This a joint guest contribution from Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt.
Too many indie authors buy into the myths and lies that keep them running in circles rather than charging forward into a lucrative self-publishing career.
Before successfully writing fiction full time, we both wrote for our own blogs for years, along with guest posts for sites like Problogger. We wrote about entrepreneurship and all the blah blah blogging you’re plenty used to. But in 2012, with millions of e-readers in circulation, and hungry consumers in need of content, we made a decisive shift.
We spent the last year writing and publishing 1.5 million words of fiction through our company Realm & Sands. We’ve never been happier, and we’re writing what we want for an audience who loves us.
Isn’t that the dream of every blogger?
Fortunately, we didn’t let some of the most common self-publishing myths hold us down like they wanted. We hope you don’t either. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, avoid these myths and you too can build yourself a lucrative self-publishing career.
MYTH #1: If you self-publish, you can’t publish traditionally.
We’ve get this question all the time on our Self Publishing Podcast. It usually looks like this: “I’ve just finished my book, and figure I have two options: I’m trying to decide if I should self-publish or shop it around to literary agents. Why should I consider self-publishing instead of traditional?”
The root of this question is a fear that the writer has used up what’s inside them — often all they feel is inside them, because the notion of writing a second book feels daunting — and that they therefore have exactly one shot and don’t want to waste it. These writers (and bloggers) see self-publishing versus traditional as a binary decision wherein they can choose one or the other … but not both. If they use their only chance to pursue self-publishing, they’ll never see their book in a bookstore.
Traditional publishing is seen as “better” and self-publishing as “Well, at least you did something.” It’s publishing is often referred to as “real publishing,” as if it’s somehow more genuine or has more inherent value. We get it; if anyone can self-publish but not everyone can traditionally publish, the latter means you’ve passed another tier of approval. But does that matter? Maybe and maybe not.
Is it a mistake to self-publish that masterpiece rather than banging on doors until you crack your way into an agent or publisher?
Well, yes and no. There is some truth to the idea that a publisher won’t want a book that’s already been published … at all … anywhere … including by you. Publishers want fresh meat, so they can shape it how they’d like without worrying about your current readers who may have earlier versions.
If you have Book X and you self-publish, it’s possible a publisher won’t later be interested in Book X because it’s already out there in the world. So, if Book X is all you have in you, and your life won’t be complete unless you see Book X in a bookstore, and nothing less is acceptable, then maybe you’d better keep querying and networking and trying to get it to a publisher. If you’re a total unknown, and Book X is your first and only book, the odds are very, very heavily stacked against you, but if you want to keep at it, that’s your business.
On the other hand, let’s say you can write a second entry, called Book Y. If you publish Book X yourself, and if Book X is a big self-published success, publishers will be much more interested in looking at Book Y. You’ll be able to tell those publishers, “Look at Book X … I already have readers and fans who love me!”
Publishers always want to know about your “platform,” which means “your ability to promote the book without our help.” Racking up a few self-publishing successes before pitching traditional publishing is like playing baseball in the minors: Publishers can look at your record and see you have the chops needed to sell in the majors.
MYTH #2: Publishers can do things for you that you can’t do yourself.
There’s technically some truth to this one, but only a little, and it’s irrelevant for most writers.
Big publishers are built for scale. They can, in essence, take large things and make them larger. But the average writer will get a marketing budget commensurate with what they expect your books to sell. That means virtually nothing for most of us. There’s a certain “chicken versus egg” loop at play. Authors think it’s a publisher’s job to earn them money, but publishers don’t see it that way. In their eyes, you and your book are assets at best and liabilities at worst. You’re a stock in their portfolio; you’ll either perform, or you won’t. They won’t market the crap out of you to ensure your success. It’s more accurate to say that they will market the crap out of you if you become successful.
Book publishers can get your book into big brick and mortar stores. That’s true. But unless they expect your book to sell quite well, the publisher won’t pay the extra money to get you prominently featured in that store: face-out on the shelf, displayed in the end caps, laid out on the front tables. That positioning isn’t earned by merit. With the exception of something like staff picks, a bookstore isn’t going to think your book is awesome and set it up front. Chances are, for most authors, you’ll be another anonymous spine on the shelf, begging for attention. Your book will then have a few weeks to prove itself, and if it doesn’t, the bookstore will declare it a failure, pull it from the shelf, and return it to the publisher.
For most authors, publishers will handle editing, covers, and book packaging. They’ll get your book into stores. From publicity to promotion, the rest is up to you.
Yes, technically, traditional publishers can do a few things that indies can’t … but for most writers, those things are irrelevant, especially compared to the loss of control. You can’t make assumptions. Always weigh all sides of any deal; know what you’re getting and what you’re giving up.
MYTH #3: Self-promotion and marketing are dirty.
Much of the resistance to selling and marketing people naturally have is the fault of used car salesmen, timeshare companies, and multi-level marketers — fields based on the hard sell. Nothing matters more than nabbing the buyer, and if you must deceive and bully your prospects to get that sale, so be it. Coffee is for closers, they say. So close, at all costs.
The world’s used car salesmen and high-pressure realtors have left a bad taste in our mouths, because no one likes being sold to, but that’s not what we’re talking about. Being sold to, for most people, is something that happens almost against your will. Like an assault. When you’re sold to, the salesman might as well be putting a knife to your throat. But haven’t you ever bought anything outside of a high-pressure situation? Have you ever seen something in a store or seen an advertisement, thought you might like that thing, then bought it? That’s selling. That’s marketing. The seller set the object or service in front of you and accentuated the positives so that you could agree to buy it. Transaction done, and no one had to get knifed.
Have you ever gone to see the sequel of a movie you liked, or ordered dessert when the waiter offered it after your meal? Have you ever Super-Sized your Value Meal? Those are all examples of an upsell — another “dirty” marketing word. Yet you probably don’t regret any of those transactions.
You might, in fact, have appreciated the chance to get more of what you already knew you liked, often at a preferred price. Shocking!
We could beat this to death, but you get the point. In valid, non-sleazy salesmanship and marketing, everyone wins. Do you really feel that you “lost” and that the seller “won” whenever you buy something? Do you really feel that duped? No? So, why be hesitant when you’re in the seller’s position?
In an ethical sales transaction, the buyer and seller should be equally pleased. Each party should feel like thanking the other.
Ethical marketing is nothing more than letting people who might like your product know it exists — and, ideally, giving them some sort of a deal that makes the offer better for the potential buyer.
If you ever find yourself resisting sales and marketing, read the previous two paragraphs a few times until you believe them, because they’re true. If you refuse to believe they are — if some deep part of your brain continues to insist that all sales and marketing are about manipulation and winning at someone else’s expense — you’ll never succeed as an indie author.
MYTH #4: Self-publishing is a lottery, and you can (or have to) get lucky.
This is one-title thinking.
If you’re thinking self-publishing is a lottery (either one you hope to win or one you hesitate to enter because winning seems impossible), please do yourself a favor and look at the title of our book. We called it Write. Publish. Repeat for a reason. You must write, publish, then do it all over again.
There are success stories out there like 50 Shades of Gray, where an author had exactly one title, and that book blew up big time, but those are lottery scenarios and in no way typical. E.L. James scrambled to write the rest of the 50 Shades trilogy after she started making the equivalent of a small nation’s GNP each month, but even today every book in her catalog starts with 50 Shades. E.L. James did hit the self-publishing lottery, and never has to write another book if she doesn’t want to. But don’t let her story discourage you because it seems so unlikely. Don’t let her story encourage you, either, because you’re hoping for the same.
To the gamblers: You’re not going to have that one-in-a-million hit, so stop hoping for it and keep writing.
To the skeptics: You don’t need to have that one-in-a-million hit … because you can keep writing.
We do not believe in lightning-strike thought, or that you must hit it big to find success as an indie. A surprising hit would be great, and surely boost your catalog. We’ve raised a dozen funnels to market, with around 40 individual titles. If one of our titles hits BIG, everything sells at least a little more. But the magic is that we don’t need a big hit. The approach we believe in, use ourselves, advocate, and evangelize is workmanlike. Get one book that makes $200 per month, then create another 20 or 30 like it over time. Two hundred dollars per month is in no way a big hit, but it’s good. And achievable. It certainly isn’t the lottery.
Any good, persistent, business-minded, prolific writer can succeed if they keep writing and moving forward. For the modern writer, that’s excellent news.
Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt published 1.5 million words and built full-time self-publishing careers from scratch in 2013. In their comprehensive self-publishing guide Write. Publish. Repeat, they tell you everything you need to know about how to do the same. The book is half price for launch (and comes with a bonus book) through Friday, December 6.
I am not so richy type, i am running by blog website by self publishing posts by copying them from here and there. I agree to you but, what do a blog owner do if he do have interest in blogging but cant afford to go for publishers?
Nicely said. Sounds workmanlike at best, nothing different from today. Thanks for sharing.
Blogging gets me confused where to post where to not. pr thing is good but keyword thing is perplexed.
with faith, anyone can overcome fear when it comes to blogging and affiliate marketing. I always tell people that starting a business on the Internet is worth taking the risk, but is definitely worth doing the transformation entrepreneurial work.I tried to stay away from selling like a salesman on the web and yet create content that’s more engaging around telling stories from personal life experiences and more. This way, I attract a loyal reader base that hopefully turns into online customers.
Agree with you,but at the starting i think there is no other way than self publishing.Once your empire build then you can think rather than self publishing.
I like the point about the lottery. Yeah, people do get lucky sometimes, but you’d think there would have to be a process that exists to reasonably assure you that you could get some minimal level of success.
It’s good news for us writers too because for most, it takes long hours and years of hard work.
My logic tells me that the best way to do it is to self-publish and if you really have what it takes and your work gets viral, then you’ll have publishers from what to choose from.
We are all afraid of the unknown when it comes to self publishing and end doing nothing about our dreams. There’s however no harm in taking the plunge following the advice of you guys who have been there and know what it takes. Thanks for your advice.
I think any truly self-driven writer can find a way to go about self-promoting and self publishing without having a majors behind you. Self rule always gives way to clever marketing and promotional ideas. The implementation of these two is where the trick lies. Be straight forward and think ahead, and you’ll always be able to maintain an edge.
It has been a long time since I am willing to publish my eBook but I still have not. And, now I am realizing that perhaps these myths are stopping me because I also really believe that Publishers can do things for us that we cannot do by ourselves. But now my eyes are wide open. Thank you very much for such an impressive post.
This is extremely motivational for me, particularly because I’ve just released a couple of my own eBooks, and am looking forward to releasing more. I agree with everything you’ve said.
One of the great, free, assets an author has can be found in a local writers group. Critique, editing, reading out load and learning how to distance yourself from the personal nature of feedback is all part of that process.
I love the focus on platform, use social media, post excerpts, involve early fans in the process and don’t be afraid to give a chapter or two away to get them hooked. This will also tell you if you have a good hook…
I have to admit that I don’t have much experience in publishing, except with my poetry long ago. However, I think most of these tips make perfect sense and at the end of the day is always about a bit of luck.
Although I agree with all your points to an extent, I’ve self-published two books. Sales were moderate, but okay for about a year, but lately they’ve seemed to dry up. I have no fear. I’m staying on board. And although marketing and self promotion don’t have to be dirty, they still suck for the artist who does not like to direct attention to themselves, but rather their work. http://www.danerickson.net
Great post and nicely written but i am not fully agree because for any successful product you should market successfully also. Online marketing is not easy these days and publisher knows how to promote a product and i know as author how to create a product.If i want to promote my product i know i can do but what is the point in this time may be i can create another product why should i waste my time in learning marketing which is not my field.
Okay. I see both of you blogging everywhere and wish you all the best with your work. Great surge for the past year.
The key these days is to write content that doesn’t suck.
There’s SO MUCH content out there that the only way to stick out is to create content that people actually care.
Content that people SHARE.
Quit worrying about SEO, and focus on the end user.
Just my $.02
Thank you for such an informative article! I do agree, we are all afraid of the unknown. The post is very inspiring!
Great post, Johnny B. :D
I think the best way to become a self-publisher is to forget all the negative and practice, practice, practice.
Nice post. I didn’t know that before. Thank you!
this is a very interesting article in a field I’ve been interested in for a while. For someone who likes to write, but hates to promote, I found it strangely reassuring, whilst also mirroring some of my own experiences so far.
I find it really interesting how the times are changing and how easy it is to self-publish these days but with that as with anything with low barriers to entry, obviously it becomes increasingly difficult to be seen or heard.
There’s another category of writer though – those who just want to write. For these people, the latest changes in self-publishing are wonderful developments.
Excellent article! I started off down the traditional route and, several books later, have started to self publish. As a self-publisher not only do I have much more control over what happens to my books but there is also the potential of making a great deal more money. One of my books sold over 14,000 copies but with royalties of only about 8% and my agent’s commission to pay, I made very little from it, considering how long it took me to write. Another book got brilliant reviews in major national newspapers – but the publisher didn’t get it into the shops and so sales remained very low. Having investigated both sides very carefully, I can see no benefits at all of going the traditional route since the internet and the ability to print-on-demand have made self publishing not only easy but inexpensive.
True post. Nobody will publish you for free. You are the only interested person until you become famous. And to become a star, first of all you must work for free a lot by publishing more and more throughout.
The trap about marketing not to fall into is thinking that it’s about the book instead of the the writer. This is probably one of the reasons people ending up spamming to try to sell their book. I used to cowrite with a marketer, and even he fell into that trap. The book was a thriller set in the Civil War. Our next was going to be contemporary (we broke up while the CW thriller was in submission to agents). While we were writing the CW book, he wanted to go to reenactments and have us dress us to promote it. He didn’t get that the people who might buy that book because it’s CW ties probably wouldn’t buy our next contemporary book because he got too focused on marketing the book and the not the writers. Whereas, I was looking for the piece that would translate across not on two books, but could go across genres. The one common piece is the writer.
Unfortunately, marketing for books still gets taught as marketing the product, not the writer. Marketing an individual fiction book as a product is really hard. With non-fiction, you’re selling whatever the topic is; but fiction — what would be the sale? Sure, you could post research. We did that with the CW thriller, and all cowriter got was “I have an Enfield. How much is it worth?” questions. If the book had made it to a publisher, I doubt if any of the people we had interested in our CW stuff would have bought the book itself. We marketed to the obvious audience, but not to the readers. To give you an idea of how little people understand about this, I put writer in my subject line on Twitter. I get a lot of writers following me because of that, and guess what? They market to me. Somehow they think because I’m a writer, I should buy their book because they’re a writer.