SELF PUBLISHING – One Author’s Experience

In a world where it seems increasingly harder for new authors to get their work published by mainstream publishers, many are turning to self publishing; some with great success.

Today on my blog Tania McCartney talks about her self publishing experience.

Tania, what made you decide to take the self publishing road?

I’ve received enough publisher rejection slips to pâpier maché the Outback. There’s been a lot of despair, frustration and tears shed in this writer’s lifetime, trust me. But I kept telling myself that if Harry Potter was knocked back 14 times before conquering the world, I can grant myself the wholesome clinging to a shred of hope.

Forging ahead despite setbacks is easy for me because I love to write, and spending four years in Beijing with our kids certainly provided lots of creative fodder. But loving what you do doesn’t mean it can’t frustrate and disappoint you. After completing three children’s picture book manuscripts in 2007 and sending them religiously to a long list of publishers in China, Australia and the States, it was very despairing to watch time slip away – with nought but ‘we’re considering, we’ll get back to you in 8-12 weeks’ slips in the mail.

These slips are the equivalent of a glassed-in bamboo stick to a hungry panda bear; a wee bit tormenting. And they block out a large chunk of your life because most publishers like to be exclusively offered manuscripts. Nonetheless, each ‘we’re considering’ slip took centre-stage on my fridge, where its edges slowly began to curl before being removed and binned with the corresponding rejection letter.

I became almost immune to the disappointment. Almost. It affected me but at least it didn’t completely swamp and disable me like it did when I was younger.

So, what to do when you’re really sold on a story idea, you know it’s good and you’re just not connecting to the right ‘make it happen’ person? Well, what you do, is you publish it yourself.

And that’s what I did.

Was self publishing a daunting prospect?

The self-publishing process, at first glance, is most certainly overwhelming. Now that I have three successful self-published books in the bag, the single most frequent question I hear is ‘but how did you do it?’. I must admit, when I first passed thought to self-publishing my Riley and the Sleeping Dragon manuscript, my head was swamped with an enormous ocean and there was that original, ambitious thought, bobbing in the centre of that ocean – a teensy speck amongst the galloping waves.

Yes, it was a little bit overwhelming – especially as I was living in a place where English is a by-product and red tape binds every move you make. Naturally, despite living in China, I would publish the book in Australia, but I wanted to have it printed in China, and also distribute it amongst the expat community in Beijing and other cities like Shanghai and Chengdu.

Where did you start your self publishing journey?

I took small steps. I’ve written and edited countless articles and manuscripts and I have to say there is not much more valuable than the opinion of someone you respect. So I asked some brutally honest people to read my manuscript and the feedback was good. Shortly afterwards, I took it to the most important critics of all – the kids. I selected my test audience wisely, ie: no ‘YesKids’ – I wanted critical appraisal and I sought it of various ages. The test audience reaction was also excellent. So far, so good.


Next was researching the target market. I needed to understand who it was for (the English-speaking expat community in China was my initial focus, with Australian children a target for when I returned home), and what ages and what genre the book fell into. Because the project was so large and I was doing it on my own, my main focus was penetrating the expat community in China, and as a well-known family matters columnist and features editor for several English language magazines, I was fortunate to have a high level of exposure and marketing aid to succeed, not only in Beijing but other major Chinese cities.

I also needed to seek a niche. As a multi-media book combining scenic photos, graphics, photos of objects and cartoon illustrations, I knew the layout of the book was unusual. I also knew the travelogue style was unique and therefore felt confident it would attract attention in an oversaturated market. I honestly feel that seeking a solid niche is vital for new books to stand out.


Gathering the basics to actually publish the book was very straight forward. I contacted Thorpe-Bowker, who are the Australian provider of ISBNs, by email. Within days, I received a freshly-baked batch of 10 ISBNs at a very affordable price. They likewise helped me organize a barcode at minimal cost. I then contacted the National Library of Australia for my Cataloguing in Publication Entry data, and received it by email shortly afterwards.

Whilst waiting for these things to arrive, I sourced an illustrator online. This was possibly the most difficult step – finding someone reliable and passionate and affordable. I used a Canadian whose work was good but whose time management skills and demands sent me into a flying panic close to book launch time. Finding the right illustrator is absolutely crucial – not only for their talent and style, but for the author/illustrator relationship. I have since found a new artist who is an author’s dream and I will subsequently work with Kieron Pratt on all Riley books in the series.


Once I began working the manuscript into picture form, I found I needed to buy new software (Adobe Illustrator) in order to create print ready files for my printer. This cost a few hundred dollars and was a Godsend. Learning how to implement and use this software was vital, and I’m still learning how to use it effectively, three books later.

Whilst working on the book files, I began researching how to list my books with Nielsen Book Data and Global Books in Print, and to begin contacting both the media and literature organizations such as the Children’s Book Council of Australia, various state writing centres, the Australian School Library Association and others. I also had to send a copy of my book to the National Library, for their records.

What did you do about printing?

I located a reliable printer (in Beijing). My first two print runs were conducted through this printer, and I swapped to a different printer for the third print run, just as we were leaving China. Again, shopping around for the right one is crucial. A quality relationship is almost as vital as the quality of the actual printed product. Since coming home to Australia, I worked with Ligare, an established printing company, on my second book in the Riley series – Riley and the Dancing Lion: A journey around Hong Kong (Nov 09).

When did it all come together?

My first print run of Riley and the Sleeping Dragon arrived in November 2008, only days before my book launch in Beijing, and the book was a huge success. It sold over 2000 copies during our last two months in China, and has since sold another 1000 since we returned home in January 2009. It helped enormously to have the media exposure through the magazines I worked for in Beijing, and both my books (I also published a memoir entitled Beijing Tai Tai) continue to sell extremely well in several Chinese cities.

I was very nervous about bringing Riley and the Sleeping Dragon home to Australia. Before coming home and once on home soil, I spent countless hours researching and implementing how to get my book into the mainstream market here. I was enormously grateful to be taken on by a major book distributor – Dennis Jones & Associates – since early 2009 – and this company now carries all three books.

This past year, I have read Riley and the Sleeping Dragon at countless schools, libraries, clubs and events. I began constructing teaching modules on book writing and publishing to be presented with book readings, and even implemented a successful Writer in Residence programme at a Canberra school that mimicked the production of the book. In August, I was a Children’s Book Council visiting author for Book Week in the ACT and Riley and the Sleeping Dragon has just been featured in the Australian Booksellers Association’s Kids Reading Guide for 2009/2010.

Thanks for sharing your amazing journey with us, Tania and congratulations on all you have achieved.

I’m sure you will be an inspiration to others who are thinking of taking the self publishing road.

For more information about Tania, check out &



16 thoughts on “SELF PUBLISHING – One Author’s Experience

  1. Pingback: SELF PUBLISHING – One Author's Experience « DeeScribewriting Blog : Online Publishing Blog

  2. Thanks, Tania and Dee. That was excellent information. Good for you Tania, after all the work you put into your research you must be enjoying your success.

    Congratulations and thank you for sharing it with us. It gives us non-published writers hope.

  3. Thanks Sheryl and Trisha, I was amazed at the amount of research and careful planning undertaken by Tania. Great achievements aren’t they?


  4. Thank you, Tania and Dee,
    What a fascinating journey. As someone who has tried the ‘Self-publishing a Children’s Picture Book’ road I wish I’d had your article to guide me!
    All the best

  5. Thanks for dropping in Mabel. Self-publishing a Children’s Picture book sounds like a hard road – but can be very rewarding.


  6. Warm congratulations for both of you! Indeed, research and planning makes a lot of difference. Success doesn’t happen overnight. I’m sure you also had a share of discouragements and failures. But now that you’re actually reaping what you’ve worked hard for, i must say that both of you deserve the victory and the reward. Your story is certainly an inspiration to all authors out there. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Many thanks to Dee for this wonderful opportunity to chat about my journey. I’m totally astounded at the response and interest from people on this topic, both here and elsewhere in my life.

    Honestly, I can hardly believe I’m in the position I am now – it feels like it was always someone else, not me. Sure, it has been hard work but it has also been a total joy – and I am keen to share how things worked for me. Gosh, if I can do it, others can, too! and I’m more than happy to offer any of my humble ‘advice’.

    Please don’t hesitate to contact me via my blog ( and in the meantime, I wish everyone the very best on your writing journey – a labour of love and as vital as the very air we breathe.


  8. It was a pleasure having you here, Tania. Your story is truly inspiring, and we really appreciate you sharing it.

    Congratulations Ashley and thanks everyone who dropped in and took the time to leave comments.


  9. Tania,

    Your instinct at each stage of your process to do the book properly, to find out how the business works, find the vendors, do your own “marketing research,” are invaluable pointers to other authors who aspire to your success, and telling indicators of exactly why you’ve created such lovely books. Thanks to Dee for bringing your story forward.

  10. Thanks Joel. You’re right, Tania is providing invaluable tips for other authors by sharing her story.


  11. Thanks for your lovely comments, Joel. It was vital to me that my books had the quality and ‘feel’ of any regular, quality, published book you’d find at a store. How on earth can I compete with other books if my product is not high on quality?

    Self-published books, for the most part, still have such a ‘stigma’ about them – ie: “oh, she couldn’t get it published anywhere else, it must be crap, she’s delusional about the quality of the book, it’s destined to fail, she won’t be able to penetrate the market” etc. For the most part, I can understand why this attitude prevails because there are SO MANY badly self-published books and so many authors who fail to understand the entire process required.

    There are many reasons why people self-publish – for me it was all about time (ok, and perhaps a little about control!) and circumstance. I have no doubt I could have secured some kind of publisher eventually but did I have years and years of waiting and hoping up my sleeve? No. I have been published by Hodder Headline before and it took a year to get it on the shelves. I didn’t want to wait that long to be ‘approved’ and I didn’t want to wait that long to produce. I am bursting with creative energy and if someone didn’t want to take that on and run with it, then I was more than happy to do it myself.

    For me, to do this ‘properly’, it had to be ALL about quality. I needed legitimacy in my work if I wanted it to be taken seriously, and quality is absolutely vital.

    I’ve seen so many self-published books that either look like a brochure or don’t have the slick polish required for bookstores to take seriously. I was recently sent a self-published book that was brilliant in concept but full of mistakes, typos, colour error and no idea where to market it. Absolutely PERFECT idea for the educational arena, but the author had done nothing to pursue that avenue and I was aghast that she allowed the book to enter ‘the market’ in such an appalling state. Who was she expecting to sell to?

    Another self-published book I saw recently was beautifully printed and the quality great, but the author only wants to sell from their website because they ‘make more money that way’ (ie: a bigger percentage cut). In just over a year of selling my books at stores (both in-store and online), I have made less than TEN sales via my website. Considering I’ve sold nearly 4,000 books in that year, that goes to show author websites are NOT the place people want to buy books. Why do some self-published authors cut off their market in that way? Sure, you’ll earn less through a distributor or online bookstore but you’ll sell many many more books, obtain greater market saturation and may even become – gasp!… well known!

    Another thing I see time and time again is that people self-publish and then sit there waiting for sales. Oh no no no no no. That will never happen. The media will not come to you, the schools will not come to you, the bookstores will not come to you. And this issue is not exclusive to self-published works. I know two well-known authors published by a major Australian publisher who have complained to me constantly about a lack of promotion and marketing undertaken by their publishing house. When a national television news show contacted the house about one woman’s book, they failed to follow it through and the show was forced to contact the author directly through her website. This was only one of many major marketing coups the house failed to follow.

    Self-publishing is all about marketing and promotion – and developing a name for yourself – getting into people’s heads and remaining memorable. Naturally, having a fabulous story that you believe in is the essential core of it all, but having it then created into a ‘perfect’, quality product is what will start the book’s heart. Then if you want that heart to keep beating, marketing and promotion is the only way unless you want cardiac arrest. I’ve always said the work REALLY began the moment I held my book in my hands for the first time.

    Marketing and promotion is nonstop and full time work – I’m constantly at it – and if the marketing is not done extensively and professionally, even a great book will live a tragically short life.

    So… here is my formula… 1. a great story, 2. quality presentation, 3. market research, 4. constant saturation and effort to promote (yes, to the point of exhaustion). If a book is good and you can continue on with these elements, I honestly think the self-publishing route can’t fail!

    And that is so exciting.


  12. Thanks again Tania for your generosity in sharing your inspiration and information with us.

    Wishing you all the very best for many book sales and future publications.


  13. Pingback: This Week in the Blogs: December 7 – 13, 2009 — The Book Designer

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