For the past twelve years, I’ve been a published author. Starting with “Can We Do That?” in 2006, and up to “Faster Than Normal” which came out last month, I’ve had five books published by four different “professional” publishers. While there used to be obvious advantages in going with a publisher, over the past several years, the benefits of self-publishing have skyrocketed, while the old-school publishing industry has blatantly failed to keep up.

I’ve always eschewed the self-published model for several reasons, and they’ve all gone up in smoke over time. So here’s why my next book will be self-published, and why yours should be too.

Myth: There’s “oomph” in professional publishing that doesn’t exist when you self-publish”

Fact: The oomph isn’t for people like us. I used to think that having my book published by a professional publishing house gave me credibility, and more important, gave me the power of the big name and all that it entailed. But that’s no longer the case. Unless you’re a former president, already a celebrity, or some other kind of “major” name, publishing houses simply won’t do much for you. They’ll give you an advance, a deadline, and they’ll produce the books. But that’s pretty much it.

Myth: Publishing Houses have tremendous PR and Marketing arms, and they’ll all be working for you.

Fact: No they 100% totally won’t.

99% of the publicity I got for Faster Than Normal came from two actions: I hired a PR firm for the launch, and paid them out of my own pocket, and I reached out to media I knew personally. While publishing houses do have super-large PR and Marketing arms, they’re primarily reserved for major authors. President Obama’s memoirs? Every PR and advertising person will be on that. Peter Shankman’s book on ADHD? I’ll get one over-the-phone meeting with an outsourced PR person who’s also handling five other books at the same time. If you’re going to hire a PR firm to handle the outreach for your latest book, why shouldn’t you be reaping all the financial gain that comes when the book sells, instead of a small percentage of it?

Afraid to do your own PR? Check out Help a Reporter Out for potential PR leads, and hey, I even built a course to help you master the media on your own.

Myth: You can’t do your own marketing for your book, you’re not powerful enough.

Fact: You totally can, because you totally are.

Every single piece of marketing for my latest book was done and paid for by me, and in the end, it was years of carefully cultivating my audience that allowed me to reach #1 in across all the Amazon categories in which I was listed. I’d worked for several months before the book launched, teasing it, promoting it, building the website for it, offering freebies if it was pre-ordered, and laser focusing on my audience to promote my book in such a way that it would blow up on launch day. The publisher didn’t do any of that for me.

Additionally, with email marketing services such as ConvertKit, and services like SmarterQueue and re-follow, there’s absolutely nothing stopping you from becoming a pure marketing machine. Again: Every single piece of marketing, from the press sheet to the email alerts to the behind the scenes bonus content, was all created by myself and the PR firm I hired for the launch.

Myth: Publishing Houses have the distribution capabilities, you don’t.

Fact: They do. But so do you.

My friend Hal Elrod created a literal movement with the publication of his book “The Miracle Morning.” Entirely self-published, and it’s changed his entire life. My friend Nick Hawk just published his first book, “100 Kicks in the Ass,” entirely by himself as well. With Amazon’s self-publishing center, as well as many other “do-it-yourself” book creation tools out there, you no longer need the distribution capabilities yourself. They’re all available for the taking if you know where to look.

Myth: What about audio? What about foreign rights? Digital e-books? I can’t get any of those if I publish on my own!

Fact: All of that and more is now in your power without a publisher.

Armed with a $100 microphone, a quiet room, and a copy of Adobe Audition, you can record your entire book yourself, and turn it into an audiobook with about one day of editing time. Submitting your audiobook to publishers is easy, and surprisingly painless.

The same is true for the online editions of your book. It’s no longer a process that only the big houses can do. Anyone can do it with a little bit of work.

Added bonus here: You can give away as much or as little of your book as you want, whether through online promotions, contests, etc. You can’t do that with a book published by the big houses, they usually don’t let you.

Myth: I can’t get a hundred copies to sell at my events fast enough because I don’t have a publishing house to make them!

Fact: Yes you can.

Self-publishing has the option of operating on an “on-demand” scale. Need 50 books? Order 50 books, and charge more for them when you sell them at your event. Need 1,000 books? Same thing. The days of you sitting in the back room by candlelight like Bartleby the Scrivener to make your quota are long gone.

Myth: The publishing house helps me stay on deadline, gives me advice, and makes the whole process seamless

Fact: No they don’t.

Publishing houses are designed to make money by publishing your book. Anything else they do for you is a nice bonus, an extra, and certainly not mandatory.

On most of my books, I spoke to my editor a total of three times during the authoring process: Upon signing my contract, my first meeting, and two weeks before deadline, when they called and asked me where my manuscript was. I know very few authors who call upon their editor for help during the writing process.

Being ADHD, a deadline is key. So for me, having a firm contractual deadline was great. So here’s how to replicate that without a publishing house: Join a mastermind group, where anywhere from 10 to 200 people will keep you going the entire time you’re writing, as well as make sure you’re focused, on-target, and in the position to hit the deadline goals you’ve set for yourself.

Bonus: When I have serious deadlines I want to hit, and no contractual obligation to hit them, there’s always the chance of missing it, or coming up with an excuse not to make it. So here’s what I’ve done:

When I’ve set my deadline, I go to the bank and take out $5,000 in cash. (Your number can be more or less, but make sure it’s enough to hurt you.) I put it in an envelope, and give it to my best friend, with the instructions that if I turn in the manuscript to him on or before the agreed-upon deadline, he gives me the money back. If I don’t, he keeps it. I’ve done this for more than just book writing. I’ve done it for losing weight, for training for a race, you name it. It’s a win for my friend as well, as he can put it in his savings account until it’s time to give it back to me, and earn a little interest on it. Win/win.

Myth: Publishing houses have editors that make sure everything looks great, and I don’t!

Fact: Yes, you do.

There are countless brilliant freelance editors out there, all willing to help you for a small fee, and they’re just as good (if not better) than the editors with whom you’ll work at a publishing house. Additionally, they’ll handle the indexing as well – Publishing houses charge you for indexing.

Myth: I won’t make any money self-publishing, at least with a publishing house, I get an advance.

Fact: The money you make on a self-published book, like with any project you undertake, depends entirely on you.

No, you won’t get an advance when you self-publish. But you know what? It’s not like you get the whole advance the second you sign the contract. More often than not, it’s divided into four payments: 25% on signing, 25% on manuscript delivery, 25% on publication, and 25% a year later. So yeah – That advance you got might take up to three years to get in its entirety.

Bonus: You can come up with an idea, write the book, and have it published on your schedule. Want the book out before Christmas? Do it. Want longer to do more pre-marketing? Do it! On average, it takes a little over a year from the time you get the manuscript to your publisher until you’re holding a sellable copy in your hands. That’s a LOT of time, and for what? If you’re handling your own PR and marketing, you know exactly how long you need to go from conception to published. A year? That’s way too long.

Myth: People don’t take self-published books “seriously” anymore.

Fact: No one cares.

Self-published used to mean fifty mimeographed pages stapled together and sold on street corners or delivered by self-addressed stamped envelopes. Those days are long gone. (And if you’re too young to remember them, consider yourself lucky.)

In the end, the content of your book, the strength of your tribe, and the passion of your convictions are what’s going to drive your book, your sales, and your future career. There’s no physical difference anymore between a book published by a 200 year old publishing house, and a book self-published, printed on Amazon, and shipped to someone’s home or downloaded to their Kindle.

So… What’s stopping you?

 

PS: We’ll be talking about self-publishing at ShankMinds: NYC, taking place this June! It’s the one entrepreneurial conference this year that you simply can’t miss! But hurry up – Tickets are going fast!

Join the discussion 16 Comments

  • Rita Smircich says:

    Peter, as always, you’re a genius! This week I’m hoping to upload my manuscript to Create Space on Amazon. I’m not educated, as you are, on self-publishing, as it has changed tremendously since I self-published my first book back in 2007. Your posting is extremely insightful, and has given me additional courage to move forward self-publishing this book. I have two other books — different genre — completed, and am beating myself up because of rejections from agents . . . not in my wheel house . . . great book . . . not what we cover . . . blah blah blah. I’m done with agents and publishing houses. I’m going forward with this book, this week, and will follow shortly with the two other completed books. And because you’ve taught me the importance of self promoting, the name of my book is I Killed Grandma in Utero. Coming soon!

  • Great article Peter! My first book was self-published, I just finished ghost-writing and editing another that will be self-published and a third will be done this year. We writers all dream of major publishers flying around the country to well-attended (via marketing) book signings, appearances on TV, etc. But unless you are in that group of elites as you noted, that is not going to happen.

  • Lynne Viccaro O'Leary says:

    This post was just the kick in the ass I needed. And the English major in me awards you bonus points for the Bartleby the Scrivener reference.

  • Jim Kukral says:

    Glad to see you coming onto the indie-publishing side Peter! Long overdue. 🙂 We need guys like you on this side. Hope you’re well!

  • Jim Mitchem says:

    Years before my first novel, Minor King, and when the internet was but a fledgling, I perused all the books on how to get published. Thick books filled with tips, tricks, and names/addresses of people who likely had moved on by the time they received your query. The process was daunting. The only thing I controlled at that point was me … writing. A year before finishing Minor King, I decided no way I was going to jump through all those hoops to publish–and I didn’t need anyone’s approval of my story. So that’s what I did, and while I definitely had some of those objections you mention here (esp. the “credibility” part), I didn’t care. No, I haven’t made a fortune with my first book, but that was never the goal anyway. What I did do was convince myself I had the ability to write (and publish) a novel. I’m now writing my second novel, and I’ve considered jumping through the hoops–I’m just not convinced it’s necessary. Models change. Self-publishing is a gift for writers.

  • Great tips! I’ve always been a fan of you and your advice. Thank you for always being so open with it and being relevant. You’re awesome!

  • I have been assisting what I call “authorpreneurs” for 18 years. YES, self-publishing makes sense for most people. Yes, you can hire editors (developmental, mechanical, proof), typesetters, cover designers, folks to handle metadata entry and distribution concerns, and marketing strategy. This will all cost money. Can you do it cheaply or will it cost a bundle? The answer to that is the same as in most things in life: it if it is free or really cheap, it will actually cost you money to fix later. If it is very expensive, it’s probably more than you should be investing. Spend money to produce your book, but spend it wisely, as you would in any other business launch. Always remember that once you are through with your writing, you launch into a BUSINESS (a book is an idea wrapped in a product). Understand why you are investing X$ and if you will get a return on investment. (Marketing = sales; Peter eats , sleeps, and breathes that mantra!).

  • Great post Peter. Thank you for laying it out so clearly! Another important point to mention, is that authors should know what their end game/goal is with a book. It’s one of the first questions we ask the experts we work with who want to publish a book with us. Do they have a burning message to share? Want more speaking gigs, to share a methodology… You can’t get somewhere if you don’t know where you want to go!

  • You are so right. I’ve worked with dozens of publishers, thousands of authors, owned a publishing company.. but today it’s 100% self-publishing.

    If you don’t want to self-publish, you are in luck. There are more people specializing in doing the self-publishing tasks it for you than all the publishing employees combined.

  • The part about not receiving any PR support unless you’re a MAJOR celebrity could not be truer! My firm helped a first-time author who’d just starred in a popular TV docu-series on the Oprah Winfrey Network…and the publisher literally did nothing but hamstring us at every turn. They got pissed when I managed to book her at about 50 Barnes & Nobles across the country and then forced us to cancel the whole book tour (which we were funding out of the author’s pocket!). It was one of the most sickening moments of my PR career. I have zero respect for big publishers.

  • Carol White says:

    Absolutely correct Peter. In 2004, well before Create Space, digital book printing, Ingram Spark and much more, I taught myself how to “properly” self publish. I formed a company, got the book edited, typeset, designed, distributed and marketed. In 2006, I won the IBPA Award for the Best Marketed book. I was in National distribution, was the National Spokesperson for an industry Assn, spoke all over the country, was on many radio shows, had two AP articles where I was an “expert” and literally hundreds of articles in print and digital publications. HARO was a great resource too! If I could do it, with no background, anyone can.

  • Joel Libava says:

    Peter,

    Great article.

    When my book came out at the end of 2011, self-publishing was just starting to get legs.

    But in my case, I liked the fact that a publisher published my book-especially since THEY approached ME.

    Yes, I received an advance. Yes they kept me on deadline. Yes they edited it. (They didn’t do a good job though. Some misspellings etc.)

    All in all, I’m grateful that a pretty big publishing house published my book. At the time, it did add cred. And they did help with some PR.

    But most importantly, a kid from Cleveland, who only attended 9 months of college, wrote a freaking book. That’s huge. (On a personal level)

    The Franchise King®
    Joel Libava

  • Great article Peter! I recently self published my first book “Goodbye Anxiety, Hello Freedom”. I went from writing to publishing in 2 months! (Who does that?!?!?!?) I’d kind of been writing it in my head for over 20 years, so it easily “birthed” out of me) So far it has 22 five star reviews. A publisher I met right before I launched agreed to give me feedback and gave it an A+. Debbie Phillips just named my book “April 2018 Women on Fire Book to Live By.” Included on this list are Sister Joan Chittister (author of 50 books and has been on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday) and Michelle Obama’s photographer Amanda Lucidon, so I’m in very good company!

    I totally agree with Jane Tabachnick’s comments above about being very clear about the end game/goal of publishing a book. “Publish it and they will buy” is not a good strategy!

  • vickie Smith says:

    Self published our first book-Confessions of a Butcher-eat steak on a hamburger budget and save$$$$ Second is ready to go! So excited to move onto fiction. Buying the domain name and setting up a new website…. doing this one on Kickstarter!

  • Mukesh says:

    Well said Peter… Just self-published my current book – Thrive (http://amzn.in/9GI5cZn). I hired an editor to look edit my book. The book publishing tools provided by Amazon is extremely simple and easy to use…

    The only thing that i am still trying to figure out is to get good and effective marketing for the book… I am learning as I am going along.. I am sure that everything that i learn here, relationships that i build will make me a better marketer for my next book.. 🙂

  • Great argument for self-publishing, Peter! As a personal biographer and nonfiction book coach, I wholeheartedly agree with everything you’ve said. The reality is, no matter which publishing option an author selects, he or she must shoulder the responsibility of marketing their book and earning an income. To be successful, it requires lots of time and effort. There are, as you mentioned, many great tools and outsourced professionals to assist you, but you have to lead the charge and put in the work.

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