The 7 Habits of Successful Self-Publishers

by | Oct 18, 2010

Don’t you know people who are very happy at their jobs, who like the company they work for, who have worked for a while to get into a good position there and are pleased to be able to continue their employment?

Sure you do, but they aren’t self-publishers. No, authors who take the leap into self-publishing are cut from a different cloth. They are restless, they might have something to prove, they may have a message for humanity, or a record they want to leave behind. Whatever it is, they have a passion for their subject, the drive to communicate it, and the belief that there are people waiting to hear it.

See if you recognize yourself here. Successful self-publishers are:

  1. Proactive—By definition self-publishers are people willing to take charge and make something happen, otherwise they would still be waiting for a letter from an agent. Beyond that, self-publishers are entrepreneurs who are on the lookout for new sales opportunities, new communities that might be interested in their books, new opportunities to bring their message, whatever it may be, to a larger public.
  2. The market—Self-publishers most often come from the fields they are writing about. As an expert in the field, they also entered the market as a newcomer and had to learn how to succeed in that field. This gives them the ability to speak to today’s newcomers—the biggest market in any niche.
  3. Research-driven—Although authors are enthusiastic and passionate about their subject matter, successful self-publishers use research to find the questions that are being asked most frequently. No matter how they started out in self-publishing, success has taught them to follow the market, to find ways to stay in touch with the trends and influencers in their field. Whether it’s with keyword research, marketing studies, or direct mail tests, they continuously try to find the best way to bring their books to market
  4. Financially conservative—Controlling costs is important for all businesses, and successful self-publishers watch out for their resources, making sure they spend money where it will produce the biggest effect. They know what it costs to publish a book. Success demands leveraging resources, and not trying to act like a big publisher with a multimillion dollar advertising and promotion budget. The successful self-publisher is more likely to have Guerrilla Marketing (affiliate) on her bedside than advertising rate sheets.
  5. Experts—Most successfully nonfiction self-publishing teaches something. Successful self-publishers know that they don’t have to be an expert on everything, but within their chosen specialty they ought to be extremely knowledgeable. Sometimes this takes the form of becoming an expert for newcomers, because that’s possible for anyone who has already passed the early stages of their career. New people in any field usually buy most of the how-to material that’s perfect for self-publishing.
  6. Persistent—Becoming a self-publisher is in every way like becoming an entrepreneur, or starting a small business, or taking up internet marketing. Whatever the path, starting something new takes guts and persistence. There will be times when you feel like nothing is working, and you don’t understand anything. Successful self-publishers, almost by definition, are people who have kept on going, adapted when necessary, but never doubted they would reach their goals.
  7. Marketers—Some authors become self-publishers because they are recognized experts, or to enhance their standing in their field, or to justify an increase in their fees. Some because they are committed to a cause, or have a story that just has to “get out” and this is the only way they can do it. But all successful self-publishers share a marketer‘s sensibility. They are attuned to the needs of their audience and find profitable ways to fill those need.

Some people become successful as they go along. Some have a few of these strong traits, and pick up others as needed. Self-publishing can be a folk art, learned by individuals through trial and error. It’s the determination to go forward, and the focus on their audience, that most sets them apart.

I’ll tell you something: I have this list on my wall. It’s not that any one of us can be all these things, but when I read it I know I want to keep going. How about you?

Image licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, original work copyright by ShashiBellamkonda,

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  1. Kevin Sivils

    Being pro-active is key to success at any endeavor. Part of being pro-active is having a dream, turning that dream into a vision and then making a practical, progressive set of realistic goals to make the dream vision a reality.

    Persistence is also a key to success. Einstein was quoted as saying “genius is 99% hard work and perspiration and 1% inspiration.” People have a tendency to give up too soon.

    Thanks for the list. I printed a copy and it is now in my writing binder.

  2. M. R. Mathias

    I wrote several novels while in prison and have now gotten three of them, and several short stories, published and POD’ed. Your list will be one I think about. I wrote those novels in long hand, chicken scrawl actually. I just learned everything I know about the internet, computers, and typing in the last year and a half. It has been a struggle. Critic, hecklers, and jealous authors are everywhere. People who care about other writers, people who try to help them and motivate them are a rarity. Its refreshing to find your page, and I will be visiting here more often. Thanks M. R. Mathias @DahgMahn on twitter

    • Joel Friedlander

      M.R., you have been on a kind of accelerated learning curve, from the sound of it. I wrote for years longhand by choice, only recently switched to a keyboard for creative work. I’m glad you found something useful for you here—that’s why I write it! Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Michael N. Marcus

    I have a similar list in my new “Get the Most out of a Self-Publishing Company: Make a Better Deal. Make a Better Book.”

    I’ll give you a few more characteristics:

    You’ll probably work hard and work long hours for an uncertain return. But you wouldn’t write unless you liked it. Your efforts can directly benefit you—not only an employer or your publisher.

    You’re almost never too sick or too tired to go to work. You’ll work on weekends and vacations and late at night—and you’ll love it.

    Be decisive! A wrong decision is better than no decision, because you’ll soon know that it’s the wrong decision and can then try something else.

    Here are some of the important characteristics: Persistence, Desire for immediate feedback, Inquisitiveness, Strong drive to achieve, Lots of energy, Little need for sleep, Eagerness to start the next day’s work, Wil-lingness to sacrifice family time for business time. You must be: Goal-oriented, Independent, Demanding (high standards for yourself and others), Creative, Innovative, Committed, Organized, Frugal, Reliable, Honest, Competitive, Tolerant of short-term failure, Flexible, Open, Willing to break tradition, Driven to succeed, driven to succeed, driven to succeed, driven to succeed and driven to succeed.

    Michael N. Marcus
    — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series:

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks for extending the idea of this article, Michael.



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