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Author: Janell E. Robisch

Ask Janell: Self-Publishing Basics

*This quarterly column is edited and reprinted from the journal of the Virginia Writers Club (VWC). Have a question and not a member of the VWC? Ask anyway in the comments or through my contact form, and I’ll answer right here on my blog.

In this column, experienced publishing professional Janell E. Robisch answers your questions about writing, editing, publishing, interior book design, and book cover design.

Hello, Writers!

Welcome to Ask Janell. I can’t wait to get started with this column. I’m hoping it will be helpful to all the different writers out there who are members of the Virginia Writers Club.

Since we haven’t had time to gather questions from the actual membership yet, I’m going to start by answering some common questions that the editors of the journal have given me, and I hope that these answers will be helpful to you.

In the meantime, please send your questions to me with the subject “Ask Janell Column,” and I will try to answer as many as I can in future columns.

In this first column, I’m going to start with a very common topic, one with which I’m pretty familiar: self-publishing. Self-publishing is a very common option in today’s marketplace not only for fiction writers but also for nonfiction writers and poets.

One of the biggest reasons for this is that self-publishing is open to everyone. Anyone with the right knowledge and/or support can self-publish their work. There are no gatekeepers to pass and no agents or editors to hold you back.

This doesn’t mean that everyone can succeed at self-publishing, whatever your definition of success might be.

But let’s get more specific. On to our first question:

Self-publishing seems easy, but what are the next steps? In other words, how do I get started with self-publishing?

First, self-publishing, like traditional publishing, is far from easy, but it has its advantages, including the opportunity for more income, more author control, and a quicker schedule.

Here is a general breakdown of the steps included in self-publishing. Keep in mind that each one of these steps includes many more nested steps that I’d be happy to cover in more depth later, but for brevity’s sake, I’m including only the general phases:

  • First Draft Composition
  • Editing & Revision: May include any or all of the following steps:
    • Review by alpha readers or a critique group or partner after first draft composition*
    • Self-editing
    • Review by beta readers after self-editing*
    • Developmental editing*
    • Copyediting/line editing
    • Proofreading (after formatting)*
  • Formatting (interior book design)
  • Cover Design
  • Book Description & Metadata Composition
  • Publishing
  • Launch and Continued Marketing

The steps with asterisks are optional; your need for them will depend on your skill and experience levels and personal preferences.

Self-publishing is a highly customizable process, and depending on your skill and comfort level with each step of the process, you can do it all yourself or hire out some or all of it, even the writing (through ghostwriting). Having worked in the publishing industry since the early 1990s and having specialized in working with indie authors since 2015, I do most of the work of self-publishing myself, but even I get someone else to do the copyediting for my books.

I will say that as far as book sales to unfamiliar readers go, your most important elements are an excellent, genre-appropriate book cover and a gripping book description, so you might want to focus your money there if you have a very limited budget.

See you next time! In the meantime, please send me your questions on writing, editing, publishing, interior book design, and book cover design.


1. “15 Steps to Self-Publish Your Book” (, K. M. Weiland, Helping Writers Become Authors

2. “5 Important Steps Before You Self-Publish” (, Joanna Penn, The Creative Penn

3. “My First Draft Is Done! What’s Next? A Manuscript Guide for Indie Authors” (, Janell E. Robisch, Speculations Editing

4. “Opinion: What Makes Readers Buy Books” (, Maggie Lynch, Alliance of Independent Authors

Janell E. Robisch is an editor, graphic designer, and published author. She began her career in college, helping an author put his book together for publication, and worked for publishers such as Oxford University Press before striking out on her own. Janell has been a freelancing publishing professional since 1998 and has specialized in helping indie authors since 2015. She writes fiction under the pen name J. Elizabeth Vincent.

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Fiction Writing Hacks: Mastering Conflict – Online Course Now Available

My second online course — a quick, digestible 20 minutes — has been published on Skillshare. The topic? Fiction Writing Hacks: Mastering Conflict.

In this class, I cover the basics of conflict, how important it is in writing fiction of all kinds (and even creative nonfiction), and ideas for how to come up with new conflict.

If you’re not familiar with the platform, Skillshare is a lot like Netflix for creatives and learners. It has tons of cool courses on everything you’d want to know about your creative pursuits, including writing!

Please join me on Skillshare, and let me know what you think. If you’re new to the platform, you can even get two months free with this link.

My first class, Getting Started Writing Short Stories, is also still available and is going strong. Feel free to check it out!

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New Online Class Available on Writing Short Stories

This week, I finally checked off one of the things on my writer/editor bucket list. I published a class on Skillshare on writing short stories.

In the class, I cover everything from where to get ideas to the many options for publishing your short stories.

Getting Started Writing Short Stories online class on Skillshare

If you’re new to Skillshare, you can get two months free to watch my class and others with this link:

They have a lot of great classes for creatives of all kinds.

I hope you like the class and that you’ll leave a review and give me some feedback so that I can make the next class even better.

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Short Story Brainstormer: A Writer’s Outlining Journal — New Book Release

I’d like to introduce you to the Short Story Brainstormer: A Writer’s Outlining Journal.

Designed to help you organize and outline all of your short story ideas, the Short Story Brainstormer has built-in prompts for every element you’ll need to figure out your characters, plot, and more. It will guide you through the process of outlining a solid tale with a time-tested story structure and plenty of conflict to bring it to life.

This paperback book starts with instructions on how you might follow each prompt and then sets you free to follow your own style. Follow the prompts, freestyle it, or do a mix of both.

There is plenty of room to write in each story section so you can test and refine your story ideas. There is space for outlining 10 full short stories, whether they are flash fiction stories or novelettes. It’s the kind of writer’s tool you’ll come back to again and again.

With inspirational quotes on writing scattered throughout and a place for miscellaneous notes at the end, it’s a fun, fresh place to keep all of your story ideas in one place until you are ready to get down to the business of writing them.

And just for fun, the Short Story Brainstormer is available in four different covers, so you can use the one that suits you best.

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Saving Money on Editing Is Now Only 99 Cents!

Ready to demystify the editing process and learn just how to choose a great editor that you can depend on? Saving Money on Editing, ebook edition, is now only 99 cents on Amazon and at most of your favorite ebook retailers!

Download it today!

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