Self Publishing Success Story: Madeline Sheehan (Guest Blogger)

Indie author, Madeline Sheehan, at a book signing

Indie author, Madeline Sheehan, at the Boston Author Event

If you’re an indie publishing enthusiast like BookRix, then you undoubtedly enjoy hearing a self publishing success story. Learning about a fellow writer’s journey can be encouraging, provide insight and evoke inspiration for those with similar goals. Madeline Sheehan has published several eBooks and has 5 star reviews from over 1100 readers on Amazon. How did she do it?  I reached out to Madeline and asked if she’d be willing to share her eBook self publishing story in our blog. We’re thrilled she said yes!

Self-Publishing, Blah, Blah, Blah…

By Madeline Sheehan

When I say “blah,” I mean it in the very best way. Because self-publishing, in a nutshell, is a three-ring circus.

But let me start at the very beginning, before I was introduced to the big, bad, kill-or-be-killed, survival-of-the-fittest world of independent authors. Back when I was just a lowly Public Relations Coordinator/Editor at a nonprofit organization with a writing hobby that I indulged in during my downtime, dreaming the dream of most writers to someday see their book on a bookstore shelf.

I’d been writing nearly my entire life but hadn’t completed a full-length novel until 2010 (The Soul Mate, a dystopian paranormal romance centered around modern-day gypsies), spending my evenings working tirelessly on the story line and character development. When I was finished, I didn’t have a clue what to do with it, but I did know right away I wasn’t going to be submitting it to any traditional publishing houses only to get my cherished manuscript tossed into their slush pile. So I opted instead to send it to a few family members for their opinions and amazingly enough, both my father and little sister, who are both avid readers, loved the book.

So then I thought, now what? You see, I didn’t know anything about self-publishing other than I loved Amanda Hocking’s Trylle trilogy and My Blood Approves series. I literally knew nothing about Amazon, Smashwords, or CreateSpace’s self-publishing platforms until one day my husband came home from work with a tip from a friend of his who’d self-published a book of poetry on Smashwords. Of course I looked into it, created a profile, and submitted my manuscript, and within a few weeks my e-book was available through Barnes and Noble, Apple, Sony, Kobo, etc.


I sold a grand total of six books in six months. Don’t get me wrong; I was thrilled. Someone other than a family member had read my work. Had actually paid the $0.99 I was asking for it and READ it.

It was then that I decided to self-publish on Amazon as well, which, lo and behold, provided me with a lot more sales. A total of thirty in another six-month time frame.

Energized, I continued writing. While I was writing the sequel, My Soul To Take, I set up a Facebook author page to begin promoting my books to, well, my friends and family members. I had a total of a hundred likes, all of which were from people I’d known most of my life and weren’t interested in reading any of my books.

Halfway through writing My Soul To Take, I hit a mental brick wall. In the midst of trying to work through it, I pulled up a fresh Word document and began writing my third book, Undeniable. It was as far removed from the paranormal romance genre I’d been writing in as one could get. Undeniable is a motorcycle club dark romance set in a criminal underground world. It doesn’t hold back, it’s taboo, it’s gritty and ugly, it’s raw, and I make no apologies for it. I poured my heart and soul into that book; I used both real and fictional experiences, real and fictional character traits, and about a month after publishing My Soul To Take, I published Undeniable.

Fast-forward three weeks and the Internet BLEW UP. Cocaine & Cupcakes Book Blog and Totally Booked had gotten a hold of Undeniable. They loved it, they promoted it, and they contacted me for an interview, which led to Maryse’s Book Blog picking it up for review, which also loved it. All three of those blogs have huge, dedicated followings and after they reviewed Undeniable, I watched in awe as my sales skyrocketed.

I was suddenly #17 on Amazon’s Kindle Best Seller list. My Facebook page went from 100 likes to 1,000, 2,000, then to 3,000. Agents were contacting me, readers were contacting me, bloggers wanted character interviews, book-signing coordinators were inviting me to sign alongside well-known authors such as Karina Halle, Raine Miller, Katie Ashley, Tina Reber, and Colleen Hoover.

And everyone wanted to know when the second book in the series was coming out.

Sounds like a dream come true, right?

Eh. It was and it wasn’t.

Don’t get me wrong; I was thrilled. This had been a childhood dream of mine, and for all intents and purposes, it was coming true. But like most things, self-publishing is not all roses and sunshine, and subsequently my dream come true came with a whole lot of baggage filled mostly with garbage.

Because I knew little about self-publishing, my books were not professionally edited, their covers were self-designed and, I’ll freely admit, poorly done. All of which led to my being attacked in reviews. The venom of some reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads was a shock to my system—some of which were personal attacks having nothing to do with my books—and couldn’t have happened at a worse time for me. I was being pulled in all different directions, felt like I was drowning in a sea of the unknown, and wasn’t emotionally equipped to handle everything that was being thrown at me all at once.

What I’m going to say next is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT advice for new authors considering self-publishing. You need a strong backbone. You must have thick skin. You don’t have a traditional publisher backing you, most times you don’t have an agent, you don’t have even half the tools available to you that publisher-backed authors do. This is all on you and if you aren’t strong enough to take the bad with the good—and there will be a lot of bad—you should reconsider the self-publishing route.

Needless to say, I persevered. With the help of a professional editor who took it upon herself to contact me, Jovana Shirley of Unforeseen Editing and I took Undeniable off the electronic shelf and re-edited it. Author Angel’s, another godsend, also contacted me and soon I had new-and-improved covers as well. Eventually, after assembling a small support team of incredible women, all three of my books received makeovers that I couldn’t have been happier with.

But that wasn’t the last of my battles; bad reviews were far from the worst aspect of being an independent author. You also have to contend with book pirating, dishonest bloggers, people looking to make a buck at your expense, and the worst, in my opinion, is the “competition.” By competition I mean jealous authors, mean-girl cliques, snooty authors, authors who want to hitch a free ride on others’ successes, who want to take the easy route. The list is endless and, quite frankly, it’s sad.

You will be let down, stabbed in the back, betrayed, lied to and lied about, because again, you are doing this on your own. You are making your own mistakes without a traditional publisher behind you to build you up, then pick you up when you fall down. You’ll have to weed through the bullshit all on your own—finding the “real” editors, honest bloggers, and people you can trust. The latter being the most crucial because in the world of self-publishing it’s dog-eat-dog, and if you don’t have a good support system, you could very well crumple under the stress.

I was lucky to find an amazing group of female authors, bloggers, and editors whom I cherish. They give me courage and strength, they hold me up when I fall down, and they have become some of my very best friends, despite that fact that some of us live halfway around the world from each other and have yet to meet.

Whereas some authors consider an overwhelming amount of good reviews and what big-name author they are hobnobbing with as indicators of their success, I do not. True reviews are important; they bump up sales. But friends—trustworthy friends—are even more important in this business.

Madeline Sheehan (left) at the Columbus Author Event

Madeline Sheehan (left) at the Columbus Author Event

I’m now a full-time independent author, and despite the stress of having to run a small business on my own, I’ve turned down two offers from traditional publishing houses. Why? Because self-publishing isn’t all bad. It does have it perks, the main one being freedom. Freedom to write as much or as little as you please. No deadlines. More one-on-one time with your readers. You get to make your own decisions, price your own books at reasonable and affordable prices, and distribute your paperbacks to the masses as you please.

Whereas my dream was once to be part of a big-name publishing house, it no longer is. Once you wade through all the garbage in this industry, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Despite the fact that my books have yet to appear on a Barnes & Noble bookshelf, I’ve found that my dream has indeed come true—I am a successful author. I’ve just published my fourth book, UnBeautifully, and it hit #13 on Amazon’s best seller list, #1 on Smashwords, #32 on Barnes and Noble, and #56 on USA Today! And you know why? Because I have a great team backing me and, more importantly, I’m doing things my way.

I honestly couldn’t be happier. I love writing, I love my characters, and I love sitting down at my desk every day and immersing myself in my fictional worlds. But most of all, I love how many people out there love my work, love joining me in my make-believe worlds, and have joined me and stuck around for this incredible journey of mine.

So, is self-publishing worth it? For me, yes. All in all, self-publishing has changed my life. For the better. And I wouldn’t change a damn thing.

And there you have it. Thank you so much Madeline for sharing your eBook Publishing story with our readers. We wish you the very best with Unbeautifully and look forward to seeing more of your work!

Whether you’re looking to publish eBooks, sell eBooks or simply improve your understanding of eBook publishing – we want to help. Like Madeline explained, independently publishing can be exciting but also discouraging at times. Please remember that our BookRix community is full of helpful writers and readers who share your passion. If you have questions, need feedback or advice, consult with our members or reach out to us directly. We want to help! And if you’re looking for effective promotional ideas, please look into the BookRix Marketing Guide. It was created to help prepare you for success.

We love indie publishing!



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