The Business of Self-Publishing: 5 Lessons from an Indie Author

self publishing, independent publishing

Recently, I finally got to fulfill a personal dream and launch my own book, The Drifting Self: a novella. Being an entrepreneur, I decided to take matters into my own hands: I published the book independently and have been marketing it by myself.

In the process, I’ve faced a steep learning curve. I read dozens of articles about self-publishing and indie book marketing, watched countless YouTube videos on the topic, connected with hundreds of fellow independent authors on social media, and learned from my own trials and errors. Here are five lessons I learned, in no particular order:

  1. You don’t have to be a (good) writer to be a non-fiction bestselling author: WHAT? Yes… A lot of authors are really simply curators, doing research on a particular topic and putting together, for example, series of “how to” books. Others outsource writing altogether to ghostwriters in order only to focus on the marketing side. I know, it’s pretty crazy, but self-publishing is a business and many entrepreneurs are jumping on the opportunity very pragmatically. Mind you, this does NOT mean that the quality of such bestselling books is poor. If you don’t have good products, people won’t buy them. It is just that the way non-fiction books are written has changed a huge deal. In the past, a good book about eating healthy, for example, was probably written by a PhD in Nutrition; today, with all the vast information available to everyone, a good curator can put together a very good book on the topic, mostly by quoting articles from respected journals, blogs, and general media. You get the picture.
  2. If you already have a following of any sort, self-publishing is the way: Say you are a blogger and have thousands of followers; a musician with an extensive mailing list; or a successful businessperson with a somewhat recognizable name. If you want to publish a book, you have much to gain from self-publishing versus going with a traditional brick-and-mortar publisher. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), its self-publishing platform for ebooks/Kindle, offers in most cases a 70% royalty on the book’s sales price. A traditional publisher will usually offer you 10% at the most. It is true that they would do most of the marketing and other legwork for you, but with such royalty difference, if you already have loyal followers to get started (which is the most difficult part of marketing a book) it is probably worth trying it on your own.
  3. Don’t worry about the technical details, focus on having great content: Writing a great book is the most important job for you, be it fiction or non-fiction. Once you have your content, using CreateSpace, KDP or any other platform is a piece of cake. There are several instructional videos on YouTube showing you how to use these publishing tools; they are very intuitive. Also, indie authors help each other, you can join several Facebook groups, cold-call other authors, be an active member of this vibrant community. I assure you that, once your content is finished, in a couple of days maximum you will be able to upload it to any platform.
  4. All the help you need is much cheaper than you think: You might be asking, “but how the heck will I have a nice cover, have my book professionally proofread, edited, do the basic marketing etc.?” All these services are super cheap nowadays. If you go to sites such as Fiverr and CrowdSpring, you can find amazing designers working out of India, Romania or the Philippines, who will do a great ebook cover for you for anywhere between $5 and $50. You can also get proofreaders, editors, beta readers etc, who will do a great job for two digits, maybe three. And don’t forget to use friends and family too, they can provide useful feedback, help you bounce ideas off etc. In terms of marketing, there are tons of tricks to learn from fellow indie authors, as well as resources to use, such as sites that promote your books for free, bloggers that review indie books, Twitter accounts that retweet your book to thousands of followers etc. It’s not easy and it takes time. But it’s certainly doable if you have the drive.
  5. Look at Amazon not as a bookstore or retail store,  but as a search engine: Amazon is the second largest search engine in world, only behind Google. The easiest way people will find your book on Amazon is through its search tool. When you go to Amazon and want to buy a book, say, under the genre of “magical realism”, that’s what you type in the search box, right? Once you look at Amazon this way, you start understanding its algorithm, and you’ll be able to make your book accessible to those who might want it most. You will be able to classify your title under the most efficient categories, choose the best keywords to associate with it, and use a couple of other tricks to rank well. I’ve been following a few best-practices I’ve learned in my research, and my book has been ranking anywhere between 5,000 and 40,000, depending on the day, out of the millions of books listed on the Kindle store – not bad for an indie author.

So, if you’ve been promising yourself that you will write a book in your lifetime, the time is now. No more excuses. All the tools you need are available to you. Write on!

Andre A. is an entrepreneur, economist and author.

Have you ever published a book? At least meant to? Tell us about your experience!!



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