• Angela Tung
  • The Road to Self-Publishing: What I've Learned So Far
The Road to Self-Publishing: What I've Learned So Far
Written by
Angela Tung
April 2011
Written by
Angela Tung
April 2011

I used to think self-publishing was for losers, that "vanity" presses were named so for a reason. Looking at the debate on Elle Symonds' blog post, it seems others feel - or felt - the same way. Now here I am getting ready to self-publish my memoir, and I'm having a ball.  Here's why and what I've learned so far.


No more waiting. I've been working on my memoir for the past several years. I've had it workshopped a couple of times and received both helpful critique and encouraging feedback. I queried lots of agents. LOTS. I took a half-day course about polishing my agent letter. I entered lots of contests, and got one honorable mention.

Some agents I simply never heard back from.  A few rejected me quickly, and on very kindly took the time to give me concrete feedback.

I knew my book could be better, and took the agent's feedback to heart.  I reread my memoir and realized she was right: I sped over important parts; I didn't linger enough. I took a year and added whole chunks, filled out entire sections. I read it again, and was, finally, satisfied.

Now what?  Another round of queries?  More contests?  More waiting?

I inched another year closer to 40 and thought, SCREW IT. I'm publishing this mofo myself.

LESSON LEARNED: Wait a little while. Try your hardest. But then know when it's time to stop waiting and take the reins yourself.


Now's the right time. In October 2009 I quit my job to move from New York to San Francisco and write full-time (with my boyfriend's support and encouragement).  Before October, I had had a few things published over the years.  A YA novel back in 1999.  A couple of short stories in 2004.  A personal essay in 2006.  Few and far between.

Suddenly, now that I was devoting all my energy to writing, I was getting published left and right. I joined The Nervous Breakdown and started writing for The Frisky. I entered contests and submitted to magazines. A year and a half later I have a good-sized network of writer friends and a small fan base.

LESSON LEARNED: Prime the market. Develop a fan base through other writing. Support other writers. Give and you shall receive.

Getting a little help from my friend. They say don't judge a book by its cover, but who are we kidding? We do. If I'm not looking for something specific in a store, my eye is drawn to appealing and striking art work and design, or else to a look that is similar to another book I've liked.

For my memoir cover, I knew I wanted a black angelfish to reflect the title, Black Fish: Memoir of a Bad Luck Girl. The black fish was the first gift I gave my ex-husband. He loved it, but little did I know his superstitious Korean mother would consider it bad luck, and would thereafter blame me for all their misfortunes.

As I'm not visually inclined, I could have done some lame clip art, but then I suddenly remembered: I have a friend who's a kick-ass letterpress card designer. Duh!

LESSON LEARNED: You probably already know talented people. Use them. Pay them. Promote their work.


Marketing marketing marketing. I came from marketing. I hated it. But marketing for myself is something else entirely. I can be as creative as a I want. For instance, to kick this whole thing off, I'm holding a contest asking readers to help me pick a memoir cover.  The prize for one randomly drawn voter?  A free copy of my book and beautiful letterpress cards from my cover designer.  Not only do I market myself, I market my friend.  Genius, if I do say so myself. ;)

Now I just need to keep marketing till the book comes and after. Forever! But at the same time, I need to strike the balance between being too little and too much information.

LESSON LEARNED: Marketing will make the difference. In the comments in Elle Symond's blog post on self-publishing, someone wrote that self-publishing risks being self-printing.  I think how you market your work makes the difference.  Who cares if your book is available on Lulu if no one knows about it?


I will still try the traditional publishing route.  Someday, if I ever finish the novel that's in my head.  But if that doesn't work, self-publishing will definitely be an option.

Let's be friends

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  • Angela Tung

    tosh, thanks for reading and checking out the covers! i'm planning on posting today about the "winner" of the contest, as well as which cover i picked.

  • Totsymae

    This was a great read and encouraging. Looking forward to the memoir. By the way, I like cover no. 4 on your blog.


    My best to you.

  • Angela Tung

    thanks cathy! i'm glad it was useful to you.

  • Angela Tung

    Thanks Louisa! I'm definitely having fun, and will be gleaning your blog posts for advice. :)

  • M. Louisa Locke



    Lovely post. You can imagine that my impatience was even greater as I edged close to 60, and I have ended up having the time of my life as an indie author. Just think of all the books you will have published one way or the other by the time you get to my age!

    Good luck on the sales of your memoir.


  • Angela Tung

    Rebecca, that is really encouraging to hear. No, I haven't seen that blog yet but I will definitely check her out. One of my former teachers mentioned Amanda Hocking, whose self-published supernatural romances have sold something like 300,000 copies! If I sell 300, I'd be over the moon. :)