Self-publishing a debut: highs, lows, and advice

“If you put in the effort, and take it step by step, then anyone can self-publish”

Author Emma Bradley shares the highs and lows of publishing her debut, ‘The Trouble with Fairies’, and her self-publishing advice

It’s a very emotional time when you finally get your physical book proof copy through. In truth, I don’t think it fully sank in for me at first – I’m still waiting for something to go hideously wrong, or for someone to say it’s not good enough, or I’m not good enough (hello, imposter syndrome!).

But after three years of querying four different manuscripts, with great feedback but never quite getting to that one ultimate YES, I decided I was done waiting. It would be hard doing it all myself, but I’d get there somehow. So, off I went into publishing land with a story, some stubborn intention and not much in-depth knowledge at all. 

Initial worries about self publishing

As I went through the self-publishing process, I was constantly reminded of the stages of traditional publishing that I was missing:

  • Having the validation of an agent choose you, and a publisher put faith in you
  • Getting to make those important news announcements on social media, with the vague tweets and the dropping of the industry names everyone recognises
  • Advice and guidance on what comes next, what I should do, marketing suggestions, contacts to network with in the wider industry, and so on

Now as I stare at my book proof, and the bookmarks and postcards that will go out, I suddenly realise that I’m not missing out at all. 

Learning throughout the process

It’s been a stressful road of timing hiccups, copious formatting blips, and I’m probably somewhere near the world record for ‘most amount of times a title has been re-uploaded to Ingram and been wrong again’. I didn’t fully understand the exact steps of the distribution process, despite copious online searches for ‘how to publish a book’. I even missed a step in the distribution process which put me behind time-wise.

I went into publishing land with a story, some stubborn intention and not much in-depth knowledge at all.

But, like writing, the only reason I’ve got anywhere at all is because I kept redoing things, learning, trying again (and copious amounts of griping, sorry everyone!)

There’s also always a dash of luck involved. I got so lucky with my cover designer, and I have amazing writer friends who tolerate my flapping and have rushed out to help me promote when I’m too introverted to do it myself in certain situations (you all deserve a medal).

Some self-publishing advice

So, for anyone who’s considering self-publishing, here are a few pointers to bear in mind:

  • Ensure your story is ready. This sounds like a ‘well, duh’ moment, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to read your story a thousand times and think you’ve done everything, only to get an editor saying ‘okay so this is a good start…’ I can’t stress enough how much help finding critique partners to swap manuscripts with and also having an amazing editor has been. 
  • Unless you’re an artist/designer, I’d advise getting a professional cover. It depends on how far your goals go, you might just want to publish a story for friends and family and not worry too much about the cover, but if you plan to market and sell to strangers, a brilliant cover is a must. 
  • Make decisions as early on as possible. Even before your book is ready to go, have a list of bookshops you might want to approach as stockists. Decide what kind of launch you’ll be having. Pick a tentative release date (but don’t announce anything until you’re sure you can get there on time!) Get to know your distribution channels – are you going solely for e-book or do you want physical copies as well? Make the distribution channel accounts ready to be used, read the how-to guides so you have a better idea what you’ll need to do and how long it takes. Decide which social media platforms you’ll frequent (if any), and build a following. I don’t think social media is the be all and end all, but if you’ve got the time it can definitely help with making supportive friends! 
  • Investigate the whole process before beginning it. I thought I was 100% ready when I started. I had a spreadsheet, I had links and timelines and deadline dates and all sorts. I still ran into problems. I still had times where I was screaming at myself that it wouldn’t all come together on time. 

If it helps, my process looks something like this: 

  • Make story

  • Editing

  • Initial reader comments

  • Editing

  • Beta readers

  • Editing (and repeat until story is ready)

  • Cover

  • Set-up distribution (including allowing time for typesetting/loading issues and resubmissions)

  • Marketing/publicity

  • Leave huge gaps so all the inevitable loose ends/issues can be sewn up without you needing to cry

  • Some more marketing/publicity

  • Release day!

  • Marketing/publicity

That’s a very rough guideline, and each point has a lot of depth to it not shown there. But, even with the above, I still ended up flapping. 

That’s also not taking into account that it’s a somewhat lonely road when you’re doing it all yourself, with no professionals behind you to say ‘ah, don’t worry, we wouldn’t have chosen it if it wasn’t a good story!’ 

Anyone can self-publish

But as those who know me will tell you, I’ve never had much patience or any affinity with moderation.

If you put in the effort (with a bit of clever planning at the beginning), and take it step by step (very important to pace yourself with a big project like this), then anyone can self-publish. 

Yes, even you sitting there right now saying ‘ah no, I couldn’t possibly’ or ‘but… *insert excuse here*’. 

If I can do it, anyone can.

So on that cheery note, The Trouble With Fairies (Book #1 of the Arcanium series) is officially out on 7th December 2021, and everyone is invited to the Twitter launch – 6th December, 8pm, join us on #ArcaniumChat! 

Also, I will be spending the evening of launch day on Twitter again, chatting with everyone for #ukteenchat as well (7th December, 8pm) – a sure sign you’ve finally made it as a writer when you get invited on there!

Want a signed paperback copy of Emma’s book? Pre-order now

Twitter: @EmmaEBradley | Website:

Read more from Emma…

Ready to enter Arcanium, elite training for the future of Faerie?

1 thought on “Self-publishing a debut: highs, lows, and advice”

  1. Thank you for sharing your personal journey and for wanting to help others.
    I love the sound of your book and the cover is gorgeous (great illustrator), so look forward to seeing it in my local bookshops and library.
    Wishing you the very best of luck.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: