Barbra Annino: The Self-Publishing Bestseller on ‘How I Did It’


My path to publishing was a lot like Dorothy’s trip to Oz and back, complete with flying monkeys, false wizards and scarecrows lacking brains.

Except I didn't get any free shoes.

You should know that I did everything one is supposed to do to become an author. I studied the craft for years. Worked in every writing job I could get my hands on. Wrote the best book that was in me, lined up beta readers, got feedback and revised, revised, revised. I perfected my query, researched agents and pitched at conferences.

Read more Indie self-publishing success stories with Christiana Miller and Tracey Garvis Graves.

I received several partial and full requests on the dozens of queries I sent but no offers. Then, in February 2008, I attended a conference where I pitched to a small press publisher. She took the first three chapters back to her room, invited me to dinner and asked for the full between the salad and the soup. I was over the rainbow.

I sent the manuscript to her the following Monday. Then I waited. And waited. In May, I received an offer of representation from an agent. Having never heard from the publisher and after a lengthy conversation where I asked all the right questions, I signed with the agent. A weeks later, he called to tell me that an editor at one of the Big Six was interested. I could practically see the Emerald City sparkling in the distance.

Meanwhile, the other publisher contacted me, asking for the script. She claimed she never received it. A year later, she said the same thing at that same conference. For those keeping track, I had mailed and emailed her full scripts three times.

Flying monkeys had obviously hijacked each and every one.

In July 2009, after the Big Six editor passed and after lack of proof that my books were submitted elsewhere, I fired my agent.

Fast forward to 2010 with another book in the works and another offer from a different small press, which I accepted.

After a horrible cover and an inexcusable mix-up in editorial, I took my rights back, took my power back and self-published my first title, Opal Fire in March 2011.

Now it was all up to me and if I failed, I had only myself to blame. I designed a spunky cover, formatted the content to perfection, added all kinds of fun end-notes and marketed like a mad woman.

Then, a funny thing happened. The book sold. And sold and sold. Letters were flowing in from fans and I realized at that point—that's who I work for.

I published the second title, Bloodstone, in October that same year. That boosted sales further and when Amazon implemented Kindle Select, I jumped in.

After a meticulously designed promotion through the Select program, I made more money in January of 2012 than my car cost. The series was popular, and by my own measure, which came straight from the readers, I was successful.

This is important and worth repeating: There will always be people who impose their definition of success on you. Don't fall for that trap. The only thing that matters is how you perceive success. Whether that means an appearance on the Today Show, paying for a night out once a month or winning an award—it's how you define it that's important.

In May 2012, just before I was about to publish my third title, Tiger’s Eye, I received an email from an acquisitions editor at Amazon Publishing wanting to publish my series.

And for the first time on this long and winding road, I had to ask myself what could they do for me that I wasn't already doing myself?

That was huge. Five years ago, that question wouldn't have entered my mind, but with the choices authors have today, it had to be weighed. For the first time in history authors don't need publishers. They need good books, good covers and a method to reach readers.

I won't bore you with the details of how I came to my decision, but I did sign with Amazon. Now I'll have a foot in both worlds. For me, that's a perfect fit, because I have a lot of books to write, in a lot of different genres. Some may do better as self-published titles, some may do better with the backing of a marketing machine like Amazon.

It's a calculated crapshoot because the simple truth is this: No one in this business knows the formula for what makes a book a hit. All you can do is write the best book you can, keep your options open and take control of your career. Because no one cares more about your success than you do. Not an agent, not an editor. Only you and yours.

And remember, when you get there—and you will—you can buy your own damn shoes.

Barbra Annino is a Chicago native, a book junkie and Springsteen addict. A former bartender and humor columnist for Illinois Magazine, she finds the funny in just about everything. Now, she's a happily married freelance writer in Galena, Ill., and a Lowe's regular who is constantly covered in dust and paint thanks to an 1855 brick home, which her family shares with friendly spirits. Or not. But that's what people tell her. She is currently working on Emerald Isle, the fourth book in the Stacy Justice series. For more on Barbra, visit her site at


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