How To Self-Publish Successfully: 10 Things People Are Told – truth or myth?

Guest poster, David Lieder.

Guest poster, David Lieder.

Most Writers’ Workshop clients want, as a primary goal, to get an agent and then a traditional publisher – and as you probably know, we’re quite good at helping people do just that. But these days, more than ever, writers should take self-pub seriously as an option. (This little intro is authored by me, Harry Bingham, and I’ve had a total of six book deals with Big 5 publishers, of which all but one was a six-figure deal. So you’d think I was committed to the trad cause, right? Well, no. Different situations call for different responses and I’m about to relaunch my entire Fiona Griffiths series in the US as a completely self-published venture and I’m pretty darn certain that I’ll make more money that way than I ever did with an – excellent – Big 5 house.)

In short, we at the WW believe in excellent writing and we believe that writers should be able to profit from that writing to the maximum possible extent. Sometimes that will mean trad deals, other times not. And here, as part of the self-pub thread on this blog, are the wise words of David Lieder, President of Author Wing, who sifts through some of the major claims about self-pub you’ll find on the net. A somewhat longer bio for David can be found at the end of this piece.


#1: “Self-publishing is for amateurs”.



An amateur – but a gentleman, by Jove

Self-publishing done correctly can far surpass the efforts of traditional publishers. Even if you sign with a traditional publisher, there are simple things you can do on your own that will exponentially increase book sales and your overall income.

Many serious writers are making over $50,000 a month from self-publishing, especially when they maintain an automated reader email list and provide a free incentive to the readers joining the email list. It’s all about connecting with your readers, and the internet has certainly helped with that. The best book marketing methods use very little of your own time and allow you to automate processes, so you can easily reach thousands, or tens of thousands, of your readers whenever you want.

And what about traditionally published writers? It is becoming more common to keep audiobook rights and self-publish the audiobooks, or to self-publish individual titles that are not picked up by the publisher.


#2: “A writer should have a blog. Blogs help writers reach their target group.”



Blogs – Missing the target?

Fifteen years ago it would have been wise to use a blog to rank in search engines and reach people. But today, there are just too many blogs. For example, on one website alone, Tumblr, in October of 2015 there were over 260 million blog accounts. WordPress was being used by over 60 million blogs way back in 2012, and the actual data on the lightning growth in WordPress usage is hard to find these days, but it’s probably exponentially greater than 60 million by now.

The point is, nobody will be able to find your blog, and for readers that go straight to your website, why assume that they want to read your blog posts? A few blog posts every now and then can help your readers to know what you’re doing and if there is any news. But writing blogs just for the sake of doing it will backfire, because your readers want to read your books and they probably have limited time.

Nothing looks worse than a blog that has been abandoned, because if your last post was over a year ago, or was an apology like “I’m sorry I’m not posting”, then it makes you look like you’re not an active writer. Better to not have blog at all or to limit it to one post a month that is just short news or a greeting to readers.


#3: “Twitter is a great way to connect with readers and writers.”



That damn bird

Twitter is still one of the best ways to connect with your readers, and also with other VIPs in your genre, including agents, publishers, and writers who are connected. Most of the writers who are connected on Twitter started out just like everyone else, with zero followers. If you gracefully retweet your favorite fellow authors, you will find them thanking you and opening up the lines of communication.

Another good reason to use Twitter is simply that there are amazing links, news and related content being tweeted by VIPs in your writing genre. It’s great to follow these people, because in addition to the fantastic content, it’s very motivating to be exposed to writers who are very committed and energetic in their promotions.

If you do use Twitter, you should check out a tool like HootSuite to make it easier. HootSuite is like night and day compared to trying to manually manage your Twitter account.


#4: “Independent vanity publishers give you the freedom to publish your books.”


Life with a vanity publisher.

Life with a vanity publisher.

Vanity publishers are notorious for keeping the copyright on everything you buy, such as book covers, and for charging you large amounts of money to make basic changes.

Kindle is an oversaturated platform, but it sure is nice on Kindle to be able to make free changes to titles and upload edited versions of your book, with an eight-hour turn-around time (or less). Most people who use vanity publishers do so because it seems easy and it is easy. But it also ties up your book, and you might find it impossible to move the book later on, if there are items like book covers that the vanity publisher has created for you. For this reason, most savvy book marketers advise against vanity publishers.


#5: “Kindle is the best platform for self-publishing”.


Panning for gold on Kindle Direct.

Panning for gold on Kindle Direct

I will certainly agree that Amazon made self-publishing very easy and kind of fun, with the KDP platform and even with Create Space. Publishing a Kindle book is like a rite of passage for authors these days, but it should be noted that the Kindle platform is very oversaturated, and that many people who have never written a book decide to get involved in the “gold rush” and they dump a few books on Kindle, unedited, and sometimes ghostwritten by someone in the Philippines for $20. Why would you want to dump your books onto a platform that has basically become a cesspool of eBooks?

It should also be noted that Apple has over 400 million devices, and they have added books as a separate tab in iTunes, moving closer and closer to making it easy for Apple customers to purchase books.

An old rule of business is to place your product in venues where there is less competition. This means letting go of the comfort of KDP and its exclusivity demands, then going to Smashwords, Ingram-Spark or even Book Baby and putting your ePub out to the world.


#6: “The traditional publishers are going out of business.”


Not starving any time soon.

Not starving any time soon.

The traditional publishers are as profitable as ever. They are able to publish their back catalogs as ePub releases, and in some cases audiobooks. What the traditional publishers lack is a drive to stay current with technology. Why learn new methods when the old ways still work?

Yes, physical bookstores have been replaced with online buying, but print books are more popular than ever. And in this way, some self-publishers are doing far better than most traditionally-published authors, because self-publishers MUST use technology in some way.


#7: “Writers should learn technology and book marketing.”


Getting to grips with technology.

Getting to grips with technology.

At the risk of being called negative, my opinion in working with many authors is that it is much better to delegate your non-writing aspects of self-publishing, and try to use platforms when you are able. There are simple methods that are very effective, but the reality is that the top-selling self-published authors are using one or two methods and in very simple ways. It is not the amount of information you know as an author. The key is to know the correct information.

An author who tries to learn technology and book marketing usually ends up not having any time to write. So you might be wondering what I suggest an author do when they want to self-publish? It’s best to get a broad overview of publishing and book marketing, enough that you can realize that there are far too many options to try to learn them all. The focus on a specific path. It’s always great to emulate a successful self-published author. Copying successful people is a definite way to learn from them and emulate greatness.


#8: “Mark Twain was a self-published author.”


Self-publishing? Bah, rubbish!

Self-publishing? Bah, rubbish!

Mark Twain was already famous and wealthy when he started his own publishing company Charles L. Webster & Co. His company published eighty titles, including Huckleberry Finn. This is hardly a tale of self-publishing as a means of achieving greatness. The neat thing about Mark Twain is that he did a lot of self-promotion. He traveled constantly, and even did readings in houses around America. We can be inspired in self-publishing by his relentless energy for promoting his books. But no, he did not self-publish, in the sense we use the word.

However, there have been many authors who self-published their own books at the beginning. James Redfield self-published The Celestine Prophecy, and Charles Dickens did self-publish some of the first editions of his own books, trying to interest more formal publishing, in addition to his serial writing in the newspapers.

What has changed today to make self-publishing a viable solution for authors is that we now have the internet and automation. It is now possible for one person to reach hundreds of thousands or millions of readers on their own, without a publisher.


#9: “You have to spend money to self-publish.”


We didn't mean spending money on shoes.

We didn’t mean spending money on shoes.

Self-publishing is a business, and while it is good to be frugal with funds, like any other business, your self-publishing has to be funded in some basic ways.

But some things can be completely free, especially at the beginning. In my opinion, every author should self-publish one title on Kindle just to see what it’s like, then move to other platforms. I try to teach authors a well-rounded view of publishing and book marketing so that they can make wise decisions. It isn’t about knowing a lot of things. It’s about knowing the correct things, and having a broad general knowledge of what is going on can help, in a general way. But ultimately, successful self-published authors are using specific and similar techniques to reach their reader bases and then resell to the readers. This is called the “Lifetime Value of the Customer” in business terminology. Once you have a reader, the key is to be able to contact them so you can easily resell. The key is to have a way to reach your readers, such as having an automated email list.

Yes, of course you could release a bunch of Kindle books for free and do some keyword tricks to get ranked, but if you really want to be in the business of self-publishing, then it is important to budget some money for an editor, for a good book cover, and to have the book converted to an ePub. You can have Smashwords convert your book to an ePub for free, or Kindle will do that. But when you do have the funds, the preferred way is to have your print books typeset by someone using Adobe InDesign or even MS Word, and to have your ePubs done by a specialist so you can release them to all platforms without any hiccups.


#10: “Facebook is the best way to reach potential readers.”


That damn face thingy

That damn face thingy

At this time, this is true. Facebook is the platform that the top self-published authors are using to identify potential readers. This is due to Facebook’s ability to feed ads to specific demographics, such as “women older than thirty who like John Grisham”.

Yes, you do need to get to grip with Facebook’d advertising interface, but it really isn’t hard – and you can SEE if your ads are working or not. If they are, you can ramp them up. If they’re not, you can ditch them. There’s just nothing to lose.


David Lieder is an author and consultant to authors. He teaches self-publishing techniques and is the President of Author Wing. As a longtime entrepreneur and businessman, Mr. Lieder helps authors apply the business principles that affect self-publishing.

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  • Great article, Harry and David, particularly the point about moving to sales on all ebook platforms. Last year the word was that sales on other platforms were still so small for all but the most prominent of authors that it made the effort necessary to move from KDP Select, and the loss of benefits to be out of it, not really worth it. But maybe this is worth revisiting now – things change so quickly in publishing.
    I thought I’d add a link to The Writers’ Workshop’s own Self-Publishing Success course here, for any readers who might be interesting in exploring this further:

  • Pingback: Is Kindle Direct (KDP) still the best self-publishing platform? | Literary Agents Advice()

  • “it should be noted that the Kindle platform is very oversaturated”

    And yet authors are still making bank in KDP.

    “It should also be noted that Apple has over 400 million devices, and they have added books as a separate tab in iTunes, moving closer and closer to making it easy for Apple customers to purchase books.”

    So what? Apple doesn’t care about selling ebooks. Amazon does.

    “An old rule of business is to place your product in venues where there is less competition.”

    Sure – if you want to lose. The best rule of thumb us that you go where the money is.
    Nate Hoffelder, editor of The Digital Reader

  • Nate, thanks for responding. I would say that you are simply misinformed, but that would be incorrect and just being polite. Perhaps you should read my other articles on the problems that Amazon is having. Or just go back to your own reality.

  • Soizic

    Hi there,
    Thanks for the article. I just got a bit confused on the paragraph around Kindle. You write “This means letting go of the comfort of KDP and its exclusivity demands, then going to Smashwords, Ingram-Spark or even Book Baby and putting your ePub out to the world.” But I thought it was just KDP Select that has an exclusivity clause. Are you not allowed to sell your ebook on other platforms if you’re just using KDP (and don’t opt in to their ‘Select’ programme)?
    Maybe I was misinformed, but would appreciate some clarification.

  • Harry

    Yep, it’s just KDP Select, but Amazon is really pushing that baby . . .

  • Well informative ad interesting article on self publishing.

  • Some nice myths busted – thanks for those!

    I think there will always be room for self publishing and traditional methods. I also suspect that with the growth of platforms like Kindle and even CreateSpace that there will be a blurring of the lines – traditional publishers could easily use print on demand to keep back catalogs better available without the cost of holding stock; self publishers already cross over into more traditional methods.