What One Self-Published Author Spent Publishing Two Books

Elle Mitchell — Author
An Idea (by Ingenious Piece)
9 min readNov 16, 2019

(And What I’ve Learned From It)

Cash on my open novel, sweethearts.

Brass tacks: I’ve spent quite a bit of money on my first two novels, and so far, I haven’t made enough in book sales between both books to pay myself back for even one of them. I know I will eventually, though.

I’m not saying this is everyone’s story. I’m also not saying this to scare anyone away from self-publishing. On the contrary, in fact. I just know now what value each item on my long list of purchases has yielded, and I want to share it with future self-publishers.

I will also share more information about the actual novels with you–not to sell my book, but rather to give you insight on what I put out into the world (genre, cover, synopsis). That being said, the three photo captions will have links to my online shop; you know, just in case.

Alright, strap in; there’s a lot to absorb.

My debut novel, I Never Stopped, is a magical realism romance and was released on December 28, 2018.

The first box of I Never Stopped from IngramSpark. That was a beautiful day.

Synopsis: Francesca’s partner–her everything–is dead. After eleven months of listless grief, Francesca leaves Sloane’s memory in San Francisco to visit Italy and her mother. Surrounded by fresh pasta, never-ending wine, and laughter, she finds moments of solace. When Francesca meets Cecelia–a complex love interest, she begins to picture a future without Sloane.

Unbeknownst to Francesca, Sloane can’t let go. Trapped in the mysterious afterlife of The Gray, she’s desperate to contact her love, but limited by forces she doesn’t understand. Though Francesca is so near Sloane can almost smell her hair, she’s always just out of reach. As Francesca’s wounds begin to heal in Italy, Sloane struggles with how her presence may affect Francesca’s tenuous new life.

Can Francesca start a new life in Italy, and will Cecelia be a part of it? And what will become of Sloane?


Advertising — $181.28

  • Goodreads Ads ($50) yielded nothing. I saw no sales bumps, no adds on the TBR shelves. Side note: These types of ads are no longer available. I’m not up-to-date on the newest kind.
  • Bookbub Click Ad ($14) yielded nothing. The money was per click and gone in less than a day, yet I got no sales from it.
  • Instagram Ads ($32.28) yielded about 10 steady followers and 600 likes spread out over a few photos. No sales despite the clicks to the Amazon page.
  • Ingram Advance ($85) yielded one sale. It’s specifically designed so libraries and larger bookstores can see your book, and I’m sure the sale from Smashwords was from a library. I got back $4.

Books — $431.79

  • Books To Sell ($346) was obviously a necessity. I wish I had ordered it earlier, as I had to pay extra for a rush shipping. It made the price per book go up–cutting into my profit margin by a little over a dollar.
  • Books For Reviews ($60.79) yielded little to nothing. I sent a book to a reviewer from BuzzFeed–almost $25 of the $61, and she never responded when I asked her if she received it. The other reviewers sent me personal emails telling me they loved it but never posted a review as promised. They could have told people about it and sold a book or two that way; I’ll never know.
  • Ingram Update ($25) was another necessity. I messed up the acknowledgments and needed them fixed before the final printing.

Marketing — $396.50

  • Staples Foam Book Cover ($32). It’s so amazing. The hubs told me he wanted one for each book cover to line the hallway with.
  • Image from Stocksy ($100) yielded a pretty image. I used it for a promo image, not the cover, as I’d initially thought. Still, I’m happy I got it. I foresee it ending up as a book cover someday, as I only used a portion of it for the promo.
  • Glassine Cards and Book Stickers ($80). I stuffed glassine envelopes with home-printed synopsis cards, dried flowers, and Moo round stickers with part of my book cover of them. They were great for photos and a neat talking point. I may have spent a little more than I should have, but I stand behind them.
  • Moo Business Cards ($52.50). Always a hit. Gorgeous cards, memorable. I put the synopsis on the back and my face on the front. I’ve had people come up to me at conferences asking if they could have one.
  • Business Card Holder ($7). Worth it.
  • City Book Review ($125) yielded a great blurb for the cover. In the end, it was just pretty words that made my book look more legit. It was a great ego boost, but I saw no sales–no one looked at it and said, “Wow! I better buy this because of the blurb.”

Supplies — $42.75

  • Signing Pens ($14). Totally worth it.
  • Tablecloth ($10) was another necessity for tabling at the event where I launched the book.
  • Giveaway Items ($18.75) yielded nothing. The giveaway winner left early, and the couple that got the basket and book never reviewed the book.

Total cost = $1052.32

I find regret to be a useless emotion. I mean, what does it do but make us feel bad? But still, I planned for book two to be cheaper and go more smoothly.

Book Two’s Game Plan:

  1. A lot of ads didn’t work for me. Why? I don’t know. I’m not a marketing person, so maybe it’s my verbiage or genre, or maybe it’s that Goodreads ads are best for well-known authors, and Bookbub readers were hoping for freebies. Either way, they aren’t for me.
  2. I’ll do Ingram Advance despite the lack of return because it’s the only way to possibly get noticed by some places.
  3. I’m going to be more strategic about reviewers–do more research on who I send them to. I’ll focus on Instagram; the book will get exposure that way no matter if they decide to review it elsewhere.
  4. Giveaways need to be handled differently. How? Not sure.
  5. Try a different blurb service, one with more oomph.
  6. Get another foam book cover.
  7. Buy the box of books as early as possible to keeps costs low. Aim for two to three months of cushion.
  8. Use any leftover materials from the glassine cards I have–try to stretch that.
  9. Try not to buy any images.

With that solid plan, I finished my next book and prepared to publish it.

My second novel, sweethearts, is suspense and was published on October 1, 2019.

Photo of sweethearts designed for a book fair event called Jolabokaflod PDX (in Portland, OR).

Synopsis: Twenty-nine years after finding Laura Hurst in a frozen lake, Ada Bailey decides it’s time to revisit Lynn Pond and confront the past. But Silynn holds more than memories.

Decades-old secrets tumble out as Ada explores the town she was sent away from. Her return dredges up more than sordid pieces of the townsfolk’s lives, though. Sam Pruette, a collector of innocents, worries Ada may remember details from that frigid day in November of 1988.

Laura was only the first sweetheart.


Advertising — $91

  • Instagram Ads ($6) yielded about 15 steady followers and 300 likes spread out over a few photos. I just wanted to put the word out about an event I was having, so I targeted my area. It yielded no sales or guests at my reading.
  • Ingram Advance ($85) may or may not have yielded a sale. As I mentioned before, it’s specifically designed so libraries and larger bookstores can see your book. I’ve had more sales for this book in two weeks than I have in almost a year of the other one, so this could be a contributing factor. I suppose I’ll never know.

Books — $532

  • Books To Sell ($282) was obviously a necessity. I did stay within my game plan and buy early. My profit margin is happier for it.
  • Books For Reviewers ($100) yielded a few sales. I was strategic this time–studied the bookstagrammers and reviewers. One reviewer wasn’t able to finish it, as it was too dark for them. Another didn’t care for it but gave me a review that I’m almost sure sold me a few books (that’s what I call a solid review). They talked about my writing style and the relatability of the characters. Another yielded me followers and hearts. The truth, though, is that two women who bought my book because they just wanted to each sold another one by posting about how much they loved it. They aren’t reviewers, just fans. How do I know they did? Moments–literally–after they tagged me, I got a book sale for both of my books on my website. So that’s something I’m keeping in mind.
  • Ingram Upload ($50). Another necessity. I couldn’t find a code this go-round. Next time, I think I’ll try to plan it around when I know codes tend to go out.
  • Ingram Updates ($100). Whelp, turns out I’m human. I changed up the cover, then needed to fix something. But hey, perfection isn’t a thing, so this is just part of the job–am I right?

Marketing — $378

  • Staples Foam Book Cover ($28). For my wall now, nothing else.
  • Review ($300) from a reputable site to remain nameless yielded a review I couldn’t use. Full disclosure: I got a three-star review. To me, that’s not bad, but it contained spoilers. They also wanted it to be focused on their favorite character–believing it was more their story than the others. It didn’t read like someone who was reviewing the body of work. I had one or two sentences I could use that talked about my language capturing the town and characters. I opted to have them remove it altogether.
  • Moo Business Cards ($26). As I say, a hit. Again, people asked for some. And again, I saved oodles by ordering early. Face on the front, synopsis on the back. This time, I stuff the glassine envelopes with them and a lock of hair. It took far less time and less money, as I already had leftover envelopes from the last book and hair from the book cover.
  • Moo Bookmarks ($24). They were actually “Rack Cards” I put two bookmarks on side-by-side and cut in half. They were cute. They yielded nothing.

Reading — $130.37

  • Giveaways ($34.97) were for the three best questions asked during my reading. They seemed to be a hit. There was a watch, a mug with hot cocoa, and a locket with a tiny book, a lock of hair, and three hearts in it.
  • Snacks ($61.40) were not touched much. I way overbought. See my article on book readings and expectations.
  • Sweetheart Polymer Clay Pins ($34) were loved so much. They took a ton of time, and I have a lot of craft materials waiting for another project, but they were so worth everything.

Supplies — $49.20

  • MyCustomCandy Sweetheart Candies ($34) for the cover. Incredible spend of money.
  • Hair Extensions ($10) for the cover and other marketing things. Totally worth it.
  • Charms ($3). I bought cute little metal bows to use in photos or some other creative way. That never happened. So they are in a drawer now.
  • Bricks ($1.20) are for bookends. I’m going to try a whole Pinterest thing. Fingers crossed I actually nail it.
  • Tablecloth ($1) for tabling at events. A new tablecloth for new events.

Total cost = $1180.57

So I spent more, not less. These things happen. But again, I learned a lot.

Book Three’s Game Plan:

  1. Don’t spend any more money on reviews or blurbs; let the readers do the talking.
  2. Send more ebooks to reviewers and fewer physical books. Keep physical books to a $30 limit.
  3. Ingram Advance is still a yes, but Instagram has become a no.
  4. Take a week’s break from my cover before uploading.
  5. Aim to spend $50 or less on solo readings; focus on one interesting thing (wine or cookies, for example).
  6. Try to keep Book Three under $800

#1 and #2 are the biggest lessons from this book.

I was already getting better with #3.

#4 is an easy one.

And as I’d not had a solo reading previous to Book Two, I couldn’t have known #5.

Wish me luck with #6!

Anyone else up to share their experiences? What have you learned?



Elle Mitchell — Author
An Idea (by Ingenious Piece)

Disabled dark fiction author and multidiscplinary artist and co-chair of Oregon HWA. website and newsletter: https://emitchellwrites.com