5 Things That Shouldn’t Surprise You About Self-Publishing

by | Apr 27, 2010

Sometimes it’s good to just kick back, push off the deadlines, turn off the ringer on the phone, and daydream a little. If you’re self-employed, doesn’t that mean you get to goof off once in a while? That you’re the boss, not that pesky little nagging voice in your head?

Starting off in self-publishing can seem like a perilous journey. Getting into a new venture is always exciting and scary at the same time. Exciting to be doing something new, but scary because you don’t necessarily know what to do first, or how to sound like you know what you’re doing. But you pick it up soon enough.

As you move forward you have to keep your bearings. That means you remember what your destination was when you set out from shore, and you keep aiming for that destination until you get there.

Making Lists

Here are 5 things that shouldn’t surprise you about self-publishing. They are realizations you have after you’ve decided to publish a book.

  1. Self-publishing is not a get-rich-quick scheme And I think that’s been proven quite a few times by now. Yet new self-publishers have that gleam in the eye. They’ve read the stories, they’ve been to Lulu.com. Why not them? But I’m willing to bet you didn’t start writing to make a killing on the internet. You had something else in mind. Remember that thing, it will guide you well.
  2. You will meet many wonderful—and a few not so wonderful—people in indie publishing Truly one of the great things about social media is that it’s so social. I’ve always been impressed by the collegiality of publishing. Maybe it’s because few books compete directly with each other, but people in publishing—particularly indie publishing—are extraordinarily helpful to newcomers. And a bonus: they’re pretty literate, too!
  3. You cannot imagine the variety of niches into which people are publishing I mean, just wander around Amazon for a while and take in the richness of interests displayed there. Here, for example, are five titles plucked almost randomly from amongst the millions of pages on Amazon:
    • The Art of Making Fermented Sausages
    • Unsigned Beauties Of Costume Jewelry
    • Antique Sewing Tools and Tales
    • Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming
    • The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History

    Whatever you’re interested in, there’s probably some other people interested too. You just have to find them.

  4. Nonfiction publishing almost always pays—over time If you really do your homework, and publish a book with genuine value, and do just an adequate job of pushing it into the world, I think if you keep at it long enough, you will eventually be profitable. Of course, you have to publish efficiently to start with, but as long as you do something to let people know your book is there, and that it can address a real need, often it’s just a matter of time before someone finds it. Too many people quit trying when they haven’t sold out in a few months. See #1 above.
  5. The single most important thing is to ‘Be the Market’ This is the clearest path to success for nonfiction self-publishers. If you are part of the market that’s interested in the subject you’ve written about, you’re at an advantage. You know what these people need, you know what questions they’re asking, and you know what was confusing when you first got into this field. That all adds up to a book with value, if you can translate your experience into teaching that helps people new to your field, or new to your level of expertise.

Well, there you have it. None of these things may surprise you, but they bear repeating, and remembering, too.

Takeaway: The availability and diversity of self-publishing makes it one of the greatest opportunities of the new media age.

Image: Stock.xchng / Harrison Keely

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Russ

    Thank you for your website and for being a powerful friend of books. You champion self-publishing and that is especially appreciated. The old-school virtual slavery of traditional publishing has been dealt a mortal blow by the PC and the internet. WE are now THEM; we produce and sell our imagination and labor – and no longer for pennies per book. Sorry – but LOL – laugh out loud for real. What a beautiful new time to be a writer and cartoonist. Join us! You have books inside you and so do many of the people in your life. Now the words can be let out and those stories told and preserved. They will no longer pass away as secrets never shared. Many blessings on you, Joel!

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks, Russ and thanks for your enthusiastic support for self-publishing.

  2. Janet

    I have publish a book and just now learning how to let people know about it I have made bussiness card among other things my problem is I am not a saleman, but learning. My book is non fiction. I like ot read other tips to help me along the way thanks.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Janet, there are many resources available to learn how to market your book online, and a lot of them you can find through links on my blog. I hope you find a way to sell your book that appeals to you, and thanks for your comment.

    • Russ

      Get free review copies to websites and organizations that would find your book interesting to their customers and members. Customize each packet with HANDWRITTEN letters – no form letters or “bulk mail” feel to these. Maybe a company would “license” a special run of your book (customized covers, etc) for a promotion? Think about charities related to these sites and companies – work out a donation from every book that is sold from the reviews, etc that they do; you can have a “code” for orders from each place. Get competing companies wanting THEIR customers to be the ones making the biggest donations. AVOID the old racket of book sales and distribution; they take way over half off cover price as a “discount” and you have this nightmare thing about returned books – it’s a mess. KEEP IT FUN and you will imagine all kinds of ways to get your book sold – by you – right to the readers! Look into book storage and ORDER-FULFILLMENT. They store books and ship them to people you indicate. This cuts into your profits, but you’ll still make a lot more than the old days – and you can keep this simple – and FUN. If Joel will let me mention it – Self Publishing.com is a good place to learn and maybe use yourself. I see them as the strong arm to pair with the one Mr. Friedlander has for us here!

  3. Joel

    Good point, Sue. Particularly for service providers and consultants, a book can be an extension of their authority- and trust-building efforts, and should be evaluated within that context rather than simply independent book sales. It’s not unknown—or unreasonable—in fact for a lot of these types of books to be given away rather than sold, since it helps with the same goals. Great to have you here, Sue, thanks for your contribution.

  4. Sue Collier

    Great list, Joel! (I’ll have to put The Art of Making Fermented Sausage on my reading list, lol!) Nonfiction self-publishers need to consider their book part of their business platform–a permanent business card, so to speak–as a way to establish expertise and credibility. It’s probably not going to make them rich, but if they promote well, they can easily make back their investment–over time.

  5. Joel

    Thanks, Vincent. Clarity can be pretty elusive, but that doesn’t seem to keep us from searching for it. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Vincent Nguyen

    #4 is a tough one for sure Joel
    Perseverance, persistence, patience, obstacles, writer’s block…all of these are variables that takes “time”
    How bad do you want your book to be self-published? Once I found the purpose and value provided in my material….#4 does not seem so difficult as each day goes by.

    #5 can be so obvious but then when I browse different sections at Chapters and some books just does not feel and look like they belong in their particular section. (yes I also read inside the book as well and did not just judge the book by its cover)
    Great reminders Joel

  7. Joel

    BubbleCow, self-publishing fiction is not for the faint of heart, it’s an uphill challenge for even good writers. We just haven’t found a way to distribute fiction that makes sense.

  8. BubbleCow

    Love number 4 – selling fiction is much harder than selling non-fiction.



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