings, and appearances, adds up too.

Inventory Tracker

I will be the first to admit, I am the worst about this. I know what my sales are, but if you ask me to break it down, you’re more likely to get a vague, “Oh, I think it was this many books and some prints” rather than a concrete number. But there are a lot of advantages to tracking your inventory including knowing what your best sellers are so you can be better prepared for shows and markets, knowing what marketing strategies worked the best for you, and when you start to run low on any of your products.

Going into a sales season like Christmas or the beginning of summer or going to a show with less inventory than you thought you had is not ideal, and being able to track your inventory is key. I currently have a spreadsheet in Google docs I made, but you can shop around for inventory software. If you have a WooCommerce site, there are some good plugins you can use.

Marketing Tracker

Your books aren’t going to sell themselves, no matter how good they are. And even if you decide that you want to look into trad publishing, most smaller publishers expect you to take on some of the marketing effort.

There are a lot of different organic marketing strategies out there, as I touched on in a previous post, but if you have the budget for it, paid marketing can be your friend. I typically pay $12-18 a month for Instagram sponsored posts that reach between 5000 and 6000 accounts, and it just takes two book sales to repay that cost (after I deduct the overhead for making the books).

This is where your marketing strategy and tracking sheet comes in. It’s exciting to see that your Amazon ad campaign generated sales, but how much did you spend to get there? How many people clicked on your ad and then bounced without converting into sales? That’s data that you can use to fine tune your ad campaigns, and if you’re on a very tight budget, you can use Amazon’s search term tool to find more specific terms people use to search for books like yours. Amazon and Google ads consoles let you export the data too, which is nice.

Business Plan

I know this might be a head scratcher, but hear me out. You’re a business. That means you need to operate like one, and at the end of the day, your business plan is a fluid document that details how you plan to operate, how much you plan to make, and where you see yourself in five, ten, or twenty years. If you decide to apply for a small business loan to heavily invest in reviews, ad campaigns, table fees at larger cons and shows, and production, this is how you do it. If you decide to get a business partner who wants to understand your process, you have something to show them.

Making my business plan was when everything started to come together for me. I had a clearer picture of my needs and the structure I wanted to put in place. I could see where I needed to get creative when it came to my marketing strategy and where I needed to tighten up on spending, and I saw a better way to get where I want to be in five years.

If you have a business or marketing background, you’re probably already familiar with these kinds of documents. If you have any strategies that help you keep track of your spending, budgeting, and business, share them in the comments!

Welcome to the Jungle

I watched Thor: Love and Thunder this weekend. Spoiler alert: so much G’n’R!

Today I want to keep going in my “lessons Eli learned the hard way” self-publishing series. I will admit this one wasn’t a hard-earned lesson because I already knew about the importance of reading fine print with contracts (anyone else remember when GameStation got 7500 people to literally agree to sell their souls?).

Why You Always Read Your Contracts

Whenever you work with a third party, chances are a contract will be involved. In fact, it’s definitely in your best interest to have a contract involved. This is also true for freelancers who need to protect their interests as much as you do yours. Freelancers can include cover artists, book designers, editors, and reviewers.

If you work with any agency that sends you a contract that’s difficult to read, make them clarify everything that you don’t understand. A huge red flag for me is anything super convoluted that’s explained away as “don’t worry about that, it’s standard.” Another red flag is when my point of contact tries to gaslight me by making me feel stupid for asking questions or implying that I’m hung up on small details. That usually means they’re trying to sneak something by you.

If you plan to outsource a lot of the publishing responsibilities and don’t have experience reading and understanding contracts, consult with an attorney. The Authors Guild, your state’s guild or organization, and ALLi members all get access to excellent legal advice and resources.

There are a lot of great resources online for contract templates that you can modify to suit your needs (I use Rocket Lawyer for mine). But why is this really important?

Creating Accountability

One word: accountability. Okay, two words. “Expectations” is important too. Your contract not only sets expectations for when you need and expect the finished results at each stage of the process, but it holds you accountable for making sure that you give your contractor everything they need when they need it. It guarantees payment for services rendered, and it offers legal recourse if the terms are not meant or if either of you needs to end the relationship before the contract is fulfilled. In other words, it covers everyone’s asses.

This is an important part of standing up for yourself as an author. You are a business entity, and as such, you have as much right to protect your interests as a tradesman, retailer, or service provider. Do not ever let anyone convince you otherwise.

Now go make magnificent works of art!

Planning a Preorder Campaign

Writing a book is only part of the process– an important part, but just a part nonetheless. You still have to get it in the hands of the public, and that’s where a book launch comes in. But even before the launch itself is the idea of a preorder campaign. I’m sure you’ve all seen this and probably taken advantage of it: preorders keep readers hooked with the promise of things to come and provide authors with the chance to reward loyal readers through giveaways and personalized content.

You have a few options when it comes to setting up the preorder for your book, and I’m going to talk through the two I did and their pros and cons.

The Easy Way Out

When I released Welcome to Jessie’s, I just set a date in which people could preorder the books, and then everyone’s copies were shipped or sent out on launch day. All I had to do was set up the links and let people order in advance from my website, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Apple. I maintained a spreadsheet so I knew who had ordered which version, whether they requested a personalized message, and if they purchased add-ons.

The downside to this was I relied on platforms like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Draft2Digital, so I couldn’t personalize the experience for my readers. I didn’t have much of an incentive to offer other than “you’re guaranteed to get the book on this day!” The orders placed through my website included a thank you note, bookmark, and signed copy, but that was it.

Adding Some Incentives

I still can’t personalize the preorder experience through a third party platform, but for Where the Ogrekin Roam, I added preorder exclusives when readers ordered their copies through my website. In addition to the personalized copy, each order includes a print, sticker, bookmark, and coupon code applicable to a future purchase.

Where It All Went Horribly Wrong

When I set up the preorder for Ogre, I decided that anyone who preordered in December would get an advance copy of the book. Great incentive, right? Instead of waiting until I had the final proof in hand, I set a date and then ran up against obstacle after obstacle from printing delays to paper shortages to health issues. I had to take a chance and order the books without waiting weeks for the final proof, and when they came in (before the proof, I might add), the covers were horrible.

After a brief crying fit, I had to reach out to my readers and let them know what happened, give them the books with the wrong covers so they at least had something to show for their support and patience, redesign the cover, and reorder the proofs. I will send the preorder readers the correct versions, but now I’m out the cost of the new books and shipping.

The Takeaway

Make sure you’re prepared. If you’re doing the bulk of the legwork on a preorder or book launch, do not commit to anything, especially a date, until you have the finished product in hand and know that you can deliver on your promises. That said, preorders create a sense of anticipation, and when you have a chance to personalize the experience, you can really build on the relationship with your readers.

The Dreaded Curse of Imposter Syndrome

Ace has zero shame. Most of us could learn from him.

Imposter syndrome: that crippling fear that you’re not really that good, that you don’t deserve your success, that the world will realize that you’re not the real deal and run you out of town.

Growing up as a woman in the South in the 70’s and 80’s, I was taught that it wasn’t ladylike to discuss my accomplishments being good at something. It was boasting, and I didn’t deserve my success unless its recognition came from other people. I still can’t talk about my books without feeling like I should apologize and then go hide under a rock.

On top of that is an underlying stigma about being a self-published author. There are still schools of thought that believe that being self-published means you’re not good enough for a traditional publisher, but that’s not true. There are some really incredible self-published authors out there. The reality, especially now, is that the traditional publishing world is incredibly hard to break into, whether you believe it comes from publisher and agent burnout or too many authors and not enough agents or publishers (I’ve seen arguments for both sides of that particular coin). No, not every self-published book is gold, especially without the assistance of a professional editing and proofreading team, but you can find those services if you do your research.

Are my books perfect? Absolutely not. But enough people who are honest with me have given me constructive feedback followed with “I really liked it” to let me know that I have a good product and could actually go somewhere with this. I wish I could make the gut-wrenching anxiety stop so I could enjoy my journey, but it’s hard. So what can I do to help myself? Well, I can keep working on the journey– social media, newsletters, plugging my product, working on the sequel, trying to get reviews (holy cow that is ridiculously hard to do without paying a fortune!), and writing every day. I also started writing positive affirmations. This is huge to keep my mindset where it needs to be.

But most of all, I need to remember one very important fact. If my audience believes in me, then they can’t all be wrong, right? I need to have faith in the faith that they have in me, and I need to realize that I am doing exactly what I love. And you know what? I’m pretty damn good at it, and I will be a successful writer.

So take that, mind!

Do Me Right

Ace is the king of the cat tree.

In this post I want to touch on the things I had to learn. Keep in mind that I have a full time job, I’m neurodivergent, and what works for me, especially with my non-writing obligations, won’t necessarily work for you.

Here are the things I learned that were absolutely important to the process, and I’m very glad I figured them out early on:

Trust the Editing Process

If you hired an editor or enlisted the aid of one (and good for you if you did), listen to them with an open mind. In my opinion, the two types of editors who can really help me are content editors and copy editors. Content editors focus on the story elements and structure like plot, characters, continuity, and flow. Copy editors look for technical errors such as grammar errors or misspellings. Don’t be afraid to listen! Don’t be thin skinned. Their input is not an attack or an implication that you’re a bad writer. Remember that it’s literally their job to make your work better so that your audience will want to come back for more.

Double check your work. Before you submit it to any publisher, use a program like Pages or Calibre to view your work as an ebook. Order a physical copy and read it cover to cover. I didn’t do that because I had read it so many times that I was positive I had everything covered. I didn’t realize that the ePub layout structure for my first book would change just enough to make the paragraph breaks wonky or that I had a typo (which really drives me crazy, but that’s okay. I’ll live).

Advanced Readers

I chose readers who covered my target audience but who came from different demographics. My goal was to make sure that my story did not fall flat, that it was comprehensible, and, more importantly, that I received feedback. No one likes giving or getting negative feedback, especially when it’s your friends. But if you paid or recruited someone to read your book, then you need to listen! These readers represent all of the people who you want reading your book. If someone suggests a rewrite or modification that you know won’t work because of something happening later in a series, then figure out how to rewrite that scene to achieve the same end goal. That actually happened to me quite a bit because I know what’s happening two, three, even nine books out. It was too easy to forget that the readers didn’t have the same insight.

Know How Much You’re Making

No matter what platform you use to publish or sell, you have access to sales reports. If you don’t, then you need to find a new platform because that information should always be readily available to you. I use WooCommerce on my website, and Ingram Spark for physical copies and Draft2Digital for my ebooks. All three have great reporting as do Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple.

But in addition to royalties or sales, you need to remember to take a bunch of other stuff into account:

  • Get your tax and use certificate in your state if you have to pay sales tax
  • Know how much you pay for shipping to your customers
  • If you ship yourself, consider a shipping label printer (I found a great one from Amazon for $53)
  • Shop around for packing material and make sure you calculate how much it costs per unit (if you buy a 25 pack of boxes for $26 after tax and shipping, then you just added $1.04 to your cost)
  • Adding little giveaways like bookmarks and thank you cards are a nice touch, especially for early buyers (I wrote thank you cards for everyone who bought from me in the first two weeks my web store was open), patrons, and contest winners; just make sure you keep track of how much all of that costs though.
  • Don’t forget about subscription and dues if you’re a member of things like the Author’s Guild or ALLi
  • Try to identify which of your expenses are one time costs (standing posters for your author events) versus renewed (giveaways and swag) and try to buy in bulk if you can while factoring those costs into the price of your books
  • If you’re comfortable making your own files and have access to a good quality printer, try to make as much of your marketing material as you can
  • Consider a subscription to something like Quickbooks to help manage your books and taxes

Budget Your Time

Burn out is real! Writer burn out is too! There is so much that goes into self publishing, and the more you do on your own, the more work you have. Mailing lists, Patreon accounts, social media, maintaining your presence on the various platforms that are out there (more on that later), are you buying ads? Gotta maintain those too, tracking sales, submitting for events, festivals, conventions, and author appearances, submitting to libraries and book stores (more on that later too), submitting to magazines and publications, not to mention you’re still writing your next book(s). And if you have a full time job, a partner, kids, any responsibilities that take a significant amount of time, you have to factor all of that into the mix.

Personally I use Apple reminders to make lists of things that need to be done. Then at the start of each day, I copy whatever I want to get done that day into a separate list app. I don’t let myself work on anything outside of that second list. If I don’t do that, then I’ll get sucked into how long my original list is, feel overwhelmed, get derailed by ADHD, and either get nothing done or try to do everything and get no writing done. If I know I have a lot of other things going on that day, I set a timer for each task. If I don’t finish a task that day, it’s okay. I can finish it later.

Oh, yeah. Stop beating yourself up if you don’t get something done.

Rewards are a big incentive for time budgeting too. I don’t drink alcohol anymore, but I used to reward myself with a glass of nice Scotch or wine. Now I make a really nice pot of tea. Or I watch an episode of something in one of my many streaming queues that would take about three lifetimes to clear out. Writing is a reward too. Knowing I can write a chapter or flesh out an outline or give a character new life is something to look forward to, and it’s an incentive to A. put the phone down and stop getting distracted and B. stop trying to take on too much at one time.

Keep Reading

You’re a writer. That means you create words for other people to read. Consider reading to be your form of research. What new styles and authors are out there? You just spent a day in your own head, how would it feel to take a break in someone else’s?

I swear that sounded a lot less creepy when I started to write it down.

Join a book club, join a reading challenge on social media, and share what you’re reading. It’s a great way to support fellow authors (and maybe get a little support yourself).

Next time I’ll go into how I learned about submissions for events and stores and the importance of an online presence when you self publish.

Where Did I Go Wrong?

Lucy’s trying to make me feel better by being very cute.

As I look at what’s left of my bank account and sigh mournfully, I would like to take this moment to discuss the importance of research and planning ahead. Here’s where I blew money:

  • Filed the copyright too soon
  • Did not sign a contract when paying for cover art
  • Didn’t communicate adequately with the cover artist
  • Paid to have the copyright filed
  • Paid a vanity publisher


If you file a copyright on your first draft and make significant changes (restructure, add art, additional or less chapters, etc), you have to refile. It’s $65 a pop, so make sure you have everything the way you want it or pretty close the first time. I am definitely not known for my patience, and when I finished the first draft, I jumped the gun on everything except actually publishing– and that was only because my copy editing background taught me better. As a result, I had to register the copyright twice after making huge structural changes to the body of the work during the editing process.

Cover Art

I gave my artist a detailed creative brief, but when she began discussing changes, I didn’t specify what parts had to remain the same. I also didn’t give her a time line upfront or require her to sign a contract since it’s someone I know, and I didn’t ask for a drawn concept– I accepted a verbal one. I paid in installments (a third up front and a third when she verbally gave me the concept), but the finished product wasn’t what I envisioned at all. It’s a great concept! It’s just not what will work for the book. But because I didn’t give her structure and better guidance on what I needed, I lost the first two payments I made and wasted her time. You’re probably going to hire or recruit people for a number of steps in your book, and communication and setting expectations is so important.

Paid to Have the Copyright Filed

I bought my eBook ISBN number from a third party, and I bought the option to have my copyright filed. What I didn’t know was that you still have to actually pay to register the copyright yourself. All they do is set up your profile. If you don’t mind paying for that, then go for it because it definitely saved me time. However, I couldn’t find anything online that says that having a third party do it for you has any benefits, so if someone knows of any that exist, please add them in the comments!

Paid a Vanity Publisher

This is where I am kicking myself the most. I had no idea what a vanity publisher was because I was in the early stages of trying to figure out how to navigate the self-publishing world. So when I was solicited by one, I thought it was the greatest thing ever and went for it. I was smart enough not to sign a contract that didn’t have an out, and I didn’t submit any material, so I still had all of the rights and ownership. I only got about half of my money back though. If I had gone through with it, I would have given up the rights to my work for 10% of the royalties.

I’m not saying vanity publishers are bad, but do your research, read the reviews, and look at all of the fine print before you sign anything. If you have the money to invest thousands of dollars in one and let them do all of the work for you, go for it. If that seems like an exaggeration, consider that you should plan to pay around $1000-3000 out of pocket no matter what you do for an editor, proofreader, artist, the book creation, online presence, and everything else that goes into making your book. Vanity publishers can charge more and give you less in royalties, so it comes down to cost and profit vs convenience.

What I learned from all of this…

All told I wasted around $2800 from mistakes, lack of research, and lack of communication. That’s a lot for a new author. When your writing is your passion and you want to get your work out in front of the world, it’s so easy to jump the gun and rush the process. I promise you, taking the time to do everything right is worth it. Next time I’ll talk about the things I did that went the right way. Until then, happy writing!

P.S. If you’re an author, share your social media links and website in the comments! I love finding new authors to follow.