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Passion, People and Principles

Self Publishing: The Reasons

post # 412 — August 2, 2007 — a Strategy and the Fat Smoker post

As I have previously reported on this blog, I am going to be self-publishing my new book STRATEGY AND THE FAT SMOKER, an integrated collection of the articles I have written over the past two years or so.

The decision to self-publish always raises questions among friends, and they often ask why I have decided to go this route. They worry — on my behalf — that people might get the wrong idea that regular book publishers no longer want to publish my books. I have no idea if the risk of that is real, but it’s a risk I’m prepared to take.

Ask any business author who has published a book what the experience was like: for the vast majority, the horror stories are endless.

Basically, publishers don’t actually add any value. Yes, they can edit a manuscript and get a book typeset, but both of those things are freely available as stand-alone services to anyone.

Publishers, like record companies, would be incredibly valuable if they marketed your book for you — most authors can use all the marketing help they can get. But just like the record business, the truth is that publishers don’t do any marketing for you unless you’re already a star. Since so few books succeed, it’s not worth them spending anything on an individual book: they put a portfolio of product out there and wait to see what succeeds.

So, as every author knows, you have to do our own marketing: hire your own PR at your own expense, etc.

In the old days, the publishers (again, like the record companies) could get away with this because they controlled access to distribution — your book would not be stocked in the big chainstores unless it was published by a “name” house.

That may still be true, but today you can get your book easily listed on Amazon, Barnes &Noble.com and 1800CEOREAD, and reach a high percentage of business book buyers. I don’t know the percentages, but apart from airports, I don’t know many business-book buyers who cruise bookstores. And — here’s my point — my publisher never got my books into airports anyway.

(BTW, I’m not saying they were worse than anyone else — I’m saying they were no better.)

So, the adventure begins. I’ve been learning a lot about self-publishing, and in future blogposts I’ll tell you about some of the things I’ve learned (and who I’ve learned it from.)

Have any of you been down this self-publishing path?


Jennifer said:

I’m no where near being an author, but I wanted to say that I have seen your books in airports. (Hong Kong and Sydney). But I’d already bought them on amazon by then, so doesn’t change your argument.

posted on August 2, 2007

Daniel said:

I’ve heard of a number of successful writers thinking along similar lines. Best of luck! We’ll all be interested in seeing how it goes.

As you point out, the reasons for the incumbent publishers as a distribution mechanism is questionable.

Incidentally, I find very few publishers (e.g., Oxford University Press) can lend makreting credibility when I’m selecting a book.

posted on August 2, 2007

Frank Kanu said:

My two main reasons to self publish were to be able to have the book published faster and to stay in control.

I am happy to share what I have learned (it was a lot); overall it was a very positive experience!


PS: Feel free to check out my book:

Stop Telling… Start Leading!

The Art of Managing People by Asking Questions


posted on August 2, 2007

Karin said:

Not true, I first spotted you, your book “Trusted Advisor” in 2001 at the Amsterdam Schipohl Airport ;-)

posted on August 2, 2007

Slade | You Should Be An Author said:

I’ve been self-publishing and — most importantly — teaching other writers how to leverage technology to publish themselves.

Print-on-Demand has come a long way — physically producing perfect-bound or harcover books gives the “little guy” a chance to publish a comparable product.

Beyond the actual publishing, is the marketing — major commercial publishing houses offer first-time authors next to nothing in terms of promotion.

You STILL have to promote and publicize and support your work yourself — and even the big guys will tell you that you need a blog.

To the best of my knowledge, self-published works that sell well, and have an already identified audience, are even more attractive to commercial book deals — self-publishing does not necessarily exclude you from selling the book to another publisher at some point in the future. If anything, you’ve done a lot of the work for them, in terms of market research.

I whole-heartedly encourage your decision.

Slade Roberson

posted on August 3, 2007

David (Maister) said:

Thanks for the encouragement everyone. Frank, could you share with us some of YOUR reasons for going this route?

posted on August 3, 2007

David Kirk said:

An interesting option is http://www.lulu.com.

You upload a pdf (or a document they convert to be a pdf) and cover art, specify a binding type (from very basic all the way up to hard cover) and the book is ready to be printed “just in time” and sold at your specified price.

I haven’t used the service or purchased any books on the site so I can’t vouch for their quality or success, but they (or another print-on-demand solution) might be worthwhile considering if:

  1. You don’t have a strong expectation of significant sales and are wary of the high fixed expenses of financing a full print run yourself; and
  2. You could surmount the even greater (than David M’s self-publishing) credibility problem of not having a large publisher behind you, or at least the option of seeing on in the flesh before purchasing.

Clearly, it’s not for everyone. (David M for example should have some rationale expectation of a certain level of sales, but on the other hand has enough of a name to help circumvent the credibility issue. Potentially, it could even be part of a below the line word-of-mouth type marketing strategy.) For large volumes, I expect the return would be higher with the higher fixed expenses (but lower per unit expenses) of a full print run.

posted on August 3, 2007

Dennis Howlett said:

Whatever you decide David, do ensure you have a strong editorial process in place. I am currently editing a book and have found that while the core ideas are very good, the organisation of the content is haphazard, leaving the reader with an incoherent thoughtstream rather than a narrative that takes the readers from A to B etc. My job in this context is to add value by helping the author resolve those issues. Beyond that – he’s in the hands of publishers. Which in this case are the Dummies people.

posted on August 4, 2007

Wally Bock said:

I’ve done books with major publishers, small publishers and “self-publishing.” I put the last in quotes because it now covers a huge amount of territory. Before I go there, let me make a historical digression. The first self-published book, in 1985, cost me around $20,000 for the 5000 book minimum. It took three months to produce and went through the normal blue line-galley-final product cycle that a mainline publisher book would do. I also purchased the services of a professional editor to review the manuscript.

My last book went through a process with a publisher who only handled the things I didn’t want to touch. So I purchased editing and administrative (ISBN, etc) help. I also purchased a marketing review of the book because I wanted an outsider who didn’t know me to review the book. The total cost to bring the book to market was about $2000, including 100 copies which were the first ones I was going to give away.

The book is a POD book. It is available on the major online sources. Bookstores do not interest me. Most of my books are sold in multiple-copy purchases.

The point is that “self-publishing” has changed in two significant ways since my first self-published book. First, digital publishing and POD have dramatically changed the cost equation by lowering the price for production and eliminating the need for lots of just-in-case inventory.

Second, it is now possible to see publishing companies as a cafeteria of services. Buy what you want. Do the rest yourself.

I’ve done programs on this at writers’ conferences, so using David as an example, here’s what I tell the folks who show up there.

Writing, editing, book design, administrative work, production and marketing all have to be done for every book that succeeds. You can buy whatever you want. Then you have to do the rest. Whatever gets done needs to be done professionally.

Self-publishing will work for you if you understand the above paragraph and choose wisely. In today’s world self-publishing gives you a control over book cover design, internal design, chapter structure and graphics that you cannot get with a mainline publisher.

David is experienced and (I think) wise enough to know that. He seems to buy professional services wisely.

You are more likely to be successful if you have a platform to use to promote your book. David has published other books. He has his blog and other materials that build a constituency.

You are more likely to be successful if you have a blog or mailing list that lets you reach people who already love you. David obviously has that. I will surely snap up a copy to review on my blog and site because I know his work. Trusted Advisor is one of my “arm’s reach” books.

You are more likely to be successful if you devote a year or so to actively promoting the new book.

You are more likely to be successful if you allocate a significant budget to book promotion. My friend and the self-publishing guru, Dan Poynter, suggests that you give away at least 500 books. It has worked for me. I’m sure David will do that.

posted on August 4, 2007

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posted on August 6, 2007

Simon Tupman said:


As someone who has gone down both paths (self-publishing and publishing in that sequence), I appreciate your views.

On balance, I tend to favour self-publishing, especially if you are writing for a niche market. Here are the advantages as I see them:

First you can control production and distribution;

Second you make more money;

Third, it credentialises you just as much as a published book.

However with a published book, you can of course gain wider exposure to distant markets and enhance your credibility. Last year the rights to my published book were sold at an international book fair to a publisher in Portugal where the book went on to become a top ten business best seller, leading to a profitable and prestigious speaking engagement. That probably would not have happened had the book been self-published.

Also, with my published book, I don’t have to carry any stock (although printing on demand and the existence of fulfilment companies reduce that need anyway).

By the way David, I’ve seen your books in so many airports it’s not funny. Someone somewhere was doing a good job!


Simon Tupman

Author, ‘Why Lawyers Should Eat Bananas’

posted on August 8, 2007

Frank Kanu said:

My two main reasons to self publish were to be able to have the book published faster and to stay in control.

And I absolutely agree with what Dennis Howlett says above.


posted on August 9, 2007

Judith Briles said:

Welcome to the new world of publishing. As an author who thought that only legit books were published via NY, I did a reversal in the late 90s after book #18. Since the, I created my own publishing imprint and have done 7 books this way.

There is a difference between self-publishing, as it has evolved to independent publishing. Because of POD and the various types of publishing in that genre, it has become the new type of vanity press–basically anyone can do it for minimal moneys, risk and inventory. Independent publishing has stepped up to the plate to take the huge group of authors who have left the traditional publishing route or bypassed it. Their intent is to publish and be successful at it…not 10, 20 or 100 books at a time. We sell thousands yearly and actually make money.

Each of our printings in a minimun of 3000 at a time–we can get back to print and have new stock in a month. I left traditional publishing for 4 reasons—timing, quality, control and money. Once my book has been professionally edited, the interior design is done by a professional, the cover design is done by a cover designer (1 month max), it goes to a book printer. After I approve the blue lines, the books will be shipped in about 4 weeks.

Meanwhile, I work on Amazon and BN.com presence, determine the distribution route I want to take and sell books. From the time the mms. is completed, the editing, designing and printing will take approximately 4 months.

With traditional publishing, that process could take two years after the mss. is delivered to the publisher.

As an independent publisher, I can control the quality of the look of the book–you would be better off banging your head on the wall with a traditional publisher in this area; my books/topics are timely; and the money…. I can sell 4000-5000 copies of a book as an independent and would have had to sell close to 40,000 to net the royalies with a traditional publisher.

Foreign sales aren’t difficult–the traditional publishers didn’t do much; I’ve sold into 16 countries and have an agent that reps me at Frankfurt.

You don’t have to be brilliant to do the math…what you have to be is smart, forget the ego trip with being tied of a NY house, have a plan on how to get the books out there and sell them.

As soon as authors realize that the big boys don’t do much, doing it yourself becomes very attractive. I can count on one hand the # of authors who say they “love their publisher” and “I understand those royality statements.”

Welcome to the new world of publishing…

Judith Briles

author of Zapping Conflict in the Health Care Workplace, The Confidence Factor, etc.

Colorado Book Shepherd

posted on August 18, 2007

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posted on January 9, 2008