A post-mortem on self-publishing my first romance novel

This blog is about romance and writing, but also about my life as a romance writer. 

But, I realized I haven’t posted anything about publishing my first book yet!

The book is called His Brother’s Mistress, and is about what happens when gorgeous CEO Matt Valetta finds Lucy Alberti living in his recently-deceased brother’s apartment in Rome, and assumes she was his mistress.

So here’s my story of publishing this book…

My road to publishing

When I decided to start publishing my books (about three years ago), I considered pursuing traditional publishing. But, I ultimately decided not to try for it, for these reasons:

  • I thought my chances of success were low, since my books fall somewhere between ‘category’ and ‘single-title’
  • I’d heard many romance writers talk about their success with self-publishing
  • My local peers were all self-publishing
  • I was impatient, since I felt like I’d been thinking about publishing for too long, and I just wanted to take action
  • I wanted control
  • I didn’t want obligation
  • I was (a tiny bit) afraid of failing

Procrastination and the annoyance factor

So I chose a book to self-publish. It’s one I’d first drafted several years earlier – maybe in 2016 – a standalone that I felt was in pretty good shape.

I had to:

  • Finish the book
  • Finish the cover
  • Proof the book
  • Lay out the book
  • Publish!!

Yes, I decided to do everything myself, largely because I don’t want to invest money in this when I’m in the middle of raising kids and saving for retirement. And, I thought it might be more satisfying to be able to take credit for everything.

So I set a goal publication date.

Then avoided doing much of anything.

So I set a public goal publication date via my newsletter.

And I didn’t do much.

But finally, as my self-imposed deadline approached, I got annoyed with myself and got down to work.

I find the frustration I feel when I put off goals is a good motivator for me.

And once I finally got started, I became very dedicated and spent most of my free time working on the book for a month or more.

Finishing the manuscript

I always thought I’d find it hard to know when a book was ready to publish. But, turns out, when you’re feeling annoyed and just want to get the thing done, it’s pretty easy.

I did have a long list of things to look at and address, and I did go through it — fixing some things and doing some rewrites. But, I decided many things were good enough as they were.

And I ended up feeling happy with it.

The cover

I’d mocked up the cover months earlier, and felt pretty good about it. But, I ended up spending a lot more time than I thought I would, trying to ensure the image was high enough quality.

You see, I hadn’t really considered Amazon’s thumbnails — those are the tiny versions of the cover that appear in places like product list pages and “Frequently bought together” sections.

So I ended up recreating the whole thing in Illustrator, changing my title font so it was more readable, and generally spending a ton of time experimenting with resolution settings.

I think it turned out ok, but this is definitely an area I’d like to learn more about before making my next cover.

Copy editing and proofing

I think I’m pretty good with words. I have an English degree and a tech writing degree. I’ve taken editing courses. And, I’ve worked as a tech writer for nearly 20 years.

But, proofing a book is something else entirely. There are many details we don’t really pay attention to as readers, that a copy editor and proofreader need to be very familiar with.

Like, how commas should be used in lines of dialogue. Or, spelling conventions.

I spent several days thinking and worrying and moaning about spelling. My dilemma: Should I use Canadian or American spelling?

My gut said Canadian — since I’m going it alone, it seemed correct and on brand to go with my native country’s spellings.

But, did you know, America is huge!! It accounts for the majority of the English-as-a-first language world by a long shot.

Plus, most non-Americans are used to seeing American spelling some of the time – it doesn’t seem that strange to us. But Americans aren’t that used to seeing non-American spelling. So, it makes sense to use American spellings, if you want to annoy/distract the fewest readers.

Then I noticed I use American spelling for some words, anyway. So, all my protestations against using American spelling seemed a bit silly. So, I went with American spelling.

But, this presented a new dilemma — finding and correcting all those Canadian spellings — especially tough because they looked correct to me.

I ended up proofing my book twice (Or was it three times? It’s all a blur now.) Each time, I’d make a PDF, play it on a slow read-aloud speed, and sit with the highlighter tool at the ready.

It worked out pretty well, but I might aim to proof my next book three or four times — or until I feel really confident about it.

Book size

You can’t really lay out a print book, or finish its cover, until you know what size it will be. I went back and forth with the size several times.

I wanted a larger size than the traditional mass market 4.25 x 6.87 inches, but I didn’t want it to be too thin. So, initially I thought Harlequin’s larger mass market size (4.75 x 7 inches) might be appropriate, since I’m publishing romance. But then I tried to reformat my cover image using that wider ratio, and it didn’t work at all.

So, I finally chose 4.37 x 7 inches, which is an A-format standard, used more commonly in places like the UK. I like the size, and it has the advantage of having the same ratio as the recommended KDP cover image size (2560 x 1600 pixels), so I didn’t have to alter the ebook cover at all.


I started laying out the book before I’d finished proofing it. I know, bad mistake. But, I was really eager to see how it all worked.

I used InDesign, which I had a tiny bit of experience with, from years ago.

I’m not really the type to read the manual before diving in (I know, shocking for a tech writer — but, remember that reading and writing manuals are two very different activities.) So, I used the more Socratic method of trying and failing and then doing research to find answers to my questions. 

I spent a fair amount of time playing with the leading (the space between lines), since it can really influence the length of a book. One thing I learned through this process is not to obsess over page count (as I’m prone to do), since it’s very easy to alter the length of a book through formatting.

And, I had fun dealing with all the widows and orphans (those bits of trailing text at the end and beginning of pages that can make your book look messy). I corrected them by adjusting the kerning (space between letters) in preceding paragraphs (not sure if this is standard practice, but it seemed to work for me). And I don’t mean ‘fun’ facetiously… It really was fun to figure out where to adjust things. Maybe someone should make a video game about handling orphans. (I know. I’m a nerd. My husband reminds me all the time.)


Soon enough (or, eventually), I was ready to publish! ‘Publishing’ is the easiest step of all – you just have to fill out some metadata on the Amazon site, and upload your files.

Amazon makes it easy (too easy?) to make corrections to your book. I’ve probably uploaded new versions of the book three or four times now — to fix small errors, and to remove a bunch of -ly verbs, when it occurred to me that (disapproving) writers might be reading it!!

No marketing

I chose not to market or advertise this book, for two reasons:

  • Figuring out how to finish and publish the book at the exact same time as figuring out how to market it was too much. So, I decided I’d focus on just getting the book out this time around.
  • Also, if you plan to publish multiple books, some people advise only investing time and money on marketing once you have more than one book to sell – it’s just better ROI considering all the effort it takes to lead readers to your books.

The only marketing I’ve done for this book is attending my mother and older sister’s book club for a Q&A after they kindly chose my book as one of their monthly selections. So, that was cool.

No marketing means I haven’t sold a lot of copies.

I was aware that I wouldn’t, since it’s nearly impossible to find a book without marketing. But after so much stewing, then hard work and effort, it still feels a teensy bit disappointing.

How it feels

I am proud of my book. I think it turned out well, especially for my first effort. 

And several people have been very kind about it, making a point to congratulate and praise me.

But I still feel ambivalent about it all.

Is it because self-publishing doesn’t feel that ‘real’?

After I published my book, my mother mused to me that maybe she’d tell my one cousin about it, the one who’s ‘into writing and stuff’.

I wondered, if I was traditionally published, would she just tell everyone by default??

I felt offended for a split second, then reminded myself, it is different! Traditional publishing has gatekeepers, it’s more exclusive. There’s respect by default.

If you’re an indy publisher, you have to prove yourself to gain respect – by finding readers and selling books.

So I don’t really want people to talk me up right now. Feels a bit like putting the cart before the horse.

So, yes, it’s been anticlimactic. But I suspect, given my overly analytical nature, I’d find traditional publishing a bit disappointing, too.

Going forward

Given the work it takes, and my somewhat ambivalent feelings, I have been pondering my publishing future. Is it worth it?

I do like seeing my book in print. I would love to see all of my books printed and packaged nicely like that. Then, if I someday have grandchildren, I can show them the stack.

Somehow, I don’t think showing them the not-quite-finished manuscripts residing in my Google Docs would have quite the same impact.

So I do want to continue publishing.

Plus, when I spend time on my works in progress, I get excited. There are stories there I want to finish. And for me, publishing makes a book feel finished.

And I don’t think I’ve had the full experience yet! I need to do some marketing. I need to not just half-ass my blog. I need to put some effort in, or I’ll never really know what could have been. 

My goals aren’t huge. But I’d like to find some readers and make a bit of money. And I want to see that row of finished, published books on my shelf.

I think those things are achieveable. And I’d be sad if I didn’t try.

So I think I’m going to try.

2 thoughts on “A post-mortem on self-publishing my first romance novel

  1. Regan B.

    Thank you for all the ins and outs of your publishing process! I discovered your blog while looking up pros & cons of dual POV, and have been scouring your posts since. Appreciate you sharing your experience!

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