A Book Publishing Guide for Authors

The main job of any self publisher is book marketing, and the majority of the posts in this blog are probably related to book promotion. However, today I'm going to concentrate on some of the issues related to business structure and decision making because many of the authors I've corresponded with remain convinced that the business side should somehow take care of itself.

Before self publishing a book, the most critical decision you are faced with is what you should be writing about, or, whether you should rewrite a manuscript you've already completed to better match the marketplace. I know that sounds mercenary, but it's a business, and in the self publishing business, you are the acquisitions editor. There is surprisingly little room for egomaniacs in publishing, unless you are already famous. If you write a book for which there is no audience, you won't sell any, even if you are a marketing phenomenon. You also need to match your writing abilities to the printing and distribution technology you can afford. I advocate print on demand for most authors, but it puts severe limitation on book illustrations.

Once you commit to the idea of publishing your own books, the very first step is to purchase an ISBN block. The next step is to write on the blackboard 100 times, "Publishing a book is not a race and printing a book is not the finish line." If you try to hurry the process, you'll just end up paying premiums to get the book in print quickly and have to redo many steps two or three times to get it right. Along the way, you'll encounter plenty of "experts" willing to sell you their help with self publishing. I'm not saying there's no situation where it makes sense to pay for help, but certainly not before you invest serious time to educate yourself about the business.

After self publishing a book, you may find yourself getting offers from major trade publishers who want to republish your book under their imprint. These offers sometimes contain an iron fist in a silk glove, like, "We really like your book and want to give you the opportunity to reach a larger audience, BUT, if you don't sign with us, we'll hire some work-for-hire hack to rip-off your book for us." Before you say yes, just remember that a publishing contract changes everything. Trust me, if being a trade author was so great, I wouldn't know so many trade authors, myself included, who gave it up for self publishing. Another temptation for self publishers is accepting foreign rights deals. I usually get a couple offers a year, but so far it's never made economic sense for me to accept one.

Finally, you may wake up one day and find that you've created meaningful business equity through self publishing books. That's the time to put some serious thought into business valuation and estate planning. The value of the business to your heirs will probably be maximized if they can continue to run it while your books retain currency. There's little chance this will actually happen unless you make the proper arrangements and leave extensive instructions, both for running the business and for selling off the assets if necessary. The instructions will be ignored, of course, but at least you'll rest in peace for having done your part.

The main job in self publishing is book marketing, and I'll probably take a day next week to write a little guide to all the book marketing posts I've made so far. One of the unfortunate truths about book marketing is that a high level of activity doesn't necessarily translate into high level of sales. It's a question of the right promotion for the right book at the right price point. No business exists in a vacuum, so don't overlook the effect of competition on your bottom line.

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