The Life of a Self-Published Writer

Happy Friday! If you’ve been following along, some of the contributors to this blog have been posting as part of our special “Life as a Writer” series. Here are the previous posts in the series if you want to check them out:
And today it’s my turn with: The Life of a Self-Published Writer
I’ve been a self-published author since 2012. Since that time, I have been asked these three questions (or variations thereof) approximately 1,403 times: “Are you ever going to query?” or “Why don’t you want an agent?” or “Will you ever consider going traditional?” I know that some people view self-publishing as a stepping stone to publishing via the “traditional” route with an agent. Or let’s be real — some even view it as being inferior to going the agent route. However, self-publishing is a viable option for me and for a lot of writers that I personally know, and I am quite happy with my self-publishing life.

And so my answer to these questions goes something like this:

Self-publishing WORKS for me. 
Self-publishing is FUN for me. 
(And I’ll keep self-publishing it until it doesn’t work or until it stops being fun.)
Maybe some day I’ll post about why I decided to opt for this route in my writing career, but as the point of this post is to focus on “The Life of a Self-Published Writer,” here are some things that you should know about this particular way of life:
1. YOU are the publisher. But that doesn’t mean you need to be alone in this business.
As the publisher, you are responsible for all of the stages of publishing. Among other things, this includes proofing, editing, print/ebook formatting, cover design, submission, and marketing. There’s a steep learning curve, and yes, it can be overwhelming if you are truly doing everything yourself. However, lots of successful self-published authors hire editors and proofers, hire cover designers, and have street teams to help with promotion. And lots of them opt to do some or all of these things by themselves.

For instance, I’ve hired cover designers to do covers for most of my books but have also designed one (and redesigned another) by myself. I hired an ebook formatter for my first book but then I learned how to do formatting by myself and have enjoyed doing it since. I have a wonderful street team called The Demon Horde that helps spread the word about new releases, but I also do my own promotion and marketing on social media. I do some of my own editing and proofing because I used to do freelance copyediting, but as humans are notorious for missing our own typos (see my post about TYPO, the 4-letter word here), I do rely upon the assistance of other editors. 

2. YOU have creative control. Over everything. 
As the publisher, you have control over your own writing timeline and over other aspects of the writing and publishing process. You have control over what your cover is going to look like and other creative elements of publishing. You have control over what types of marketing and promotion you do, and you’re responsible for making important networking connections. You have control over pretty much everything.

Timeline: I’ve heard people say that they don’t want control over everything, but this is the aspect that I may love most about self-publishing. I love having control over my own timelines because writing is not my full-time job. I’m also an associate professor of biology, and I have a family (with two small children) that deserves my love and time. I publish a book about once every 6-10 months, and I’m good with that.

Creative elements: I absolutely love having creative control over my book covers. I love making book teasers and bookmarks and banners. I just barely hired the model who serves as my character inspiration to pose for the cover of my next book *cue flailing* and I get to direct the photo shoot with an awesome photographer *cue more flailing.* In my opinion, it doesn’t get any better than that!

Marketing: Okay, hard reality. This is admittedly my least favorite part about self-publishing. I don’t like bothering my friends, but I do enjoy reaching out to readers, going to author events, and using social media to share news with my fans. There’s a fine line between effective self-promotion and obnoxious spamming, and I highly recommend you read Rachel Thompson’s award-winning blog post on Huffington Post, Authors are A**Holes, to see if what you’re doing falls on the effective side of the spectrum. Bottom line is that authors must build meaningful relationships to be successful. All authors.

3. You shouldn’t feel limited in what you can achieve. 
Self-publishing has boomed in the past several years, and it is an extremely viable option for many authors. Self-published authors go to book events and engage with their fans. Self-published authors hit NYT and USA Today bestseller lists. Self-published authors get optioned out (my YA urban fantasy series was optioned out by Off the Grid Entertainment for potential TV/movie production last year!) But I’m a firm believer that while these achievements should be celebrated, no author (trad or self-pub) should treat the “bestseller lists” as goals. If it happens, it happens. If not, you should still celebrate your achievements.

Writing is challenging. Self-publishing isn’t for everyone, but neither is traditional publishing. It’s challenging no matter what route you take. But in my opinion, the most important thing is to have FUN in taking on that challenge.


Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both urban fantasy and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL (coming 2015) and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. She is also one of the authors on the YA/NA crossover anthology LOSING IT (now available for preorder at all ebook retailers).