My journey to self-publishing started with thoughts of Mr. Met, the New York Mets’ famous baseball-headed mascot. It was August in New York City, and I was scanning the seats and aisles of Citi Field to find Mr. Met. After a decade as a traditionally published writer, I had decided to write and self-publish a mystery about the Mets, and I knew that Mr. Met was going to play an important part in the book.

I didn’t set out to become a self-published author, or even a traditionally published author. Instead, I had started out in computer science and transitioned into technology marketing, and then, when my two baseball- and mystery-loving sons were young, I tried to write a baseball mystery for them.

After much hard work and many rewrites, I sold my first manuscript, a Boston Red Sox mystery called The Fenway Foul-Up, to Random House as the first book in a new chapter book series called the Ballpark Mysteries. Over the next 11 years, Random House released a total of 22 books in the series, set in different Major League Baseball stadiums. The books run about 10,000 words and include one or more illustrations per chapter—ideal for kids who are just starting to master reading on their own.

Working with Random House was wonderful. I learned so much from my editors. They handled all the hard parts: copyediting, fact-checking, layout, cover design, interior art, legal review, series design, logo design, printing, and bookselling. I was free to work on the writing.

Yet, over the years, I became aware of some of the shortcomings of working with a traditional publisher. Marketing and sales were basically a black box for me—I had little to no insight into what was happening. Opportunities to invest in the series with expanded box sets or special editions were declined. And changes or updates to the format were avoided for consistency with previous books. But Random House continued to have unmatched access to all of my possible potential buyers and the strength to get my books in front of thousands of possible readers, so I was very happy to be one of their authors.

But all good things come to an end, and, in 2020, Random House decided to stop publishing new Ballpark Mysteries books after 22 titles and more than 1 million books sold. I was heartbroken. Not only did I continue to believe in the series, but I had 12 more ballparks to write about! Could I abandon all the fans who wrote in to ask for a Milwaukee Brewers or Mets book? I decided that I couldn’t.

It was a huge leap for me to make the decision to self-publish. Even with a decadelong track record of being a published author, it was an overwhelming task. But it was one that I decided I was up for. I know how much these books connect with young readers, and I really wanted to continue the series and take my readers to more ballparks.

Because it was overwhelming, I decided to take a bottom-up approach. I’d start by doing what I knew how to do: write a great chapter book mystery. I’d figure all the other pieces out as I did them. That’s how I ended up at the Mets game. After finding Mr. Met (and Mrs. Met), exploring the stadium, and taking lots of pictures, I went home to write.

A few months later, I had a solid draft of The Black Cat Change-Up. It was based on an incident from a 1969 game in which a black cat wandered onto the field in front of the Chicago Cubs dugout, perhaps causing them to lose the game and pennant race that year. In The Black Cat Change-Up, the ghost of that black cat comes back to haunt the Mets this time.

Keeping up the quality of the Ballpark Mysteries series was important to me, so I hired my original series editor. She sharpened my mystery, deepened the emotional threads in the story, and saved me from many repetitive phrases, grammatical mistakes, and sloppy sentences. I also hired a freelance copy editor.

Even though I own a trademark on the Ballpark Mysteries phrase, Random House was extremely generous in allowing me to license the Ballpark Mysteries cover logo. This win-win solution helps Random House keep the series fresh while helping me reach the readers who love the rest of my books.

Though I wanted the new book to be as close as possible to my existing books, I also viewed it as an opportunity to update the series, specifically via the artwork. I was lucky enough to hire Mark Meyers, the artist who illustrated the rest of the Ballpark Mysteries series, and we decided to use a newer, more modern art style for the inside black-and-white illustrations and reimagined the cover, downplaying the baseball stadium angle and highlighting the mystery component—changes that we couldn’t make in the traditional publishing process. We also created more illustrations per chapter than the previous books, adding more value for the readers. Overall, I’m thrilled with the way The Black Cat Change-Up cover and interior art came out and feel that it is some of the best in the series.

After artwork, one of my biggest concerns as a self-publisher was designing the book. I explored layout programs such as Vellum, but realized that I’d need a designer to duplicate the existing book format; I posted a job on Upwork and, a few days later, had more than 30 people bidding on my project.

The clear winner was Oliver Nash, who offered to lay out a sample chapter for me in both Affinity and Adobe for free. It was the right choice. He reverse-engineered my existing books, identifying the fonts, line spacing, and many other factors that went into how Random House designed the books. We created a new template for the series in Affinity Publisher and went through endless rounds of format tweaks. By the end of the process, I had exceeded my original layout budget (which was low) by about 300%. But it was worth every penny, and I now have a template for releasing future Ballpark Mysteries books in a much more streamlined way.

Another huge difference from my traditional publishing experience was the amount of time I spent proofing, copyediting, and finalizing the book each step of the way. Not surprisingly, the “publishing” part of self-publishing also takes time. I released the book on KDP and IngramSpark to get the best mix of profit and access to bookstores. To stay consistent with the rest of the series, I needed to release multiple versions: paperback, hardcover (for schools and libraries), audiobook, and e-book. Each had its own design requirements, which varied by publishing platform as well.

As I hoped, the book went on sale at the end of November 2022 and sold well through the holiday season. In two months, I earned back one-third of my costs (not including my time and writing), and the book seems on track to be profitable later in 2023. I’d call that a solid double, maybe even a home run.

David A. Kelly is the author of the Ballpark Mysteries series.