The Vocational Calling of Self Publishing

When I started out self publishing and people asked me what I did for a living, I used to say, "I'm in publishing." If they pushed me, I was more likely to talk about my contracts with McGraw-Hill or my website than to say "I write how-to books and publish them myself." Now, when people ask what I do for a living, I say, "I'm in self publishing" and if they push for details, I immediately tell them that I'm earning more a year than I ever did with a trade bestseller. That usually gets their attention, at least until the find out what the trades pay!

I've come to see self publishing as not just a vocation, but as a calling, one that fits my skill set and temperament. I'm afraid that too many of the aspiring self publishers I hear from are going into it for exactly the opposite reason, a "not calling", nobody in the trade industry returning their calls. Starting a business in a field where you can't get a job as an employee is certainly a way to do an end-run around the system, but before you go into debt, some serious vocational counseling is in order. In this, like everything else, I'm a do-it-yourselfer, so here are a few self-help suggestions for determining if self publishing is for you.

#1 Can you take rejection?

There's a reason I didn't phrase this "Do you like rejection." I think people who like getting rejected may lack motivation to get accepted, meaning their business will fail. Too many authors go into self publishing because they can't take rejection letters from trade publishers. Unfortunately, your first role in your self publishing business will be deciding what books to publish, and if you can't reject your own ideas when they're bad, you're going to lose your shirt.

#2 Do you live from paycheck to paycheck?

If you need a check from somewhere every week to pay the bills, you better make sure that those checks keep coming in, and starting a self publishing business isn't the way to do it. It takes time to learn the business, it takes time to write and publish books, and it takes time to build sales, if it ever happens at all. Self publishing is not the quick path to riches.

#3 Do you hate making mistakes?

Many authors think that neurotic attention to detail is a blessing to a self publisher, but it's really a curse. As the newest small fish in a very big ocean, you're going to make mistakes and you aren't going to get any sympathy from your business relations when you do - just bigger bills. It costs me less to publish a book these days than it cost me just to fix mistakes to my earlier books. It's better to live with your mistakes, to admit that you aren't perfect and understand that nobody cares, except other neurotics.

#4 Do you get excited about deadlines?

Self publishers need to go with the flow. I tell new publishers not to launch their publicity until their book is not only printed, but available in distribution, especially on Amazon. This goes 100% against most of the advice you'll read about marketing books before they are published, but for the new self publisher, the odds of hitting the deadlines you set are too low for fine-timing. Big trade publishers miss their deadlines all of the time, and they have plenty of practice (and technology) to ensure it doesn't happen. Don't let your one publicity triumph happen when your books aren't available yet.

#5 Do you know what you don't know?

It's funny, but I meet more and more people every year who think that admitting ignorance is to be avoided at all costs. They'll ask a question, and then repeat "Yes, I know that" like a mantra as you take them through the answer. Sometimes, with younger people who I actually care about, I'll stop and say, "So you explain it to me," in the hopes of actually teaching them something. I don't know (I'm ignorant) why knowing everything has come into vogue, maybe it's television. If you don't understand that you don't know anything about self publishing before you try it, you'll never do the necessary homework to start off properly or learn from your mistakes. This doesn't mean paying somebody because I don't think you can buy knowledge. You have to roll up your sleeves, read a variety of sources on the web, and make your own decisions.

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