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How I Wrote, Crowdfunded, and Independently Published a Book in 2020

In May 2020 I independently published my fourth book, Why Are You Still Sending Your Kids to School? This was the third time I’ve self-published, and I feel like I now have a strong grasp of the process. This blog post documents the entire 17-month process of writing, crowdfunding, and launching the book into the world.

If you’re thinking about writing your own book or self-publishing, then you’ll find clear utility in this article. (Also see my 2012 post on the subject.) If not, you may simply enjoy reading a walk-through and post-mortem of my creative process.


What Came Before

Writing a book is never as simple as sitting down and smashing out some words; the process starts long before that with conversations, research, and exploratory writing on a smaller scale. For self-published authors, preparation also involves building up your “platform”, i.e., the number of people who give a damn about you.

I won’t detail everything that I did to set the stage for writing Why Are You Still Sending Your Kids to School?—henceforth referred to by its gloriously long acronym, WAYSSYKTS—but I feel it’s important to offer a glimpse:

  • Reading, endlessly. In the five years since my last book was published (2014), I devoured books, articles, and research related to the subject of alternative education and self-directed learning. I find this stuff inherently fascinating, so it never felt like a chore—but it did consume lots of time.
  • Podcasting. In 2015 I started my podcast, Off-Trail Learning, which gave me an excuse to interview many fascinating people in the world of education. The content of those discussions—and the professional relationships they fostered—directly benefited the book.
  • Writing online articles. In 2017 I published a long article for the newly formed Alliance for Self-Directed Education (ASDE), which soon became the most-accessed page on their entire website (beyond the homepage). That article marked the start of a new phase of intensive research and writing for me, from which emerged six more articles on the ASDE website. Much of that content ended up in the new book. I took a new interest in parenting literature, despite not being a parent myself.
  • Going on speaking tour. I spent the better part of 2018 on speaking touring around the US, giving a total of 24 presentations at alternative schools and similar organizations. These talks helped me develop and defend my ideas, and they bolstered my “street cred” among parents and fellow alternative educators.
  • Writing a monthly email newsletter. My monthly newsletter is my preferred tool for sharing my articles, podcasts, speaking engagements, life updates, and favorite education-related links (a constant by-product of my research) with my audience. The newsletter also helps to accumulate new audience members (e.g., after someone reads an article or meets me on speaking tour). I love that my email newsletter is 100% under my control, as opposed to a social media following that’s fundamentally dependent on the whims and algorithms of the host platform.
  • Building and (engaging with) a Facebook following. Now allow me to contradict myself. Even though Facebook is fundamentally outside of my control, I’ve found it be incredibly useful to have an audience of people following my public posts (2,900+ as of this moment). Some people just don’t “do” email newsletters, but they do “do” Facebook. And while Instagram and Twitter are also undeniably powerful platforms, I simply don’t enjoy using either of them. I found an effective niche in the Facebook world, and I’m sticking with it. My Facebook followers (and friends) share things that I post, celebrate my victories, and serve as a powerful brainstorming & crowdsourcing team. Take a scroll through my timeline to see how I make use of the platform.

Finally, one of the most important factors that enabled me to write a new book was being able to create space in my life for writing a book. As a self-employed person, this meant (1) having enough savings to survive for a while and (2) avoiding other large, distracting commitments. Having my friend Ari run the Unschool Adventures New Zealand 2019 trip, instead of running it myself, was essential in this regard.

The First Draft

It started—as it often does, for me—with hand-written notes. While backpacking in New Zealand at the tail end of 2018, I noticed a novel coalescing of thoughts taking place in my brain. A new architecture was emerging. In moments like these I’m thankful to carry pen and paper. To let such thoughts pass would feel like a crime against myself. Here’s what I scratched out:

Remarkably, the six-part organization persisted all the way to the final product.
My first pages of freewriting, outlining the Introduction and first three chapters. (Click to open a larger image in a separate window.)

After the backpacking trip I reunited with my laptop and spent a few weeks drafting a bullet-pointed outline of the entire book. This “skeleton” served as a dumping ground for every single argument, quote, link, and fleeting notion that might contribute to the book. I deeply mined my own books, articles, email newsletters, and personal email correspondence for anything of potential value. Nothing was off the table. What emerged was a dense, messy, 100-page document—but one with a sensible hierarchical structure.

Excerpts from The Skeleton 💀💀

Now I began the writing the actual first draft. I invested in a new writing application, Scrivener, which proved very useful for organizing my various drafts, footnotes, and notes to myself. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to composing on a simple word processor.

The first draft in Scrivener

Writing the first draft took three full months of dedicated effort, six days a week. My life in New Zealand was very simple during this time:

  • wake up early
  • make breakfast
  • bike to the coworking center
  • make coffee
  • write for as long as my brain allowed (usually 4-5 hours)
  • go get lunch
  • do stuff outside—I got really into acroyoga during this time
  • buy groceries
  • bike home
  • make dinner, chat with housemates
  • go to bed by 10pm

After finishing the first draft in mid-April, I took a full month away from the manuscript. Then I looked at it again with fresh eyes and rejiggered, rearranged, and rewrote. At this point, however, it still wasn’t a book that many people would want to read. It was rough around the edges, and I knew it. Time to bring in the big guns.

The Revisions

My friend Ethan Mitchell, a co-worker at Not Back to School Camp, is one of the smartest people I know. He’s an academic who’s also down to earth, an autodidact who thinks hard about the big questions of education, and a talented writer to boot. So I was delighted when he agreed to become my primary editor, for a very reasonable rate. (Don’t miss this podcast episode in which I interview Ethan.)

After taking a look at the manuscript in May, Ethan told me straightforwardly that he would have three priorities as my editor: (1) making it tighter and expanding the potential audience range, or at least clarifying the scope, (2) tonal consistency, (3) addressing the “relatively boutique criticisms” that I made in the book. To which I enthusiastically responded… “THIS IS WHY YOU ARE MY EDITOR.”

From May-December 2019, Ethan and I bounced chunks of the manuscript back and forth, eventually working through the whole book three times. Our method was old-school; we didn’t even use Comments or Track Changes. I would export a PDF of the manuscript from Scrivener and email it to him. He would respond via with a bunch of questions/suggestions referenced by page number. I would work on his suggestions, 90% of which I ended up going with. Repeat.

Writing the first draft took three months of intensive work. Revising the book took seven months of somewhat-less-intensive work. I cannot stress enough how critically important this editing phase was, and how important it’s been in all my books (and, I assume, anyone else’s books). I’ve produced decent articles without an editor, but never a decent book. (This blog post, for the record, was not edited by anyone else.)

Working with a talented editor is one of the big things that separates stereotypically self-published books from professionally self-published ones. A novice self-published author assumes he can and should do everything himself. A professional self-published author assumes that he can probably one do one thing well—writing the first draft—and then proceeds to outsource the other steps (especially editing & design) to paid professionals.

Below is an excerpt from feedback that Ethan gave me in September, during the second full revision. Read closely and you’ll discover that Ethan isn’t only smart but also devilishly funny.

p18-37 I think the first 18 pages work as a stand-alone section. I see it like this: you are juxtaposing two approaches, represented by Gray and Lancy, to the activity of childhood. You then make an argument that video games, and by extension other kinds of gaming, bridge this gap, using Gatto and McGonigal. That feels like it delivers the reader to a logical next question: what else is like video games? Seems appropriate to wrap the section up, have a smoke break, and then come back to talk about adventure, travel, wilderness, group living, real work, etc. You say you haven’t made changes in this section so I’ll leave you to it, but I would foreground the more accessible options (real work). Otherwise the overall flow comes across as “if your kid isn’t into Fortnite, no problem, just send them to Thailand.”

p 31-34 (Adventure semester). First up, I think there is a tonal question of whether you want to include this much text on this topic: it seems a little disjointed from the rest of the book, since you don’t do deep dives like this elsewhere. But it’s good material. I think you might move this whole section up to the top of the chapter (e.g. to p. 18) and use it as a bridge from gaming to adventure. Because (1) essentially this is an adventure based on gamification, and (2) it front-ends the idea that you don’t need a lot of money for adventure, rather than making that an afterthought.

p37 This “home base” topic seems worthwhile, appropriate as an afterword, worth a paragraph or so. Reminds me somehow of Bilbo Baggins.

p41 OK, disclaimers are acceptable, but make them shorter. You’re gonna convince us so fast it won’t take half a page.

p42 ¶ 1 Hmmm. I also chased around the use of the term in some quotations and I can’t find anything to disprove your claim. On the other hand, I’m not sure this whole usage note and the Gopnick quote really move the action forward here.

p44 Yes to cutting the paragraph. “Childhood was cool in the 1960s” is an unwinnable and controversial position, also not one you need. I think the segue is between “kids are precious little cherubic economic assets” and “kids are felt to be threatened”, which seems pretty direct. Also, cut first sentence of following paragraph accordingly.

p44 ¶ 4 Is this usage shift with “risky” solid? I feel like in finance the term still has a dual connotation.

pp40 or 44-45 Potentially worth mentioning: there’s a research paper by Cheryl Morse (UVM) looking at the way children use space in rural Vermont. In the absence of any increased threats, crime, etc., there has been a generational turnover from kids all over the place—hills, woods, swamps, farmer’s fields—to basically no use of outdoor space at all. Because the moose are gonna abduct the kids, I guess.

p45 You’ve already used this quote on p. 92 of the earlier section.

p46 ¶ 1 Confusing…are you saying that dedicated childcare was available ONLY to the wealthy?

p45-46 Good clear line of argument here.

p47 ¶ 2 reins not reigns.

Another person who deserves major credit as an (unpaid) editor is Dr. Naomi Fisher, a British clinical psychologist and unschooling mom who helped me wade into the nature/nurture literature underpinning Chapter 4. Without her careful explanations and edits, I’m certain that I would have offered a much clumsier view of Judith Rich Harris’ research and the tricky interplay between genetics and environment as related to parenting.

Crowdsourcing Feedback

Ethan exited the stage in mid-December, leaving me with a polished (albeit un-copyedited) manuscript. Now it was time for a step I’ve come to love: crowdsourcing feedback.

I drafted individual emails to a few dozen colleagues in the world of alternative education—all of whom I already knew—asking them to kindly take a look at the manuscript and offer their feedback. I made it clear that the manuscript was done and there wouldn’t be any big, structural changes, but I did want to ensure that I wasn’t missing any important arguments, big opportunities, or chances to fix something that might embarass me.

The actual email that I sent to my colleagues; this one addressed to (and partially customized for) the aforementioned Naomi Fisher. Click for full-resolution PDF.

I offered my colleagues a narrow time window to respond: two weeks over the winter holidays. To my delight, most did. Some offered just a few sentences of feedback; others sent reams of suggestions. Virtually all the feedback was constructive. Collectively, all these suggestions amounted to large boost in the quality and level of nuance of the writing.

A good book is seldom the product of just one person’s mind or efforts.

Copyediting, Proofreading, and Front/Back Matter

In January I handed the manuscript off to my copyeditor, Kat, who came recommended by one of my previous editors. Over the course of three weeks Kat found typos, promoted a consistent style, and rephrased for clarity.

It was wonderful to have another dedicated set of eyes on the manuscript. In the months to follow I would bring in two more sets of eyes—one paid proofreader, and one volunteer proofreader—to give the book a final look-over for typos. The number they found continually shocked me. Later, an early reader discovered even more! Incredible.

During this time I also prepared the book’s “front matter” (the text that appears on the copyright page) and “back matter” (the text on the back cover, which I also ended up using as the book’s description for Amazon and other sales outlets).

The front matter is straightforward:

  • buy an ISBN (or a 10-pack of ISBNs) from Bowker—you’ll want one for the paperback and one for the e-book (you don’t need one for each e-book format, as I once thought)
  • get a Library of Congress Control Number for free

When I first self-published in 2012, I worried a lot more about what needs to be in the front matter.

Left: Front matter from Better Than College (2012). Right: Front matter from WAYSSYKTS (2020).

This time, the “fair use” and trademark and “stuff in the world may change” disclaimers felt unnecessary. Small self-publishers are no longer eligible for Cataloging-In-Publication Data (a.k.a. the library categorization stuff). And those countdown numbers? So very irrelevant to print-on-demand books.

Finally, note that “Tells Peak Press” is just a name I came up with in 2012. I think I registered it as a sole proprietorship DBA once… now it’s just a shell entity with no real function beyond telling bookstores & publishing companies & the Library of Congress what they want to hear.

The Library of Congress furthermore requires that you mention a physical location for your “press,” which I clearly don’t have. I nominated Loon Lake, California, which is about as far away from a printing press as you can get.

The back matter, i.e. the sales text, was surprisingly challenging to write. You have to describe your book in a convincing way in just a few hundred words; I ended up adapting text from the Kickstarter campaign. Which brings me to…

The Kickstarter Campaign

Now it was time to actually fund the book. I’d already incurred $1500 in editor’s fees, and I was about to pay a whole bunch more for a designer. I felt confident that this book would sell but I also didn’t want to suffer a nasty financial surprise if I was wrong. This is where Kickstarter comes in handy.

Kickstarter offers a way for a self-published author like me to:

  1. test the market, i.e., see how many people are actually interested in buying your book
  2. raise the funds needed to pay the professionals who will turn the manuscript into a high-quality final product
  3. generate buzz prior to publishing
  4. offer stretch goals leading to additional book-related content
  5. fully commit to the publishing of the book by a certain date, because I have now made promises and accepted people’s money

That last feature—the accountability mechanism—is a powerful feature for writers, artists, designers, inventors, or other self-directed “creative.” (I’ll be talking more about this in my online microschool for teens this fall.)

Another thing I like about Kickstarter, as opposed to other crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo 1 or GoFundMe, is that Kickstarters are always “all or nothing.” Either you reach your stated fundraising goal within the stated time period, or you don’t. If you fail to reach the goal by even $1, no one gets charged anything, and you’re off the hook for providing any rewards. Total success or total failure. This makes a Kickstarter campaign feel much more real and exciting to creator and backers alike—and most importantly, it makes it feel like a pre-sale (which it is) rather than a charity drive.

I created a draft of the Kickstarter page, sent it out for crowdsourced feedback (to the same colleagues as before), and integrated a few endorsements (a.k.a. “blurbs”) which I’d solicited from those close to the project. What emerged was a beautiful $10,000 Kickstarter campaign that, if successful, would fund all of my editing, design, and initial production costs for the paperback, e-book, and audiobook… all while offering people a chance to purchase the future products at a steep discount. I also created a series of stretch goals that, for every $2000 I received above the $10k goal, would fund a new add-on: an abridged audiobook version or a foreign translation e-book, for example.

On January 30th I launched the campaign, sent an email newsletter about it, promoted the heck out of it on Facebook, and asked all my friends / colleagues / acquaintances to promote the heck out of it, too. Two days later, the campaign was 50% funded. Four days later, the campaign was 77% funded. And a week after launch, the target was achieved: $10,000.

But there was still two weeks to go! The campaign creeped along, garnering steam at the very end, most notably from a single private donor (a stranger to me) who strongly believed in the book’s potential. The Kickstarter ended on February 21st with 337 people having banded together to raise just over $14,000, funding both the abridged audiobook and the Spanish translation. And because so many people gave extra money to the campaign without asking for extra rewards, I had enough left over to fund a German translation, too. At the end of the day, every penny was accounted for, and it all went to fund some feature of the book. (At the end of the post, I share a full breakdown of how I spent this money.)

The final budget for the Kickstarter.

Recording the Audiobook

When I published The Art of Self-Directed Learning in 2014, I narrated my own audiobook, and I really enjoyed it, so doing the same for WAYSSYKTS was a no-brainer.

But narrating a book is much harder than it appears! Beyond the mind-boggling difficulty of simply reading sentences (which you wrote yourself!) with a clear cadence and zero slip-ups, you need a professional recording setup and a sound engineer for the editing and mastering (in order to meet Audible’s strict submission requirements).

In late February, shortly after the Kickstarter ended, I was on a bicycle tour down the east coast. I didn’t  know where or when I’d make space to record the audiobook. Then there was a serendipitous turn of events, which I documented in my blog post, The Bike Trip, from which I quote below:

With more rain on the horizon, I booked myself a few extra nights at a local hostel. Contemplating how I might spend my time in Charleston, I explained to [my Couchsurfing host] Shawnda how I had just finished a Kickstarter campaign, and now I needed to create the audiobook, and maybe I could do that while I’m stuck here in Charleston, but the one local recording studio I found was too busy and too expensive…

“Hold on,” Shawnda told me. “I’ve got a friend in town who might be able to help you.”

She gave me the phone number for Clay, a musician and prolific Couchsurfing host, who immediately responded to my text message. He was too busy to help me out, but he connected me to his other friend, Corey, another local musician with a home recording studio.

I texted Corey, and just hours later, I found myself at his apartment doing a test recording. Over the next two days we proceeded to record the entire unabridged audiobook of Why Are You Still Sending Your Kids to School? in two marathon-length recording sessions. Boom!

narrating the audiobook in Corey’s apartment studio (not studio apartment)
Corey and I share a fashion sense, apparently

Recording the audiobook gave me an unexpected psychological benefit: it forced me to finalize the text, once and for all. No more little tweaks, no more anxious revising—because once the audiobook is narrated, there’s no going back. At the end of February, this meant that the words were done. What a relief. Now, onto design.

Cover Design

Why do you need professional cover design? Because people judge books their covers. It’s really as simple as that. An unattractive cover will turn away readers who might otherwise delight in your book. The cover is a symbol for the seriousness of the contents. (You might think I would have applied this principle to my sense of fashion by now… but no, I settled on t-shirt / jeans / running shoes long ago.)

My previous book designer, Kristen, was not available to work with me, but she pointed me in the direction of her talented friend Zoe, who was delighted to take on my project. Both Kristen and Zoe  design covers for the major publishing houses. Take a peek at their websites and you’ll see how good their work is. That’s what I wanted for my book—a cover that could seamlessly blend into a bookstore’s New Releases section.

After contracting with Zoe, I sent the initial materials she requested: the full manuscript, the final title and subtitle (which my crowdsourced feedback team helped me decide upon), and five covers of other books that I found inspiring. After two weeks, she returned with five Round One cover compositions:

A sampling of the Round One cover comps. Each of the five designs also came with multiple color variations. (And yes, I expressed a preference for a colorful, typography-heavy design, like this and this.)

I sent these five covers out for crowdsourced feedback, and while there was no unanimous decision, many people leaned toward the fourth cover—as did I. Zoe then proceeded to Round Two, iterating upon the design:

Round Two cover iterations.

At this point, the winner felt clear.

We inverted the subtitle font color.

Interior Design

Why do you need professional interior design? Because there is a world of difference here:

Which one will you pay $17 for?

Do you know how to make the first page look like the second page? Are you proficient with Adobe InDesign (or want to spend the time and money to become proficient)? Do you know the difference between kerning, tracking, and leading? Nope, neither do I. That’s why you need an interior designer. Because just like with covers, if someone opens your book and sees left-aligned, double-spaced Times New Roman, they will quickly close that book.

Zoe and I spent the better part of March bouncing interior versions back and forth. There are lots of options to consider with interior design, and many little things that can go awry. After a few intensive weeks we arrived at the final product. At the same time, we finalized the spine and back cover design, both of which are straightforward once you have a finalized cover design and you know the final page count of the formatted interior—a number necessary for calculating the spine’s width.

Soliciting Blurbs

Armed with a professional-looking front cover and interior, now it was time to share the book with another, wider circle of folks: those who might write a nice blurb (a.k.a. endorsement / praise / testimonial) for the book. Blurbs are essential for convincing would-be readers that your book is worth their time. They’re even more significant for self-published authors who don’t rest upon the imprimir of a known publishing house.

I emailed roughly 25 people with a blurb request (and the nice-looking PDF manuscript attached). Some of these people I knew before; some had blurbed one of my earlier books; some were complete strangers. I ended up with 14 lovely blurbs, a few of which I chose not to publish due to space considerations.

While I’ve solicited blurbs before, I (re)learned some lessons this time around:

  • If a busy author isn’t responding to your email, but she’s active on a certain social media platform, try reaching out her there. That’s how I got Jane McGonigal’s attention: by @mentioning her on Twitter.
  • When someone shares clear policies for using their blurb, like Seth Godin did in our email correspondence, actually pay attention. (I didn’t, and I ended up making a request that annoyed him. Mea culpa!)
  • Kickstarter backers are your fans, and sometimes they’re well connected, and sometimes they can help you get a blurb from an otherwise unreachable author. That’s how I ended up with the blurb from Johann Hari.
  • Most fellow authors are flattered to be asked for a blurb. They may not have any time to read a whole new book, but it’s fundamentally a compliment (if you make the request with integrity), so don’t feel shy or unworthy.

I’m quite proud of my final blurbs, which I share below.

Lori Walker, Kevin Currie-Knight, and Gina Riley wrote wonderful blurbs too, but they didn’t make it into the final cut. Thanks y’all!

Physical Proofing

Now it was April 2020, and I had just settled down at my friend Dev’s homestead in rural western Colorado after Covid-19 canceled the bike trip. This was actually a boon for my book publishing efforts, because the next step involved a lot of postal mail.

For my printing needs, I decided to take the print-on-demand route with Amazon KDP (formerly known as Createspace), as I did with my two other self-published books. While the quality of print-on-demand paperbacks is not yet consistent with those printed en masse by professional publishing houses, it’s firmly “good enough.”

Something I did differently this time, however, was to also employ a second printer: IngramSpark, known for having better relationships with bookstores and libraries than Amazon does, and a slightly higher print quality. While researching my printing options in 2019, I read a blog that suggested using both KDP and IngramSpark at the same time. KDP is great for Amazon, and IngramSpark is great for bookstores and other venues. Sounded reasonable to me.

This ended up being a good decision, but it also doubled my workload in one respect: ordering and verifying physical “proof” copies of the paperback.

Proofing a book is vital because the PDF files that you submit—no matter how closely your interior designer follows a printer’s guidelines—will not appear perfectly. You need to get a physical proof copy mailed to you (which takes ~1 week and costs ~$15 including shipping), carefully observe what aspects of the design are off, convey this feedback to your designer, have the designer return a modified file to you, submit that file to the printer(s), have it approved by the printer(s), and order the next proof. Between late March and early May I completed this process approximately three times for both Amazon and IngramSpark.

Is this spine properly centered? Is the interior shifted too far upward? Such questions ruled my thoughts and dreams in the proofing stage.
At the end of the day, proofing is fun. You get to hold the very first copy of your own book in your hands.

Ebook production

Now that I could relax about the paperback, it was time to create the ebook. This should be simple, right? An ebook is just a nicely formatted electronic manuscript, right? Well, it became a nightmare because I broke my own rules. I went with a cheap ebook conversion service instead of working with a (pricier) professional.

BookBaby is a small company with a mission I believe in. They successfully converted and distributed The Art of Self-Directed Learning for a very reasonable price back in 2014. This time, however—maybe it was the pandemic, who knows—they really mucked it up. I sent them the Adobe InDesign file for the book, and they returned an ebook proof riddled with formatting errors. Then they nickel-and-dimed me for every change, and worse, they took forever to respond to simple emails and requests. Long story short, I ended up spending the same amount of money that a freelance ebook designer would have charged—but they would have knocked it out in one-fourth the time. The final product was so late that I ended up launching the paperback without the ebook, which felt dumb, but I was tired of waiting.

Lesson learned: go with a professional, kids. Don’t use a lower-priced service because you’ll get lower-quality service. BookBaby is fine for ebook distribution, but I’ll never employ them again for conversion & design services.

A Million Little Things

In the months leading up to launch day (May 15th, 2020)—and the months following it, too—there were many other little things to do. These are too numerous (and tedious) to fully detail, but here’s a sample:

  • commissioning Zoe to create covers for the ebook, audiobook, and abridged audiobook
  • submitting the audiobook files to Audible, waiting 3 weeks to be informed that they lacked sufficient empty space at the beginning and end of each file, asking Corey to re-export the files, re-submitting them to Audible, and waiting longer for their approval
  • creating an outline for the abridged audiobook, recording it in my friend’s kitchen, adding intro music, exporting the tracks, and creating a sales page
  • discovering significant typos (which somehow eluded myself, my editor, my copyeditor, and two proofreaders), fixing them, re-exporting the interior PDF files, and making corrections to the ebook files
  • finding translators who (1) are available (2) can work within my budget and (3) have some interest in the book’s content
  • devising translated titles for the foreign ebook editions (surprisingly contentious!) and once again commissioning Zoe to create cover art for each
Look at those snazzy foreign covers! (The Kickstarter funded the Spanish and German editions, the French one is yet-to-be produced, and a volunteer is tackling the Portuguese one.)

Launch + Kickstarter Fulfillment

At long last, in the second week of May, I pulled the trigger and submitted the book to Amazon. But “launch day” was actually a blurry entity. There’s no good way for self-published authors to set fixed release dates ahead of time.

Essentially, when self-publishing on Amazon, the day that you make the book “live” is the release date. Self-published authors cannot upload the book to Amazon but keep the sales page unpublished. You also cannot submit the paperback, ebook, and audiobook at once… one must come before the other, with waiting periods for approval. (Large publishers don’t face such restrictions.) This is why my book’s launch date was May 15th, but the release date noted on its Amazon page is May 7th. (On IngramSpark, you have more control over the public-facing release date.)

The week between May 7-15 was actually quite helpful, because that’s when I took the time to fulfill the hundreds of orders that I owed my Kickstarter backers. My idea was to order Amazon “author’s copies” (at cost) and have them shipped directly to backers. (In past crowdfunding campaigns I’d procured a bulk shipment, signed the books, and then packaged and mailed them to individual backers. I didn’t want to repeat that process, especially for the many international orders that would have required customs forms at the post office.)

This new solution didn’t take into account of the sheer amount of time that each fulfillment required: requesting an author’s copy, checking out via the normal Amazon process, verifying the credit card (because it was being used to ship to a brand new address), and then doing it all over again. I ended up paying a young adult friend a couple hundred dollars to do all this for me in the second week of May. Unfortunately—again, perhaps due to the pandemic—Amazon’s shipping times for (unprofitable) author copies were weeks delayed, meaning that many of my Kickstarter backers received their paperbacks later than they might have if they purchased the book from Amazon on release day. I felt bad about that, but no one complained.

Finally, if you’re wondering why I focus on Amazon so much—realistically, that’s where 90% of my sales will come from. And despite the roadblocks I just noted, Amazon does a pretty great job of making self-publishing easy, accessible, and profitable for people like me. For every sale at the cover price of $17, I earn a 60% royalty minus the production cost ($4.02), which amounts to $6.18 per sale. That’s a world apart from the ~$1/sale royalty to which I’m entitled from my first book, published by a medium-sized Canadian press. With IngramSpark, who fulfills the orders for brick-and-mortar bookstores, I earn $3.16.

After the book’s release I breathed a sigh of relief—and then I got to work publicizing it through my normal channels (newsletter, Facebook, friends, podcast), discussing it on other people’s podcasts, soliciting reviews (full tally here), and otherwise getting the word out.

It’s late July as I write this post, and the book’s launch energy has already dispersed. But as I know from previous books, this is just the beginning. A well-written and well-published book pays dividends long after its release, especially as a credibility indicator that opens the doors to other opportunities. It’s been a joyful ride, and I’m grateful that this is the work I get to do in my short time on this planet.

The Final Tally

Here’s what I ended up spending, at the end of the day, on the creation of the book. As I mentioned before, these costs were entirely covered by the Kickstarter, with nothing left over.

  • Editing + copyediting: $1,600
  • Cover design: $2,060
  • Cover variations (foreign, audio): $170
  • Interior design: $1,220
  • Bookbaby (e-book): $450
  • Audiobook production: $500
  • Amazon fulfillment assistance: $200
  • Review copies shipped: $300
  • Foreign translations & ebook production: $3,700
  • TOTAL: $10,200

Published July 30th, 2020.

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