Last year author and entrepreneurial publisher Sharon Jenkins asked me to participate in a book she wanted to publish for authors thinking about making the leap to indie publishing.
And I know full well that it’s not a simple or risk-free thing to do. It can be scary and test us to our limits.
In this interview from Sharon’s book, Will the R.E.A.L. Authorpreneur Please Stand Up?: 81 Tips for the R.E.A.L. Successful Authorpreneur, I tell the story of my own trip from book designer to writer to blogger to entrepreneur.
There are contributions included from many successful authorpreneurs, like Nina Amir, Rochelle Carter, and Terry Whalin, to name a few.
On my journey there were a lot of missteps, but maybe by reading my story you’ll be better able to avoid those on your own journey.
Here’s the interview, in a slightly edited version:
Where did you get your start as an authorpreneur?
Growing up as the son of a printer instilled an early love in me for type fonts and their use through the art of typography and its practical expression in the graphic arts.
There were huge catalogs from the American Type Foundry around our house, and I spent many happy hours looking at all the different ways the same words could be typeset to produce radically different looks for different uses.
Although I didn’t have in my family a model for how to be an entrepreneur, at some point I started to wonder how I could make a difference in the world. I developed a love for writing, and eventually, for books themselves.
This started a lifelong love affair with book publishing and the graphic arts. Since I’m also a writer, it was inevitable that these two streams would eventually converge. On the one hand, wanting to make a contribution, and on the other, my interest in book publishing.
In a sense, I was following the same path that many self-publishing authors had traveled before me. Before the introduction of print on demand and ebook publishing, virtually every self-publisher was an entrepreneur of one kind or another.
You had to be an “authorpreneur” (although I don’t think that term came into fashion until quite recently) in order to be a self-publisher. For a long time, there were only three paths open if you wanted to publish a book:
- Submit your manuscript to agents or editors and try to obtain a publishing contract with a traditional publisher
- Contract with a “vanity” publisher (we now call these “subsidy” publishers) who would publish your book for a hefty fee
- Start your own publishing company, hire the vendors you need, and publish the book yourself
Getting Started in Self-Publishing
It was within this context that I first started self-publishing.
At the time I had access to some specialized information that would be of great interest to a small population of potential book buyers. (See “Body Types” in the right sidebar.) Since I was working in the publishing industry at the time, I was keenly aware that a book with a very small potential readership simply was not of interest to publishers.
Since I knew all the people I would need—typesetters, book printers, proofreaders, and so on—I decided to start a company to publish my books.
I soon found that book publishing was a perfect amalgam of these two impulses that drove me:
- the authorial impulse to write and share what I knew,
- the entrepreneurial impulse to create something new in the world, and to bring these books to as many readers as possible.
I formed Globe Press Books and the rest of my career flowed from that initial decision.
Where are you now as an authorpreneur?
Today I’ve fulfilled both those impulses and gone far beyond my original vision, largely because of the developments that have taken place in the time between the 1980s when I began, and now.
The Rise of Print on Demand
The two most prominent of these developments relate to digitization and the wide ranging effects it has had on industry and society. First is the appearance of the Internet, and second the development of print on demand technology.
All of us appreciate how the Internet and the growth of the online world has changed society and commerce, and I’ll get to the way it changed my own business in a moment.
But the rise of print on demand was pivotal in the explosion of self-publishing authors because it removed the risk involved in publishing print books.
Before print on demand (and the reason that virtually all self-publishers were entrepreneurs in the old days) anyone who wanted to publish a book faced the serious risk of having to invest thousands of dollars in an unproven consumer product—their book.
You had to pay all the normal development costs associated with book publishing, from hiring editors and artists to proofreaders and marketing help. But beyond that was the printing bill. And book printers in general don’t extend credit, so you have to pay the entire invoice before you even have a product to sell. This kept most authors out of self-publishing.
Now, with print on demand, there’s no need to fill your garage with stacks of cartons containing your books. No need to buy a hand truck to take orders down to the local post office for shipping. No need to save up to pay that printer’s bill.
This has allowed me and tens of thousands of other authors to put our work out into the market, and vastly expanded the choices for consumers.
Starting a Blog
Following these developments, I decided in 2009 to start a blog based on my experience with book design, production, publishing and marketing, all gained during years of publishing my own books and running a book design business that catered to small- to media-sized book publishers.
My blog quickly became popular because there wasn’t anyone else writing about the details of book construction, the rules and guidelines behind the detailed decisions one has to make when you decide to publish a book, or the most effective ways to approach the publishing process.
As an entrepreneur, I recognized this as a real market opening, an opportunity to establish an online asset that might one day pay dividends.
To establish my blog as a trusted authority site, I wrote in a friendly, conversational style, paid a lot of attention to the visitors who started to trickle in, and began developing a lot of content aimed at these visitors and their needs.
Stepping Up as a Marketer
As the blog grew, I began looking for ways to make it into more of a business, not just a hobby. I think my own development as an author, a blogger, a publisher, and an internet marketer are due to the efforts I made along these lines over the last 5 years.
Seeing opportunities in the market and seizing them to bring your message, product, or service to a wider audience is the essence of entrepreneurship. Doing it with books is what makes you an “authorpreneur.”
Now I’ve found that it’s becoming easier and easier—especially for nonfiction authors—to use the incredible tools we have available online to fulfill this entrepreneurial impulse.
Here are some of the ways I’ve found to use my entrepreneurial energy to grow my book publishing beyond the scope of what we usually think of as being an author.
- Realizing that education was the most powerful aspect of what I was doing on my blog, I started to take a more studied approach to what I was writing, and the result was a collection of ebooks based on blog articles (see the right sidebar), but each focusing on a specific area I knew writers were having trouble with: Copyright, ISBN issues, Print on Demand, and Book Distribution. Over the years these have expanded my reach and they continue to sell every day from my site.
- This desire to educate also led to the publication of A Self-Publisher’s Companion: Expert Advice for Authors Who Want to Publish. This book, widely praised throughout the industry, grew out of about 40 blog posts that were edited and re-formatted to create the book.
- Later I began to experiment with translating some of my written content into different media. Creating audio and video content allowed me to reach even more people, and these skills came into play as I continued to expand.
- Early on I started participating enthusiastically in social media and built a following on Twitter, which grew to become a major traffic stream for my blog and other activities.
- After experimenting with live events, I started making public appearances to talk about all the same subjects I had been developing on my blog. Again, this was another outreach to different audiences than those I had been able to contact online.
- Many of these efforts came together when I started offering webinars and teleseminars—live online educational events. I can still remember the very first webinar I ever ran, and the slightly terrifying but mysterious fact that I could sit in front of my computer in northern California and talk to it while being heard by dozens of people around the world.
- Eventually I began studying internet marketing in earnest. I realized that all authors who sell online are in fact internet marketers.
- Taking all these skills, I created a video-based training course to teach authors about book publishing. The Self-Publishing Roadmap is the result and has been a great financial boost to my other activities. It’s a lot easier to create profit with an $897 course than it is with an $8.97 book.
- Eventually I moved into selling digital products that would help authors get their books done faster, better, cheaper. I founded BookDesignTemplates.com with Tracy Atkins, and now this e-commerce site contributes to my monthly income every month.
- This year I went back to the well again to team up with traditional publishing legend Betty Sargent to publish The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide, to fill another hole in the market. Launching as a #1 Amazon bestseller in its category, it has been highly recommended by many in the industry.
- And I continued to ramp up my speaking and consulting, activities that now also contribute to my regular income.
All this started with my original blog, The Book Designer, which is still the “hub” of my online activities.
I think what all this shows is that even in a very small market like indie publishing, someone with information to communicate and a willingness to try new things can build a very profitable business based solely on the product of your own mind and your ability to work hard to realize your opportunities.
Back in the 1980s it was challenging to find anyone who wanted to talk about type fonts, book publishing, or book design. Now, when I publish an article to my blog or create a compelling piece of audio or video content, I know it will be seen by tens of thousands of people around the world.
Is there any better motivation for combining your own writing with the entrepreneurial spirit?
Tips for Aspiring Authorpreneurs
What are your top ten suggestions for aspiring authorpreneurs?
- Realize that every book is essentially a mini-startup business, with all that that implies.
- Get to know the people who are the best audience for your book, then keep in touch with them forever.
- Be open to experiments because failures will prepare you for success and teach you a lot more in the process.
- Develop an awareness of opportunities in your chosen market, genre, category, or niche. People’s interests keeps changing and new events, personalities, and stories are constantly impinging on our awareness. Know what your readers are thinking about.
- Pay attention to where your readers are getting stuck, because that’s exactly the place where they are likely to be willing to pay for help.
- Concentrate on newcomers to your field, they are the most numerous group and the most interested in acquiring training, background education, and new skills.
- Get over your reluctance to market your books and other products and services. Marketing is not selling. Instead of a transaction, it’s more about communicating your expertise and passion to others who share them.
- Be on the lookout for ways to repurpose your content because not everyone wants to read it in a book or on a blog. And even if your material is available free online, many people may be willing to pay for it when it’s delivered in another form.
- Become adept at identifying and working well with peers, partners, and affilites of all kinds. It’s much easier to grow your business with the help of a network than on your own.
- Concentrate your work energy on the things you do best, and avoid distractions and the impulse to learn new skills in cases where you can quite easily and affordably hire a real professional to do it for you. For most authors, this is going to mean concentrating on creating content and marketing it. Leave the technical stuff to others.
- Here’s a bonus 11th tip: Have fun! You’ll last longer and you’ll never “burn out” if you learn how to make your work life enjoyable.
What’s your journey been like? I’d love to hear about it.