Question: How do you self-publish?

When I was speaking on my last trip, in the Bay Area, I talked about writing a book.

Here are two questions I got from one of the attendees, via email:

How does one go about self-publishing? and Why is this better than attempting to get one’s book published by a well know publisher?

There’s another, bigger, question that needs to be answered first.  That is: what do you hope to accomplish with your published book?  Is it book sales ($$), or is it fame, or is it a stronger brand (as an expert)?  Or something else?

Knowing that might affect how you approach your own book plans.

But back to her two questions:

First question. How does one go about self-publishing?

I had an eye-opening moment when my publisher (Happy About) told me he does around (or over) 250 tasks for an author.  The obvious include copy editing (the words) and layout editing (preparing it for the printer).  He has his distribution channels (mainly Amazon, I think), and he does fullfillment (he ships the books when people order).  He handles money, and taxes, and refunds, etc.

And over 200 other things. (hear a podcast interview he did with me on why you shouldn’t self publish :))

When I was towards the end of my second book I had totally planned on self-publishing.  However, by the time I was done, I was ready to hand it off and have someone else do all of the rest of the work. I was tired, having put heart-and-soul into that big project, and I wanted to essentially outsource the rest.

My plan for my next books is to self-publish, and right now that feels right. I am getting all my ducks in a row to do this, and know I’ll spend time getting my ISBN number, working with designers and editors, the printer, etc.  But it’s a challenge I think I want to undertake right now 🙂  We’ll see if that changes, like it did last time.

Here’s a high level overview on self-publishing:

  1. Write the manuscript.
  2. Have it edited (copy editing)
  3. Have it prepared for the printer (layout editing)
  4. Have all book cover stuff ready and designed (including ISBN, UPC bar code, inclusion of testimonials and foreword, etc.)
  5. Send order to printer (assuming you’ve gotten bids and picked one)

Now, you have at least 100 books in your “inventory.”  Good luck with that.  What you do with those is for another blog post 🙂

Second question: Why is this better than attempting to get one’s book published by a well know publisher?

I’ll never forget when a Dan from Wiley, a major publisher, reached out to me to pitch me on a book proposal.  It was very exciting at first, but after a while the whole thing fell apart. He reached out to me, and then they rejected the idea, after I put hours into the proposal.

Some of those hours were at the hospital while my wife was in early stages of labor.  Yep, I wasted my freaking special time on a stupid book proposal because “we’re meeting in the morning and I really want to take this to my team.”

I got sucked into that.

It would have been worth a $15,000 advance, and some nice royalties if the book sold well.

But HIS idea was rejected by his peers, after I did a lot of legwork for it.

Our final conversation was not very cordial, to say the least, and he’s tainted the way I look at Wiley, or other big publishers.

What do you get from a big publisher?  Lots of expectations.  They expect YOU to market it. Completely.  No matter what they say, if you don’t market it, you lose, period.

I remember Dan saying “but if you publish with us, you could then say you have a Wiley book!”

Big flippin’ deal.

Can you tell I’m still miffed about it?

The last straw was when he suggested I buy 2,000 copies in advance.  I’m no math genious but isn’t that about $40,000, out of pocket, just so I can say I have a Wiley book?


I’d rather self-publish. It might cost me about $2,000 out of pocket, and some time, but I got time, and I got $2k, especially if it means I don’t have to deal with a book factory that only cares about their bottom line.

I want to do it on my own terms.

I want to keep certain things in the final manuscript (I’ve heard from other authors that their editors took stuff out).

I want to make more than 25 cents per book sale (I’ve heard from authors that they might get “a few bucks,” but I know one who gets 25 cents per sale. You have to sell a LOT of books to make any money that way.)

I want to do it on my own schedule.  Timelines are good, but book writing isn’t the only thing I do for a living… and if they are riding me on a deadline I’m not sure that will be good for me.

I have friends who write books for big authors, and I think they love it.

I am simply choosing to do it on my own for now.

Will I ever do a big publisher?  Sure, if I get a sweet deal, a la GaryVee (supposedly got a $1M book deal to write 10 books). Why?  Because he has an audience (aka, platform).  He has almost 1M people following him on Twitter.

Do you have a platform?  If you do, you can take the money upfront (like he did), or you can self publish (like Seth Godin chose to do (MUST READ)), and make it on the back (and maybe make more, if you are good at hawking your books).

So we go back to the question: what is the purpose of your book?

Then, will a publisher help you accomplish that goal, or is the work really still in your lap?

3 thoughts on “Question: How do you self-publish?”

  1. I think the tide is turning, Jason. Self-publishing has become so simple thanks to services like Amazon’s CreateSpace that aspiring authors would be crazy not try that route. As you point out, big-name publishers don’t market your book, so in either case, you’re doing your own promoting. At least with self-publishing, you have control.

    I’ve recently decided to convert my ebook about job interview strategies into a physical book, using the Amazon system. I’m not doing it for the money (it will sell for far less than the ebook and its digital bonuses). I’m doing it because: (1) while selling it as an ebook I received many requests for a physical book; (2) the process is so easy, especially since I’ve already written it; (3) being able to say “I have a book on Amazon” gives me instant credibility.

    While I’ve switched my focus from assisting job seekers (and sold my website related to that niche) to assisting small business owners, I still want to help those struggling to find a job. Selling a book via Amazon (where so many people go to search for such help) will allow me to do that without having to devote as much time as the website/ebook model required. Know what I mean?

    And let’s be honest… there’s the ego thing. Whether my book is successful or not, whether I sell a single copy or not, I will still be able to say “I’m a published author.” Which is pretty cool! 🙂

  2. Hi Jason

    As fellow self-publisher I completely agree with you. IF you want complete control with a little help for the technical bits, find a POD business (such as Happy Hours, Lulu or Lighting Source), be prepared to do some hard work yourself and…. reap all the rewards from your efforts.

    My first POD was to fulfil a youth dream: have my name on a real paperback (2006), learned a lot that first time. Never sold that many copies but that was not the mean reason for publishing.

    Second time around (Wooden Floor Installation Manual), written by and for our retail business – to become more known as “one of the best experts”, we knew we had to get some decent help in: editor and having it digitised for Lightning Source UK. Costs were a bit more, but on the other hand: before it was officially published we’d already recouped all the costs through pre-orders 😉

    There’s one way of “publishing” you missed out on I think. A “service” that’s popping up all over the place, which will costs you more money than needed and still leave you with the majority of work to do: book coaching and book finishing services. It does take care of various things for you (such as proof-reading, purchasing ISBN numbers, type-setting etc – but at IMHO twice or even three times the price as when you select your own editor and “digitiser”. Read prices from between £ 10.00 upto £ 15.00 per PAGE! Would have costed us at least £ 1600.00 for our manual, now we’ve done it for hardly half the price.

    So, be warned. There are a lot of services out there trying to get “a piece of your creative action”.

    Karin H (Keep It Simple Sweetheart, specially in business)

  3. I did mine on Lulu. It was basically near zero cost. Paid for it by the printed copy. It was a hoot. Despite selling almost 2,000 copies, I can’t retire on the profits. But, it was fun. Hard to believe that it’s getting even easier. If you just want an ebook on Kindle, it’s zero. Now if you can get a million readers to pay you a dollar, you’re rich!


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