Should you self-publish your book?

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