10 Reasons I like to self-publish
About half my books are with mainstream publishers ("Skip the LIne", my latest, is with Harper Collins) and half I did by self-publishing. "Choose Yourself", which sold over a million copies, was self-published.
Which means I wrote the book, did the audio book as well, and it's available as paperback, kindle, audio, and sometimes hardcover on Amazon.
1. It's Easier.
“Easier” doesn’t mean “lower quality”.
Here’s the problem with traditional publishing: Most of your time is not focused on the writing but the business of publishing.
You have to pitch an idea to an agent, who pitches to an assistant editor, who pitches to an editor, who pitches to a marketing department, who pitches to a publisher.
Then you have to deal with their marketing demands.
And you have to wait a year before your book is published because it has to fit on the schedule they send to bookstores.
Most bookstores won’t even stock your book anyway. They get 2 million possibilities a year and pick 2,000 new books to carry.
And even if you are in the bookstore, if your publisher is not 200% behind your book, nobody will see it.
Do you know when you see a book facing forward on the shelf, the publisher PAID for that position?
Do you know when you see the “Staff Recommendations” shelf, the publisher PAID for that position?
Do you know when you see the books on the “New Releases” table, the publisher PAID for that position?
A simple example: If you go to an airport before your flight and see a book, the publisher paid, minimum (depending on location), $20,000 per month for that book to be there.
With self-publishing you can focus on the writing. Write a good book. The best book you can. And publish it.
I feel so much joy and creativity now that I am much more in control of the entire process.
2. More Money
True, you won’t get an advance. But the average advance is going down anyway. 99% of writers get less than a $10,000 advance for their books.
And that advance is spread out over years. You get it in several chunks: 1) When you start the book 2) When you submit it. 3) When the publisher finishes editing it 4) When it publishes.
And then the typical deal with a publisher is that they give you 15% of the “wholesale price” – a purely fictional number that is much less than the price you see in the bookstores.
I know people who have sold millions of copies of their books. They are still unable to make a living writing books.
With self-publishing, you get 100% of your revenues. And you are also in control of the international rights, which you can do on your own or work out a deal with an international rights agent.
You also have TOTAL control over other types of deals you can do with your books. I am limited on the deals I can do with my traditionally published books.
But I have made much more money carving out special deals for my self-published books.
More on this in a bit.
Fact: I have made more money on my self-published books than on my traditionally published books. In fact, 99% of the money I've made on my traditionally published books were from just one book, "Skip the LIne".
Then there are the people who self-publish more than one book A MONTH. These people make an enormous amount of money by writing.
How can someone write more than one book a month? When you are making the money they are, you’ll do it. This is a more complicated topic but it’s doable.
With traditional publishing, they can’t even publish more than one book a year for you. One person I know publishes up to five books a month and is making millions a year.
Anything is possible.
3. Bookstores are disappearing
Bookstores are disappearing.
65% of new book sales (both print books and ebooks) are bought on Amazon. And this number is increasing each year while bookstores are going out of business.
Listen to me, I like real print books. I like holding a book. I like turning the pages. I like the smell of a page.
This is not ebooks versus physical books. This is Amazon versus bookstores.
Just like it was once Barnes & Noble versus independents.
If anything, this is a good sign for independents. Barnes & Noble needs mass book sales but people go to indie bookstores because they love the curation.
A traditional publisher prides themselves on two things: They can give you an advance (which is going down every year) and they can get you in bookstores (which are disappearing).
And for that they take 85% of your sales. But you don’t need them and never will again.
So why does this lead to more sales?
For one thing, I can make a decision every day how I want to price my book. Some days I want to publish a book for $3.99 (a price I would never do be able to do with a traditional publisher because they would lose money on that and my royalty would be too small).
Some days I will be able to offer a discount to bump up sales by going from $3.99 to 99 cents.
And because I can control the marketing more easily (see below), I can boost sales more easily than a traditional publisher, which will NEVER do the types of sophisticated marketing an individual can do. Nor can they make decisions quickly
4. Control of Marketing
Here’s the type of deal I might do on my self-published books:
Contact a person with a huge email list. Write a special “new chapter” for the book that is only offered to members of that list. Up the price of the book with that new chapter added just for that person’s audience. Then split 50-50 the revenues generated.
A publisher will NEVER do this.
I do this all of the time. This is part of the reason I’ve been able to sell over a million copies of “Choose Yourself.”
I can also do this:
When my next book comes out, I can offer, for free, a PDF of an older self-published book if they buy the next book.
This bumps sales of the next book, this also helps me build an email list of people interested in my books (no publisher thinks of this), and helps me generate more interest in my older books.
There are about 10 to 20 deals I’ve done like this in the past five years.
5. There are many reasons to write. Not just money. Publishers only want to make money (which is reasonable, that is their business).
Traditional publishers have only one reason they will publish your book: To make a lot of money.
Not a bad reason, although they are strikingly bad at it in today’s environment.
70 years ago I feel there were other reasons traditional publishers might want to publish your book. Maybe they wanted to help nurture your career over time so that eventually they build a nice backlist of your books that sell consistently.
But this is no longer the case. Publisher loyalty to their authors is usually zero. If your book doesn’t sell well in the first two weeks it is out there is a decent chance your editor will never return your calls again.
But there are many reasons to write a book:
A legacy for your descendants. I would love if I could read a book written by my great-great-great grandfather describing what his life was like. What’s the audience for that book? Just his descendants. But that’s a decent reason.
Getting to talk about something you are passionate about.
Often people write a book to get speaking or consulting opportunities that are very lucrative. If a company is trying to decide between consultant A and consultant B, they will pick the person who has written a book. I know this to be true.
Practice. Many people write several books before they manage to produce their big bestseller that changes their lives completely. Book writing is a craft and, like any craft, takes time to build the skill set.
You aren’t limited by genre. You can write a book that YOU want to write as opposed to fitting a specific marketplace.
To complement your business. A friend of mine makes a special kind of makeup and moisturizer catered to women going through menopause. So she wrote a small book about menopause that explains in detail the chemical and hormonal reactions in the body and how certain chemicals can help. This complements her product sales.
6. Guess who else self-publishes
Andy Weir wrote “The Martian”. (See my podcast with him.) But first he self-published it. No publisher would take it.
Then Random House picked it up after movie rights were sold and it became a bestselling book and then a movie starring Matt Damon.
Hugh Howey self-published eight or nine books before selling “Wool”, Part One. He didn’t expect that book to do well.
Why didn’t he expect it to do well? Because nobody knows in advance what will do well. But he got so much reaction, he decided to write Wool Part II, then Part III, then part IV.
Finally he self-published the combination: “Wool”.
Guess what? “Wool”, and Parts I – IV, became the top five sellers in the Amazon science fiction section. He was making a ton of money and selling millions of books.
Then people started buying his first eight or nine books that were self-published. I bought them all, for instance, after I read “Wool”. They were great.
Then a major publisher picked it up and started selling it in bookstores but by then he was writing his next series, Dust.
EL James self-published “50 Shades of Grey”. Most people don’t realize this.
She has built a following on Twilight fan fiction websites. So she wrote a book of fan fiction, changed the character’s names (and switched vampires to billionaires) and self-published.
After it sold 250,000 copies, Simon & Schuster reached out and bought the rights to her book.
At one point, her self-published book was selling one out of every three book sold in the world. Ultimately the series has sold over 150 million books.
7. No Gatekeepers. No Excuses
When I write a book, I want people to read it. If it’s bad, fine. Nobody will read it. If it’s good, then great. A lot of people will read it.
But as I mentioned before, it’s impossible to tell in advance. 29 publishers rejected “Harry Potter” before a small publisher picked it up.
Every publisher rejected John Grisham’s first book, until his second book, “The Firm” became a bestseller and he was able to publish another book, “A Time to Kill”.
Nobody knows. Which means the role of the gatekeeper is nonsense.
And yet if you pour your life into writing a book, you have to handle the word “No” from agents, editors, marketing people, publishers, bookstores, etc.
So frustrating! I hate it. Honestly, I feel it in my gut when I need validation from someone I know is not qualified to give me validation.
And I say “not qualified” not in a negative way. NOBODY is qualified to judge your book. Only the audience. But, in traditional publishing, you have to get past these artificial gatekeepers to reach your audience.
In self-publishing, you just publish. AND THEN you can create a built in audience by building up an email list, etc.
8. More opportunities.
As I mentioned above: with a self-published book, even with a limited audience, you can get speaking opportunities, consulting opportunities, coaching opportunities, etc
Choose Yourself Media (which is now publishing a course on how to self-publish) started because many people read “Choose Yourself” and wanted to know more about the different ways they can build lives of freedom and well-being.
9. Easier to Write
This is very interesting to me. Self-published books are actually easier to write.
How come? I don’t have to spend time thinking about the other seven layers of the publishing industry
But more importantly, the format of books has been defined for the past 100 years by the needs of bookstores. Bookstores will require publishers to only send book written with that format.
The traditional format: 70,000 words. Fit a very specific genre so they know where to put it on the shelf.
When of my friends six years ago self-published a book that was only 8,000 words long.
It now has 3,000 reviews and is still every month generating enough income to pay his rent.
A traditional publisher contacted him AFTER it was a success and said, “Hey, can we publish this now?”
They said to him, “We need you to expand it, though. Can you make it at least 60,000 words?”
He politely declined.
I find that most published books are like short magazine articles that are then padded with another 60,000 words to fit the traditional format. This makes them poorly written and boring.
With self-publishing, you control your format, write your book, and then start on the next one.
10. You become a better writer.
The more you write, the better a writer you become.
90% of being a traditionally published writer is dealing the ins and outs of the publishing business.
I’d rather focus on writing. Living my dream life