When You Are Your Own Publisher

quinnbookI get a lot of emails from people who are just starting out with self-publishing. For the most part I enjoy the conversations. Self-publishing isn’t all that difficult to do, but there is so much information available, so many options, it can be confusing as hell. I like to think I’ve set a few folks on a path that lessens the confusion and takes some of the mystery out of the process.

What I don’t enjoy are the emails that sound fueled by panic. I fear for the panicky folks–fear sets them up to be taken advantage of by overpriced “services” and vanity presses. These folks are easily led to believe that ebook conversion is too hard for less-than-technical geniuses and that distributing ebooks is worth an upfront fee and annual charges on top of retailer commissions. They are desperate for someone to take care of them–and taken they do get.

By emailing me, I can usually steer them away from the predators. Assuaging their fears is more difficult. Especially when they’re prefaced by, “What’s the RIGHT way to do this…?”

The subtext is, “I am terrified of not doing this perfectly and so I need someone else to take responsibility.”

I’ve yet to see a perfect book–and I’ve read thousands. I’ve yet to see a perfect publisher. But that’s okay. Readers aren’t looking for perfection. They’re looking for entertainment and information and education. Publishers–self or otherwise–have a duty to those readers to give them the best value in exchange for their time and money. That doesn’t have to be perfect.

So let’s talk about the reality. When you are your own publisher, you’re in charge. Period. The book is yours. YOU decide how it is written. YOU decide how much editing is required. YOU decide on the packaging and formatting. YOU decide how much to charge and where and how to distribute. YOU broker deals for rights and editions and exclusivity or not.

When you are in charge, you make your own rules. Your contract is with your readers. Those are people you need to satisfy. Or not. Your choice.

Being in charge also requires some courage and conviction. If you’re in a panicky state of mind, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to have either. You also need to be able to tolerate some mistakes. Everybody makes them–you’re no exception. The trouble with panic is that any decision you make will end up being made for the wrong reason and so it will probably be a mistake and there, your worst fears realized.

How does one get over the fear? First and foremost is realizing that with the great responsibility of self-publishing also comes almost unlimited freedom. Part of that freedom involves “do-overs.” If you screw something up–the editing, the cover, the distribution, the price–do it over and do it better. You don’t get that luxury if you turn your responsibilities over to someone else. It’s been my experience that anyone who’s motivated to get better, will get better with time and effort. So whenever the rising panic tells you, “Perfection or die!” shut it down by reminding yourself that you are doing your best this time and next time you’ll do it even better.

Next, and this is really important, find mentors. There are many, many successful self-publishers all over the internet. They blog, they tweet, they facebook, and many engage with readers. Their books are widely available. You don’t have to talk to them directly in order to learn. Read, observe, try some of their methods to find out what works for you. Look for positive messages and genuine success stories.

Find good examples. If you want to self-publish, you need to know what readers like. You need to develop a vision for yourself and your work. Read, browse, collect samples. It’s very empowering when you’re ready to produce a cover if you have a collection of designs that you think are effective. Or you can tell your formatter, “I like the way this book is laid out, do mine with a similar design.”

Build a tribe. Panic is isolating. Fear thinks it is unique. That’s a lie. So make an effort to put yourself out there to find like-minded folks. It might take a while, but you’ll find people who’ve made mistakes and survived to tell the tale. You’ll find helpers and people you can help.

I’ll leave you with a little list of things about self-publishing that I know are true:

  • Everybody has an opinion, but nobody knows everything.
  • Your book matters, but it’s not the most important thing in the Universe, so worlds will not collide if you muck something up.
  • There is no ONE RIGHT WAY to do anything. Find what works for you.
  • Shit happens. Deal with it.
  • Anyone who promises you the moon is staring at your wallet and wondering how much they can take you for.
  • The only people you need to satisfy are your readers–everyone else is just noise, noise, noise. So get your priorities straight.

Hi ho, hi ho, back to work I go…




26 thoughts on “When You Are Your Own Publisher

  1. You are the voice of sanity in a wilderness of confusion. I’ve been making mistakes and cleaning them up (the worst messes corrected with big thanks for your advice) for over two years, finally earning a good living (for me) from published romances on Amazon. Lots of them. I know there are fortunate souls who made a gazillion dollars on three books, but it sure ain’t me. I find my income increases in minimal amounts with each new book I publish. I do try not to sacrifice quality for quantity, and I buy new courses all the time on How To Sell Hundreds Of Copies Of Your Book, but for me, it all comes down to write the best book you know how to write, put it up the best way you know how, get a few gigs on Fiverr, and hope for the best. If there’s another tried and true method, I’d love to find it.

    Many thanks for your blogs.


  2. I’m glad you poked your head up to remind us how damn smart you are. Awesome post. Like Dune – fear is the mind-killer, the little death. You remind me of Voltaire – The perfect is the enemy of the good.

    • I’m convinced perfectionism destroys art and artists. It’s the derp-di-derps too dumb to know they CAN’T who go forth and accomplish the marvelous and the miraculous. 😀

  3. Good points all, Jaye. It’s always helped me to keep in mind that that there are any number of “right “ways to do practically anything on the printed (or virtually printed) page.

    • Also reminds me, Jerry, of something I didn’t say in the post, but shall do so now: There is a huge advantage in being a newbie and not knowing all the RIGHT ways to do something. It gives you freedom to go forth and do the wrong things that just might turn out to be brilliant.

  4. Pingback: If Self-Publishing Is On Your Mind « Blair MacGregor

  5. Just re-blogged – because I know how scary it is to self-publish for the first time and it is good to be reminded that humans don’t do perfect. Fear can stop you from doing things you want to do and it can also make you vulnerable to high-priced minimal-benefit writer services with a good sales pitch. Vanity publishers haven’t gone away…they just go under different names…

  6. I couldn’t agree more. It’s a hard slog editing and re-editing over and over again but so satisfying when it’s all your own work. The difficult part is getting people to notice it once it’s out there.

  7. Excellent post! You’ve absolutely hit the nail on the head. The best thing about self-publishing is having total control. The scariest thing is having total control. But the good news is that, with self-pubbing, you can fix whatever comes up. I can’t tell you how many times I have uploaded new book content to fix a pesky typo, new covers, new descriptions, etc. A traditional publisher would never accommodate those kinds of changes. Mistakes are inevitable but they don’t have to be permanent. Being independent is supremely satisfying and, more than that, it’s fun!

  8. Pingback: Don’t panic about self publishing | The Proof Angel

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