Manual Transmissions and Self-Publishing: Learning the Details

Today’s post is brought to you by Andi Cumbo-Floyd, an online connection from the Writers Unite Facebook group. She’s been blogging about self-publishing lately as well, and today we’re doing a guest post swap, so read her excellent post below, then visit her site at to read a post from me as well. Be sure to check out her fascinating book too, The Slaves Have Names.

CC Image •  nataliej on Flickr CC Image • nataliej on Flickr
My father insisted that my brother and I learn how to drive on a stick shift. “You never know when you might need the skill,” and of course, he was right. I’ve had to drive a manual transmission often in my life, and even prefer it now.
The Slaves Have NamesWhen I decided to self-publish my book The Slaves Have Names, it felt much like driving a stick: I learned how to publish by doing most of the work myself. Now, if I have the opportunity to publish traditionally (and I hope I do), I feel like I have some of the basics of publishing under my belt.
Until I began this self-publishing journey, I kind of thought I knew what I needed to know about publishing: get an agent, the agent gets you a publisher, they edit, design, and print your book, they market it a tiny bit, you market it more. Then, you start again.
But when I began the process of self-publishing, I suddenly saw that some of those steps required a lot more work, namely the editing and the designing. Yeah, I skipped two really hard parts—finding an agent and finding a publisher—but then, I added about 20 other hard things including formatting, design, and distribution.
I’m still figuring all of these things out, and I expect each time I publish, whether it will be via a traditional publisher or by myself again, I will learn even more.

But here are the five biggest take-aways I have from self-publishing.

1. It’s a TON of work.

All publishing requires hard work, particularly on the marketing end, but if you self-publish, you also have to:

  • Edit your book. I recommend hiring an editor.
  • Proofread your book. Again, hiring is a probably a good idea.
  • Format your print book. I did this myself, but next time, I will save my sanity by hiring someone.
  • Format your eBook. I used a professional here, and she was awesome.
  • Design your cover. My husband created my cover, and I love it. But my techie skills failed me when it came to submitting a crisp image for printing. Again, hiring help would be wise.
  • Distribute your book. Your choice of printer can really matter here. I used CreateSpace (despite my animosity toward Amazon) because they have broad distribution options.
  • Market your book. You can market until you turn blue. If you can afford a publicist, hire one.

Almost every piece of this process—except writing and editing—was new to me when I started, and while I was glad to be able to keep costs down on this book, I will definitely hire a lot more help for the next book.

2. Find a mentor . . . or 10.

I was very fortunate to know Shawn Smucker, who gave me a lot of guidance about self-publishing. He helped me understand headers and page numbers, and he gave me advice about ISBNs. As a guide, he was indispensable and saved me a ton of time in this process.

3. Take your time.

As a culture, we’re used to immediate, and as writers, I think we expect that kind of immediacy when it comes to publishing. But the truth is that this process, although probably faster than traditional publishing, still takes time, especially if you want to do it well. Editors need time to work as do designers and formatters. It takes time to proof your print copies well and time to have your books printed. This process does not lend itself well to hurry, so just be prepared to take deep breaths and wait.

4. Prepare for disappointment.

Of course, this is wisdom that all writers do well to emblazon on our left hands as a constant reminder. But when it comes to self-publishing, a lackluster response to your work can be even more brutal because, well, every single aspect of the book has your fingerprint on it. With traditional publishing, you can blame the publisher for a bad cover design, but when it’s your choices alone that give you that cover, then someone’s critical words about its “poor” quality can particularly sting. (I speak from experience.)

5. Be ready to pass on the wisdom.

As more and more of us go into self-publishing, more and more of us will have the opportunity to share our experience with others. So if you’re wise and kind, you’ll be a mentor to someone else and answer questions as the process goes along. I try to do this with weekly blog posts about my self-publishing journey at, and I talk with writers on iMessage and Twitter and Facebook every day as they puzzle through Distribution Channels and PCN Codes. I certainly don’t know everything, but I try to pass along what I do know.
If there’s one thing that self-publishing has reinforced about this life, it’s that there’s always more to learn, always more to master, always more to give.
By the way, I drove a manual transmission for the first time in a few years last week, and it all came rushing back . . . Dad was right, as usual.
Andi Cumbo FloydAndi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, writing teacher, editor, and farmer. Her latest book is called The Slaves Have Names and is about the people who were enslaved on the plantation where she was raised. She blogs regularly at, and when she’s not writing, she and her husband are building a farm retreat for writers, musicians, and anybody who needs a touch of country healing at God’s Whisper Farm at the edge of the Blue Ridge.