Some comedian I can't place would say about self publishing, "It's all about the book," but he's not in the business. I would say the self publishing business is all about marketing the book and earning a profit on the sales, which means you have to put some serious thought into how you're going to do this before you ever start writing.

That's the theory anyway, but in practice, most authors including myself, want to write the books we want to write rather than imitating some successful book in a market that has room for another title. As an author, I've gone 6.5 for 11.5 on writing books that are commercially viable, or a little over 50%. Four of my successes are all editions of the same book which I wrote for McGraw-Hill. If we limited the discussion to self published books, I've gone two for four, not counting one book I never got around to publishing because I didn't think it was good enough.

One of my self published books that I don't count as a success is my book about publishing. It's sold about 2,000 copies, which would be great for a first book by a new publisher, but it's pretty disappointing for a guy who claims to be an expert. But then again, I fell into the trap that I preach about so much - I wrote the book to please myself. Or, more accurately, I wrote the book to reflect what I wish I knew before I got involved in the publishing industry. The first third of the book is just that, an explanation of publishing basics and how the trade industry works, from the perspectives of both the author and the publisher. The middle of the book is about using print-on-demand to break out of the old mold the industry tries to apply to all new publishers, and the last third is about internet based marketing.

I overestimated by a long shot how many aspiring publishers and authors were interested in starting a publishing business with on-demand printing. I was corresponding with a friend of mine this morning who's getting ready to bring out a publishing book of his own, and I warned him to lower his expectations. Like myself, his book will focus on a non-traditional approach to publishing. The problem with a self publishing book that insists you shouldn't get excited about bookstore sales is that it goes against the dream. For me, the dream was getting into publishing without having to run up credit card debt or mortgage a house I don't own, but for most authors, the dream is seeing their book on the shelves at Barnes & Noble. The possibility that Barnes & Noble won't stock their book at all, or may return most of the books they do order, just doesn't worry the optimists. Since you pretty much have to be an optimist to publish a book, my "think small" model turns out to be a hard sell.

On the bright side, I haven't had what I'd call a bad experience in self publishing. I make a good living at it, and the one book I published as an offset hardcover that turned out to be a complete commercial failure was easy, if expensive, to give away. I put three years into that book of translations and was able to revive some interest in my great-grandmother’s writing, something I don't see happening for my how-to books in three generations.

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