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 The available Twitter resources were too long, too boring, missed the point, or were out of date.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.


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 (

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.


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.


  • 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?

Take the Mystery Out of Twitter!

Become a Twitter Ninja in just 90 minutes with the The Tao of Twitter, the best-selling Twitter book in the world!  Learn the three elements behind every Twitter success, 22 ways to build a relevant audience, strategies to create personal and business benefits, and hundreds of amazing tips and time-savers.

Click on the image for a Special Amazon promotion!

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  • Thanks for the useful information Mark. I’ll be saving this because yes, I’m going to write a book. (Did I just say that out loud?)

    I wrote a simple eBook last year called The Online Minimalist, but it’s only available as a pdf. I think I should use my Kindle skills and convert it.

    Earlier this year I set a challenge: write an eBook using only 10 minutes a day for 30 days. Yes, it’s not going to be some weighty tome, but people are always saying they don’t have time to write. Well, if you can find 10 minutes a day, you can write a perfectly acceptable eBook. 

    I started off well at the beginning of April, making my 10 minutes daily, until about 14 days in. Then I fell out of my wheelchair early one morning. I was also already ill with something else, that just got worse, until I ended up in hospital in July. Which is when I found out I’d split my kneecap in two with that fall – oops! (No, I didn’t go to hospital with it when it happened. I was in too much pain with everything else that this knee thing was just an inconvenience for a few weeks!)

    I think I managed 6 more days during May/June, and then gave up because I really was pretty ill. I could probably have completed it if I’d been well enough to work daily, but with gaps of a week you tend to lose the train of thought, and you spend the allotted 10 minutes catching up with what you wrote last time. 

    Anyway, (I think) I’m restarting the challenge on 1st September – I hope without any extra physical obstacles to overcome. 

  • For me the 10 minutes per day approach would be impossible for the reason you mention here. It would take me 10 mintes just to re-group. Maybe collide those minutes together and take 70 minutes, one day a week? Good luck!

  • Thank you so much for sharing your journey and experience on how you published the tao of twitter Mark! I can’t imagine how tough it is to focus and continue to write.  Congrats on what you have achieve with the book! Used by 7 universities is amazing!! 

    Also congratulation on your new book! I can’t wait to hear more about it. 

    All the best! glad to be part of your journey! 🙂 

  • I love the idea of the chapter by chapter board. Excellent idea. Can see how that could be very useful. Thanks for the comments on how you self published. Always helpful to hear how others did it.

  • Hi Mark,

    Stop reading my mind will you? I am starting to write what may become a short book – or a manifesto. I get the question “How can I leave?” and I often say you can leave. So, it dawned on me that maybe I should write about how I left my abusive marriage. That is also not a topic that can be covered in a few long blog posts.

    I am happy for you about your new book. I have no doubt it will be excellent.

  • Alisha

    What was the licensing fee that you talked about for?

  • Alisha

    Oh and by the way thanks for the differentiation between Lulu and Create a Space. Those were the two that we were battling between.

  • Excellent post Mark,

    You and Mr. Brogan must be of like minds as he just wrapped up a series on publishing. However, I did enjoy your “this is what I did…and I hope it helps with whatever you select” approach.

    I know a couple things that hold me back (and other I would assume) is time, organization, and idea focus.

    As you said, you had to get your family on board, and let them know that this was “on-top” of everything else you were doing. However, I like your idea of writing in “bulk” as I’ve been attempting to write in small segments and just haven’t been producing.

    Thanks for the post Mark, and looking forward to Tao of Twitter 2.0

  • I work full time. I am this week finishing up a book. It takes a lot of regrouping to get down and start where you left off. It just takes a lot of work.
    Really liked the dinning room picture.
    I print out as I go and lay it out on the floor so that I get a visual look at everything.
    Enjoyed the book and it really did help me get going on twitter. Still I have my priorities to get his book finished and it always takes longer than you expect.
    Thanks Mark.

  • Mark Schaefer

    Thanks for being there each step of the way Aaron!

  • Mark Schaefer

    Glad it was helpful Richard. Thanks for letting me know!

  • Mark Schaefer

    Go for it.  Glad to hear you’re thinking that way!

  • Mark Schaefer

    It was for the ISBN number that every book needs to be be registered and identified.

  • Mark Schaefer

    Thanks so much Josh. The new bok will be nothing like the Tao of Twitter.  Has been quite an intellectual challenge!  At times tortuous, but always interesting.

  • Well, much like the rare blue moon, I’ve stepped away from the computer.
    However, I will be checking email but forgive me if I don’t get back to you before September 1st (when I’m officially back in the office). Until then, here are a few ideas to keep you going: – Check out a video on TED,
    – Read “Anything You Want” by Derek Sivers
    – Checkout the new site (! However it is still a work in progress Until we meet again…Stay Connected

  • Mark Schaefer

    The nice thing (at least for me) is that in both cases i had a deadline. If I didn’t have a deadline, it would just get dragged out!  Thanks for commenting!

  • I had fiction published by traditional publishers in the late 90s but have eaten the digital kool-aid now. I like the sense of control with self-publishing and pretty much prefer that route. 

    I’m currently working on a digital training product (ebook and videos) and handling everything myself. I’m writing in Scrivener and loving it. 

    Appreciate you sharing your approach here Mark. I’m just getting the high school I’m teaching a class at to buy a stack of your books !

  • I wish I’d read this post two years ago before I self published. It would have saved me a lot of money and I probably would have a better product. Regardless, I’m glad for all who can learn from this great post!

    The thing I’d like to add is encouragement to people not to get caught up in thinking a self-published book is less of a book than one from a publishing house. My book serves exactly the purpose I want, and I’m proud to say it has had a positive impact on people. I had neither the time, nor the network to make my way through the quest for a publisher. I found it interesting when someone, who was trying to “endorse” me, apologized for the fact that my book was self-published. Have you had any experiences like that Mark?

  • Excellent information Mark. Thanks for sharing your experience. Too bad you didn’t come to us for the formatting of your e-book. Remember us next time. 🙂

  • Great post.  Really valuable information for those that may have a great idea but not a lot of start-up money. 

    I admire the fact that you wanted to keep the price-point affordable for recent college graduates who can really benefit from this information.

  • Thanks Mark!  How so very timely.  I have a children’s book (board style) which I would love to self publish. I am currently working on illustrations with a non-traditional illustrator (an artist of sorts 😀 ) and had lulu on my list to research along with one other self publisher that  @DannyBrown:disqus  
     had mentioned in one of his posts.  But, just trying to weed through lulu’s site is quite a job in and of itself.  I have not found it straight forward. So it is good to know my instinct’s that they may no be what I am looking for are right. 

    Also really appreciated the dollars behind the project and loved your method for laying out your chapters in your dining room!  If only I could do this.

    SInce kids, I have had to do almost everything in small chunks of time like reading my professional journals at stop lights, sitting next to the kids playing in the bath etc.  However, like you I just cannot write in small chunks of time.  You & I would never make good employees at Vodafone which is known for having their employees switch work spaces everyday! Yikes!  I know this from my friends who work for them. 

    Can’t wait to read the post on the traditional route of publishing!


  • Over the years, I’ve self-published  “A Process-Oriented Curriculum (A “Design Your Own Curriculum” Curriculum)” and “Getting A Handle on Your Stress” booklet;  currently “What Makes Your Heart Sing?” is an online book-in-process. 
    Plan to morph the earlier two into “updated and expanded” editions.

    Thanks to you Mark with this timely blog post of yours — today I’m encouraged and focused!
    P.S. Been sharing “The Tao of Twitter” as gifts.

  • Baker Beryl

    I’m a comic non-fiction blogger ( who is writing a novel on the side.  I was looking at smaller publishers that I’d theoretically approach because they print subjects similar to mine.  Is this a silly idea or practical?  The self-publishing route sounds practical, reasonable and kind of a heavy-duty-er version of blogging because it’s all through self-production, albeit with a fee attached.  As an unknown writer, I can see myself wanting to take that option over putting my wee manuscript up for rejection by publishing houses.  Thoughts?

    Thanks for your straight forward analysis of the process–it was so helpful and concise!  You have a fan in me.


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  • Oh that is awesome Jon! There is nothing more rewarding than helping students and to think that I might have an impact In Sweden too is wonderful. For the colleges using my book, I am offering to appear at their class via Skype so they can discuss or debate directly with me and I would be delighted to do the same for your students.

  • Other than the Lulu debacle, I have have literally had no negative experiences or feedback on the book. My friend @mitchjoel did a wonderful interview with Seth Godin awhile back and Seth discussed the deep problems in the publishing industry. He said that self-publishing was definitely the way to go, but you had to get over the ego/stigma issue of “not being picked.” That was not too big of a deal for me, because I did a rational assessment of the situation, weighed the options and took the best course me and my family (again because I did not want the sacrifice associated with a book tour). Plus I thought it would be a good learning experience, which it absolutely was!

    The biggest surprise of the whole process was how deeply people feel about this little book. It has really ignited a movement that I am quite proud of!

  • I am also looking for great freelance resources but I’m also very loyal to the people who do great work for me! Thanks so much for commenting.

  • Hundreds of people who have taken my classes have benefited from the stuff I have in the book. Some people have told me it has changed their lives with the new connections they have made. So I want everyone to have this. If I find somebody who can’t afford it, I give it away. Hope you are feeling better by the way!

  • One advantage I have right now is that my children are grown. I don’t know if I could be writing books on top of work and family if I still had Little League and music practice to attend to. So I definitely feel your pain.

    I know this advice is so common it almost seems trite, but keep the focus on the kids as much as you can because the time truly does fly by. I miss my little ones every day. Your time will come. Follow your dream but remember how precious these moments are. I loved being a father and would give up books, blogs or anything else to do it all again! Good luck and thanks for commenting!

  • Hurray for you! You are a constant inspiration. And thanks so much for sharing the books. One father wrote and told me he had bought books for his kids! Isn’t that cool? So many ripples from this book. Thanks for your comment Dr. Rae!

  • Hey Beryl. Believe this might be your first time to comment? Glad you decided to make the leap.

    One of the things that really helped me having a built-in audience through the blog. I think a few people bought the book because they were curious and they liked my blog. Then they raved about it, tweeted and wrote blog posts. I think that kind of got the ball rolling. You can see from some of the comments that people love the book that they are recommending it to others and giving it away as gifts. Some ad agencies are buying in bulk to give to their clients who are stuck on social media.

    So looking back, I think the “tipping point” was having a few dozen blog friends take a chance and buy the book and then start talking about it. For something to go “viral” you need great content but you also need a network strategy. If you don’t, you’re counting on luck to sell books. Sometimes that works of course but think about the network you have now and how it might support you.

  • And there in lies the secret…not worrying about how your book gets published, but what it can do once it’s available!

  • Thank you Mark for your kind words! 

    Buying your book for kids is very cool, so cool that I gave your book as gifts to my two sons.  Also plan on giving your book as gifts to two of my eight precocious grandchildren; and one to an employee at our local Whole Foods Market.  

    My pleasure has always been in finding solutions by turning obstacles into opportunities; and helping those struggling with making Twitter work for them and their purposes delights me.

    There is no telling how many have been sold as a result of my review on and ; )

  • I ordered because word on the street is that it’s an awesome book.  Who am I to argue?  And from one writer to another, loved this post.  I came here to read about how you conquered publishing, and wound up buying.  Man, you’re good…!

    I just wrote a book myself on WordPress SEO called Duct Tape SEO, and you outline here a process of writing that I can relate to:

    A) Paper brainstorming rocks – even though I used ‘Freemind’ mind-mapping software, it all started on paper…

    B) It’s not like writing a bunch of disjointed articles and packaging the whole lot in between book covers…keeping the flow is challenging for sure.

    C) I had no idea Create Space had so many options for writers (the paid services, etc.).  I’d gladly have paid an editor.  

    Alright – now I’m off to read your book.

  • I have plans to write several books but have yet to put them into action. Your post is more than timely for me as I have begun working on developing an outline of how to make this happen. No time like the present. 
    I appreciate your putting this together.

  • Cool James.  You’ll have to let me know what you think … especially with all these expectations now! : )

  • You’re welcome. Can’t wait to see the output Jack!

  • Bluefrog

    Thanks for the post, Mark. I started to write a book a few years ago but got side-tracked into blogging and video work instead. If I do go back down that road, self publishing will definitely be the route I’d take. It’s great knowing someone who’s “been there, done that.”

  • Mark, this is a great post. Thanks for being so open about your process warts and all. That’s what makes you and the things you do a success.

  • Hi, Mark.

    I am currently working on a book about an incest victim. It is loosely based on a story of a young girl I interviewed when I was still an intern of the social welfare and development office in our place. With three kids (one still 2 yrs old) and work, you can just imagine how hard it is for me to find time to put my thoughts into words. 

    But, in the course of writing this book, I have definitely thought about how I am going to get it published so awareness about incest can be raised. When I came upon your post today (after what seems like years of having been out of the loop online because of illnesses in the family) I immediately clicked on it and started reading.

    Thank you very much for the comprehensive look into how we can take our books forward without having to depend much on publishing houses and all that. Giving us a look into the expenses of actually coming out with a book gives us newbies hope that there is indeed a way for us to make our views, insights or stories known. My book about incest may not be my story, but it is one that not a lot of people actually want to acknowledge. But it is happening. All we need to do is just listen.

    I am happy to hear that you have another book coming up. Looking forward to learn more about it. 🙂

  • Mark, I look forward to sharing it.

  • The more the process of self-publishing is demystified the better. The process of creating a book, whether it is on the magnitude of War and Peace or a simple How-To has so many powerful beneficial side effects, even if it is just for the author. Everyone should write a book! One man’s junk is another man’s treasure!

    Thanks for helping  democratize the process.

  • Mark Schaefer

    Great comment! Thanks David!

  • Mark Schaefer

    Good luck with that Kim!  Glad the post seemed useful to you.

  • Mark Schaefer

    Thanks for that kind comment Bernadette!

  • Mark Schaefer

    You know how to reach me : )  Thanks for the comment.

  • Well, I may well take you up on that Mark!!! Would be cool.

  • Pattye Snyder

    Mark–just discovered you and I’m so excited—I’ve been writing a major blog for almost 6 years on my surviving (and doing WELL) with my Osteo-arthritis and now have 9 artificial joints—-oh by the way, I live and work as a photo-journalist  much of each year in Africa.  My readers from all over the world have been asking me to combine these writings into a book so they could read for the first time, or re-read their favorites.  I knew it was a good idea, but didn’t have the “recipe” for doing so—THANK YOU, Mark—for giving me some practical information o n how to achieve this!!!

  • Awesome! Look forward to hearing about your progress on this project Pattye.

  • Seriously let’s do it. You could introduce me as the Strange American.

  • Anonymous

    The concept of writing and publishing a book is now so much more doable than ever before in history. I believe that blogging has caused many future book authors to discover or rediscover the pleasure of expressing themselves through writing. And the planets have aligned to now make it practical to self-publish.

    Whether it’s a few dozen printed and bound copies of a very personal story suitable only as a gift to friends and family or a few hundred business books that further establish an individual’s thought leadership, or a best seller that becomes a blockbuster movie – anyone that loves to write can now add writing a book to to their bucket list.

    Congratulations on all the success with your first book. It’s amazing! And McGraw-Hill found a winner to work with on your next one.

    I like the idea of writing a book someday, even if it’s just a one-copy limited edition. Thanks for the inspiration and insights Mark.

  • Great post Mark, I’m about to start out on the journey.

  • Look forward to seeing that!

  • That would be great Billy!  I would love to see that book!

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  • Hey Mark,

    This is awesome. I’ve been in this struggle to write a book about about The Skool of Life and I’ve started and stopped many times. This really might be the motivation I need. BTW, I remember you mentioning the book when I first interviewed you. I’d love to have you come back to BlogcastFM to talk about the book and even talk about this self publishing process because I think it’s  fascinating subject. BTW, congrats on stellar results. 

  • Serendipity is what this post is.  Bernard Mendez suggested I check this blog article out as I have a close friend who is finishing up his first novel and had asked me what I knew about Amazon and e-publishing. Truth be told, I didn’t know much on the subject but that goodness my online friends always seem to have great suggestions when asked.  Awesome!  And now, I’ve forwarded the link to my friend and I know he’ll read it and come away knowing more on the subject.  Thanks, Mark!

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  • I bow to the majestic random synergy of the social web!

  • Of course I would love to be on your program again Srini! One of the best interviews ever last time out! And as for the book, go for it!

  • Jeny

    Hello Kim,

    If you need help publishing your masterpiece and sell it to Amazon or your own
    web site it must be first formatted using the standard
    of CreateSpace, Lulu, Lightning or your own preferred book printer.

    I can help you lay out the title page, dedication, Chapters, header, footer, footnotes
    and table of contents of your book. All you have to do is send us your
    manuscript and let us know its trim size (6×9, 8.5×10, 8×11 etc.). You can email me at [email protected].

    Thank you Mark for this helpful post about self publishing.

    Have a good one!

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  • For some reason, I never saw this article until just now. This is a path I’ve always considered traveling down but haven’t quite gotten there yet. Self publishing could be the way to go for me once I have a more clear path of what direction I want to take. 

  • Nathan Dube

    random synergy or synchronicity?

  • Macduff_10977

    Have you heard anything about the self publishing company Inkwater Press? I have written a historical novel and this company is willing to produce both an E book and a paper back for about $999.00. I have friends who have had good experiences with Create Space and bad experiences with Lulu. So far, three literary agents have turned me down without reading the manuscript. However, people in academia and those versed in the era in which my novel is set have given me very positive reviews.
    As an unknown, unpublished author I don’t know if the agents are unwilling to take a chance and go with a self publisher or continue to seek a literary agent

  • I’m not familiar with Inkwater. Recall that the $1,000 included a promotional website so the actual set-up of the book was much less. I had a TERRIBLE experience with Lulu and will never go back.

  • I’m not familiar with Inkwater. Recall that the $1,000 included a promotional website so the actual set-up of the book was much less. I had a TERRIBLE experience with Lulu and will never go back.

  • Nate

    Hi Mark,

    I got information about your book from a teacher of mine.  She is one of the professors that have made your book a required reading for her class at a major university.  Your information was incredibly valuable in self-publishing and I will certainly follow your advice on using CreateSpace. 

    Like you, I have information that I want to share because I know that many will find it valuable.  It is great how authors that do not have some elaborate dream of getting picked up by a publishing house can get their book out there without having to jump through all of the hoops required in getting a book signed by a major publishing house. 

    My goal was to get the book printed and available for purchase at the lowest price possible and your example shows to be cheaper than anything I have found. 

    Thanks for your help! 

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  • Hi Mark! Just discovered your website/blog today, and while I didn’t see any comments here on this, I wondered if anyone had mentioned Smashwords to you? This also may help others who wish to self-publish!

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  • travelyn

    Very informative article. Its good to have this advice and some sort of a starting point, as well as an outline on costs. Thanks for this post.

  • Great post Mark – I think self-publishing offers a very real opportunity to work outside of the traditional publishing industry and it is something I cover in my book: Becoming THE Expert: Enhancing Your Business Reputation through Thought Leadership Marketing.

    2 Things I would like to add to your post.

    1. Commit to write 250 words per day – most days you will write more – but this will get you in the habit of writing and not be too much effort if you have an otherwise busy day.

    2. When self publishing you should thing “Independent” not “Amateur”

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