Why Self-Publishers are Exhausted

by | Nov 16, 2009

OverworkedWriting is mostly a solitary pursuit. You sit in a room with a computer or a pad of paper. You’ve set aside this time and use your isolation to write. And although it’s best to avoid generalizations, writers by and large do tend to be people who are fine spending time by themselves.

This worked well when the publishing model involved finishing your book and then sending it off to publishers to try to acquire a publishing contract, at which point your publisher would spring into action to do all those things they do to make your book a reality. Perhaps sales would be strong enough to warrant a second book, or a second edition.

It’s Not That Simple Any More, Is It?

Even for novelists this “write, and then sit back until the book tour” way of doing things isn’t really working any longer. But when you decide to take the plunge into self-publishing, you will have to throw this model out the window.

As a self-publisher, you have fired the publishing house whose attention you once sought so avidly. You create a company and now you are the publisher. This is intoxicating. If you’ve been reading advertisements from the big author-services companies (known far and wide, and inaccurately, as “self-publishing” companies) you feel you are only a few steps away from a spot on the best seller list.

Soon, however, you begin to discover the awful truth. When you fired the publisher, you also fired:

  • the editor who was going to help shape your manuscript into a compelling read, suitable for its genre;
  • the interior designer who would turn your files into a book that looks professional and that communicates your ideas effortlessly;
  • the cover designer who creates a highly-polished sales identity and mini-billboard to help your book stand out from the thousands around it;
  • the copyeditor / proofreader who ensure your book is consistent, conforms to standard usage, and contains no factual or typographical errors;
  • the marketing department who position your book within its niche and may have even helped come up with the title;
  • the sales force, ready to spread across the country to introduce your book to buyers at every level of the retail chain;
  • the warehousemen and fulfillment workers who store, stack and ship your book to distributors, wholesalers and end users; and
  • the bookkeepers and accountants who keep track of all the sales, returns, promotional copies and review copies.
  • I don’t know about you, but this list makes me want to have a nap.

    Spinning in Circles, Wondering Which Way is Up

    It’s no wonder that self-publishers are exhausted. Worse, for a novice the sheer mass of information, tips, guidelines, books, websites, blogs, free downloads, ecourses, and expert advice flying at you like the birds in that old Hitchcock movie are enough to make you swoon from information overload, retreat into “paralysis by analysis,” or just simply put your head in your hands and weep.

    How will you possibly learn enough to do any of the tasks listed above adequately? You become keenly aware that, even if you spend $660 for Adobe InDesign, you are faced with a steep learning curve and no idea of what you are supposed have at the end of the process. How will you learn all the skills, techniques, contacts, and best practices of all these people who have spent their professional lives learning each aspect of how to publish books?

    Case in Point?

    Almost every day I get inquiries from prospective self-publishers, and if I could reduce them to one generic question, it would be this: “What do I do now?” A few months ago I spoke with an author who had written a book, gone so far as to find a friend—not all that skilled, as it turned out—to lay out the book in InDesign, and managed to get a proof from a print on demand supplier.

    When he got the proof copy of his book from the printer and realized how many errors it had, both typographically and stylistically, he simply threw it back on the shelf for months, unable to deal with the mass of work and the expertise it would take to make it the book he had dreamed of publishing.

    Don’t Let This Happen To You

    Don’t allow yourself to fall victim to a very destructive idea that can take root soon after you decide to self-publish: Self-publishing doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself. It only means that you are the publisher. And just as Alfred A. Knopf himself would not have typeset the books his publishing house produced, perhaps you shouldn’t either.

    Avoid overwhelm, burnout, and weeping in frustration. The solution is to approach your new business as . . . a business! Do what you can do well, and the things that you are interested in. Mostly, you should confine yourself to writing and marketing your book. Leave the rest to the many skilled practitioners who are only too happy to help.

    Yes, it will cost more money. Look at this money as an investment in the product you are creating. Determine to go into the marketplace with the best book you can afford to create. Create the book that you originally dreamed of.

    After producing dozens of books for self-publishers over the years, I can’t tell you how much happier, and more satisfied, you will be down the road. And isn’t that why you decided to create this book in the first place?

    As always, your thoughts are appreciated. What do you think?

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Rebecca Bielawski

    Now that I have passed the steepest part of the learning curve in terms of book production and basically have my workflow in place, I find that the most exhausting part is maintaining the social media. It takes up so much time! Then when you are finished your brain is all slushy and you can’t do anything creative. Great post! as always it attracted my attention.
    It must be exhausting for you to remain always relevant.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Actually, Rebecca, it’s how I stay in touch with my readers, and what their problems and concerns are. Social media has made gathering marketing intelligence possible for individual authors, and that’s quite exciting. Thanks for contributing to the conversation.

  2. Daniel Arnzen

    You can get the services the publishing house offers (editing, design, illustrations) from other professionals. That’s the idea behind WritelyDone (https://writelydone.com). I just need to get the authors and editors and such to sign up!
    There are people out there to share the load, but as Mr. Friedlander mentions in the above article, the writing is just part of the business of writing. These services are generally not free, but there are options. WritelyDone offers a way to share revenue with your project contributors. You can negotiate a contract by offering points on the sales to reduce the front-loaded expenses of bringing your book to market. This gets everyone to be invested in producing a quality product.

  3. Rosemarie D'Amico

    Exhausted, yes. But the truth is, it wasn’t the “publishing” part that tired me out. It’s the “what the hell do I do now that I’ve got a good looking hard-cover, soft-cover and e-book?” How to sell it? How to make myself known. Learning, learning, learning all the time. There is soooo much information out there, with a couple of million people claiming to be experts in social media! It’s exhausting, but exhilarating! I’m thankful that I don’t do this for a living and consider it a side-line.

    • Brian D. Meeks (@ExtremelyAvg)

      I think that I’ve enjoyed myself publishing experience, because I’ve not read any of the books. I’m sure there is helpful information out there, but often people make it seem like one MUST do everything the way they did, and that makes me stressed out.

      So, I’m finding my own way. I have a lot of experience in Social Media, so that aspect isn’t new to me, and the actual print, Kindle and Nook publishing, is rather easy after the first try, so I’m pleased with the progress.

      It helps that people are buying my book and saying nice things, but even if they weren’t, I’d still be working just as hard to get the stories from my fertile imagination onto the page. It is fun and by taking the chance, I have the opportunity to leave my mark, small as it might be, on the world.

  4. Jacqueline Simonds

    Like Joel, I do a lot of work with new self-publishers. I’m what Dan Poynter calls a Book Shepherd. I tell my clients that the learning curve to self-publish is straight up! There’s a LOT to know and you need to do it in a certain order, or you can get hopelessly bogged down.

    But that doesn’t mean you can’t do it! You need guidance, whether you hire a book shepherd like myself, or read great books like Joel’s and Dan Poynter’s. Depending on your personality and skills level, you’ll want to learn to do some things yourself, and other things you can “farm out.” And maybe you’ll hire experts to do all the elements the first time, and learn what you need to do many things yourself, the next time.

    The important thing to understand is that while you have access to publish, you are not going to be able to compete with a global $3 trillion business with a shoddy, badly-made book. Don’t set yourself up to fail. Your book – your mind-child, as it were – is worth the extra effort to educate yourself and then hire people to help you succeed!

  5. Bob Mayer

    I don’t think you can do it on your own unless you have maybe one book. I formed my own publishing company because it’s a dynamic process, not a one time thing.
    Still, my own company is much more cost-effective than a traditional publisher. My profit margin is three times what it was as a NY Times bestselling author with one of the Big 6.

    • Brian D. Meeks (@ExtremelyAvg)

      I liked your response.

      I’ve just taken the plunge, myself. It is my second book and the first that I’m publishing. I feel lucky in that I’ve really enjoyed the business side of it. Today, I arranged for two newspaper reviews, lined up some book signings, and worked on setting up a CRM.

      I do as Mr. Friedlander suggested and pay for editing. This is a huge stress reliever.

      I’m not sure that self-publishing is for everyone, but if one has doubts, they won’t know until they give it a try. I’m enjoying it.

  6. betty ming liu

    i loved reading that line about “firing the publishing house.” it sounds so empowering! but then, reading on and seeing all the other people i will be firing is sobering. thanks for the wisdom on your blog. i hope to self-publish something at some point and your blog is going to be a great resource!



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