6 Ways Authors Can Succeed by Self-Publishing Books

    by Mike Rosen-Molina
    October 24, 2008
    Blogger Sramana Mitra decided to self-publish her book "Entrepreneur Journeys" through Amazon's BookSurge

    When most authors write a book, they go the traditional route: pitch it to publishers, wait months for a reply, shop it around, wait some more, go through rewrite, and wait some more… But when blogger Sramana Mitra partnered with Amazon’s BookSurge to self-publish her new book, she was taking a different route.

    For a book about web technology and online business, she found self-publishing to be the way to go.

    Blog for three years, build a readership, then start publishing books. And yes, you need a flair for marketing to do this. It ain't for shy people." -- self-published author Sramana Mitra

    “I have partnered with Amazon, and Amazon is paying for all sorts of things,” said Mitra, who published her book “Entrepreneur Journeys“ through Amazon’s BookSurge service. “And, they have the ability to market and merchandise online. They can also easily reach the technology/business/entrepreneurship audience that I am interested in, because they’re all online.”


    Mitra isn’t alone. Once dismissed as “vanity publishing,” self-publishing is today getting a second look from many aspiring authors as new technology makes it a more viable alternative to traditional publishing.


    Sramana Mitra

    Traditional self-publishing essentially let you borrow a printing press: If you paid for it, they’d print almost anything. For several reasons, the process left something to be desired on the author’s end. First, it usually required an author to bear the costs of an entire print run — leaving that writer with several thousand copies of their own book and a vague hope that they might be able to turn around and sell them. Without the distribution and advertising might of a publishing house behind him or her, that could be a pretty daunting task. And since most bookstores were reluctant to take a gamble on an unknown, untested writer, the chances of making a profit were usually pretty grim.


    Several things have changed in recent years to make self-publishing a more attractive option for some writers. First, a new breed of publisher, the “print-on-demand” service has come about with the rise of the Internet. These services only print copies of a book as they’re ordered, saving self-published authors from the potential nightmare of a garage full of unsold books. For a fee, services like BookSurge, Packt, Lulu, AuthorHouse, and iUniverse offer a range of options, including proof-reading or customizable covers. Another difference is that some of these services even offer packages to help authors with promotion and distribution instead of leaving them to figure it out on their own.

    Besides simplifying the printing process, new communications technology has made it much easier for self-published writers to spread the word about their books. And while it might still be difficult to get a self-published book sold in a brick-and-mortar bookstore, many self-published writers now can sell their work on their own website or arrange deals with online booksellers.

    Just because some writers have managed to make self-publishing work for them is no guarantee of success, but there are ways to increase your odds. Here are six ways that you can make self-publishing work for you:

    1) Be more than just a writer.

    Let’s say that you’ve just written your magnum opus. You’ve poured your heart and soul into this little tome and created the best book you can. What’s next? If you’re working with a traditional publisher, they’ll handle the business particulars from here on out. For most authors, simply writing the book is exhausting enough. But a self-publishing writer can never relax.

    A self-published writer still has plenty more work ahead: What should the book’s cover look like? Who’s going to edit the book? Who’s going to promote it? Should they try to get bookstores to carry it or just sell it online?

    “Self-publishing works best for those who can handle the pressure of being not only an author but also an entrepreneur,” said Mitra. “You are, effectively, becoming a publisher. Say that you write 10 to 30 books through your career — look at it as if you are creating a personal imprint, a personal franchise.”

    If you’re the sort of tireless fanatic who wants full control over your work and isn’t afraid to tackle every step in the process, self-publishing is a fast, easy, and, these days, increasingly cheap way to go.

    2) Self-publishing can lead to a publishing deal.


    Andrea Hurst

    Some writers lament that there’s only so far you can go working alone. If you want to see your book reach the New York Times best-seller list, you’ll probably need to sell it to a traditional publisher. But that doesn’t mean a self-published book can’t get you on your way. Some writers see a self-published book as a way to get the attention of agents and publishers, hoping that it will prove that they’re capable of writing a best seller.

    Of course, it only works if your self-published book actually does prove that.

    “Just writing and self-publishing a book in itself isn’t what’s going to impress a publisher,” said Andrea Hurst, president of Andrea Hurst Literary Management. “If a writer tells me that they self-published a book that sold 3,000 copies in two months, I’d take a look at it. That’s what publishers are looking for: the highest sales numbers in the shortest time. But if this book has been out for two years and only sold 3,000, it’s old. Publishers won’t be interested in that. Books get old fast.”

    First-time authors may be inspired by stories about books like “The Shack” or “The Celestine Prophecy,” which were rejected time and again by publishers but which hit it big after their authors took matters into their own hands. Once that happened, publishers were more than eager to work with them.

    3) Be realistic about your monetary returns.


    Stephanie Gunning

    A self-published writer will almost always see more of the revenue going into their own pocket than a traditional published writer. Although some of the funds still go to the print-on-demand service, self-published writers generally receive a bigger cut of the profits than traditional writers.

    “If I self-publish, then I make all the money,” said Hurst, “I don’t have to give any cut to an agent. But the big problem is I still need to find a way to sell these books.”

    Mitra chose to publish with Amazon’s BookSurge partly because the BookSurge royalty rate is nearly three times the normal 10-15% that authors make in traditional publishing arrangements.

    “I wanted to get the books out quickly, with maximum control over the production process, and with the most attractive financial deal,” said Mitra. Mitra said her royalty arrangement was possible because the publisher and agent were dis-intermediated.

    But that doesn’t mean you should think you’re going to be rolling in money. If you’re looking for a quick buck, writing a book is not the way to go.

    “Of all the things you can offer, a book has the highest status but the lowest return,” said Stephanie Gunning, creator of “7 Quick and Easy Steps to Write and Sell Your First Book Proposal.” Gunning is an editor and consultant who has worked with numerous self-publishers as well as having self-published a few of her own books.

    “If you tell people you’ve written a book, it certainly impresses people,” she said. “It makes you an instant expert, but it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. If you’re looking for money, you’ve got to have another avenue.”

    4) Write for a specific audience.

    As a self-published writer, you probably won’t have the cash to mount a wide advertising blitz. And if you can’t convince people that they want to buy what you write, instead you’ll have to write what they want to buy.

    In general, certain genres seem better suited for self-publishing — self-help and non-fiction books are usually an easier sell, since they can tap into a market need. Among fiction, genre works that appeal to a built-in fan base, like science fiction or fantasy, sell better than strictly literary titles.

    “I think inspirational/motivational titles can do really well for self-published authors if the author is engaged in a lot of speaking, maybe to corporate groups who will take a bulk buy of the book when they have the author in to speak to employees or trainees,” said Stephany Evans, president of FinePrint Literary Management. “Usually these are business-oriented books, but they also might be spiritual or personal growth titles by an author who is work-shopping their message or program at various churches or other venues. Often in these cases, as the author finds a larger following, mainstream publishers will catch wind of their success and sometimes make the author an offer he or she can’t refuse.”

    Many agents and editors are quick to point to first-time author Elle Newmark as a sign that even the most unlikely gambles can bear fruit. Despite conventional wisdom that self-published novels don’t sell, Newmark self-published “The Books of Unholy Mischief” with iUniverse, before recruiting an agent and landing a seven-figure advance from a traditional publisher.

    5) Keep up-to-date.

    If you want to write for an audience, you first have to know what they want to read. Keep your eyes open. What’s going on in the news? What are people talking about? Even in these uncertain times, when the economy is sagging, a savvy writer sees opportunities. A book about how to live through the recession or what to do if you’ve lost your home could do well hitting the market just about now. But if you’ve got an idea for writing a book on how to invest in stocks, well, it’s probably best to hold off on that one for now.

    One of the advantages of self-publishing is its quick turn-around time — so you can capitalize on breaking trends. If you need it published fast, you won’t want to wait up to a year as a publisher reviews your manuscript.

    “If you know yourself and your business, print-on-demand is a much faster method of getting published,” said Gunning. “Traditional publishers can take anywhere from nine months to a year and a half to get a book on the shelves. If your purpose is to take advantage of some timely matter like the market crash, then you might consider self-publishing.”

    6) Get your name out there.

    Most readers aren’t going to bother buying a book by someone they’ve never heard of — which is why many self-publishing success stories involve authors who strike out on their own after making it big in the world of traditional publishing. Popular fantasy author Piers Anthony self-published his controversial World War II novel “Volk” through print-on-demand service Xlibris after the book was rejected by publishers, and Stephen King experimented with self-publishing his horror story “The Plant” through his own website.

    So before people will buy your book, they need to know who you are.

    “The bigger the number of people in your database, the bigger the number of books you’re likely to sell,” said Gunning. “If you’re a first time self-publisher, and you have, say, 10 people in your family, 20 friends, and 100 clients, then you can’t realistically expect to sell more than 130 copies. But things change if you’ve already made a name for yourself. If you’re blogging and getting 20,000 hits a week, each of those readers are potential customers.”

    First-time writers have to work especially hard to get noticed, but many have found a ready audience online. Hurst described the Internet as a level playing field, where first-time writers can build up an audience before publishing their books. In her business, Hurst recommends that the aspiring writers she works with read “The Author’s Guide to Building an Online Platter: Leveraging the Internet to Sell More” by Stephanie Chandler to get the most out of Internet recognition. Prior to publishing “Entrepreneur Journeys,” Sramana Mitra built up a regular readership through her online technology and consulting blog and a regular column at Forbes.com.

    “Ideally, you should only start down this path if you already have a readership and fan base,” said Mitra. “Marketing and getting yourself known is hard. Easiest way to get there is through blogs these days. Blog for three years, build a readership, then start publishing books. And yes, you need a flair for marketing to do this. It ain’t for shy people. If you can market your work, you can self-publish. If you can’t, then don’t bother with it.”

    Publicity still remains the biggest obstacle for self-published writers — yet there’s never been a time when self-promoting a book has been easier. While you might not be able to book any television appearances on the strength of your print-on-demand book, the Internet presents myriad opportunities for the dedicated self-promoter.

    “I think a proactive personality makes the best self-published author, but that’s pretty much true, these days, of any author publishing,” said Stephany Evans. “Being an author in either domain takes a lot of hustle to ‘move units’ of their book — whether it’s online, flogging-by-blogging or using the viral marketing of YouTube or Facebook…Lacking the support of a publisher’s in-house publicity, marketing and sales forces, the self-publisher will have the full weight of all these efforts on her or his own shoulders so he or she needs to be organized, resourceful, and tireless.”

    What do you think? Have you tried self-publishing and what worked for you (or didn’t)? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

    Mike Rosen-Molina is a Northern California freelance reporter and an associate editor for MediaShift. A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley schools of journalism and law, he has worked as an editor for the Fairfield Daily Republic and as a managing editor for JURIST legal news services.

    Tagged: bloggers books publicity publishing
    • Kelly

      I really enjoyed this article- insightful and forward-thinking. Keep articles like these coming!

    • I STARTED writing the book after Amazon offered me a deal … Sramana

    • Mike Rosen

      Sorry, I’ll fix that!

    • In my experience, getting publicity is not any harder for self published authors than it is for an author with a name brand publisher.

      Media generally don’t care what you’ve created. What matters to media is 1. how many people in the audience will be interested in what you offer; and 2. what’s in it for that audience.

      The answer to both of these questions has to be “a lot”. Media will choose to feature things of large perceived value that interests a large proportion of their paying audience.

      And that’s where you as a self promoter have to be creative and selective.

      If you pass those first two hurdles, then next question is: what do I have to do to do my job? The answer has to be “very little”. Media are money conscious and cannot afford to invest time and resources to create what they need. Hence the copy, the content and the resources you place in front of them are a crucial question.

      Make it as interesting, dramatic, personal and relevant, and then make it easy to use. Then target the right media – prime media and Internet media.

      That’s how you’ll maximize publicity success.

      Paul Krupin
      Direct Contact PR
      < http://www.DirectContactPR.com>


      Your message about the media and the audience helps to direct my thinking, especially as I have just completed my first novel, HUMMERING, and the self-publishing world is a maze of experience yet to be learned.

    • Great post, one quick correction. “The Lace Reader” was written by Brunonia Barry and not Elle Newmark. The book was first published by my indie press, Flap Jacket Press and after just two weeks on the shelves, Harper Collins / William Morrow purchased world English rights and the book has gone on to sell in 25 languages around the world.

    • All excellent points. Self-publishing authors should also keep in mind the importance of a well-edited and polished looking book — if you want your book to be able to compete please use a professional editor. All the marketing efforts in the world can not make up for a poorly produced book.

    • One a related note, I just published a piece at The Noisy Channel (http://thenoisychannel.com/) entitled “Why Grad Students Should Blog,” inspired by piece in the New York Times entitled “If No One Sees It, Is It an Invention?“.

      Self-publishing is certainly on the rise, with social media making is possible (though not easy) for authors to cultivate an audience themselves rather than relying on traditional channels for distribution and marketing. It’s hard work, but at least authors can now be directly involved in it. And the variety of social media, from blogs to YouTube to Twitter, open up tremendous possibilities.

    • I published a novel through iUniverse two years ago and sold a couple hundred copies via Amazon and Barnes and Nobles. The great thing about self-publishing is that you get a product out there…you learn about the process. My book was a creative failure but it was better than paying for a writing course.

    • Once an author self publishes their book they need to promote as much as possible. Book fairs, coffee house/wine bar readings and media outlets are all great solutions that will promote exposure. Another great option is a destination site like AuthorsDen.com where authors and readers can interact in a community setting.

    • Good points. I must also agree with the comment that recommends a self-published author ensure the book is well-edited and polished. Having a professionally designed book and web site is important.

      I was surprised to see no mention of Lightning Source (LSI) as a POD provider. They do excellent printing at a low cost. But not an option for everyone since there isn’t as much hand-holding in the entire process, but for the motivated, entrepreneurial author then LSI can really be economical.

    • Well said Jeff. Lightning Source already prints the majority of the POD books in the U.S. through the many self publishing websites out there including CraigsPress.com. They are the “hand-holding” yet self publishing front ends who utilize Lightning Source as their POD back end. Together you get one of the easiest, cost effective solutions for the self publishing author.

    • We are experimenting with a new eBook method for self publishing.

      – We inserts Ads on every link in a book
      – Vistors click on (chapter) links
      – tEarn insets full page Ad and prefetches next chapter of book
      – Uncluttered, rich media Ad delivered
      – Visitor continues to next chapter in book

      – The Visitor gets to read the book for free.
      – The Author gets paid for delivering rich Ads for each chapter read.

      More info at: http://onlinepublishing101.blogspot.com/

      Here are examples of eBooks created on Blogger utilizing the

      Knots, Splices and Rope Work – by A. Hyatt Verrill

      Pride and Prejudice – by Jane Austen

      Mansfield Park – by Jane Austen

      Go to tEarn :

    • I’m really pleased to see increasing acceptance of self-publishing, or as I call it, indie authorship, as a legitimate path to reaching a readership. In my opinion, the old rules of publishing and bookselling don’t fit the digital age, and the old processes of manufacture, warehousing, shipping, returns and remainders aren’t at all ‘green’. At last, thanks to POD and eBook technologies, authors can have an indie movement of their own to match those of the music and film industries. It’s long overdue.

      To anyone interested in making the leap to indie, I’m in the process of blogging my book, The IndieAuthor Guide, in serialized form at http://aprillhamilton.blogspot.com.

      Additionally, some of the book’s content (including a how-to guide on publishing to the Kindle) is available in pdf form at my website, here:

      Independence: It’s Not Just For Filmmakers and Musicians Anymore

    • To Stephany Evans points in #4, I embarked on writing a pocket guide of selling tips and better business models. As she points out, it was geared to the “corporate groups” and could be used as supplemental education and training. I completed 70% of the book, contracted to an editor, and began looking into self-publishing (and many of the sources that are noted here).

      At nearly the same time, I began blogging on a twice-weekly basis. Watching the viral marketing aspect of blogging take hold in a positive way, I decided to take an about face and move from print to audio.

      In place of self-publishing the book, I have put the book into a Podcast series, releasing the pocket guide’s content a little at a time. People can download the series from a Category in the blog (http://salesbarriers.typepad.com/one_goal_revenue_generati/podcasts/), or subscribe to the feeds via iTunes, or Odeo.

      Since I record in a commercial studio, using prior experience in voice-overs, my cost will eventually be the same as self-publishing as a book. But, Podcasting allowed me to ‘test the waters’ without significant investment and compliment what I write in the blog. Some listeners have suggested that I turn the scripts for the Podcasts into a book. At this point, this may all come full circle and back to the original concept of a self-published book.

    • Elma I. Selby

      Am writing Memoir on growing up in Southwestern Va during thirties and forties with a grandmother and a white foster grandfather. They had love,and courage and faced a daunting task in a small town. Could I self publish this book?

    • Elma I. SelbyA

      Am interested in self-publishing a Memoir. Would like comments on this genre

    • Chuck Spinner

      Hi, Can anyone tell me the best free blogs to advertise my self published book. A sample press release for my book follows. Thanks in advance for any help you might be able to give me.
      My name is Chuck Spinner. In January of 2008 I published a book of the beautiful and inspiring favorite prayers of 118 wonderful celebrities. The work is entitled A Book of Prayers: To the Heavens from the Stars. The book would make a great Christmas gift. Some people are purchasing the book for military loved ones overseas.
      Included among the famous people who have sent in their favorite prayers are Oscar winners; Heisman trophy recipients; Olympic gold medalists; four-star generals; a Nobel Peace Prize recipient; and even a monarch and three former Miss Americas. Prayers have come from the only pitcher to have hurled a perfect World Series game; from the player who hit “the shot heard round the world”, from the only two-time Heisman trophy winner; and from the only undefeated four-time NCAA wrestling champion. Former Cleveland Browns All-Pro lineman, Doug Dieken, wrote the Foreword for the book.
      The book highlights both religion and history and illustrates that athletes, entertainers, and governmental officials can and do provide positive models for prayer in one’s life. Generals Norman Schwarzkopf and Tommy Franks have prayers in the book.
      Check out the book’s website (http://abookofprayers.com) for details on the book, my bio, a sample section from the book, and ways in which the book can be purchased. The book can be obtained through Amazon.com or simply by ordering through the publisher by calling 888-280-7715.
      The book is recommended in this month’s (Nov. 2008) Bookshelf section of the Catholic Digest. I was also thrilled to have signed books at the Notre Dame bookstore on Sept. 27th before the ND – Purdue football game.
      I hope that you check out the book’s website. I hope that you enjoy the book, record your comments on this blog and are inspired by the favorite prayers of the wonderful celebrities in my book of prayers! Sincerely, Chuck Spinner

    • This is a great article that brought up a lot of pertinent points self-published authors need to consider. As the author of 26 books — 24 with major publishers and 2 independently published — I’ve experienced both the luxury of working with a dedicated publicist/marketing staff as well as the responsibility of handling it all on my own. But regardless of how you publish your books, the bottom line is that most promotional duties still fall on the author.

      Our era of Publishing 2.0 gives authors an unprecedented access to potential readers. With more than a billion people online and more than 200 million online book buyers, there’s huge opportunity to reach potential readers that simply wasn’t available to us even 10 years ago. Online promotion has been a major key to my success and I’ve found that blogging, podcasting, virtual book tours, and strategic social media campaigns have generated the best results for me.

      But despite all the advantages and opportunities these new technologies provide, all authors — both self-published and traditionally published — need to view their books as one component of their business. The greatest chances of publishing success come With an entrepreneurial mindset and a “beyond the book” approach. This is what is going to be the key differentiator between the authors that thrive and those that struggle.

      Patrice-Anne Rutledge
      Author, The Web-Savvy Writer: Book Promotion with a High-Tech Twist, Second Edition

    • This a great article……..it depicts one of the main essences of what my blog is all about….., “SELF RELIANCE”. This is not only more motivation for myself and the goals that Im trying to reach. But, it is also reassuring that I have the right ideas. Stop by any time and visit. Also, I would like to feature you on my blog as an excellent example of taking matters into your own hands. Email me if you are interested.

    • Great article!

      It’s working for me…

      Step Back from the Baggage Claim:
      Change the World, Start at the Airport


      Join the Movement.

    • kate

      Has anyone done the wiley self publishing for dummies I have been approached to do one on a specific health care topic what should you pay does it place you as an expert in your industry? anyone heard of self published on the dummies label?

    • Okay, as a wannabe writer, I can’t help but CRINGE at what I just read. In this desperate world where people are being turned out of their jobs, returning to school to keep their job or get another, and HOPING that their “creativity” will provide a “safety net”. And this opens the door to charlatans like self-publishers (POD/vanity presses). Publishing is a business, and like any business you get your foot in the door by making connections. In other words, you’ve got to KNOW someone. I tried that route five years ago when I sent my finished manuscript to a professional editor through a college professor. I’m not a writing diva, and I expected a LONG turnaround and at least a quarter of my 400 pages to be hacked off. As a student editor, I have lots of experience and it’s not easy telling SOME people, “It’s not good enough.” Three months later after I contacted her first she sent me a short note telling me I had talent, but wasn’t marketable.

      If anything it was character building. But I cannot sit down and abide by corporations telling desperate people lies like this. You cannot steep yourself in debt (or further in debt) by providing a credit card number to pay for several hundred to several thousands of dollars of service to get a few copies of an unpolished, unprofessional, self-edited book that will predominantly be sold to friends and family. I’ve had to stop my best friend from doing this- and she’s an accountant! I ask all of you to be wary and go to the following sites: http://www.wbjbradio.com/series/pod.php

      Blogging, video blogging, a snazzy website with your own dot.com IS NOT an alternative! If you’re a person (like me) who can’t sell a horse to glue factory, you’re dead in the water. There’s a reason as to why pseudonyms were invented: to keep your private life private as you make money- hopefully. I’ve seen “authors” on the street in Downtown Brooklyn hawking their books on little tables trying to make a small markup that will take a little pressure off the interest that’s crushing their credit score after paying God knows how much to get “printed”.

      So keep it real, you’ll have to wade through the muck as doors slam in your face, an empty email box, silence deafening you, rejection letters, and you may have to chuck your latest creation for a new one that parlays to trends to get money-hungry agents and REAL publishers attention. You also might want to post on fictionpress.com and get back to your fanfic roots and hook up with a reliable beta. Your editor is right there- and all for free. I mean, look at that hack Stephenie Meyer, she wrote total garbage and is a millionaire. There’s hope right there.

    • Okay, i get it. If one loves rejection, writing can be a rather rewarding endeavor, and if you write humor, it might just possibly knock the funny right out of you.

      But I’m here to tell you, there is a way, if a paperback is okay. It’s Amazon’s subsidiary, Createspace (www.createspace.com). I’ve looked at almost all the self publishing vanity presses and at the end of the day could not bring myself to pay the kind of money required to be printed. That’s where Createspace comes in. If you are detail oriented, know microsoft word well, and do your rewrite homework, this is truly a self publishing solution minus the vanity cost. The process is straightforward. The free cover design software is the best i have come across (and when it comes to books, you can not skimp on the cover). And you are paid a royalty that you control per book. In addition, the books are sold through two channels: 1) an ebook store you create and can link to from your website or blog, and 2) Amazon.

      In my case, I signed up for a professional membership ($39). It lowers the cost per book printed, which works for me based on my self promotion plan. I have already reviewed two proofs at an out of pocket cost of $2.17 per proof (and shipping option cost). I am very satisfied with the finished product and have ordered forty books for under $100 (including shipping).

      Now it is up to my feet and a good opening line to sell the damn thing.

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