Self-publishing for the faint of heart

From Rick:

I will first off apologize for the change of topics this week. I know I said that I would continue the Editing Your Novel series this week, but a couple of questions from some writers arose about self-publishing and I felt compelled to address them in a timely manner. I will return to the Editing series next week, I promise.



1– Writing a book is easy compared to writing a good book, which is hard.

2– Writing a good book is a walk in the park compared to getting it published, which is a rapidly diminishing possibility in today’s market.

3– Self-publishing your book is a breeze compared to the work necessary to get it noticed by the reading public.

4– Getting your self-published book bought by the reading public is only marginally more difficult than getting it bought by the reading public if you’re lucky enough to land a publisher. (And if you think that just because a publisher may get your book into bookstores, consider that currently something like 65% or more of books are purchased online, not in bookstores.

5– No matter how your book is published, if you are serious about your writing and selling your book, then you must treat your writing as a business. If you treat it as anything less, then you’ll likely be disappointed with your sales.

6– No matter who publishes your book, you will still have to deal with marketing, a lot more than you think. If you seriously believe that finding a publisher means you won’t have to do any (or only minimal) marketing, then you might as well not bother writing that book. Every writer, even the bestsellers, had to get involved in marketing and promotion in order to succeed. Maybe a handful in a million are able to sit back and just let the money roll in.

7– If you land an agent and seriously believe that your agent will help you with marketing, then you are very much mistaken. That’s not what agents do. Agents do two things: They try to find a publisher for your book, and if they manage that, then they collect 15% of the royalties on all your sales of that book. (If do you find an agent that goes above and beyond, then you are a very lucky writer indeed.)

8– If you PAY someone to publish your book (Vanity Publishing), you are throwing your money down the drain. You have a far better chance of winning a lottery than breaking even on your investment. Vanity Publishing can still be a learning experience, albeit an expensive and mostly negative one.

After you have absorbed the above truths, then ask yourself this: Do I believe in myself and in my book and am I willing to put forth the effort to try to succeed? If the answer to this is yes, then continue reading. Otherwise, go back to your warm, fuzzy dreams.


The next question to ask your self is this: What are my goals and expectations regarding my book?

1– You are writing this for a limited audience, such as family, friends, your community, or a small audience or group you’re connected with. In other words, you’re looking to share information, not necessarily to make much money on this book.

2– You are writing the book for a larger audience, hoping to make sales or perhaps looking to see where your writing will take you. You want to make some money, but at this point you’re only setting modest goals for yourself.

3– You expect to land an agent, and once that happens, a publisher will sign you, then you’ll be making some serious money).

I’m not saying 3 is out of the question, but I think your chances are about the same those for an actor landing a minor role in a movie or TV program (at least for your first book).

Another truth is that more and more traditionally published authors are venturing into self-publishing. Yes, they already have a name and a following, which means less marketing needed. The upside is that these authors choosing this route validates self-publishing as respectable venue. The downside is that their doing so means more competition for the newcomer.

One good piece of advice I can offer is “DO NOT DOUBT YOURSELF.” Self-publishing can be a scary thing, but it’s no scarier than starting your own business, which is really what venturing into self-publishing is. My further advice is to treat it as a side business at first. Do the research and ask lots of questions of those who have gone before you. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE do not take the path of least resistance of paying someone else do the whole job for you.

Think about how you would approach any new endeavor, or a hobby. If you wanted to venture into woodworking, would you simply sketch your design then pay someone to come in and do all the real work? Well, you could, but then it’s not your endeavor; that’s not doing it yourself. Or in the case of writing, instead of actually writing the book, why don’t you simply pay someone else to that as well and give you a percentage of the profits? I’m pretty sure that’s not your intent.

If you’re not a youngster who grew up with computers, do you remember how mysterious (and perhaps frightening and mind-boggling) it was to learn how to use one? Yet how many of you older folks like me now take our computers and tablets and smart phones and other digital technology in stride? It’s all become a part of our lives.

Back in 2002 I had no clue how to build a computer from components. I didn’t want to simply buy one already built because I wanted to have the total choice of options in it. And I didn’t have a ton of money to spend on it. So, I paid a friend to build me one. And I watched him assemble it. Eight years later, I built my own PC, and the following year I built one for my wife. They are both still functioning (aside from recently having had to replace a failed hard drive in mine). Since I’d seen how easily my friend had built mine, I did some research, then dove in and built one myself. And, no, I did not take any classes or have an engineering degree to help me out.

I had considered purchase a new PC at that time, but realized I could save a couple hundred dollars and gain the experience by doing it myself. Sure it was a little scary, but if I ran into problems, I could take it to a local shop for help. That wasn’t necessary.

The world of writing has changed drastically over the past seven or eight years. If you truly want to be a writer today, then can’t live in the past. If you attempt to pursue getting your work published the same way writers did ten or more years ago (querying agents and publishers), then you’re almost certainly going to be frustrated and find it an exercise in futility. (And as I’ve said in previous blog posts, the publishing contracts today are absolutely horrendous!)

Here’s some superb advice I just saw from someone who took the plunge into self-publishing:

“All I can really say is that, if this is your first attempt, and you’re thinking about self-publishing, be willing to put your heart and soul into promotion, as you did into your writing… In self-publishing you’ve got to be willing to make that effort, or it’s going to be a failure.”

This is the reason I gave this blog post the title I did. You have to make a decision and follow every clichéd expression you’ve ever heard:

Step up to the plate
Bite the bullet
Have the courage of your convictions
Gird up your loins
Grow a set
Screw your courage to the sticking post
Take the bull by the horns
Throw caution to the wind
Put your ass on the line
Fly into the face of danger
Run the gauntlet
And hang in there.

Believe in yourself, and if at first you don’t succeed…


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