Lisa James McKenzie, one of my kickstarter supporters, requested a behind the scenes summation of my experience self-publishing my new book, Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds, a book of advice on thinking, wisdom and living a creative life.
Here are all the questions I’ve been asked, with honest answers:
- Why did you do this? You’ve had 3 bestselling books the traditional way. I know I will be writing books the rest of my life. The sooner I learn everything about the process, the better off I will be. I already know how to write – it was time to learn how to publish. Learning was my primary motivation. Even if this book doesn’t sell a copy, but I learn things that help my future writing career, it was worth it (Longer answer here). I’m friends with everyone I’ve worked with at O’Reilly Media. There are no hard feelings there.
- What was awesome about the process? Control. The cover, title and content for any published book involves rounds of discussions between the author and the publisher, assuming you can find a publisher that is interested in the book at all. If you self-publish, you, the author, are in control. I got exactly as much input from others as I found useful. I used my blog to get feedback from my readers on the title, on the cover, and the book itself, but I had complete control over that process.
- What sucked about the process? Control :) If you have control over everything, you have to take care of everything. Every single task must be done by you, or you must hire someone to do it.
- What was unexpected? It was easy. If you can make a PDF, and hire a good designer, you can print a professional looking book. The hard part, as always, is writing the book itself. If you can write a book, you can self-publish a book. Anyone complaining about finding a publisher, but has yet to write a paragraph, is fooling themselves. You can be your own publisher at any time, provided you actually write something.
- How did you hire people? I used scottberkun.com to find a designer and an editor/curator, by asking people to apply. I wanted to find someone already interested in my work, or through my network of readers. The response was amazing (~40 people applied for each role). I picked 3 people for each role and paid them to do a trial task. Based on the results, I hired Tim Kordik (cover and interior design) and Krista Stevens (editor). The always amazing Marlowe Shaeffer took over the editorial reigns for the last leg of the project and helped drive it home.
- What were the costs? If you use a Print On Demand printer, costs are low. You’ll need to hire a designer and editor, but otherwise the base costs are a few hundred dollars. You pay a fee to setup an account with the printer, the e-book service and for an ISBN number. You also need to have an LLC to work with some printers. PR and marketing are likely the largest costs you will have, but how much you spend is up to you.
- What services did you use? Based on research, and advice from author Phil Simon, I used Lightningsource, a Print on Demand service (POD). POD means there is no inventory – they print books as they are ordered (which happens so fast, no customer on amazon.com would ever know). I also considered CreateSpace, which is comprehensive and more consumer friendly. They also take care of listing the book on Amazon.com (Update: I used CreateSpace for The Ghost of My Father and highly recommend the service). I used bookbaby.com for all the e-books: they take an epub file, and convert and deliver the book to kindle, iBookstore, B&N and Sony Reader.
- What was a pain in the neck? Some of these services are not designed for consumers, so their websites suck and take time to learn. The worst offenders are Lightningsource and Bowker.com (the service used to buy ISBN numbers). Once learned, most processes are easy. The other major issue is timing – these services do not guarantee specific dates, so launching a book is hard to time PR-wise. The other challenge with POD is there are no pre-orders. I used kickstarter to help solve that problem.
- What about marketing? Publishers rarely do very much to market most of their books, unless you are already famous enough to justify a good return on that investment. It’s true self publishing means you are entirely on your own, but the gap for most authors is far smaller that you’d think. Even when a publisher does a great job, most marketing for books involves the author: interviews, appearances and blog posts. It still depends on the author doing work. The question is: does the publisher’s value to the author justify the share of profits they will take?
- What would you do differently? Not much. I’m not sure the next book will be self-published, but I’d definitely consider doing it again.
- Would you recommend other writers self-publish? Here’s advice for advice for first time authors. Provided the person is actually writing, and not merely talking about writing, a smart publisher, and a good editor, can make for great partners with a writer. It depends on how much of a partnership a writer needs or wants. Some writers need the structure and support publishers provide to get started, to guide the book with tough feedback, or to finish. And many publishers have greater knowledge of PR and marketing than the writer does. My recommendations depend on who the writer, publisher, and editor are. First time authors are likely best served by working with a publisher, as they have much to learn about every part of the process. But learning on your own is better than waiting around for a dream to come to you.
Want to see the results? The free preview is here – Mindfire Preview (PDF) – its nearly 1/3rd of the book, all for free. Take a look – let me know what you think. So far the book is doing well with nearly 30 reviews.
If you found this post useful, buy the book, ya?
What questions do you have? Leave them in the comments. I’m happy to answer.