Self-Publishing Novels (ebooks)

Aw, squiders. Sometimes it’s too cold in the morning for my computer to start up, and then sometimes, when it finally starts, your web browser freezes and eats your half-written blog posts which were apparently not saved all the way despite what WordPress promised.

So, self-publishing novels! A lot of the self-publication information for novels is the same as it was for short stories, as most self-publishing venues allow for any length of product. That’s an argument for making a single self-published section in the book, which I shall ponder. But, for now, we’ll go back over the options, though in less detail. If you’d like more detail, feel free to pop back over to the Self-Publishing Short Stories posts.

I am, however, going to break the information here up into self-publishing digitally vs. self-publishing paper or hardbacks. Today, we’ll talk the digital side.

Here are the methods available for self-publishing novels:

  • Blogs/websites
  • Newsletters
  • Online fiction websites
  • Online retailers/book distributors


The easiest way to self-publish a novel is to make it available on your personal blog or website. For a blog, you can post a chapter a week (like I’m doing with this nonfic book) or along whatever schedule works best for you. It is, however, recommended that you not put the book in a single post, since that can make it hard to read. Many blogging sites have character limits on their posts anyway.

NOTE: Posting a novel serially can be a good way to help you build readership should you intend to collect the book into a single manuscript and sell it later, or if you want to sell sequels or other related books.

Some authors also make books available to download from their websites. Often this is the first book of a series so readers are encouraged to buy later books if they like the first one. Most often, the reader has to exchange something for the free book, which is usually signing up for the author’s newsletter, which we will discuss in a moment.

You can also sell your books on your own website. There are different ways to build a storefront into your site, which allows you to take payment directly from your readers without worrying about a retailer or distributor taking a cut of your sales.

NOTE: For best visibility, it will help to have multiple ebook formats available for purchase/download. The majority of ebook readers will use the following formats: mobi (Kindle), epub (pretty much everyone else), or PDF.


As mentioned above, many authors offer a “freebie” as an incentive for joining their mailing list. This freebie can vary depending on what the author has out, what they write, and what they’re willing to give away. Authors I know give away everything from a short story to a novel, but there is a lot of variation and a lot of schools of thought on this one.

For example, some people write a brand new novella or short story related to a series of books they write so that subscribers get something no one else gets. Other people offer a story that a subscriber would otherwise have to pay for, so they feel like they’re getting a good deal. Several people will change the subscription incentive periodically.

You should do your research about what will work best for you and how you want to implement your newsletter.

NOTE: In most cases, unless you’re providing exclusive content for your subscribers, this should not be the only method of distribution.

Online fiction websites

Sites like Wattpad and FictionPress allow you to post full-length novels in a serial fashion. These websites often have a community aspect to them, and readers can leave comments, favorite, or otherwise “like” (terminology varies by website) individual sections or the work as a whole. They can also bookmark your story so that they’re notified when you post an update.

This can be a good way to build readership, depending on how much time you’re willing to put into the community. In some cases, people have received traditional publishing deals if a story has done well enough, but you shouldn’t go into this method expecting that to happen.

NOTE: This does count as publishing your novel. If you’re hoping to try for a traditional deal later, some agents/publishers may not consider work that has been previously published unless you have impressive numbers to back it up.

Online retailers/ebook distributors

This is the most common method to self-publish an ebook. These websites allow you to upload your manuscript and cover, add in a book description and categories, and set a price. Your books will show up next to traditionally-published books and, if you do a good job with cover/formatting/etc., are indistinguishable from them.

Most ebook retailers allow you to upload your book directly to them (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo), though others will require or be easier to access if you use an ebook distributor. A distributor, such as Smashwords or Draft2Digital, will convert your ebook into different formats and distribute them to different retailers of your choice. Many authors prefer to use ebook distributors because it simplifies the process of keeping track of sales, and because changes only need to be made in one place.

Right, so there’s the low down on that! Am I missing avenues, Squiders? Let me know! Tuesday we’ll talk about paper/hardback publishing, and then I think we may be done with the content that’s going on the blog–no, wait, I was going to do troubleshooting. Right! So novels Tuesday, probably a break Thursday, and then troubleshooting.

Cover Reveal: The Short of It

Today, Squiders, I am pleased to reveal the cover for my short story collection The Short of It: Speculative Short Stories which will be released on February 8th.

Short of It cover

(Let me tell you how many times I have typoed that as “Shirt of It.” It is a lot.)

The collection includes four previously published short stories from 2011-2013, as well as one new one. As I previously mentioned, I’m going to release the collection on Kindle exclusively, at least at the beginning, to see if there’s any merit to that particular brand of madness. The collection will be $0.99.

Stories included:

  • Time Management, science fiction, 2011
  • Doomsday, science fiction, 2012
  • The Knight in the Lobby, fantasy, 2017
  • The Door in the Attic, horror, 2012
  • To the Waters and the Wild, magical realism, 2013*

(*To the Waters and the Wild is also included in The Best of Turtleduck Press, Vol. I.)

So, tada! I’ll let you guys know next Wednesday when it goes live.

Thursday we’ll go back to the nonfic posts and jump on the madness that is self-publishing novels.

Performance Anxiety

Let’s take a breather from the submitting/publishing for a moment, squiders. I’m having a problem at the moment that I suspect a lot of other authors occasionally run into as well.

I’m calling it performance anxiety for simplicity’s sake.

You guys know that I’ve been working on organizing a revision/rewrite of the first book of my high fantasy trilogy.

(For newer people–I outlined this trilogy in 1998, wrote the first full draft of Book 1 2004-2005, rewrote it 2009-2010, and am now hopefully doing the final major revision/rewrite, using what I’ve learned over the last several years.)

And I’m done with my prep! I’ve looked at all my conflict arcs, revamped characters, changed plot and pacing, re-outlined, looked at my worldbuilding and setting, tweaked character arcs, set theme and tone and meaning. I went through the last draft with a red pen (which is always a bit cathartic) and scribbled all over the place.

I’m ready. I can sit down and start typing any moment now.

I’ve been at this point since Monday. Tuesday I had three glorious hours to myself with which I had hoped to chug out a few thousand words. Instead, I played games on my phone and wrote a single paragraph. And I’m not even happy with said paragraph.

Last night I again had some writing time. Did I write?

No. I chatted with some other writing friends about writing and got sucked into tumblr. (::shakes fist:: tuuummmbbblllrrr)

I know why I’m not writing. It’s because I spent seven months organizing and fixing everything for this revision and still feel like I’m not quite organized enough. It’s because I told myself years ago that I’d have this book published by the age of 35, which is now only a few months away. It’s because I’ve been working on this story for over half my life and I’m worried I’m never going to get it done right.

What if I write it again and it’s still not good?

What if I’m not good enough to write this story?

Logically, I know that if I just get going, it’ll be fine. I’ll get into my groove. If nothing else, this draft has to be better than the last one if only because I am a much better writer now than I was seven years ago. And I’m certainly never going to meet my goals if I never try.

I know all that.

But there’s still an emotional block sitting in the way.

I’m going to try again in a few hours. Wish me luck.

Any tips for getting past this sort of thing, squiders? Things that have helped you in the past?

Ironically, I’ve been invited to write a story for a Lovecraft anthology, which is something that is on the edges of my comfort zone, and I’ve been procrastinating on that instead working on the story I’ve already written twice. (But now it’s done and I have no more excuses, alas.)

Publishing Novels Traditionally: After the Agent

Okay, squiders! This’ll wrap up traditional publishing for novels, and then we’ll take a bit of a break before we jump into self-publishing novels.

So let’s say you’ve gotten an agent if you wanted one. Your agent may work with you to revise your novel, depending on its state. Once you and the agent feel it’s ready, the agent starts approaching publishing houses and querying your novel.

Depending on the publishing house, there is a differing number of people who need to be convinced to buy your book. A small press may have a single person in charge of acquisitions (normally known as an acquisitions editor), whereas a large house may have an entire acquisitions team. In some cases, even if you have an acquisitions editor who loves your novel, if they can’t convince their team/their manager to buy your book, they may be unable to do so by themselves.

Interested publishers offer you a book deal. If there are multiple publishers that are interested, your novel may go to auction, which is coordinated by your agent. There are different kinds, but essentially each interested publisher offers a book deal for your novel, and the best one gets the publishing contract.

NOTE: If you’ve gotten a book deal sans agent from a publisher, the following steps are more or less the same, allowing for variations within different companies.

Once your book is with a publisher, it will undergo an editorial review, after which you’ll get an editorial letter, which is essentially a letter with everything that needs to be changed. Some of this might be more major, like structural or pacing changes, or it might be more minor. You’ll have a deadline to complete the changes by. Copyediting is also usually done at this point.

NOTE: If there’s something major in your editorial letter that you strongly disagree with, you can discuss the issue with your agent and editor. Just make sure it’s worth fighting for. You don’t want to fight everything because 1) they probably know what they’re talking about in most cases, and 2) you don’t want to get a reputation for being someone that’s hard to work with.

Once you’ve turned in your edits, the book goes into the final publication phase–it gets typeset, a cover is designed, a title is solidified, marketing is done, etc.

WARNING: With a traditionally published book, the author often has little control over things such as titles or covers. Additionally, traditional publishing can be a long process, with it taking over a year between acquisition and a publication date.

How does payment work?

There is a two tier payment system for traditionally published novels. Some authors are paid an “advance” where they are paid some amount upon signing their book deal. Not all publishers offer these, however, and in these changing times, advances now are smaller than they’ve been traditionally. It’s not uncommon for a debut author to only get an advance of $5000 or $10000, if they get any at all.

The second part of the payment process is royalties. Royalties are a percentage of the sales of the book, generally somewhere between 7 and 15%. An advance is technically an advance against royalties, so if you get an advance of $15,000, you won’t actually start earning royalties until you’ve made $15,000 in royalties. So when someone says a book didn’t earn out its advance, it means the book never sold enough copies to make back what the author was paid in advance.

All right! That should be it for traditionally published novels, squiders. Please let me know if you think I’m leaving anything out! Or if you have questions, or comments, or anything along those lines.

Publishing Novels Traditionally: The Submission Process

Continuing on from Monday’s post about the ways to have a novel traditionally published, and Wednesday’s post about agents. If you haven’t read those and also aren’t familiar with those topics, you might want to start there.

So, let’s say you’ve decided whether you’re going to approach publishers directly or work on getting an agent (or a mixture of both), that you’ve made a list of publishers/agents who you think will be a good fit for your novel and that you know are reputable, you’ve done your research so you know what material each publisher/agent wants with your query, and you’ve put together your query, synopsis, sample pages, and whatever else you might need.

NOTE: You may find it helpful to run your query letters/synopses by other writers. Many writing communities offer forums for this purpose. In exchange for looking at your materials, you’re expected to look at other authors’ and help them out as well. This can be especially helpful if you are new to querying. These forums also often include a place for other members to post their queries when they get an agent and/or a book deal so you can see what’s working.

After you have everything ready to go, you can start sending out queries, making sure you are following the literary agencies/publishing house’s submission guidelines as to where to send it and what to send.

Many authors wonder how many queries they should be sending at a time. This is a personal decision. It can run the gamut from a single query at a time to an author’s entire list, but many authors like to send out 5 to 10 at a time so they can gauge how their query letter is performing and whether they need to change anything before sending things out to the next batch.

WARNING: Make sure you personalize each query to the agent/publisher! Mass emails to several people at a time are an almost certain way to get yourself rejected. Besides, since many agencies and publishers have different submission guidelines, it can be near impossible to match things up properly. Each agent/publisher gets their own email, and make sure you’re spelling people’s names right, and that you have the right gender. (No one likes to get an email for Mr. Smith if they’re a Ms. Smith, for example.)

NOTE: Response times for queries can vary wildly. Some agents will get back to you within a week or so; others may take months. Some agents/publishers never respond if they’re not interested. You can send an email asking for status if it’s been a reasonable amount of time (often several months–agencies’/publishers’ websites might include how long their response times are, and if you’re past that, you’re generally safe to ask) but this is why many people prefer to send out a few queries at a time.

If an agent or publisher is interested in your novel, they’ll generally ask for either a “partial” or a “full” manuscript. A partial is generally the first three chapters or the first 50 pages, though this depends and the agent/publisher will generally tell you what exactly to send. In some cases, if they haven’t asked for it already, they’ll ask for a partial plus the synopsis. A full is exactly what it sounds like–you send the entire thing.

NOTE: An agent or publisher may ask for an “exclusive”–meaning that they want to be the only person looking at your manuscript until they make a decision. It’s up to you whether or not you want to grant this; if you’re getting a lot of interest in your manuscript, it might not be worth it. Whatever your decision is, make sure you let the agent/publisher know. Most won’t reject a manuscript just because you wouldn’t go exclusive with them.

If an agent/publisher likes your partial, they will generally ask for a full. Decisions are then made off of the full manuscript. An agent/publisher may reject at this point, usually with the inclusion of details of why, which can be useful to the author for revising the manuscript if they deem it necessary. They might offer what’s called a “revise and resubmit (R&R)” where they’re interested in the book, but would need some revisions done before they offer representation/a book deal. The author can make the decision about whether or not to do so–if the changes seem like they would be beneficial to the story, it usually doesn’t hurt to make them. However, if you’re getting interest from other agents without the changes, it may be best to leave the story alone.

Representation/a book deal may also be offered at this point. You may have a single offer, or you may get many. It’s important to make sure that the agent/publisher is someone you are comfortable working with. Several websites and books offer lists of questions to ask potential agents/publishers to make sure you’re making a good choice.

Tuesday we’ll go over what happens after you’ve got an agent/publisher. Questions, squiders? Comments? Cheez-Its for the Landsquid?

Publishing Novels Traditionally: Agents

The most common way to have a novel published traditionally is with the help of an agent. An agent is a representative for the author and their work who helps the author sell said work and hopefully get a good deal out of it.

An agent:

  • Helps the author edit their work to make it better
  • Approaches publishers about buying the author’s work
  • Deals with contracts and other legal sundry

Some agents also:

  • Help the author sell the book to foreign publishers
  • Help the novel (short story, etc.) get optioned for television or a movie

An agent is hopefully with you for your career, so you’ll want to find one who understands you and with whom you work well.

WARNING: You do not pay an agent! An agent gets paid when you sell a novel or something else. Typically the publisher pays your agent, and then your agent takes their cut (generally 15%, but make sure you understand how your particular agent works) and sends the rest of the money to you. If an agent is asking for money up front, beware. Check them out on the Internet, as they might be a scammer. (Writer Beware is an excellent resource whenever you are unsure about the legitimacy of something.)

Like we discussed in the previous section, to approach an agent, you generally send them a query letter plus whatever other materials (synopsis, first chapter, etc.) they ask for. It can help to have some other contact with an agent first, such as following and interacting with them on their blogs or social media, or talking or pitching them at a conference. This allows you to personalize your query letter more and may help an agent give you higher priority.

NOTE: Make sure you’re interacting with an agent in a professional, non-annoying manner. Do not badger them or press them about your novel unless directly asked to.

Alternative Pitching Methods

While the querying method is the most standard, there are some alternatives that can be used instead in some circumstances.

The most traditional alternative method is the “elevator pitch” which is basically a short oral pitch given to an agent, most often at a writers’ conference, though there are now online ones as well. Your pitch functions like your query letter does, with the intention to garner enough attention from the agent for them to ask to see more of the novel.

NOTE: Some agents will ask for material from a pitch, but some will still ask that the author send them a query letter with a note about the pitch included.

A more recent innovation, there are now Twitter-based pitching opportunities. These are normally scheduled days where an organizer rounds up a selection of agents and authors post Twitter-length pitches. How an agent indicates interest varies, but usually they will “like” a pitch they’re interested in, at which point the author can send said agent their manuscript. (This, too, varies, and agents will have listed somewhere what exactly they want sent to them.)

There are also pitching “contests,” where authors submit some material in the hopes of being selected by a mentor (normally a published author or an editor or someone experienced in some way). If selected, they work with the mentor for a period time, improving both their manuscripts and their querying materials. At the end of the time period, the authors’ revised work is ready and a selected group of agents take a look and ask for material for any they’re interested in. Pitch Wars is an example of this type on contest.

How to Find an Agent

The most important thing to remember when querying agents is to make sure you are querying agents who are interested in your genre. Someone who reps romance is going to have no time for your science fiction magnum opus. Querying can be a long process, so there’s no reason to waste your time.

One recommended way to identify agents that might be interested in your novel is to look at recently-published books in your genre, and look at the agents representing those authors. These agents are probably interested in what you write, and have sold books, so you know they can get the job done.

You can also talk to authors directly about their agents–whether they would recommend them, how they are to work with, etc. DO NOT ask authors to send your work to their agent or to recommend you to their agent unless you would count said author as a close friend.

Several databases exist that list agents and allow authors a way to keep track of both who they’ve queries and what the response times were. You can search these databases by genre or specific agent or agency name to get an idea of who might be a good fit.

NOTE: You should always check an agent and/or agency’s page directly before querying to make sure they sound like a good fit for you and your book, and also to make sure nothing’s changed from the information in the database. It would be a waste of time to query an agent about your thriller if a quick look at their website would have told you that they’ve temporarily stopped looking at thrillers.

There are both free and paid options for researching agents.



Several blogs also keep track of agents, including when new ones come into the scene or when new agencies are formed. Some people recommend targeting newer agents because they are actively building their author lists and may be more willing to take a risk.

So that’s agents, squiders! Friday we’ll talk about the submission process in greater detail. Let me know if I’m missing anything or if you have any questions!

Traditionally Publishing Novels: Two Paths

Okay, moving on to novels! (If you have any suggestions or questions on short stories, please let me know!)

There are two routes one can take when publishing a novel traditionally. The first method is to get an agent, and the second is to deal directly with a publisher.

NOTE: Not all publishers will take submissions from an unagented author. It may be a good idea to look at major publishers in your area and see what seems to be the norm.

A publisher will note in their guidelines whether or not they accept “unsolicited” submissions. It is more common among smaller presses, or those that specialize in nonfiction, but some larger publishers also accept them.

The initial process for submitting a novel to either an agent or a publisher is essentially the same–you will need a query letter to introduce your work to the agent/publisher. Some agents/publishers will also ask for additional materials, such as a synopsis (which could be between 1 and 4 pages, depending on preference, so some experts recommend having multiple versions of yours available of varying lengths), the beginning pages of your manuscript, or, in rarer cases, a marketing plan.

WARNING: There are several “publishers” out there that might not be legitimate. A good thing to remember for traditional publishing is that the money flows to the writer. If an agent or publisher asks you for money up front, such as a “reading fee,” they may just be a scammer. There are websites where you can check to see if an agent/publisher is legitimate, such as the forums at Absolute Write or Preditors and Editors. (Note to self: P&E is currently down, looking for a new caretaker, so do not include if it doesn’t go back up.)

There are several books, websites, and articles available on the proper way to put together a query letter and/or a synopsis, so we’ll just touch on the basics here. A query letter is a short letter of 200-300 words that acts a lot like a cover letter for a job application. If you have a specific reason for querying the agent/editor (you talked to them at a con and they asked you to send them something, you looked at their wishlist and your story will be a good fit, etc.), you start your query with that. Then you spend a few paragraphs hooking your story (it shouldn’t be a summary, and it shouldn’t reveal the ending), and you finalize with a short, relevant bio (which includes previous publications, if any, awards won, life experience that might show that you’re qualified to write this particular story). You also include the title, word count, and genre of your story.

A synopsis can be of varying lengths and is a recital of the events of your story from beginning to end. Depending on the length you’re trying to hit, you may have to leave out some characters or subplots. You do include your ending in the synopsis–agents/publishers that ask for them are often using them to make sure the story makes logical sense all the way through.

If an agent/publisher asks for pages to be included, you send the beginning of the book. Some people consider sending what they consider the “best” pages for this, but this is frowned upon for a few reasons:

  • Agents/publishers may be unable to get into the pages because they lack the context for them
  • Agents/publishers may assume that you didn’t send the beginning because it isn’t good

The main point of your query letter is to garner enough attention that the agent/publisher is willing to look at more. The rest of your work will need to stand on its own, so make sure you’re only querying a finished, edited, and polished manuscript.

On Wednesday we’ll look at the querying process, as well as the rest of the submission process. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments on the basic set-up of the querying process for novels, or if you feel like I’m leaving anything out!