Amazon’s Bestselling Thomas & Mercer Author Theresa Ragan Treats You to the Steps She Took to Self-Publish


I wrote my first book twenty years ago when I was pregnant with my youngest daughter. I was raising four kids and it was difficult to squeeze in the writing time. But I was passionate about writing novels and I knew from the beginning I wasn’t going to give up until I had real readers who were not family or friends. I did everything I could to learn my craft. I joined writer’s groups and I drove hours to critique with other writers each week. Many times I shared a room and a bed with other writers so that I could afford to attend writer’s conferences. I ran from workshop to workshop, soaking it all in. I read countless romance novels and I wrote late at night and early in the morning to get the writing done. Nothing was going to stop me. I signed with two agents and I finaled in RWA’s Golden Heart six times, but I still couldn’t get an editor to take a chance on me. In 2009, my husband suggested I self-publish, but I wasn’t ready to give up the dream of being traditionally published. Out of frustration, I pushed my romance novels to the side and wrote my first thriller, ABDUCTED, and killed off characters. It was fun and therapeutic! In 2011, my youngest daughter was going off to college. The economy was the pits and I knew that it was time for me to look for a real job that pays. While reading the Want Ads for a job outside of the home, I read a blog about other authors who were self-publishing and actually making money doing it. I told my agent I was going to self-publish my romantic time travels, and within months I had sold thousands of books. I couldn’t believe it!

Tired of waiting for agents and editors to read my other books, I decided to take my career into my own hands. I published 6 books in the first 9 months. In less than two years as an indie author, I have sold over 500,000 ebooks and made more money than I ever dreamed. If you put in the time…if you believe in yourself and your books…if you work hard every day to learn your craft, I believe it can happen to you, too!

How long have you been writing? When did you realize that writing was your passion? Are you self-published? Why or why not? Tell us about your writing journey. Curious minds want to know!

Below are the steps I took to Self-Publish

For the first three months of my indie author journey, I was learning everything I could…reading blogs and soaking in all the information I could. I suggest you do the same.

There is a Beginner’s List for new Indie Authors that D.D. Scott provides HERE.

Self-publishing is constantly changing. For instance, more and more authors are finding translators to get their books into foreign markets. Authors are using ACX and other audio companies to get their books on audio. I am sure you can find articles on these subjects in WG2E’s archives. If you don’t want to become overwhelmed, I suggest you take one step at a time and don’t pressure yourself to do everything at once.

Use your instincts when making EVERY decision. If ten people tell you not to go FREE, you should try it for yourself before you decide if it works for you.

There is NO one-step process to self-publishing. Every writer will have their own journey. I know plenty of successful Indie authors who don’t spend a dime on advertising.

When it comes to self-publishing, what do you have to lose? Maybe you won’t sell hundreds of books right away…you need to be patient. If you’re passionate about writing, write another book while you let readers discover your first book. Finding readers and making a few dollars is better than letting your novel waste away on your hard drive.

Becoming an independent author has been life-changing for me. I now get to write every day. For the first time in 20 years, I am making money doing what I love best. If you want to succeed, you must work hard. Never stop learning and growing. Good luck!

1.       Write a great book.

2.       Hire a proofreader. I use Faith Williams at Theatwatergroup. Send her an email and get a quote. More editors, proofreaders, cover artists, etc., are listed on Christiana Miller’s website HERE or click on the resource tab right here on WG2E.

3.       Find a cover artist. LFD Designs for Authors has done all of my covers. She offers premade covers from $20 to $60 and custom covers now start at $100.

4.       Hire a formatter. For $40 you can hire Lucinda Campbell at LK-E-Book Formatting Services to format your manuscript for Amazon (KDP), Barnes & Noble (Pubit), Smashwords, and Kobo (Writing Life). Go to Lucinda’s website and email her to get a quote and get started. In a matter of weeks, depending on her schedule, she can have your manuscript ready for download.

5.       Register at AMAZON (KDP) by going to KDP.AMAZON.COM and download the prc file that your formatter sends you.

6.       Register at BARNES & NOBLE (PUBIT) by going to PUBIT.BARNESANDNOBLE.COM and download the epub file that your formatter sends you.

7.       Register at SMASHWORDS.COM and download the word doc file that your formatter sends you.

8.       Once you have published your book, you can copyright your book for a fee of $35. Go HERE.

9.       You can also buy ISBN’S FROM BOWKER if you want. Go HERE to learn about ISBN’s.

10.     If you want a print book, it’s free if you do it yourself. Register at Use CreateSpace to help you with book covers, formatting, and editing for a fee, or you can go to the site, register for free, download a FREE template and then copy and paste your manuscript into the template one chapter at a time. CreateSpace will provide you with a FREE ISBN number. To learn more about print publishing go HERE.

11. Start a Twitter Account and tweet about other author’s books that you love.

12. Start a Facebook Account and let readers know when you have a new release.

13. Make a FREE website using Blogger or WordPress and talk about whatever makes you happy.

14.     Once I began to make money, I used Pixel of Ink (no longer available for authors to buy sponsorships but you can report FREE books), The Romance Reviews, Cents-ible eReads, The Frugal eReaders, Digital Book Today, and EYE ON ROMANCE and JUST ROMANTIC SUSPENSE to advertise. To see more about how I spent my advertising dollars go HERE to see a past article I wrote for WG2E.

15.     Don’t worry. Be happy! For more information go to AUTHOR E.M.S. to see a list of indie author support groups you can join to learn more about indie publishing.

The third book in Theresa’s bestselling Lizzy Gardner Series (A Dark Mind) is available for pre-order now! If you finish writing for the day, you can visit Theresa at:




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  1. I, too, started indie publishing in 2009. I’d been dropped by my romance publisher (I was still writing for my mainstream publisher, but they dumped me as well a year later) and had a story I really wanted to tell that no one wanted (my hero was broke, not loaded; only had one sibling, a twin sister who was already married, and the heroine was an only child–although I’ve since published romances featuring her two best friends)–so no family series, nor was he an alpha male), so I did it myself. Things have only gotten better since. I was already situated when my remaining publisher declined to offer me another contract. I put out another book in 2010, did a trailer that captured the “hook” in the way the hero and heroine met, and did quite well with that. In 2011 I started publishing backlist (my agent had gotten me my rights back) and also published another new title. In 2012 I had my biggest seller to date, also helped by a trailer as well as an excerpt that captured the unorthodox way the hero and heroine met (his son sneaked out of the house, armed with the keys to his grandfather’s car and his learner’s permit and in his haste to get home before being discovered, ran over her son at the library and drove off) that sparked pre-release interest. In the first four months of this year I’ll release two backlist titles and two new titles. I’m not selling the numbers you are, but the sky’s the limit! Love live indie publishing!

  2. Lois Lavrisa says:

    Your life seems so similar to mine- I started writing when my fourth (and last) child started kindergarten. I also read (and still read( a lot, attended countless conferences, signed up for and learned everything I could from what seemed like hundreds of workshops, went on writing retreats, joined several critique groups and so on. Thank you for sharing your story- I hope one day soon to be a successful and reach as many readers as you do:)

    • Theresa says:

      Lois, I had no idea you had four kids and that we had similar stories. I do enjoy hearing how and when other writers got started. You ARE a big success!

  3. Hi Theresa,

    Thank you for sharing your indie publishing journey. I appreciate the details you provided about your journey and how to break into indie pubbing. I especially LOVE hearing that you sold over 500,000 books during your first two years of the indie pub route!! Now that is serious inspiration.

    All I can say is WOW! You are one determined woman and writer – to work so hard on your writing while having four children and a home and husband to care for – it makes hearing it paid off for you that much more inspiring. Clearly, the reading public is much smarter than the editors and publishers who shot you down.

    Best of luck with continued fantastic sales and blessings to you and your family. :)

  4. Thanks for the post and all the tips. I started writing when I was seven years old. I finally sold my first romnce novel to small press in 1998 — I’ve had success with short srories also. Joan Reeves helped me and encouraged me to self-publish, and my first two e-books, “Mr. Short, Dark…& Funny,’ and ‘Mr. Tall, Tan…& Tasteless” went live on Amazon last October. The numbers aren’t good and I’ve had to take a break from writing because of my parents’ recent health problems, but “Sweeter Than W(h)ine” went live last week. I’m enjoying this journey trying to do more to raise the numbers. I’m working on two short story collections (people seem to like my short stories.

    • Theresa says:

      Hi Nancy, you just got started. Readers will discover your books as you keep releasing more stories. Congrats on Sweeter than W(h)ine…cute title! Wishing you MEGA sales!

  5. Melisa says:

    Thank you so much. I’m getting ready to publish my first book in May. I’ve completed getting a professional cover, my book is with my editor and will go back for a run through when I do the rewrites so the last portion of your post is what was so valuable to me. I can’t thank you enough.

  6. Rena George says:

    A very inspiring post, Teresa. To achieve 50,000 ebook sales in less than two years is truly amazing. Most of us can only dream of such giddy success. Thank you for sharing your writing journey with us.

  7. Angela Brown says:

    It seems a lot of writers that publish have the commonality of belief in their work even when no one else would take a chance on them. So…they took a chance on themselves. Taking a risk on yourself can be a worthwhile investment.

    • Theresa says:

      I agree, Angela. Nobody is going to believe in our books more than US! If we work hard and do everything we can to learn our craft, we have no choice but to succeed! :)

  8. Julie Day says:

    I started writing back in the 90s. It was short non-fiction (viewpoints and letters to magazines) to start with. Then I had this continuous dream during the night and it stayed in my mind, until I decided to write it down. Once I wrote that, that was it. Ideas kept on coming and coming. That first ms is still in my wardrobe waiting to be rewritten. I kept writing romance fiction with no luck (don’t think I was serioius about being published then) and writing mag letters (still do). Then a few years ago I started writing for children and then got serious about being published, but had no luck as my writing was not strong enough for the current market. Then…two years ago I found this blog and read in a writing magazine about other writers having success beind self-epublished. This is for me, I thought. I wrote my first teen/YA fantasy and registered with SW. I was already with Amazon. I hired an editor and a cover designer and in November 2011 I epublished my first indie book. I’ve not looked back since. As I’ve mentioned on here before, that first teen book I put as free after a few months, and now have over 8000 downloads across the platforms. More readers than I’ve ever had before in my life, and it’s still goes up.

  9. Thanks for the inspiration! I’m finally publishing on Nook, Smashwords and Kobo. However, your first step is the most important one – Write a great book! Still working on that.

    I appreciate your sharing, Theresa. Best of continued success!

  10. Christina says:

    I’ve always wanted to write, at least since I was 8 years old. I’ve been writing seriously for a year now, and while I’m not quitting my day job I’m still plugging away every day and earning a little something every month now, at least from Amazon. I don’t have any backlist, so I’m writing new books and my goal is 3 each year. Slowly, but surely, I will win the race.

  11. Darlene says:

    Hi Theresa,
    So great to hear inspiring stories like yours! Hoping to follow in your footsteps! :-)

    I’d like to know how much difference you think it made that you were able to publish six books in nine months. That seems pretty rapid-fire. Did you promote them all at the same time? What would you say is the ideal spacing for book releases?
    Thanks, and congrats!

    • Theresa says:

      Hi Darlene, Of course I believe in quality over quantity, BUT if I could release a book every 3 to 4 months, I would! I happened to have six books at the time that I thought were ready to go, and it worked out well for me. If an author had three books ready to go, my advice would be to put them all out there at once. No reason to wait. Readers like to scoop up the next book if they like the first.

  12. How encouraging! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I think the statement that spoke to me the most is: If you’re passionate about writing, write another book while you let readers discover your first book. Finding readers and making a few dollars is better than letting your novel waste away on your hard drive.
    I still work full-time and have limited hours to devote to writing, even less to marketing. So, I’ll take your advice and focusing on writing great books. I believe the rest will come.

    • Theresa says:

      Yes, Michelle, the rest will come. I have a few author friends who did zero marketing or promotion and they are doing very well with sales. Write the best stories you can.

  13. Your path sounds similar to mine. I began writing 17 years ago with the intent of publishing my novel. In the meantime, I’ve had success writing essays, freelance materials, greeting cards, and being a columnist, and I’m currently the executive editor of two magazines–everything but publishing my novel. Though I had many requests from agents and publishers, the book didn’t fit neatly into any genre, and they didn’t know what to do with it. Therefore, I decided to self- publish my first two novels last year. Although I’m not putting up numbers as impressive as yours yet, I’m plugging away and love self-publishing and writing.