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Inkcouragement: Self- vs. Traditional Publishing

Deirdre Riordan Hall talks about her experience on both sides of the publishing aisle.

Inkcouragement: Self- vs. Traditional Publishing

I'm delighted to be guesting on Forever Young Adult and posting for the Inkcouragement series. I'm a super word nerd and am always happy to talk about writing and books (and tacos, but we can cover that another time).

I'm here to discuss being a hybrid author: both self-published (also known as indie) and traditionally published. Automobile associations aside, when I use the term hybrid I seriously feel like a mutant, the Marvel kind with super powers. Fitting with my hybrid status, I'd be a combo of Domino and Dazzler.

Source: 1 and 2  

(Why haven't they made their big-screen appearance?!) My writing super powers would be to create more time and transcribe my thoughts directly into a computer document. (But unfortunately, those 2 a.m. ideas never quite have the same sparkle in the light of day.)

When writing young adult and new adult, (even mg) I like to explore paradox, contrast, and dive into the duality that renders life in shades of gray rather than black or white and this or that. Looking at the bigger picture of my life, I find a trend: I grew up on welfare, and went to a boarding school. I had children young and finished college. I'm on the PTA and I surf. My body can't absorb processed sugar, but I wrote a book by the same name. I've been writing for over a decade, because it's both a want and a need. So, in many ways it makes sense for me to have one foot on the indie path and the other in tradish. As you can see, I'm into ands rather than ors.

What made you decide to self-publish?

Once upon a time, I imagined myself bursting onto the publishing stage singing a show tune about my arrival. I've made it! I'm here! Read my words! Suffice it to say, that's not exactly how it went. My first manuscript was a disaster, but it holds a special place in my heart because it told me I could write a story with likable and relatable characters, sizable stakes, and compelling conflicts even though it may have lacked a certain spark. (By the way, it's called The Spark, so there's that.) Anyway, I queried agents, participated in workshops, and entered contests. And all I heard was wah, wah.

But I didn't let the chorus of nos from agents and publishers stop me. Nuh uh. What did I do?

I kept writing. I wrote several more books. And when the nos came again, I wrote another and another.

I kept writing. I've written over twenty books and logged well over five-hundred queries for various manuscripts in middle grade, young adult, and new adult over the years. I've even written a few picture books and screen plays.

Somewhere in the tangle of late night writing sprints, I became aware of the fiction category new adult. It was bold, salty, smexy! One of the novels I'd written, To the Sea, fit neatly into this post high-school contemporary romance spot on the bookshelf. I soon discovered that many of these titles were self-pubbed, so after some research I pulled myself up by my punk-rock, DIY bootstraps, and thought, I can do this too. I soon began to create a social media presence, learned the rules of formatting for digital, and looked into the various publishing platforms. In other words, I took what was otherwise soul-crushing (the resounding no from the publishing world) and transformed it into an opportunity for growth.


Then I went on to write a companion novella, and two more full-length novels with companion novellas, packaging it all under the title, The Follow your Bliss series.

I won't lie. I've hit a few brick walls. The editing in my indies isn't perfect, the stories might lack in some places, and like an addict, I sometimes can't help but look at the reviews as bad as they make me feel the morning after. Ouch.

But a lesson emerged and it wasn't simply write more and write better, though I did learn that too. It was patience, because just around the corner came a call. Or rather, an email to my Etsy account, but we'll get to that.

How did you handle editing and publicity when you self-published? Did you feel happy with the results? Were there any resources you found especially helpful?

I handled editing and publicity in two ways: did it myself and collaborated with other authors, bloggers, and unicorns—they fully support people taking big risks in the pursuit of magic, dreams, and related endeavors.

Although I did really well in AP English, I'm convinced I left those particular brain cells at a few too many late night parties (aka being up in the middle of the night with my babies.) Ok, and actual parties, but that was a looonnnggg time ago. However, I created a multi-step process to catch typos, errors, etc.

1) Use the grammar check feature on Word, but don't rely on it. Sometimes I'm not sure we're operating in the same language.

2) Read aloud, full of inflection and gusto! Ignore the cat when she looks at you sideways.

3) Print a copy and read that. Coffee rings on the pages are a must.

4) Upload the manuscript to digital (ereader/Kindle) and give it yet another go.

5) Give anyone willing to read the thing a copy and see what they come up with using their red pen because another set of eyes or ten will always catch mistakes. And be sure to tell them to be ruthless (but ignore these folks if they tell you your story is crap. They obviously don't know what they're talking about. *Revising for story, plot, characterization, etc. comes long before step one. That's when you give the ms to your most trusted, kind, and yes, honest, beloveds to read, but you knew that already.) 

Oh and be sure to space these things out over weeks and months and yes, even years. If I learned nothing else during this journey, it's patience and please, please, please take it from me, taking your time is well worth it!

As for promo, I jumped into the social media world on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Goodreads. I used Wattpad, did Twitter chats, hung out on Google, participated in giveaways, contests, blog hops, and cast the net as wide as I could. I made a splash by being myself, connecting, interacting, and learning from other authors. And to further the marine references, I am a firm believer in the saying, "A rising tide lifts all boats," so I try to support other authors and be generous with my readers. I put together a prequel and sequel novelette for the Follow your Bliss series called Through the Jungle and it's forever free.

As for specifics, when it comes to promotion, look for my debut non-fiction book BOOK PROMO 365 coming out in September. I'll be sharing all of my tools, ideas, and suggestions for how to reach readers. Doing one item a day lends potency, energy, and momentum to our work as writers and authors that I believe can make a big difference.

How did you get a traditional publishing deal? Was there anything that surprised you about the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing?

In the midst of self-publishing, periodically querying agents, and entering various manuscripts in contests, I received a notification from my Etsy dashboard. I had an email waiting.

The editorial Leader at Skyscape Publishing inquired as to whether I'd be interested in pursuing traditional publishing with my novel SUGAR. *At the time, the contact form on my website wasn't working and I had an Etsy store for Follow your Bliss merch so she tried me there. But I digress…

I had one of those time freezing moments. I sat there, staring at my laptop screen wondering if what I was reading was true. My mouth hung open; I may have drooled a little. Then I was out of my chair, squee-ing, throwing confetti, screaming and singing that show tune on a stage of my own creation and cheering. Okay, the confetti came later. But yes, yes, I replied that I would love to pursue traditional publishing because SUGAR was written from a brave place in my heart and if given the chance to share it far and wide, I couldn't say no.

When looking at my experience in self-publishing and traditional, again it's a study in contrasts.


First, there was a contract and an advance. Commitments! Money!

Then I was partnered with a developmental editor and we looked at plot, pacing, and the overall direction of the story.

After that came line and copy edits and proof reading.

In there came cover design, teaming with publicists and marketing to best position the book.

What I love about partnering with Skyscape is the collaboration aspects. Working with skilled, intelligent, and creative people who love books as much as I do was such an incredible pleasure. On several different levels, they saw things in the story and in me that we were able to draw forth or refine, putting polish on us all once the final product hit the shelves.


As an indie, your contract is with yourself to create the best possible book you can. The money, well, as much as I want my writing career to support my family, as an indie and a trad, I'm still working on that so…don't put all your eggs in your purse or count your chickens or any of that. Write. Work smart. Be kind, courageous, and patient. Oh…and if writing is in your blood and bones, don't give up, ever. I believe there's a story in each of us that only we can tell so take your time and tease it out.

When it comes to editing, for those first new adult titles, I did much of it myself. There are friends, betas, and professional editors who you can bribe or hire to help and yes, they're usually worth every penny, bit of insight, and encouragement.

The cover design is all you, baby! If you're creative and visual, this is a bonus. I created all of my indie covers mostly because at that point in time dinner usually consisted of rice and beans and I couldn't divert that cash to cover creation. (Dinner often still consists of rice and beans, but usually with cheese and always by choice!)

As for promotion, I learned quickly that if I wanted people to read my books, I had to put myself out there, which isn't always easy for those of us who tend toward introversion.

The great thing about going the indie route is creative control and the little pat on the back I can give myself for doing something, start to finish, independently. Plus there's the amazing community of fellow authors, plus an abundance of bloggers and supporters who love books. And don't forget the unicorns!

If you had it to do over again, would you change anything about your journey?

I'm so grateful for this winding, lesson-filled, growth-promoting, adventurous publishing journey so I don't know that I'd change anything in particular because it's what got me here, today, to this moment, to this blog post, and to you, dear reader.

But if this was a would you rather and I had to answer or dive into a writhing pit of snakes, cockroaches, and gelatin, if I had to do it all over again, I'd hire a professional editor on the indie side and work with an agent on the traditional side—I'm currently pursuing on the latter. But I wouldn't change a thing for SUGAR or my most recent traditional release, PEARL.

Also, I'd take a patience pill. Do those exist yet? Because I could really use one. Kidding. I've learned my lesson. Mostly. Actually, that's not true. I'm only patient on Fridays and when I'm at the beach. But on the rest of the days, I'll keep writing—and I hope you do too.

Deirdre Riordan Hall is the author of young adult and new adult fiction. She spends her days writing at her custom-made desk--imagining and creating worlds--, being a complete and utter Harry Potter nerd with her family, or seaside, pretending she's a mermaid. Also chips, salsa, and guacamole are absolutely acceptable for breakfast.

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