Self-Publishing Without Self-Destructing

By: Jeff Herman

Needless to say, self-publishing is a major topic of conversation amongst writers. It also seems to be the number-one area for commerce, all of which is buyer-beware. It’s easy to spend many $thousands, even though you might get a similar outcome by spending a few $hundred. Here’s an obvious suggestion for anyone who decides to self-publish: spend as little as possible until you truly understand what you might and might not get for your money. Intelligent people often allow ambition to override common sense; that’s why self-publishing is often referred to as “vanity publishing”.

In my opinion, it’s safest and wisest to research and purchase services in a sequential manner, as opposed to an “all-in-one” package from a single vendor. For starters, you might want to retain a qualified freelance editor to fix the inevitable mistakes and suggest editorial upgrades. It’s also worth investing in a professionally produced cover. There are vendors who will produce a downloadable manuscript for less than $200, and print physical copies in quantities as low as one for reasonable prices; some also offer fulfillment and billing services. Upon completing these basic steps, don’t just do something, stand there.

Because you are eager for success, you’ll be attracted to ads offering full menus of book marketing and distribution services for thousands of dollars. Most people who buy these services are underwhelmed by the results even when everything is delivered as promised. For instance, a well executed social media marketing campaign can make anyone feel like a king or queen, without selling any copies. This is potentially true for all promotions, no matter how sophisticated or competently performed.

A basic rule of marketing anything is that it often fails. Sometimes mistakes can be forensically determined; other times it’s a perpetual mystery. What’s especially frustrating is seeing people succeed who didn’t follow any of the “must do” formulas. It’s OK to spend a lot of money and not sell any books, assuming you knew that was a possibility at the outset. If it’s any consolation, any honest traditional publisher will concede that many, if not most, of their books fail or perform below expectations. Did you know that Babe Ruth failed at bat nearly 70% of the time?

Part of any vendor’s job is convincing writers to spend money; it’s only when the writer embraces the vendor’s hyped-up promises as infallible doctrine that hard knocks might follow. Before you do anything, make sure you understand who will want to buy your book and why. Write it all down and frequently dwell on it for days. Keep reminding yourself who your targeted customers are and how they can be penetrated. Think about why you might be persuaded to buy expensive book marketing up-sells, and figure out how to replicate a similar “call to action” when selling your book.

Reaching a state of balance between the product and its customers promises a lot of bang for the buck, and long-lived cash cows. Think about Kleenex in winter or Gator-Aid in summer. It’s almost like: how can you blow it? Conversely, not knowing who your customers are, or perhaps not really understanding your product, is a set-up for serious misfires no matter what you do or how much you spend.

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