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Should you self-publish your book?

by Adrian Segar

Here’s the problem with self-publishing: no one cares about your book. That’s it in a nutshell. There are somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone, depending on which stats you believe. Many of those – perhaps as many as half or even more – are self-published. On average, they sell less than 250 copies each. Your book won’t stand out. Hilary Clinton’s will. Yours won’t.

So self-publishing is an exercise in futility and obscurity. Of course, there are the stories of the writers who self-publish and magic happens and they sell millions of books, but those are the rare exceptions. How rare? Well, on the order of 1 or 2 per million.
Nick Morgan, Should You Self-Publish Your Book?

741941-book-signing-lineNick paints a realistic picture of the work required to become a “successful” self-published author—if you’re defining success purely in terms of book sales. But I think there are other perspectives to consider.

My first book, about participant-driven and participation-rich conferences, was published three years ago. I have only sold a few thousand copies (though sales per year continue to rise) and the money I’ve made from selling books translates into a few cents an hour for the four part-time years I took to write the book. Not successful by Nick’s terms, right?

But. During those three years I’ve moved from complete obscurity to become a fairly well known authority in the field of innovative event design. My blog had 2.25 million page views in 2012, I’m routinely presenting at industry conferences, and a typical consulting gig brings income that’s equivalent to selling five hundred books.

If you are writing non-fiction for a niche market and you have something important to say, your book can provide wonderful exposure and authority that may (no guarantees!) translate into significant income.

I considered going the traditional publishing route and I’m glad I didn’t for several reasons:

  • Traditional publishing typically adds another year before your book is published.
  • I had complete control over the look and content of my book. I hired the same professionals—editor, proofreader, book designer, cover designer, copywriter—that major publishers use (they are often freelancers these days) and worked with them directly without the publisher as an intermediary.
  • Although you’re very unlikely to make significant money from book sales, you receive significantly more money on each copy of the book.
  • I have been able to build relationships with many of my book buyers. Although the paperback version of my book is available everywhere, I sell the ebook myself. Most of my sales come directly from my website, perhaps because I offer 30 minutes free consulting to anyone who buys the book from me. This allows me to connect one-to-one with my readers, which translates into additional consulting/facilitation/presenting work while building up a list of people who are likely be interested in my next book, due to be published later this year.

I hope my experience and thoughts are helpful and perhaps encouraging for some who have been considering self-publishing.

Image attribution: Dianne Heath

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  • http://jeffkorhan.com Jeff Korhan

    One thing that is changing Adrian is the timeline. I had planned to go the self-publishing route and responded to an inquiry to publish with Wiley because they agreed the timeline would be short – 8 months from contract to publishing my book in mid-April 2013.

    When all is said and done I actually think I am publishing more quickly than I would have on my own – making a lot less $$ of course, but at least getting it out there for the true value that you realized – amplifying credibility and expertise to open up new doors.

    • http://www.segar.com Adrian Segar

      Jeff, I’m impressed that your publisher has shortened the traditional one year timeline. I wonder if that’s a response to the shorter timelines that are certainly possible for self-publishing. Getting your book out there ASAP is important, but I still enjoy having complete control over every aspect of my book.

    • http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/ Adrian Segar

      Good points Jeff. (I’m sorry I took so long to reply—I missed your comment at the time.) I’m glad to hear that traditional publishers are shortening the publishing cycle, though I still prefer to handle and control everything myself. My next book will be self-published too!

      • http://jeffkorhan.com Jeff Korhan

        I understand. Good luck with your next book. I’m planning mine too, while also actively promoting the one that is in stores now. This first book has been an interesting journey, as I’m learning a lot about both traditional and independent methods of publishing and marketing.

        Thanks for the follow-up!

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