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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Interview with Heather Day Gilbert, Author of the Indie Publishing Handbook

(~from Heather Day Gilbert) This is an unusual post, because it's actually my last post for Novel Rocket as a member of Ground Control. I've LOVED my year at Novel Rocket, interviewing people and sharing indie information with readers. But as my own indie career lifted off (a little rocket humor there), I realized I had to pull back on blogging and focus on writing/publishing books.

Friend and follow indie author Ron Estrada agreed to ask me some final indie-oriented questions for this interview. I appreciate his willingness to do so and will share that with you below.

Here's a little bio on who I am so you can find me on the web, post-Novel Rocket. :)

Author Heather Day Gilbert

HEATHER DAY GILBERT has independently published four books. Her debut novel, God's Daughter, has remained on the Amazon Norse Bestseller list and Amazon Norse Top-Ranked list for over one year. Her contemporary mystery, Miranda Warning, is the successful start to the Murder in the Mountains series. Her Indie Publishing Handbook: Four Key Elements for the Self-Publisher shares focused advice on four key steps in the indie publication process. You can find Heather at her website, She is also active on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Indie Publishing Handbook: Four Key Elements for the Self-Publisher on Amazon

About Indie Publishing Handbook: Four Key Elements for the Self-Publisher

Are you dreaming of your own career as an independent author and self-publisher? 

This concise handbook covers the four key elements every self-publisher must oversee for successful book publication: (1) editing, (2) creating cover art and blurbs, (3) formatting and uploading books, and (4) marketing. Focused advice will help you maneuver these key elements, whether you outsource or learn to master them yourself. 

You'll also find a bonus section with practical tips from seasoned independent authors. 

Indie Publishing Handbook: Four Key Elements for the Self-Publisher is your one-stop for basics on everything you need to get started and excel as an independent publisher.

Indie Publishing Interview with 
Author Heather Day Gilbert

by: Ron Estrada

RE: What should an unpublished author consider before going indie?

HG: Great question. I would say costs could be a factor, but then again, it is possible to indie publish at a relatively low cost if you can do things yourself or exchange services. My debut novel was produced for...I would say under $200. Maybe more like $100. But I was blessed with a brother who designed my cover and agent edits. Not to mention a crit partner who helped me upload and showed me how to format.

My debut novel, God's Daughter

But the primary thing to consider is the time commitment. You need time to make sure your edits are in place; time to land on the perfect cover; time to upload your books and check proof copies of softcovers; and MOST of all, you need to have time to market.

Yes, you can streamline the process for sure. But for that debut novel, you want to take time to nail all the four key elements covered in my Indie Publishing Handbook (editing; cover art/blurb; formatting/uploading; and marketing) as best you can right out of the gate.

RE:  I always hear “You have to write a series!” But I prefer to write stand-alone books. Will I have trouble being successful as an indie?

HG: You know, just a couple of months ago, I would've said yes, series are the only way to go. It's true, series can boost sales, especially if you have several books to release in a short period of time. It's also true going permafree (permanently free, as Traci Hilton talked about in this excellent Novel Rocket post) with your first in series can drive sales to the rest in the series.

BUT. Lately I've seen fellow indies find success with standalone books. Sally Bradley's Kept, for example. What happens with a standalone is that you don't limit yourself to one genre, and you're not releasing only the first in series, which leaves readers hanging on the line waiting for the next. I should know--I've done that twice! I have two starts to vastly different series out (Viking historical and Contemporary Appalachian mystery). I have readers waiting for the next books in both, and I probably ticked some off when I announced I was following up on the mystery series this year and putting off the Viking sequel until 2016-ish. ;)

So short answer long, I would recommend doing a series if you have at least two books ready to roll in pretty short order. However, even if you don't have two books in the series, sometimes it's just about stepping into the pool and getting your feet wet. Any book out (whether the start to a series or standalone) is a book in your repertoire, able to garner readers, so just make sure it's a humdinger! 

RE: Where and how should I market my self-published books? The options are overwhelming and I have so little time.

HG: Oh, dude, I hear that. I'm telling you, I've been marketing my books non-stop for over a year now. I watch the sales and when the numbers dip, I (obsessively) start casting around for a new marketing angle, be it a new review site, taking out an ad, running a special or giveaway, etc. It's exhausting and I'm officially pulling back on that draining "technique."

I really think it's different for every book, every genre. (Click to Tweet!) For me, I was blessed by going with a Christian review site (The Book Club Network). Although there was expense involved, such as sending out softcovers, it was well worth it to latch onto new and enthusiastic readers.

One of my other most successful techniques was ye olde going free on Amazon. Many say it's becoming passe, because people already have too many free books loaded on their e-readers. However, if you advertise at free book sites such as ENT (E-Reader News Today), you can find many new readers and simultaneously garner a number of reviews.

However, you run the risk of getting low reviews from readers who load random e-books without reading blurbs or sample chapters. It was a risk I was willing to take, but now that I'm about three books into the process, I've decided freebies aren't going to be part of my marketing arsenal so often (though I'm not eliminating the possibility of permafree with a first in series). But for the debut author, freebies and giveaways (such as softcover giveaways on Goodreads or on a blog tour) can be invaluable and build your readership quickly. 

One final strategy: as much as possible, be everywhere. I know that's literally impossible, but when you share pinnables and quotes from your book, when you tweet about your book, when you do an extensive blog tour, you'd be surprised that people often find you instead of you having to go out and find them. This is how I was contacted by a Canadian museum and also by a park in Colorado. Indies can reach all over the world with our books, which is so amazing to me.

So, bottom line: it's a hit and miss process. I would just recommend not spending big bucks right off the bat, as you're building your initial pile of royalties from that debut novel. Then for your second book, you'll have more income to play with. Of course, this is assuming you're as strapped for cash as I tend to be. LOL.

RE: Should I self-publish print books as well? 

HG: I really think it depends on the intent of your book and the reader demographic. For example, with my fiction, I'd be a fool not to get softcovers, because I do book signings and they demand it. Also, my local readers tend to read softcovers. Finally, my readers are ready to purchase softcovers the minute I announce the book has released (I love this! But I was unprepared for it with my debut. It took me a few weeks to get my first softcover loaded/proofed and some of the buzz had dropped off by then).

However, for my Indie Publishing Handbook, I decided to go e-book only for launch. This is because I assumed authors considering indie publishing would have to have to know how to navigate e-readers anyway! LOL.

But on the other hand, if I ever take my Indie Publishing Handbook to a writer's conference, I might try to get a softcover version up for distribution. That's what I mean by discerning the intent of your book.

RE: How do I design a cover?

HG: Cover art is definitely so important. I talked in my Indie Publishing Handbook a bit about opportunities that came my way based on cover art alone. For your debut, I'm convinced you want to produce the strongest cover you can afford.

I know some indie authors who design their own covers and they are amazing. Authors like Jan Thompson (Jane Austen Upside Down); Krista Phillips (A Side of Faith); Becky Doughty (Elderberry Croft); and Joanne Bischof (This Quiet Sky), just to name a few. These authors have what I call "the eye." It's a gift for putting together a visually pleasing cover that will sell.

I, however, don't possess this talent. So outsourcing covers is a must for me. This can vary in cost, from $200-$1000 or even more.

When you work with a cover artist, I think it helps to have your book completed, so you can identify running themes, key characters, etc. A good cover artist can ask questions, send you appealing comps, then design a cover that fits the mood of your book and places it recognizably in its given genre.

Personally, I want a cover that would stop ME in my tracks, because I write what I want to read. (Click to Tweet!) And yet it's always great to get outside input on your cover, whether it's from your crit partner, your Facebook followers, or an objective group.

However, keep in mind, indie authors can change covers if they feel their cover isn't working for some reason or another. For instance, I recently re-did this original Miranda Warning cover:

Original Miranda Warning cover
I had detailed in this Novel Rocket post how my brother and I developed the first cover, above. But because it was the first in series with the same main character throughout, it was going to be difficult to replicate covers with the same model. I needed to go in a different direction, and my brother didn't have time to do a re-do. So I hired a cover designer to come up with a more nature-oriented cover template for the entire Murder in the Mountains series.

This was the finished cover, and I'm very happy with the flexibility it gives us for future covers in the series:

Final Miranda Warning cover, now on Amazon 
Thank you for the questions, Ron! I just want to say another huge thanks to the Novel Rocket crew for letting me jump on board for a year. I've followed this site since I started writing and I will continue following it for relevant info on all kinds of writerly subjects. A special thanks to Gina Holmes and Ane Mulligan for helping me any time I needed advice on a post!

***Finally, comment below by January 22 to be entered to win a free Kindle copy of the Indie Publishing Handbook: Four Key Elements for the Self-Publisher! (Click to Tweet!Be sure to leave your email address so I can contact you if you win!***

All the best to you Novel Rocketeers! Rockettes? Rock on! :)


Ron Estrada has multiple published magazine articles, including a regular column in the bi-monthly Women2Women Michigan. He also freelances as a technical writer, specializing in white papers for manufacturing and consumer products. He writes spec fiction, hovering somewhere between post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction (he prefers the term pre-Last Days), but has also dabbled in Mystery and Suspense. He will be releasing his first YA novel, Now I Knew You, in February 2015. His real-writer’s blog can be found at  You can e-mail him at or catch him (at pretty much any time) on Facebook. Twitter handle is @RonEstrada. CB handle is God’s Gift. 



  1. Heather, thanks for sharing your process with readers. I love your new cover. Provocative, colorful, perfect!

  2. Heather, as always, very informative. Thank you for being such a wonderful advocate of the indie author. No need to enter me in the drawing. I have no problem spending money on your books and love to gift this particular one to friends with questions. In fact, I recommend others do the same :o)!

  3. Sometimes when I think about the enormity of the process, I get overwhelmed, but posts like this helps me bring it into perspective. 1 step at a time.... dbdempsey98(at)gmail(dot)com

  4. Thank you for the compliment on the cover, Normandie! And Connie, thank you so much for recommending this book to others. I really do hope it's something that makes the indie pub process seem manageable, because it is! And thanks for the good wishes, Carrie! Also, Becky, I hope you are able to keep reading up on indie publishing because it truly is how I learned to do it--by following footsteps of indies who went before me. I find indies are such an open group and are willing to mentor and share info they have learned. :)

  5. The second cover is so much stronger (not that the first one isn't nice, you know?). Looking forward to picking up the "Indie Publishing Handbook." If I move forward with my books, this will definitely be the way I go. And, as an editor (secondary market!), it will be great to have this knowledge under my belt to offer even more services to authors I work with.

    opusmle at gmail dot com

  6. I am so interested in reading the Indie Publishing Handbook - I know it will be helpful. Please enter me. :) Thank you!

  7. Heather, I'm so happy to hear about your success! And the second cover to Miranda Warning is beautiful

  8. Excellent advice as I am delving into this new frontier. Blissful63(at)gmail dot com

  9. AND the winner of a Kindle copy of the Indie Publishing Handbook is BECKY! I will be emailing you, Becky! And thank you all for commenting. I wish you well with your indie publishing endeavors! :)


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