The Completely Backwards Way to Amazing Self-Publishing Success

POSTED ON Jun 6, 2011

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

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I had a daydream the other day. I was working on a mindmap. (Do you know what a mindmap is? Until quite recently I was woefully ignorant of this incredible organizing tool. More to come.)

The title I had given the mindmap was “Simple Steps to Self-Publishing Success.” The title had come from an exercise in which I set a timer for 15 minutes and spent the time writing what I call “Imaginary Blog Articles.”

The idea of this exercise is to imagine great blog articles that don’t exist, but that everyone would instantly want to read. I only write the headlines. This is the second time I’ve tried this exercise and both times I’ve come away shocked at the ideas that came out.

Anyway, when I finished putting together the mindmap for this topic, I realized I had created a flow diagram of how self-published books usually come together, but in reverse.

Not only that, the longer I studied this progression, the more I realized that self-publishers can learn a lot from traditional publishing. Here’s why.

The Difference Between Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing, Said Another Way

Most self-publishers are producing their first book ever. This adds a considerable amount of baggage to the creation of the book because when an an author writes, produces, publishes and markets a book themselves, the book invariably becomes an expression of that author, an extension of them.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But books are consumer products. Marketing and selling these products is made easier by using the tools of product development. If you’re totally identified with your book project, it’s a little hard to see it as product development. It’s too personal, you have too much invested in it.

Savvy editors and experienced authors know how to gauge a book’s market appeal before the book is written. While self-publishers usually write the book first and then try to figure out how to market it, publishing professionals are more likely to have access to a market and know what that market wants and needs. At that point it becomes a matter of creating the products that will fill those wants and needs.

Here’s the mindmap (This is from the wonderful iThoughts for iPad):

Backwards Book Construction mindmap

Think about this:

  1. Research the market: Wouldn’t you want to know what people in your market want first of all?
  2. Write the back cover copy: This is the basic offer of the book, and it ought to be crystal clear.
  3. Design the cover: This shows how you will position the book.
  4. Write a sample chapter and outline: Establish both the tone and the scope of the book.
  5. Design the book: Now’s the time to decide how to deliver the content.
  6. Test the concept: With a cover, an offer and a sample, see how people react.
  7. Announce the book: This is a product rollout, right?
  8. Write the book: At this point there’s no guesswork involved.
  9. Launch the book: Everything should now be in place for success.

At the end of this process, you ought to have a book that’s in demand, has a compelling offer, is properly positioned in its genre, and which people are avidly awaiting.

Why can’t self-publishers do this too? I’ve written often about the second book, and how authors multiply their chances for self-publishing success by going on to write and publish more (related) books.

The Business of Being in Business

Traditional publishers are in business, and must show a profit to survive. At its best this brings a discipline to the creation of new products that helps to ensure that they will succeed. We all know that this is an ideal, and is not always practiced by most publishers.

However, self-published authors who decide to keep growing in their publishing career and go on to write more books will inevitably begin to view what they are doing as a business. We often encourage people going into self-publishing to take it as seriously as any other business, and that’s good advice.

It’s from that point of view that what seems like a completely backwards approach to book creation starts to make a lot of sense. If you followed this sequence, I think we would have a lot fewer books that no one besides the author is interested in. Fewer garages full of books, and fewer disappointed authors.

Learn from the pros, and be more successful for it. Use the completely backwards way to achieve self-publishing success.

Photo: Ian.Plumb

Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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