After now over a decade of self-publishing, I thought to give you some hints about what you’re up against. It isn’t all that pretty, but it can be made to work.
The first point is to quit taking anything seriously which is going around about this area. The pundits are wrong on both how much you can earn and how easy it is to do it.
“Wrong” is anything you haven’t tested for yourself.
(The trick is that most people don’t know how to study things. So they can’t figure things out. Don’t worry, it’s a problem with our schools and our culture.)
The Four Reasons to Self Publish
While there may be more than this, these seem to be the four key reasons anyone would ever want to publish their own or anyone else’s books.
1. There’s a voice in your head that won’t quit. It shouts at you and nags you and just won’t shut up. Publishing gives that voice it’s own life so it will leave you alone. (Now the cousins it has are another subject for another time…)
2. To pump up your own self-esteem. Nothing like a nice book in your hand with your name on it. Does the soul wonders.
3. An investment in your career. This is the “5-pound business card” people talk of. Drop it on someone’s desk and they think you know what you’re talking about. Such books are lead generators. They bring you people who want to hear speeches or be consulted with. And they pay you money for talking, not writing.
4. To earn money enough to make a living. This is the over-pumped part. While there are a few people who pull down six figures, it’s only a handful of people who do. There’s more people who sell writers and publishers courses and books and webinars on how to write and self-publish. After all, more money was made in the gold fields by selling pans and picks and jeans and tents to miners than probably was ever extracted from the ground or streams. There are ways to make income in publishing. They are fairly well known. But you have to study a lot of back-trails to figure out what they all do in common. Can be done.
Some of what you are listening to or reading here approaches that last one. The books I’ve already written tell a lot of the nuts and bolts about it (and yes the buy links are in the show notes, thanks for asking.)
What’s related to this is how to get it all done. That leads us from the why to the how
Four models for book publishing
I was reading an article recently where thought they had it figured out. You see they said there were two camps of publishers. They had it half-right.
The Two Black Hole Publishing Systems for Authors
1. Amazon and their ebook pushers are one camp. For Amazon, its encouraging authors to race to the bottom with their prices and become a commodity along with their books. By their own stats, there are only 100K of their books which sell at least 1 per day. Since this data is hard to come by (Amazon won’t release it) a report covering the average cost of a book in 2013 said they tended to be between $1-2, this gives you a 35% royalty of about .52 per book, or around $190 per year. That same report says that what people like to pay is closer to $10 – and that is where the highest income is.
Smashwords’ Mark Coker has been doing his annual surveys in the reverse, found that the most books sold and the highest income was earned from the $3.99 books. Meaning an author would earn just over $1,000 per year off such a book. To make 6-figures, you’d need a hundred of those books. Hope you were born prolific and talented.
But Amazon won’t pay decent commissions above 9.99. Even then, they are still pulling down 30% from each sale, which is a thousand bucks off that 9.99 book. (As a comparison, $9 is the sweet spot for self-published POD print books. But that will give you only a $2.00 royalty from CreateSpace, slightly more if you sell direct from Lulu.)
Amazon apparently wants the indie authors to compete with each other and give them the best deal by selling a lot for very little. People can then buy more ebooks from more authors. (This is also the probable reason Amazon gave away so many public domain books for free, to gut that market and popularize it’s Kindle reader.)
This is just a race to the bottom by making both authors and their books compete on pricing as commodities.
Think about that the next time someone is trying to convince you to do your book publishing exclusively on Amazon Kindle.
2. The traditional publishing model uses ebooks as incentives to buy their fairly expensive print versions. They tried to prove this last year when they raised ebook prices and tried to spread the rumor that ebook sales were dwindling.
Their model has been deeply flawed for years, ever since POD publishing caught on – which was before ebooks by several years. When people began to step around all the vanity publishers and that monolithic agent-publisher system, they started to get some control over their own destiny. Traditional publishers are tied to long print runs which decrease the cost of each book – and that means finding and keeping authors who can sell a lot of copies. So these monoliths are very picky about what authors they sign up.
Needless to say, they are in trouble and won’t be getting out any time soon. Slow death by self-strangulation.
The Two Break-through Models You Should Know
3. The Hybrid System. The authors I’ve chased up (Steve Scott, J. K. Rowlings, Amanda Hocking, and others) didn’t do just ebooks or just print books. They also included audio books and foreign publishing rights. They pushed their books into every version they could anywhere that would possibly buy them.
In all cases, they had at least 5 books out there before things started to take off. Most started breaking six figures when they had 10 in production. By then, they had already started cross-publishing their ebooks or print books into other versions.
But the main point is to cross-container your content – not just thinking about it as a “book” but thinking in terms of re-purposing your content as many ways as you can figure out. The Harry Potter movies takes essentially the same content as the bestsellers and made millions. Different format, but same basic plots, characters, story-line.
4. The Services Publishing Model. We’ve already covered some of this as people are using a book to establish authority and then bank on this investment to bring them speaking and consulting gigs. This is the most profitable scenario per book that there is. It makes trying to make a living by publishing multiple bestsellers look really pale in comparison.
What isn’t covered much is how authors are using email lists, memberships, and build their audience to accomplish this. It’s a radically different model than the others, because you build it backwards from the audience, rather than assuming the audience is there. The GRQ people tell you to crank out ebooks based on what you can see from the demographics already there on Kindle. This is what Steve Scott did with his habits scene. But he comes from an Affiliate Marketing background, which tends to push “the next greatest thing.”
Actually, these models are all just an evolution. Starting out with either ebooks or print books, you’ll merge into a hybrid scene and build your list. That list will then tell you what they want more of as your audience.
They will tell you what services they want. Of course you get inspired along the way, and they help you with that.
Content is King, Content Marketing is the Empire.
We’re back to that point that content has no fixed container these days. If you record an ebook, you get an audio book, and maybe a series of podcasts. Put that with some slides and you have a video. Print out that transcript and you have a paperback or hardback. Give a talk about it and you have a lecture series, or a webinar. Put the slides, audio, and video together in sequence and you have a course.
There is no one model for content. Non-fiction writers have this easier, perhaps, than fiction writers. Either way, it’s how creative you want to get and how imaginative. There are no limits either way. Like any memoir, it all depends on how factually you want to approach the subject.
The best thought leaders in this area right now seem to be Pulizzi and Rose of Content Marketing Institute. Follow them to get a quick education. Even though they mostly work in the enterprise arena, Pulizzi’s book Content Inc. has all the quick study you need to do as a writer and self-publisher to create your own publishing empire. Because you are sitting on Acres of Diamonds in your own content. It’s just how effective you want to be in getting it all out there.
Build It and They Will Come – and Pay to Get In
All of these models also point to having your own platform to send people to. If you build on someone else’s platform, you’re just building as a sharecropper. You can get kicked off at any time. Even Jeff Bezo’s said that Amazon will ultimately get disrupted. Facebook has proved that you can’t rely on anyone else’s platform to continue to run by the same rules. Meanwhile, the FB users have become older and more “lurkish,” participating less and being great fodder for FB ads – which are quite effective.
Platforms on top of platforms are even more unstable. I had an account with Sellfy and put a few books up there – all public domain books – that created a nice little bookstore on a Facebook tab. Yesterday, I went to check out how it was doing and found it was gone. Turns out some wimp at Sellfy is afraid of public domain books, and canceled my account. No more bookstore.
Any author, every self-publisher has to have their own platform where people can find and buy their stuff. It’s a simple as you build a page for each book and put the buy links on it. Meanwhile, you find something like Ganxy, or Payhip, or Zaxaa to sell your digital products directly.
Next book, next buying page. Rinse, repeat.
You do this so that people can interact with you and give you something in return for all you’ve given them. It can be money, but it can also be feedback, or sharing your content with their friends.
The point is that you own it and you can keep it going as long as you want. You can change it, and you can shut it down. But you aren’t waiting for the whims of the tech titans to change it for you, and then you have to scramble to figure it all out again, and replace that income stream.
The ideal scene for this seems to be a membership, where you can keep the Amazon-Kindle bots out and sell your books for whatever you want. Members always get the best deals. They buy from you and you’re both happy about it.
It’s just that simple.
Let’s recap exactly what your publishing model should consist of:
1. Deep backbench. Lots of titles on a given subject or area, tuned into a specific niche where people like to spend their money.
2. Multiple eyeballs. Every title is published in as many formats to as many platforms as possible.
3. Velvet rope. Build an audience, keep a list growing, bring them to your membership and give them even greater value than they’d find anywhere else.
4. Caring sharing. Syndicate your content everywhere you can, so you can auto-magically keep the world informed about everything you create as it rolls off the line. You use something like If This Then That to syndicate everything as far as possible through all the various social networks. Keep everyone up on your actions by broadcast.
5. Mountaintop Antennas. Eventually, you turn viewers into members, members into fans, fans into raving fans, and raving fans into evangelists. As you do, you’ll create an affiliate system to keep those evangelists rewarded. I haven’t gone there personally yet, but most of the tools I use have that capability. (Look up Zaxaa if you want to see how this could be done.)
Those five simple points seem to cover everything a self-publishing author needs to know. Of course, if you have different research, do let me know. This stuff changes all the time, and the more people who look at a problem, the better the solutions can become.
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Well, that about wraps it for this week.
Again, I’m just so happy to be able to have you listening and supporting this podcast and site.
If you’re not already signed up, then do so. This all continues to get better and better as I improve and add and tweak everything.
Do leave a comment on the show notes if you have something to say. Or, if you’re getting this by email, just hit reply. I answer all my emails.
Hope to talk with you again soon.
Until next time, then.
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Books about self-publishing:
Just Publish! Ebook Creation for Indie Authors
Publish. Profit. Independence.