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05-19 Sarah Raplee – Riff on 7 yrs. Of SPAM & a Giveaway

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Indie Publishing Discussion Continues with P.J. Cowan, Ashlyn Mathews, Tonya Macalino

by P.J. Cowan

Talk to almost anyone about self-publishing today and you’ll hear how wonderful it is. It’s easy, inexpensive, you have control over your content and cover and a much bigger cut of the profits. In the old days there was only one way to go, the vanity press, which meant spending thousands of dollars on hundreds of books that sadly, often ended up stored in a back corner of your garage.

Digital technology changed all that. Writers now have a range of options, including e-book only companies like Amazon’s Kindle program or Both provide a simple user interface where you can upload your book and cover. There is no up front cost and they only receive a small share of the profits from your sales.

Print on demand, or POD publishers such as LightningSource or CreateSpace offer a similar service for your print edition. You upload your files and your books are printed only when you or a buyer request them, and again, the company takes only a small percentage of your profit.

That all sounds pretty good—so what’s the problem? Well there are a few. There has been a stigma around self-publishing for years. So even if you’ve worked hard to learn the rules of composition, or you’ve hired someone to edit your work and bring it to the level of traditional publishing, how do your prospective readers know?

Then, there’s selling your book. Many writers are used to working alone, and they like it; selling is socializing and may not be comfortable for everyone. In addition, self-publishing means you are doing it alone, without access to a professional publisher’s experience, or to the network of resources and contacts they’ve developed. 

That’s where NIWA comes in.

I was introduced to NIWA, the Northwest Independent Writers Association, when a friend dragged me to the third meeting of the newly formed group. In the back room of an Irish pub in Vancouver, Washington I met a group of people who were dedicated to independent publishing. Writers who wanted to find others to share ideas, tips and resources with—so they did.

NIWA’s mission is two-fold, to support Pacific Northwest writers in improving their writing and marketing skills and to promote professionalism in independent publishing. To support writers NIWA hosts a monthly meeting, members participate in conferences and develop events such as signings and readings, date-an-authors and book launches. They also provide a forum where members can meet to organize critique groups or just talk about writing.


In order to promote professionalism they’ve developed the NIWA Seal of Quality, or NSQ. Books are submitted, read and judged on 20 criteria, including spelling and grammar. If awarded the NSQ the book is highlighted at events and included in the NIWA catalog, sent to independent bookstores across the Northwest.

In my role as marketing director I find that there are not enough hours in the day to implement the great ideas that come from our members, which now number over 100.  

Taking on the roles of writer, editor, cover designer, formatting expert, publisher and marketer the independent publisher faces huge challenges, the biggest of which is doing it all alone. As a member of NIWA, you don’t have to!

Please visit my website to learn about my writing, and my All Things Indie Tab to find resources for independent publishers, or visit to learn more about NIWA.

Ashlyn Mathews on Self-Publishing


Why would an author self-publish? There are a multitude of reasons depending on who you ask, but eventually the decision comes down to personal choice. My debut paranormal romance, Shadow Watcher, was released by a traditional publisher. A second book, My Fallen (with the same publisher) is slated for a release date of January 14th.

I feel very lucky to get my foot in the door with a digital and print-on-demand romance imprint of a big name publisher. Yet, I had this intense desire to have more control over the creative processes, to design covers that will brand my series, and to be able to determine my own release dates to coincide with the release dates of my traditionally published books.
For me, the most cost effective way to venture into self-publishing was to publish a novella. Small town settings are very popular right now. My Willowbrook novellas take place in a quaint fictional town in Oregon and focus on three separate couples with hang ups that aren’t easily solved with a conversation. There are misunderstandings, hurt feelings and issues from their past to deal with before these couples can have their happily-ever-after. 

With the rights belonging to me, I have the option to combine the three planned novellas into an anthology, or I can expand each story into a full length novel and re-publish. The choices are endless. And because I get to choose and design my covers, all three covers will have the same look and “feel.”
For those looking at self-publishing their work, don’t make hasty decisions. Be prepared to work hard at self-promotion, networking and learning all you can about being an Indie author. I hired a cover designer who designs covers for the big publishing houses. I paid a senior editor of a reputable digital publisher to steer me on course and insert all those darn commas that I had missed. And I hired an experienced team to format and upload my self-publishing debut novel, If Only (available NOW).

IF ONLY  12/02/12

The rest (self-motivation to meet my own deadlines) is for me to own. I want my novellas to be the best it can be because my name is on that cover. Whether traditionally published or self-published, professionally edited or not, authors are ultimately responsible for the quality of their work. Writers are creative and talented people. They’re also supportive and love to share what works and what can be tossed out the window.
Basically, if you want to jump into self-publishing, there are lots of resources out there. Find them, embrace them and plow forward. The journey and experience is well worth it!

Bio:  Ashlyn Mathews is fascinated with strong men and women who walk a fine line between good and bad, solitude and loneliness, and love and duty. She lives in the inspiring gloom of the Pacific Northwest with her husband, four boys, and a Golden Retriever that enjoys bossing her around.
For more about Ashlyn Mathews, you can stalk her at:

Twitter:  @ashlynmathews


Changing Your Definition of Success by Tonya Macalino

Two years ago, I found myself at a turning point. The path I had chosen for my journey, the path to publication, looked grim. Ebooks and the economy had bookstores closing one after the other, publishing houses crumbling. Money had become more of an issue than ever and publishers could no longer afford to groom future bestsellers. You either came to the game with established celebrity, or, if you were lucky enough to get picked up without it, established that celebrity straight out of the gate—with little to no financial assistance.

And if you didn’t? Game over.

There were exceptions to the rule, of course, but as I had never been one for blackjack, roulette, or the slots, that did little to make the road look brighter. And then I started to see another trend: an uptick in self-publishing. Absolutely not. That was for the hacks, for the people who refused to believe the world when they were told their writing was drivel! But then I peeked through my fingers and saw little glow-lights flicker: the rise of the indie bestsellers, mid-listers from the traditional publishing world jumping ship, the development of user-friendly self-pub platforms by all the major booksellers. Eventually, the entrepreneur in me pulled those hands away from my author’s eyes.

Was it possible? Could I legitimately take control of my own writing career?

Image: © Xavier Mazellier

Where the entrepreneur in me vibrated with excitement to take advantage of a new business model while it was still in its infancy, the author in me dug in its heels, appalled. I had worked nearly every day of my life to achieve a singular definition of success: the validation of traditional publishing. I had skipped going out with friends to polish query letters. I had turned away from a much more lucrative career path of electrical engineering to refine my writing craft at an expensive liberal arts school…and lived for years on ramen and mac-and-cheese to pay it off. And all of this sacrifice for one goal: to achieve that validation.

And now I was expected to toss all of that aside? Not an easy sell.

Ultimately, I had to change my definition of what success would mean for me. I had to let go of my craving for the approval of the ancient publishing house gatekeeper. As an image that had burned archetypal in my mind for so long, I slowly came to realize that it had blinded me to the real goal of writing: moving readers. Readers. And now that the publishing technology and distribution architecture had developed this new path for the journey, I truly no longer needed to pay homage to the gatekeeper. A concept both freeing and frightening:

I was completely responsible for the quality of my own book. And directly answerable to my readers.


So have I achieved success? I would like to think so. (Although my pocket book occasionally complains to the contrary!) My readers, though, are passionate about the stories I’ve immersed them in and that’s what truly matters. And if sometimes I feel a lacking or a guilt when the spectre of the gatekeeper drifts through my mind?

I turn to him and I thank him for dropping by.

I thank him for reminding me of a childhood rich in quiet corners, stormy nights, and in dreams of faraway places. I thank him for a youth spent in long days at the keyboard, brave evenings before my critique group, and for the relentless focus in honing my craft.

I thank him for making me an author.

Bio: Tonya Macalino lives in Hillsboro, Oregon with her husband, children’s author Raymond Macalino, and their two wildly imaginative kids. She is an avid collector of folklore and folk history, far too many to fit comfortably within the pages of any given book! When not working on her latest urban fantasy thriller, she enjoys coaching other writers through the How to Build a Book workshops at Jacobsen’s Books & More. Tonya also acts as the Director of Events for NIWA, the Northwest Independent Writers Association.

You can find Tonya many places on the internet, including:


Paty Jager said...

It's interesting reading all the reasons all of us chose to self publish and go Indie. Everyone has the career in mind and keeping hold of the reins for where they want to go. Great posts!

Ashlyn said...

Thank you for having me as a guest on your wonderful blog. Like I mentioned, self-publishing is such a personal choice and it's great to read about others' journeys and decisions and to see how supportive the Pacific Northwest is regarding indie authors through created groups like NIWA. It makes the path less lonely for sure :)

Anna Brentwood said...

Thanks P.J., Ashlyn and Tonya ( and Paty) for sharing your experiences and viewpoints today. You are all always inspiring and in a way, pioneers and I wish you all the best success possible!

Judith Ashley said...

As one trailing in your wake, I want to Thank P.J., Ashlyn, and Tonya (as well as Anna and Paty yesterday) for not only blazing the trail, but sharing your tips on how to create a successful indie/self publishing career.

The Ten Lessons I've Learned From This Weekend's Guests
1. Write a Quality Book, including great cover and compelling story with few if any typos, spelling errors, etc.
2. Persevere
3. Build your 'tribe' of people who totally support you and your dream
4. Persevere
5. Promote
6. Persevere
7. Offer a helping hand to those around you on this journey
8. Persevere
9. Share what you know
10. Persevere

Dreams can be realized and goals attained!

B. A. Binns said...

This is just what I need, even more encouragement and assurance that I have made the right decision to do it myself. Not that I needed it, even with only one month behind me, this feels good and right.

I especially liked P. J. Cowan's story of the NIWA seal of quality. I spoke at a number of librarian conferences this year, and every time I mentioned Indie authors and books a groan went through the ranks. They all have horror stories of trying out books and finding a lack of quality made them useless for their collections. Because of the difficulty in getting reviews and other external markers of quality with Indie books, these kinds of organizations and seals of approval could make a difference for it's member authors when it comes to reassuring potential buyers and readers.

Tonya Macalino said...

Thanks so much for letting us drop by and share our stories! It is so interesting to hear the all different roads that can lead to the same destination. The path of an indie can definitely have its highs and lows, but there are so many of us out there now, there is no need to go it alone. And with these new NIWA standards settling into place, you not only get support but also the opportunity for validation. It's a great time to be an indie!

Pam said...

How nice to be so warmly welcomed. We are indeed part of a tribe and I'm thrilled to find more members for mine. I'm sure we'll see each other again because this tribe is small, but busy!