by Jon Cantin
As readers know, I like to feature stories of self-publishers on the blog, and especially those whose books are a little different in some way from the ordinary trade book. That’s why I was very interested in Jon Cantin’s story. It shows how someone with an entrepreneurial inclination can use publishing to further his goals. And books like Jon’s break a lot of rules, too. He has a fascinating story to tell about how to leverage the connection between an area of expertise and the power of self-publishing. Jon’s expertise is in Computer Numerical Control, or CNC, in which the manufacturing process is controlled by computers and special programs written for them. I think as you read Jon’s story you can see that it could apply just as easily to your own area of expertise, too.
I’m the founder of CNCKing.com and I’ve been self-publishing for several years and just recently launched my newest book, CNCKing.com: Rise of the CNC both online at my site and on Amazon. I’m also working on making it available through Lightning Source.
My first book was 100 pages and took what seems like forever to go from virtual to printed page. Each book since (this is my seventh) has gotten easier and more professional, thanks to customer feedback and the natural evolution of the author. Yes, that “I’m a published author” feeling never really goes away!
Self-publishing myself into an industry
I grew-up in a house that was under constant renovation. My father would remodel one room to look great and then the following month, remodel another. Paint, drywall, wooden ornaments—you name it, he did it. I always wanted to get into woodworking and manufacturing in general but due to my circumstances at the time (no knowledge of machining, traveling across foreign countries, no formal design training), I kept putting it off until one day I decided on a plan that forever changed my life.
My plan was simple yet incredibly effective: spend one year developing 50 CNC laser cut projects (mind you, I never used a CNC machine before, much less a laser) and, after that year was up, publish a book with all of these designs. Rinse and repeat the following year.
Generally speaking, I’ve kept-up this schedule since 2008 and then some! I had no audience for my designs, I had no customers and obviously, no sales either, but after a year, all three started to grow.
Now, with more than 250 designs for CNC laser cutters, 3D printers and table routers, my designs sell around the world. I made myself into an authority in an industry I knew nothing about at the beginning over the course of five years.
If you are not familiar with CNC machines, watch this video—written by, edited and filmed by me—to get you up to speed.
What is your positioning?
Publishing isn’t about THE BOOK, it’s about creating a new frame of self-reference in your mind and sharing it with others hoping they won’t just accept it but pay for your continued personal growth.
People do not buy books, they buy people—more importantly, they want a piece of the knowledge you’ve discovered or a feeling that they wish to feel once more. Do not publish a book, publish a piece of you.
Once you know what part of yourself you wish to share, create a narrative that’s easy for others to tack onto and relate. Here’s mine:
Imagine spending five years of your life designing for machines you never used. Imagine doing this without any design training, living in foreign countries where you don’t speak the local language. Now, just for the fun of it, 250 designs later, that person self-publishes his seventh book teaching other people all the lessons he learned during this journey: from nobody to an authority in the CNC industry!
That’s me. Learn from my mistakes so you can profit from your CNC machine!
Hey, I’m an author, I can use some creative license. All of this is true (an important part of a narrative is to keep it truthful) but at the same time, it creates a story that makes people, hopefully, want to learn more about you and as a result, buy your book(s).
Publishing is easier than designing!
These machines are powerful and great fun to work with and design for but there is one problem—people don’t know how to design for them! You may hear a lot of hype around 3D printers, and those are even harder to design for! I had no idea back when I was traveling that there was a market much less a steep learning curve for learning how to design for them, I just kept on designing thinking it was easy. It wasn’t, but my frame of mind was “easy” so I made it so.
What does all this have to do with self-publishing?
Well, thanks to my books, I’ve been able to build myself up as an authority in the CNC industry. Others have designs for these wonderful machines, and many people are far more talented than me, but because they either waited for a publishing house to say, “Yes, here’s a check,” (which may never happen), or they thought it was too hard to begin with, they weren’t on the receiving end of the opportunities I have been given.
Looking back, my first book really did suck! I’ve even considered removing it from the market because it just looks so awful compared to my latest book. But as a published author, I think it’s important to show customers the evolution of your skills, written and otherwise.
Back then, I thought it was mind-blowingly amazing, which just shows you how much you can learn over the course of a few years!
However difficult you may think self-publishing is, trust me, it’s easier than teaching yourself how to design for industrial machines you’ve never used.
The many hats of a self-publisher
When you are your own publishing house, it means that most likely you will have to do everything yourself. You are the writer, copyrighter, layout editor, photographer, cover designer, marketer, PR agency and yes, most likely on a pro-bono basis.
To add to your tasks, you have to make all these hats work together in your mind in a seamless manner. You have to make the entire book presentable from start to end and with a consistent narrative across both the visual and written form.
Here’s the kicker: you also have to look at your hundreds or thousands of hours of investment in time and treasure with a critical eye as well. It’s like looking at your child and realizing that he or she is actually rather ugly while friends and family are telling you otherwise. It’s tough!
The more you do yourself, the more money you will save and the more you will learn, but be sure to spend money where it’s needed. No, not the cover, the contents! The cover will get you a customer but the contents will help you create an audience.
I bought industrial computers to render my projects, a professional camera to take photos and video, and the list goes on. Just because you are self-publishing doesn’t give you creative license to do things on the cheap. You are competing against other self-publishers as well as major publishing houses for the same audience!
Although this is the route I’ve taken as a personal challenge, people like Joel are good alternatives if you don’t have the time or expertise to pull off all these tasks on your own. The amount of work is incredibly daunting especially if you’ve never self-published or run a business before.
Your book will never be perfect
Self-publishing is a marathon, and you have to find people who can help you develop the best product you possibly can and be willing to bend your deadlines. I do everything myself except for one critical area, proofing.
If you are an author, you have to realize that EVERY BOOK WILL HAVE MISTAKES. There is no way to publish a book without them, even “professional books” have mistakes. The reason why self-publishers have gotten a bad rap is because they often just press the “proof approved” button without realizing that just because they don’t see mistakes that they aren’t there!
My current book took two years to put together and, of that, it spent close to 5 months being proofed and heavily edited across the board by me, my editor, and friends and family.
Even to this day, I’ll still find mistakes! How can that be? I’d spend hours daily just randomly picking a page and deciding to rewrite it to make it punchier, more accurate and easier to follow. My newest book has over 450 pages by the way.
What I’ve discovered is that your mind will play tricks on you when you read your own book. You think you are reading it? No. Your mind is remembering the contents that you wrote to the letter, which means you will not find mistakes other than the most obvious ones.
Your editor(s) will also suffer the same fate after going through the book more than once. This blinding effect only gets worse the more time you spend on your book as your mind is seeing what it wants to see, not what’s actually there.
While you are working on your book, create videos and use them to soft-sell it while building yourself up as an authority. Here’s an example:
Publishing is easy, marketing is hard!
Hopefuly by now, you have a narative and your book done. Looks great having a shiny new book on your desk right? Well, what’s better than being a published author?
This is where most authors fail miserably. Why? Well, just because you made a mountain doesn’t mean that others will see it, much less recognize the effort it took you to build it regardless of how much time, effort and money you’ve put into it.
You have to realize that at the end of the day, you are a nobody—and your job, as an author, is to turn you into a somebody worth buying a product from.
Be smart, not loud!
The publishing world has changed a lot with the advent of the internet—not only has most of the content that you once paid for in books available for FREE but the competition has gotten insanely fierce. These are the two main hurdles you will have once you launch your book.
To summarize, now that you are a “published author” you are trying to sell a glass of water to a person swimming in a pool distracted by all the colorful little fish around them.
The solution most authors come up with is to give up and walk away. They thought a book would be a quick and easy elevator to fame and fortune only to have their hopes dashed by the journey ahead of them. I hope you are not one of them!
Here’s the situation you are facing. You and 99 other marketers are all trying to sell a $10 glass of water to the swimmer. Luckily for you, 50 of those other marketers just walk away. However, you still have 49 other people selling the same glass of water!
Your first approach will most likely be to shout, splash the water and generally be a nuisance. What is the result of 50 people doing this all at the same time? You are only pissing the swimmer off and making sure they don’t pay attention to any of you.
Others will be more innovative, they’ll jump into the pool or try to take water out of it. That will get some attention but it’s the wrong kind. The swimmer is happy swimming with the fish and this approach takes them away from their fun!
That’s not good marketing, but it’s the approach taken by most marketers, which is why their results are so poor. You don’t want my product? Fine, I’ll take the water out, kill the fish and put that glass of water in your face! Then you’ll have no choice buy to buy my $10 glass of water.
Let’s analyze the problem a little more closely.
The problem here isn’t the swimmer, it’s the people selling the water, they are selling the wrong things to the wrong person. The swimmer has plenty of water, they don’t need it.
How will you get the swimmer’s attention? Dump the water in the pool, the other marketers will freak out, and you’ll get the positive attention of the swimmer. Then you’ll be able to sell $50 goggles instead. You have an instant customer for life because you are presenting value and improving their lives.
Don’t try to sell FREE content and expect a sale. Instead, use free content to get attention leading to a higher priced sale you can live off. This will require that you create auxiliary methods of generating revenue and attention AROUND your book. The sales will follow.
Killing your value for sales
I think most authors make a big mistake self-publishing. They focus on sales instead of profits or return on their investment (ROI).
Let me explain. It’s no secret that a great way to game Amazon’s system is to sell your book for close to nothing. Amazon sorts by sales, not by profit margins. You’ve spent years working on your book, and the first thing you do is shoot yourself in the foot by selling it for 99 cents, or giving it away for FREE on Kindle.
What kind of an author are you? A poor one if you don’t value your time or money. Underpricing yourself like all the other authors is a great way to be just one more marketer selling a glass of water. You don’t stand out and, as a result, won’t generate sale.
Sure, there are some authors that do make a living following this approach—just like some people invest in the lottery for their retirement but most likely, the results won’t be in your favor.
If you want to be a serious author, you need to make money. How do you make money? By making sales. How do you make sales? By marketing and becoming an authority in your industry! Share your passion and creativity!
Self-publishing your way to success
Hopefully, well before you even think of writing a book, you create an audience. It doesn’t need to be big, I’d prefer to have 100 raving fans rather than 1 million distracted swimmers.
Create a name for yourself, send those leads to your website, blog about your book, your life, your journey towards becoming an author. Create a following one person at a time, these are the people who will later buy your book and (hopefully) tell others about it.
Capture their e-mail addresses and build and email list. I know this isn’t sexy, I know this sounds like hard work, but it’s the truth and I have yet to figure out a legal way around this.
Once you have a book in the works, announce that it will be coming out soon to generate some desire and then convert them into a sale using value.
Value can take several different forms but whatever you do, do not discount your book! You worked sooooo hard for your book—sell it full price and create some “carrots” to help generate more sales during your book launch. Discounting your book only makes it look cheap and, at the same time, you are training your readers to wait for bargains before making a purchase.
Believe it nor not, I generate more sales of my book from my website than from Amazon. Although I’d love to be in the top 10 on Amazon, it comes at the cost of profit margins that fund my growth, and I never know who bought the book. Do not base your “success” solely on Amazon!
Build up your testimonial list over the course of several weeks and, during this time, develop a program of bonuses and incentives you could offer with your book that compliment your offering while disarming any objections people have to buying your product.
Don’t sell your product in a package deal by the way with your bonuses and incentives, sell the book at full price, then add the bonuses and incentives for “free.”
I hate to say this but your much-loved book is now a product at best and a commodity at worse. Your goal here is to increase the perceived value of your product to a wider audience that may not have heard about you before now.
This should be the end goal of your book. Once you have everything in place, then the real selling begins. Push hard with any and every media outlet you can find—online and off!
The Bottom Line
If you can’t make money selling your book, then you won’t be motivated to write or share others. Your goal as an author should be to be able to live off your creativity, not be a slave to it.
Jon Cantin is the author of seven self-published books over the past five years. He wrote four about designing for CNC machines (laser cutters, 3D printers, table routers), one science fiction, one teaching Mandarin Chinese with his wife and another self-help. All the layout, copy, photography, rendering and drawings were done by him and professionally proofed. He has traveled extensively around the world sharing his passion for learning, teaching and experiencing life. A Canadian by birth, he’s currently residing in Australia with his wife while pursuing his design ambitions with his company, CNCKing.com which he founded five years ago and sells digital plans and physical model kits globally.
Amazon links contain my affiliate code.