How to self-publish your book

Many people dream of writing their own book and the exciting news is that today, you don’t necessarily need a literary agent or book contract to experience publishing success.

One very viable option is self-publishing. That was the decision I made for my first book, The Tao of Twitter, and here are some lessons learned that can help you get started on your own effort.

The essential question

There are many good reasons to publish a book: awareness, income, self-gratification, an entry point for speaking opportunities, etc. Before you decide which way to publish, think about WHY you’re doing it.

For me, I was looking to solve a problem. The number one question I was asked was “Can you help me understand Twitter?” That is just not something I could do in a phone call or over coffee. The available Twitter resources were too long, too boring, missed the point, or were out of date. Plus, I wanted to go through the learning experience of publishing a book.

I had been approached by three publishers about doing a book but the timing wasn’t right for me. They all expected a book tour and  promotional efforts and I did not have the time in my life to do that.  Also, they expect a book of certain “heft.” The length of a book is associated with the price point. The book I had in mind was going to be short and aimed at busy people. I didn’t want to make it as long as what they wanted and it would have required a lot of fluffy filling. That’s not for me. So self-publishing became a viable route.

Getting organized

Obviously you need a chapter-by-chapter outline for a book.  Here’s a technique that worked for me. I literally had easel-pad pages for each chapter “decorating” my dining room.  On each page I had sticky notes with ideas, resources, and assignments for each chapter.  This is very low tech but it helped me visualize the entire flow of the book and what was going to go where.

Challenges

It’s much different writing a book than a couple of long blog posts.  Obviously there is a significant time requirement. I wanted to make sure my wife and family was on board and understanding that this would be ON TOP of everything else.

My biggest challenge was keeping focused on the continuous flow of the book — much harder to do than stand-alone blog posts.  One of the things that helped was blocking out large chunks of time, primarily over the holidays, to write. At least for me, I couldn’t write the book in small increments because I was spending too much time having to ge re-acquainted with the flow.

Picking a platform

I did a lot of research on picking the right publishing platform. I ultimately chose CreateSpace, a division of Amazon, and I’m so glad that I did.  I highly recommend this company. They have an easy-to-follow, step-by-step process with lots of help at each stage.

Also, they offer paid assistance at each step.  For example, if you want an editor, they can provide that.  If you need help with cover art, they can do that. Marketing? Same thing.  And their customer service is superb!  It was quite painless to get both the print copy and the electronic copy ready for Amazon.

Unfortunately I had to go through another company Lulu, to get it produced as an iBook. Nine months after I paid them, it is still not produced. This company has been a nightmare to work with. Their service is awful.  Avoid them at all costs.

My out-of pocket costs

One advantage of this model is that it is an inexpensive path forward.  You don’t have to sell too many books to break even. Here were my approximate expenses:

  • Upfront CreateSpace set-up costs $99
  • Licensing fee $99
  • Graphic design $150
  • Proof-reading assistance $120
  • Website for book $300 (www.thetaooftwitter.com)

So basically I was ready to go for under $1,000. Of course you can get into a lot more expense if you use the CreateSpace paid options. I saved money by using my own trusted freelancer friends.

Profits

You have complete control of the pricing of your book.  CreateSpace charges you a flat fee for producing the book (usually between $3-$5 depending on length) and after that, the profits are yours. If you actually sell books, this can be much more profitable than going with a publisher. You can also change the price of the book at any time.

The amount you make is also affected by the distribution channel.  The most profitable source is selling right from CreateSpace. If you go with Amazon, they’ll nick you for another $1 or so per book. And big distributors force even lower profits.

By the way, all books are not automatically picked up by Amazon. It has to go through a review process.  Thankfully, my book was selected for their channel and nearly all my sales come through Amazon. It’s evenly split between paper and electronic copies and I have priced it so that I make about $3/book.  It won’t make me rich, but most important, it’s priced fairly so even students who need it can afford it.

Another advantage to this model is that there are no inventory costs.  The books are produced on demand. So whether you need one book or 100, they can be shipped to your door, or the customer, in a matter of days.

Marketing the book

Probably the biggest irony of my career is that I do a lousy job marketing myself. I’m too busy helping other people and it is ever so much more interesting to market something other than me! So, I’m not a best practice in this category!

Sadly, my entire marketing plan was to write one post and put a little ad on the blog. Thankfully the book became very popular despite my shortcomings.  Many people have been kind enough to write The Tao of Twitter and recommend it without my prodding. You know why? Because the book rocks.  It really does. I believe in it. And that is important. If you don’t have great content, you’re not going to have much of a marketing plan anyway, no matter what you spend on it.

Another key idea is having a built-in network.  Again, it all depends on your goals, but I have a friend who has high hopes for a self-published book but he has no online network.  His goal is make money from the thing so he is basically hoping for a miracle unless he is ready to plow a lot into marketing.  There is no marketing more powerful or cost-effective than an engaged network of fans.

Results

  • Despite the lack of proactive marketing, the book has reached number three on Amazon’s list of business communication books.  Through word of mouth alone, it is selling well enough so that it would be considered a “best seller” in the business book category.
  • It is being translated into Spanish, Mandarin and Portuguese.
  • The Tao of Twitter is being used as a business or PR textbook at seven universities.
  • I am planning an updated and expanded second edition of the book in 2012.
  • It is providing a nice passive income stream. I broke even in six weeks.
  • Most important, it has met my goal.  Anybody, anywhere can read this book in about 90 minutes and have a path forward on Twitter.  The people who have read it, LOVE it and I get wonderful reviews and feedback on it every day.

I am working on a new book (announcement soon!) and have decided to go with a traditional publisher (McGraw-Hill) for this work because of the scope and complexity of the topic.  So, I’m in the middle of another learning adventure I will be able to share with you when the project is completed!

Are you thinking of self-publishing?  What questions do you have about it? What’s holding you back?

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