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This blog was featured on 01/15/2018
Taking Matters into Her Own Hands: A Novelist's Path to Self-Publishing
Written by
How She Does It
January 2018
Written by
How She Does It
January 2018

For the past eight years, Mohana Rajakumarwriter, mother, professor, and wifehas been living with her growing family in the Arabian Gulf country of Qatar. Her latest novel, An Unlikely Goddess, which released on Kindle two weeks ago, is the fourth one she has published, though it's the first she started. Here, she discusses her decision to self-publish--and the long journey it's taken her on.

I won the She Writes New Novelist award in 2011. That’s two years ago now, which seems like a long time to wait for the full thing to be published. If you go back to when I started writing the project, 2005, then it seems even longer.

While working for a publishing company, everywhere I went, I heard about e-books. The barrier to entry into the market was low. You could attract a fan base and, through these sales, an agent or publisher or both. Unlike paperback, e-books were easy to update and change, and not as expensive to produce.

I was fairly familiar with the fact that people don’t pay attention to one big splash as much as they do to a sequence of smaller ones. So I took all the work I had been writing, since 2010, and planned out my own release schedule.

In 2011-2012 my plan was to release one of my nine books as an e-book each month. These were manuscripts I had been working on over the last ten years. Like a child with too many hobbies, I had started these novels, memoir, and short story collections, had them rejected by agents, and shelved them.

I quit my job for a publishing company to focus on my writing because I was spending time promoting the work of other authors while mine languished on my hard drive. I wanted to build my author platform with some of the older projects and roll that following on to the newer projects, one of which was a novel set in Qatar.

As others have said, setting up your own production line can be cumbersome, but each of the steps is equally important. Because these manuscripts had been worked and reworked, I naively thought that with a bit of editing, proofreading, a nice cover, and formatting, they would all be up, kind of like the I Love Lucy episode when Lucille Ball is working in the bonbon assembly line.

Glitches. Glitches gave Lucille problems and us, the audience, giggles. Glitches messed with my perfect timeline.

I wasn’t a good editor of my own work, I quickly discovered. I needed to find an editor. While making a book trailer was easy and fun on iMovie, cover design was far beyond my capabilities—and the prices for these services varied widely, sometimes in the hundreds, others in the thousands.

I slowly, painstakingly, built a list of vendors whose services I trusted; I learned from small failures. I faltered often: some proofreaders did not catch all the errors. A designer charged me hundreds of dollars for a cover I didn’t use because she failed to mention she was counting hours, not tasks. A formatter gave me an electronic file riddled with problems.

Throughout the process, I developed a list of what happens for each book launch: edited manuscript, book cover, video trailer, and twenty-five reviews on the Amazon page. I realized there was another important step, perhaps unique to the type of books I write: I needed a cultural reader for each title because my characters are often non-Americans placed in foreign settings. While I am the child of immigrants and have lived overseas for a long time, I’m not necessarily an expert about Hinduism or Islam, two of the religions featured in my novels. Adapting my process to fit my style was key to providing the professional, commercial-level experience my readers expected.

I entered the world of blog tours, booking them, stopping in to say hello, offering contests so readers would be engaged. Again, prices matched the range of shoes I had in my closet: some under $50 and some in the several hundreds.

I engaged a social media expert to teach me about how to make the most of Twitter and my Facebook author page.

The freedom of self publishing is that you get to make the choices. The challenge is that you also get to pay the bills. Lucky for me, I grew more savvy at each of these tasks with each book.

With An Unlikely Goddess, for example, I was able to reach out to bloggers who had hosted me in the past (who I spent several hours creating a spreadsheet of details about) and ask if they wanted to host me. Because of that, I’ve had two posts a week scheduled since the book launched in mid-October.

All of this takes time, effort, and not an inconsiderable amount of money. The bottom line, however, is that my books are being read by real people. People who love them. People who want to read more of my books.

Instead of being told by agents that they “don’t know how to sell it” or “that the writing is good but the book isn’t for me,” I am able to market to readers directly.

Yes, as in the case of this latest novel, the process has been years in the making. But I see putting in the effort as a way of honoring the time I put in to write the book in the first place.

The most important thing, however, is that I continue to learn so much about writing, editing, and storytelling with each publication. I have one book left in my lineup, the one I started with three years ago. But I am planning on doing NaNoWriMo again next month . . .

For more about Mohana and An Unlikely Goddess, visit Mohana's website, www.mohanalakshmi.com.


* This post was originally published in August 2016.

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  • Mohana Rajakumar

    That's great news Karen. Very difficult, like allowing your child to move out, but important if we want to make the most of our treasure in the world :).

  • Karen A Szklany Writing

    Thank you for sharing your journey with us in this very informative and enjoyable post! I am in the process of building a better platform for a how-to gardening book that I wrote for a small publisher in Florida in 2010. If I can generate interest so that I can sell at a modest profit the 25 copies I bought from my publisher at a steep discount in a short period of time, I'll be ready to work with more focus and energy on a book that has yet to be published and is closer to my heart. I want to do it right, so I am practicing what I have learned from blogs here on SheWrites before I put myself out there with a beloved "baby," which I have been working on and off to finish for the past 5 years.

  • Mohana Rajakumar

    Thanks Kamy! Networks like this are so important to giving us the confidence to tell our stories. I hope you run another one soon. Would be interesting to hear from the other winners of that year as well.

  • Kamy Wicoff Brainstorming

    Mohana thank you so much for sharing this with our community--and as one of the judges for the finalists of the She Writes "We Love New Novelists" contest (we need to run another one!), I can attest to the beauty and power of your work. I hope many more readers discover it, and commend you on your belief in yourself and in your work...and in your audience, which I am confidence is out there.

  • Mohana Rajakumar

    Thank Perle. The post NaNo work is as important as meeting the daily word count during November. Take out one of the manuscripts you feel the most strongly about and consider sending it to an editor. They often don't charge for an assessment and can tell you how close they think you are to a finished product. You can send me a message with more details as well if you want me to have a look. Good luck! The important thing is that you don't stop writing.

  • Perle Champion

    Thanks for a lot of good information. Just visited your website and am encouraged to read that you turned your NaNoWriMo writing into published work.  I've moved to NaNoLand every November since 2004, but everyone of those manuscripts languishes in a dark drawer, flashdrive or the cloud somewhere.  This year I'm determined to follow through.  Thanks for the encouraging post.  If you want a buddy on NaNo, my handle is perlesrose.  Thanks again.