Laura Howard: Self-Publishing - the "easy way" to get published?


Self-Publishing - the "easy way" to get published?

Lana Penrose detailed her culture shock experiences following her boyfriend to Greece in her memoir To Hellas and Back. She continues her story in Kickstart My Heart. Originally published by Penguin/Viking, but are now self-published.

Why is it that so few talk about the blood, sweat and tears that goes into the initial set-up of self-publishing with Amazon and Smashwords? To me the process seems glossed over, particularly by the gazillions of self-appointed 'experts' and the online publishing behemoths poised to tell you how 'simple' it is.

Being an Australian author, my agreement with Penguin/Viking meant that my works were forever bound to Australia. Like an asthmatic child locked indoors by an overly protective mother, I watched through a window as all the other kids played outside on a global playground. I was being told that my two memoirs were solid, modern day riots (especially by my real-life mother) and I was on the receiving end of critical acclaim in my home country. Readers loved my work, as did the media. But who would ever know outside of my own hood? I then had a bright idea. Why, I’d reclaim my rights from Penguin and self-publish to the world. Simple!

Every man and his dog were proclaiming how easy it is to self-publish in the twenty-first century. Yet this exercise literally swallowed up the better part of my 2012 and today I find myself bitter towards the Mayans for claiming what is left of my time on planet Earth.

First I had to get my rights back from Penguin; one of those things you write on a To Do list and spend the rest of your life attempting to cross off. They were lovely about it, but I became the proverbial pest, badgering people until they prised my claws from their backs and shook me free. After several months, my rights were reverted. Phase 1 complete! Brilliant! What’s next?
The all-important re-packaging, which involved freshening up my narrative. I re-edited my two books which of course took many months. In the meantime I searched for a great cover designer. I started with graphic artists affiliated with Penguin but professionals of that ilk still seem to charge authors at publishing house rates. 

And so I instead appointed the perfect candidate: a dear friend who happens to be a terrific artist. But neither of us had the foggiest about the various specs required by different platforms, including size, spine widths, or the average circumference of the human head. 

I of course researched said information and passed it on, but it was a steep learning curve for us both. Two covers took over six months. Yes, ‘tis true. It was tough! And in the end, the job was passed onto a third party to ensure everything was ‘print-ready’. 

Done. Now what?

It surely had to be time to upload to Createspace and I did five star jumps in anticipation! Amazon’s Createspace is like nothing we writers have known before and is nothing short of incredible. It is this platform that has revolutionized our industry. But is it as user-friendly as everyone proclaims? Personally, I wouldn't describe it as ‘easy’, but ‘doable’. It takes concentration, patience, falling over, getting up, interpreting vagaries, emailing Amazon, drinking, troubleshooting, reading volumes of online instruction and a great deal of time – or it did me, anyway. And I’d like to add that I’m not a complete Luddite. Well, I am a bit, but I’m not a total moron, although many would argue otherwise. (Especially after reading the next sentence.)

It took me ten attempts to get each book right on Createspace. That’s because I used Amazon’s amazing Interior Reviewer facility and went through both books page by page, because God knows I wasn’t going to be one of those authors with an embarrassing hash tag or question mark inexplicably floating in the middle of a word sea. Bad formatting and weird punctuation that materialise like ghosts is becoming more and more prevalent and if you want to stand out as a credible author (which I consider myself to be), you simply can’t afford to come across as hokey. That’s not what people pay for. So that’s why I was pedantic. And let me say it’s hard enough getting the spelling, grammar and punctuation of a 90,000 word document right, let alone two 90,000 word documents, let alone having to get every aspect of the formatting spot on as well. It. Takes. Time.
Finally, finally … mission accomplished! And being that I can be accused of being my Christian-name spelt backwards (my name’s Lana) (think about it), I wanted to get my Amazon and Smashwords electronic uploads just right as well. This time I wasn’t taking any chances. I hired a professional formatter after insisting on testimonials, comparing prices and deciding on somebody who seemed just right. 

Little did I know that Amazon offers a free service to prepare Createspace files for Kindle. My bad.
Instead I turned over my manuscripts – that are close to my only children – to a stranger who successfully prepared my files for Kindle, but submitted my Smashwords files in html format. When I went to upload them, I received an error message declaring that Smashwords only accepts .doc files. ‘Strange that a professional would not be aware of such a thing,’ I mused as I scratched my chin. 

I pointed out said error to said formatter. Said formatter - who is an extremely nice person - apologised profusely and asked for my username and password to upload on my behalf. Great customer service, but probably not the best idea. Said formatter then re-submitted the files, only there were new errors, so we amicably agreed that I would take my business elsewhere, bearing in mind that we were now screaming towards Christmas, writing is my alleged livelihood and eight months had passed.
A lady on ‘Mark’s List’ successfully formatted my books for Smashwords. She did a great job and immediately corrected the small errors I picked up after I uploaded and re-uploaded (times eight). How did I know there were errors? Because I checked through 300 odd pages of two books (meaning 600 odd pages) in their various formats. By ‘various formats’, I mean ePub, Mobi, PDF, RTF and whatever else Smashwords converts to. There are about ten in all (meaning 6,000 odd pages to peruse) and different ‘quirks’ popped up in different versions. Again, I doubt many people would be so my-name-spelt-backwards about unearthing such things. In fact I’m fairly certain they’re not.

I say this because I’m still hearing from writers a resounding, ‘
Self-Publishing Is Easy!’ They practically scream it through loudhailers. I've heard that it ‘only takes an hour!’ and that it’s as easy to self-publish as it is to write a book – and we all know how easy that is! (Oops! I just sneezed out another one!) Not for the first time, I wonder if I hail from another planet. What with the legalities, re-packaging, re-formatting and charlatan-leapfrogging, self-publishing for me wasn’t ‘easy’ and I’d love to hear of any super hot cover designers and formatters who truly walk the walk, because I sit today mildly traumatised and I’m only incrementally closer to knowing what to do the next time around. I found that trying to secure the right people to help me on this journey was like shooting fish in a barrel because you don’t know what you’re gonna get ‘til you get it and there are too many people claiming that they know what they’re doing when most of us don’t. This is brand new territory for us all!

There were other hurdles along the way too boring to mention and I have to say I’ve never appreciated my former publishing house so much. There’s nothing like working with experts, particularly if they’re gunning for your books’ success.

In closing, thankfully everything's now up and running and I couldn't be happier with the arrangement. I’m friends with my edits. 

My covers look fab. And my books are at last available worldwide, each up for grabs for the price of a sandwich. 

Yes, I get that self-publishing is a million times easier than it used to be, but easy? 

No, not really, kids.


When Lana approached me about writing for my blog, I knew it was meant to be. I have heard traditionally published authors scoff at indies and say it's the easy way, or cheating. 

While I'm twirling five or six plates in the air at any given moment getting ready for my debut, I know this simply isn't true.

Tell me, has self-publishing been easy for YOU?


  1. Ahem. After my embarrassing panic-induced ugly cry mania yesterday, I think we can both agree that I do not think this is easy. But you have made it a whole hell of a lot smoother for me, Laura dear :)

  2. I applaud all the checking and rechecking! I think that self-publishing authors too often let the little things go... and they shouldn't! As an avid reader, editor and writer myself, I want to see clean copy more than anything. Reading a book and finding myself proofreading it (and wanting to email the author the corrections) is distracting, not to mention disturbing!

    I self-published a children's picture book with ePub and CreateSpace and was fortunate to find someone on Fiver (for $5) who worked with my files until they were accepted by CreateSpace and Kindle. I was happy enough with my first attempt.

    Great information! Happy to have discovered your blog via Twitter!

  3. I'm so glad someone finally came out and said it - self-publishing IS NOT THAT EASY. I originally thought to got the indie route and decided to use CreateSpace. They were super helpful, although it took me nigh on four attempts to get it on there before finally giving up and paying for the Interior Design Service. It was worth it. I'm as techno-savvy as the next person, but some things I simply do not attempt.
    For my cover, I looked for a local graphic designer here on the Central Coast of NSW - where I live. I sent her a blurb of my book and she created an excellent cover. A publishing house couldn't have done better. She also formatted the cover to suit the kindle conversion. It did cost me around $800, but I can claim the whole thing on tax.
    Now that my manuscript is finally ready (it's been fully edited and vetted), a publisher in the UK has expressed interest in it. So, at the moment everything with CS has been placed on hold. I now have to wait and see what happens.

  4. PS. Sorry about the typos that crept into my note above - blame it on dyslexic fingers!

  5. Just published two books using CreateSpace, and I am so glad you wrote this article for those who think this process is simple and easy (anyone can do it, right?). The first book I did was poetry which is much more complicated to format than straight text. It took me a lot of trial and error and a number of takes before the formatting was acceptable. Learning the process took time, and I noticed the second experience was easier but not simple. Whatever we write, edit, format, and publish requires care, time, and patience. I am very thankful for CreateSpace and Amazon/Kindle for opening these channels for writers. However, you are so right; it's not simple and easy. It's hard work and requires careful attention, time, patience and persistence.

  6. No part of it was easy. More enjoyable because I had full control, but definitely not easy. I'm so glad I did it though. I love your covers by the way, they turned out wonderful!

  7. Uh...NO! I'm on my fourth self published book and the ONLY reason why it is getting remotely easier is because of sheer EXPERIENCE! lol....Once you get it done, then you have the daunting task of promoting it. I could write a book on that...oh wait, I HAVE! Lol! Nothing is easy about self publishing, however, I'd love to experience traditional publishing so I know the difference. Thanks for sharing your experience of the difference :)

  8. I love that you wrote this post! Just went through a week of hell trying to convert my manuscript into umpteen formats, then upload, wrangle through every page, convert again, etc etc. What a nightmare! But I am stubborn and was determined to do it myself, and I did.
    I know it will be easier next time, but I also know it won't be that easy. We need a forum for realists and go-fers like ourselves, where people tell it like it really is!
    Congrats on the books and good luck!

  9. I love self-publishing! And while there is a lot to do, I've learned what my faults are. I can't format for crap! So rather than wrestle with it for two days, I pay my formatter $40 and he does everything, all the platforms, within just a couple of hours. It is more cost-effective for me to hire him than lose 2 days of writing time.
    My suggestion is to ask questions. If you're stuck on something, find an indie that has several books under their belt to help you out. Indies, I've found, are so very helpful.


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