My path to publication wasn't so much a path, as much as it was an experiment. Before I ever sat down to (try) and write a novel I was already fascinated with the whole independent/self-publishing movement. I've always been self-employed, and self-published (but only as a songwriter to this point), and I've always had a professional interest in new markets and emerging technologies; in this case, markets and tech like Kindle Direct Publishing.

As an avid reader and techno-junkie, I was into eBooks as soon as I got my first iPod. It didn't take long before I started coming across all the self-pubbed books on Amazon. I was pleasantly surprised when I quickly came across several talented, independent writers who were putting out great books and having real success all on their own. I was very impressed with how Amazon had everything set up, with reader reviews and the whole "people who bought this book also bought that book" thing. It's a great way to explore books and find new writers. But it also ignited my entrepreneurial spark as much as my creative spark. I couldn't help but think, "why not me?"

I'd never written a novel (my writing background is as a scriptwriter). I'd tried to write a novel a couple of times but failed miserably. It was something I still wanted to do, and now I saw a real opportunity. I was motivated. I also needed a plan.

I started doing all sorts of research, charting the sales of these new, indy-authors, examining the paths they had taken; everything from their publishers, editors, formatting, the cover designers they'd chosen, their marketing and their blogs and websites. I even studied publishers criteria for timeframes for delivering manuscripts, what they pay in advances (or don't pay). It didn't take long before I started to see patterns forming - why certain independent books were finding readers, while others would forever remain at the bottom of the rankings, sometimes regardless of the quality of writing (but that's a whole 'nother topic for discussion - drop me a line and let's chat!).

At this point I still didn't have an idea for a book. Like I said: "Ass backwards." But, I now had my path to publication. I had a budget mapped out for editing and for cover designs. I came up with a budgetary formula based on a percentage of the sales goals I had set for myself. It worked out to about 30% of my (hoped for) gross revenue. I also had my time budgeted. Now, acting as my own 'publisher' I put myself on a deadline. I 'hired' myself to deliver a manuscript on time. I was going to write a novel in six months (from first draft to final edit), hire editors and designers and publish it myself. Then write three more novels in the next two years. (I'm totally behind schedule on that front).

Now, I hope I don't give the impression that I was doing this as a lark. I have huge respect for anyone who can complete a novel. I also take writing very seriously. I've studied writing, hold two writing degrees (not that that means anything), I've taught creative writing, and been lucky enough to sell the first screenplay I ever wrote. I've even had my plays produced. I've just never written a novel before. And I definitely didn't think it would be easy. This was an experiment. These were just targets.

There were a lot of false starts when it came time to doing the actual writing; lots of panic and crippling self-doubt. It was an emotional roller coaster to be sure. But, yes. The book got done! One more milestone on the path complete.

With the first draft done, I immediately started work on the cover, as well as my web site. The biggest mistake I see people make is to leave the cover to the end. Big, big mistake. Trust me. I did design work for fifteen years. Everyone leaves it to the end. Then they get rushed, the cover sucks, and their project is a flop. Lesson learned: start your cover early! The cover is soooo important. It's the first thing people see. It shouldn't be left as an afterthought. Gah! (sorry for the lecturing).

The most challenging part of the path was still to come, though. Editing. My first editor didn't work out at all, and I lost a good two months. Even while I was looking for a new editor I didn't realize just how much I needed one. I really thought all I needed was  a good proof-reader. But that two month lull turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. While my search for an editor continued, it gave me time to dissect the book and come to the conclusion that I needed a real editor, and not just a proof reader.

Again, I got really, really lucky to find the editor I did. Fortunately, there's lots of freelance editors out there, and they're all willing to give sample edits. It was a stressful process, just like trying to find a good illustrator for my cover, but find him I did. Working with my editor was one of the most satisfying creative experiences I've had. Up until then, writing the novel was a solitary experience, but suddenly, it was a very collaborative effort. I still shudder to think of how close I came to not finding him, and how the book might have turned out had I not.

Side Rant/Plea To Other Indy Writers: Meet with lots of editors! Find the one who 'gets you.' And never, ever, make the mistake of thinking you can't afford the service. You can't afford not to hire an editor.

My editor also took care of all my formatting for Kindle and ePub, so that was another piece of the puzzle falling into place. After  that, all that was left was to upload the book to Amazon, iTunes, etc., and then wait. I was about to find out if this 'experiment' was going to work or not.

What still blows my mind, to this day, was that I didn't have to wait long to find out (things went very well).  Now, I just have to finish this next novel and see if the whole thing was a fluke.

Post Script: I suppose I could have just said, I hit the upload button. Welcome to the world of ePublishing.

~Cary Caffrey
February 2013

Cary Caffrey grew up reading vintage science fiction from the 60’s and 70’s, loving the works of Harry Harrison and Joe Haldeman, Ursula K. Le Guin, Andre Norton and, of course, Douglas Adams. He still thinks The Forever War may very well be the best Science Fiction novel ever written. "If Ridley Scott ever gets off his can and makes this movie, we're sure to be in for a real treat (favourite director, meet favourite writer. Favourite writer meet... Well, you get the idea. Wild)."



  1. I will always remember that you and I began this experimental path at about the same time, Cary. Like you, I'm very glad I did. The experience has been mostly positive--negativity coming only from a handful of peers, none of whose opinions I regard any more.

    Thanking you for sharing your process with us!

    :) Heidi

    1. You and TK are constant reminders to me that I need to pick up the pace and finish my next book. You are both massively prolific (and talented!).

  2. Replies
    1. Good. Inspiring is much better sounding than 'mind-numbing.' ;)

    2. Now you must post a new one in your own blog about those 'patterns' you noticed while researching. You can't just leave it hanging there! *wags finger*

  3. My apologies for the typos! See - editors are essential! Actually, for this post, I need an editor to tell me to "trim that! Cut this!"

  4. That's a really interesting approach to self publishing, Cary. Best of luck with getting the sales!

  5. Holy spams! You gotta' love the comments from 'Anonymous.'

    1. Sorry, Cary. I thought all those comments were going to the spam folder--most were, as I get about a dozen each day.

      Had to put the captcha back on.

      ;) Heidi

    2. But they were such positive spams! (so encouraging). Was it wrong to follow the links and give out my personal info?


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