• Ren Lowe is an author, the CEO of Brown Unicorn Publishing, and a self-publishing coach.
  • She wrote a children’s series while on maternity leave that started bringing in passive income.
  • Now she coaches aspiring authors to do the same, and her advice starts with establishing your “why.”

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Ren Lowe, a 38-year-old author and self-publishing coach in Atlanta. Insider has verified her income with documentation. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I’m an author, the CEO of Brown Unicorn Publishing, and a self-publishing coach who teaches aspiring authors to bring their book ideas to life through self-publishing.

After spending a few years as a stay-at-home-mom, I wanted a career where I could make a good income but still have the time to pursue my childhood dream of becoming a children’s book author. The wireless-telecommunications industry was a perfect fit, and I started working at T-Mobile in 2015.

While on maternity leave in 2021, I wrote seven children’s books with my daughter, Kameryn, which was the start of my self-publishing business. I now make around $7,000 a month from my own book sales and from teaching others how to achieve the same success.

The ‘My Magical Brown Unicorn series was the catalyst 

When my maternity leave ended, I suffered from postpartum anxiety and was unable to return to T-Mobile when I planned to. I was let go from the company in March 2021.

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The “My Magical Brown Unicorn” series and my savings saved me. My books began to generate a passive stream of income from Amazon, Walmart, Barnes & Noble, online and indie bookstores, schools, and museums, but it wasn’t quite enough to help me reach my goal of earning six figures.

I had started a publishing company called Royaltee Press to publish my own books, but with encouragement from my mentor, Crystal Swain-Bates, a children’s book author who’s best known for “Big Hair, Don’t Care,” I decided to expand my publishing brand to offer services to clients.

I started my sister company, Brown Unicorn Publishing, in October 2021, which offers “done for you” publishing services that range in price from $3,000 to $4,500, and my monthly income increased. Clients hire my agency to bring their rough drafts to life by editing, illustrating, typesetting, and formatting their books into a print-ready file.

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I use social media to market my books and services organically

I mainly use TikTok, but I also use Instagram. I’ve learned from my followers that people are interested in the ”how” of self-publishing and are willing to pay someone with experience and expertise to teach them. I created my signature self-publishing group-coaching course and one-on-one coaching services in October.

I offer book publishing from $1,500, coaching from $1,000, and ghostwriting from $1,600. While I do the ghostwriting and book publishing, my coaching services are designed to teach my clients the step-by-step self-publishing process to perform on their own.

From November 2021 through August, I earned a little more than $30,000 from the publishing services alone. This was nothing to gloss over, but I still wasn’t hitting my six-figure goal. I considered returning to a 9-to-5 to meet it. Since expanding my services, I’ve been able to bring in an average of $7,000 a month, and I’ve coached 20 students to date.

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Here are five self-publishing tips I’d offer to any aspiring self-published author.

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1. Establish a ‘why’

Self-publishing is very rewarding, but it’s also hard work. Having a “why” will keep you on track on the days you want to quit.

In the beginning, my “why” was to fulfill a childhood dream that others thought was unattainable for me. In my first children’s book, the illustrator created the images in the wrong sizing dimensions, and I panicked. I felt defeated, and I wanted to quit.

Holding on to my “why” was what made me keep going, and I was able to solve the sizing issue with my own research. I realized that the illustrator formatted my book with flipped dimensions, and once I brought this to her attention, she was able to fix the error on her end.

2. Just because you can do a task doesn’t mean you should

It’s OK to outsource to professionals with skill sets you’ll need to make sure you publish a high-quality book, such as an editor, illustrator, or book-cover designer. In the end, while it’s an investment, hiring a professional can save you a lot of time and frustration.

One of my clients almost gave up on her dreams of publishing a book because she couldn’t figure out how to properly format it herself. My formatters were able to format her book properly in a matter of hours, something that she spent months trying to figure out. Unless you’re willing to take the necessary steps to learn how to illustrate and format, I suggest leaving it to the professionals.

To find talent, join author and writer groups on sites like Facebook, such as Aspiring Writers United and Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators: Publishing, Marketing and Selling. I’ve gotten great referrals from other members in those groups. Upwork and Guru are freelancer sites that I also use when outsourcing talent.

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3. Be flexible with your book’s deadlines

Allow room for human error. It’s good to have a timeline to track your book’s progress, but it’s more important for it to be done right. Try to avoid deadlines associated with birthdays and holidays.

The illustrator working on one of my books had an unexpected, life-changing event take place right in the middle of creating the illustrations. She stopped illustrating for over six months. I had plans to release the book on my daughter’s birthday, and I was heartbroken.

That was over a year ago, and the book still isn’t finished. I could’ve found another illustrator, but I didn’t want another one — I wanted her, so I waited. She’s now back to illustrating, and I’ll wait until she’s done to schedule a release date.

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4. Make sure the cover art is a perfect fit

The saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” does not apply when it comes to publishing a book because that’s exactly what your prospective customer is going to do. Book covers sell books. 

One of my best practices for book cover art is researching other books in the same genre and comparing feature similarities. Consider the fonts, the color schemes, and the background of the cover.

If there are characters, observe how they appear as well. A legible book title is also key. Don’t make it too fancy — keep it cute and clean.

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5. Choose the right platform for you

I recommend using print-on-demand platforms, which allow customers to purchase your book from their sites, and then they print and ship it to them for you for a fee. Each platform’s fees vary.

This is ideal for first-time authors because you don’t have to worry about inventory. My personal favorite is Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, but a few others are BookBaby, Lulu, and Barnes & Noble Press.