If you haven’t written a book yet, you probably know someone who has—particularly if you’re an entrepreneur. A recent industry report found ISBN registrations for self-published titles have grown more than 375% since 2010, when the e-book market was heating up.
Being a published author is still widely considered a great way to establish yourself as an expert in your field, and the growth of self-publishing has made it easier than ever to do that. But it’s not always a sure bet. I’ve been traditionally published, and as a publicist, virtually all of my clients—most of whom are solopreneurs, freelancers, and small business owners—have either already written a book or want to.
To self-publish successfully (and typically that means selling either just an e-book or digital and print copies simultaneously), there are a few things worth knowing first.
Not all self-publishers are created equal
Kristy Rodriquez wrote her book, Pure Nurture: A Holistic Guide to a Healthy Baby, to support her work as a certified prenatal health coach and prenatal yoga instructor. Looking back, she says the publishing process was sometimes more challenging than writing the book itself.
“I wish I had researched several self-publishing options,” Rodriquez says. “There are so many companies out there, and each has their own pros and cons.” A good place to start is simply to check out their reviews. The blurbs from satisfied authors that publishers post on their own site are all going to be positive, so dig deeper and look for other mentions of the company online.
Once you’ve got a few reputable companies to compare, the next step is pinning down how and when you’ll be paid as your book sells. Formulas for determining your earnings can vary greatly from one self-publishing platform to the next, so take the time to understand how each scenario might play out for you long-term.
It’ll take more time and money than you expect
James Nowlin, author of The Purposeful Millionaire: 52 Rules for Creating a Life of Wealth and Happiness Now, says one of the biggest shocks to him was the time and expense involved in self-publishing his own book. “Writing an exceptional book will cost you twice as much time and money as you think,” he says.
Rodriquez agrees, adding that it’s crucial to get the full details on what is—and isn’t—included in each publishing package you consider. She warns that self-publishing companies have a penchant for introducing add-ons down the road, once you’re already committed to them.
“I found out the hard way about add-ons and the added expenses involved,” she says.
You might not be as good a writer as you think
When my first book was published, I was working as a professional journalist, so I thought I was a pretty good writer—until I got the notes back from my editor. In the end, I know that led to a more polished final manuscript.
One of the most common complaints surrounding self-published books is the quality of the finished product. Some self-publishers will offer editing services, while other platforms merely serve as a conduit for placing your book with online retailers like Amazon. That leads a lot of authors hiring freelance editors, which Nowlin recommends (and so do I).
“Interview your editors like crazy and make sure that you like them,” he cautions. Then prepare yourself for the editorial experience. “Their work is humbling, and you will need to be able to respectfully communicate with your editor,” Nowlin explains, as your ego is gently crushed throughout the editing process.”
You need a plan to leverage your audience from the get-go
The inspiration for this article came in part from my experience working recently with Emily Hooks, a self-published author who penned The Power of Forgiveness: A Guide to Healing and Wholeness.
In order to fund the printing of her physical book, Hooks launched a Kickstarter campaign a year before her release date. Although it led to her selling 350 preordered copies before the book was even finished, it also tapped out her list to the point where Hooks was struggling to market to those same people in the run-up to the official release.
“The Kickstarter campaign had its pros and cons, but the biggest downside was that I found you can only excite your circle of influence so many times,” Hooks reflects. Knowing what she knows now, she’d advise authors to plan their timelines and budgets in advance—from beginning to end.
“Price out production and promotion, develop a launch strategy with a timeline, gauge interest, and then use your own resources or a loan to get through your launch.”
Your book probably won’t be profitable
I have a strict policy when it comes to taking on authors as clients: If you say your primary motivation is profit, I don’t work with you.
I know New York Times best-sellers who don’t make a full-time living from writing. In my view, the revenue you should focus on making from your book isn’t from its sales or royalties—it’s from the speaking and consulting opportunities that publishing a book can help you secure.
I’ve made well over six figures from my book if I factor in all the speaking engagements and consulting gigs I believe I’ve gotten as a result of being a published author. Focus on leveraging your book as a marketing tool, something that lends you well-deserved credibility in your field. If you don’t approach it as a stand-alone revenue generator, you’ll be much happier with the results.