Varieties of the Publishing Experience

by | Oct 29, 2012

I’m not sure how many of you—authors who took the leap, self-published your own books—know quite how heroic you are.

I bet a lot of you have already published books, but there are even more writers who are still thinking about it, reading about it, testing the waters.

And that’s a good idea. There’s no reason to rush into self-publishing, particularly if you think about what you’ll be taking on.

There are a lot of skills you’ll have to learn, new companies to research, service providers to vet. It really can be a lot of work, and it can test your own resources, the assets you bring to publishing, and your native abilities. Sometimes, even your character.

True, there are some people who are passionate about getting their work out there, and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to see their book in print and up for sale. I admire that kind of dedication.

But I also know that not everyone feels that way. There are lots of people who would like to publish, who might even have a book finished or almost done. But they haven’t made the decision to move forward.

Making Choices Isn’t Always Easy

A very successful author called for a phone consult recently to talk about the exciting prospect of publishing her own books.

We talked about her newest book and her publishing background. Then I started to talk about the kinds of tasks she would confront as a self-publisher.

As the list went on, I could sense her drawing back. And I was right.

This author had absolutely no interest in running a publishing business, buying ISBNs, setting up printer accounts and all the other little details that go into establishing yourself as a publisher.

So why do it? Why make yourself miserable doing stuff you hate?

In the end I suggested she find someone within her extensive network of authors and entrepreneurs to partner with, someone who enjoyed that part of publishing as much as she enjoyed meeting people, speaking, and networking about her work.

Together, they might make a dynamite combination that could be the beginning of a great publishing business, since one was already a bestselling author.

I think the moral of this story, if there is one, is to be honest about what your capabilities are, what things you enjoy doing, and what you can barely tolerate.

You know, the stuff that always seems to slip to the bottom of your to-do list, that you procrastinate about because it’s just easier to avoid.

On the other hand, you can format your book by yourself even if it doesn’t give you a lot of joy. Why? Because you only have to do it once.

But if it’s one of those things that you just keep putting off, it’s not that hard to find someone to do it for you.

On the other hand, if you hate bookkeeping or tracking expenses or keeping receipts, maybe you shouldn’t be in business at all. Accurate recordkeeping is a prerequisite for most successful businesses, and if the idea of tracking costs makes you want to scream, look for a different solution or see if you can outsource that part of your tasks.

Sometimes you have to look for ways to free yourself up to do the things that only you can do. If those are things you love to do, you’ve got a winning proposition.

My takeaway today is that there are lots of ways to get into print and participate in the amazing possibilities in book publishing. Maybe for you it’s going to be getting focused training in the publishing process that will give you real self-confidence as a publisher.

Or you might be better off looking for help with the tasks you don’t want to tackle. As long as you don’t lose control of your own book, there are lots of solutions out there that can work for you.

I’m curious: how have you dealt with all the tasks you take on when you publish? Have you outsourced, or gotten training? Let me know in the comments.

photo credit: quinn.anya via photopin cc

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Ellen M. Gregg

    I can speak for the author/publisher for whom I work, Lisa Bouchard. She hired me last December to be her part-time assistant. While I’m a writer, too, and won’t be published until mid-December myself, I *love* and am highly capable of doing all the nitty-gritty work that goes along with being a self-publisher. It’s been a win-win all the way around.

    • Joel Friedlander

      So Ellen, are you saying you’re available to other authors who need similar services? I’m sure there are readers who would be interested.

      • Ellen M. Gregg

        I confess the thought didn’t occur to me. I was offering up my perspective. Now, though, you’ve got me thinking I would be available to other authors on a part-time basis. That means I need to add that to my website. >>Adds item to to-do list.<<

  2. Grace Brannigan

    I have been self publishing since about 1993 when I got my first DBA for my small press, whose name I just recently updated to Questor Books. I had bought a block of 10, which at the time was just a lot of money to put out but I wanted to do things as professionally as possible.

    I did some nonfiction books, and some fiction over the years, but it wasn’t until January of this year that I decided to really jump into the whole ebook phenomona.

    I’ve been a writer a long time, since I was probably about 13, so I believe I’ve paid the dues and put in the 10k or so hours it takes… Now, it’s all so much different of course than 1993, and so much better. I recall back then some people would turn their noses up that I was putting my own writing out. So much easier now as far as resources.

    Since January I’ve been doing searches and researching and I have about 8 blogs that I visit regularly, one of which is yours Joel. I get lots of great info, industry know how, industry news, info about other blogs resources ….it goes on and on.

    I do my own formatting for Kindle, Smashwords, Kobo and B&N because I found great tutorials and software that I could handle. I don’t do the real technical stuff if you have to get into html, but my books are formatted correctly.

    I hired professionals for the cover design, for the copy editing and to revamp my website, and each expense was well worth it. I had built my own websites but I really wanted a professional appearance. You’re presenting it to the world so give it your best shot and if it’s not your forte, find someone who can do what you envision.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks for the comment, Grace, and I’m glad you’ve been able to find some resources here to help in your publishing. Your website looks great (I see you’ve already got the dyslexic editions on there!) and your approach is one other self-publishers can learn from. I remember those (bad) old days, and it’s much better now in every way for writers.

  3. Bob Mayer

    This is why I formed Cool Gus Publishing in late 2009. I knew I couldn’t do it myself. We grew from 3 eBooks sold that December to a seven figure business. There is so much involved beyond simply producing the eBook.

    While it is possible to “Self” publish, if you start getting beyond a few titles, the work can become overwhelming. I’m a fan of a small, agile, publishing company.

  4. bowerbird


    as it seems that your target-market for this blog is
    “self-publishers” who want to be told they need to
    “make it a business”, i won’t bother repeating again
    that it’s fully possible to self-publish e-books with an
    upfront-cost of next to nothing, because anyone who
    needs to hear that message has stopped coming here.

    i’ll continue to scan your posts occasionally just in case
    any of ’em fall under the rubric of,
    rather than what should be called,
    because i’m a big fan of information on designing books.


  5. Victoria Noe

    I’m about to publish the first in a series of small (8,000 words) ebooks (with POD, too).

    I hired an editor, cover designer and interior formatter for the print version. Tomorrow I’ll attempt to actually publish the ebook. If I have any issues, I have someone I can hire to do that, too.

    I’ve been self-employed (in other businesses) for a lot of years, and I learned the hard way not to do everything myself. I do what I’m good at, and I’ve learned a lot from people like you, Porter Anderson and the like.

    This first book has taken a lot longer than I thought it would, but I’ve put together a team that I’m happy with, and that’s more important. With them in place, the next ones will take less time. That in turn will free up more of my time for writing and marketing.

  6. Carol Brill

    Hi Joel, I feel like the author who called, but without the track record of published books. I’ve tried to get smart about self-publishing by following blogs like yours for over a year. I have learned a lot, including that I don’t want to be in the publishing business. Problem is, I want my novels published, and this may be my only choice. Recently, I hired an editor and proofreader. I keep taking baby-steps, but know I do not want to learn formatting, design etc. and will buy most of the services — considering Book-Baby. It is hard to keep moving forward when I’d really just rather write.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Carol, I think there are a lot of authors facing the same situation. Being a publisher is not a trivial job, and it will take time away from other things. On the other hand, the alternatives—not publishing, trying to interest an agent, waiting years to get into “print”—are a lot less palatable. I think finding the “sweet spot” for you, and having trusted people on your team, will make it work. If you’re writing fiction or literary nonfiction, you don’t have to get farther than a well-edited Word file with an attractive cover to get into the game, and I know you’re going to stick with it.

  7. Jo Michaels

    I’m finding my design degree to be priceless when formatting my books, building my brand, and mastering my own website. I’d be floundering in the dark without it.

  8. Tracy R. Atkins

    I took on most of the tasks associated with self-publishing out of a sense of challenge. Of course, it all started out through a dire degree of ignorance about what I was getting into. When you first start the process, you imagine that it’s going to be easy. It’s akin to thinking you can re-build a car engine because you have your handy Jr. Mechanics tool-kit and a Haynes Manual. (Hint: It’s all fun and games until you realize that you really did need that engine hoist… far too late!)

    It’s all about mindset, drive, a willingness to educate yourself and work. By the time my novel launches in 24 days, I will have had over a year in the post-draft and production process. I hired a pro for the full edit. The rest is on me. Most weeks have been more than 40 hours long, formatting, covers, web work, trailer, ads, etc. The social side has been a huge part of that as well, if not the biggest.

    By “saving” about $5k in outsourced services, I have 2,000 hours in it. (Design, Marketing, etc). So, I paid myself $2.50 an hour to do the work myself. Much of that time was learning and folly.

    The next book will likely take a fifth of that time. Therefore, I get a raise to $12.50 an hour for all of those skills I learned. Yet, I will still not have the proficiency of a person that does these things for a living. So maybe $12.50 an hour is fitting for the skill level. I guess I will be getting what I’m paying for.

    Money aside, the challenge was worth it. It’s not quite as glamorous as climbing K2 or eating a 72oz porterhouse, but I can feel proud to have done most of the work myself. That is worth a million bucks.

    • Joel Friedlander

      What a great story, Tracy, and I’m right with you: mindset is critical. If you think you can’t do it, you will be proved right. Books are deceptively simple, yes? But at the end you’ll have the confidence that comes from building a quality product from the ground up. Good luck with your book launch!

  9. Rosie McGee

    I came to self-publishing after fruitless attempts to interest even an agent to take on my book – a 60K-word intimate memoir of my years in the San Francisco rock music scene in the Sixties, centered around my time living, working and traveling with the Grateful Dead. Two primary obstacles: I’m a first-time author and my book contains 200 of my photos, many of them in color – too expensive for traditional publishers to undertake on speculation.

    I researched self-publishing options like crazy, attended Carla King’s Self-Publishing Boot Camp, fribulated and fretted, and ultimately, decided to self-publish it as an e-book..

    As you say, Joel, it’s essential to know exactly what tasks are required to get you from A, (committed but clueless), to Z, (published), whether it’s in print or digital. I continued to research and made a list, checking off those tasks I was willing to and capable of doing myself. For each of the others, I found professionals or companies to give me quotes and I built a budget and committed those funds to get those tasks done by pros.

    Half my budget went to pay a professional full-scale editor who did content and copy editing all the way down the line. Well worth the expense. Other expenses were: cleaning up some of the damaged photos; tweaking my cover from OK to professional; converting my photo-heavy book from Word, (yes, I built it in Word), to ePub/MOBI and testing it; and a couple of others.

    Here’s the deal – my e-book was much more complicated to publish than if I’d written a text-heavy book with a few or no illustrations. But I don’t have any regret for the amount of work I put into it now that it’s out, selling and garnering positive reviews.

    As I tell my audiences at my (physical) book tour appearances, “I came to a crossroads last November…e-book vs. NO-book. The latter was not an option.”

    • Joel Friedlander

      Fantastic, Rosie. All the skills you’ve acquired to do this project will serve you well. Good luck with the book!

  10. Francoise

    I was trained as both a graphic designer many years go and have updated my skill in both videography, and transmedia. I started my own publishing company back in in 1995. It was then that I purchased a block of ten ISBN numbers. We have had more success in the last three months via ePublishing than we did in all of the years prior.

    Back then, we didn’t have the advantages that self publishers have now with ePublishing. Putting out a fairly large amount of cash outlay for printing, binding, distribution etc., you were lucky to break even. Now, there is absolutely NO reason why someone could not only publish their own books electronically, but also put out a very decent book trailer as well and promote it on YouTube. The technology is a whole lot less expensive, prosumer producucts for writers, independent filmmakers, etc. really make it more viable. Having high production values built into your books, whether you decide to get a professional editor or cover designer is completely up to the author. There has never been a better time.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Francioise, yes I remember those days well and totally agree that “there has never been a better time” to be a writer, and especially an entrpreneurial one.

  11. Carol Costello

    When I self published my novel, Chasing Grace, I invested time and energy in learning how to do ISBNs, Smashwords formatting, and absolutely everything else except the cover and interior design, which I hired out to a talented artist. I also hired a copyedit because, although I’ve done copyediting myself and written 30 books, every book needs another set of eyes. I am so happy I made that investment because now, I know I can do it all except for the artistic stuff–which I doubt I would have done very well no matter how much time and energy I invested! Joel, thanks once more for all the great info and your generous presence in the world of self publishing. You are becoming an icon!

    • Joel Friedlander

      Carol, thanks for that. And keep wriring, because now that you’ve got your “infrastructre” set up and have gone through the most intense part of learning about publishing your own books, it’s just going to get easier and faster to bring out new ones.

  12. Ernie Zelinski

    I just got back from Brendon Burchard’s Author’s Master Class and Rick Frishman’s Author 101 University in Las Vegas. Of course, one of the reasons that I went to these two events is to get more training.

    Some people may ask why I am going to these seminars given that I have attained quite a bit of success writing and publishing books. These quotations apply:

    “If a man empties his purse into his head, no man can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”
    — Benjamin Franklin

    “When evaluating the investment in your personal development, don’t ask what it costs. Instead ask what is it worth — in increased health,
    wealth, happiness and success. Never begrudge the money you spend on your personal development. The best investment you can ever make is the investment in YOU . . . and your greater development.”
    — Darren Hardy, PUblisher of “Success Magazine”

    “If I wanted to become a tramp, I would seek information and advice from the most successful tramp I could find. If I wanted to become a failure, I would seek advice from men who have never succeeded. If I wanted to succeed in all things, I would look around me for those who are succeeding, and do as they have done.”
    — Joseph Marshall Wade

    This, I can say: There will always be tasks that I will dislike. But comittment to a project and overall success in this business is having to do at least some of the things that suck big time. If you can get yourself to be the same, you will already be ahead of 99 percent of the so-called players in this business.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    International Best-Selling Author, Innovator, and Prosperity Life Coach
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 165,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    • Yvonne Hertzberger

      Some things are just beyond my capacities. I pay a good copy editor and cover designer. And I pay someone to format for Smashwords. While I have an old website, (semi-custom) it no longer serves my needs and I am attempting to create a new one with a tutorial I paid for. It is a constant learning experience, although not one I particularly enjoy for those essential side aspects of being a writer. I wish I had more time to ‘just write’.

      • Joel Friedlander

        You’ve got the right idea, Yvonne. Self-publishing, as I’ve said here often, doesn’t mean “I have to do everything myself.” Why not hunt down someone to do that chore that’s so unpleasant for you? There are so many people looking for that kind of work I’m sure you can find someone to help out.

    • Joel Friedlander

      I’m with you Ernie (loved your Ben Franklin quote, never saw that one before). I just arrived back from a three day training in marketing. I think we just have to accept that change is now so continuous that our training and education has to be continuous also.

  13. Michael N. Marcus

    Despite attending art school on Saturday mornings when I was in third grade and getting good marks in art every year in junior high school, I am no artist.

    I know what I like and don’t like, and have no trouble coming up with concepts for covers — but for most of my books I hire a real artist. Ironically, she got a degree from the same art school (Paier) I attended as a kid about 50 years earlier.

    Michael N. Marcus



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