I challenged myself to write some posts with one word titles this week, and I thought I'd kick it off with help. Thanks to the visibility of my website, I get a lot of requests from authors looking for self publishing help. My only complaint is that most of them don't bother scratching the surface of the articles I've written before e-mailing me. By this point, I have on the order of 200 articles about publishing on this site, and while I don't expect anybody to read them all, it gets under my skin when people ask me for help with things that I plainly disapprove of or have asked people quite specifically not to write me about.

The most effective aid I can offer is probably helping authors understand the issues I'm writing about in their own context. For example, you might be planning a book full of color photography and stumble across my cost/benefit analysis for Lightning Source and not notice that it just doesn't apply to color books. I get a lot of requests to look over self publishing websites, which I'm usually happy to do, but it doesn't mean I'll have any insight as to how effective Internet marketing will be in your particular niche. I just don't know how many people are fans of this-or-that star or product, or whether members of a particular subculture are book buyers.

More often than not, I find myself throwing a bucket of cold water on authors who are gung-ho to rush into the self publishing business. The two main reasons for this are really quite simple. First, I don't sell any services so I have nothing to gain from your starting a self publishing business and needing help. In fact, I've been bitten more than once by authors who figure I've got endless free time to dedicate to their cause, and who get quite nasty when I've had enough of it. The second reason is that most authors who contact me don't really want to be in the self publishing business, they just want to be published. That's a reason to send a lot of proposals to trade publishers, to get an agent, or go with a subsidy press, not to start a business.

There are a lot of sharks in the self publishing waters who would like to take a couple thousand dollars out of your hide. I wrote a post a while back cautioning authors about either buying or accepting free help from publishing experts they encounter online. Free help can cost you a lot of money if it turns out to be wrong for your business, and paid help can cost you a lot of money even if it's right on target. You really need to do a lot of homework before you get to the point of writing and publishing a book if you're doing it as a business. Otherwise, you might write a great book for which there's no market, and even the best intended help from real experts isn't going to help change that.

The best advice I can offer, not only in regards to the publishing articles on my site, but also in regard to publishing discussion lists and other online resources, is to spend a few weeks reading before you ask any questions. On the publishing discussion lists, it's important to get a feel for who's there to share their experience as opposed to who's there to bully newbies or drum up consulting business. It's also important to spend as much time as you can studying up on what's available so that when you do ask for help, you ask the right questions. If you ask the wrong questions, even correct answers are likely to do damage, because they'll lead you off in the wrong direction. Slow and steady may not always win the race, but at least you won't go broke so fast that you won't have time to change course.

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