Frustrated Self-Publisher Escapes DIY Trap

by | Jun 4, 2010

I got caught in the trap. The trap I’ve warned you about, the trap that waits for anyone who takes control, decides to be the media instead of relying on specialists to decide whether our story is worthy, whether it should be published.

Look, there’s nothing wrong with doing it yourself. That’s what the self in self-publishing is all about. I’ve even written about the trap, because I see it so clearly in my clients and friends who publish a book.

I thought there must be a reason. Did I fall into this trap, or was I pushed? I suspected social media.

How Does Your Schedule Look?

I have two jobs: book designer, and blogger. Like a lot of others, I’m both a consumer of social media, and a creator of it. I blog. Like you, I spend time on Twitter every day. Okay, I do belong to half a dozen ning groups, and blog occasionally at several. Yeah, I check my Facebook page every once in a while, and correspond with people through their email system. Sure, I’m building a Squidoo lens and trying to figure out Stumbleupon. Even so, I think I’ve shown remarkable restraint.

No, the trap I’ve fallen into wasn’t laid by my attraction to social media.

Here’s the trap:

When you decide to be a self-publisher, when you decide to “do it yourself,” for some reason you subconsciously think that means you have to do everything yourself.

You’re the author, and now you want to be the publisher. Does it follow that you have to be

  • The book designer?
  • The typesetter?
  • The person who writes the press release?
  • Sets up the website for the book?
  • Plans the book tour?
  • Gets printing estimates?
  • Edits and corrects the manuscript?

No, of course it doesn’t. And how are you going to learn how to do all those things? If you’re the studious type, your book may never get published, because you’ll still be studying how to set up the margins in InDesign, or studying press release samples, or watching webinars about ePub conversions.

Does this really make sense? Do you want to learn how to style, convert and correct the ePub files for your book, when you are only going to do one book?

This is the trap.

How I Got In, How I Got Out

I’ve had two books under development myself, in two completely separate niches, and I’d been making exactly no progress on either.

Why? Because I’m the expert, I know how to edit, design, market books. So I should do it myself, right? That’s where I fell in, because I have no time to sit down and start editing a couple of hundred pages of transcripts to make them suitable for publication.

But thinking that I ought to be doing it myself put me in the situation of not reaching my goal of publishing these books.

When I realized what had happened to my book projects, I almost laughed out loud. I said, to no one in particular, “And I’m the guy people call to find help when they need it!”

I actually experienced a rush of excitement when I thought of turning both these projects over to a couple of the terrific editors I work with, and teaming up with them to get the books ready to publish.

I knew right away this was a winning strategy. Committing the resources upfront would be an investment. I know that as soon as I can get these books onto the market, they will start earning back that investment. The longer I wait, the longer I delay that investment paying off.

Publishing for profit, no matter how big your publishing company, is a business. Success in business arises out of smart, timely use of your resources and an understanding of your market. I had to learn again to switch hats, from being the author, to being the designer, to being the publisher who’s in charge of the show.

Now I’m busy looking for other areas where projects are stuck, and how I can find the talent to get them moving. That’s exciting.

How can you unstick your business? Do you try to do everything yourself? How is that working out for you? I’d love to know.

Takeaway: Being a self-publisher doesn’t mean doing every task yourself. It means you’re in business, and business ought to guide your decisions.


tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Stephen Tiano

    The thing is, if someone thinking about self-publishing his or her book would realize that such a decision is effectively a decision to start a business, I think that person would understand a bit more easily how money spent on professionals to do professional jobs on editing, design, production, and marketing is essentially seed money for their business.

  2. Lucie Simone

    Luckily, I have no talent for graphic design or I’d have tried to manage the book design myself. But I hired experts instead. I’m sinking a couple thousand dollars into my book, including publicity, with the goal that I break even. If I actually make a profit, all the better. In may case, I’d spent thousands of dollars on conferences & workshops, so I considered publishing my book just another fiscal investment in my writer career. You must have the mindset of this being a business. Sometimes businesses fail. You have to be willing to take that risk.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Hey Lucie, thanks for your comment. It’s quite a leap for many writers to try to become business people, book publishers, but I see you’ve already got the idea. To create products like books, you need to invest, there’s no way around it. And hiring professionals to do the things that you can’t do yourself, or do well, is just smart business thinking. I’m not sure I would have typeset your book in Helvetica, but I like the whimsical cover a lot. Best of luck with “Hollywood Ending”!

  3. Stephen Tiano

    Good points all, Joel. I must admit to always feeling a little sheepish over making the “you-can’t-do-it-all-and-do-it-well” argument to people who tell me they’re about to embark on the trek of the self-publisher. I usually get over it pretty quickly, issuing my “vested interest” disclaimer, as a book designer, and moving on to the advantage to self-publishers of doing only what they know or what comes naturally to them and farming out the rest.

    • Joel Friedlander

      I get what you’re saying. It’s difficult to be in the position of a service provider and a “consultant” at the same time. But like you, I know that what my clients often need from me is some help deciding what to take on themselves and what to contract out. Seems to go with the territory.

  4. Bobbye Middendorf

    Wow. How very on point for me! I’ve used the “cobbler’s children” example for years. I helped people write their book marketing, but guess whose marketing just didn’t happen? It’s great to find your circle of really smart self-publishing colleagues as I work through my own book creation process (and marketing…) Thanks for the warning — and the inspiration!
    Bobbye Middendorf
    The Write Synergies Guru

    • Joel Friedlander

      Bobbye, it’s been really challenging for me to change my “mindset” because old habits die hard. But I’m determined to change the way I see the work I have to do. Some of this is coming from an “artisan” mindset where each task is performed partly for the benefits of the process itself, but transitioning to a “business” model demands different solutions. Nice to have you visiting here.

  5. betty ming liu

    this happens to so many of us, in every profession. glad to see you’re human too!

  6. Michael N. Marcus

    In self-pubbing, it’s better to be a general contractor supervising various service providers, than the jack-of-all-trades who finishes nothing.

    • Joel Friedlander

      See, I could have cut 1,000 words out of this article with that kind of concision. You’ve given me something to aim for.

  7. Mayowa


    That is rather ironic that you fell into this trap. This very site and your excellent posts have helped me realize that I don’t have to be an expert on every step of the process, I just have to find the folks who are (you’re on the list). It’s a very liberating thought.

    Glad you’re all straightened out.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Mayowa, “ironic” is just about right. It’s a little like “the cobbler’s children have no shoes” conundrum. Or, in my case, why it took me a year to find the time to create a business card for myself. Or, as you point out, why the people giving the advice don’t always have the smarts to follow it! Thanks for your comment.

  8. Mister Reiner

    Thanks for another insightful article.

    I’m pretty sure that everyone is familiar with that axiom that it takes money to make money, but after reading how many people sunk money into their book and never made a dime back, it’s difficult to make the decision to take things to the next level. I guarantee that there are people out there that are much better at some of the things I’m trying to do myself, but at what price? Can I afford to try things on my own for awhile and then decide to hire help at a later date? Can that do more harm than good? Do I get a second chance?

    You may be confident that you can make a return on your investment, but I’m not so sure that I can. I really don’t know what the market potential is for my book. Isn’t one of the reasons why people self-publish because publishers don’t think the book is marketable?

    I have yet to submit a press release for my book, because I’m still trying to figure out what is going to capture people’s attention and get them interested in my book. Blogging and commenting around the Web is helping me figure that out, but the results are mixed. I get the impression at times, that I’m not connecting with the right audience. Can a professional help me figure that out? I’m pretty sure someone could, but then it comes down to finding the right person for the job.

    It’s somewhat ironic, that in my own book, I tell readers that they need to use professionals to do things right. As a business, it’s an expense that can easily be justified. In my own mind, I don’ think I can justify the expense just yet. Maybe I’ll change my mind in another month or two.

    • Michael N. Marcus

      >>You may be confident that you can make a return on your investment, but I’m not so sure that I can.<<

      It's best to get into self-publishing primarily for intellectual stimulation, with a good chance of respect, a slight chance of glory, and a remote chance of making money.

      • Joel Friedlander

        Yes, excellent point Michael. And for some people, it really does help advance their career or their business in powerful, if indirect, ways.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Mister Reiner,

      I think the takeaway from this post is that we have to step back and take a good look at what we’re doing and how we ended up doing it. Self-publishing doesn’t have to be driven by the profit motive, but we have to establish exactly why we’ve entered this field before we can orient ourselves. And it’s partly about making use of your own valuable resources in the way that gets you the best long term results. Many people are in the situation you describe, and that’s one of the reasons I wrote this. Just something to think about, and thanks for adding to the conversation.



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