Self-Published Authors Share 5 Things They Learned in 2012 ~ Part 2

Today’s guest post continues the 12-part series I’ve launched in this new year: asking self-published authors what are the top 5 things they’ve learned in the last year. Last year I featured numerous guest posts from indie authors who’d been successful, and I noted the diversity of reasons for their success—some completely in contradiction to another’s—so I thought it would be helpful to have more authors give their insights into the most valuable lessons they’ve learned. Hopefully it will help you navigate the convoluted and confusing maze of indie publishing and give you ideas on how best to spend your time so that it produces the results you desire in your writing career.

Today’s guest post is from Rachelle Ayala:

Hi, I’m Rachelle Ayala, and I self-published my first book less than a year ago. I’ve always known I would self-publish because my first novel did not fit into any of the well known genre guidelines. It is based loosely on a Bible story, but introduced elements of fantasy and romance tending toward the steamy side. My second novel is an edgy technothriller with cuss words and Christian themes of brokenness and redemption. My latest novel, Hidden Under Her Heart, is centered on the controversial subject of abortion and its effect on post-abortive men and women. Self-publishing gives me the artistic freedom to bring my words directly to the reading public. I make my books available in both ebook format through the major retailers as well as print book through Createspace. The only cost to self-publishing is hiring the editor and paying for cover art. I do the document formatting myself and upload to Amazon and other online retailers.

My 5 Lessons Learned

  1. Don’t try to do everything at once. As newcomers we are told to build a social network platform, plan a launch strategy, develop an e-mail list, engage readers in special interest groups, go on a blog tour, and do promotional events. Stop now! All of these things are good and wonderful, but no one can humanly do everything. My suggestion is to pick one, maybe setting up an blog. Work on this until you get comfortable. Take as much time as you need. Then pick the next thing; perhaps it’s getting on Twitter. Take your time to build a following. You don’t need to be everywhere on day one.
  2. Join an author group. One of the first social networks you should join is an author group. These can be found at your local writer’s club or online at sites such as or Don’t feel dumb asking questions. You will be surprised how helpful fellow authors are with guiding you along the way. Join the group to network and share information with other authors, not to promote your book to them.
  3. Do not use a pen name. When I first thought about writing, I was working at a high-tech company and wanted to keep my professional life and writing life separate. I established a pen name because I thought it would be better. The people at work I talked to all agreed. After all, I might be applying for a senior management position and didn’t want anyone to know I wrote trashy romance novels. What I didn’t realize is that when you self-publish, YOU are the product. Unlike authors who traditionally publish, the self-publishing author is front and center to any marketing campaign. I am stuck with my pen name now, but my advice to newcomers is to skip this step. It only adds to confusion when you want to be getting your message out to as wide an audience as possible.
  4. Do not join the gold-rush mentality. Self-publishing is not about throwing a book out there and counting the dollars rolling in. Your book must be as good as if you were submitting to an agent. This means great storytelling, a manuscript free from editorial errors, and professional looking covers and interior design. Don’t rush your book to market because your friends are hitting the best-selling charts and you’re afraid you’re going to miss the trend. Do everything in your own time and you will be satisfied with your results, whether you’re the next blockbuster, or you sell only a few hundred copies.
  5. Give back by helping others. Pay it forward or pay it backward. Self-publishing is a lot more rewarding if you give of your knowledge and time to help someone else with advice or information. Share your journey with others and encourage someone new. Make your blog available for someone else’s new release announcement. If someone helped you promote your book, be sure to reciprocate and do something nice for them. Trade beta reading and critiques. It’s not just good karma, it’s good sense.

Rachelle Ayala was a software engineer until she discovered storytelling works better in fiction than real code. She has over thirty years of writing experience and has always lived in a multicultural environment. She is an active member of an online critique group, Critique Circle, and a volunteer for the World Literary Cafe. She is a very happy woman and lives in California with her husband. She has three children and has taught violin and made mountain dulcimers. Visit Rachelle Ayala’s website here and follow Rachelle on Twitter. Read about her books on her Amazon Author page.

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  1. Great points. The only one I would have a differing opinion on is the pen name. I use a pen name and everything author related (Blog/Social Media) is set up with this name.

    In the future I plan to write in another genre, so it made sense for me to set up a pen name for my science fiction work. Even if I wasn’t going to write other work, I wouldn’t be against using a name that best reflects the work. If my real name was Edwina Pricklybottom, to use a crazy example, I would definitely change it to something more appropriate for Sci Fi.

    1. Yes good reassurance that it’s almost impossible to do everything at once 🙂

      What about authors picking a single platform on which to self publish too? At least initially. Trying to maintain Kindle, iBook, Smashwords versions and their respective accounts can also be time consuming. Especially when you consider that if a typo is discovered, and you have 3 platforms, you have to make 3 changes, then test 3 different versions, then resubmit all 3 as well. This doesn’t scale well as your catalogue grows. What are people’s thoughts on this?

      I use a pen name. I can see a potential issue with using multiple pen names, which is not having enough time to market each ‘person’ properly, but my excuse is that my “W” surname would otherwise consign me to the bottom right hand corner of many bookstore shelves! I wrote about a few other good reasons to use a pen name here (hope it’s okay to post – it’s relevant to what’s being discussed)

    2. I, too, use a pen name for exactly the same reason described (didn’t want my professional and “writing” lives to mix.) The day I decided to use it was the day it occurred to me that I had just stolen my own identity. It is true that you lose ALL of your contacts and have to “reconnect” with people you trust not to spill the beans on you at work. I think it’s a decision an author has to make though. How detrimental will my writing potentially be to my day job, and is it worth it?

  2. Mine is a pen name, too, although it’s almost the same as my real name. Sad to hear that Edwina Picklybottom is a pen name. Who’d have thunk it? I’ve read and loved all her books.

  3. Thanks for your thoughts on pennames. I just know I’m overwhelmed and many of my personal friends don’t know about my writing, so I don’t get word of mouth mention where someone ran across your book or blog and realized they knew you way back when. But it’s a good thought to tailor your penname to your genre. It just requires more work to segment your interactions.

  4. Hi Rachelle,

    I find I struggle to get the book details out there with friends, not because I’m using a pen name but because they are more interested in other things like, do I have a publisher or how my sales are doing.

    I find that other writers are more active for word of mouth because they have a richer understanding of the efforts to publish.

    At the end of the day, I know sales won’t come from friends and family, but from strangers interested in my book.

    1. Hi Eliza, I do have friends asking me all the time whether I have a book out and why I used a pen name. Then I have to write down my pen name so they can search for my book. But it does help to separate my technical career from my writing. And my writer friends do know my real name anyway.

      thanks for stopping by!

  5. Thanks so much for this, Rachelle. I gave a huge sigh of relief at Point #1. My first novel is coming out sometime this spring and I was starting to feel stressed and panicky about not having everything “in place”. One thing I’m realizing is that I’m going to have to start all over on Twitter, and that I’m not going to worry about it right now!

    1. Hi Kathryn, I’ve been at this a year and there are things I still haven’t done, e.g. LibraryThing, NetGalley, WattPad, Linky lists, blog hops, just to list a few. There is the danger of spreading yourself too thin.

      So, yes, work on one thing at a time and spread out as you have time and energy. Good luck with your release.


    1. Big cheer for point #1. I too am planning on releasing my first novel this spring, and was just reaching the conclusion that I simply couldn’t do everything, so it’s good to hear that advice. I have an established presence on Twitter, and plan to get my blog going next, but beyond that I am going to concentrate on the mechanics of actually getting the book out there 🙂
      I too use a pen name and I’m sticking with it. I have non-fiction published under my real name, and don’t want to mix the two. As Eliza says, sales are largely not going to come through family and friends (or, indeed, my work connections to whom I market my non-fiction), so I deliberately set up my Twitter account and blog under my pen name.

  6. The pen name decision is a difficult one. It seems like a lot of work to set up a completely separate identity (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.) for each pen name if you really want to keep your identities distinct. I’d appreciate comments from those of you who’ve done this, as I also write in multiple genres.

    1. Hi Ken, That’s what I’m wondering too, the splintering of your marketing efforts. There’s only so much time in the day to answer tweets and check facebook fan pages. Sometimes it is necessary to separate out yet another pen name, but I already have three distinct genres under my one writer’s name, historical romance, romantic suspense, women’s fiction. I can’t imagine maintaining a separate identity every time I switch genres.


  7. I actually had a web presence (Facebook and blog) under my pen name before I started my ‘own’ Facebook account. I was happy with the stages that I took to build my platform. Firstly blogging as a journal, commenting on several writers sites, then Facebooking after six months. Only then did I send out my first post and announce my presence. Now, two years later on, I have added Twitter and LinkedIn, Pinterest and Goodreads…but gradually. I am wary of spreading myself too thin as I gain followers, as this eats into precious writing time.

    Point five is absolutely true; Share what you know and others will reciprocate in kind.

    1. Hi Andrew, absolutely! I’ve found other authors to be extremely helpful and giving of their time and advice to newcomers. The generosity has been tremendous. I honestly don’t think I could have published my third novel in less than a year without this wonderful community, from critiquing to advice on finding an editor, cover art, to marketing/promo and social networking.

      The good thing about working in stages is to pace yourself.

      Thanks, Rachelle

  8. I use a pen name too, and my pen name is wildly successful compared to my real name. For example, a Google search of my real name nets two hits (to my Facebook and Linked In profiles). A Google search of my pen name yields 20+ pages of 20 links each–all to me. My real name isn’t unique to me–many other people have the same name, whereas, I’m pretty sure, there’s only one Jade Kerrion out there. I haven’t regretted using a pen name at all. I tell my friends I write, and give them a business card with my pen name. 🙂

    1. You do have an unique pen name. I think the problem is when you join a Facebook group, you have to use your real name. The others in the group, if it is an author’s group, will not necessarily know your pen name. It’s an extra step to connect. The same with my local writer’s group. I joined in my real name. But yes, pen names work well if you’re consistent with their use.

  9. Great post. There is amazing competition out there, but the most important thing to focus on is the work. Hurrying to publish for the sake of publishing will not do honor to the work. We all want our names on the best that we can do. Thanks.

  10. I find it interesting that so many people are thinking about the pen name issue. Having been published back in college under my real name, I just stuck to it, but I can certainly see the appeal of a nom de plume, particularly for professionals in other areas who may not want their writing life to interfere with their regular work.

    Also, sometimes writers really branch out and experiment and might not want the mainstream of their career to be coloured by the dalliances they make into other genres. Stephen King had his ‘Bachmann’ books, for instance. I’m an avowed secularist, yet I’ve been published in a Christian fiction webzine (Wherever It Pleases) and its anthology (Storm), because I once was a believer and had a good story that was rooted in that period of my life. I’m not ashamed of that and don’t feel the need to hide it, but it could be a little confusing for my fanbase if they start with that and move on to a story of mine that is much more humanistic (like Last Confession, where a deceased priest hears the confession of God’s sins).

    It’s also encouraging to see that writers are not expected to magically create a huge platform overnight. That is a significant source of stress for a lot of newcomers, and a hurdle that I wish we could collectively think of ways to lower. It is great that the publishing houses are no longer gatekeepers blocking most people from becoming authors, but the lack of visibility online is still a real problem for those who might have great stories to tell but little flair for selling themselves.

    1. Hi Mike, looks like this has become the pen name discussion. I’m going to stick to this one, but I can’t stick to one genre. Traditional authors have one pen name per genre, or they only write in one genre. I can see how your readers may be confused if there is a giant switch in theme and how another pen name would help lessen confusion. Ultimately, what’s important is for the reader.

      thanks! Rachelle

  11. Great tips, especially the gold rush mentality and taking things one at a time. Also the paying it forward… it benefits not just the people you help, but yourself. As anyone who’s ever had to teach a newly acquired skill to someone else, the best way to learn something is to teach it. Helping someone through the hurdles you’ve faced is a great way to find more creative, more successful solutions.

    Self publishing is neither a gold rush nor a shortcut. Finding success is every bit as difficult as finding success the traditional publishing route, just with different obstacles.

  12. What a fabulous list, Rachelle! And your point #1 was the perfect one to start with. I think we indie authors are our own hardest taskmasters. When we know there’s so much that we could be doing, it’s hard to let ourselves off the hook if we’re not trying to do it all, and it’s too easy to get stressed – which takes the fun out of the whole thing. So now I’m trying to count each day as a success if I “just do one thing well” rather than trying to do a little bit of everything. Thank you for sharing such thoughtful and supportive points.

    1. Hi Debbie, thanks for sharing. We are perfect taskmasters to drive ourselves crazy. Yet we can’t be everywhere at once. I tend to go in cycles. First draft mode, blog mode, revise mode, read and review mode, edit mode, launch mode, reach out mode. [I’m in the last two modes right now since I just released my latest book]

      Something always falls behind, whether it’s blogging, or reading other people’s books, or writing/revising, but if I do it in spurts, I can put my concentration into it rather than be spread too thin. Oh, there’s also the business mode and tax time is coming up, so have to allocate time for that too. Sorry for reminding everyone. 🙂

  13. Yes, as I contemplate self-publishing a novel and daunted by the whole platform thing, pointers like these are most helpful. The pen name discussion is especially interesting. I’m surprised to learn so many people use pen names and even alternative online author identities. I wonder if it might be more common in genre fiction than in the straightforward literary fiction I tend to read and write. In any case, it raises some interesting questions for me beyond those discussed, like where is the line between creative self-branding and fraud? Is there one? Does this topic come up? I’m new to social media and discussions like this among other writers so I’m honestly curious.

    1. Hi Lynne, interesting thought, i.e. creative self-branding and fraud. Entertainers have always used pen names, Mark Twain, George Burns, Ringo Starr, Axl Rose, Marilyn Monroe, the list goes on and on. It’s part of marketing themselves and unfortunately perpetuates stereotypes. A lot of Hollywood actors were Jewish and hid their identity behind Anglocized names. I wouldn’t call it fraud, per se, but a reluctance by the public to accept those who are different.

      Romance authors have typical pennames suggesting a WASP background, usually either a single syllable first name or a single syllable last name combined with something suitably feminine. For example: Catherine Rose comes to mind as a Regency era author.

      Fortunately ethnic names are more acceptable and authors with ethnic names are not expected to write stories about characters of their same ethnicity. Self-publishing has a lot to do with it. Traditional publishers may dictate a penname if they feel your name is not marketable. Trzetrzelewska [hard to pronounce] Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorff [won’t fit on the book cover] Shetty or Fok [obvious reasons]

      This has been a most interesting discussion. Thanks for commenting.


  14. Rachelle,
    I think the key is as you said in #1, don’t try to do everything at once, but do try to do everything… eventually. What I realized very quickly is that writing is easy compared to marketing and selling your own self-published book. As you mentioned, we are the product. We have to sell ourselves and I don’t think many of us expected that we would have to do that when we were writing our first book. I think marketing your book is a lot like saving money for retirement… the earlier you can invest the higher the payoff in the end. Start marketing your product, yourself, way before your book is ever published. Thanks for the great ideas and thanks to everyone for the wonderful comments.

    1. Hi Sherry, everything you say is true! You have to put in the time. There is no getting around it. But at the same time, you have to pace yourself. Focus allows me to do the best I can and do the best I can during each phase of publishing.

      Thanks for your remarks, Rachelle

  15. Hi Sandra, I’ve learned that book promotion is ever changing and unpredictable. A lot comes down to luck, but the most important fundamental is to have a book that some group of people like to read and finding those readers.

    Good luck and thanks for dropping by, Rachelle

  16. Lovely article. You write: “It’s not just good karma, it’s good sense.” What a truth! I think what you are addressing here is an easily slippery slope for many of us to fall into. How many have we sold? How do we market? Will anybody listen? That sort of counter-productive thought. The best thing (as you suggest) is to get involved. Their is no A-Z step guide. Yes it can be scary and daunting, but isn’t it all about the journey and enjoying it along the way? 🙂

    1. Thanks for commenting. Yes, we have to stop measuring ourselves and just do. I think too many of us are stuck with performance metrics from our days as cogs in a corporation. You know, the performance review? Well, the joy of self-publishing and being your own boss is there is no performance review. Do the best you can and enjoy the journey.

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