How I came to self-publish

by Helen Ross
(Brisbane, Australia)

My first book, Ten Yellow Bananas

My first book, Ten Yellow Bananas

I didn't want to be dependent.

From an early age, I had been trying to find my niche. At 27 years I penned my first poem, "Lulu, the Gorgeous Gorilla" as part of a drama assignment.

In 1990 I began a Diploma in Writing course by correspondence. Then I won first prize (children’s poetry category) in a writing competition (short stories and poetry) for my humorous poem, "Magpie Mania" (using pen name, Jean Ross).

As I have always been independent and resourceful, I began to read everything and anything on self-publishing. I believed that with the skills and experiences I had acquired over the years, I could take on the various roles required of a self-publisher – writer, illustrator, publicist, distributor, business person, etc.

Although most of the articles I have read on self-publishing have tended to err on the "don’t bother to self-publish" side, I have also read of the horror stories of published authors horrified with their book cover; authors stating that they believed that their publishers didn’t push their book enough and consequently didn’t achieve many sales; authors disappointed with the illustrations; and of course, for most authors, only receiving 7-10% of sales, etc.

I haven’t really felt disgruntled with the publishing industry, as I have never really sent out a great deal of manuscripts. But I have never wanted to risk the possibility of months and years of sending manuscripts to publishers and receiving rejection slips in the mail.

Once I discovered my niche, my dream was to see my work in print whilst putting a smile on a young reader's face. As such, I didn’t want to be dependent on someone else determining whether I achieved my dream or not.

In 2004, at age 47 (where had the time flown?), having gone through a number of career changes, I felt that this was the time to begin a new chapter and actively pursue the path of self-publishing - to devote my time to writing and illustrating. I tried to think how I would feel at the age of 70 if I hadn’t at least tried. My answer was that I would have been very disappointed with myself.

I felt that, even if I didn’t have any success with my writing as a self-publisher, I would still would still be proud of myself for at least having had a go.

The future me wouldn’t think of myself as a failure, but rather as having had the guts to do it.

The bottom line is I didn’t want to be dependent on a publisher deciding whether my book was marketable or not. I didn’t want to be dependent on someone else determining whether I achieved my dream of being a published children’s author/illustrator.

I believed that I could take on the many roles of a self-publisher. And with a little organisation, I felt that I could juggle this pursuit whilst still working full-time as a teacher.

However, the road to self-publishing has not been without hiccups and disappointments.

By March, 2005, I had set up the basics for my business (business name, ABN, etc.). My plan to have my first book in the printing stage by mid-2005 took a back step when my husband suffered a heart attack at Heathrow airport whilst boarding a plane to Canada (as part of our month "round-the-world" trip).

I spent the next six/seven months looking after him whilst trying to at least make a start on my first book. The fact that I was actually actively pursuing this road made me happy, even whilst dealing with the stress of worrying about my husband’s health.

Early 2006, I attended a "Meet the Publishers" seminar (in Australia), which didn’t paint a favourable picture of the prospects of finding a publisher, as most publishers "had closed their books" till at least 2008 and were stating that "It isn’t easy to get a publishing contract."

While most of the audience felt disheartened, I felt I had taken a very positive step, as my first book, "Ten Yellow Bananas," had just gone to print.

Upon its release (March, 2006) I felt I had actually achieved my dream. And the fact that people and libraries were buying my books (and still are) was really just an added bonus.

Of course I didn’t do it alone. I used the services of an excellent graphic artist student (now professional) to assist me in the layout, and I found an excellent printing company, plus I have a very supportive husband. Also, I have researched numerous books and material on self publishing to assist in the process.

In October, 2006 (I was turning 50 in November), I released my second children’s book, "Santa is in Our Chimney." I had lots of promotional activities planned for the next few weeks, and thankfully my local library and newspaper were happy to promote my books and me.

Also, in March, 2007, I was awarded an arts grant, from my local and state government, to undertake further professional development in writing and illustrating children’s books.

Currently, I am working on a compilation of children’s poems to be released in early 2008, and, hopefully, the process will be a little easier.

However, now that I have self published and have attended a lot of bookshows and promotional events, I have learnt a great deal of information through networking. I have also become aware of other publishing companies that do traditional publishing as well as offer assistance to the self publisher.

For my next book I will be using the expertise of one of these publishers to help me further as I happily continue down the road as a self publisher author.

Self-publishing isn’t easy but, providing you don’t go in with eyes closed, it is very rewarding.

Having full control over the book and making "executive" decisions (including story, illustrations, book cover and layout, marketing, etc.) is not always easy. Also, you can’t please everyone, and even though I undertake a lot of target marketing before the final print, I can’t gauge everyone’s reactions.

You do your best and you believe in yourself (though it's hard at times). Essentially, there is a market out there for most books, but you do have to tap in on it. And once you do, you keep on tapping. And you keep on learning.

© Helen Ross 2007

For further information about Helen and her books, please visit her website. Read a more detailed self publishing How To written by Helen.

Comments for How I came to self-publish

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Aug 25, 2009
by: Brian Tieba

Helen, your experience has been an inspiration to me as a first time writer/self-publisher. Your thoughts have really helped me to market my first book, "The Two Mountains," here in Papua New Guinea.

I wish to be part of your network. My email address is

Dec 30, 2007
Impressed by your diligence...and independence.
by: Steve B.

Helen, it's clear you approached this as a job (albeit one you seem to have enjoyed!), and that's what impresses me most. Thank you for all the detail, which serves as an important reminder:

It's all about details.

If you want to just sit home and write (and illustrate) children's books, then self publishing isn't for you! It's about work and putting yourself out there. Thanks for sharing so generously!

Dec 30, 2007
Following your dream
by: Lp

Congratulations on your self publishing success. Ain't midlife experience grand? Especially if you have a supportive spouse.

I think you have realized, like I have, that the traditional book publishing industry is going the way of the music industry, i.e. small niche publishers and "indie" publishing. All we need now is a good online independent book distributor equivalent to cdbaby or others like them.

The one advantage we have over music is that customers can't download free copies of our books off the internet - yet.

I'd be happy to be part of your self-publishing network. You can connect with me at


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