My journey of self-publishing a non-fiction book, part 4: Tips for authors

Published by Nela Dunato on at 08:25 in Business, Tips for creatives

Welcome to the final installment of my series on the process of self-publishing my first book “The Human Centered Brand”. In part four, I’m laying out 16 tips for authors that will help you prepare for your first self-publishing adventure.

A reminder if this is the first article you're reading, this series is divided into four parts:

  1. Motivation, planning & writing
  2. Production & distribution
  3. Marketing & selling
  4. Tips for authors

My journey of self-publishing a non-fiction book, part 4: Tips for authors

When I started working on this book, I was very confident in my ability to self-publish it. I had no idea how much work was really involved, so I was fairly optimistic.

I thought that self-publishing would be faster than traditional publishing. It took me nearly 2 years since I first wrote the outline until the paperback appeared in print. That’s not very fast, and is comparable with a traditional publishing schedule, provided that you get a contract in the first place (that’s the part I didn’t want to wait for).

I planned on including more early reader feedback: launch a “beta” version of the book in January, sell it at a cheaper price to my newsletter readers, collect feedback, edit the book, and relaunch it in July. Since I didn’t finish the draft until June, that didn’t work. By the time I realized I won’t be able to pull it off, I was already so committed to self-publishing and just wanted to get the book out there ASAP.

And if I’m going to be perfectly honest, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. This was a test of my capability, a challenge. (I wrote more about how accomplishing a challenge changes your perception of yourself in the article What if people think my idea is stupid?)

I’m very glad that I did it. But would I do it again? I honestly don’t know—I’d definitely shop around for other options before making a final decision.

Thinking about self-publishing your own book? Here are some things you might want to consider.

1. Don’t wait for other people’s permission.

You won’t get a magical invitation writ in golden cursive script one day, saying:

“Hey,
the World would love to read your book.
Care to write one?”

Famous people get invited by publishers to write a book. Regular people like you and me create our own opportunities.

You’ll know for yourself when you have a book inside you that’s ready to come out. Your only job is to let it out. Don’t talk yourself out of writing because “you need more experience”—that feeling never goes away. Don’t bother yourself to what the “gatekeepers” in your industry think.

Your book is between you and your readers.

If you have information to share that would inspire, educate, and entertain your readers, let them have it. And don’t wait for them to ask for it, either. There’s already plenty of books out there on any given topic. People can just walk into a bookstore and buy whatever is on offer.

Since they don’t have your perspective, they may not be aware of what’s “wrong” with those other books, why the advice inside may not work for them, and why they need your book in particular to fill that gap. Spotting that gap and explaining how your book fits into it is your job.

Don’t wait for other people’s permission to write a book.

2. Be prepared for the physical and mental toll.

I’m not going to sugarcoat things for you: this journey is difficult and frustrating even if there are no surprises, and there will probably be some surprises. Forget about “business as usual”—there is no business and no usual because you’ll barely have the time to feed and wash yourself.

“People very often say to me, ‘How did you do it, how did you raise a baby and write a book?’ And the answer is—I didn’t do housework for four years. I am not superwoman. And, um, living in squalor, that was the answer.”

JK Rowling

Author of the Harry Potter novel series

I’m not trying to talk you out of writing a book—it’s wonderful, and I’d definitely do it again (just not right away). I’m telling you this so that you don’t think you’re the only one who has it this hard. It’s hard for everyone.

Honestly, I’m fed up with folks bragging how simple and easy self-publishing is. It really is not easy if you’re doing it for the first time, on your own, and you’re trying to do it right. (Sure, you could repackage a bunch of old blog posts, call it a book and launch it next week, but that’s not the kind of book I’m talking about.)

There’s a ton of work involved. If you have cash to spare, you can outsource some of it and save your time and sanity, but if you don’t—tough luck.

You can’t fit in a book “on top” of your normal life—you’ll need to replace something else with it.

Take great care of your body and your mind, and cut down on any commitments you can.

No matter how well you plan, you'll probably be finishing stuff up until 5 minutes to launch. On my ebook publishing day, I stayed up for 30 hours straight, followed by 16 hours of sleep. In the week before the launch, I consistently went to bed at 4 in the morning (sometimes at 6).

I’d never recommend this as a lifestyle. For me it’s a temporary phase that lasts for a few weeks, and then life goes back to normal. I’ve never launched a huge project in any other way—I just don’t know how. This has been the hardest thing for me in the process of making this book, and why I’m inclined to work with a publisher next time. Each launch (ebook and paperback) has been taxing. I know I can’t totally avoid it, but I’m appreciating the value of outsourcing things to other professionals.

Schedule to take a week or two off after the book launch, you’re going to need it. Don’t plan any intense or elaborate projects for 1–2 months after the book comes out. You probably won’t be enthusiastic about them at that time, not matter how cool they may seem to you now. Repeat after me: this stuff is hard, and I deserve a vacation.

Recommended reading:

3. Digital self-publishing is profitable.

If you have the necessary technical skill to produce a decent ebook, plus the time to do so, self-publishing is an excellent way to get a book in the world on your own terms, and you'll keep most of the profits. (How much profits depends on the size of your audience.)

Printed books are less profitable—obviously, they involve printing costs and bookstore commission. Even if you sell them yourself at events or shipping them to people, you have to purchase inventory and then hope you’ll sell them all. Print-on-demand books are more expensive per piece than books printed in larger runs. Do the math yourself to make sure you don’t end up in a hole.

4. Add more buffer to your estimates.

It will take way more time than you think to complete your book, edit it, design it, and launch it. You’ll also need more money than you think. I offered some figures that I’ve paid in part 2 and part 3, but keep in mind I didn’t have to pay for any design services or design software, since I’m a designer.

With my savings, and not to mention the support of a partner who has a full-time job, I was able to live without doing any client projects for a while so that I could finish and launch my book in peace. Sadly I wasn’t able to outsource any of the admin, marketing, or proofreading work. An extra $1000–$2000 in my savings would’ve made huge a difference.

5. Ruthlessly clear out your schedule.

Avoid big meetings, events, travel, deadlines, or other commitments in the weeks leading up to the book launch. (I had a couple and it made things extra hectic.)

If anyone asks you for a favor that would take your time away from the book, say you can’t do it because you’re writing a book. It’s a bulletproof argument.

6. You don't have to put everything you have to say on the topic in this one book.

If you attempt to do that you’ll never be done. Limit yourself by date or by word count and when it’s time to stop, stop. No really, stop writing and start cutting words down.

Save the non-essential sections and tangents for your blog, newsletter, videos, social media updates—or even another book!

You don't have to put everything you have to say on the topic in one book.

7. Books in English are more profitable.

People keep asking me why I wrote a book in English. I tell them it’s because I already have an international audience that reads my blog—but even if I didn’t, I’d probably still do the same.

Croatian authors: even if you need to pay someone to translate your book, self-publishing it internationally will probably earn you way more money than only publishing in Croatia and our immediate neighborhood. Many Croatian buyers buy books in English, too!

(This goes for all small nations whose language is not widely spoken.)

Recommended reading:

8. Set modest expectations.

If you have a small audience, your launch sales numbers won't be huge. A book is not a short term earning strategy, but a long-term one. During the discounted launch period, I've sold around 60 ebooks, 30 bundles, and 45 paperbacks at the price points of $12, $25 and $18 USD respectively. Do some authors sell way more than that? Sure. Do most authors sell more than that? No way. Many are happy to even sell two dozen copies at $0.99.

Your sales numbers will depend on your:

  • Current audience size.
  • Marketing skills.
  • Relationships with throught leaders in your niche.
  • Relationships with journalists and bloggers.
  • Relationships with local libraries and bookstores.
  • The amount work you put in book publicity.
  • What else is going on in your marketplace (other book launches, events, etc.).

Tree points in the list are about being well-connected. You need to start working on that long before you write a single line of your book. Some things are beyond your control, so you just need to swim in the currents you find yourself in.

No matter what the self help gurus say, setting goals that are too big won’t necessarily motivate you—they might cause disappointment if you don’t reach them. (At least that’s how it is for me.) I’m a fan of sane goals that push you just a bit, but not too much.

9. Let go of perfection.

I don’t mean just when it comes to your own work. Absolutely, perfectionism can make you postpone finishing the project because there’s always more to improve. Polish what you reasonably can in a given timeframe, and leave the rest for the second edition.

What I’m pointing at more with this tip is that if you’re using print on demand (POD), perfection is simply not possible. This was one of the most difficult truths for me to accept, and why I likely won’t be using print on demand for future projects.

Every batch of books I ordered had some defects that are considered “normal” in the POD world, like color variation, specks of dust or bubbles trapped under the lamination, off-center or angled spine print, irregular cutting around the spine, etc. Finding a “perfect” book that didn’t have any of those defects was almost impossible. This is super frustrating for a designer. If this type of thing bothers you and you want an impeccable looking book, I can’t recommend POD to you.

10. Multimedia packages are where the real money is.

If you’re able to create extra templates, videos, audios, and other stuff to create a higher tier of your book, it's a great opportunity to offer more value to your readers. You’ll need to sell it on your own website using a service like Gumroad, Sellfy, Sendowl, WooCommerce, etc.

You could sell the ebook on Amazon/Smashwords, and then upsell the multimedia package by placing a call to action in the book itself. Or you could feature both the ebook and the bundle on your book landing page, and then forward the ebook sales to Amazon/Smashwords. I haven’t tried it, but it could work.

Recommended reading:

(Please note: these posts are not a guarantee that you’ll earn $100,000 in book sales.)

11. Don't expect huge sales numbers from media mentions.

You might be getting a few sales you wouldn't have gotten otherwise, and each new fan you get is several potential word of mouth fans, buyers, and clients later. It’s still worth it, but it won’t affect your numbers that much.

I find that the purpose of media mentions is to make people in your industry aware that you exist, which may lead to referrals and speaking invitations down the road. Still totally worth it.

12. Create an MVP to get your book out sooner.

You can always add on features later. If I had waited until I was able to create the audiobook and the paperback, it would’ve pushed off the book publishing date by another 6 months. I couldn’t go on for that long without some kind of closure (or at least market testing).

My MVP brought in some initial cash infusion at a time when I’ve already burned through my savings, and I was able to invest this money in the paperback (and pay for groceries, yay).

You can always make the second edition of the book and increase the price. Speaking of price...

13. No matter how much you charge, someone out there will think you’re ridiculous.

Either you're silly for charging too little, or for charging too much.

The last book I bought cost me $70 USD with shipping. I was able to afford it, and I wanted to support another self-published author (she used crowdfunding for her book). I didn’t compare it to how much business books typically cost, because this was an indie author. Indies can’t be profitable if they set the same price as the big players who have a huge sales volume.

What some individual thinks about your price is not your problem. If you’re getting book sales anyway, this means that your price is fine. Maybe you’re getting less book sales than if the book was cheaper, but who’s to say for sure? Own your price. Take pride in the fact that it’s not the cheapest book out there.

No matter how much you charge, someone out there will think you’re ridiculous.
Read this and 15 more tips on self-publishing in @nelchee's post:

Tweet this!

14. Prepare for tech issues.

I’ve had website issues the week before the launch, which I was able to patch temporarily. And then once the book launched, some folks told me that their email receipts were being sent to Spam! (As far as I know, only Gmail addresses were affected.) I had to personally remind every single buyer who used a Gmail address to check their Spam folder for the missing receipt, which I really wish I didn’t have to do.

Whether you want to ascribe it to supernatural causes like Mercury Retrograde, or plain old Murphy’s Law, the fact still stands that things probably won’t go perfectly smooth. Treating this as a part of the journey that happens to all of us (instead of some unfair universal conspiracy against you) will help you keep your calm in these situations.

15. If you’re going to do a giveaway, give something other than books.

Some people do a book giveaway to promote the book launch, but I think that's counterproductive. I've heard from other book and course authors that giveaways on other blogs did not result in more sales. In one case an author had to refund someone who had previously bought the thing, and won the giveaway afterwards.

Adding a bonus to your launch to encourage early sales is great, because you want people to buy the book, not make them wait to see if they won it.

If you're giving a gift to everyone who buys, make it something easy and scalable like a video class, a live Q&A call, or a bonus ebook.

If you're making a raffle with one or several winners, you can offer something individualized such as a consulting session, a 1-on-1 service, or an original artwork.

16. Keep the ball rolling.

When we complete a huge project that took a substantial chunk of our life, we kinda get fed up with it and need a break. That’s understandable. I also took a vacation in between the two launches because otherwise I would’ve burnt out big time.

However, once we regroup we need to keep the interest for the book going. It’s not just about the launch: you need to keep promoting the book over and over to new audiences.

My book launch was about my inner circle—the folks who have been following my work for years. Yes, many people who’ve never heard about me also bought the book because of a friend recommendation or a media feature. That doesn’t change the fact that 99% of the future book buyers haven’t heard of me or my book yet. It doesn’t matter if it’s 90%, or even 80%—the vast majority of people who will buy the book at some point in the next few years don’t yet know that it exists. We need to get out there in front of those people.

Keep doing interviews and events, keep writing related blog posts, keep dropping references to your book in your other creations... Keep the momentum alive in any way you can.

The vast majority of people who will buy your book in the future don’t yet know that it exists.

That’s what I have for you.

I believe I said everything I wanted to say with this article series. We covered a lot of ground, and I hope it’s been helpful.

If you know any prospective self-published authors, please share these articles with them so they can learn what type of work it involves, and whether self-publishing is right for them.

Check out @nelchee's 16 tips for authors that will help you prepare for your first book self-publishing adventure.

Tweet this!

If you have any questions that I haven’t answered with my articles, feel free to write them in the comments and I’ll gladly respond!

And if you haven't yet read the rest of the articles in the series, you can read them now:

  1. Motivation, planning & writing
  2. Production & distribution
  3. Marketing & selling

Happy writing and publishing! :)

The Human Centered Brand by Nela Dunato: A Practical Guide to Being Yourself in Business

Nela

Nela Dunato

About Nela Dunato

Artist, brand designer, teacher, and writer. Author of the book “The Human Centered Brand”. Owner of a boutique branding & design consultancy that helps small service-based businesses create exceptional client experiences.

On this blog I write about art, design, creativity, business, productivity and marketing, and share my creative process and tips. Read more about me...


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